J1.2 The “Science” of Science Communication

Tuesday, 8 January 2013: 3:45 PM
Room 18D (Austin Convention Center)
Anthony Dudo, Univ. of Texas, Austin, Texas

For more than the last half-century the relationship between science and society has been tenuous (Bensaude-Vincent, 2001; Snow, 1959), with modern democracies facing significant difficulties communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public (Cicerone, 2007). The source of these communication difficulties is convoluted. On one hand, polls repeatedly find that Americans are relatively disengaged and ill informed when it comes to science (National Science Board, 2010; PEW, 2008a). Conversely, the scientific culture—and the expert community, more broadly—has traditionally devalued public communication, and has remained largely introverted and beholden to archaic models of outreach (Davies, 2008; Neresini & Bucchi, 2011). What's more, the science-public relationship is facing increased duress: scientific innovation is key to mitigating many of the greatest challenges facing our society, but much of this science—including climatology—and its resultant innovations pose non-scientific implications that can complicate and intensify public responses (Priest, 2008); and American mass media are undergoing major changes that threaten their traditional role as the primary sources of scientific information for the public (Mooney & Kirshenbaum, 2009; PEW, 2008b). In short, at a time when society's stake in science is growing, science itself is simultaneously becoming more difficult for the average citizen to monitor and comprehend.

This context presents a straightforward challenge: now, perhaps more than ever before, the lines of communication between scientists, the public, and their intermediaries need to be problematized and bolstered. Make not mistake: improving these lines of communication represents a herculean task that often operates in a context fraught with controversy and emotion. This task, however, is far from impossible. In this talk, I will discuss how to think about and approach these communication dynamics more effectively, discussing how research in the social sciences—and particularly the discipline of science communication—can aid in this process. Accomplishing this goal will require me to discuss three areas. First, I will provide an overview of the science communication discipline by charting its primary research foci and providing current examples of informative empirical scholarship. Second, I will discuss some broad, theoretically derived key insights about science communication, specifically how worldviews (Dudo et al., 2011; Nisbet et al., 2002), heuristics (Kahneman, 2003; McQuail, 2005), and knowledge gaps (Corely & Scheufele, 2010) contribute to public (mis)understanding of science. I will then conclude my talk with some broad guidance and timely challenges relative to science communication that are germane to climate science. This talk, I hope, will provide the audience with a foundational understanding of science communication, spark their interest to learn more about this discipline and how it can help inform their efforts to communicate climate science, and set the table for the additional panelists.

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