October 15, 2015

Increase Awareness & Knowledge

Engagement Object: Increase Awareness & Knowledge

 

Overview:

Good: Communicators adjust the depth of detail in their communication based on who they are communicating with, as needed.

Better: Communicators should emphasize a small number of key pieces of information they want to successfully share with those with whom they are communicating.

Best: Communicators should regularly assess whether their audiences are learning the key content they wish to share and whether knowing this content is having an effect on attitudes or behavior.

Always: Communicators should think about communication as sharing what they know and why it’s important rather than filling a gap in someone’s knowledge.

Description of the objective: The idea of increasing people’s knowledge – including correcting misinformation – is among the most frequent objectives that scientists say they seek (Dudo & Besley, 2016). However, this seemingly straight-forward objective is among the most commonly debated objectives in the science communication literature.

This objective can be thought of as increasing general knowledge about science overall, including both specific constructs and scientific processes (Kahan, In press; Miller, 1998). It can also, however, be thought of as increasing specific knowledge about specific issues as genetically modification (European Commission, 1997; Gaskell, Allum, & Stares, 2003), climate change (Kahan, 2015), or environmental sustainability (Zwickle, Koontz, Slagle, & Bruskotter, 2014).  Health communication scholars have similar developed a range of general and specific measures of health knowledge (Boston University, 2016) .

What this objective affects:

 The challenge comes from extensive research showing a limited relationship between science knowledge and attitudes about science.

Among the most important analyses is a meta-analysis that used publicly available raw survey data from 193 surveys from round the world and collected between 1989 and 2004 (Allum, Sturgis, Tabourazi, & Brunton-Smith, 2008). These analyses found that there is a small, positive overall relationship between science knowledge and attitudes. Equally important, however, was that the size of this relationship varied substantially by whether the measure of attitudes was focused on general science or a specific topic and whether the knowledge measure was a general science measure or one focused on a specific type of knowledge. For example, the data suggested almost no relationship between general science knowledge and attitudes about genetically modified food and a potentially negative relationship between biology specific knowledge and attitudes about genetically modified food (see, also: Brossard & Nisbet, 2007; Brossard & Shanahan, 2003; Gaskell et al., 2004; Priest, Bonfadelli, & Rusanen, 2003).

Recent Pew research also found that the relationship between science knowledge and attitudes varied widely by issue (Pew Research Center, 2015). There are even cases where those with high measured knowledge but certain political views have attitudes that contradict a scientific consensus (e.g., climate change)(Kahan, 2015).

Experimental results have come to similar conclusions. Such research has typically found limited relationships between receiving new information and changes in attitudes or different types of changes depending on respondents’ ideology or worldview (e.g., Druckman & Bolsen, 2011; Sturgis, Brunton-Smith, & Fife-Schaw, 2010).

Despite the small relationship between knowledge and attitudes, it seems somewhat difficult to imagine that scientists who chose to communicate would not have sharing their knowledge and insight as one of their objectives. Not doing so would likely violate other participants’ expectations for the interaction with negative consequences.

Example Studies

Kahan, D. M. (In press). ‘Ordinary Science Intelligence’: A science-comprehension measure for study of risk and science communication, with notes on evolution and climate change. Journal of Risk Research.

Allum, N. C., Sturgis, P., Tabourazi, D., & Brunton-Smith, I. (2008). Science knowledge and attitudes across cultures: A meta-analysis. Public Understanding of Science, 17(1), 35-54. doi:   10.1077/0963662506070159

Druckman, J. N., & Bolsen, T. (2011). Framing, motivated reasoning, and opinions about emergent technologies. Journal of Communication, 61(4), 659-688. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01562.x

References

Allum, N. C., Sturgis, P., Tabourazi, D., & Brunton-Smith, I. (2008). Science knowledge and attitudes across cultures: A meta-analysis. Public Understanding of Science, 17(1), 35-54. doi:Doi 10.1077/0963662506070159

Boston University. (2016). Health Literacy Tool Shed.   Retrieved from http://healthliteracy.bu.edu/

Brossard, D., & Nisbet, M. C. (2007). Deference to scientific authority among a low information public: Understanding US Opinion on agricultural biotechnology. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 19(1), 24-52. doi:10.1093/ijpor/edl003

Brossard, D., & Shanahan, J. (2003). Do citizens want to have their say? Media, agricultural biotechnology and authoritarian views of democratic processes in science. Mass Communication & Society, 6(3), 291-312. doi:10.1207/S15327825MCS0603_4

Druckman, J. N., & Bolsen, T. (2011). Framing, motivated reasoning, and opinions about emergent technologies. Journal of Communication, 61(4), 659-688. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01562.x

Dudo, A. D., & Besley, J. C. (2016). Scientists’ prioritization of communication objectives for public engagement PLoS ONE, 11(2 ). doi:0148867. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148867

European Commission. (1997). European Opinions on Modern biotechnology: Eurobarometer 46.1. Retrieved from Brussels: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_108_en.pdf

Gaskell, G., Allum, N. C., & Stares, S. R. (2003). Europeans and biotechnology in 2002  Retrieved from Brussels, Belgium:

Gaskell, G., Allum, N. C., Wagner, W., Kronberger, N., Torgersen, H., Hampel, J., & Bardes, J. (2004). GM foods and the misperception of risk perception. Risk Analysis, 24(1), 185-194. doi:10.1111/j.0272-4332.2004.00421.x

Kahan, D. M. (2015). Climate-science communication and the measurement problem. Political Psychology, 36, 1-43. doi:10.1111/pops.12244

Kahan, D. M. (In press). ‘Ordinary Science Intelligence’: A science-comprehension measure for study of risk and science communication, with notes on evolution and climate change. Journal of Risk Research.

Miller, J. D. (1998). The measurement of scientific literacy. Public Understanding of Science, 7(1), 203-223.

Pew Research Center. (2015). A Look at What the Public Knows and Does Not Know About Science. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2015/09/2015-09-10_science-knowledge_FINAL.pdf

Priest, S. H., Bonfadelli, H., & Rusanen, M. (2003). The “trust gap” hypothesis: Predicting support for biotechnology across national cultures as a function of trust in actors. Risk Analysis, 23(4), 751-766.  Retrieved from <Go to ISI>://000184536000011

Sturgis, P., Brunton-Smith, I., & Fife-Schaw, C. (2010). Public attitudes to genomic science: An experiment in information provision. Public Understanding of Science, 19(2), 166-180. doi:Doi 10.1177/0963662508093371

Zwickle, A., Koontz, T. M., Slagle, K. M., & Bruskotter, J. T. (2014). Assessing sustainability knowledge of a student population: Developing a tool to measure knowledge in the environmental, economic and social domains. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 15(4), 375-389. doi:doi:10.1108/IJSHE-01-2013-0008

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