Posted by: Dan | July 11, 2006

Framing and Science Advocacy

BioScience has an editorial echoing the calls to science advocacy of Matthew Nisbet, Chris Mooney, Janet Stemwedel and others, which I’ve talked about. A snippet (emphasis mine):

Although some scientists might want to do no more than lament ignorant attitudes and return to their terminals, they risk being marginalized in an often unsympathetic political climate. Frames suggest an alternative strategy. Nisbet proposes that communicators who specialize in science and analyze ethics and policy options better than many of today’s journalists could be more effective in educating the public about scientific issues. Unfortunately, many mainstream media outlets are now shedding science correspondents, not hiring new ones, so researchers may have to shoulder more of the burden of communication themselves. The Internet increasingly makes that possible. Yet although some scientists have long been exceptional communicators, the shift in roles will require mental readjustments.

The frames concept recognizes that facts are not enough to win popularity; emotional responses need to be excited as well. Scientists may find that notion alarming, because scholarly communications must be forthright about the uncertainties of scientific analysis and recognize its always provisional nature. That is a crucial part of science, but it does not yield enthusiasts. And since not everyone can be an expert, enthusiasts who believe science is important in big decisions are needed to spread science’s influence.

To make progress, scientist-communicators might have to be explicit about advocating for policies based on consensus science when acting in a public persona and then switch to intrascience mode, with detailed qualifications, during discussions integral to science. Context is all: Some statements that are appropriate for a scientist addressing a town meeting may not be appropriate for a scientific academy.


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