‘No judge is going to tell me how to run our schools.’ I saw the rest of the participants clenching their jaws and nodding enthusiastically.”
The staff was shocked at how wrong they had been, especially when a quantitative survey uncovered the same attitudes. Relying on their intuition about effective messages would have been “a very bad idea,” said Pope, and the third edition of Science, Evolution, and Creationism (NAS/IOM, 2008) is a very different document than it would have been had audience research not been done.
The Science of Science Communication II colloquium was similarly devoted to using the best available evidence to guide science communication. The colloquium was built on the first Science of Science Communication colloquium,1 but it sought to dig deeper into the methodologies, analyses, and findings of science communication research. It also featured, on the third day of the colloquium, concurrent workshops on four pressing topics—evolution, climate change, nanotechnology, and nutrition and obesity—where researchers and practitioners could develop research-based insights on communication strategies that would have immediate application.
Science communication occurs through artifacts, including language, diagrams, and other representations. These artifacts both reflect the cultural assumptions of their creators and reinforce different ways of seeing the world, said Douglas Medin, the Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University. Science communication, therefore, needs to pay attention both to the artifacts with which it is conducted and to the different ways people have of looking at the world.
As an example of cultural differences in perspectives, Medin cited cognitive research comparing East Asians, typically Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, with westerners, typically people from the United States. East Asians tend to pay more attention to background information, while westerners attend more to focal objects. For example, when shown successive pictures that look very similar, East Asians are much better at detecting background changes, while westerners are better at detecting foreground changes. Another study found that western paintings have three to four times as much representation devoted to faces, while East Asian portraits include more background information. The same difference was reflected in the aesthetic preferences of East Asians and westerners.