Nature Nanotech Editor on Framing as the New Communication Paradigm
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Artist rendition of nanobot assisting in reproduction.
As I highlighted last week, in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology my colleague Dietram Scheufele is the lead author on a survey analysis that finds that experts are more concerned about the health and environmental risks of nanotech than the public at large.
In the editorial to the issue, Nature Nanotech editor Peter Rodgers emphasizes the importance of turning to communication researchers for help in engaging the public on the many technical, social, and political dimensions of nanotech.
He specifically cites our Policy Forum article at Science and discusses the need to actively frame messages on nanotech in ways that connect to diverse publics. In advocating this new paradigm in public outreach, he joins the editors at the Biosciences and The Scientist in noting how important research on framing can be to effective public communication. As Rogers writes:
...nanoscientists and technologists should look to social scientists for more than just data on
these questions -- help from 'outside' is also needed to communicate effectively with the public....
...These and other results emphasize the difficulty of making sure there is not a
public backlash against nanotechnology --there is no guarantee that the communication approaches that work for men in the US, for instance, will work for women in the US, let alone for anyone else in the world. One size certainly does not fit all.
Given the complexity of this challenge it can be helpful to think in terms of 'frames' or 'perceptual filters' when trying to communicate with the public[citation]. The basic idea of this approach is that most people are overloaded with information and not that interested in the details of nanotechnology or any other technology, so they use frames or filters -- such as their political or religious beliefs -- to process all this information and what it means for them...