We have established a national network of astronomers interested in public outreach to act as liaison between Brazilian astronomers and the press. The members actively pursue the appearance of national research in the press in order to counter the unbalanced coverage of international astronomy-related news; this in turn will bring greater attention to our science and potentially stimulate more students to pursue an academic career. All material will be made available at the Portuguese Language Expertise Centre for the OAD (PLOAD), in the hopes that the project reach can be extended to other Portuguese-speaking countries.
With this project we intend to address two needs in Brazil: scientific literacy and public awareness of national science.
The first one becomes evident when considering how the general public receives scientific news. The dominance of international research renders astronomy — and science in general — as a distant process, unachievable and exclusive. To cite an example, NASA is seen as a private club, accessible only to individuals from developed countries.
This makes the task of fomenting scientific curiosity and nurturing the next generation of astronomers an uphill battle. In Brazil, many talented young students are diverted to areas such as Engineering, away from basic science, in the belief that there is nothing of relevance being done in the country. We believe that the only way of fighting this notion is to advertise our research widely, and a solid system to produce press releases is needed.
This is important not only to bring young talent to academia, but also to ensure the whole population is aware of recent advances in Brazilian astronomy. Science is a major pillar in sustainable economic growth, and especially in the face of the current economic crisis in our country, it is of fundamental importance to raise awareness, so that funding for science is not diverted away or seen as irrelevant.
At the same time, we need to acknowledge that one major problem in science outreach is the lack of interest from scientists themselves, with the workload relying heavily on untrained journalists. One major aspect of this project is that a large part of the press releases will be written by astronomy students (after initial training), and we believe this will help train a new generation of astronomers engaged in outreach activities, either full- time or as an important aspect of their research activities.