Capably Communicating Science

Science  17 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6096, pp. 777
DOI: 10.1126/science.1227898

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There is no shortage of topics where policy-makers or other members of the public seem to persistently misunderstand, misrepresent, or disregard the underlying science: climate change, genetically modified foods, vaccines, or evolution, among others. Consequently, the call for scientists to do a better job of communicating both the meaning and the nature of their work is getting louder. Public understanding of science not only affects people's ability to appreciate and make full use of the products of science, it also contributes to the extent of support for scientific research. Yet far too many scientists are reluctant to engage with people outside their own community. The reasons range from a belief that this responsibility lies outside a scientist's “job description” to an expressed ignorance about how to go about it. In an attempt to find better solutions to this problem, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences convened a meeting of over 450 scientists, policy-makers, journalists, and other professional communicators to examine the underlying dynamics of science communication.* The good news is that empirical studies across many disciplines, particularly in the behavioral and social sciences, are providing very useful baseline information about public attitudes and knowledge about science, as well as some fundamental principles that can help guide scientists to engage more effectively with both the public and policy-makers.†