Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

What’s next for Science Communication? Promising Directions and Lingering Distractions.

This article highlights the role of the “media and public communication, challenging the still dominant assumption that science literacy is both the problem and the solution to societal conflicts.” Nisbert (2009). It emphasizes the need for science communication initiatives that are guided by research. There are four main aspects this article adressed as far as the directions and distractions of science communications is concerned. These aspects are:

  1. Myths about public communication
The myth is that of a deficit model, in which science is communicated as a process of transmission. The public simply find that the science is just accepted as a matter of what Nisbert described as ‘sound science’ in which scientific knowledge communicated is claimed to be reduced. In other words, the science was never understood, but it was respected though andviewed as a divergence between knowledge and admiration anThad little to do withe public perceptions.
       2.   From transmission to dialogue
The deficit model slowly became redundant after much critism. Then emerged a new public communication strategy, which was ‘dialogue’. In this case the public at least shared their views in debates, forums and conferences. The lay- public were likely to take par in reaching judgements through questions.
        3. Framing and public engagement
In this approach, though the public was given opportunity, it was restricted or limited to specification. The messages were framed which was an enriched explanation for various science – related issues. However, complex issues were easily simplified. But the framing aspect came with it five issues. These are:
  • Ethics, outcomes and generalizable meanings: this is a more social progressed frame that tend to define science related issues as solving problems, choosing right or wrong afin focusing on interpreting ways to be in harmony with nature.
  • Climate change: this has been a conventional science knowledge since 2007. This was framed by the trusted sources for Republicans and Democrats in different ways. There is uncertainty involved, so there can be discussions and debates that triggers consensus to be reached and can be an issue from known to unknown. There’s also the issue of economic development as a local, national and global competitiveness. This frame also calls for the ethics and morality where respect should prevail in crossing boundaries or where limits are reached.
  • Evolution: this frame calls for much of public accountability is taken into account. By this, it means the issue can be a revised edition of science, evolution and creationism.
  • Plant technology: this frame helps to explain why some scientific innovations are widely accepted. There’s also inclusiveness of social progress and public accountability.
  • Nanotechnology: this frame in science is a specialised area in which the public accountability is prime. The Pandora’s box, which defines science-related issues as a need for precaution or action in face of possibilities;  and where there’s limited choice.
        4.   Directions forward
This is the last aspect Nisbert addresses and it’s the way forward as far as science communication is concerned. These are very positive self-explanatory practical conclusions:
  • Graduate training and new interdisciplinary degree programs
  • Public dialogue that matters
  • Data should be trump intuition
  • Connecting to public values
  • “Going abroad”: beyond elite audiences
  • “Going deep”: participatory, localized media
  • Science media literacy curriculum
  • Opinion leader campaigns that bridge audience gaps
  1. Conclusion: finally, public communication and engagement is not simple? It is important that trust is built, relationships, and participation across segments of the public is maintained. What’s  highlighted above is an important paradigm shift that’s taking place within the scientific community that influences the shift away “from a singular focus to conflicts over science in society.”


Nisbert, M and D Scheufele. 2009. What’s next for science communication?Promising directions and lingering distractions. American Journal of Botany, 96(10): 1767 – 1778


If Intentions Are Clear

Attempting to influence the way people think and behave is one of the key driving forces behind communication at every level. Whether we are just trying to convince our friends to come out on the weekend or win an argument, persuasive communication is a part of everyday life.

Everyone seems to have more of a problem with this sort of communication when it comes in the form of marketing as people feel it aims is to brainwash and manipulate people to buy things they don’t need. Although this may be true persuasive communication may have many benefits for the public, especially in the field of health communication where people can be influenced to adopt more healthy behaviours.

In the article The Role of Theory in Developing Effective Health Communications Fishbein and Capella’s analyse the key links between behavioural theory and the formulation of communication strategies that aim to influence specific behaviours. This highlighted the importance of identifying the intentions and skills/abilities of the target audience before formulating a message.

Continue reading

What on Earth are they thinking?

In a study conducted on attitudes towards animal welfare, 41% of people stated they were ‘very concerned’ about farm animal welfare and a further 44% said they were ‘somewhat concerned’. That makes for a total of 86% of concerned people; the results are conclusive, or they would be if that was the only question that was asked.

86% were willing to pay some amount extra for legislation to ban cage eggs, but there was no correlation between willingness to pay and actual purchasing of free-range eggs…

…okay… put in another way

Some people who were already paying more for free-range eggs, were not willing to pay more for free-ranged eggs…


Let me get this straight we have:

  1. People who pay more for free-range eggs, who don’t want to pay more for free-ranged eggs.

  2. People who buy caged eggs who are willing to pay more for free-ranged eggs.

Did they all miss that memo about freedom of choice?

