The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

Science Progress on the Future of Science Communication

26 September 2011

Chris Mooney at Science Progress recently posted an article on some persistent problems in the lines of communication between the academy and the broader public. The problems are excellently analyzed and the proposed steps forward are exciting goals that are completely feasible given modern media and communications tools and the urgency today of public understanding of science on key issues from global warming to the medical objectives of vaccination.

Perhaps the most striking take away for psychologists is that it is psychology that should be on the front line of science communication because the discipline is so rich in understanding of the social and individual determinants of ideology and policy. It is also psychology that can tell us most about how to communicate effectively.

On the practical side of science communication, Mooney says that certain basic translational tools need to be observed:

It ranges from what I call “jargon-busting”—teaching scientists not to use words that only they understand—to emphasizing the core need to design a message in a strategic way, rather than a haphazard one, and how to do that. It also comprises the “rules of engagement” for interacting with those old media journalists still trolling around, and the “rules of creation” as scientists venture into direct communication with the public, often using new media.

There are also theoretical advances that must be made to really allow effective science communication to be sophisticated:

…already it is clear that psychology and cognitive neuroscience are going to tell us much more than we currently know about which types of messages actually reach people, which types of people actually make good messengers (to what types of people), and so on. And the ultimate goal must be integrating the two.


SPSSI has a range of tools and documents that render current research on important social issues in a way that can be applied by the broader public and policymakers. In 2010, the previous Marshall Scholar, Jutta Tobias, led a workshop, Applying Science to Advocacy for Social Change, which can be found on the SPSSI Policy Hub under Advocacy Resources.

Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator 

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin