Advertisement
MO BIO
MO BIO

Special feature: How should scientists sell science?

Tell us whether you think researchers should change the way they communicate hot-button issues to the public

By | July 30, 2007

For the last few months arguably the most contentious life sciences debate online has concerned how scientists should communicate important or controversial issues to the media and public.
The debate was sparked by an article in Science entitled "Framing science", which argued that stating the facts is not enough if scientists want to communicate technical complexities in the news. The authors, Matthew Nisbet and Chris Mooney, proposed in this article and elsewhere that scientists should pare down complex technical issues and learn to actively "frame" the information to make it relevant to different audiences.
Almost immediately the science blogosphere was filled with heated discussions on the topic. (You can find an exhaustive list of the blog posts and discussions here.) Critics said that "framing science" is just another way of saying spin, and that scientists should never sacrifice the facts or the message no matter who their audience is. But what do you think? Are you concerned about the way that scientists discuss hot-button issues like stem cell research and climate change in the public domain? How do you think scientists should explain these messages to an often-wary general public? To inform a future feature in the magazine that will be co-written by one of the authors of the Science article that started the debate, we want to know your thoughts. You can have your say in two ways: Post a comment here how you think scientists should communicate about issues that set the public agenda, and also take part in a special online survey, devised by the feature authors and the editors of The Scientist, which explores many of the issues around scientists and the media. With your help we can gauge how the life science community and people who have an interest in life sciences feel about the issue of framing science, and add to the growing debate that could help shape the future of science communication in the media. Editor's note (posted July 30): When originally posted, the article incorrectly spelled Matthew Nisbet's name. We regret the error, which has been corrected. Links within this article: M.C. Nisbet and C. Mooney. Framing science. Science, April 6, 2007. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/17412941 M.C. Nisbet and C. Mooney. Thanks for the facts, now sell them. Washington Post April 15, 2007. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/13/AR2007041302064_pf.html One-stop shopping for the framing science debate. Science & Politics April 20, 2007. http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html
Advertisement

Comments

July 30, 2007

This is a no brainer. If you are presenting science in technical terms that are beyond the listener/reader, they will be lost, confused and develop a distaste for science as only for the geek high priest. Effective science communication requires meeting the audience at their level, taking into account their schema. And, unfortunately, the public science schema is severely lacking these days. We need to approach communication for the masses at an entry level that assumes perhaps exposure to one high school course in biology.\n\nThis in no way implies we should "spin" the facts or omit anything important. To the contrary, we need to provide the basic story anyone can understand, and also provide resources for more in-depth investigation. This tiered approach to communication allows the outsider to understand the basics and the more experienced to go beyond, all the way to the original research articles if they so desire.\n\nYes, it requires a greater effort to communicate. But isn't a society that understands science a better one in which to practice our profession?

July 30, 2007

As a non-scientist who avidly reads scientific publications and books, I'm not typical of the public needing clarity about science. But I do talk a good deal with others about scientific issues, in particular those which can be considered moral and ethical challenges. \n\nIn my opinion, scientists should NEVER lie or otherwise spin data to suit their audience, however, they SHOULD make every effort to understand the audience's uneducated beliefs about the issue so that when they give information, they can directly address these issues. Most non-scientists don't truly 'hear' facts unless they are presented in conjunction with relevance to their beliefs. \n\nA perfect example of this miscommunication/misunderstanding is the stem cell debate. The absurd belief that utilizing umbilical stem cells for research is somehow killing babies is nearly incomprehensible, yet this attitude among the ignorant has profoundly affected funding and research - to the detriment of all. Only clear, concise, honest yet simple explanations to the general public will eventually remedy this fiasco. \n\nI believe the goals of scientists when publicizing scientific data beyond the scientific community should be utmost clarity, taught with integrity and respect for the reader (whether they deserve it or not). Spin will only generate mistrust. Overly technical presentations will be worthless as they'll not be understood.\n\nPublications which present these issues to the general public should have secondary editors who are neither scientists nor science writers reading articles as an assist for comprehension by the targeted audiences.\n\n

July 30, 2007

Just took your survey, and I'm afraid that the survey itself hints at some of the problems scientists have in communicating with nonscientists. The survey was very black and white - saying things such as the most important thing in communication is technical accuracy or selling it to a certain group. Actually, both are important; you shouldn't be technically inaccurate, but you will have to both frame it for a group of nonscientists both to make it understandable and to tell them why you think it is important.\n\nInterpretation of the data and discussing why this data means something to the overall world is very important. Nonscientists tend to interpret scientists desire to be accurate and neutral as meaning scientists don't care about the world or other people, and that they are cold and unfeeling. The nonscientists also aren't particularly interested in technical details, but are very interested in the possible applications.\n\nWhile scientists tend not to like to interpret the data too far, as they believe that this is innaccurate, I think it is acceptable to frame your data carefully and give opinions about the impact of it. \n\nFinally, while I do believe interpretation is important, things to be careful about are: communicating science impacting religion, abortion or other "feeling" areas may not change people's mind about their opinions, as people tend not to be logical about these things; and communications must be done very carefully so as not to be taken out of context. Because of these things, using a communications professional or getting formal training may be very useful.

July 30, 2007

A complex issue balancing total honesty with understandable information\nby Carol Everhart Roper\n\n[Comment posted 2007-07-30]\n\n\nAs a non-scientist who avidly reads scientific publications and books, I'm not typical of the public needing clarity about science. But I do talk a good deal with others about scientific issues, in particular those which can be considered moral and ethical challenges. \n\nIn my opinion, scientists should NEVER lie or otherwise spin data to suit their audience, however, they SHOULD make every effort to understand the audience's uneducated beliefs about the issue so that when they give information, they can directly address these issues. Most non-scientists don't truly 'hear' facts unless they are presented in conjunction with relevance to their beliefs. \n\nA perfect example of this miscommunication/misunderstanding is the stem cell debate. The absurd belief that utilizing umbilical stem cells for research is somehow killing babies is nearly incomprehensible, yet this attitude among the ignorant has profoundly affected funding and research - to the detriment of all. Only clear, concise, honest yet simple explanations to the general public will eventually remedy this fiasco. \n\nI believe the goals of scientists when publicizing scientific data beyond the scientific community should be utmost clarity, taught with integrity and respect for the reader (whether they deserve it or not). Spin will only generate mistrust. Overly technical presentations will be worthless as they'll not be understood. \n\nPublications which present these issues to the general public should have secondary editors who are neither scientists nor science writers reading articles as an assist for comprehension by the targeted audiences.
Avatar of: Earle M. Holland

Earle M. Holland

Posts: 2

July 30, 2007

I disagreed strongly with Nisbet and Mooney and their contention when they made it in both Science and the Washington Post. \n\nThey argued that since different audiences respond differently to certain science-based public policy issues, then scientists should trade their reliance on fact-based arguments for ones instead more slanted towards the interests of specific groups. Their examples -- climate change, evolution, and stem cells -- seem all-too-closely similar to the parable of the blind men and the elephant, each man describing the beast based on his own limited data. In the end, while each describes a portion of the elephant accurately, none can picture the entire animal. That seems more a model for politicians than scientists, and the duo's advice that "scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it," seems somewhat dishonest. I would hope that researchers continue to rely on their data, rather on what "spin" on an issue might prove more convincing.\n\nI've spent the last 35 years or so translating science for the news media and the public (and been somewhat successful at it). In all that time, I felt the onus was on the scientist to do the best research possible and the translation was, in large part, the responsibility of those of us who communicate science. Expecting great scientists to be great communicators is too much to ask, since both the science and the translation are substantive challenges. If it were that easy, then more scientists would readily do it.\n\nIn a time when the national attention span has dwindled frighteningly, advice to tailor the scientist's message to what an audience wants to hear -- instead of letting the data speak for itself -- flies in the face of the historic trust and respect the public has for science and scientists.\n\nLet the politicians and PR gurus cater to public thirsts, and let scientists continue to do good science.

