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


5 comments so far

  1. gracehamilton35 on

    The time taken to implimet and change the publics ideas about the topics listed above could take a long time. In an ever changing environment do you think the ways we communicate to the public will change before the we are able to do so?

  2. keikok on

    Hahaha, I just read this article on the other day for my other unit.
    The title of this article grabbed my eyes and made me to read.
    You abridged the article well and I think they are very important fact for science communicators to know.
    I’d like to recommend that it would be nicer if you could mention your opinion on this article.
    What did you think? Did you think these are what we need for next step? or is there anything else we can do?

    • noelynn on

      Thanks for your comments. Keiko, yes, my opinion as far as communicating science to the public is concerned is that we ought to be frank, open and truthful. Though at times, as highlighted in this article that the public influences the communicators approach. We had to be aware of the situations and the needs of understanding and accepting the science we are communicating. There are also times when what is communicated may be complexed. In such case, as science communicators we have to be aware to optimise communication effectively, and that the messege is clear.

  3. selinamj on

    Yes, like you said I think that the way we communicate science depends on both the issue and the audience. There are some instances when an approach like the deficit model would be appropriate. However, in most cases there is going to be a need for ‘dialogue’ or ‘engagement’. This is really important with many topics as participating in discussions allows the public to develop a clearer understanding of the scientific issues and is more likley to spark their continued participation or interest in the topic. Ensuring this firm understanding is also important when you want the science you communicate to influence their behaviour.
    One thing though, this is all great in theory and we know what we need to do to be most effective…..but are the public willing to participate in these debates?

    • shortfletch on

      @selinamj I think your right. A really tricky part of the plan is engaging the audience. I know personally there are many scientific topics I find boring so don’t even read easy newspaper articles on them. It’s not because I’m scientifically illiterate, I just don’t care.

      I thought the term “public dialogue that matters” was interesting. I wonder who defines what matters? Are they speaking about the topic or level of argument. And who decides what matters and what doesn’t.

      A funny side note:
      As a scientist I realize that “data should trump intuition” but ironically, my intuition says that that statement is wrong (objectively I think the statement is correctly gut just don’t like admitting it, perhaps I am a terrible scientists).
      Since I have a hard time accepting this statement I can only imagine it will be difficult to convince others of this as well (especially those who life by their feelings).

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