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Article

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.

Article

Cancer Communication Science: Intergroup Perspectives  

Lisa Sparks and Gary L. Kreps

At the heart of cancer communication research is an effort both to increase knowledge and to identify practical strategies for improving cancer communication and for improving prevention and control of cancer, as well as for addressing cancer care issues from theoretical and applied communication perspectives across the continuum of cancer care. One important theoretical approach to consider in cancer communication science is taking an intergroup approach to cancer care. The challenge moving forward is to develop cancer communication research programs that combine important theoretical and applied perspectives, focusing on prevention strategies that can help reduce cancer risk, incidence, morbidity, and mortality, and to promote the highest quality of life for people of every age and every background.

Article

Science and Communication  

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.

Article

Scientific Uncertainty in Health and Risk Messaging  

Stephen Zehr

Expressions of scientific uncertainty are normal features of scientific articles and professional presentations. Journal articles typically include research questions at the beginning, probabilistic accounts of findings in the middle, and new research questions at the end. These uncertainty claims are used to construct clear boundaries between uncertain and certain scientific knowledge. Interesting questions emerge, however, when scientific uncertainty is communicated in occasions for public science (e.g., newspaper accounts of science, scientific expertise in political deliberations, science in stakeholder claims directed to the public, and so forth). Scientific uncertainty is especially important in the communication of environmental and health risks where public action is expected despite uncertain knowledge. Public science contexts are made more complex by the presence of multiple actors such as citizen-scientists, journalists, stakeholders, social movement actors, politicians, and so on who perform important functions in the communication and interpretation of scientific information and bring in diverse norms and values. A past assumption among researchers was that scientists would deemphasize or ignore uncertainties in these situations to better match their claims with a public perception of science as an objective, truth-building institution. However, more recent research indicates variability in the likelihood that scientists communicate uncertainties and in the public reception and use of uncertainty claims. Many scientists still believe that scientific uncertainty will be misunderstood by the public and misused by interest groups involved with an issue, while others recognize a need to clearly translate what is known and not known. Much social science analysis of scientific uncertainty in public science views it as a socially constructed phenomenon, where it depends less upon a particular state of scientific research (what scientists are certain and uncertain of) and more upon contextual factors, the actors involved, and the meanings attached to scientific claims. Scientific uncertainty is often emergent in public science, both in the sense that the boundary between what is certain and uncertain can be managed and manipulated by powerful actors and in the sense that as scientific knowledge confronts diverse public norms, values, local knowledges, and interests new areas of uncertainty emerge. Scientific uncertainty may emerge as a consequence of social conflict rather than being its cause. In public science scientific uncertainty can be interpreted as a normal state of affairs and, in the long run, may not be that detrimental to solving societal problems if it opens up new avenues and pathways for thinking about solutions. Of course, the presence of scientific uncertainty can also be used to legitimate inaction.

Article

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.

Article

Climate Change Communication  

Amy E. Chadwick

Climate change, which includes global warming, is a serious and pervasive challenge for local and global communities. Communication theorists, researchers, and practitioners are well positioned to describe, predict, and affect how we communicate about climate change. Our theories, research methods, and practices have many potential roles in reducing climate change and its effects. Climate change communication is a growing field that examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Climate change communication covers a broad range of philosophical and research traditions, including humanistic-rhetorical analyses, interpretive qualitative studies, and social-scientific quantitative surveys and experiments. Climate change communication examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Much of the research in climate change communication focuses on public understanding of climate change, factors that affect public understanding, media coverage and framing, media effects, and risk perceptions. Less prevalent, growing areas of research include civic engagement and public participation, organizational communication, and persuasive strategies to affect attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to the climate. In all of these areas, most of the research on climate change communication has been conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Western European countries. There is a need to expand the climate change communication research into other regions, particularly developing countries. In addition, climate change communication has natural links to environmental and health communication; therefore, communication scholars should also examine research from these areas to develop insights into climate change communication.

Article

The Politics of Scientific Knowledge  

Elizabeth Suhay

This article discusses the various ways in which political concerns among government officials, scientists, journalists, and the public influence the production, communication, and reception of scientific knowledge. In so doing, the article covers a wide variety of topics, mainly with a focus on the U.S. context. The article begins by defining key terms under discussion and explaining why science is so susceptible to political influence. The article then proceeds to discuss: the government’s current and historical role as a funder, manager, and consumer of scientific knowledge; how the personal interests and ideologies of scientists can influence their research; the susceptibility of scientific communication to politicization and the concomitant political impact on audiences; the role of the public’s political values, identities, and interests in their understanding of science; and, finally, the role of the public, mainly through interest groups and think tanks, in shaping the production and public discussion of scientific knowledge. While the article’s primary goal is to provide an empirical description of these influences, a secondary, normative, goal is to clarify when political values and interests are or are not appropriate influences on the creation and dissemination of scientific knowledge in a democratic context.

Article

Types of Explanations in Health and Risk Messaging  

Katherine E. Rowan

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.