Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Communicating Science: Narratives

Exploring some of the more complex arenas of science communication and public engagement. Beside concern of formats, engagement tools, framing and breaking out of information silos, there are also legitimate questions about passive vs. formal engagement, and with who and when? Would scientists at a public university accomplish more working with local city, county, and state governments to inject in or even create conversations tied to local issues? Where passive (traditional PR/press release) styles fail, would formal and direct engagement succeed?

What is the value of a sparsely attended panel event in contrast with a noted researcher getting down in the Twitter mud to challenge a poorly informed elected official? What crashes gates and what reinforces tribal political walls? Because part of the problem here is ignoring the politics of science talk. It may not originate in or because of political circles but that is most definitely where it's being heard and discussed most.


Furthermore, people with lower numeracy are more likely to rely on these heuristics when engaging in complex judgments and decisions such as those that involve science, and especially scientific uncertainty (Peters et al., 2006Sinayev and Peters, 2015). They also rely more on narratives and the way information is presented in particular lights (discussed below) instead of applying the probabilities and other numbers critical to understanding science (Peters, 2012a). Of course, highly numerate individuals also sometimes misunderstand numeric information and use heuristic processing, but to a lesser degree (Chapman and Liu, 2009Peters et al., 2007). Careful attention to how scientific uncertainty and other numbers are presented can reduce the use of heuristics and increase understanding and use of provided numbers, especially among the less numerate (Institute of Medicine, 2014).
...what is the narrative? Is it too often an apolitical "You might find this interesting"? If you (like journalists) are going to be perceived through a partisan and tribal lens in the end, could you more effectively communicate scientific ideas and foster deeper understanding among traditionally marginalized or non-engaged groups by, if not owning, at least ignoring that?

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