Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Science, technology and its accountability, for who?

Science, technology and its accountability

As a role of science has been getting more crucial for modern society, it’s accountability for general public has tended to be discussed more frequently and publically.  As that accountability contains several social aspects such as values and ethics, it has been difficult to be handled only by individual scientists.  Since they have not trained for assessing their own research from those social aspects, the national government has been expected to take a leading role in encouraging scientist’s accountability.

In their paper, Katz, Solomon, Mee and Lovel conducted an analytical approach for this issue by examining the series of attempt to gain public engagement in Australia.

In order to deepen the understanding of public engagement in term of nanotechnology, CSIRO conducted two open workshops, which is followed by research governance workshop participated by CSIRO scientists.

Stated concerns from public and scientists

From the second panel discussion and workshop held in Melbourne, the panel which represents lay public, scientist, governmental organization and media, issued several concerns, which vary from economic development to ethical issues.

In term of economic issues, the panel mainly concerned about a balance between industrial development and environmental issue, fairness for small business, governmental regulation and intellectual property issue.   Public engagement and control issues were also stated as crucial points, such as accountability of research, control or regulation of technology and chance to show opinion on decision-making moment.  Concerns for social aspects were also stated, such as ethical concerns, worry for military use and possibility of social divide caused by nanotechnology.

At the third phase of research, CSIRO scientists had workshop of research governance.  In respond for those concerns, the scientists showed wide variety of responds.  Some said social challenges could be mended by appropriate technological design.  The others said these concerns are already implemented in their research portfolio, or could be implemented.  Whilst, some of them support quite orthodox approach, which means improving themselves in term of acknowledging social responsibility and accountability, and looking for further chance to engage with lay public.

Although their research was focused on nanotechnology, these notions, the needs from lay public and responds of scientists, can be generalized in context of general science.

Accountability, what for?

Throughout the research, the authors have pointed out that an incentive for scientists for improving public engagement was unclear.  In other word, the scientists were not sure about why they should tell their work for lay public.  Apart from orthodox reasons, such as sharing enthusiasm or responsibility for tax payer, it has been difficult answer for them.  For some scientists, it has been just a mandatory, meanwhile, some answered that it has been good opportunity to improve their own understanding for their specialty in term of social aspect.

To sum up, research accountability is also crucial for scientists.  Those non-scientific considerations may not reflect on their achievement immediately, however, it enrich the background context of a research, more focus on practical needs, and give more robust foundation for their work.  In that means, Australian government should encourage public engagement.


Posted by Kohei,


Katz, E, Solomon, F, Mee, W and Lovel, R. 2009. Evolving scientific research governance in Australia: A case study of engaging interested publics in nanotechnology research. Public Understanding of Science 18(5): 531 545.


Which One Do You Prefer? (Impacts of framing on decision and choice)

By Bahram Mirfakhraei


Which one do you prefer?

1)      A sure win of 30$

2)      80% chance to win 45$ 

What do you think about when you want to answer such questions? What comes to your mind?

According to Tversky and Kahneman, a choice process includes two steps. In first step the outcomes are framed and in second step they are evaluated. In other words, first we think about outcomes of each option and then we compare them. Most of the times, people do not notice this process while they are answering such questions. But it is what happens automatically. During a trade-off between the options, usually low probabilities are overestimated, high probabilities are underestimated and the option with highest utility will be selected.

Tversky and Kahneman describe “desicion frame” as:

Decision-maker’s conception of the acts, outcomes, and contingencies associated with a particular choice”.

They also mention that formulation of the problem in addition to personality and habits of the decision maker affect the framing. Formulating a single question in different ways can result in different responses. For instance, imagine there has been an outbreak of a disease and it is expected that 600 people will die. Which of the following options will you choose?

If program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved

If program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved

In Tversky and Kahneman’s study, 72% of the respondents chose program A.

Same question can be formulated in a different way. Imagine conditions are the same but this time:

If program C is adopted, 400 people will die

If program D is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die

This time 78% of respondents chose program D.

These options are the same and their only difference is in the way that they are formulated. The options in first question are based on the lives that can be saved, while in second question the options are based on the lives that will be lost. Even though the questions are the same, the option that majority of respondents chose was different.

