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Suggestions for framing science

Do the research. Communication is a science. Skill and personal experience should be informed by a systematic understanding of the media system and the ways in which nontraditional audiences make sense of various issues. In collaboration with communication researchers, scientists and their organizations should employ surveys, focus groups, experiments, and other social-science techniques in order to identify effective messages and media platforms. Moreover, because communication is a science, it is important that individuals rely for guidance on the leadership, coordination, and resources of their institutions and organizations. Likewise, institutions and organizations have a responsibility to provide such guidance.

Stay on message. People who seek to downplay global warming and evolutionary theory are successful, in part, because...

Focus on editors, producers. Create fellowships to enable midcareer general assignment editors and producers to learn about science and science coverage. These editors make decisions about how much attention science should receive, how science is defined in headlines, footage, or call outs, and whether specialist science reporters should be kept on staff. Currently these types of fellowships target reporters rather than their editorial counterparts, but many media decision makers come from a background in political reporting, where a focus on conflict and personalities are the norm. Such a style does not adapt well to coverage of science.

Think local news. Surveys show that local television news is the dominant source of public affairs-related information for the US public. Therefore, in order to reach nontraditional audiences, scientists and their organizations need to be on local television news. Major national communication efforts should be closely coordinated across local media markets, with specific scientists, institutions, or organizations serving as the local angle and spokesperson.

Strengthen partnerships with churches. In many areas, churches serve as influential communication contexts. Scientists should be familiar speakers at churches on topics ranging from the environment to stem cell research. Invite churches on tours of research institutions, and ask local religious leaders to address scientists on issues of concern.

Facilitate incidental exposure. With so many competing content choices online, the challenge is to find ways to incidentally expose audiences to science in places where they are not looking for it. One way is to cultivate ties with popular (nonscience) bloggers, providing them with information and angles that are of interest to their readers. Include links to science-rich information, such as a National Academies report. For example, in the context of invasive species, carefully framed information about the value and utility of evolutionary biology could be made relevant to blogs about farming, gardening, or fishing.

Communication training for young scientists. College and doctoral students in the sciences should be offered courses and training in communication. These courses introduce young scientists to research on the intersections between science, the media, and society and provide valuable professional knowledge and skills.

Advocate more funding for science communication. Encourage Congress to authorize additional money at funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation for grants supporting science communication initiatives.

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