July 30, 2007

The biggest problem in communicating science to the lay public is that some scientists appear to feel that it doesn't matter how grossly inaccurate they are when talking with the lay press, as long as they win them over to their point of view (a political "end justifies the means" endpoint). I think this attitude is lazy. Most life scientists are not only scientists, we are also academics (teachers), and it behooves us to do both of our jobs. The art of teaching the lay audience about science is the art of starting at the beginning and then proceeding via an analogy that they are familiar with, highlighting both its similarity with the familiar subject and exactly how it differs. But we should also remember that the lay public (like our students) are not sheep. They have the right to think as they choose, not as we direct.
Avatar of: Dion Kenney

Dion Kenney

Posts: 1

July 30, 2007

There is very little question that an anti-science spirit has developed in the US over the last half century. Much like the Luddites 200 years ago, they have an agenda which both fears and demonizes progress. And they are organized and apparently relatively well funded.\n\nThe issue for the scientific community is to address the misinformation and provide a clear and compelling case promoting the case for science and progress. In the absence of a pro-science advocacy initiative, this well-funded and organized anti-science agenda will continue to spread unimpeded. Unfortunately, unlike the case of the Luddites, shipping them off to Australia is probably not an option for us!\n\n
Avatar of: Martin Zane, MD

Martin Zane, MD

Posts: 2

July 30, 2007

Seldom do we address our comments to the public. The TV writers use vocabulary addressed to fifth or eighth grade abilities. Perhaps summaries in "Basic English" ought to be written as well as the usual abstract to our papers.
Avatar of: George Poropat

George Poropat

Posts: 1

July 30, 2007

Many scientific issues are complex and competent scientists work and live with complexity. In many cases the media and politicians abhor complexity because it makes the 'manipulation of issues' difficult. Unfortunately some of the general public also dislike complexity. To communicate effectively you have to understand the way a message will be received and perhaps too many scientists focus on the way the message is sent i.e. with all the complex details. In doing so they risk having the message ignored or distorted by the media, politicians and the public. The answer? Who knows; but complexity is important!
Avatar of: Plvirus

Plvirus

Posts: 2

July 30, 2007

Surely, what we are talking about here is a very controversial issue. But before we start heating our discussions, why not take a look at data VS fact? In my opinion, data is not equal to fact. In fact, A: science is mostly based on data which scientists try various methods to collect, but when it comes to interpreting the data , different scientist may draw distinct conclusions. Take biosphere 2 as an example, oxygen level wherein mysteriously dramatically decreased. According to the data sets that bioshphere 2 group had collected, various explanations were proposed, some thought that plants within did not produce enough oxygen, some believed that it were the bacteria who stealed the oxygen, and so on, but who could directly prove his/her explanations by refining this small version of earth? B: there is also another kind of science that is relatively directively based on facts or even making facts in its final process. For example, Fleming dicovered penicillin in 1929 and published the results of his investigations, noting that his discovery might have therapeutic value if it could be produced in quantity. Then, followed with Florey, Chain and Moyer who finnaly got enough penicillin to cure people, the silverbullet was born, and so did the fact. To me, if one were in the situation of A, better not sacrifice one's data, especially when one want to make some points; if in B, better communicate more facts in the news, cause that is the take-home message which the public really could and need to understand.\nBy the way, i am not a scientist, just a Ph.D student who has already set the goal to become a seicntist:)
Avatar of: Plvirus

Plvirus

Posts: 2

July 31, 2007

Surely, what we are talking about here is a very controversial issue. But before we start heating our discussions, why not take a look at data VS fact? In my opinion, data is not equal to fact. In fact, A: science is mostly based on data which scientists try various methods to collect, but when it comes to interpreting the data , different scientist may draw distinct conclusions. Take biosphere 2 as an example, oxygen level wherein mysteriously dramatically decreased. According to the data sets that bioshphere 2 group had collected, various explanations were proposed, some thought that plants within did not produce enough oxygen, some believed that it were the bacteria who stealed the oxygen, and so on, but who could directly prove his/her explanations by refining this small version of earth? B: there is also another kind of science that is relatively directively based on facts or even making facts in its final process. For example, Fleming dicovered penicillin in 1929 and published the results of his investigations, noting that his discovery might have therapeutic value if it could be produced in quantity. Then, followed with Florey, Chain and Moyer who finnaly got enough penicillin to cure people, the silverbullet was born, and so did the fact. To me, if one were in the situation of A, better not sacrifice one's data, especially when one want to make some points; if in B, better communicate more facts in the news, cause that is the take-home message which the public really could and need to understand.\nBy the way, i am not a scientist, just a Ph.D student who has already set the goal to become a seicntist:)

July 31, 2007

With reference to the public's understanding of evolution, framing becomes a problem not from the lack of it, but rather from the disasterous, and truly unhelpful, framing of the study of evolution as somehow existing in order to oppose religion. That is, not just something that requires a response from theologians, but that scientists are, or should be, devoted to undermining religion. That's only half of the bad framing though. The other half necessary for this framing is portraying creation science, in any of its guises, as representing all of religious belief. Whether explicit, or implicit, the media, and many of the scientists who take the time to write for the public, are particularly fond of framing evolution this way since good fights usually sell a story, or a book. \n\nBut this problem is almost a blessing compared to the real problem with the public's misunderstanding of evolution. The greater problem is the scientific community's own naive insistance that creation science isn't something they need to know about, beyond a vague idea that its bad - that teaching evolution is all that is necessary. Following and opposing creation science is still something that's sloughed off to one or two obsessed individuals on campus, the way the use of computers was unfashionable in the 80's. In this vacuum the well funded, PR competent, and long view planning creation science campaigns have successfully convinced the public that scientific knowledge, of at least some subjects, is totally subjective. The problem is much worse than most seem to realize. I've had the opportunity to teach AP Biology and have been astonished to find how many high school teachers feel it necessary to present creation science, however briefly, as an alternative to the real science. Like most of the university academic community, apparently, they believe a little bit of it won't hurt when, in reality, it destroys the student's clear understanding of what science is, and how its done.\n\nOnly a handful of academics are even attempting to frame the subject of evolution against what the public is familiar with, creation science, and explaining why creation science is wrong while not threatening religious beliefs. This isn't spin, its framing the subject in a useful, and truthful way. Its alot more truthful than insisting on ignoring the problem.

July 31, 2007

From Osher Doctorow Ph.D.\n\nMost of the public has not the faintest idea how to evaluate scientific discoveries or scientific news (including mathematics, engineering, medicine). In the process of teaching the public a little about this, scientists can also interest the public in science itself.\n\nFor example, "laymen" can actually access physics and mathematics papers on arXiv and Front for the Mathematics ArXiv free, and they can practice a few methods of evaluating the contents of papers by such indicators as whether a paper just alters one or two words of the title of a previous paper or is mostly different from other titles. They can also determine whether the author of a paper is from one of the top ranked universities or from a "bottom ranked" university, whether the author is a Nobel Laureate (at least in physics) or other major prize winner from related internet sites, etc.\n\nScientists can even do more to enable the public to evaluate papers by scientists in the above scenarios, including issuing lists of major current issues and problems which the reader can then check against the titles of papers. If the list is issued by a large scientific or mathematics organization, it probably would convey more credibility to the public. Sometimes titles of papers don't mention issues covered in the papers, but quite often they do.\n
Avatar of: Eduardo Ferreyra

Eduardo Ferreyra

Posts: 1

July 31, 2007

Looking back in history should teach us valuable lessons. One important issue is that science has been, and still is, used to foster political agendas, as Lysenkoism and eugenics in the mid part of the 20th Century shows. Politicians believe that scientists can provide them with answers to all their questions, and what?s alarming is that most scientists believe they can!\n\nAs a science journalist for more than 20 years, I have seldom ?if ever- found a scientist answering to a question with a simple ?I don?t know.? Some scientists will point out that there is a great degree of uncertainty in many subjects, and this is today quite clear in the climate change or ?global warming? debate.\n\nPoliticians are overwhelmingly ignoring real scientific facts and rely on the opinion of scientific advisors that are aware of the political agenda of their ?advisees?. So they give their bosses what their bosses want to hear, and that is as far away from honesty and real science as it can be imagined. Of course, conveying science to the public is no easy task, and history gives so many examples about how science has been distorted to promote a political agenda that I cannot put much faith in the future of science communication. Clear examples are political campaigns of the past, where dubious scientific studies have been used to ban DDT, or CFCs, or PCBs, or many useful chemicals and/or technologies (biotech and genetic engineering is our present example of a politically driven campaign to stop an already proven useful technology), following the dogma a of the Malthusian philosophy.\n\nAnd, of course, real and honest scientists should stay away from Stephen Schenider?s advice of 1968: "To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest." \n\nHe simply forgot that only the truth will set us free.\n
Avatar of: CT

CT

Posts: 1

July 31, 2007

Is there and urgent need for better public understanding of science? Yes. Should scientists "sell their work" to a broader audience in order to address this understanding gap? No! Scientists have a reputation for being so absorbed in the details of their work that they are unable to communicate their findings to a lay audience. This is a good thing! The primary focus of their universe should be their field; they should not be primarily - or even directly - concerned with the appreciation of their work by non-scientists. Rather, what is needed is a layer between the practicing scientists and the public. This layer (science sections of mainstream media, specialist media such as The Scientist) will be better tuned to the needs of the public. Professional science communicators will have necessary expertise (e.g. in producing graphic or illustrations) to successfully communicate to the public. Most importantly, professional science communicators will have the *time* to serve their audience. A much more urgent time-intensive responsibility for scientists is mentoring, for example. Have you ever heard a graduate student or postdoc say: I wish my PI would spend less time working with me on my research? \n\nOverall, the solution to the problems related to poor public understanding of science must be attacked by professional science communicators. Scientists should remain focused on their immediate sphere of responsibilities. \n\nCT \n(former practicing scientists)