Therefore, if a question is formulated differently, it will be framed differently. Consequently, respondent’s choice and decision will be different. So, framing plays a key role in decision-making and change in framing can result in change of decision.


TVERSKY, A. & KAHNEMAN, D. 1981. The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science, 211, 453-458. [Accessed 16/4/2011].

Try and Make Me Change.

Madeleine Gordon

We have all seen the ads telling people to quit smoking, but do they actually work or are they a waste of money?

Theory says that if by changing a behaviour you increase ‘good’ consequences and decrease ‘bad’ ones then you are more likely to change; which raises the question why are people still smoking? There are two main concepts that health promoters use to try and change behaviour. Firstly, behavioural theory can tell us why someone hasn’t altered their behaviour already and secondly, communication theory can tell us how to change behaviours. Let’s use smoking as an example:

There two main categories of smokers a) people who don’t intend to quit and b) people who intend to quit but have something stopping them from doing so. Group (a) is without a doubt the most difficult to change as it is harder to alter someone’s actions rather than encouraging them. With most of the cases of ‘non-intenders’ the best way to try and effect change is not to give new facts about smoking but to ‘prime’ their current beliefs about it. What I mean by this is instead of forcing new beliefs onto smokers, develop the ones they already have but may not be paying attention to. In this case, reinforcing the knowledge that their smoking has a harmful effect on others or that quitting shows their independence from cigarettes and the tobacco company may be two good strategies to try and affect change.

Contrasting this there is the group of smokers who intend to quit, but for some reason they can’t. To deal with these you need to work out what is stopping them and change that. For example, if it is cravings that are keeping them smoking there are plenty of gums, patches etc that can deal with this.

But what about communication strategies?

“A message is more likely to be accepted if it produces more positive than negative thoughts or if it leads to relatively little counter arguing” [Fishbein pp.13]

This means that you are better to promote the positive effects than the negative ones and that if you have a strong message it will be more difficult to counter argue with.

Framing describes the way in which you send your message. People are more likely to avoid risks if the benefits are emphasised eg. ‘You will increase your fitness if you stop smoking’. Conversely they are more likely to accept risks if the losses are emphasised eg. Smoking increases your risk of lung cancer. This is why you should promote the positive effects of not smoking.

Effective health communication doesn’t concern only communication theories but it is important to understand why people haven’t improved their health before. After you have figured this out it’s possible to determine how best to communicate your message and what frame to use. This makes me question why ad campaigns haven’t used this research and why people to continue to smoke?

Fishbein, M & Cappella, J (2006). The Role of Theory in Developing Effective Health Communications. Journal of Communications, 56, 1-17.

Self Centred People are not Environmentalists

Carmen Pol


Have you ever considered the motives behind an environmentalist? Do you label people who care for the environment as ‘hippies’ or ‘tree-huggers’, or consider them alternative? Perhaps you are an ‘environmentalist’ yourself. If so, what drives this passion?

As someone who wants to see the environment protected, but hopes that someone else will put in the hard-yards and self-sacrifice, I see that my values reflect “self-enhancing” life goals. I could use less energy, but I like being refreshed by my air-conditioner in the heat of the day. I could reduce my carbon emissions, but I like the convenience of a car.

As Schultz and Zelezny reported in Reframing Environmental Messages to be Congruent with American Values people who have self-enhancing values have a negative correlation with environmental concern. This means that caring for the environment does not go hand-in-hand with self-oriented goals.

Environmentalists (as a generalisation) are people with values that transcend the individual and are focused on the big picture. ‘Self-transcendent’ values include (but are not limited to):

being responsible, altruistic, broad-minded, helpful, and concerned with social justice.

Self-enhancing values (contrastingly) are related to:

personal gain, power or achievement.

This study reports that the majority of the US population rated “self-enhancing” life goals most highly according to survey data, even for environmental issues. Environmental worries raised by US citizens were problems that could directly affect them. For example water pollution was of great concern. “I don’t want to drink polluted water” was the fear.

