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Chris Mooney: Use science to identify effective science communicators

Chris Mooney has written a very interesting blog post on the changes sweeping science communication across the world. In it he correctly identifies the sea change that’s taking place at academic centers and research institutions everywhere:

…I’m just one part of a much broader communication and outreach wave that is sweeping the science world. This wave, in my view, has built up for two related reasons: 1) ongoing frustration in the research community over the failure to get its knowledge “out there”–successfully disseminated–especially on controversial subjects like climate change and evolution; 2) the decline of science coverage itself in the traditional media, and the concomitant rise of the new media. This development is both exhilarating and also rather terrifying, because it increasingly places the scientist him- or herself in the position of serving as a direct-to-public communicator, rather than in the old role of communicating through an intermediary (the journalist).

Mooney has hit the nail on the head – and the second prong of the argument is something my colleagues and I have been working on since late 2007. Pointing to psychology and cognitive neuroscience, he goes on to offer an interesting suggestion to develop a science of science communicators:

Picture a targeted audience, whose broad values are known, being reached by a scientist-communicator who begins with an emotional appeal that resonates with those core values. The scientist-communicator makes sure that the audience feels–not thinks, but feels–agreement, affirmation, and shared ground with the speaker before delivering any information, especially controversial information. Then the presenter goes on to embed scientific information in a narrative that follows a dramatic structure and leads to an emotionally satisfying resolution. The audience then “responds”–heart and head, except of course, all of this is actually in the head–and the connection is perfect.

Some of the best science communicators already do precisely this, by instinct. But in the future, science itself will be able to tell us who they are, and why what they’re doing actually succeeds.

Mooney’s post is a lengthy one, but, as you can see, it’s insightful stuff. I recommend heading over to Desmog Blog to check out the post.

Via Science Progress

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