Public communication of science and technology (PCST) is usually justified for one of three reasons: the need for "practical“ science literacy, for "civic" science literacy, or for "cultural" science literacy. Tension among these goals is the first set of conflicts that shape PCST.
 
To address these goals, the PCST community has developed a complex set of relationships among various actors. Though science communication is often presented as a linear process (science develops knowledge, which is then disseminated through various means), detailed analyses produce a more complex, web-like picture of science communication. Tensions between the idealized, linear model of science communication and the more realistic web-like model are another major source of conflict in PCST.
 
A varied set of actors is involved in PCST-- scientists, journalists, educators, public information officers, etc. Each group has its own professional culture, constraints, goals, and resources. Once again, conflicts among these varied actors provide a major source of tension in PCST.
 
Given all these tensions, how is anything accomplished? Traditionally, science communicators have focused on “improving" the public understanding of science. Too often, that goal has translated simplistically into "better appreciation of the benefits that science provides to society." A more complex, nuanced type of PCST had emerged in recent years-one that respects the value and robustness of scientific knowledge, but one that also acknowledges the deep interaction between social forces and the production of scientific knowledge.
 
By helping members of the public understand that complexity, science communicators help the public acquire contexts and frameworks into which to fit specific bits of scientific knowledge they need for practical or civic goals.
 
Thus the challenge for science communicators is to listen to their audiences, understand the social contexts in which they seek information about science and technology, and then use the audience's perspective to shape what and how information is produced. Listening to the audience is not a simple process of audience surveys, but instead a deep willingness to allow the audience to fundamentally shape what we, as communicators, communicate about. Yet, at the same time, we must not confuse listening to the audience with allowing the audience to dictate what we say or don't say. Science and technology are not democracy, yet they serve and enhance democracy. We must contribute to that service and enhancement.
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 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Conflicts and pressures in public communication of science and technology

Bruce Lewenstein  

Public communication of science and technology (PCST) is usually justified for one of three reasons: the need for "practical“ science literacy, for "civic" science literacy, or for "cultural" science literacy. Tension among these goals is the first set of conflicts that shape PCST.
 
To address these goals, the PCST community has developed a complex set of relationships among various actors. Though science communication is often presented as a linear process (science develops knowledge, which is then disseminated through various means), detailed analyses produce a more complex, web-like picture of science communication. Tensions between the idealized, linear model of science communication and the more realistic web-like model are another major source of conflict in PCST.
 
A varied set of actors is involved in PCST-- scientists, journalists, educators, public information officers, etc. Each group has its own professional culture, constraints, goals, and resources. Once again, conflicts among these varied actors provide a major source of tension in PCST.
 
Given all these tensions, how is anything accomplished? Traditionally, science communicators have focused on “improving" the public understanding of science. Too often, that goal has translated simplistically into "better appreciation of the benefits that science provides to society." A more complex, nuanced type of PCST had emerged in recent years-one that respects the value and robustness of scientific knowledge, but one that also acknowledges the deep interaction between social forces and the production of scientific knowledge.
 
By helping members of the public understand that complexity, science communicators help the public acquire contexts and frameworks into which to fit specific bits of scientific knowledge they need for practical or civic goals.
 
Thus the challenge for science communicators is to listen to their audiences, understand the social contexts in which they seek information about science and technology, and then use the audience's perspective to shape what and how information is produced. Listening to the audience is not a simple process of audience surveys, but instead a deep willingness to allow the audience to fundamentally shape what we, as communicators, communicate about. Yet, at the same time, we must not confuse listening to the audience with allowing the audience to dictate what we say or don't say. Science and technology are not democracy, yet they serve and enhance democracy. We must contribute to that service and enhancement.

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