Most attempts at scientific communication are unscientific

Don’t remember if I’ve posted this piece before, but it emphasizes something I’ve been trying to draw attention to for some time now.

Simply: scientists wishing to communicate with the public effectively would do well to engage with the science on how to communicate to people. It seems like scientists in my field (ecology) tend to fall into the well-worn trap of thinking it’s just about getting the hang of the right techniques, because clearly once the right information is presented in the right way, people will “naturally” believe it. This is inherently problematic (as Bernhard Isopp explains in this post, assuming people believe true things because they are true, but reasons must be investigated for why people believe things that are not true is intellectually problematic and arguably irrational).

Rather than just trying to think of the right ways to get the public to believe truefacts

science communicators (and, let’s face it, any scientist who wants to communicate effectively) need to treat their communications interventions scientifically — as hypotheses. To work with social scientists on experimental design.  To collect data and measure their results. And to publish their results so others can learn from them. – See more at: http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/03/01/dan-kahan-climate-changescience-communications/#sthash.6B0NGkbO.dpuf

In other words,

“Genuinely evidence-based science communication must be based on evidence all the way down,” says Kahan, without pity. That’s strong beer to a lot of science communicators and scientists. It means we can no longer just be factory-style communicators — getting our findings out, getting a little media and social media attention for them, maybe generating some buzz on academia.edu, and then moving on to the next paper with little or no metrics to measure our impact outside being asked to testify at a policy hearing. Science is slow, and alongside the very real need to address climate change has arisen a culture of rhetorical urgency that will resist waiting years to assemble data. Do we have the patience for this kind of long game?

It’s clear from his new paper that Kahan doesn’t think we have much choice…”

– See more at: http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/03/01/dan-kahan-climate-changescience-communications/#sthash.6B0NGkbO.dpuf

There’s more to the story than the models Prof. Kahan offers, but it’s a good start, and I have long agreed with him: communicating science should be based on science and evidence “all the way down”. This is not something I have seen an eagerness, or even understanding of, from many scholars–a phenomenon that I myself have found confusing, and don’t have a completely satisfying answer for…

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