Recap on NYAS: Science Communication at a Crossroads
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."
About a 100 attendees turned out for Thursday night's talk at the New York Academy of Sciences. The event marked the end of a year long series on science communication that was launched by Kate Seip, Liz Oswald, and other New York-area graduate students in partnership with the Academies.
As I mentioned at the outset of my talk, the series offers a unique model to be reproduced in major cities with well developed institutional science hubs such as San Francisco and Chicago. Already, a similar prototype exists in Seattle through the work of students at FOSEP and the University of Washington.
To cap off the year long series, I wanted to leave attendees with a few central principles that should inform thinking about science communication and various strategies for more effective public engagement. I've often talked about these principles at this blog, in various talks, and I have written about them most notably in articles at Science and The Scientist. As I posted last week, my friend Dietram Scheufele and I are expanding on these research-based conclusions in a big picture essay that we will have more news on soon.
In short, too much of the discussion about science communication continues to be based on a decades old false narrative that blames conflict and bad decision making on public ignorance. This myth of science illiteracy as culprit--paired with similar hyperbolic claims about "a rising tide of anti-science"--continues to distract scientists, advocates, journalists, and organizations from more effective public engagement. Worse, as applied in the case of the New Atheist movement, the false assumptions likely do further damage to the cause of public outreach.
In sharp contrast to these decades-old stereotypes about the public, research and evidence points to the following conclusions. Building public engagement efforts around these assumptions rather than false premises would be a major leap forward.
1. Research shows that science literacy has very little to do with public support, trust, perceptions, respect, or deference to scientific expertise.
2. In American society, scientific organizations enjoy almost unrivaled respect, authority, and hold great communication capital but need to learn to use this communication capital wisely and effectively.
3. Specifically, when an area of science spills into the wider public eye, science organizations need to provide messages that emphasize shared common values and personal relevance rather than make it easy for people to re-interpret science in terms of false conflict, complexity, or uncertainty. When science organizations fail to do this, they cede public communication to rival groups who seek to promote these interpretations.
4. Through public dialogue and consultation initiatives, science organizations need to empower citizens to participate in collective decisions but need to be prepared for citizen decisions to cut against the self-interests of science.
Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.
- To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
- Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
- There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.
Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco!
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
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