Sure people in category 1 might be answering honestly, maybe they just don’t believe in imposing their views on others via legislation. the researchers have another theory; these participants perceived themselves buying free-range eggs and the entire country buying free-range eggs as two different outcomes. It is analogous to charitable donations “what difference can I make”. People believed that animal welfare is important but couldn’t see the impact that one person could have while the supermarket shelves are still fully stocked with cage eggs. On the other hand, it is easy to see the difference that can be made when the entire country stops consuming cage eggs.

Or maybe the people in category 2 were just lying so they didn’t look like heartless bastards.

The dynamic planet

When did we as a society stop treating nature as an equal? Native societies only a few hundred years ago would only take what they need and waste was minimal. If this attitude was wide spread today would the Earth be a better place? Would world hunger still exist?

Government agencies have set out to change this attitude and make the environment more sustainable for future generations. The first step in this is to understand the proenvironmental behaviour and harnessing the values evident.

Using shock value is a successful was of changing people attitudes towards the environment. Presenting data such as “58% of waste in landfill from one working day could have been recycled” is used to make people realise how easy it would be for them to change their behaviour. People however don’t think that just their actions will change the environment. They are just a tiny ant in the whole situation.

If one compares their behaviour with another they will adhere to that behaviour. I noticed this when moving in with a friend, she would turn everything off at the switch, soon enough I noticed myself doing the same thing.

The question is how many people with this behaviour would it take to change the behaviour of society?  A mass presentation of proenvironmental behaviour may seem fruitful but who would actually listen?

The Earth is dynamic and as time goes on changes occur. I hope one of these changes will be that it will be treated as it once was.



Nye, Michael, & Hargreaves, Tom. (2010). Exploring the Social Dynamics of Proenvironmental Behavior Change. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 14(1), 137-149.



Public need to understand the importance of Marine Protected Areas – but who will tell them?

In science it can be really difficult to get approval and funding for certain projects – especially where public opinion isn’t behind the cause. The public can be a very valuable resource when it comes to raising awareness about a cause and promoting action. For example, the use of bumper stickers (as we discussed last week) to show that you are behind a cause such as Save Ningaloo Reef or Stop the Cane Toad.

Bumper stickers for the ‘Save Ningaloo Reef’ campaign can still be seen on cars long after the campaign’s success.

These causes are relatively simple to understand. For example, cane toads are an introduced species that are harming our native wildlife across many parts of Australia. Members of the public understand this concept and so are happy to get behind the cause and push for action if its something they believe in. But what happens to a worthy cause that the public don’t have a good understanding of?

Marine protected areas (MPA) seem like a simple enough idea: Certain regions of the ocean are set aside as ‘no fishing’ or ‘limited fishing’ areas. Oceanic flora and fauna are then expected to  recover from the reduced fishing and tourist pressures. However, the allocation of these MPA’s are a highly debated topic. There are lots of tourism and fishing jobs at risk as well as this being a relatively new area of research, where the costs and benefits of MPA allocation are often unknown. Generally the public know very little about the marine environment; in particular marine ecology and policy processes (Compas et al 2007).

Recreational fishers have concerns over their rights in MPA allocation.

Compas, et al. (2007) looked at how MPA’s were conveyed in South Australian media from 1996 – 2007. At this time 19 MPA’s were proposed within South Australian waters. They identified that the public gets most of their information about policies and environmental protection from written media i.e. newspapers. Therefore a range of newspaper articles were reviewed for their content during this period.

Their studies concluded that well-informed and knowledgeable members of the public are more likely to support environmental causes. Of the newspaper articles that were reviewed, most of the reporting concentrated on opposing stakeholders and opinions instead of information on the significance of marine ecology or MPA establishment. ‘These information gaps have left the public poorly informed, and therefore, there is unlikely to be significant pressure to overcome the continued delays in the establishment process’ (Compas et al 2007, 1).

To date, these marine parks have still not all been implemented in South Australia. What tactics or approaches do you think could be used to try and inform the public about the importance of protecting their marine resource? How much or little do you know yourself about MPAs and where would you go to source your information?


Compas, E, Clarke, B, Cutler, C, and Daish, K (2007) Murky Waters: Media reporting of marine protected areas in South Australia. Marine Policy. vol. 31, no. 6, pp. 691 – 697.

Thinking before drinking

Drinking alcohol has become a social norm in probably most countries, and has resulted in various outcomes – for example, crime, accidents, health problems etc; none of which are positive.

In the short span of 2.5 years of studying in Australia, I (and friends close to my heart) have experienced so many situations which resulted from drunk people just losing control – basically the doing of influence of excessive alcohol intake. Just to name a few, we’ve have had drunkards brandishing knives at us, friends getting punched or glassed randomly while walking home, passersby throwing bricks and stones at us, and one even getting raped and pregnant.

