Scientists meet the public in one of several roles: as researchers, science teachers, en-trepeneurs, national heroes (newly elected nobel prize laureates, e.g.), intellectuals, lobbyists for science or as advocates for or against policy options, for example. Different demands, ex-pectations and challenges are tied to each of these roles.
A particularly important role is that of the expert. Taking a sociological point of view an "ex-pert" is not only characterized (as in psychological expert research) by particularly high com-petence in a certain field but by taking a specific social role. This role is characterized by (1) command of special knowledge, (2) utilization of this knowledge for problem-solving or con-sultation of a client and - in the case of an professional expert - (3) a professional culture or "ethos" guiding the behavior of the members of the respective professions and urging them to maintain some independence even from their clients. The complement to the expert, thus, is not the layman (as in psychological expert research) but the client who may be considered knowledgeable in general and master of his/her own decisions but looking for a specific piece of know how he/she expects from the expert in order to pursue his/her own interests. If scien-tists take the expert role in public the audience should be considered as consisting of potential clients who may use the expertise to make individually or politically relevant decisions.
Sociologists stress the importance to distinguish between "science" and "expertise". Scientific research is oriented towards the generation of knowledge; expertise is oriented at the solution of practical (decision) problems. Undoubtedly, research is a major resource for expertise and that is why scientists often have to take the role of experts - as health advisors, policy consult-ants and also when interviewed by the media on these subjects. Communication contexts for scientists as public experts differ along two dimension: type of decision (individual vs. politi-cal) and amount of social conflict related to that decision. In policy disputes we often find experts on both sides of the issue (experts and counterexperts); sometimes the public experi-ences a role conflict between scientists as technology developers and scientists as policy advi-sors with serious consequences for the public image of scientific experts in these fields (sur-vey data will be presented to illustrate this point).
Scientists advising the media audience with respect to health, for example, can usually count on a very friendly journalistic treatment. But even if political conflict is involved, according to several studies media usually select scientific expert sources to support their own line of argument and, thus, have to make them look well in order to draw from their reputation. Only in rare cases are individual scientific experts (rather than an anonymous group) treated criti-cally by the media. In these cases, however, media spend efforts to demolish the expert status of their source and, for example, try to assign the role of a lobbyist instead.
The paper aims at clarifying and discussing the specific demands of the expert role in public communication and the consequences for the - types of competence expected from scientists as experts by the media - selection of scientific experts by the media and the - relationship with the audience. The key point of this paper is, that to communicate as a scientific expert requires other skills than just being able to popularize research. A broad field of competence (rather than very deep knowledge in one narrow field), practical experience, decision-analytical skills, power of judgment, anticipation of the clients' goals and constraints and the ability to effectively com-municate with the client are important features of a good expert.
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