In the modern world, people increasingly come into contact with products which are created with advanced technologies. These technologies often have names that are meaningful to the experts who create and develop them, but trigger different associations to the public. With these different associations, people have to make decisions in everyday situations whether to approach or avoid, adopt or reject or even to eat the products.

Experts often try to align these different associations by providing new information. Two of their assumptions are problematic: the idea that knowledge can be transferred from one context to another, and that the novice public is passive. From the perspective of categorization theory, we explore these assumptions.

According to the categorization theory, people organize their knowledge in categories. These categories are used to interpret new information. Experts, in their domain of expertise, have highly developed categorical structures, linking many relevant concepts to each other and providing the ability to form overlapping categories or to divide them into subcategories. Novices have small categorical structures, isolated from relevant others. As a result, expert have the ability to ask highly informative questions (for example, What sets Genomics apart from GM) where novices select superficial features (Genomics sounds like GM) for the categorization process. As a result, the interpretation of the public might be the opposite of what is expected (where Genomics might circumvent common objections against GM, the public rejects it for being the same).

Clearly, this provides a challenge in science communication. Scientists often select names for new technologies that are meaningful to them. However, for experts a name is a superficial feature only. For novices it is an information source which determines the categorization. The name activates the categorical structures that will be used for the further interpretation of information. This can create a prejudice that, in turn, causes selective interpretation and remembrance of new information, undermining the notion of knowledge being transferable from the expert context to the public. Before scientist can start explaining technology, they first have to explain how the word-part gen does not entail modification or how synthetic biology does not mean nylon. We therefore argue that the interpretations of the public should be taken into account when developing scientific language.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

The effects of differences between public and expertise knowledge on public communication of science

Reginald Boersma   Wageningen University

Bart Gremmen   Wageningen University

Reint Renes   Wageningen University

Cees Woerkum   Wageningen University

In the modern world, people increasingly come into contact with products which are created with advanced technologies. These technologies often have names that are meaningful to the experts who create and develop them, but trigger different associations to the public. With these different associations, people have to make decisions in everyday situations whether to approach or avoid, adopt or reject or even to eat the products.

Experts often try to align these different associations by providing new information. Two of their assumptions are problematic: the idea that knowledge can be transferred from one context to another, and that the novice public is passive. From the perspective of categorization theory, we explore these assumptions.

According to the categorization theory, people organize their knowledge in categories. These categories are used to interpret new information. Experts, in their domain of expertise, have highly developed categorical structures, linking many relevant concepts to each other and providing the ability to form overlapping categories or to divide them into subcategories. Novices have small categorical structures, isolated from relevant others. As a result, expert have the ability to ask highly informative questions (for example, What sets Genomics apart from GM) where novices select superficial features (Genomics sounds like GM) for the categorization process. As a result, the interpretation of the public might be the opposite of what is expected (where Genomics might circumvent common objections against GM, the public rejects it for being the same).

Clearly, this provides a challenge in science communication. Scientists often select names for new technologies that are meaningful to them. However, for experts a name is a superficial feature only. For novices it is an information source which determines the categorization. The name activates the categorical structures that will be used for the further interpretation of information. This can create a prejudice that, in turn, causes selective interpretation and remembrance of new information, undermining the notion of knowledge being transferable from the expert context to the public. Before scientist can start explaining technology, they first have to explain how the word-part gen does not entail modification or how synthetic biology does not mean nylon. We therefore argue that the interpretations of the public should be taken into account when developing scientific language.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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