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Scientists must improve communication tactics, Science article proclaims

With the 2008 election approaching, author and Seed Washington Correspondent Chris Mooney speaks out about 'framing' science issues to better improve public understanding

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 6, 2007 – Seed Washington Correspondent Chris Mooney and American University professor and ScienceBlogs contributor Dr. Matthew Nisbet are co-authors of a provocative new article in Science entitled “Framing Science.” The article suggests that as the 2008 election approaches, scientists should adopt new communication techniques, rather than merely seeking to “get the facts out there.” In the April 6 issue of Science, the official journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the authors propose that as topics such as global warming, evolution and embryonic stem cell research gain considerable public attention and become enmeshed in political controversy, scientists must learn to shape or "frame" knowledge on these issues to make it personally relevant to diverse segments of the public.

“In writing this article together, we argue that scientists shouldn’t exclusively blame politicians and journalists for gridlock on issues like climate change,” says Mooney. “Part of the problem is that scientists carry with them the wrong assumptions about what makes for effective communication.”

The authors point out that when scientists discuss science-related policy questions in technical language, many members of the public tune it out. Moreover, even while continuing to employ traditional modes of communication, scientists themselves have come under increasing attack for being too atheistic, too self-interested and/or too liberal. Scientists can improve their communication skills by applying research on “framing” and other work in the social sciences. As the article puts it, “Frames organize central ideas in a debate, defining a controversy so that it will resonate with core values and assumptions. Frames pare down complex issues by giving some aspects greater emphasis than others. They allow citizens to rapidly identify why an issue matters, who might be responsible and what should be done.”

“Our suggestions should not be confused with spin; rather, we are advocating the conscious adoption of more effective (and thus, more informative) communication techniques,” said Dr. Nisbet. “Already, influential sectors of the scientific community are beginning to realize that new public engagement strategies are desperately needed.”

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Mooney is a regular columnist for Seed, covering the intersection of science and politics. His blog, “The Intersection” (http://www.scienceblogs.com/intersection/), is a part of the ScienceBlogs network, a Seed Media Group venture. He is the author of two books, The Republican War on Science and the forthcoming Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming (Harcourt, July 2007).

Dr. Nisbet contributes the “Framing Science” blog (http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/) to the ScienceBlogs network. He is a professor in the School of Communication at American University. His research focuses on the intersections between science, media and politics, and he is the author or co-author of more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies in the area.

About Seed Media Group

Seed Media Group is a leading science media and communications company. Headquartered in New York, with correspondents across the globe, Seed Media Group’s brands include the critically acclaimed science magazine Seed, and ScienceBlogs, the leading digital community dedicated to science. For more information, please visit www.seedmediagroup.com.

About Science

Founded in 1880 by Thomas A. Edison, Science has been the official journal of AAAS since 1900. Today, Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed, general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million.

About AAAS

AAAS -- the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- is Science's publisher, and a leading voice for the interests of scientists worldwide. Founded in 1848, the association is the world's largest general-science society; through its primary membership and its affiliations with some 262 scientific societies and academies, it serves 10 million individuals. The organization's mission, simply stated, is to "advance science and serve society.”

Please note, copies of the embargoed Science paper may be distributed only by the AAAS Office of Public Programs. Please call 202.326.6440 or email scipak@aaas.org.

Citation:

Nisbet, M.C. & Mooney, C. (2007). Framing Science. Science, 316, 5820, 56.



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