July 31, 2007

Many "top" scientists don't seem to be able to, or are unwilling to tailor their comments or presentations to suit their current audience. They will give the same presentation to colleagues as well as the general public, which is a huge mistake if they actually want to get their message across. People in general don't care how brilliant you are, they just want to know "how will this affect me?" Unless you can hold the audience's attention, no one will care. Even better if you can present it as a sound bite for the evening news.\nI believe that science needs more scientists who are willing and able to present science in a manner that the general public find both interesting and understandable. Think David Bellamy and Richard Attenborough documentaries. There is also no need or justification to either ?spin? or distort facts to tell a story, but there is a huge necessity for science to be presented in an understandable manner. Science must compete for government funding with any number of other budget areas, and the old adage about squeaky wheels and oil comes into play. Groups who can present well in a public arena tend to flourish, where those that either can?t or wont, don?t. Personal presentation does matter, particularly on TV or in front of politicians and the public. Get some good clothes, get a haircut, and play the game or fade into obscurity.\n
Avatar of: Michael Pyshnov

Michael Pyshnov

Posts: 10

August 1, 2007

Science should not be sold in a way The Scientist sells subscription to The Scientist. It's disgusting: while The Scientist claims working for public good, that good is made available to rich people only. \n\nYes, Newton did not use public money and he made available his research to all. How can The Scientist even mention his name?
Avatar of: Lisa M. Unico

Lisa M. Unico

Posts: 3

August 1, 2007

I think that scientists who take the time and energy to communicate to the public about science, and who try to engage their interest (like Carl Sagan), should be commended and not punished for their efforts. Sagan was nominated to the National Academy but never elected to it.\n\nYoung scientists, if they take the time to communicate to the public about their work, or about science in general, are likely to find that this will work against them in the tenure decision. They will be seen as "not serious scientists" and as having wasted time and resources that could have/should have been spent in the lab or on grant proposals.\n\nI think this is a grave mistake on the part of the scientific community. Given the use of public funds to support most basic research and science teaching, we cannot continue to act as the high priests of science who only talk to each other. If this continues, at some point the average tax payer will decide that his tax dollars would be better spent some other way.\n\nWhether we need more scientists or not, we definitely need everyone to know more about science. Modern life is affected more and more by technology, and yet scientific literacy is in a woeful state. Scientists need to do their part to remediate this situation.

August 1, 2007

It should go without saying that when explaining scientific concepts to a lay audience, scientists should adjust the level of complexity to the audience, yet must be accurate.\n\nThe real debate is whether scientists should explain the implications of scientific discoveries for society. I would argue they are a unique position \nto stimulate informed debate by stating (for example) their concern about the effects of climate change, the economic value of healthy wetlands or the ethical issues raised by stem cell research. \n\nBut while everyone, scientists included, have a right to their own opinions, the terms "sell" and "framing" implies that the authors are advocating from scientists the kind of manipulation we expect from those with a vested interest in a specific outcome. Hopefully, scientists can cultivate honest discussion and at least acknowledge opinion with which they don't agree.
Avatar of: Maria Taylor

Maria Taylor

Posts: 1

August 2, 2007

\nExperience of media and politics tells us scientists can interpret 'framing' as a need to have a better understanding of how politicians and the lay public interpret science speak -- uncertainty being a key troublesome concept. What a lay audience hears when a scientist says there is xx percent uncertainty is "we don't know" . What the scientist understands is that of course there is never absolute proof in science and we are operating on the best available evidence. \nFraming in the climate change communication arena has recently shifted to risk management terminology which is closer to what people understand in everyday life dealing with insurance etc.\n\nUnderstanding the impact of language and rhetoric is important as is the appreciation of context in presenting scientific findings -- where can the audience slot this information in the big picture of discovery or within the science and policy framework?\n\nThat is all framing, and not the same as spin
Avatar of: Kathryn Augustyn

Kathryn Augustyn

Posts: 1

August 2, 2007

The Sciences need Scientific Writers. The researcher and founder of the scientific item, needs to report findings to a scientific media person, one who is familiar with or can be informed in the correct manner from the scientist what the invention or finding is. \n\nWhat is needed are scientific writers who can communicate to the public. \n\nWriters needs to be taught scientific writing as well as factual, news, journalism, non fiction.\n\nBest bet for scientists are non-fiction writers. They will wrap themselves around the topic.\n\nGood Science researcher/writers who are able to put the scientific language into a public format, where the reader/audience can learn and comment would be an asset to newspapers, magazines, and television/internet. Science is part of everyday life, and it should be part of the information industry, on local levels as well as national and international levels.\n\nTruth in science is also the best policy, no matter the outcome. The writer has to see beyond the facade of science and see the full truth, not what is programmed from the scientists or the university, lab, government agency or company scientists.\n\nThe media should be an open source to the public on science that needs to be relayed. Science news should not sway in a political manner and should not have an agenda other than to discover or to relay the truth of the science.\n\nSwaying people to a certain theory is also wrong.\nTheories should be debated in a public forum.\nScientific debates on all theories should be made available for the public to attend. Science should never be secret endeavors, otherwise, the public is not kept aware of important findings, that pertain to everyday life.\n\n

August 5, 2007

If reporting goes beyond facts and a context to the point of "spin", science will be the loser. It would only be a short time before some "spun" idea was obviously wrong. Such events would rapidly undermine public trust and science would lose trust and support.

August 6, 2007

Clean House First\n\nBased on many years of doing peer-reviewed science while also writing books and columns about science for nonscientists, I have long been persuaded that scientists will have a far better chance of selling their science if they first clean house. \n\nVirtually every issue of SCIENCE and NATURE carries a news story about the latest scandal, plagiarism or paper retraction? When will this end? The miscreants among us drag all of us down in the eyes of the public.\n\nWhy do some scientists give support to cynics by exaggerating the facts and making over-the-top predictions to make their point?\n\nWhy do some journals and even entire fields of science tolerate overt conflicts of interest while others do not require full disclosure of data and the algorithms used in some models?\n\nWhy do many journals charge enormous fees (e.g., $30) for a copy of a paper that was sponsored by taxpayers? \n\nWhen will every science degree include basic courses in cultural history, the history of science, government, writing, ethics and a general review of all the major fields of science?\n\nIt is also worth considering that when some taxpayer-supported scientists disregard or even ridicule the cultural and religious views of the taxpayers who pay their salaries, benefits and overhead, they are not doing science a favor. Yes, they have the right, and it might even make them feel good, but the cost is bad public relations.\n\nScientists will be far better able to reverse the increasing cynicism among nonscientists when they polish their image by addressing these and other serious issues. I propose that a conference be convened or a panel be designated to review the issues and produce a formal report on how science can address and resolve these issues. The conference or panel should include educators, auditors, former legislators, ethicists, attorneys, citizen scientists, science journalists, journal editors, grad students, post docs, mid-career scientists and senior scientists.\n\nWhen scientists clean house and are ready to promote their science, there is no better advice than that offered by Richard Feynman in his 1974 commencement address at Caltech: "I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist." \n\nForrest M. Mims III\nwww.forrrestmims.org
Avatar of: Ruth Rosin

Ruth Rosin

Posts: 117

August 6, 2007

They can either teach others all the scientific expertise that took them years to acquire, or present an oversimplification, which means, simply presenting an outright distortion.\n\nThere is no other alternative!
Avatar of: Frank Field

Frank Field

Posts: 1

August 6, 2007

I tried to take your questionnaire, but it demonstrates the precise problem that underlies this entire discussion. The problem is not science, but the more fundamental question of how knowledge is developed, demonstrated and employed in science --- and how those activities vary in other domains.\n\nWhile Pielke's "The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics" makes a host of simplifications, it clearly articulates the fundamental problems that arise when scientists are confronted with communicating their knowledge to others. In the end, there are questions of values and motives that must be confronted by scientists before they attempt to convey their knowledge to outsiders. \n\nThere is nothing wrong with having those values/motives, but it is important to recognize that they may not be shared and, as a consequence, scientists must be careful to distinguish between that which science "proves" and that which the scientist believes must be done in the face of that proof. The need to employ a Lakoff-ian "framing" emerges out of the tension between these two. \n\nToo often, scientists have presented themselves as honest brokers of knowledge when, in fact, they are actively working as advocates. Scientists should be allowed their advocacy positions, but they should never claim that the use of scientific information in the defense of their positions necessarily privileges that advocacy position.\n\nDoing so undermines the credibility of the presenter and, unfortunately, the field itself.
Avatar of: Gordon Couger

