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The Knowledge Deficit Model and Science Communication  

W.J. Grant

The Knowledge Deficit Model represents a key boundary concept in the modern discussion of science communication. In essence, the model asserts an epistemic priority for science and scientific information: that scientific knowledge should be paramount in making decisions on science-related issues, that this knowledge should be communicated from scientists to audiences who do not have this knowledge, that scientists should be in control of this communication flow, that the nonscientific audiences receiving this knowledge will be grateful for this, and that they will make better decisions as a result. To state it simply, the model assumes that nonscientific audiences are in some senses empty vessels suffering from a deficit of scientific knowledge, waiting to be filled with the wisdom of science. Among science communication researchers and those concerned with the relationship between science and society, this model of communication is often considered essentially flawed, in that it affords politically problematic privileges to scientific knowledge and leaves scientists ignorant of the needs and knowledges their audiences, ignorant of the contexts in which decisions will be made, less likely to be viewed as trustworthy by those audiences, and less likely to do good science. The end result of such an approach is only likely to be a greater distrust between science and society, and flawed science. Yet despite these critiques—and a near total absence of evidence in its favor—the model perseveres. Many scientists and science organizations continue to communicate their work in a deficit model style. Understanding why it persists—and what to do about it—remains a key challenge in science communication research.