Public representations of science and technology can be viewed as the result of various actors’ strategic attempts to shape it. While several studies have investigated scientists’ and journalists’ roles and interests in presenting scientific findings to the public, few have focused on other social groups, such as industrial or public interest groups. The present study is intended to bridge this gap exploring public communication about scientific evidence in nanoscale research and nanotechnology (NST). Assuming that communicative decisions to account for scientific evidence as more or less certain are driven by groupspecific strategic goals, we include representatives from economic (industry and industrial associations) and public interest groups (governmental organizations, consumer and environmental protection groups, the church, academia). 21 semi-structured in-depth interviews with professional communicators of science show that individual group members are homogeneous with regard to their communicative intentions with a clear distinction between the economic and the public interest group: Members of the economic interest group depict evidence in NST as significantly more certain than the public interest group, thereby describing NST as significantly more positive. Thus, we assume that the group members’ communicative behavior is strategic and follows rational group-specific considerations. We apply the theory of planned behavior to analyze components of this rationale in more detail. The descriptive norm, i.e., participants’ observations of how persons with similar job descriptions act, and the attitude toward the intended behavior, i.e., the aggregated evaluation of its outcomes, turn out to be the strongest predictors of individuals’ intentions to communicate scientific evidence in NST as being certain or uncertain. Limitations of the study and suggestions for further research with larger samples will be discussed. Furthermore, respondents’ answers to open-ended questions will be used to discuss further improvements of the model applied.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Communicating scientific uncertainty in nanotechnologies
Exploring communication strategies of economic and public interest groups using the theory of planned behavior

Michaela Maier   Institute for Communication Psychology, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany

Andrea Retzbach   Institute for Communication Psychology, University of KoblenzLandau, Germany

Berend Barkela   Institute for Communication Psychology, University of KoblenzLandau, Germany

Senja Post   Institute for Communication Psychology, University of Koblenz- Landau, Germany

Public representations of science and technology can be viewed as the result of various actors’ strategic attempts to shape it. While several studies have investigated scientists’ and journalists’ roles and interests in presenting scientific findings to the public, few have focused on other social groups, such as industrial or public interest groups. The present study is intended to bridge this gap exploring public communication about scientific evidence in nanoscale research and nanotechnology (NST). Assuming that communicative decisions to account for scientific evidence as more or less certain are driven by groupspecific strategic goals, we include representatives from economic (industry and industrial associations) and public interest groups (governmental organizations, consumer and environmental protection groups, the church, academia). 21 semi-structured in-depth interviews with professional communicators of science show that individual group members are homogeneous with regard to their communicative intentions with a clear distinction between the economic and the public interest group: Members of the economic interest group depict evidence in NST as significantly more certain than the public interest group, thereby describing NST as significantly more positive. Thus, we assume that the group members’ communicative behavior is strategic and follows rational group-specific considerations. We apply the theory of planned behavior to analyze components of this rationale in more detail. The descriptive norm, i.e., participants’ observations of how persons with similar job descriptions act, and the attitude toward the intended behavior, i.e., the aggregated evaluation of its outcomes, turn out to be the strongest predictors of individuals’ intentions to communicate scientific evidence in NST as being certain or uncertain. Limitations of the study and suggestions for further research with larger samples will be discussed. Furthermore, respondents’ answers to open-ended questions will be used to discuss further improvements of the model applied.

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