What to Look For in Good Science Communication
Professor Brian Zikmund-Fisher discusses how to identify helpful science communication and storytelling, and how to communicate science effectively to others. This is a part of the Disinformation, Misinformation, and Fake News Teach-Out.
In a world where the quality of public and political discourse around scientific issues is so broken, what can we do? How can we communicate these issues in ways that will reach our audience? And I think that's an important point to try and draw out. Before you try and communicate scientific issues, you need to understand your audience, understand who they respect, who they trust, what messages will resonate. So for example, on the issue of climate change, something that I study, three of the strongest spokespeople on this issue are democratic politicians, scientists and environmentalists. And there are people in the public who distrust one, two, or all three of those people or those groups. And so who do they trust? When I speak to business audiences, I don't talk about radiative forcing carbon loading, I talk about operational efficiency, cost of capital, consumer demand. I don't quote Al Gore or the Environmental Defense Fund. I will quote Mark Carney at the bank of England or Swiss Re, a large reinsurance company. I will use people, I will use brokers that I know this audience trusts and then I will find broker frames. I will find ways to present scientific issues in a language that they understand. So in business audiences, I frame it as an issue, economic competitive, market competitiveness, market strategy. You could also frame climate change as an issue of national security. There's a group called the CMA Group, a group of retired army general that call it climate change, a threat multiplier. And as it gets worse, the military is gonna have to do more things to stabilize unstable regions. You can frame it as economic competitiveness. If we don't build the next generation of technology and renewable energy or mobility, Germany or China will, we need to do it. You can frame it as standard risk management. I have a house, I have health. I have fire insurance. The odds of the house burning down are low. The consequences are high. That's why I take out insurance. On climate change, the consequences are very high. The possibility of it happening some people may see as low, but in that combination, you take out insurance, that's called investment in technology, investment in behavior change. One frame that works extremely well on many populations is the health frame. Climate change in the words of the Lancet is one of the greatest health threats facing humans in the 21st century. If you frame it as a health issue, now you've connected it to people that we really care about. They're called our grandparents and our grandchildren. And as elevated temperatures increase, particularly in urban centers, those populations are gonna be threatened and they may die as has happened in places like Chicago and Paris. And so the health frame really makes a personal and gets people's attention. The important point here is find the frame that works for the audience that you were speaking to, which means getting to know and understand that audience before you step into the fray.