More Recommended Books on Science Communication Research & Practice

Last week I pointed to two edited books released in 2008 that do an outstanding job of synthesizing the relevant issues and research on science communication and public engagement. Here are two more: From Oxford University Press there is a companion set of edited volumes that cover themes related to science communication research and practice respectively. Both books are worth checking out and owning for people working in the academic field or for scientists and communication professionals.

Holliman, R., Thomas, J., Smidt, Scanlon, E., & Whitelegg, E. (Eds.) 2008). Investigating Science Communication in the Information Age: Implications for Public Engagement and Popular Media. London: Oxford University Press.

How are recent policy changes affecting how scientists engage with the public? How are new technologies influencing how scientists disseminate their work and knowledge? How are new media platforms changing the way the public interact with scientific information? Investigating Science Communication in the Information Age is a collection of newly-commissioned chapters by leading science communication scholars. It addresses current theoretical, practical and policy developments in science communication, including recent calls for greater openness and transparency; and engagement and dialogue on the part of professional scientists with members of the public. It provides a timely and wide-ranging review of contemporary issues in science communication, focusing on two broad themes. The first theme critically reviews the recent dialogic turn and ascendant branding of 'public engagement with science'. It addresses contemporary theoretical and conceptual issues facing science communication researchers, and draws on a range of methodological approaches and examples. The second theme, popular media, examines recent trends in the theory and research of these forms of science communication. It includes contemporary accounts of the study of 'traditional' forms of popular media, including television and newspapers, examining how they are produced, represented and consumed. This theme also documents examples where novel forms of popular media are challenging researchers to re-think how they approach these forms of science communication.


Holliman, R., Thomas, J., Smidt, S., Scanlon, E. & Whitelegg E. (Eds.) (2008). Practising Science Communication in the Information Age: Theorising Professional Practices. London: Oxford University Press.

Practising science communication in the information age is a collection of newly-commissioned chapters by leading scholars and practitioners of science communication. It considers how scientists communicate with each other as part of their professional practice, critically evaluating how this forms the basis of the documenting of scientific knowledge, and investigating how open access publication and open review are influencing current practices. It also explores how science communication can play a crucial role when science is disputed, investigating the role of expertise in the formation of scientific controversy and consensus. The volume provides a theoretically informed review of contemporary trends and issues that are engaging practitioners of science communication, focusing on issues such as the norms and conventions governing the practices of science communication, and how scientists communicate between disciplines. Other topics that receive critical treatment include: peer review, open access publication, the protection of intellectual property, the formation of scientific controversy and consensus, the popularisation of science, and the practices of public engagement.

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
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Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.