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Monday
May132013

Bolsen, Druckman & Cook working paper addresses critical issue in Science of #Scicom: What triggers public conflict over policy-relevant science?

Here's something people interested in the science of science communication should check out:

Bolsen, T., Druckman, J. & Cook, F.L. The Effects of the Politicization of Science on Public Support for Emergent Technologies. Institute for Policy Research Northwestern University Working Paper Series, WP-13-11 (May 1, 2013). 

The paper presents an interesting study on how exposure to information on the existence of political conflict affects public attitudes toward policy-relevant science, including the interaction of such exposure to information on "scientific conensus."
 
I think this is exactly the sort of research that's needed to address the "science communication problem." That's the term I use to refer to the failure of valid and widely accessible science to quiet public controversy over policy-relevant facts (including risks) to which that evidence directly speaks.
 
Most of the research in this area examines how to dispel such conflict.  Likely this is a consequence of the salience of the climate change controversy and the impact it has had in focusing attention on the "science communication problem" and the need to integrate science-informed policymaking with the science of science communication. 


But as I've emphasized before, the focus on resolving such conflict risks diverting attention from what I'd say is the even more important question of how the "science communication problem" takes root. 

The number of issues that display the science communication problem's signature form of cultural (or political) polarization is very small relative to the number of issues that could. Something explains which issues end up afflicted with this pernicious pathology and which don't. 

If we can figure out what triggers the problem, then we can examine how to avoid it. That's a smart thing to do, becaues it might well be easier to avoid cultural polarization than to vanquish it once it sets in. 

For an illustration, consider the HPV vaccine.  As I've explained previously, the conditions that triggered the science communication problem there could easily have been anticipated and avoided. The disaster that occurred in the introduction of the vaccine stunningly illustrate the cost of failing systematically acquire and use the insight that the science of science communication can afford. 

The BDC paper is thus really heartening, because it focuses exactly on the "anticipation/avoidance" objective. It's the sort of research that we need to devise an effective science communication environment protection policy

I'll say more about the substance of the studey on another occasion, likely in connection with a recap of my Science of Science Communication course's sessions on emerging technology (which featured another excellent Druckman/Bolsen study). 

But if others want to say what they think of the study -- have at it!

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