Some (very compact) reflections on the science communication environment; on the pollution of it; and on the need for self-conscious, evidence-informed protection of it
Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 9:33AM
Dan Kahan

My answer to two questions--what sorts of emerging technologies need science communication attention, and what form-- in preparation for an upcoming roundtable discussion.

            0.  The “science communication environment” (SCE) comprises the sum total of institutions, processes, and norms that connect public decisionmaking with the best available scientific evidence. Conditions that disrupt these influences can be viewed as forms of SCE pollution.  One particularly toxic form of such pollution consists in social meanings that fuse positions on science-informed issues with citizens’ cultural identities.  This dynamic is at the root of polarization over climate change,  nuclear power, and other issues (Jamieson, Kahan & Scheufele 2017).

            1.  The science of science communication supplies methods for predicting which new forms of decision-relevant science are vulnerable to this pathology (Kahan 2015). Genome editing, geoengineering, and AI all merit investigation because of their affinity with existing technologies that generate polarization.

            2. The U.S. is hobbled by the absence of any agency charged with protecting SCE. The resulting void leaves the fate of new forms of decision-relevant science vulnerable to chance and strategic behavior. The consequences of such neglect are illustrated by the career of the HPV vaccine (Kahan 2013). Just as OMB now screens all administrative actions for costs and benefits, some agency could evaluate the SCE impact of such actions.


Jamieson, K.H., Kahan, D.M. & Scheufele, D.A. eds.  Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 2017).

Kahan, D.M. What is the "science of science communication"? J. Sci. Comm., 14, 1-12 (2015).

Kahan, D.M. A Risky Science Communication Environment for Vaccines. Science 342, 53-54 (2013).

Article originally appeared on cultural cognition project (
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