Questioning assumptions: The evidence gap in science communication

Questioning assumptions: The evidence gap in science communication

Author: Isabelle Kingsley – University of NSW, Australia

Carol Oliver – University of New South Wales
Martin Van Kranendonk – University of New South Wales

Around the world, governments, institutions and organisations are increasingly focussing on supporting science communication initiatives to ensure the public is interested in science, scientifically literate and better able to understand its importance and relevance to society.

Yet, there is little evidence to support the assumed benefits of science communication.

First, there is a general lack of scientific rigour applied to the evaluation of science communication — “ … for a data-driven enterprise, science demands very few data from communicators of science, either to craft and frame appropriate messages and message content or to evaluate the impact of messages on scientific knowledge or behaviour” (Borchelt, 2001).

Secondly, some studies have found slight decreases in public scientific literacy after participation in science communication activities. For example, our pilot study measured scientific literacy pre and post activity and found that participants demonstrated a slight decrease in understanding of scientific practice (Kingsley et al., 2017). The results align with the findings from two other studies that identified slight decreases in participants’ scientific literacy after participating in citizen science projects (Brossard et al., 2005; Cronje et al., 2011).

We should not assume that any science communication is effective and beneficial for the public. There is a need for more rigorous research to measure the effectiveness of science communication in achieving objectives. These objectives can range from changing public knowledge and understanding, attitudes and perceptions of science, or simply attracting a large number to an event. There is also the need to identify the types of activities that are most effective at achieving these objectives, and the need to better understand our audience — from the educated choir to the uneducated curious. We need to grow our evidence base, which will provide important insights by which the field can enhance its efforts and more effectively direct future investment.

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