3:12 PM

Comments on Reading Quiz 1

Much to my dismay, the outcomes of the first reading quiz suggest some misunderstandings of key concepts in Science Communication, as they were laid out in the last two readings (in Holliman et al). Some of you not only misunderstood the "deficit model," for example, and, worse, then embodied it on your quizzes, writing comments such as "The deficit model means the public is ignorant, and it works because that is the correct way to view the public."

So...let's talk about those questions again. I'm borrowing some answers (posted here anonymously and occasionally aggregated) from those of you who answered the following questions correctly:

1. What might be wrong with the statement, "The more science communication (SC) the better"?

Good possible answer:

"The amount of communication isn't as important as the quality of the communication. Thinking in terms of quantity lends itself to the deficit approach, thinking that the only way people can be involved with science is to have information thrown at them by scientists. This attitude does not foster engagement from the public."

2. What is the deficit approach to science communication (SC) and why does it persist as the dominant model of SC?

Good possible answer:

"The deficit model uses one-way communication with a passive audience such as a lecture with no questions. Scientists have long had the notion that the uneducated public (having knowledge deficits) just need knowledge dumped in their laps, and that they are the ones to do it. It remains dominant because scientists are more devoted to their research than to engaging the public in a meaningful way.  And public engagement is difficult.  But this attitude must change if the deficit model is to ever be removed as the dominant model in SC."

3. What is meant by "upstream engagement"?

Good possible answer:

"Upstream engagement" is an approach to involving the public in a dialogue concerning emerging technologies to get a sense of their opinions and input on the issue or study.  Obvious questions like, 'What are some alternatives to what we have planned?' can be asked that scientists may not have thought about.  This approach was used with GM/nanotechnology as the issues for debate.  The emphasis here is on when engagement happens (before studies or technologies are completed or released), i.e., upstream."

4.  What key challenges or risks do we face when trying to "engage" the public in forms of SC?  In other words, what is hard about public engagement?

Good possible answer:

"Some scientists feel that there should not be a democratic approach to SC because the public doesn't know enough about science.  Scientific research often hinders scientists' efforts to engage the public because it is not funded/rewarded.  Also, the public may take away messages from the effort that are anti-science or based on misconceptions, and scientists may see their projects jeopardized as a result.  Finally, some engagement efforts may be co-opted by special interest groups or others not interested in democratic discussions."

5.  What does it mean to "put the politics back in science?"

Good possible answer:

"To open up the hard questions of science, and how science is done and funded, to the public.  Allow for public debates regarding uncertainties, flows in research, erroneous assumptions, etc.  Bring key scientific issues and processes up for debate--make them transparent.  We must discuss topics such as what science we need, versus what we want, and issues of uncertainty.  Enhancing public involvement in science should be seen as an advantage and not a hindrance."

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