Schultz and Zelezny suggest that environmental messages need to be reframed to target individuals with self-enhancing life goals, because of this trend in the US. Instead of trying to change an individual’s values (which are concreted at an early age), a new twist can be given to environmental messages.

“Reducing energy consumption will help prevent climate change”

Could become:

“Using less energy will preserve your purse strings”.

One problem with this method is that people with self enhancing values may perceive the costs to still outweigh the benefits, and not be influenced to change.

“Saving money (and energy) is all well and good, but I’d rather be cool in summer!!”

Changing a person’s values is not a feasible approach. However, re-framing an environmental message may be more viable. There are doubts that this method will always be effective, as some environmental efforts may not have a self-enhancing ‘spin’ to put on them.

For example, conservation biology efforts in Western Australia try to save rare orchid species. This can lead to listing certain areas as nature reserves (and halting urban development) for aesthetic pleasures and conservation of endemic species. This message is more difficult to re-frame to satisfy a self-serving individual.

“Do not develop buildings, to save a pretty flower” may be the only message they hear.

There are definitely some limitations to the method of reframing environmental messages in this manner, but isn’t it worth a try? Peoples’ values are not likely to change, and planet earth deserves a fighting chance.


Things to consider:

Do you think “reframing” environmental messages will be effective in encouraging a self-enhancing audience towards change?

Can you think of a way the orchid message could be conveyed successfully to an audience with self-enhancing life goals?


Schultz, P. W., & Zelezny, L. (2003). Reframing environmental messages to be congruent with American values. Human Ecology Review, 10(2), 126-136., accessed 11th April 2011


A Frame full of Sugar Helps the Message Go Down

How framing affects message reception

By Evette Clayton

You’re at home, and you’re watching the news. The reporter is telling you that there has been an outbreak of a new strain of virus. It’s estimated that 600 people will die. Reports come from the scientific authorities on the issue. There are two possible programmes for treatment that can be adopted.

It’s estimated that programme A will save 200 people. Programme B has a 1/3 probability of saving everyone, and 2/3 probability of saving no one. The government wants to know which programme will get the support of the public.

What do you say? A study by Kahneman and Tversky showed that 72% of people will vote for programme A, which can save 200 people.

Now, rewind. New scenario. There is still an outbreak, but the treatments are different. If treatment 1 is used 400 people will die, but if treatment 2 is used there is a 1/3 chance that no body will die, and a 2/3 chance that all 600 people will die.

Which treatment do you opt for now?

The study showed that 78% voted for treatment 2.

But how can this be? We’re all clever enough here to recognise that treatment 1 and programme A are the same thing. Saving 200 out of 600 people is the same thing as leaving 400 out of 600 to die. So, why do those things sound so different to us. Why is the prospect of curing only a portion of the people is more acceptable than the one in three risk of losing all 600, but the certain death of the remaining portion is less acceptable than the two in three chance that all will die?

Chong and Druckman write extensively on the topic of framing, and how it can be used in a political context. They do, however, stress the point that their findings and the psychology behind them can be applied to any topic involving opinions, including science. The application to science communications is illustrated by the previous example.

As scientists, we like to think we can objectively view information, process it and respond to the data we’ve been presented with. The truth is, we’re all human, and a product of our psychology. Our responses to information depend on the frame that we’ve been presented with. One example that Chong and Druckman return many times in their paper is the response of voters on the issue of rallies.

When asked whether they would favor or oppose allowing a hate group to hold a political rally, 85% of respondents answered in favor if the question was prefaced with the suggestion, “Given the importance of free speech,” whereas only 45% were in favor when the question was prefaced with the phrase, “Given the risk of violence”.

This example originates in a study conducted in 2004 by Sniderman and Theriault, but Chong and Druckman run with it, continuing the analogy throughout the review, to effectively illustrate the point. How the public responds to an issue is more dependent on the connotations presented, than the content. Values trump facts.

It is suggested that the seemingly subtle differences in connotations may not be identifiable to the researchers, but they hugely influence the public response.

Framing can be either positive or negative, that is, promoting benefits or losses. Frames can also be long or short term, and may focus on the individual or the community. Which combination of frames will be most effective for a topic depends on the topic itself. Studies have shown health related issues are best framed as benefits to the individual, and in a short term frame, like the new adverstising campaign for Quitline, that emphasizes the health benefits if people stop smoking, compared to older “scare tactics”, which remind the viewer that “Every cigarette is doing you damage”.

Every cigarette is doing you damage

Screen shots from television advertisement as part of the old Quitline campaign "Every cigarette is doing you damage"

New Quitline advertising campaign poster "Stop Smoking, Start Repairing"

Recent Quitline poster, as part of new campaign "Every cigarette you don't smoke is doing you good"

To some it may beg the question, “if my findings matter less to the public than how I tell them, why should I bother telling them?”. My own response to this would be to pull your head in. If you don’t let your findings be known, there was no point in looking. This is just something to remember when doing so.

Part of Chong and Druckman’s discussion stated that the connotations of an issue and its frame are also influenced by the availability of past knowledge on the topic. That is to say, if you already have ideas about something—and  they’re not too far from your conscious thought for your memory to recall them—they’ll influence what you think about incoming information. So, the more awareness people have on a topic, the more complex the issue of framing becomes, but the more likely people are to think about new information.

We, the doers of science, like to think that these political-type communications issues don’t apply to us. We present facts, we say. People can respond to the evidence, we [try to] believe. But the “fact” of the matter is that the public responds based on connotations and past exposure to issues. Who presents the information, what is already known and the frame of the message is far more important than the actual content, and even scientists would do well to remember this.


Chong, D. & Druckman, J. (2007). Framing Theory. Annual Review of Political Science, 10, 103-126.
[Available from SSRN:]

Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect Theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica 47(2), 263-292.
[Available from JSTOR:]

Schneider, T.R., Salovey, P., Pallonen, U., Mundorf, N., Smith, N.F., Steward, W.T. (2001). Visual and auditory message framing effects on tobacco smoking. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 31(4), 667-682.

Sniderman PM, Theriault SM. (2004). The structure of political argument and the logic of issue framing. In Studies in Public Opinion, ed. WE Saris, PM Sniderman, pp. 133–65. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press

University Students Will Die If They Don’t Read This!!

I can’t guarantee that you won’t die by reading this, but you’re here so you might as well continue… So why are you here? Is it because you have to for science communication? Or is it because the title drew you in? While both are valid possibilities, let’s say that it is due to the title, which is an example of a negatively framed message. However was the death threat, the only factor that persuaded you to read further? No, says Maheswaran and Meyers-Levy, who published a paper on the influence of framing and issue involvement.

So messages can be framed positively and negatively and this will generally have an influence on the way that the audience is persuaded by that message. Positively framed messages will tell their audience of the benefits associated, for example ‘woman who do a breast self examination (BSE) have an increased chance of finding a tumour in the early, more treatable stage of the disease’ whereas a negative frame will focus on the benefits lost, ‘woman who do a breast BSE have a decreased chance of finding a tumour in the early, more treatable stage of the disease’. This concept of negative and positive frames can be found in most messages, from disease prevention to the humble carton of milk.

However, the issue of which frame is more persuasive to the audience is hotly contested with reports claiming the positive frame being the most effective and other saying the negative frame is the winner, and in the example above I think it’s safe to say that the negative frame would be more persuasive at getting women to check their breasts, but for instance if we look at milk, they claim to be 99% an example of a positive frame. Maheswaran and Meyers-Levy looked further into this aspect of communication to determine if the audience’s involvement in an issue will influence the message’s persuasiveness and as was found in the study the audience were less likely to respond to positively framed messages when there was a high involvement, although if the message was of low involvement then the negative framing would not be as effective as if it was positively framed.

So you could say that by using a negatively framed title and making it an issue of high involvement, as it was directed at university students, theoretically I was able to make the argument for reading my blog much more persuasive. However this information, that message framing and Issue involvement are important in creating a persuasive message, can have a much more practical use in the world of science communication.


Maheswaran, D & Meyers-Levy, J (1990) ‘The Influence of Message Framing and Issue Involvement’, Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 27, pp. 361-367.

Ayshe Kerimofski

“I’ll have what she’s having!!”

