Covering social sciences the state of the art regarding a specific issue is a hard task for the news media: Findings are mostly complex, of limited generalizability, and rarely there is broad consensus among the members of the research community about interpretations and recommendations that should be derived from the available (empirical) research. At the same time, social science institutions are struggling for more public visibility, as they try to improve their standing in a competitive science system.

These developments increase the risk of social science failing to contribute effectively to public debates, because many valuable insights are likely not to receive attention in public discourse and decision making, whereas other, less informative studies or scientifically effective institutions may become very influential in public communication due to successful PR strategies.

This contribution argues for scientific associations to intensify their efforts in public communication by taking responsibility to establish consensus perspectives of research communities with expertise on specific society-level problems. Such “consensus papers” (for instance, on the effects of media violence on children) can be prepared theme-specific divisions, interest groups, or working groups and be approved by association heads before public release.

These “policy papers” can have two important effects: (1) orientation for the research community about of the state of the art. This internal alignment of perspectives is often necessary, because not all social scientists delivering public statements are aware of the latest and best research available on a given topic. (2) Policy papers are journalistically “reliable” sources and would hold higher news value than statements from individual sources. They would thus be more likely to be cited across different news reports and generate larger audiences for a more concise contribution of the social sciences to public debates.

Given these chances to improve public communication of the social sciences, the short speech discusses organization structures and rewards mechanisms for social scientists engaging in the production of policy papers. The conference audience is invited to generate ideas on how social-scientific associations can install effective work routines that allow a greater output of policy papers to improve the public communication of social research.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Social science speaking with one voice
Producing policy statements should become a routine task for social-scientific associations

Christoph Klimmt   Department of Journalism and Communication Research (IJK), Hanover University of Music, Drama, and Media

Covering social sciences the state of the art regarding a specific issue is a hard task for the news media: Findings are mostly complex, of limited generalizability, and rarely there is broad consensus among the members of the research community about interpretations and recommendations that should be derived from the available (empirical) research. At the same time, social science institutions are struggling for more public visibility, as they try to improve their standing in a competitive science system.

These developments increase the risk of social science failing to contribute effectively to public debates, because many valuable insights are likely not to receive attention in public discourse and decision making, whereas other, less informative studies or scientifically effective institutions may become very influential in public communication due to successful PR strategies.

This contribution argues for scientific associations to intensify their efforts in public communication by taking responsibility to establish consensus perspectives of research communities with expertise on specific society-level problems. Such “consensus papers” (for instance, on the effects of media violence on children) can be prepared theme-specific divisions, interest groups, or working groups and be approved by association heads before public release.

These “policy papers” can have two important effects: (1) orientation for the research community about of the state of the art. This internal alignment of perspectives is often necessary, because not all social scientists delivering public statements are aware of the latest and best research available on a given topic. (2) Policy papers are journalistically “reliable” sources and would hold higher news value than statements from individual sources. They would thus be more likely to be cited across different news reports and generate larger audiences for a more concise contribution of the social sciences to public debates.

Given these chances to improve public communication of the social sciences, the short speech discusses organization structures and rewards mechanisms for social scientists engaging in the production of policy papers. The conference audience is invited to generate ideas on how social-scientific associations can install effective work routines that allow a greater output of policy papers to improve the public communication of social research.

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

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