On the first of July I got a newsletter in my inbox from the Centre for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. The newsletter informed me about an Open Access article that was published by Myers, et al. (The et. al includes M.C. Nisbet who runs the outstanding Age of Engagement blog) the previous week in the journal Climatic Change. The article is entitled, ‘A Public health frame arouses hopeful emotions about climate change.’
A look in history demonstrates that climate change has been primarily framed as environmental problem. Within social sciences, alternative frames emphasizing public health, natiaonl security, extreme weather events and/or the economy, have been previously suggested. They can potentially be more effective at engaging the audience.
The authors tested the assumption that the public health frame and/or national security frame may make climate change more personally relevant.
Specifically, the frames tested were
1) Environmental – emphasis is placed on the consequences of climate change to ecosystems;
2) National security – emphasis is placed on highlighting national security and benefits to national security;
3) Health frame – emphasis is placed on health risks that are associated with climate change and the corresponding potential beneftis of adaptation and mitigation actions.
– Health Frame was the most likely to produce feelings of hope (It was followed by the Environmental Frame and the National Security Frame
– The Health Message produced the least amount of anger (Just above it were the Environmental Message and the National Security Message)
This research demonstrates the potential of the public health frame to inspire hope in the context of climate change discussion, while simultaneously demonstrating the possibility that certain frames may be poorly perceived within some interpretive communities.
Myers, T.A., Nisbet, M.C., Maibach, E.W., Leiserowitz, A.L. (2012). ‘A Public health frame arouses hopeful emotions about climate change,’ Climatic Change (online first). doi: 10.1007/s10584-012-0513-6
Research in science comunication, public understanding of science, and public communication of science and technology, has focused on the views of the publics. In contrast, the onus has been placed on the scientists to engage with the public and participate in various forms of public communication of science and technology (PCST) activities. Very few studies have addressed the issues from the point of view of scientists.
Nevertheless, there are studies out there, which contribute to the exploring the other side of the debate. One of the largest and most comprehensive sutdies was conducted by MORI on the behalf of the Wellcome Trust and was published in 2000; entitled ‘The Role of Scientists in Public Debate‘. The study aimed to contribute to the underexplored area of ‘how scientists perceive the public understanding of science and technology in general, and their own contribution in particular’ (p.6).
Interviews were conducted with a random sample of 1540 research scientists (657 were wholly or primarily funded by the Research Council) at 41 Higher Education Institutions in Great Britain. Furthermore, 112 scientists were interviewed at 42 Research Council-funded establishments (funded by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council [BBSRC,] Medical Research Council [MRC] and Natural Environment Research Council [NERC]) in Great Britain. The fieldwork for the study took place from 13 December 1999 – 24March 2000.
- Benefits, Barriers
Scientists are very much aware of the benefits envisioned through better public understanding of science. However, they also see barriers such as a lack of public knolwedge, education and/or interest (this view was taken by 3 in 4 scientists).
Despite the fine balance between barriers and benefits, scientists, in their vast majority, consider it their duty to communicate their research as well as its social and ethical impliations to various non-specialist publics. However, many scientists do feel constrained by the daily requirements of the job, thereby leaving limited time to communicate research or even to carry out their own research.
- Participation in Communication Activities
Of the surveyed sample, slightly over fifty percent have participated in one or more of the fifteen provided forms of communication activity within the last year. Scientists’ participation is related to both skill and confidence. Scientistst that feel capable to communicate scientific facts and the implications of their research as well as those that have received training, were more likely to have participated. Moreover, those scientists that teach and conduct research are more likley to have communicated.
- Support and Training
Only one in five scientists felt very well equipped to communiate the scientific facts of their research, while three quarters felt equipped. However, the reported confidence declined when consideration was given to the communication of social and ethical implications of their research. Amonst the scientists, whose work does carry the social and ethical implications, only 62% felt equipped, while one in ten felt very well equipped. The vast majority of scientists surveyed did not received training to liaise with the media, or to communicate with non-specialist publics.
- Room for Improvement
In order to improve the communication, various options were mentioned by the scientists, including encouragement from institutions to participate in science communication activities, provision of media traning and allocation of finances from the funding bodies directed at encouraging scientists to spend time on science communication (mentioned most often).
MORI (2000). The Role of Scientists in Public Debate. London, England: The Wellcome Trust. pp. 50.
**I moved this entry from a previous blog that I attempted to develop**
Public engagement is a trendy topic that engulfs the sciences, social sciences and the humanities. I tend to think that the 3 aforementioned ‘scoial worlds’ can learn a lot from each other. Because I am personally interested in public engagement (in particular with the sciences) and because I do research on a related topic (communication of scientific research), I try to look out for interesting ideas that can be adaptable in various ‘social worlds’. This week, an article in the Globe and Mail about a mobile phone application (app) from Parks Canada, connecting food and history, caught my attention. In this post, I’ll briefly discuss this interesting app and suggest some ideas for the sciences.
This year Parks Canada is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the organisation is launching its first mobile phone application , ‘Heritage Gourmet’. This particular app offers to the public in excess of 70 recipes that are connected to the country’s historical landmarks.
The idea behind this app is to make the historic sites “come alive” for the visitors. According to the project manager, Ms. Tamara Tarasoff, “By making a dish that is related to that site, people can actually bring that historic site right into their home and even talk to their family or their dinner guests about the origin.”
But before one’s imagination gets carried away, these recipes have been modified for the modern context. This was done with the help of the chefs from the Algonquin College School of Hospitality and Tourism. Thus, foodies will be able to test out recipes from the olden days in the modern context (You can check out some of the behind the scenes material here), while hopefully learning a bit about history. The other hope is that they will be able to pass on the knowledge. Even the development of this app has actually generated insights. Early Canadians relied heavily on breads, pancakes, soups and stews. Furthermore, despite Canada being such a vast nation, there have been a lot of similarities in the dishes from different parts of the country.
The evaluation of the effectiveness and success of this app will be made at a later point in time. In my opinion, the idea is interesting in the fact that it connects something that doesn’t interest everyone (history) to something that most people can relate to (food and cooking).
Ideas for Science
First, there are two quotations that I’d like to mention:
Good food leads to good talk – Geoffrey Neighor, Northern Exposure, Duets, 1993
I came literally to the table with a wealth of knowledge by simply understanding how food should taste. – Rocco DiSpirito
In part, the second quotation captures the idea behind the Heritage Gourmet app. In this case, the public can come to the table with a wealth of knowledge by simply using their mobile devices to get the recipes and learn a bit about the historical landmarks and the way of life during the ‘old days’. I like the idea of making the connection to the ‘everyday’; and what’s more everyday than ‘food’.
In my opinion, there’s something here that science, and in particular chemistry (especially food chemistry) can pick up on. For example, this app can be further extended to incorporate chemistry by providing information about the fundamental molecular components of the ingredients involved in the recipe. Similarly, chemistry information can be combined with diet apps, cooking apps, etc. It seems that there is lots of potential for such avenues of scientific knowledge communication in particular for chemistry; a field which is not the easiest for incorporation of science communication and public engagement. Furthermore, similar ideas can be adopted to other scientific fields through various adaptations and modifications.
In general…take home message
Without getting into a full blown out discussion of public engagement (whether it be with science, social science or humanities), its methods and effectiveness, engagement would benefit from striking a note of relevance to the everyday existence of the publics (in particular the ‘lay’ publics in comparison to the ‘informed’ publics). In other words, it needs to connect to the context or in the very least to some constitutive component of the context (e.g., food in this case). It appears that the Heritage Gourmet mobile phone application takes a step in this direction.
**I moved this entry from a previous blog that I attempted to develop**
On Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011, I attended a meeting on ‘public engagement’ in my Department (I will not explicitly state the Department or the University; looking around this website will give you that information). The email encouraging staff to attend the meeting was circulated substantially in advance and notitifcations were sent as the date approached nearer.
The purpose of the meeting was to get an overview of the outreach and public engagement ongoing in the Department (hence, not strictly limited to science research), whether inherently part of your research or as a sideline, and to discuss how the Department may move forward in this area. There were presentations from the University’s volunteering and staff outreach team as well as from Beacon NE. This was followed by a discussion guided by the following topics:
* Why public engagement is important, University strategy and University support available
* Overview of ongoing or planned outreach/public engagement in the Department
* How we can collate, better communicate and potentially publicise our outreach/public engagement – for public use/University use/Department use
* Plans for the future (potential points to cover: future Department engagement activities, outreach officer, outreach support etc) and possible funding sources
As one of the first presenters pointed out, these types of meetings are going on all over the UK in various Departments across a number of Universities. It would be very interesting to see the turnout at these meetings. At the meeting in question, the turnout was probably somewhere around 20-25. Obviously, there are commitments to attend to and other obligations associated with the academic trade which can in part explain the numbers. However, I suspect the other part of the explanation can be attributed to regarding ‘public engagement’ as something that’s not applicable to the researcher’s academic career.
During the meeting, I noticed several themes that reappeared throughout the discussion:
– What is public engagement?
There are no clear definitions or criteria about what exactly is ‘public engagement’. It is embodied through many activities. The list of projects within the department that had some type of ‘public engagement’ was fairly extensive . However, establishment of criteria of what is ‘public engagement’ was echoed as a first step forward. This was proposed to be accomplished through establishment of a ‘narrative’ of ‘public engagement’ activities within the department.
– Department vs University
There appears to be this competitive dichotomy between the departments and the university itself. The department and the university seem to exist as two separate entities that do not necessarily share a common synergy. This was reflected in the discussion points about the need to gather a complete set of information about the activities occurring within the department and becoming fully aware of potentially doing similar initiatives that were already being carried out by the university. This dynamic is further reflected in consideration of whether the department should undertake individual support for its researchers in public engagement or simply allow the researchers to engage with the already established university initiatives.
It all comes down to the finances. There are research strategies in place that correspond to specific budgets. Similarly, there are teaching strategies in place that correspond to specific budgets. In contrast, there are no specific strategies for engagement; the manifesto for public engagement is a step in the right direction. Thus, there are no budgets that correspond to ‘public engagement’ at departmental levels (at least in this department). Therefore, for now, the ‘public engagement’ must remain at the will of the individual researcher since collective efforts require financial backing.
The aforementioned factors are not necessarily supportive of development in ‘public engagement’ initiatives amongst the departments in the universities. Thus, the onus would appear to remain mainly on the individual researchers. According to the PVC of Engagement, it is all about networks amongst colleagues in universities and the public. These networks are supposed to sustain the development of ‘public engagement’. This is opposed to using a type of a centralised approach towards developing ‘public engagement’. The PVC suggested that a tipping point will be reached. Will it?