On Thu, 14 Sep 2000 13:28:36 +0100
[log in to unmask] wrote:
> Hi, I thought I had sent this to psci-com Friday night, but it seems to have
> got lost. Apologies for the delay. Andy.
> New Ways of Slicing the Cake: Implications of Recent Research for
> Communications Strategies
> A Science Communicators Forum at the British Association
> Friday 8 September
> The first paper of the afternoon was from myself. The text below is partly
> the notes I did not use and partly my recollections of what I may have said.
> After my bit, I've appended my briefer notes on other speakers'
> contributions. Others may be able to contribute their notes or add to my
> Andy Boddington
> New Developments in Public Understanding of Science
> A View from the Public Understanding Bunker
> In the UK, public understanding of science is traditionally said to have
> started with COPUS in 1985. Of course, there was extensive science
> communication activity before that but COPUS marked the start of organised
> public understanding policy and action. So we are now a fifteen year old
> teenager, amorous and anarchistic.
> And, of course, teenagers are always being told off by their elders. In our
> case, the age of 15 will chiefly be remembered for the Jenkins Report,
> published in February this year. Formally a report of the House of Lords
> Select Committee on Science and Technology, Lord Jenkins and his team
> provided a succinct summary of the current state of public understanding and
> public science policy. Of course, much of the detail was known to
> enthusiasts of public understanding, but Jenkin's achievement was to provide
> a magisterial overview backed by the authority of the House of Lords. It was
> a timely report and widely welcomed.
> In contrast, the Science White Paper published by the Office of Science and
> Technology in July is less memorable, perhaps because it was talking to
> business and government, rather than the public understanding community.
> There is no doubt that there is a new mood in the public understanding
> community. Promoting science, promoting knowledge, promoting understanding
> are no longer enough. The new century is about dialogue.
> The other event we will remember in 10 years time, is the Dyball-King report
> (or King-Dyball, or OST/Wellcome Trust...) on science and the public. This
> has been much covered in some early sessions and will be returned to. I want
> to emphasise its importance and make a few specific comments.
> Regrettably, although publication was due in April, the printed report is
> not yet available so I am working from presentations in London and Edinburgh
> and the Sainsbury White Paper.
> The innovative contribution, which may make this a landmark study, is the
> division of the public into six groups.
> We await details of the methodology used to define the groups but as I
> understand it, the groups are based on people's attitudes to science, i.e.
> their responses to a set of statements about science. These attitudinal
> groups show distinct demographic differences; a market researcher, for
> example, would recognise the politically aware as social groups A/B. But
> being A/B does not necessarily mean you are politically aware and therein
> lies a difficulty with this study.
> How do we recognise these groups amongst the public? When entertaining
> people in my public understanding bunker with stories of amazing science, do
> I automatically assume that the young man with a No. 1 haircut and a bolt
> through his nose is in the "don't care" group and that the old codgers
> clustered in the snug are members of "Not for me?" Stereotypes can be a
> useful shorthand but can also be reckless and arrogant. We need to see the
> full analysis before we can decide how the study will help us improve the
> practice of public understanding.
> And I am concerned about the names given to the groups. This handy shorthand
> has a way of getting a life and importance of its own and already the
> Dyball-King terms are debated. I'd personally prefer to call them Types A,
> B, C...
> The debate over genetically-modified foods peaked in early 1999, though it
> remains very active. There are echoes of the BSE and irradiation debates
> where politicians and policy-makers struggled to counter press and public
> criticism-some of it informed, much of it not. John Durant has studied the
> He has identified a build up of coverage before the peak, including a
> Blair-Hague confrontation in the Commons. Then Dr Arpad Pusztai told us of
> his GM potatoes and rats. Durant identifies a triggering event: a letter
> from 22 scientists to the Guardian defending Pusztai. The Press thereafter
> set the agenda. GM was not seen as a science story and they adopted a
> campaigning rather than reporting stance.
> This study is important as it helps us understand how science stories begin
> to twist & blast through public opinion and scientific commonsense like a
> tornado. It can take a long while before the cool down draught of science
> can stop the heat of public and media concern rising. And like real-life
> twisters, there is real-life damage: MMR, is one example.
> Underlying the Jenkin report and the GM debate, is concern about risk but we
> still understand little of how the public's understanding of risk is
> affected by their degree of trust in science and politicians, and by
> twisting stories in the media.