Caitlin Love

Why do you buy that perfume or choose that brand of shoes? Are you influenced by who stands in front of the product you buy? Advertisers have been attempting to crack the code for many, many years!

Using celebrities to endorse products is certainly not a new concept and their presence can impact attitudes consumers have about a product.  What Amos is trying to determine is what about these celebrities influences consumers.

Amos found that negative information about a celebrity (like a juicy scandal) can be detrimental to any advertising campaigns the said celebirty was endorsing. These accusations can not only degrade the celebirty but also the product he/she is endorsing. Choosing the right celebrity to back your product can be a costly business.

A fine example is Tiger Woods and his premiscuous love life. While I will be the first to admit I know very little about golf I did know that Tiger was behind many lucrative products. One of my first thoughts was….what will his sponsors do? And enevitably he lost a lot of sponership…I did also notice that most who supported Tiger Woods in this endevour followed him in his golfing career. His performance and credability as a golfsman was much more important to his follwers than his private life. It may have been a different story if Tiger was not an athlete but instead a politician in an upcoming election. I myself found it hard to see Tiger in the same light…but am I of any interest to his previous or current sponsors?

On the other hand famous basketball player Michael Jordon has not only earnt a lot of money for himself but alot for his sponsors as well. His success on the court and charmful charisma has made him a very welcome endorser for many products. In this case the risk taken on this celebrity paid off.

Amos found that a celebrity who was considered credible and trustworthy to a consumer was more likely to convey these qualities in a product. Unfortunately (in my opinion) Amos also noted that physical attractiveness also played a roll in the effectiveness of endorsement…although not as influencial as any other traits.

I think one of the most interesting findings of Amos in this study is that the most significant findings were in USA while other nations recorded less significance.

Non-US studies may be characterised by more non-significant findings because their academic cultures are more motivated by pure academic debate

While companies continue to use celebrities to endorse their products they will continuously try to determine what traits are most influencial. This of course can be related to any situation of risk communication. Those delivering the information can be just as important as the information itself. You need to ask yourself

-What are the consumers (or lay people’s) views on the people behind the information?

-Are they trustworthy?

-Are they credible in the lay people’s eyes?

Celebrities help endorse products like clothing, perfume, chariety funds and even toiletries….but for issues in risk communication I think we should leave it up to the experts!

Amos C, Holmes G & Strutton D 2008, ‘Exploring the relationship between celebrity endorser effects and advertising effectiveness: A quantative synthesis of effective size’ International journal of advertising, vol 27, pages 209 234

Impress, Listen & Ask Questions!

By Crystal Koh

I highly recommend everyone to read Chapter 7 of the book “Consulting for Dummies”. It provides a good summary about things to take note of before working on a consultancy report. Here’s a quote from the book that explains the processes of a consultancy report.

Every business process has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The consulting process is no different. It begins with defining the problem, moves through the stages of collecting and analyzing data and making recommendations, and then ends with implementation. Because the first step — defining the problem — sets the stage for all the other steps that follow, it is particularly critical.

As we all know, first impressions count. Though not essential to meet face-to-face with a client, it is still highly recommended. It is like setting yourself up for a blind-date. Just take a moment and imagine this:

  • You are a 50-year-old male/female in hope of looking for a companion
  • You head onto an online dating site
  • Found someone interesting
  • Emailed, chatted online and after a few emails, you decided that it is time to arrange a face-to-face date

Placed in such a situation, would you back off in fear of being rejected? Or would you rather meet face-to face to see for yourself how “real” this person is, with also the intention of impressing him/her, and hopefully to be impressed?

Now, back to the real topic. Before meeting a client, it is important to dress appropriately and it is also important to be able to portray yourself as a confident individual. Remember that it is also your clients’ first time meeting you and he too would want to give you the best impression, in hope of helpping him solve whatever issue that is affecting his company. Hence, first try to make small talk, get to know your client a little and

Assess your client’s personality type and adjust your style accordingly. If your client has an assertive, take-charge style, you want to get to the business at hand sooner than if the client is more social and personable. With the latter style, the client may need to be comfortable with you personally before he can devote full attention to your abilities.

