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Public Understanding 
of Science 
Lecture 2 
Zeynep Altinay, Paige Brown
Public engagement in science 
 Effective science communication requires initiatives that 
promote 
 Dialogue 
 Mutual t...
Deficit Model of Science Communication 
 False premise that deficits in public knowledge are the 
central culprit of soci...
Implications of Deficit Model 
 Blaming journalists for poor coverage of science and 
environmental issues 
 Pointing ou...
Problems with the Deficit Model 
 “Condescending claims of ‘public ignorance’ too often serve 
to further alienate key au...
Jon Kudelka's cartoon sums up the frustrations from communicating climate 
change to the public. (Jon Kudelka )
Beyond the Deficit Model 
 Despite low levels of scientific literacy, the U.S. public is highly 
trusting of scientists. ...
Beyond the Science 
 Often, where public controversies or polarization over 
scientific issues occur, it’s because the sc...
Beyond the Science 
 Increasingly, science communicators are focusing on 
 What different groups / individuals want to k...
Framing Science 
 Frames are ‘storylines’ that 
describe how journalists 
selective cover some 
scientific issues, and ho...
Effective Republican 
frame? 
May reinforce partisan divides 
May reinforce partisan divides; falsely balancing 
competing...
Framing Science: 
Emergence of Public Health / Local Frames 
 “The public health frame stresses climate change’s 
potenti...
Beyond Media Frames 
 It’s important to realize that individuals in the 
“audience” also have their own applicable lay 
k...
Getting Science Information 
 Significant shifts from television (still the 
primary source of information for 65 years 
...
Getting Science Information – New Media 
 In 2010, science and technology stories composed 12% of 
the most-linked-to blo...
Discussion: How do YOU think about 
environmental issues 
 Sea Level Rise 
 What do you know about it? 
 What does it m...
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Public Understanding of Science - Lecture 2 #SciCommLSU

Lecture 2 #SciCommLSU

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Public Understanding of Science - Lecture 2 #SciCommLSU

  1. 1. Public Understanding of Science Lecture 2 Zeynep Altinay, Paige Brown
  2. 2. Public engagement in science  Effective science communication requires initiatives that promote  Dialogue  Mutual trust  Relationships  Public participation across social settings and media platforms
  3. 3. Deficit Model of Science Communication  False premise that deficits in public knowledge are the central culprit of societal conflict / public mistrust of science. This has led to initiatives to educate the public about technical details in science. “Once citizens are brought up to speed on the science, they will be more likely to judge scientific issues as scientists do and controversy will go away.”  Science literacy ≠ public support of science  A person’s existing knowledge, opinions, attitudes, values and ideology will shape how they interpret scientific information.
  4. 4. Implications of Deficit Model  Blaming journalists for poor coverage of science and environmental issues  Pointing out lack of public science literacy  Efforts to put out fact sheets on the scientific basis of issues like climate change, for example.  A call for “more Carl Sagans” “We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That's a clear prescription for disaster.” – Carl Sagan
  5. 5. Problems with the Deficit Model  “Condescending claims of ‘public ignorance’ too often serve to further alienate key audiences, especially in the case of evolutionary science, where these charges are mixed with atheist critiques of religion (Nisbet, 2009).”  Early science bloggers like PZ Myers (Pharyngula) likely feed public debates over evolution instead of leading to a more “informed” public.  Studies actually show that science literacy only accounts for small differences in how people form opinions about controversial areas of science (Allum et al. 2008). Stronger influences include ideology, partisanship, religious identity.
  6. 6. Jon Kudelka's cartoon sums up the frustrations from communicating climate change to the public. (Jon Kudelka )
  7. 7. Beyond the Deficit Model  Despite low levels of scientific literacy, the U.S. public is highly trusting of scientists.  Pew Research Center, 2009 survey: 84% of Americans agree that science is having a mostly positive effect on society.  The public holds scientists in high-esteem, on similar levels as military and teachers. 70% of Americans say that scientists “contribute a lot” to society, compared to 38% for journalists, 23% for lawyers, 40% for clergy, 21% for business executives.  Scientists might use this public trust and esteem to sponsor dialogue, invite different perspectives and facilitate public participation. Communicators can help facilitate this participation.
  8. 8. Beyond the Science  Often, where public controversies or polarization over scientific issues occur, it’s because the scientific issue has political, economic, societal, or other value-laden implications.  We can’t separate out people’s values from their opinions toward scientific issues.  Communication on scientific issues such as climate change must take into account readers’ values, ideology, existing knowledge, attitudes, and even their social context.
  9. 9. Beyond the Science  Increasingly, science communicators are focusing on  What different groups / individuals want to know about climate change, etc.  Implications of science issues (climate change) for people’s daily lives  What people’s own concerns are when it comes to science-related issues  Who people want to hear from when it comes to science-related issue (scientists, people in their own communities, etc.)  Conveying personal relevance: tying scientific issues to things people already value or prioritize  *We will learn more about science-related value systems later this semester http://www.amjbot.org/content/96/10/1767.full.pdf+html
  10. 10. Framing Science  Frames are ‘storylines’ that describe how journalists selective cover some scientific issues, and how diverse publics perceive, understand and participate in these issues differently.  For example, emphasizing religious or moral dimensions of climate change. Or making climate change a matter of public safety / health. http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Ba ck%20Issues/March-April%202009/Nisbet-full.html
  11. 11. Effective Republican frame? May reinforce partisan divides May reinforce partisan divides; falsely balancing competing claims (Boykoff and Boykoff, 2004). A Typology of frames applicable to science-related policy debates http://www.amjbot.org/content/96/10/1767.full.pdf+html
  12. 12. Framing Science: Emergence of Public Health / Local Frames  “The public health frame stresses climate change’s potential to increase the incidence of infectious diseases, asthma, allergies, heat stroke, and other salient health problems, especially among the most vulnerable populations: the elderly and children. In the process, the public health frame makes climate change personally relevant to new audiences by connecting the issue to health problems that are already familiar and perceived as important.”  “The frame also shifts the geographic location of impacts, replacing visuals of remote Arctic regions, animals, and peoples with more socially proximate neighbors and places across local communities and cities. Coverage at local television news outlets and specialized urban media is also generated.” http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Ba ck%20Issues/March-April%202009/Nisbet-full.html
  13. 13. Beyond Media Frames  It’s important to realize that individuals in the “audience” also have their own applicable lay knowledge about science-related debates, based on their personal experience, culture and conventional wisdom. (Wynne 1992).  Science communication should take this knowledge, and people’s personal experiences, into account.  Framing scientific issues can be used more ethically by prioritizing dialogue and citizen expression.  Through user-centered and user-controlled digital media like blogs and social media, the ‘former audience’ is developing their own ‘frames’ or ways of interpreting scientific issues.
  14. 14. Getting Science Information  Significant shifts from television (still the primary source of information for 65 years or older) to online sources (which are the preferred media for more than half of those under 24 years old) (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2008).  Those who rely on new information technologies for news rate higher on interest in science-related issues.  As of 2012, the Internet is now the main source of information for learning about specific scientific issues (NSF, 2012).
  15. 15. Getting Science Information – New Media  In 2010, science and technology stories composed 12% of the most-linked-to blog subjects in a given week; in 2009, that figure was 17%. On Twitter, science and technology made up 38% of the most-linked-to subjects in a given week in 2010, down from 48% in 2009.
  16. 16. Discussion: How do YOU think about environmental issues  Sea Level Rise  What do you know about it?  What does it mean to you?  Where do you get information on this issue?  How could this be framed in different ways?  How would you communicate about this issue?

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