EurekAlert has posted a short press release from an unknown source concerning an upcoming article that's about to be published in Science magazine [Scientists must improve communication tactics, Science article proclaims].
The article is by Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet and it concerns science communication. Here's what the press release says about the authors.
Mooney is a regular columnist for Seed, covering the intersection of science and politics. His blog, “The Intersection”, is a part of the ScienceBlogs network, a Seed Media Group venture. He is the author of two books, The Republican War on Science and the forthcoming Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming (Harcourt, July 2007).I enjoy reading Chris' blog and I think he does a good job of explaining some aspects of science. However, I must admit to being a little bit nervous when non-scientists tell me how to write about science. I don't see overwhelming evidence that non-scientists are doing a good job ... with some notable exceptions.
Dr. Nisbet contributes the “Framing Science” blog to the ScienceBlogs network. He is a professor in the School of Communication at American University. His research focuses on the intersections between science, media and politics, and he is the author or co-author of more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies in the area.
Seed Media Group is a leading science media and communications company. Headquartered in New York, with correspondents across the globe, Seed Media Group’s brands include the critically acclaimed science magazine Seed, and ScienceBlogs, the leading digital community dedicated to science. For more information, please visit www.seedmediagroup.com.
I'm also disturbed about the emphasis on Seed Media Group. I'll wait until I see the actual article—it isn't available yet—but I'll be surprised if Mooney and Nisbet list their affiliation as "Seed Media Group." What do the ScienceBlog bloggers say about this? Do you see yourselves as employees or representatives of Seed Media Group?
Here's what the press release says about their article.
“In writing this article together, we argue that scientists shouldn’t exclusively blame politicians and journalists for gridlock on issues like climate change,” says Mooney. “Part of the problem is that scientists carry with them the wrong assumptions about what makes for effective communication.”That's one way of looking at it. However, I prefer not to hide my atheism and my liberal viewpoint under a bushel. I don't know what "framing" is—and reading the blog isn't much help—but it sounds an awful lot like spin to me.
The authors point out that when scientists discuss science-related policy questions in technical language, many members of the public tune it out. Moreover, even while continuing to employ traditional modes of communication, scientists themselves have come under increasing attack for being too atheistic, too self-interested and/or too liberal. Scientists can improve their communication skills by applying research on “framing” and other work in the social sciences. As the article puts it, “Frames organize central ideas in a debate, defining a controversy so that it will resonate with core values and assumptions. Frames pare down complex issues by giving some aspects greater emphasis than others. They allow citizens to rapidly identify why an issue matters, who might be responsible and what should be done.”
“Our suggestions should not be confused with spin; rather, we are advocating the conscious adoption of more effective (and thus, more informative) communication techniques,” said Dr. Nisbet. “Already, influential sectors of the scientific community are beginning to realize that new public engagement strategies are desperately needed.”
I think I'll try and emulate Isaac Asimov, Dick Lewontin, Carl Sagan, Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Peter Medawar, Niles Eldredge, and Stephen Jay Gould. They're scientists who, in my opinion, communicate pretty effectively and they attracted lots of readers. They didn't have to disguise their atheism or their liberalism in order to get a point across. I don't think they took lessons on "framing."
Chris Mooney [I Have a Paper in Science] and Matt Nisbet [At the journal Science] have already blogged about the upcoming article. Let the debate begin!