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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.

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Communication Apprehension  

Chris R. Sawyer

Communication scholarship has profited greatly by the rise of social science during the mid-20th century. This scientific progress has been marked by increased outlets for peer-reviewed research, thriving sub-disciplines, and a rapidly accumulating corpus of findings. Social scientists have accomplished this feat largely by conducting tests of empirical models and their associated constructs. Over the same span of time, the discipline’s most prolific researcher, James C. McCroskey, pioneered the study of the construct with which he is most closely associated. Communication apprehension (CA) has impelled generations of scholars to investigate possibly the greatest impediment to successful communication, namely the fear of interacting with fellow humans. Tracing its development reveals that CA meets the standards for theory bridges: truth, abstraction, progress, and applicability. Consequently, describing CA as a bridge construct rests on four interrelated claims. First, the primary aim of CA research is to discover the truth about social anxiety. Studies of CA have outstripped competitor explanations for speaker anxiety by yielding an extensive literature of peer-reviewed articles, books, and doctoral dissertations. These writings are predicated on the presumption that CA taps into the true nature of social anxiety. Second, self-reported measures of CA, such as the PRCA-24, allow for enough abstraction to support scientific generalization. This makes it possible for CA researchers to connect concrete observations to abstract principles. Third, CA research contributes to scientific progress in communication. Explanations for CA have generally reflected theories and perspectives at the horizon of the field. Last, CA research impacts on the quality of everyday life. Ultimately, CA researchers seek to develop treatment and educational strategies for the one-fifth of the general population afflicted with this condition. Taken together, CA has served as a bridge construct that enables scholars to pursue truth, formulate testable generalizations, achieve scientific progress, and potentially improve the quality of human life.