Review – The Sciences of Science Communication

Science is no longer a subject reserved for discussion only by an elite pool of members. No one is immune to science, for its principles govern our daily lives. We have all had moments in our lives when we were curious as to why certain things happened the way they did. How did water turn to ice in the freezer? Why do we see lightning before we hear the claps of thunder? Why should we not put any metal cutlery or utensils in the microwave oven? These are some occurrences we encounter daily which are all backed by science. One may choose not to study science, but cannot choose to ignore it.

A little bit of science knowledge is important for us to understand certain phenomena. For example, pregnant women are known to pass urine more frequently because as the uterus expands, it pushes against the bladder causing the urge to pee. However, a woman who has no idea about her changing anatomy may get distressed thinking something is not right internally. This is when effective science communication comes in play. It has to provide information in a manner that can be received by untrained audience. Naturally, the more science the audience knows, the easier it is for information to be conveyed. Particularly those that involve decision-making.

There are FOUR main tasks which science communication must perform:

Task 1: The particular branch of science that is most relevant to the decisions of the people must be identified.

It is important for decision-makers to at least know the facts about their choices. As it is impossible for a layperson, or even a scientist for that matter, to know all the sciences, information in the form of simple summaries of expected outcomes would suffice. Science communicators must ensure that people know what they should rather than something that would be nice to know.

Task 2: Determine what the people already know.

Any person would lose attention when they are subjected repeatedly to information that they already know. To prevent this, communicators must carry out due research in the form of interviews or surveys to understand the people’s mastery of the sciences.

Task 3: Design communications to fill the gaps between what people already know and what they need to know.

The information that people already know is dependent on several factors. Notably, their interest and opportunity to learn. However, there is a possibility that the information known to them might be misconceptions or inferred from general knowledge. Therefore it is not possible for communicators to successfully convey specific information purely based on the audience’s assumed knowledge. For that, communicators need to know the mental model of their audience.

Task 4: Evaluate the adequacy of these communications.

Communication is necessary for the maintenance of the public’s trust in scientists. For that, communications must measure their adequacy by ensuring that they contain the necessary information, are easily accessible and written in a manner that the public can understand.

Science communication is the collaboration amongst scientists of different sorts. A successful communication is achieved when the public receives the necessary information, in comprehensible format, to make decisions.

Reference:

Baruch Fischhoff. (2013). The Sciences of Science Communication. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111(Suppl 4).

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