It seems all too familiar as there are constant reports of drunken acts all the time, and it also seems that familiarity has nullified the emotional aspect that was once attached to these outcomes. Is it really okay? Is it really acceptable?

The reality is that these things were serious and are serious, and have either an immediate effect or a long-term effect, or both – which is essentially an accumulated effect.

This brings us right back to the very beginning – why is alcohol being promoted so much when it has such devastating effects? Is it because of the huge profit that it brings in? The other question to ponder is – if alcohol is so popular, then what is it about alcohol marketing that is causing it to be so successfully promoted?

The goal of the article by Meier.P was to encourage a rethink of market research priorities in relation to alcohol marketing.

Many researchers and politicians concentrate on the potential harm to young people, and assume that alcohol marketing carries risks for children because they are perceived as cognitively incapable in distinguishing the advert portrayed from real-life experiences. It is true that promotion of alcohol to or in the presence of younger target audience will result in increasing the odds of them having a first trial, but this thinking perhaps need some reconsideration as most alcohol marketing are targeted at existing alcohol consumers. When an alcoholic product is being promoted to consumers, it is either presented to them during drinking experiences, or in between drinking experiences.

When alcohol is being marketed, it always almost seems to have an “optimistic frame”, pointing toward fun, fun and more fun. But with these advertisements, do they display any communication of the negative effects that may follow? If ghastly images of lung/throat cancer can be printed onto cigarette packs to warn consumers (visually) of the health impacts they may face, should alcohol bottles have printed warnings of excessive alcohol intake?

This whole alcohol topic is huge and can be and will be discussed so much more in the future, so it’s a good time to stop and think about it now.
Reference: Meier, P. 2011. Alcohol marketing research: the need for a new agenda. Addiction, 106, 466-471

Effective? Valuable? The Dilemma of Citizen-science Projects

“I have been a fan of citizen science for many years, but I do not think the citizen science movement has had the educational impact that it could,” said Daniel C. Edelson, the Vice President for Education of National Geographic Society.

Dominique Brossard, Bruce Lewenstein and Rick Bonney discussed the evaluation of an informal science education project, The Birdhouse Network (TBN).  They used a pre-test before participants received the educational material and protocols and a post-test at the end of the field season, to figure out:

1)      Would participation in the TBN result in positive effects on the knowledge of bird biology among adult participants?

2)      Would it result in increased knowledge of the understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry? and

3)      Would it result in positive effects on attitudes toward science and the environment?

According to the result, the increase of participants’ knowledge of bird biology was comparatively obvious. However, their understanding of scientific process could not be statistically detected, and the attitude toward science was essentially unchanged. Therefore, by participating in a citizen-science program adults will not necessarily improve their understanding of scientific process, nor change their attitude toward science.

By the time TBN was done, citizen science had already lasted for more than 20 years. So such a result may sound a little bit negative, but personally, I think that due to the new technology we have today, citizen science project can be better built. But before we start to think how we can make the citizen-science projects more effective, there is one more question: What are the objectives of citizen-science?

Due to the large quantities of participants, citizen science projects are often used to help researchers to analyse gathered data, or gather data for researchers, such as ClimateWatch. It cannot be overstated that citizen science projects are more than collecting data, but it can be a dialogue between participants and professional scientists, and more than scientific knowledge can be involved.

Entertaining probably is the first expectation of most participants. People like having fun, and as we all know that learning with entertainment is much more effective. But it’s not enough, many citizen-science projects are time-consuming. People expect get some rewards for donating their time, and they deserve it. Educating is well involved in most citizen science projects, but most of them are specifically narrowed down to the subjects relating to the projects, and that make it too pragmatic; Feedback can help the educational result as well. The most difficult part may be to motivate participants, but that can be achieved by some ways, including making it easy to learn, easy to do, offer excitement, even provide challenge.

But the question is: Does getting participants’ attitudes changed match the objectives of citizen-science projects? Apparently it’s not necessarily true. So do you still think it’s valuable to change their attitudes?


Brossard, D, Lewenstein, B and Bonney, R. 2005. Scientific knowledge and attitude change: The impact of a
citizen science project, International Journal of Science Education, 27: 9, 1099 – 1121.

Cooper, C. B., Dickinson, J., Kelling, S., Phillips, T., Rosenberg, K. V., Shirk, J., & Bonney, R. (2009). Citizen Science: A Developing Tool for Expanding Science Knowledge and Scientific Literacy. Bioscience59(11), 977-984

Edelson, D. C., (2012). Unlocking the Educational Potential of Citizen Science. Esri News. Retrieved from here