Gordon Couger

Posts: 23

August 6, 2007

In the light of what the press and the groups that oppose science do in the way they report and attack modern science we sure need to do something to offset the publics image that loudest voices are right.\n\nWe sure did a poor job of framing genetically modified crops and the nay sayers set its adoption back 10 years and possibly more. They sure ran a lot of small firms out and assured it all be in the hands of a few large firms.\n\nThose same shrill voices are pushing us down the road to biofuels that at best use 83% of their energy output to produce and don't break even in some cases. As someone that still shares in income from the farm I like wheat at $5.90 a bushel, up 150% and cotton up 30% as corn takes land away from cotton production. But I don't think the rest of the world will.\n\nThe shrill voices of the press and groups that take up a cause come late to the game, they don't understand the stakes or how long or the cost or consequences of the changes they think should be done today and they sure don't stay around to take the blame when they fail.\n\nIn a world that soured on atomic power plants those that caused it feel no guilt for filling the air with the pollutants of coal fired plants. They just want an ever more expensive solution that will put an end to the economies of the world if implemented the way they want in the time frame they want.\n\nWe must do a better job telling our story and tell it well enough to be heard over the din of voices of chaos if the world is to be saved from itself. In a world where the village idiot has just as much say as the king in the public media. We must find a way to be heard above the din.\n\nGordon Couger\nStillwater OK.\n

August 6, 2007

Readers may be interested in the following: I have organized and arranges a series of lectures by invited scientists in the Washington area. These lectures are now in the fourth year and have been supported - through referral of names - by AAAS. We have also reached out to the University of Maryland. Even though we have no money to offer at our 3,000 resident retirement communithy, we have had no rejections and that is a good sign.\n\Perhaps if there were a large panel, organized by area or city, it might stimulate more interest in science. \nOur audience is what may be called well eductaed but not specialists - although we have a large number of practicing and recently practicing scientists in a variety of sciences who have lectured to us.\n\nPlease consider that this easy availability of speakers who can explain some aspects of science is a good idea. We have had lectures on stem cells,warminmg, humandevelopment,atomic physics,biology,brain studies,atomic physics....
Avatar of: Art Folden

Art Folden

Posts: 2

August 7, 2007

Science has taken the approach that it can't be wrong if it is "scientific".. hence the widespread belief in the theory of evolution over the years - due to science passing it off as true beyond any doubt. That simply is not true. Science should present the scientific pros and cons of an issue or idea, and not 'preach' it as being 'gospel'. :)

August 7, 2007

First and foremost, I agree with Earle M. Holland that we should not expect scientists to be good 'framers'. We should let them give the technical data, and let others do the ?translation?. Therefore, if there is an error in the translation, it does not threaten the integrity of the scientist. \n\nSecond, "framing" is not necessarily "spin", but of course can be abused that way.\n\nThird, the shocking lack of scientific literacy in the U.S. is not remedied by good framing. Bill Nye has provided a wonderful service. As well, surprisingly, "Myth Busters", who showcase a quasi "peer reviewed scientific method". But these do little to get the average Joe to understand what science is.\n\nUnfortunately, there is no silver bullet, and instead, it has to be a steady mutli-generational effort. Children need to be shown in "framed" ways how to perform the scientific method, and be able to articulate themselves why the scientific method is a powerful tool to understanding our environment, and why it certainly trumps any other claims of how things work when such claims are demonstrably error prone.\n\nFinally, understanding why societies follow odd thought patterns and loyalties to basic error-prone ideas is likely to be the key to getting the public who is not scientifically literate to see science as the peer reviewed, solid, robust entity that it is, and not a round table of ten men in lab coats who decide what gets to be called a fact and what does not. Research on Nazi German Anti-Semitic propaganda or southern U.S. ?whites only? water fountains culture, and why most of the populace simply accepted such ideas, is ironically the key to understanding how to get them to accept science as a respected discipline. To those who do not wish to investigate, truth and fiction are indistinguishable.\n\n\n

August 7, 2007

Art Folden, above, has demonstrated the exact thing we are discussing here... Scientific illiteracy. As Mr. Folden displayed for us all to see, many Americans hold that same undereducated view... as if the peer reviewed process over a century has allowed, in some mysterious way, a "wrong" idea to be held as a robust theory. They are illiterate to the process by which evolutionary theory has come to be the robust theory it is. \n\nBut as I said before, encouraging some investigation into social psychology is the key here. Why is it that so many individuals who do not know what they are talking about, so proudly and boldly and publicly announce their illiteracy? It is certain that they do not hold these views because they have compared and contrasted the theory of evolution with the proposition of Intelligent Design. Instead, they believe they have compared the two because of some very compelling psychological process that causes them to believe what their sub-culture teaches in order to support their version of creation. In their minds, something is causing them to ignore objective and critical thinking, and instead follow an emotional surge and righteous vindication when they hear their religious view being supported by some intelligent people. No amount of framing will help with this mindset, and unfortunately, since this mindset exists, it necessarily trickles down via mass media to the under-educated as a "respectable" opposing viewpoint. Then, to ?frame? hard factual data to those undereducated individuals, as we are proposing now, is only to make the scientific position on any given topic look like ?just an alternative? viewpoint. So, as I proposed in my earlier comment, educating children early on about the scientific method and HOW and WHY such a method works will equip them with the ability to see quack-science on their own, and not need scientists to spell it out for them (which is not likely to work anyway).\n
Avatar of: Ron Evancheck

Ron Evancheck

Posts: 1

August 7, 2007

There is a definite lack of scientists capable of offering a translation of their research that would enable effective understanding in and by the public media. The complexities of their research often extends beyond the 30-second sound bite presented in the news. Nor can the benefits of this research break through the whats-in-it-for-me today public perception.\n\nThe fundamentals of science are "taught" throughout the educational process then allowed to be totally dropped or only surveyed at the college level. Either change change the way science is taught or start training Technical Translators that can explain and/or spin science in the media.

August 7, 2007

Every scientist who benefits from tax-payer's funds needs to be accountable to the public. As a cancer research scientist,I felt obligated to do so. The best way of communication is straight talk in simple understandable terms as if you are presenting the facts to school children.\nFor subjects that would have serious impact on the society, we should think of making the points through movies/drama.. introduce the subject in soap-operas, as special episodes; or make it a theme of a movie,or a play. \nWith computer technology there are other ways of communicating. For children and teens, one could design video games to teach the pivotal points. \nAn engineer, a surgeon,an accountant or a physician can show the results of their work they are paid for within a short time. Scientists do not have that luxury. Many a time I have been asked " when are you going to find a cure for cancer"? So, we all need to learn to communicate what we are doing and why we are doing the research we do; once the results are there, explain how it might impact the life of the public at large. One day in a restraunt a family was dining next to me. The mother was ordering her eight year old to eat all the veggies,explaining they have anti-oxidants which are good for him and he cannot get them any other way. The kid shot back " I thought oxygen is good for you, why are you making me eat "anti-oxigens"? Well, you can either yell at the kid asking him not to be a smart"AXX" as his dad did, or learn to explain in a way that would make sense to him.
Avatar of: Matthew Grossman

Matthew Grossman

Posts: 27

August 7, 2007

Much of science is basic and or descriptive of technical progress in specific application areas. The purpose of communication in cases such as these is mainly between scientists for the purpose of information exchange, validation and peer exposure/review. In these cases the dialog is technical (esoteric to the non-scientist) which seems appropriate given the purpose of the communication. For the most part no one else is interested. \n\nHowever on topics that have a near term impact on society the scientist should consider that the audience is larger and more diverse and frame the science in a manner that is more inclusive and understandable to that audience.
Avatar of: Steve Kopperud

Steve Kopperud

Posts: 1

August 7, 2007

As a former reporter, I can attest that unless the reporter's regular beat is science and tech and he/she has either/both experience or education, then a technical story is going to get short shrift. The overall outcome is a win/win for the scientist/researcher if science is communicated accurately and succinctly. The public is informed, and quite frankly, the scientist is recognized for achievement and is more credible at the end of the day. \n\nGeneral assignment reporters, even if so inclined, often don't/can't do the research to place an announcement in context, either because they don't know where to look or don't have the time to do the research. The scientist must do this for the reporter before the work is announced. Scientists must anticipate the layman's question and be prepared to answer it succinctly. At the same time, the scientist needs not only to explain what his/her work says, but equally important, what it doesn't say. \n\nAs a lobbyist and crisis communicator often confronted with communicating scientific issues to Congress, I struggle to create a message that is not only efficient ("sound bite")and credible but accurate. I sometimes hesitate to bring the scientist to DC because, quite frankly, the toughest person in the world to media train to deliver good messages is the scientist. Why? Because they know so much about the issue, they can't edit this mountain of knowledge and they have an uncontrollable urge to share all they know. This is the antithesis of good communication. \n\nEqually important, however, is that scientists reading the reporting of a discovery or an important announcement must speak up when they see either bad or inaccurate reporting. It's incumbant upon them to draw attention to the inaccuracy or misreporting in the interest of honest understanding and good science. \n\n
Avatar of: Odie Geiger

