Posted by: soniahs | September 27, 2010

Exam readings: Science cafes and framing

This weekend, I spent two days drifting from Panera to Panera, and got a lot of reading done (although I feel like a dork for spending my weekend cafe-hopping). Did not get a lot else accomplished, aside from bunny torture (took Noe to the vet- she is fine, just had arthritis acting up). I’ll post my reading summaries as I write them up. Here are two semi-related papers on the theme of communicating science:

First, Jan Riise’s “Bringing Science to the Public,” from Communicating Science in Social Contexts: New Models, New Practices, focuses on informal science events. (As a side note, Orlando has a monthly Science Cafe, but it always seems to be scheduled on a night I have class…)

Summary: Discusses the importance of scientists speaking to the public directly, in informal settings- events, “science cafes,” online. The location and venue of such interactions is important, e.g., cafes at coffeeshops, festivals and street events at various venues. These events can attract passers-by, they’re on neutral ground (less intimidation), and people don’t need to venture into formal settings. Different audiences might frequent different venues (older, educated folks at lectures, young adults at malls). Such events are becoming more common among scientists for two reasons: communication is becoming thought of as a negotiation, and it’s now considered an integral part of the scientific process. One key aspect is the face-to-face interactions between scientists and the public without mediation- opens up space for discussion. There is, however, a need for support and training for scientists for these events. Finally, different types of content are discussed: basic understanding, “fun” science (e.g., contests), academic-level science, science in culture (partner with arts & humanities content), and “new” discovery science.

Comments: Riise’s evidence is mainly anecdotal, and based in Sweden, but this is an area of active development in many regions. Mentions Internet comm. in passing, but doesn’t discuss it again.

Next,Matt Nisbet’s “Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter for Public Engagement” applies some mass-media communication theory to science communication. His approach contrasts with sci. comm. researchers who are focused on increasing dialogue; mainly this is due to medium.

Summary: Nisbet’s focus is on increasing public engagement with science (specifically global warming), rather than public education. While traditional approaches to sci comm assume that wider coverage leads to wider understanding and engagement, research shows that people have selective interest in news (generally what’s salient for them personally.) GW in particular is a highly-partisan issue in the U.S., and barriers include its complexity and the fragmented nature of news media (e.g., easier to read just sources that agree with you.) Nisbet advocates framing GW in order to connect the issue with targeted groups- tailoring the message while remaining true to the science. Likens framing to creating interpretive storylines that allow people to connect a new issue with underlying mental models. For GW, liberal and conservative commentators/institutions frame the issue in different ways, maintaining the partisan divide (“Pandora’s Box,” public accountability vs. uncertainty, conflict, economics.) Each frame can include pro/neutral/anti positions, so it is possible to reframe or use frame in novel ways. The overall idea is to identify possible frames to unify partisan divide, and effect greater engagement by increasing issue salience.

Comments: Nisbet’s aim is to increase the salience of issues, rather than purely factual communication; this is different focus than some other authors, who take a more educational stance. He mentions critique of framing because it’s similar to political “spin,” but maintains that it’s a different process- perhaps because of “remaining true” to underlying science.) Framing here replaces the deficit model (assumption that more information is what is needed.)


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