The Science of
Science Communication II
Summary of a Colloquium
Held on September 23-25, 2013,
at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This volume is based on the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences, “The Science of Science Communication II,” held September 23-25, 2013, at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC.
NOTICE: Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this volume are those of the colloquium presenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academy of Sciences.
International Standard Book Number -13: 978-0-309-29200-9
International Standard Book Number -10: 0-309-29200-X
Additional copies of this book are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth St., NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.
Cover art: In this 2013 commissioned work by Heather Larkin, the landscape of science communication appears as a patchwork of regions—or conceptual contexts—each characterized by unique features, dimensions, and hues. Communication bridges the regions in complex combinations of messages between individuals, groups, and institutions.
Copyright 2014 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
Successful scientists must be effective communicators within their professions. Without those skills, they could not write papers and funding proposals, give talks and field questions, or teach classes and mentor students. However, communicating with audiences outside their profession—people who may not share scientists’ interests, technical background, cultural assumptions, and modes of expression—presents different challenges and requires additional skills. Communication about science in political or social settings differs from discourse within a scientific discipline. Not only are scientists just one of many stakeholders vying for access to the public agenda, but the political debates surrounding science and its applications may sometimes confront scientists with unfamiliar and uncomfortable discussions involving religious values, partisan interests, and even the trustworthiness of science.
In response to these problems, the National Academy of Sciences has hosted two Sackler colloquia on The Science of Science Communication. These events brought together leading social, behavioral, and decision scientists to familiarize one another, other scientists, and communication practitioners with current research that can improve the communication of science to lay audiences. In the Sackler colloquia tradition, the meetings also allowed social and natural scientists to identify new opportunities for collaboration and advancing their own research, while improving public engagement with science.
The first colloquium, and accompanying special issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,1 included research in science
education, communication, medicine, and decision science. The second colloquium, reported here, incorporated social and cognitive psychology, political science, mass communication, cultural anthropology, business, and social network analysis. It, too, will be captured in a special issue of PNAS, with articles summarizing relevant research areas in those sciences and applying them to domains as diverse as climate change, nanotechnology, and medicine.
Following 2 days of talks and panels, the second colloquium hosted day-long work sessions, bringing together subject-matter experts, researchers in the sciences of communication, and communication professionals. Together they developed communication strategies for four topics: climate change, nanotechnology, obesity and nutrition, and evolution. More than 500 people attended the colloquium, while over 10,000 joined concurrent webcasts or visited the archived recordings.2
As reported here, speakers encouraged scientists to approach communication in new ways and to create the infrastructure needed to link scientists, communication professionals, and their audiences. Speakers provided evidence-based guidance on how to listen to others so as to identify their information needs, ways of thinking about the world, and the cultural stereotypes regarding scientists. They delved deeply into the incentive systems that shape what scientists study and how they report their work, the subtle changes in “framing” that can influence how messages are interpreted, the complex channels that determine how messages flow, and the potential politicization of scientific evidence.
Speakers were also challenged to go beyond their disciplinary pursuits in order to understand the problems that face those scientists who attempt to communicate their work and collaborate with scientists from other disciplines. In the spirit of the Sackler colloquia, those collaborations can lead to research that would not have occurred without working together in a common cause. As a result, the enterprise can be as beneficial for the sciences of communication as for the communication of science.
Finally, the colloquium organizers would like to thank the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Science, and COMPASS for their valuable financial support of the colloquium summarized in these pages.
Ralph J. Cicerone
Alan I. Leshner
Barbara A. Schaal
Dietram A. Scheufele Co-organizers