Public Understanding of Science Should Include Other Scientists

November 8th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Matthew Nisbet, a communications professor at American University and author of the Framing Science blog, noted recently a Policy Forum article in Science (subscription required) that showed something that is perhaps obvious, but bears emphasis.  The article described an experiment conducted at MIT where students with training in science or economics were given parts of the IPCC summary for policymakers on long term accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Approximately two-thirds of those students were unable to accurately recreate the emissions path necessary to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide.  You can read more of Nisbet’s assessment on his blog.

What I take from this is a need to recognize that the ability to communicate scientific results clearly and properly not only requires an appropriate frame, but the public often considered in studies of the effective communication of science should also include other scientists.  Yes, this is probably an example of cross-disciplinary disconnection, but increasing specialization has been happening in science for a long time.  While it may be tough to bridge the gaps, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the gaps exist.  Just because scientists, in general, may be able to think and act in similar ways does not always translate to understanding across fields.  So, the next time you’d like to try and frame some of your research to a public audience, see how a scientist from another field understands you (or doesn’t).

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