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Explanations designed to teach, rather than to support scientific claims in scholarly works, are essential in health and risk communication. Patients explain why they think their symptoms warrant medical attention. Clinicians elicit information from patients and explain diagnoses and treatments. Families and friends explain health and risk concerns to one another. In addition, there are websites, brochures, fact sheets, museum exhibits, health fairs, and news stories explaining health and risk to lay audiences. Unfortunately, research on this important discursive goal is less extensive than is research on persuasion, that is, efforts to gain agreement. One problem is that explanation-as-teaching has not been carefully conceptualized. Some confuse this communication goal and discursive type with its frequent verbal and visual features, such as simple wording or diagrams. Others believe explanation-as-teaching does not exist as a distinctive communication goal, maintaining that all communication is solely persuasive: that is, designed to gain agreement. Explanation-as-teaching is a distinct and important health communication goal. Patient involvement in decision making requires that both clinicians and patients understand options underlying health-care choices. To explore types of explanation-as-teaching, research provides (a) several ways of categorizing health and risk explanations for lay audiences; (b) evidence that certain textual and graphic features overcome predictable confusions, and (c) illustrations of each explanation type. Additionally, explanation types succeed or fail in part because of the social or emotional conditions in which they are presented so it is important to note research on conditions that support patients, families, and clinicians in benefiting from explanations of health and risk complexities and curricula designed to enhance clinicians’ explanatory skill.


Celeste M. Condit and L. Bruce Railsback

Whether understood as a set of procedures, statements, or institutions, the scope and character of science has changed through time and area of investigation. The prominent current definition of science as systematic efforts to understand the world on the basis of empirical evidence entails several characteristics, each of which has been deeply investigated by multidisciplinary scholars in science studies. The aptness of these characteristics as defining elements of science has been examined both in terms of their sufficiency as normative ideals and with regard to their fit as empirical descriptors of the actual practices of science. These putative characteristics include a set of commitments to (1) the goal of developing maximally general, empirically based explanations certified through falsification procedures, predictive power, and/or fruitfulness and application, (2) meta-methodologies of hypothesis testing and quantification, and (3) relational norms including communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, organized skepticism, and originality. The scope of scientific practice has been most frequently identified with experimentation, observation, and modeling. However, data mining has recently been added to the scientific repertoire, and genres of communication and argumentation have always been an unrecognized but necessary component of scientific practices. The institutional home of science has also changed through time. The dominant model of the past three centuries has housed science predominantly in universities. However, science is arguably moving toward a “post-academic” era.