Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda

The National Academies Press, Washington DC, 2017



Science and technology are embedded in virtually every aspect of modern life. As a result, people face an increasing need to integrate information from science with their personal values and other considerations as they make important life decisions about vaccinating their children and other medical care, the safety of foods, what to do about climate change, and many other issues. Communicating science effectively, however, is a complex task and an acquired skill. Moreover, the approaches to communicating science that will be most effective for specific audiences and circumstances often are not obvious. Fortunately, an expanding science base from diverse disciplines can support science communicators in making these determinations.


The purpose of this report is to offer a research agenda for science communicators and researchers seeking to apply this research and fill gaps in knowledge about how to communicate effectively about science, with a particular focus on issues that are contentious in the public sphere. Examples include climate change, stem cells, nanotechnology, vaccines, hydraulic fracturing, genetically modified organisms, nuclear energy, obesity, education policy, and the teaching of evolution and climate change in K-12 schools. To inform the research agenda, the study committee sought to identify important influences—psychological, economic, political, social, cultural, and mediarelated—on how science associated with such issues is understood, perceived, and used. For the purposes of this report, “science communication” is defined as the exchange of information and viewpoints about science to achieve a goal or objective such as fostering greater understanding of science and scientific methods or gaining greater insight into diverse public views and concerns about the science related to a contentious issue.

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