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Wednesday
Feb152012

Scientists of science communication: Profiles #1 & #2

There is no invisible hand that guides valid scientific knowledge into the beliefs of ordinary citizens whose lives it could improve.

If simple logic doesn't make that clear, then historical experience ceratinly does -- from the public's rejection of "expert consensus" on deep geologic isolation of nuclear wastes to the massive backlash today against the CDC's proposal for universal vaccination of girls against HPV (just to name a couple that come to mind).

The emerging science of science of science communication uses scientific methods (drawn from a variety of disciplines) to identify the processes that enable nonexperts to recognize valid scientific knowledge, the dynamics that predictably disrupt those processes, and the steps that can be taken to preempt those dynamics or to reverse them when they are not successfully averted.

I will post now & again (very brief) profiles of scholars who are doing important work in this high interdisciplinary field.

One explanatory note, though: after the first entry, the profiles will not be based on any assessment on my part of the contribution the individual has made to the science of science communication. Pretty much going to list in random-ass order ones that I happen to think of at the time!

1. Paul Slovic. Slovic invented the field of public risk perceptions with his pioneering work on the "psychometric paradigm" in the late 1980s (e.g., Slovic, P. Perception of risk. Science 236, 280-285,  (1987)) and is the scholar whose work in the last decade crystallized the "affect heuristic," which identifies the decisive role of emotional perception as the faculty of cognition most consequential to the formation of lay perceptions of risk (e.g., Slovic, P., Finucane, M.L., Peters, E. & MacGregor, D.G. Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: Some Thoughts About Affect, Reason, Risk, and Rationality. Risk Analysis 24, 311-322 (2004)). Through his teaching and collaborations, moreover, he is also contributed immeasurably to the ability of countless other scholars to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the risk perception and communication field (just as math has its Erdös number, so the field of public risk perception as its Slovic number!).  Many of his key works (not all; it would take a library to assemble them) can be found in two collections: Slovic, P. The Perception of Risk, (Earthscan Publications, London ; Sterling, VA, 2000)Slovic, P. The feeling of risk : new perspectives on risk perception, (Earthscan, London ; Washington, DC, 2010).

 2. James N. Druckman.  Druckman, the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, is, to my mind, a great model of what a genuine science of science communication looks like. An editor of Public Opinion Quarterly. He is a first-rate-- world-class even -- political scientist, who has done immensely work on framing (e.g., Druckman, J.N. Political Preference Formation: Competition, Deliberation, and the (Ir)relevance of Framing Effects. American Political Science Review 98, 671-686 (2004)). At the same time, he has turned his attention systematically to the way in which political economy and political psychology interact with (and can distinctively distort) societal dissemination of scientific information (e.g. Druckman, J.N. & Bolsen, T. Framing, Motivated Reasoning, and Opinions About Emergent Technologies. Journal of Communication 61, 659-688 (2011)). What's more, he doesn't just grab recognized mechanisms (one he is worked on or is simply familiar with from the general political psychology literature) and use them as a story-telling simulacrum of explanation; he conjectures and tests with actual science communication phenomena.  We need more Druckmans: people whoare not only great social scientists but who get that there is a distinctive set of processes affecting the dissemination of policy-relevant science and who are genuinely involved in empirically studying them. 

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