Not my understanding – Survey of Canadian scientists’ views on public engagement

Not my understanding – Survey of Canadian scientists’ views on public engagement

Author: Kathryn O’Hara – Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication, Canada

John Besley – Associate Prof, Michigan State University, USA

How do Canada’s taxpayer-funded scientists interpret public engagement? Does demonstrating science to assorted audiences as an outreach activity also include demonstrating for science when government policies are seen to be hostile to the research enterprise? Does an activity like 2017’s international March for Science attract or repel the normally non-activist natural science researcher. This survey set out to look at this and other issues in a ‘random’ questionnaire covering types of public engagement, and motivation to talk science with the public at large, with interest groups and policy makers. Of particular and timely interest us is how scientists perceive their role as advocates or activists for science if and when scientific evidence is discounted, derided or denied by publics or politicians.

This Qualtrix survey is the largest of its kind in Canada with questionnaires sent in the autumn of 2017 to all academics the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) reported having received a Discovery Grant between 2012 and 2017 (N = ~7,000). About n = ~1,130 completed the survey. Around 16%.

Questions probed past engagement behavior, future willingness to engage, views about engagement, and views about specific choices that scientists might make as part of engagement actvities.

This survey follows on Canada’s experience with ‘muzzling’ of federal scientists under previous governments, the current state of promised openness and transparency in matters of science as a public concern, the recent appointment of a Chief Scientist and the incentives for scientists to understand, define and embrace engagement activities across a wide spectrum. The results will be useful in understanding barriers to engagement, in funding wider dissemination of relevant research and for defining clearer objectives in the training of researchers in communicating their work and their rationale to media, publics and policy makers.

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

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices