Arguably  the  major  goal  of  science  communication  is  to  facilitate  the  effective  exchange  of information between relevant stakeholders. For simplicities’ sake, or as an administrative convenience, such  stakeholders  are  often  divided  into  “experts”  and  “the  public”.  Such  a  division  is  not  only misleading, it also has the potential to weaken important science communication efforts.

 Too often in communication discourses, “experts” and “the public” are referred to unproblematically. Overtly, this appears reasonable: “the Public” are those who aren’t “expert”, and “experts”, the inverse. But what does this mean in practice?

To assume that “the Public” are an homogeneous group of similarly (dis)interested, lesserly informed, and in-expert people is fallacious. Equally, to assume that an expert is necessarily formally trained in a discipline,  paid  to  research  a  discipline,  or  by  definition  “knows  more  about”  a  discipline  than  this mythical, homogeneous public is also false.

The realm of mental illness (MI) is a prime example of a science communication arena desperately in need  of  attention,  in  part  due  to  this  simplistic  distinction.  With  the  prevalence  of  MI  increasing alarmingly  worldwide,  the  need  for  relevant  and  accessible  information  has  become  more  vital  than ever  before.  This  paper  considers  the  constructs  of  “public”  and  “expert”  via  the  examination  of “non-professional”  responses  concerning  attitudes  towards;  MI  itself,  MI  expertise,  and  the trustworthiness  and  use  patterns  of  various  media  for  MI  information.  From  the  nearly  700 respondents  surveyed,  it  became  clear  that  the  concepts  “public”  and  “expert”  are  amorphous, complex  and  cannot  be  disregarded  when  striving  to  improve  the  effective  exchange  of  MI information.

In addressing issues of communication and “the public”, such MI research demonstrates that there are actually  multiple,  inter-related  publics,  and  that  notions  of  expertise  aren’t  necessarily  as  we  might expect.  These  publics  are  definable  in  many  ways,  including:  who  is  believed  to  be  expert;  what sources of information are preferentially used, trusted or likely to be used; general attitudes toward MI; and  naturally,  demographic  differences.  It  is  recommended  that  science  communication  endeavours may  be  enhanced  using  strategies  that  differ  as  dictated  by  the  needs  of  the  different  publics  to  be engaged.
 
 



 

 

">
 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

How many publics?
Science communication and lay impressions of mental illness expertise in Australia

Roderick G Lamberts   The Australian National University

Arguably  the  major  goal  of  science  communication  is  to  facilitate  the  effective  exchange  of information between relevant stakeholders. For simplicities’ sake, or as an administrative convenience, such  stakeholders  are  often  divided  into  “experts”  and  “the  public”.  Such  a  division  is  not  only misleading, it also has the potential to weaken important science communication efforts.

 Too often in communication discourses, “experts” and “the public” are referred to unproblematically. Overtly, this appears reasonable: “the Public” are those who aren’t “expert”, and “experts”, the inverse. But what does this mean in practice?

To assume that “the Public” are an homogeneous group of similarly (dis)interested, lesserly informed, and in-expert people is fallacious. Equally, to assume that an expert is necessarily formally trained in a discipline,  paid  to  research  a  discipline,  or  by  definition  “knows  more  about”  a  discipline  than  this mythical, homogeneous public is also false.

The realm of mental illness (MI) is a prime example of a science communication arena desperately in need  of  attention,  in  part  due  to  this  simplistic  distinction.  With  the  prevalence  of  MI  increasing alarmingly  worldwide,  the  need  for  relevant  and  accessible  information  has  become  more  vital  than ever  before.  This  paper  considers  the  constructs  of  “public”  and  “expert”  via  the  examination  of “non-professional”  responses  concerning  attitudes  towards;  MI  itself,  MI  expertise,  and  the trustworthiness  and  use  patterns  of  various  media  for  MI  information.  From  the  nearly  700 respondents  surveyed,  it  became  clear  that  the  concepts  “public”  and  “expert”  are  amorphous, complex  and  cannot  be  disregarded  when  striving  to  improve  the  effective  exchange  of  MI information.

In addressing issues of communication and “the public”, such MI research demonstrates that there are actually  multiple,  inter-related  publics,  and  that  notions  of  expertise  aren’t  necessarily  as  we  might expect.  These  publics  are  definable  in  many  ways,  including:  who  is  believed  to  be  expert;  what sources of information are preferentially used, trusted or likely to be used; general attitudes toward MI; and  naturally,  demographic  differences.  It  is  recommended  that  science  communication  endeavours may  be  enhanced  using  strategies  that  differ  as  dictated  by  the  needs  of  the  different  publics  to  be engaged.
 
 



 

 

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

BACK TO TOP