Beyond the deficit model: Non-paternalistic knowledge communication as responsible concept of mainstream PCST

Beyond the deficit model: Non-paternalistic knowledge communication as responsible concept of mainstream PCST

Author: Hans Peter Peters – Free University Berlin. Germany

The call for dialog as the ‘gold standard’ in public communication of science and technology is ubiquitous. Some even denounce any form of knowledge dissemination from science to public not based on dialog or public engagement as application of the ‘deficit model’ – the utmost form of contempt our community has to offer.

I do not dispute that public discourses over science and technology and engagement activities are desirable, useful and needed in many communication contexts. Yet, we observe that the bulk of today’s public communication of science still relies on one-way dissemination of messages – directly from scientific sources to the public by means of scientist-authored articles in popular journals, books and on university websites, for example, or mediated by journalists, bloggers, government agencies and stakeholders. Even channels which invite feedback and would allow debate are used that way only by a tiny minority of ‘recipients’.

Does this prove the lamentable state of public communication of science, the disrespect of scientific communicators for the public, or the public’s disinterest in science? Or do we have to acknowledge a public demand not only for dialog but also for straight information that can best be served by dissemination of science carefully reconstructed for public consumption (to borrow a term from Sharon Dunwoody)?

In my presentation I argue that knowledge dissemination does not necessarily imply application of the deficit model, and that in many instances dissemination is the adequate answer to public information demands. The relevant question is whether and how dissemination of scientific knowledge is possible without falling into the trap of deficit model thinking. I conclude by sketching a concept of “non-paternalistic knowledge communication” that avoids interpreting the gap in special knowledge between scientists and laypeople in terms of a master-student relationship, and does not expect uncritical submission of laypeople to scientific authority.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation