Scientific literacy is a topical issue. In western Europe as well as the United States,institutional actors have expressed concerns about the level of scientific knowledge of the general population (for a review and discussion on why public understanding of science matters, see Gregory& Miller, 1998; Laugsch, 2000). In the United States, the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences and various academic scholars have in particular pointed out that a scientifically literate population is needed for democratic processes to properly take place in a society that is more and more technologically demanding. But, if consensus exists on the need for civic scientific literacy,debate still exists on what constitutes it, and by extension on how to measure it. Numerous scholars have attempted to review the state of the debate, and to propose adequate conceptualizations (for aconceptual review of scientific literacy, see Miller, 1983; for more recent discussions, see DeBoer,2000; Laugsch, 2000). Although debate on conceptualization is still active, a review of the research shows that a number of scholars tend to agree that "civic" scientific literacy is a multidimensional construct that includes 1) a vocabulary of basic scientific constructs dimension, and 2) a scientific process dimension (a third dimension, focusing on the social impact of science, has generated less consensus) (Miller, 1998).
The goal of the present paper is to propose a completely different approach to the conceptualization and measure of a specific dimension of scientific literacy: the understanding ofscientific and technical terms, or the mastery of scientific and technical vocabulary. After briefly reviewing how this dimension has been conceptualized and measured in the past, we will present a new conceptualization and a proposed measurement instrument. As we will explain, the novel aspect of our research is that instead of focusing on what people should know, normatively, in terms of science and technology vocabulary (based on an ideal knowledge defined by experts), we focus on what people can be expected to know in the United States, on the basis of the collective socialdecision making of the media, to reveal which scientific constructs are important.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Scientific literacy
Scientific and technical vocabularies in media coverage

Dominique Brossard   Department of Communication, Cornell University

Jim Shanahan   Department of Communication, Cornell University

Joanna Radin   Department of Communication, Cornell University

Bruce Lewenstein   Department of Communication, Cornell University

Scientific literacy is a topical issue. In western Europe as well as the United States,institutional actors have expressed concerns about the level of scientific knowledge of the general population (for a review and discussion on why public understanding of science matters, see Gregory& Miller, 1998; Laugsch, 2000). In the United States, the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences and various academic scholars have in particular pointed out that a scientifically literate population is needed for democratic processes to properly take place in a society that is more and more technologically demanding. But, if consensus exists on the need for civic scientific literacy,debate still exists on what constitutes it, and by extension on how to measure it. Numerous scholars have attempted to review the state of the debate, and to propose adequate conceptualizations (for aconceptual review of scientific literacy, see Miller, 1983; for more recent discussions, see DeBoer,2000; Laugsch, 2000). Although debate on conceptualization is still active, a review of the research shows that a number of scholars tend to agree that "civic" scientific literacy is a multidimensional construct that includes 1) a vocabulary of basic scientific constructs dimension, and 2) a scientific process dimension (a third dimension, focusing on the social impact of science, has generated less consensus) (Miller, 1998).
The goal of the present paper is to propose a completely different approach to the conceptualization and measure of a specific dimension of scientific literacy: the understanding ofscientific and technical terms, or the mastery of scientific and technical vocabulary. After briefly reviewing how this dimension has been conceptualized and measured in the past, we will present a new conceptualization and a proposed measurement instrument. As we will explain, the novel aspect of our research is that instead of focusing on what people should know, normatively, in terms of science and technology vocabulary (based on an ideal knowledge defined by experts), we focus on what people can be expected to know in the United States, on the basis of the collective socialdecision making of the media, to reveal which scientific constructs are important.

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