Odie Geiger

Posts: 1

August 8, 2007

There are levels of scientific understanding. Even a scientist will become just an ?intelligent layman?when speaking to a scientist in another field. Of course science has to be presented differently to a layperson than to a colleague, and the key is to present it simply and to provide a context within the understanding of the audience. Importantly, a context is not a 'frame' but rather a simplification in which jargon is eliminated, metaphors and analogies play a major role, and generalizations and examples are emphasized. Framing will always be imposed ?bottom-up?. Political, religious, social, or economic perspectives do influence how the audience responds to information but framing science to appeal to these agendas denigrates the scientific process and is not the duty of the scientist. Providing the public with reliable information that they can understand and building respect for science is. \n
Avatar of: Ruth Rosin

Ruth Rosin

Posts: 117

August 8, 2007

Everyone knows the journal Nature as one of the most prestigious refereed scientific weeklies in the world. Nonetheless, its editors, referees, and the scientists whose work is published in Nature, are not infallible.\n\nNow, if a scientist sees what he considers valid reasons to critique a study that was published in Nature, based on improper experimental design, improper interpretations of data, or both, the only option he has is to submit a critique in the form of a "Brief Communications Arising", which, if accepted will not be published in print, but only by posted by Nature online.\n\nA "Brief Communications Arising" is, however, allowed not more than 700 words, with not more than 10 references, and it must be understandable by non-professionals. It is practically impossible to submit any serious critique of any complex scientific issue, within such limitations, even if you did not have to make the critique understandable to non-professionals. Try to explain the issue to non-professional, and you end up using all the allowable space, when you have barely started.\n\nIn short, there isn't a chance that you will be able to submit a proper critique that will be accepted even for an online posting. Try to submit a critique to another journal, and you will most likely be advised that a critique should be published in the journal that published the original article you are criticizing. The result is a "Catch-22" situation. \n\nI speak from experience!\n\nHow will professional readers of Nature, so highly trusted by so many, ever find out that Nature might have published grave errors regarding an extremely important scientific issue? They won't!
Avatar of: Mark Maier, PhD

Mark Maier, PhD

Posts: 1

August 9, 2007

I do not agree that simplifying technical details to make science understandable to non-scientists constitutes "spin". The only thing needed for spin, is to remove inconvenient details. Spinning is easy! Politicians and activists do it with ease.\n\nSimplifying science is hard! It requires discipline-specific expertise to be sure the simplified facts convey the correct story, and it takes communications expertise to ensure the message can be understood. Communicating science is a team effort.\n\nTaxpayers and shareholders who make our science possible, must be provided with science that is simple, not spun. As scientists we had better get good at simple, or the spinners will have us looking for new work.
Avatar of: Tom Zinnen

Tom Zinnen

Posts: 1

August 9, 2007

Frames, analogies, graphics and websites all can help send a message. But communication is both sending and receiving: at its best, it's a conversation, it's talking and it is listening. But how much time do we spend on developing the skills of listening and of engagement? Unfortunately, it's easier to focus on broadcasting science messages through mass media than it is to develop the softer skills of listening in situations of one, two or a few.
Avatar of: Ruth Rosin

Ruth Rosin

Posts: 117

August 9, 2007

If what a scientist states in his scientific publications can be faithfully reproduced in a simplified manner, why does he not do it in this simplified manner from the start? Obviously, because it cannot be done!

August 11, 2007

Scientists have a moral responsibility to share their findings with the general public. Just as scientific articles are written in the style of specific journals, so too must scientific findings be written and spoken in a style that is clear to the general public. A scientist who claims his/her research is too complicated for the general public to understand does not really understand their own research. Scientists must learn to use analogies and comparisons to help the general audience get an overall picture of their research. It is not easy to eliminate jargon from our presentations, but we must do so to enhance our communications with the general public. More and more frequently, the people that make funding decisions are not highly trained scientists. We must learn to communicate with everyone, not just our fellow scientists - this is vital to the future of science.\n\nI taught a graduate course that focused on communicating scientific findings to a wide variety of audiences. I had outside audiences ranging from professionals in fields outside of agriculture to undergraduates studing to be news reporters. These audiences helped my students recognize and eliminate jargon in their presentations. The students learned to determine the technical level of understanding of their audience and then pitch their presentation to the audience; neither too technical nor patronizing. The students responded to the challenge of delivering their research results in a variety of ways and came to enjoy interacting with their audience.
Avatar of: Jeff Mitchell

Jeff Mitchell

Posts: 1

August 13, 2007

Definitely scientists should "spin" the comments they make to the media. By this I mean, a scientist speaking to someone from the media should assume absolute ignorance on the part of that person. The level of science knowledge among journalists (at least those who don't specialize in scientific journalism) is almost too low to measure. "Simplify, simplify, simplify" should be the speaker's mantra. Even more important I think, when reporting on recent research, is to emphasize the limits of current knowledge. Journalists seem to have no idea what a statistical inference is or of its limited value as "proof". Nor do they understand that this limited power of statistical inference dictates that studies be repeated numerous times to increase the confidence that the inference is not only "valid" but "true". It's this ignorance that accounts for the wide spread prevalence of the idea that scientists are forever discovering "errors" in previous research and that, therefore, scientific conclusions are, in general, unreliable.
Avatar of: David Lentini

David Lentini

Posts: 2

August 13, 2007

The debate about whether, and how, scientsts should "frame" their public statements concerning scientific subjects underscores the sad reality of the public's profound ignorance of basic scientific concepts and the scientific method in general. I think the fact that we are having this debate at all should be a clarion call for better science education at all levels.\nStill, as the proponents of framing point out, we are stuck with a very ignorant and largely superstitious public. Should we then just buy into the framing idea, even though it reeks of the sort of anti-intellectual pap that we can't stand as citizens and accept as scientists?\n\nI think the answer depends on the context of the discussion. Most of the examples of bad "framing", which usually means scientsts using either inflammatory rhetoric (e.g., Dawkins) or making lots of equivocal statements (e.g., regarding climate change), take place outside of a strictly scientific forum, such as the discussions of religion or policy. In those contexts, I tend to agree with the framing proponents that we should take care to understand the concerns, limitations, and objectives of the audience. It does no one any good to launch sneering and angry attacks on God and religion to an audience that includes many who hold religious beliefs or to offer a lot of hedging language to elected officials and the general press when discussing policy questions. In those formus, maintaining a sense of respect for the audience is crticial. And scientsts can offer many important insights in those matters, but only, as the proponents of framing suggest, when they see their comments in a larger context than just communicating scientific "facts" to the ignorant. Anyone discussing religion or policy can only advocate for the adoption of an opinion; they cannot make the scales fall from the eyes of the ignorant. The resounding victory of the oppontents to ID in the Dover case relflects some very thoughtful attention to the realities of expressing the facts of ID and evolution to the court and the jury by considering their backgrounds. (And I suspect that Professor Dawkins was not invited to pontificate on that question before the court for a reason.)\n\nBut outside the context of addressing those questions where scientific information is part of a larger issue, I see no reason for "framing" at all. We are already becoming inundated with ever slicker marketing of scientific data and arguements that reflects the movement of our society to a "marketing" culture. That sort behavior is antithetical to the scientific method and the fair debate of theories, hypotheses, and the interpretation of data necessary for good science.\n\nSo, perahps the best answer is to return to the basics of good communication: understand your audience, understand the points you want to make, and then choose the best approach to bring the two together.
Avatar of: michael Thomas

michael Thomas

Posts: 1

August 13, 2007

I feel that peer review is useless and a waster\nof time in some applications. Especially if the\ntechnology is ahead of its time and is not well\nunderstood by the community, possibly setting back innovation.\n\nThat is why I have bypassed most peer reviews in\nannouncing my technology break throughs.\n\nFor example my latest. I will post the link in the hope I do not violate and terms of the forum.\n\nhttp://nlspropulsion.net\n\nenjoy,\n\nmichael\n\n
Avatar of: Dr.S.Raam

Dr.S.Raam

Posts: 43

August 13, 2007

The broadcasts by the Discovery Channel do it spendidly!
Avatar of: Chris Wilcox

Chris Wilcox

Posts: 1

August 13, 2007

Easy answers are not a common feature of scientific inquiry and there are no easy answers for communicating science. Scientists need to communicate more and do it more effectively to counter the anti-science bias in our culture. I agree with the comments that there is a duty to communicate findings or progress of publicly-funded science to the greater public. We need to emphasize communication skills in science education and in job training. This will never obviate the need for technical writing professionals. We depend on excellent science writers to present discussions of research in more general terms for public consumption and especially to present the differing viewpoints or conclusions that might be drawn from presented data. They do a great service in pulling together many findings and studies to help update the public on the current state of the art in a field and try to communicate why it matters. Scientists do present their findings with a viewpoint and others will evaluate the findings with another viewpoint. The debate moves our scientific journey towards understanding and truth. Scientists should continue to communicate their findings in the most accurate way they can. We can do a better job of summarizing the conclusions to make them understandable by the public and to make it more likely that professional technical writers will communicate those conclusions in the mainstream press. We need to make science a regular part of the news and the public forum.

