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Fortifying #scicomm craft norms with empirical inquiry-- a snippet

From something I'm working on . . . .

This proposal is about the merger of two sources of insight into public science communication. 

The first comprises the professional judgment of popular-science communicators who typically disseminate knowledge through documentaries and related media. The currency of decisoinmaking for these communicators consists in experience-forged hunches about the interests and behavior of target audiences.

Like those of other professionals (Margolis 1987, 1993, 1996), these intuitive judgments are by no means devoid of purchasing power. Indeed, the characteristic problem with craft-based judgment is not that it yields too little practical guidance but that it at least sometimes yields too much: where professional disagreements persist over time, it is typical for both sides to appeal to shared experience and understandings to support plausible but opposing conjectures.

The second source of insight consists of empirical studies aimed at dissolving this constraint on professional judgment. The new “science of science communication” proposes that science’s own distinctive methods of disciplined observation and causal inference be made a part of the practice of professional science communication (Jaimieson, Kahan & Scheufele 2017). Such methods can, in particular, be used to generate evidence for evaluating the conflicting positions that figure in persistent professional disagreements.

What is persistently holding this research program back, however, is its principal location: the social science lab. 

Lab studies (including both observational studies and experiments) aspire to silence the cacophony of real-world influences that confound inference on how particular psychological mechanisms fortify barriers to public science comprehension.

But precisely because they test such hypotheses in experimentally pristine conditions, lab studies don’t on their own tell professional science communicators what to do.  Additional empirical research is necessary—in the field—to adjudicate between competing conjectures about how results observed in the lab can be reproduced in the real world (Kahan and Carpenter 2017; Kahan 2014).

The need for practitioner-scholar collaborations in such a process was one of the central messages of the recent National Academies of Science (2017) report  on the science of science communication.  “Through partnerships entailing sustained interaction with members of the . . . practitioner community, researchers come to understand local needs and circumstances, while . . . practitioners gain a better understanding of the process of research and their role in it” (ibid. p. 42). The current proposal responds to the NAS’s important prescription.


 Kahan, D.M. Making Climate-Science Communication Evidence-Based—All the Way Down. in Culture, Politics and Climate Change (ed. M. Boykoff & D. Crow) 203-220 (Routledge Press, New York, 2014).

 Kahan, D.M. & Carpenter, K. Out of the lab and into the field. Nature Climate Change 7, 309-10 (2017).

Jamieson, K.H., Kahan, D.M. & Scheufele, D.A. The Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Margolis, H. Dealing with risk : why the public and the experts disagree on environmental issues (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996).

Margolis, H. Paradigms and Barriers (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993).

Margolis, H. Patterns, Thinking, and Cognition ((University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987).

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Reader Comments (1)

scientists find their own narrative, bypassing science communicators:

June 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

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