Communicating contested science

Author: Simon Torok – Scientell, Australia

Paul Holper – Scientell

There are challenges associated with effectively communicating the science and impacts of environmental research, such as climate change and threatened species. These subjects are complex, controversial and often hotly debated, but also prone to public fatigue.

The communication of information to support decision-makers has the added difficulty associated with using and translating research into appropriate responses or action.

The rapidly changing media landscape has created new opportunities and challenges for communicating science. For example, climate change media reports in Australia increased 30-fold between 2003 and 2007, leading to increased awareness but also public (and news editor) fatigue. Evolving media composition, from the decrease in specialist rounds to the increase in alternative news sources and new media platforms, has changed how we communicate science.

Traditional science communication assumed a deficit model and bestowed privilege on the expert knowledge of the scientist. More recently, science communication has attempted to address the needs of stakeholders through strategic planning and formal processes that enable more inclusion and dialogue between scientists and the community. The changing approach is driven in large part by legitimate demands from society for increased accountability and transparency.

To address these challenges and make the most of opportunities to better communicate contested science, we need to move beyond dissemination of results and information transmission (web site, media, newsletters, brochures, seminars), and use new tools, communication theory, and successful practices to move towards dialogue (interaction, data accessibility, events, synthesis and emphasis of research, solutions-focus, and use of a variety of media channels).

This presentation will draw on examples of communication of climate change, threatened species, and other high-profile areas. By incorporating communication theory into practical communication activities, drawing on techniques that work well, and monitoring and evaluating science communication activities we have a better chance of communicating contested science in ways that achieve change.

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

Presentation type: Show, tell and talk
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices