What are the assumptions that underlie the increasingly frequent references in discussion of science communication to two-way communication, dialogue and engagement? Terminology has shifted from ‘public understanding’ to ‘public engagement’, but do the dominant discourses and practices of science communication reflect a model of communication that is authentically contextual and participatory, and thus oriented to stronger scientific citizenship?

These are central questions in this paper, which notes that the critique of one-way, top-down approaches to communication was available for some decades before it was acknowledged in science communication. However, as science communication has matured, it has been increasingly able to recognise its connections with, and debts to, disciplines such as communication studies and sociology and it is argued that these developments have strengthened rather than weakened science communication, both as professional practice and as academic discipline. Based on a review of the strategies of selected scientific institutions and government initiatives, it is argued that a deficit model remains the default position of scientists in their public activities and underpins much of what is proposed by public officials in their promotion of science. Approaches based on a deficit model also characterise many of the initiatives presented and discussed in science communication fora. It is argued that the policy framework of the ‘knowledge society’ has reinforced this previously existing tendency and that more critical approaches to science communication could contribute to fuller citizen engagement with science-based issues.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Science communication and citizen science
How dead is the deficit model?

Brian Trench   School of Communications Dublin City University Ireland

What are the assumptions that underlie the increasingly frequent references in discussion of science communication to two-way communication, dialogue and engagement? Terminology has shifted from ‘public understanding’ to ‘public engagement’, but do the dominant discourses and practices of science communication reflect a model of communication that is authentically contextual and participatory, and thus oriented to stronger scientific citizenship?

These are central questions in this paper, which notes that the critique of one-way, top-down approaches to communication was available for some decades before it was acknowledged in science communication. However, as science communication has matured, it has been increasingly able to recognise its connections with, and debts to, disciplines such as communication studies and sociology and it is argued that these developments have strengthened rather than weakened science communication, both as professional practice and as academic discipline. Based on a review of the strategies of selected scientific institutions and government initiatives, it is argued that a deficit model remains the default position of scientists in their public activities and underpins much of what is proposed by public officials in their promotion of science. Approaches based on a deficit model also characterise many of the initiatives presented and discussed in science communication fora. It is argued that the policy framework of the ‘knowledge society’ has reinforced this previously existing tendency and that more critical approaches to science communication could contribute to fuller citizen engagement with science-based issues.

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