August 13, 2007

For science to present itself effectively to the public, it should arguably teach the public to evaluate excellence in science, and interdisciplinary fields and organizations are among the most Creative-Excellence scenarios.\n\nEinstein was able to contribute his Theory of Special Relativity by working at the Swiss Patent Office in Zurich, an organization which is interdisciplinary by its very definition. Other organizations of this interdisciplinary type are the USA National Institute of Standards (NIST), the USA Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the TATA Institute of Fundamental Research (India), the U.S. Naval Research Lab, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Weizmann Institute Israel, the Technion Israel, the Indian Institute of Science, the Indian Institute of Technology, etc.\n\nLook on the internet under Wikipedia's "Top Research Universities," "Top Research Institutes," etc., which have references to other sites that effectively rank world universities and research institutes in science and mathematics and engineering as well as medicine. There are rankings by world, continent, nation, etc. The best rankings are usually NOT by news magazines or newspapers, which tend to use "popularity among professors" and "percent of admitted students who graduate" and other criteria rather than research quality.\n\nCertain scientific fields are also more interdisciplinary by their nature than others. One of the most interdisciplinary field is Astrophysics, and the public can seldom go wrong in looking for journal and online papers in this field, which are especially found in arXiv and Front for the Mathematics ArXiv on the internet and are free. \n\nOsher Doctorow
Avatar of: Anthony Dennis

Anthony Dennis

Posts: 2

August 13, 2007

Effective public communication is as much a science as the science itself. While there are scientists who are effctive public comunicators, in general scientists need to partner with professionals trained in the science of public communication and education to best get the point across. The art of communication is to find a frame of reference that is common to both the scientist and the public. Many scientists are insulated from that frame of common reference and need a "translator" to insure that what they intend to say gets heard and understood.
Avatar of: Ian Poiner

Ian Poiner

Posts: 1

August 13, 2007

Generally scientists do a poor job of communicating complex technical issues to the public. We need to improve our general communication skills and take advice on how to do it. We also need to be more aware of the ever changing mechanisms people use to exchange ideas and information. However, science needs to tread warily to ensure we focus on scientific result and the implication of that science not spin and advocacy. The questions is not whether scientists should comment on the technical details of their work and the ethical or policy implications of research but be able to clearly communicate and separate technical detail and implications.
Avatar of: doug schneider

doug schneider

Posts: 1

August 13, 2007

I just took the survey. That was among the worst surveys I have ever seen. It seems apparent that it was written/designed to get a particular set of answers, and not really gauge opinions on science and scientists and communication with the public and policy makers.
Avatar of: andrew clayton

andrew clayton

Posts: 1

August 13, 2007

In my view, if you can't explain to your grandmother (or the press) in simple language the essence of what you are doing in science then you either don't understand what you are really doing or are incapable of effectively communicating or both.\n\n
Avatar of: Doug Nusbaum

Doug Nusbaum

Posts: 3

August 13, 2007

There are so many problems here. \nHow many persons with a 'science degree' actually know what science is and how it differs from, say, history as a field of study?\n\nIf they do not know what science is, how can they tell others?\n\nHave you noticed that the great majority of people who wait on you are unable to make change? If people can not do simple arithmetic how can they be expected to understand the math that is the language of so much of science?\n\nSchools need to start teaching a philosophy of science. This should probably include exercises in being wrong, critical thinking, some form of art to develop creative thinking skills where there really is no right or wrong, \n\nWe live in a world that, for most people is, literally, magical. To quote Arthur C. Clark "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."\n\nIf you expect people who live in a magical world that they do not understand not to believe in magic (viz. creationism) then you are delusional\n\nI doubt that one person in 100 could tell you how a cell phone or a gps works even in the most general terms. They certainly have no idea what quantum theory or relativity theory are in their most basic forms.\n\nPeople are scared and taught to be scared. Scared people make lousy scientists.\n\nConveying complex ideas is not easy. People who understand such ideas are usually not the best teachers. See Richard Feynman for someone good at explaining such ideas.\n\nFollow the money. Get involved. Leverage your connections.\n\nIn my opinion, a person should not be able to get a HS. degree unless they know basic physics, the periodic table, and have some idea of how the world really works. And they certainly should not be able to get a college degree. \n\nIt would also be a good idea if they could change a tire and build a bird house without cutting off their fingers. That is another problem, people are way to far removed from the real physical world.\n\nI could go on.\n\n
Avatar of: Ruth Rosin

Ruth Rosin

Posts: 117

August 13, 2007

I wish to believe I am a scientist, and a pretty good one too. However, when I read popular explanations of scientific issues in fields other than my own specific field of expertise, (which I often do, in a desperate but impossible attempt to "Keep up with what's new in science"), I usually end up with only a very vague idea of what it's all about. \n\nHow could non-scientists be expected to be able to do better?\n\nReminds me of the old anecdote about the yokel from a very small village, who had never seen a steam-engine in his life. So, his more sophisticated friend drives him in a horse-drawn carriage to the train-station in the nearest town. And here comes the train, with a lot of noise and billowing smoke!\n\nThe train stops at the station, and the yokel cannot believe his eyes. But his friend explains: \n\n"It is all really very simple. You see that big container there? They fill it with water. And underneath it they burn the coal. So the fire turns the water into steam, and the steam pushes the piston, right there, and the piston is connected to this rod, which is connected to the wheels. So the rod pushes the wheels of the steam-engine, and the steam-engine drags all the other cars along. Do you understand?"\n\n"Oh, yes!", says the yokel. "It is indeed very simple. I only have one question. Where do they hitch the horses?"\n\n
Avatar of: Art Folden

Art Folden

Posts: 2

August 14, 2007

J Hern Junior, posted 2007-08-07 05:20:13 the perfect example of the pompous holier than thou attitude of science as presented to the masses over the years. Instead of presenting the truth and proof of a "theory" and letting the public decide if it could or is fact or fiction, these types have presented scientific theory as fact. In the case of the evolution 'theory' - and that is what it IS.. it has even been taught in schools for years as fact. Wake up Mr. Hern.. the 'theory' of evolution is a theory and NOT fact.\n\nIf I the ignorant public has been taught that it is fact and not a theory, then it is because the scientific community deliberately advertised it that way. So my ignorance is due to the likes of Mr. Hern who thinks I represent the ignorant masses. Well, maybe he is right, the ignorant masses have accepted the theory of evolution, and other theories, as fact, simply because Mr. Hern et al said it is so.\n\nI repeat, instead of "selling" science, present it as it is and what it is and quit advertising it as something it is NOT.
Avatar of: Paul

Paul

Posts: 3

August 14, 2007

As a scientist who makes regular forays onto various web forums to discuss a variety of hot topics in Science one problem I come across again and again is that unscientific (and even anti scientific) groups are often far better at presenting their case to the public. On issues such as animal testing, and stem cell research there is a tendency for "pro-science" information to glib and over simplistic (exceptions such as RDS and the excellent aidstruth.org do exist). \n\nAnti-scientists often provide information which can seem more detailed and "scientific" than the brief explanations provided by pro-science websites. In many cases anti-scientists even provide references to the studies they misrepresent, safe in the knowledge that few readers will be able to access them or in many cases understand them.\n\nWhat would be useful would be for pro-science lobby groups, perhaps in cooperation with scientific associations, to provide stable sources of information on controversial issues, with brief items leading to more detailed commentary aimed at the educated layperson but pointing out the key take home points from the relevant studies, with references supplied for those who do wish to follow anything up. Too much valuable argument and information is being posted on Blogs and will be difficult to find in a few months time.\n\nSound bites are all very well, but you need to have somewhere to point people to once you've got their attention...and a PubMed ID won't do!\n\n\n\n
Avatar of: etbnc

etbnc

Posts: 1

August 14, 2007

It seems to me that a great way to observe how we routinely apply our own frames of reference to our communication is this: Just read the variety of comments people make about any article that suggests we might consider applying frames to our communication.\n\nCheers
Avatar of: Donna Rohrer

Donna Rohrer

Posts: 1

August 14, 2007

As a non-scientist, but not, I hasten to add, one who has ceded my powers of rational thinking, I would like to make a plea for scientists and researchers to do more to inform, speak, write to the rest of us so that we have a some hope of understanding the nuances of your world.\n\nThe less you communicate directly (in simple, layman's terms, I might add), the easier it is for the gross exaggerations and misinterpretations about any particular study's results to hold sway, obscuring the broader contexts that are so vital to public understanding.\n\nNot the least of the problems: The less clear the communication, the less satisfactory are the public policy - and funding - outcomes.\n\n
Avatar of: Bobby McGehee

