From something I'm working on (one of many things distracting me from this blog; I've experienced a curious inversion recently in proscrastination diversions....)
One of the major challenges confronting the science of science communication is generalizability. This problem is obvious when researchers engage in lab experiments. By quieting the cacophony of uncontrollable real-world influences, such experiments enable the researcher to isolate and manipulate mechanisms of interest, and thus draw confident inferences about their significance, or lack thereof. But how, then, can one know whether the effects observed in these artificially tranquil conditions will hold up in the chaotic real-life environment from which the researcher sought refuge in the lab?
It would be a mistake, though, to think that this difficulty reflects some fatal defect in laboratory methods. And not just because such methods do indeed play an indispensable role in the formation of communication strategies that can subsequently be tested outside the lab. For any empirical testing that occurs in the field must also confront the question of generalizability: how is one to know that what worked in one distinctively messy real-world setting will work in another distinctively messy one?
The generalizability problem is central to the motivation for our proposal. Disturbingly, a large fraction of researchers offering counsel to conservation advocates and policymakers simply ignore this issue altogether.
But just as bad, a large fraction of the remainder try to address it in the wrong way. They believe that the goal of empirical research is to identify a fixed set of universally effective “techniques” or “best practices” that can, with the benefit maybe of cartoon-illustrated instruction manuals, be confidently and more-or-less thoughtlessly applied by communicator "consumers."
But in fact, the only technique of the science of science communication that generalizes—the sole valid “best practice” it has to offer—is its method. Successful lab experiments and field studies alike do enlarge understandings of how the world works. But how the insights they generate can be brought successfully to bear on any new problem will always be a question that those promoting science-informed conservation policymaking will have to answer for themselves. The only way they can reliably do so, moreover, is by using empirical methods to adapt what the science of science communication knows to the distinctive circumstances at hand.
Perfecting knowledge of how to use empirical methods in the everyday practice of conservation-science communication—so that the generalizability issue will always be confronted and confronted effectively—is the whole point of the proposed ....