On the other hand, try not to get too comfortable with your client as you may either head off track with the “real” business discussion, and you may appear to be “trying too hard”/ deperate for his job offer. Remember that it is not all aboout you, but it is about the business problem that the client has?

Listen carefully to the needs of your client and never be afraid to ask questions, as this would make your client feel important and hence provides him with the sense of assurance that the task will be done. Time management and efficient communication with your client is essential!

Besides impressing, listening and asking questions, are thare any other essensential points that might help client and consultant to work efficiently together?

From the view of a client:


Bob N and Economy P. 2008. Consulting for Dummies, 2nd Edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc. (Part 3: The Short Course in Consulting.) arg=consulting+for+dummies&searchscope=1

Toos, Andrew. ( n.d). It’s important that I see eye-to-eye with any consultants we bring in [image]. Retrieved April 7th, 2011 from



Perceptions of Risk

Grace Russell

Imagine back to when your 10years old, you get in trouble at school and your teacher would always say to you “If Sarah told you to jump off a cliff would you!?” Of course, mine, and hopefully your answer, was no. But why?

The way people perceive risks is purely individual, it comprises of trust and confidence that you, as an individual view potential hazards (Siegrist et al. 2005). To understand risk perception, Slovac has mentioned that geography, sociology, political science, anthropology and psychology are the main factors influencing. He explains that our response to hazards is mediated by social influence, these including friends, family, fellow workers and respected public officials. While social groups have the ability to “downplay” certain risks and “emphasise” others as a means of controlling society. In my opinion this can be crucial in public response to new technologies. However, do they really have that much say in what we value and perceive as risky or not risky?

Slovac explores different mediums to explain why throwing a pebble into a pond can cause a larger than expected ripple effect. In other terms, why do the lay public have such strong opinions and perceived risks on new technologies when experts say there are minimal risks? If life satisfaction and optimism so greatly influences our perception of risk (Kelay & Fife-Schaw 2010) why do we fear so much from new technologies?

Slovac begs to differ with his explanation that bias media coverage, misleading personal experiences and the anxieties generated by life’s gambles causes uncertainty and risks to be misjudged. He also goes on to say that presenting different information about risks in different ways alters peoples perspectives.

This is all well and good for Slovac to take time to explain where our perceptions of risk come from, but the main focus of his article, which he does eventually get to, is about the differences from the risks that are perceived by the experts and that of the lay people. He explores the fact that even when presented the information on new technologies, lay people still perceive far more risks than actually involved. A far greater ripple than the pebble should have made.

Slovac explains this phenomenon by one word. The unknown. The unknown is what encourages people to perceived greater risks in technology. New technology to lay people is unchartered waters, they see it as “uncontrollable, inequitable, catastrophic and likely to affect future generations”. Slovac focuses on one main example, nuclear power. He explains that an accident can take many lives and may only produce little social impact if, and only if, it occurs as part of a familiar system. However a smaller accident in unfamiliar circumstances (ie nuclear power) can have immense social consequences and can be perceive to harbour further more catastrophic accidents.

Dupont (1981) states “the irrational fear of nuclear plants is based on the mistaken assessment of the risks”. An explanation for this “mistaken assessment” is put forward as the extensive unfavourable media covered and a strong association between nuclear power and the use of nuclear weapons.

The connection between this fear of the unknown has forced the public to become irrational, to perceive risks far greater than what scientific experts know and have discovered. Lay people sometimes do not hold all the information about new technologies and hazards and therefore make uneducated perceptions on the risks involved.

To solve this world wide issue, Slovac proposes that we should improve communication between the experts and the public, direct educational efforts and predict public response. That unknown might one day become a known fact and, if asked again, would I jump off that cliff? I can confidently say no, why? because I know the risks involved.

Siegrit M, Gutscher H & Earle TC 2005, “Perception of Risk: The Influence of General Trust and General Confidence”, Journal of Risk Research, vol. 8, no. 2, pp 154-156.

Kelay T,  Fife-Schaw C 2010, “Effective Risk Communication: A Guide to Best Practice” . Techneau.

Slovic P 1987, “Perception of Risk”. Science, vol. 236, pp 280-285.