Bobby McGehee

Posts: 1

August 14, 2007

Scientists should be consistent. Teach the basic scientific principles and then stay consistent with the principles.(1) Scientific thinking uses logic ONLY with proven facts and verifiable / repeatable phenomena. (2) Laws of Physics are principles proven many times and never disproven. These Laws are universal until proven otherwise. Not understanding an observation is not proof or disproof. (3) Interpretations of observations that cannot be proved or disproved are MYTHS. (4) Belief, by definition, is to accept without proof. (5) Faith is no more than hope and trust that beliefs are valid. \n\nAny theory that cannot be reconcilled with these basic scientific principles should be thoroughly scrutinized and alternative interpretations of observations are needed before scientific credibility can be assumed!.
Avatar of: T. Hewitt

T. Hewitt

Posts: 1

August 14, 2007

The main thing we should be selling is not results of a scientific study, but the scientific method itself. A lot of issue misunderstanding comes from the public confounding scientific truth finding, with more familiar techniques, such as the adversarial method -or marketing. The public percieves these later methods as having relatively low integrity, and by confounding them with the scientific method the scientists results lose credibility.\n\n So while we are presenting results, we need to say something about how they were arrived at, and how/why alternative explanations were rejected. Most science is taught to laypeople as facts, and completed theory. Because of this much of the public doesn't realize the painstaking process that was undergone to insure the integrity to the results.
Avatar of: Chris

Chris

Posts: 1

August 15, 2007

Scientists need to educate the public on BASIC scientific concepts as they discuss their particular area of research. Unfortuneately, few people in the general public know anything about cell membrane structure, the concept of LD50, or what a "biodiversity bottleneck" is. Much of the problem can be laid at the feet of the media outlets, who are not willing to devote enough time to a story, and insist on the 30 second sound bite. Scientists need to explain the basic concepts involved in their research, not just the distilled version of the results.
Avatar of: Barry Starr

Barry Starr

Posts: 1

August 16, 2007

These comments have been an excellent read. For me, the two basic issues seem to be that the public is not scientifically literate and that scientists are poor communicators. These two are obviously linked.\n\nScience is fascinating to kids but by the time they get to middle school, most kids aren?t that interested anymore. And by the time you get to high school, you?ve lost even more of them. Why is this?\n\nBecause middle and high school science is dull. All the joy of discovery is distilled down to tedious memorization and lifeless lab experiments. I remember my first experiment in high school chemistry. We were to look at a burning candle and write down all the observations we could about it. My friends and I just looked at each other and became completely disinterested in science from then on. It is amazing that I went on to get a Ph.D. in molecular biology!\n\nHow can we improve scientific literacy? By making science fun and relevant. And how can we do that? Well, part of the answer lies in getting scientists to present their data in an accurate, education-appropriate, and engaging way. \n\nThis may seem like a tall order but it can be done. For the last four years, I have run a program out of Stanford University called Stanford at The Tech. The idea behind this program is to train scientists in how to write and speak accurately to the public about genetics at a middle school level. I?m not trying to trick anyone or spin results in any way. What I am trying to do is train scientists to get rid of jargon, learn to use an analogy and to understand where the public is coming from in their question. \n\nMost of the graduate students and postdocs have trouble at the beginning, but by the end are able to convey difficult scientific concepts like penetrance or founder effect using analogy and little or no jargon. They are able to talk with the kids who come to The Tech museum about all sorts of difficult concepts and to answer their questions accurately and understandably. \n\nWe also get kids excited about science again (or help maintain their excitement). We come up with fun ways for them to explore heterozygosity, DNA sequencing, protein purification, etc. Hopefully the joy they show at the museum will stick with them into adulthood.\n\nOverall I have found that the public really wants to better understand science but that the people who know science are by and large incapable of explaining it to them. Remember the last time you talked to a lawyer or read a contract? That is how the public probably feels when they talk to a scientist or read a scientific article.
Avatar of: Dean Loomis

Dean Loomis

Posts: 1

August 18, 2007

Most of the responders seem too deep in the weeds of their research to understand the actual issue. Fundamentally it concerns the great promise made by Vannevar Bush in 1945, and by thousands of enthusiasts since then, that science will lead to a utopia of peace and progress. In this frame, any scientific advance is valuable, no matter what its topic or result. This is self-evident to most scientists, but 62 years later, it no longer holds true for millions of people. "Science" can no longer be assumed to be an intrinsic good.\n\nFor these people, each research program must be justified on its benefits towards their own respective value systems. As the providers of the funds for most scientific research, taxpayers have every right to demand that those funds be devoted to programs that have the greatest impact on their most pressing concerns and withheld from topics that threaten their values. If scientists cannot make an effective case for the value of their work, they are perfectly justified in withholding their funding.\n\nThere is a basic conflict that cannot be escaped by trying to find a middle ground. It is the issue of who owns the truth. Truth that comes from the revealed word of God captured in a book, be it the Bible or the Quran, is absolutely opposed to scientific, contingent truth based on evidence and reason.\n\nThis is the master frame for all debates on politico-scientific controversies: science is a seamless web of knowledge, and if you deny any scientific fact, you threaten to unravel all scientific knowledge. Denying evolution leads to denial of molecular biology leads to denial of chemistry leads to denial of quantum mechanics leads to denial of the existence of fluorescent lamps and of transistors in personal computers. But the web is held together by evidence, not by analytic truth. It can be unraveled only by evidence, not by argumentation, and scientists must never fail to emphasize this point as foundational and not as a self-serving appeal for more funding.\n\nJesus railed against hypocrites and Pharisees, but when faced with modern hypocrites and Pharisees, scientists seem afraid to use the teachings of their Lord against them. Why shouldn't the consequences of global warming be presented in the apocalyptic language of the Old Testament prophets if that's what it takes to get people to listen? Nisbet and Moody point to statements by a coalition of Evangelical leaders concerning climate change as an issue of morality and stewardship. It takes great courage for a scientist to speak out on these topics instead of staying heads down at the lab bench and churning out more technical papers. But tenured positions in universities exist precisely to allow such freedom of expressions. It is up to the tenured professoriate to lead this debate.\n
Avatar of: Martin Stevens

Martin Stevens

Posts: 1

August 21, 2007

Scientists need to understand that the level of scientific understanding in the lay population is pathetically low (I am writing from the UK, but I suspect other cultures may be similar). If you as scientists want to be able to convey your research findings to the general public, and I sincerely hope you do, you cannot couch it in scientific terms, as you understand them.\n\nIt is vital however to enable the general public to understand the scientific method. That needs to be made clear and must be repeated over and over again. Many misunderstandings are caused because the fundamental principles of the scientific methodology are not known.\n\nScientists need to learn how to couch their communications in ways that will be understood. Analogy is not perfect, but it helps. \n\nMathematics and formulae are not only not understood, but will immediately turn off the majority of the audience because they do not understand them and indeed fear them. They need to be made available (albeit perhaps in as simplified a form as possible) to make them accessible to those who wish to attempt to understand the science underpinning the information. The main line of communication MUST however be clear, concise and simple.\n\nOf course there is a danger of loss of accuracy, of loss of scientific integrity if you like, but the potential gains are enormous - public understanding, public interest, public support.\n\nOne of the major problems that the science community faces is that people do not know whom to trust. In the UK, the autism scare and the MMR vaccine exemplified the problem - the public did not have access to the "truth" / did not have the necessary knowledge to test the competing claims. A structure or a methodology, beyond peer review, is needed for the public to be able to judge what to believe, particularly when the "truth" is easily manipulated and some parts of the media have no interest in it other than to create headlines.\n\nThe challenge is great - the potential benefits are priceless.
Avatar of: Craig Leslie

Craig Leslie

Posts: 2

August 21, 2007

It is an interesting premise that arguments about scientific matters can be won with the general public. I don?t agree with it.\n\nThe Flat Earth argument is so intuitive to people sitting on the ground that it took circumnavigation by large communities of adventurers before it became common knowledge for the general public. It seems reasonable that any scientific discovery that challenges easily perceived or faith based common knowledge of the general public is not likely to be incorporated into that common knowledge until the practical application of that discovery has been introduced into the culture (e.g. tea from China by sailing east or west).\n\nFrankly, my take on the general public?s inability to process most scientific information is not that it isn?t presented well. It seems more in line with the natural distribution of people?s ability to incorporate new ideas into their culture. County extension agents in the 1930s called some farmers early adopters and others late adopters of new hybrid seeds. These days the weirdness of quantum mechanics may be accepted not because it is well presented but because digital electronics requires us to accept it.\n

