The Science of Science Communication: National Academies Event Examines Our Inconvenient Minds and Social Identities

Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of research from the social and behavioral sciences offering insight on how individuals, social groups and political systems come to understand and make decisions related to science, the environment, technology, and medicine.


Research in this area stretches across disciplinary boundaries, university departments, funding agencies and field-specific journals, is the subject of inquiry at journals like Science and Nature, debated in the media and at blogs, and the focus of top-selling books.

Indeed, as New Scientist magazine proclaimed in a recent cover story: "It may be high time US scientists put aside their own scepticism about the 'soft' social sciences, and embrace what these studies have to say" about the communication processes shaping debates ranging from climate change to stem cell research.

Enter the National Academies.  

Marshaling the very best of its convening and agenda-setting function, on May 20-21 in Washington, DC, the Academies will be hosting a prestigious 2-day Sackler Colloquia surveying the state-of-the-art of social science research on communication, connecting this research to its implications for science-related governance, policy and public engagement.

Highlights include:

  • A keynote address by Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, author of the current best-seller Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow.
  • Presentations by a diversity of leading social scientists summarizing the state of knowledge in their fields.
  • A roundtable featuring former and current White House Science Advisers Neal Lane, John Gibbon, and John Holdren (invited).
  • Discussions by Arizona State President Michael Crow, New York Times journalist David Pogue, and PBS Nova producer Paula Apsell.
  • In one of the sessions, I will be joined by colleagues William Eveland and Dominique Brossard, reviewing research on how the media cover and portray science; the relationship to policy and societal decisions; how audiences find and use information, and the impact on attitudes, behavior and knowledge.

    Other presentations by collaborators familiar to readers of this blog include Edward Maibach reviewing the role of research in science communication across the private, government and non-profit sectors; Anthony Leiserowitz proposing innovations related to climate change communication; and Dietram Scheufele integrating research across fields on the societal dynamics of science communication

    I have posted the 2 day agenda below. You will want to register early by May 7. The event will be held in the historic National Academy of Sciences building, located at 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC, adjacent to the National Mall, U.S. State Department and Lincoln Memorial.

    The event was organized by National Academies president Ralph Cicerone and Vice President Barbara Schaal, AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, Carnegie Mellon University's Baruch Fischhoff, and the University of Wisconsin's Dietram Scheufele.  Video will be available and summary papers by participants will be submitted for review and possible publication at the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

    Program and Agenda

    Monday, May 21, 2012

    8:30 a.m.Welcome

  • Ralph Cicerone, President, National Academy of Sciences
  • Alan Leshner, Chief Executive Officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Barbara Schaal, Vice President, National Academy of Sciences
  • The Science of Science Communication: Overviews

  • The Micro View: Individual Responses in Science Communication, Baruch Fischhoff, Carnegie Mellon
  • The Macro View: Social Dynamics in Science Communication, Dietram Scheufele, Wisconsin
  • Discussion

    10:00 a.m.Science in our Daily Life: Emerging Technologies and Their Likely Impacts on Lay Publics

  • Nuclear Power and other Site Selection Issues, Kate Jackson, Westinghouse CTO
  • Agricultural Biotechnology, David Fischhoff, Monsanto
  • Nanotechnology, Vicky Colvin, Rice University
  • Geoengineering, David Keith, Calgary
  • Discussion

    12:00 p.m.Lunch Speaker

  • Why We Can’t Trust Our Intuitions: Communication as a Science, Arthur Lupia, Michigan 
  • 1:00 p.m.The Science of Science Communication I: What do people likely need to know about science?

  • The Content of Scientific Communication: Identifying the Scientific Knowledge that is Most Relevant to Personal and Policy Decisions, Detlof von Winterfeldt, University of Southern California
  • Personal Beliefs: How People Perceive Scientific Facts and Issues, Wändi Bruine de Bruin, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Current Attitudes: People’s Evaluative Responses to Socially-Relevant Scientific Content, Jon Krosnick, Stanford University
  • Discussion

    3:00 p.m.The Science of Science Communication II: How can scientists provide the information that individuals need? How can that information be conveyed effectively? How can trustworthy communication channels be created? 

  • Generating the Science Needed for Relevant Communication: How Can Social, Behavioral, and Decision Research Extract the Information that the Public Needs Most from the Wealth of Scientific Knowledge?, Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin, Dartmouth
  • Updating Beliefs: How Can We Provide Scientific Information in the Interest of Creating More Coherent Public “Mental Models?”, David Klahr, Carnegie Mellon
  • The Science of Citizen Participation: What Are the Best Ways to Engage in Two-Way Communication with Those Concerned About Science-Related Issues?, Tom Dietz, Michigan State
  • Discussion

    5:00 p.m.Annual Sackler Lecture

    5:00 p.m. – Reception6:00 p.m. – Annual Sackler Lecture, Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012

    8:30 a.m.Welcome

  • Ralph Cicerone, President, National Academy of Sciences
  • Alan Leshner, Chief Executive Officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Barbara Schaal, Vice President, National Academy of Sciences
  • 8:45 a.m.The Science of Science Communication III: Communication Dynamics in Socio-Political Contexts – How Science is Presented and Understood in Modern Mass Cultures

  • Effects of Mass Media on the Political Process: How Do Mass Media Shape the Nature of Public Debates About Science? Matthew C. Nisbet, American University
  • Effects of Mass Media on Attitudes and Behaviors: How Do Mass Media (Across Different Channels and Content) Influence the Public? William P. Eveland, Ohio State University
  • New Media Landscapes: Where Do People Go for Information About Science and How Do They Evaluate What they find? Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin
  • Discussion

    10:45 a.m.Science and Politics: Forum of Presidential Science Advisors

    Moderator:  Ralph Cicerone

  • John Holdren, Presidential Office of Science and Technology (invited)
  • Neal Lane, Rice University
  • John H. Gibbons, Resource Strategies
  • Discussi

    12:15 p.m.Lunch

  • Lost in Translation? Journalists as Conduits Between Science and the Public David Pogue, NY Times/NOVA
  • 1:15 p.m.The Science of Science Communication IV: Structures and Strategies—Developing Organizational Infrastructures for Evidence-Based Communication about Science

  • Institutional Constraints and Incentives: What Factors Determine When Scientists Act as Communicators and How They Succeed?,  Hans-Peter Peters, Research Center Jülich
  • Building Organizational Infrastructures for Effective Communication: What Have We Learned from Experiences in the Corporate, Governmental, and Academic Worlds?, Ed Maibach, George Mason University
  • Communication as an Empirical Endeavor: Why Is Systematic Evaluation So Rare and How Can We Make It the Norm? Martin Storksdeick, National Research Council
  • Discussion

    3:15 p.m.Bold Proposals: Harnessing Communication Science

    Speakers: Barbara Kline Pope, National Academy of Sciences

    Anthony Leiserowitz, Yale University

    Valerie Reyna, Cornell University

    Respondents:Alan Leshner, American Association for the Advancement of Science

    Michael Crow, Arizona State

    Paula S. Apsell, PBS/NOVA

    4:30 p.m.General Discussion

    5:00 p.m.Adjourn

     See Also:

    What's Next for Science Communication? Promising Directions and Emerging Best Practices

    Reading List and Videos for American University Seminar on Science and Environmental Communication

    How Scientists View the Public, the Media,, and the Political Process

    Understanding Public Opinion and Participation in the Climate Change Debate

    Reframing Climate Change as a Public Health Problem

    Science Journalists Online: Shifting Roles and Emerging Practices

    Study Maps Relationship Between Cable News and Climate Change Perceptions

    America's Peak Oil Perceptions

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