Do we need more science to solve the science communication problem? From public understanding of science (1985) to the science of science communication (2012-2017)

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There is widespread concern among scientists and science communicators that we are facing a serious science communication problem in terms of spreading misinformation, mistrust in science, and lack of science literacy. As Dan Kahan (2017) has pointed out, the science communication problem becomes particularly pertient in heated debates where most participants agree that more scientific information is needed to end the discussion but where there is also little agreement about which kind of science will be most relevant to decision- and policy-making as well as to science communication proper. In this paper, I point out that previous attempts to solve the science communication problem have made recourse to science itself to find a solution. The Royal Society's Public Understanding of Science report in 1985 acknowledged that the public-understanding-of-science problem had be solved by mobilising many actors in society, but also recommended that we need more research into science communication. Most of the research that followed in the wake of the report, although sceptical of the report's framing in terms of deficient public understanding of science, to a large degree also saw science - social science in particular - as a solution to the problem framed by the 1985 report. The more recent science-of-science-communication movement that really took off with the three National Academy of Sciences Arthur M. Sackler Colloquia on the Science of Science Communication from 2012 to 2017, although motivated by other concerns than the 1985 Royal Society report, also sees science as key to solving the problems of science communication. Thus, we see continuing confidence in science as the source of knowledge about science communication. In an attempt to envision alternative approaches to tackling the science communication, this paper prompts reflection not only about the role of science in science communication theory and practice, but also about the role of science communication in science and in society. Is the science communication problem really a problem? And do we need more science and more scientists to solve it?

Kahan, D. (2017). On the Sources of Ordinary Science Knowledge and Extraordinary Science Ignorance. In The Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication, edited by K. Jamieson, D.M. Kahan, & D. Scheufele, Oxford University Press, p. 35-49.
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateNov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021
EventScience & You: Create the future - Metz, France
Duration: 16 Nov 202119 Nov 2021


ConferenceScience & You
Internet address


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