Scientific advisory committees are expected to present an outlook onto a particular issue by presenting, interpreting and sometimes developing the appropriate scientific knowledge for the benefit of society. The audience addressed by such advisory reports is mixed: fellow scientists, politicians and administrators, NGO and citizens all are included as formal and informal audiences of the committee. This paper will analyze the interactions between two scientific committees and their audiences, by describing the development and implementation of two exemplary advisory reports in Dutch society: the Health Council’s advice on vaccination against cervical cancer (2008), and the report by the ad hoc Delta Committee (2008) that provides an advice on water security and climate change. These reports were selected for their socio- political significance and their supposed contribution to public health or public security.

Studies have shown that there are various ways through which experts develop and communicate their scientific advice, and how this completed advice is presented and defended to society as a credible piece of work. By studying the development of scientific advice in a broad context and a historical time line, we will not just see how the committee presented its report and interacted with politics and society after it was produced, but also what political and society expectation existed before the report was conceived. The different framings of the issue addressed by the scientific advisory committee and the supposed solutions to the issue shape the interactions with society and responses to the report. As such, this paper demonstrates how scientific advice, as a boundary object, communicates science to society in a specific format.

The analysis of both reports will show that although the reports may be presented themselves are a thorough piece of scientific advice, complying to Mertonian norms for scientific quality, public framings of the issue may be different or shift over time, thereby dramatically shaping the interactions between the advisory committee, politics and society in ways unanticipated by the scientific experts. Consequently, both reports were highly contested and their proposed solutions largely rejected. The paper will conclude with arguing how scientists could improve their role and the art of communicating science.

">
 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Making communication (not) work
Science based advice as contested boundary objects in society and politics

Erwin van Rijswoud   University of Twente/Radboud University Nijmegen

Scientific advisory committees are expected to present an outlook onto a particular issue by presenting, interpreting and sometimes developing the appropriate scientific knowledge for the benefit of society. The audience addressed by such advisory reports is mixed: fellow scientists, politicians and administrators, NGO and citizens all are included as formal and informal audiences of the committee. This paper will analyze the interactions between two scientific committees and their audiences, by describing the development and implementation of two exemplary advisory reports in Dutch society: the Health Council’s advice on vaccination against cervical cancer (2008), and the report by the ad hoc Delta Committee (2008) that provides an advice on water security and climate change. These reports were selected for their socio- political significance and their supposed contribution to public health or public security.

Studies have shown that there are various ways through which experts develop and communicate their scientific advice, and how this completed advice is presented and defended to society as a credible piece of work. By studying the development of scientific advice in a broad context and a historical time line, we will not just see how the committee presented its report and interacted with politics and society after it was produced, but also what political and society expectation existed before the report was conceived. The different framings of the issue addressed by the scientific advisory committee and the supposed solutions to the issue shape the interactions with society and responses to the report. As such, this paper demonstrates how scientific advice, as a boundary object, communicates science to society in a specific format.

The analysis of both reports will show that although the reports may be presented themselves are a thorough piece of scientific advice, complying to Mertonian norms for scientific quality, public framings of the issue may be different or shift over time, thereby dramatically shaping the interactions between the advisory committee, politics and society in ways unanticipated by the scientific experts. Consequently, both reports were highly contested and their proposed solutions largely rejected. The paper will conclude with arguing how scientists could improve their role and the art of communicating science.

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

BACK TO TOP