PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Out of the Woods
How Do (Forest) Scientists Perceive Science Communication

Bernhard Goodwin  

Category: Evaluating public communication of science and technology Out of the Woods: How Do (Forest) Scientists Perceive Science Communication The present paper is about science communication from scientists' perspective on an individual level. It analyzes perceptions, motives and the environment of scientists and their communicational behavior. The study focuses on forest scientists as an example for scientists in general. In-depth interviews of different stakeholders of forest science (N=59) and a survey among German forest scientists (N=205, turnout 33.3 %) were used to collect data. This data is used to qualify and quantify perceptions, motives and relevant parts of the scientists' environments. Communicational styles are classified and their correlations to the other described aspects are analyzed. The data shows that the scientists don't have a negative attitude towards science communication but deem it not very important among the different tasks they have to do. They have a heterogeneous image of media effects on their fellow scientists. For this reason they can't predict how own public appearances influence their reputation. They perceive media and journalists also heterogeneous - yet in the majority positive. Scientists (especially if they are of higher status) perceive science communication as part of their role, though they interpret it in a reactive communicational style. Scientists from disciplines which are more application-oriented regard science communication as more important. The results lead to the following recommendations for those taking part in the process of science communication: * Science journalists should keep in mind that there is a minority of experts on a certain topic in the audience who form their opinion about their competence based on the quality of their reporting. * Specific positively evaluated experiences of a contact with a science journalist help to form a positive opinion. Science communicators should emphasize the positive outcome of science reporting - especially the distribution of knowledge, while countering a pessimistic view on the media with positive experiences and their positive outcomes for individual researchers. * Additionally norms which are related to specific positive results of science communication should be reinforced in science education and through public visibility of role models. * Improve scientist's perception, that public communication is part of their job. * While improving on external motivation to do science communication it is important not to destroy intrinsic motivation. Use scientist's communications with practitioners to improve science communication in general.

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