Succeeding in Science Communication amid Contentious Public Policy Debates

Friday, 19 December 2014: 8:15 AM
Aaron Huertas, Union of Concerned Scientists Washington DC, Communications, Washington, DC, United States
Scientists are often hesitant to engage in public dialogues about their work, especially when their research has bearing on contentious public policy issues. The Union of Concerned Scientists has conducted dozens of workshops to assist its members in communicating science fairly, accurately and effectively to audiences with mixed opinions about relevant public policy. While public polling indicates that people admire scientists and support scientific research, public understanding lags behind scientific understanding on a variety of issues, from climate change to evolution to vaccination. In many cases, people reject or discount scientific evidence when they perceive their ideology, beliefs or policy preferences as being in conflict with that evidence. These biases make it difficult for scientists to convey their research to many audiences. Based on reviews of social science literature and interactions with its members, the Union of Concerned Scientists has explored methods for surmounting public ideological biases while staying true to the science. In particular, scientists have found success with communicating based on shared values, asking audience members questions about their reactions to science, avoiding unintentional invocation of ideological biases and partnering with non-scientist speakers who can address contentious public policy questions. These methods can allow scientists to more effectively collaborate with stakeholders interested in their research and can build public support for science.