Framing Science Talk and Seminar at Cal Tech

Next week, I will be teaming up with Chris Mooney at Cal Tech for an evening lecture followed by a day long science communication seminar for the university's graduate students and post-docs. Details are below along with the suggested reading list.

Speaking Science Boot Camp

Matthew C. Nisbet & Chris Mooney

Over the past several years, the seemingly never-ending controversies over evolution, embryonic stem cell research, global climate change, and many other topics have led to a troubling revelation. Scientific knowledge, alone, does not always suffice when it comes to winning political arguments, changing government policies, or influencing public opinion. Put simply, many journalists, policymakers, and citizens consume and act on scientific information in a vastly different way than do the scientists who generate it. As a result, scientists and their organizations repeatedly face difficult challenges in explaining their knowledge to diverse groups of citizens.

As issues at the intersection of science and politics gain more and more attention, something beyond just scientific data--beyond "getting the facts out there"--will be necessary to break through to the public. But what are the new directions? It's time to question some central assumptions and focus on fresh ideas.

A conversation about new directions in science communication.

In this joint presentation, journalist Chris Mooney and communication professor Matthew Nisbet explain how scientists and their allies can "reframe" old debates in new ways, remaining true to the science but taking advantage of a fragmented media environment to connect with a broader American public.

This two-part event features a public lecture on Monday evening, followed by a more detailed, hands-on workshop on Tuesday.

Monday's lecture will serve as an introduction to interactions between science, the media, and the public. Growing out of the evening lecture -- but providing much more in-depth content -- the full-day workshop will provide a hands-on media primer, focusing on two critical issues: 1) how audiences find, understand, and use scientific information; 2) the knowledge and tools that scientists need to deal with the press. In other words, when journalists call you'll know what to do and what to say (and what not to say, too)."


History, Concepts, and Principles

Burns, T.W. O'Connor, D.J., Stocklmayer, S.M. (2003). Science communication: A contemporary definition. Public Understanding of Science, 12, (2), 183-202.

National Science Board (2008). Chapter 7: Public Attitudes and Understanding. National Science Indicators. Washington, DC: National Science Board.

Kitzinger, J. (2006). The role of media in public engagement. In S. Miller (Ed.), Engaging science: Thoughts, deeds, analysis and action. UK: Wellcome Trust.

Yankelovich D. (2003, summer). Winning greater influence for science. Issues in Science and Technology.

Nisbet, M.C. & Scheufele, D.A. (2007, October). The future of public engagement. The Scientist.

CBC Radio (2008). Interview with Brian Wynne. How to Think about Science series. **

Recent Controversies and Case Studies

Moser, S. & Dilling, L (2004). Making climate hot: Communicating the urgency and challenge of global climate change. Environment 46 (10): 32-46.

Nisbet, M.C. (2008). Moving beyond Gore's message: A look back and ahead at climate change communications. Skeptical Inquirer Online.

Labov, J. and Pope, B.K. (2008). Understanding our audiences: The design and evolution of Science, Evolution, and Creationism. CBE Life Sciences Education, 7(1): 20-24.

Nisbet, M.C. (in press). Expelled? Conflict and consensus in communicating about evolution. Kean Review. [Set the PDF to 100%]

Friedman, S.M.; Egolf, B.P. (2005). Nanotechnology: risks and the media. Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE, 24, (4), 5 - 11. (Log in via library gateway.)

Scheufele, D. A., Corley, E. A., Dunwoody, S., Shih, T., Hillback, E., & Guston, D. (2007). Scientists worry about some risks more than the public. Nature Nanotechnology, 2 (12), 732 - 734. [Log in via library gateway.]

Editorial (2008). A little knowledge. Nature Nanotechnology, 2, (12). [Log in via library gateway.]

*Recommended additional reading:

Logan, R. (2001). Science mass communication: A conceptual history. Science Communication, 23, (2), 135-163.

Weigold, M. (2001). Communicating science: A review of the literature. Science Communication, 23 (2), 164-193.

Bauer, M., Allum, N., & Miller, S. (2007). What can we learn from 25 years of PUS survey research? Liberating and expanding the agenda. Public Understanding of Science, 16, (1) 79-95 .

House of Lords. 2000. Science and Society. London: UK House of Lords. See also government response.

Miller, S. (2001). Public understanding of science at a cross-roads. Public Understanding of Science, 10 (1), 115-120.

Einsiedel, E. and Eastlick, D.L. (2001). Consensus conferences as deliberative democracy: A communications perspective. Science Communication 21 (4):323-343.


Willems, J. 2003. Bringing down the barriers - public communication should be part of common scientific practice. Nature 422, 470.

Russell, C. (2006). Covering Controversial Science: Improving Reporting
on Science and Public Policy
. Working Paper, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, Harvard University.

Mooney, C. & Nisbet, M.C. (2005, Sept./Oct.). When coverage of evolution shifts to the political and opinion pages, the scientific context falls away, unraveling Darwin. Columbia Journalism Review, 31-39.

Revkin, A. (2007). Climate Change as News: Challenges in Communicating Environmental Science. In J.C. DiMento & P.M. Doughman (Eds.), Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren. Boston, MA: MIT Press, pp. 139-160..

Nisbet, M.C. & Mooney, C. (2006). The next big storm? Skeptical Inquirer Online.

* Recommended additional reading.

Hayes, R. & Grossman, D. (2006). A Scientist's guide to talking with the media. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Metcalfe Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting (2007). Workshop Reports: Science Communications and the News Media.


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It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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