August 21, 2007

Of course communication is going to be the major issue. People actually want to know about their health but are not educated enough to understand it themselves. The question is, does a 15 second snippet on CNN do enough to make them understand? Definitely not. Not only do many scientists think of things on nano-scale, but most poeple live in TV land and attention span is a MAJOR issue. \n\nThis is what I have observed over the years, as I'm sure many others in my situation have: part of it is a "science roadblock" or "SR", part of it is lack of education and concept (not necessarily SR), and then there is getting the communication down just right. This is exactly why education should be individualized. Unfortunately, this is not practical in many ways, but at the same time, it gives us scientists an opportunity to give back (considering MANY of us have gotten free schooling!).\n\nTruth be told it takes about a 30 minute conversation to get someone to understand the basics of science... and that's just in one field, which universalizes to others. It takes about three hours to describe something really complicated (like a thesis). These all break down to the concept of Truth: Yes, or No. Many do not understand, and honestly some never will. I have been trying for years and years to communicate with the "laypeople" out there in the universe about science. Granted, sometimes it's been over a few beers and hearing crickets when it comes to their science background, but that is what makes it fun and challenging.\n\nAnother thing... scientists just don't get out enough. We are a novelty, a dusty trinket that comes off a shelf when a new loved one enters the family and the family jewels are shown. Always in the lab, working, reading, communicating with one another, and that only if you're forced to. We have to start being fair to those others out there. We have knowledge that they want. Believe it or not, people do want to listen!\n\nPlease, talk to a non-scientist about science once in a while. When you give the opportunity, the questions just roll, and it's a challenge answering them in a way that makes sense to them. I have to say about 50% of the time I ask that question they throw me for a loop! Which makes me a bit uncomfortable, but it's sure worth it. It's better than sales with the average percentage of success being 10%... but remember, pride is always something to overcome.\n\nTo finish, it's "easy" to fit in our own little world. We construct, just as we do as scientists in the lab with our systems and experiments, our own centralized dogma (I do not like that word and what it pertains to... but...) which we fiercely uphold. Let's let our barriers down, and learn a little bit more about ourselves and those interested parties out there. They may be a little shy at first, but aren't we as well? Scientists are a gem in a universe of sand. We may drift to the top in our own way, but there are many grains of sand who want to find us that cannot, for whatever reason.\n\nHow did you hear about becoming a scientist?
Avatar of: Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore

Posts: 1

August 24, 2007

Firstly, public communication by scientists is extremely important, and should be promoted, supported and recognised. However, I would argue that rather than increasing public understanding of science (a condescending and old-fashioned concept), its primary value and impact are in protecting science ? i.e. from erosion due to perceived irrelevance and public distrust; distrust, for example, in the case of highly controversial research or professional malpractice. Efforts to promote public communication by scientists should bear this in mind. It is almost as if scientists need to pedal as hard as they can simply to maintain the current perception of science and scientists by society. Though a depressing thought, active communication of science by scientists is probably necessary just to keep science afloat. Targeted communication with receptive professional groups (e.g. school teachers, doctors, lawyers), can have more direct and tangible effects in terms of ?understanding of science?. But there seems to be little evidence that the multitude of public communication efforts that already exist really increase the understanding of science by the general public. The Eurobarometer surveys (which periodically put the same questions on science and technology to the public) witness this phenomenon. Improvements in public understanding of science are slow to happen, and are arguably not due to individual efforts of scientists who communicate in public. Public distrust of science, however, is fast to grow and can have long-term detrimental effects. Communicating why science is important/relevant, and communicating proactively at times of impending crisis or difficulties, are crucial, and more scientists should be able and willing to do this. The public funds a vast spectrum of science, most of which it will never be interested in, let alone ?understand? ? nor should it, necessarily. Indeed, there is a frightening amount of science to ?understand?, and it increases daily. If scientists? standing and funding were partly determined by their success in getting the public to understand their research it would become an impossible career. Furthermore, research shows that the understanding of a piece of science does not formulaically lead to its acceptance by society at large. Scientists should ?sell? the relevance and importance of science for addressing contemporary issues that affect society at least as much as selling the particular science itself. Explaining why science is our best hope of understanding natural phenomena and tackling certain problems that we face is very important.
Avatar of: Mark Powell

Mark Powell

Posts: 1

August 30, 2007

I left active science to work as an environmental advocate. My initial hope was to use science-based appeals to persuade people to support conservation. I learned quickly that values trump facts, and people often dismissed my facts if they seemed to conflict with their values. Thus, people in a logging town had a hard time believing that logging could cause harm. Why? Because their value structure was threatened by such a claim. \n\nWas this an impossible situation? No, I simply had to learn how to frame my approaches, so that I wasn't immediatly dismissed. Framing a science message properly doesn't involve lying or "dumbing down." It involves making an approach that opens peoples ears and minds, so that they can hear the science. \n\nTwo examples: if I started with "logging can harm forest ecosystems" I mostly got denial and dismissal. Instead, if I started with "do you care about deer and salmon?" then people would say yes and engage in conversation. Later, after we were effectively exchanging views, I could get to my science about logging effects on salmon. How hard is that? Is it lying? No, it's framing and it's smart.
Avatar of: Ruth Rosin

Ruth Rosin

Posts: 117

October 4, 2007

Scientific data, of course, do not speak for themselves. They never speak at all. Anyone who claims to hear them speak is ?hearing voices?, which may make him an interesting case for psychiatrist, but is totally irrelevant to science per se.\n\nHumans are the only ones who can speak about scientific data, and scientists are the only ones who speak for such data, by interpreting the data. The interpretation can, however, be made only within a frame of reference. When science in a specific field becomes what Thomas Kuhn calls ?normal science?, i.e. when there is a ruling paradigm accepted by all scientists in that field, the frame of reference for the interpretations of data is that very same ruling paradigm. I do not want to even begin to get into the very complex situation that arises when science in a specific field is what Kuhn calls ?abnormal science?, i.e. when no agreement has yet been reached on a ruling paradigm accepted by all scientists in that field, (and, instead, there are different schools, each relying on its own paradigm, that is incommensurate with the paradigms accepted by the other schools), or when a severe crisis occurs in the ruling paradigm, long after it had been accepted by all, and this leads a single scientist, or a small group of scientists, to attempt to topple what was the ruling paradigm, and replace it with a new, revolutionary paradigm, as a candidate for the position of the new ruling paradigm. Suffice it to note that the statement ?Let the best candidate win!? is very often far easier said, than done, and that this is not an issue that can be easily explained to non-scientists.\n\nThe Utopia that Vannevar Bush had promised us, may, or may not be realized, because new scientific discoveries have nothing to do with ethics. Any new scientific discovery can be used for good, or evil, depending on the purpose, and ethics, of those who figure a way to make use of it. All I wish to do here is express objection to the idea that scientists should be rewarded in accordance with the benefits to humanity, (a rather ill defined term), that their discoveries produce. Such a reward system is bound to stifle basic research, where the usefulness of a new discovery are not at all immediately obvious, and may be fully appreciated many years, or even generations later.\n
Avatar of: Thodi Andersson

Thodi Andersson

Posts: 2

November 2, 2007

I say frame, what is there to lose?\n\nKahneman, Tversky and Thaler etc have shown that rationality is an illusive item and Douglas and Wildavsky ('Risk and Culture') and Thompson et al ('Cultural Theory') have shown cultural interpretation plays a bigger part in decisions and ontological comprehension than any agreed facts.
Avatar of: chris dick

chris dick

Posts: 1

May 3, 2008

It seems that every report that I come across in the media follows the same dire consequences, "If we don't do something soon we will have very bad things happen to us". The reality is very bad things are occuring now. The majority of the world lives in poverty and disease. The debate needs to be framed not in terms of IF we are harming the planet but that we ARE harming the planet and ourselves in the process. What is it that we can do to recitfy the situation given that we may not survive the coming shift. The debate needs to be do A or B or C not do we act or not act. \n\nMove on from the politicians and dismiss their claims for what they are, the voices of the global minority who do not speak for anyone but the varied corporate interests that they work for. \n\nAn intellectual coup is needed. Give the media no other option but which action is preferred, not whether action is required or not. \n\nAs a TV producer in a large market the methodology is "perceived objectivity". Loosely translated that means "he said, she said". No critical thinking required. Brains need not apply, and this is the medium that the majority of Americans get their information from. If the public is given a choice to delay their upheaval from a comfortable "Oprah-xistence" they most certainly will. The media has been used by corporate interests to, as David Hume suggested, massage the minds of men. If the scinetific community took a page out of the Karl Rove playbook and just stay on message and on point they could have a fighting chance. \n\nGet FOX to tear each other apart about whether or not tidal power is better than solar but move them off of fossil fuels altogether by not even presenting them the option. \n

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement
tecaLAB
tecaLAB

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
Advertisement
Life Technologies