For most adults in the developed world the media is the primary source of information about science.However, there is a general unrest regarding the quantity and quality of science coverage in the media. Possible sources of this discontent are the media, the public and the scientists themselves. Public knowledge and attitudes have been widely assessed, and many studies have examined media coverage of science. However, few studies have systematically examined the capabilities and other aspects of scientists’ ability to communicate. Nonetheless, many organizations and institutions have created training opportunities to help scientists become better at public communication.

The claims for the efficiency of such training programs are often based on anecdotes and basic self-report evaluations. This situation does not allow comparison between interventions, nor evidence-based policy regarding media training for scientists. This study sets out to examine the learning outcomes of science communication training programs and courses. Learning outcomes may include skills, confidence, willingness to take part, attitude towards interacting and public engagement, and knowledge of science-media context (dependent variables). Some of the independent variables involved in scientists' views and skills are assumed to be training, age, gender, field of science, years since final degree, previous experience with outreach, position, and type of institution/employer.

The development of a measurement tool for scientists' views of, and actual skills in science communication was guided by existing literature, extensive interviews with active scientists in order to establish face validity, as well as establishment of test/retest reliability. The instrument, which is intended to serve at a wide range of training workshops and courses, includes three sections:
(1) Professional background, experience with public engagement, and specifically with the media.
(2) Written skills, which are assessed based on three short essays: describing one's research, responding to a question about science in everyday life (e.g. "Why doesn’t the doctor prescribe antibiotics for flu?"), and to a question about science's role in society (e.g. "Are humans responsible for the Earth getting warmer or not?"). Responders are also presented with a list of science concepts and are asked to mark those that should be defined when writing to a non-technical audience.
(3) Views section, which includes self confidence in speaking with the media, attitudes towards the science in the media (e.g. importance, level of coverage), the responsibility of the individual scientists, benefits and impediments to speaking to the media, attitudes towards public engagement with science policy, and finally, knowledge about the media and public understanding of science.

Preliminary findings from a "Science writing for the media" course will be presented at the talk. Later on,this measurement tool will enable the assessment of learning outcomes from media training to scientists, which will allow highlighting effective initiatives. It will also be used to compare groups of scientists from different countries or disciplines. Finally, it will allow an exploration of the interactions among the independent and dependent variables.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

The impact of training on scientists' view of, and skills in science communication

Ayelet Baram-Tsabari   Department of Communication, Cornell University

Bruce Lewenstein   Department of Communication, Cornell University

For most adults in the developed world the media is the primary source of information about science.However, there is a general unrest regarding the quantity and quality of science coverage in the media. Possible sources of this discontent are the media, the public and the scientists themselves. Public knowledge and attitudes have been widely assessed, and many studies have examined media coverage of science. However, few studies have systematically examined the capabilities and other aspects of scientists’ ability to communicate. Nonetheless, many organizations and institutions have created training opportunities to help scientists become better at public communication.

The claims for the efficiency of such training programs are often based on anecdotes and basic self-report evaluations. This situation does not allow comparison between interventions, nor evidence-based policy regarding media training for scientists. This study sets out to examine the learning outcomes of science communication training programs and courses. Learning outcomes may include skills, confidence, willingness to take part, attitude towards interacting and public engagement, and knowledge of science-media context (dependent variables). Some of the independent variables involved in scientists' views and skills are assumed to be training, age, gender, field of science, years since final degree, previous experience with outreach, position, and type of institution/employer.

The development of a measurement tool for scientists' views of, and actual skills in science communication was guided by existing literature, extensive interviews with active scientists in order to establish face validity, as well as establishment of test/retest reliability. The instrument, which is intended to serve at a wide range of training workshops and courses, includes three sections:
(1) Professional background, experience with public engagement, and specifically with the media.
(2) Written skills, which are assessed based on three short essays: describing one's research, responding to a question about science in everyday life (e.g. "Why doesn’t the doctor prescribe antibiotics for flu?"), and to a question about science's role in society (e.g. "Are humans responsible for the Earth getting warmer or not?"). Responders are also presented with a list of science concepts and are asked to mark those that should be defined when writing to a non-technical audience.
(3) Views section, which includes self confidence in speaking with the media, attitudes towards the science in the media (e.g. importance, level of coverage), the responsibility of the individual scientists, benefits and impediments to speaking to the media, attitudes towards public engagement with science policy, and finally, knowledge about the media and public understanding of science.

Preliminary findings from a "Science writing for the media" course will be presented at the talk. Later on,this measurement tool will enable the assessment of learning outcomes from media training to scientists, which will allow highlighting effective initiatives. It will also be used to compare groups of scientists from different countries or disciplines. Finally, it will allow an exploration of the interactions among the independent and dependent variables.

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

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