> There is a need to study the public in real time. Think of what we would
> have learnt if we had been interviewing members of each of the Dyball-King
> publics over the weeks and months as the GM twister hit the media. We can't
> stop twisters happening, but we can learn how to communicate a balanced
> perspective to different segments of the public once they start.
> This type of study, I call a "third generation study." The first generation
> were the studies by Durant, Miller, Eurobarometer, etc. These looked at
> whether the public knew whether the earth went round the sun and basic
> attitudinal things, and we spent a long time arguing about what it all meant
> The second generation of studies is trying to understand the structure of
> the public (Dyball-King) and how media stories develop (Durant). The
> Wellcome Trust has been conducting further surveys of science communicators
> and scientists and these will eventually add to our second generation
> What we need now are third generation studies that look at the interaction
> between the public, media, politicians, scientists and communicators. These
> need to be real-time studies to analyse the twisters as they happen, not as
> historical events.
> Two important questions for this audience:
> * Are science communicators trusted facilitators in the new world of debate
> (or are they seen as lobbyists for the science cause?)
> * Now that we are beginning to understand scientists, media and the public,
> can we understand the interactions between them?
> Sheila Anderson. A Research Funder's View
> Sheila spoke formally on behalf of NERC and informally on behalf of the
> Research Councils. Perhaps she might supply her own notes. I recall...
> She stressed that the Councils have a duty to say what they have done with
> public money. But this is not the single aim. "We have failed to create
> public trust [...and] science still has its language, private clubs and high
> NERC (and the other Councils?) are pursuing a new list of drivers for the
> public understanding and communication strategies, including Jenkins and the
> Dyball-King report. They are exploring increasing public interest and
> confidence in science through dialogue and access to Council discussions.
> Sheila is heartened by a successful web-based Gene Flow consultation
> conducted by NERC (described earlier on psci-com, I think), But programme
> managers are also asking, "What if the public says no to GM?" Issues like
> this are cascading through her organisation.
> There was discussion about legitimisation of science communication
> activities for scientists. Here the Higher Education Funding Councils and
> DfEE were seen to be wanting.
> Tim Reynolds. The Consultancy View
> Tim Reynolds from Key Communications based his presentation on King-Dyball.
> Much of that is familiar to psci-commers. He dwelled on the linear
> relationship between public interest in science and the benefits they
> perceive science to bring. I got the impression that he was suggesting that
> increasing interest was the key to increasing public support.
> [I may have noted this incorrectly as I have doubts that this relationship
> is useful. I think it just shows that science consumers are selfish;
> increase the benefits and they get more interested.]
> It is more important to build confidence rather than understanding. We
> * Influence "Confident Believers" (formerly Politically Aware)
> * Inform "Technophiles"
> * Reinforce "Supporters"
> * Address "Don't Cares"
> * And stress the benefits to "Not for me."
> There is no media for science consumers in the UK, however, all media have
> time for good life style stories. The examples shown were sub-zero beer and
> an article about the time tsar at NPL.
> Scientists are stereotyped in the media and we need to address this.
> Our aims should be to:
> * emphasise the benefits and relevance to lifestyle of science
> * increase its profile in tabloid media why looking in the future to new
> * a long term strategy of integrating science with culture.
> Anita Heward and Regan Forrest from the National Space Centre
> These two should have got the job to run the Dome. I only made notes on
> Regan's section.
> "We cannot afford not to listen [to the public.]" They are concentrating on
> making the Space Centre (opens Spring 2001) an attraction, while taking
> education goals and subject matter seriously. Visitor behaviour is freewill
> and they will do as little or as much as they like. "Top down" communication
> won't work in this environment. The Exhibits need to work at many different
> Evaluation is not an optional extra. The only way to know how visitors will
> really react is to ask them. It is essential to keep focused on what is
> important and build evaluation into the development process. It saves money
> in the long run.
> I had to dash off during the discussion. Frank Burnett said something very
> wise about this being a critical time and there being an opportunity to pull
> together and avoid the fragmentation of the last 15 years. Over to you to
> state your argument Frank.
> Andy Boddington
Dr Frank Burnet MBE
Principal Lecturer in the Public Understanding of Science
School of Interdisciplinary Sciences
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