Uncommon Ground

Science communication and experts

Michael_Gove_at_Policy_Exchange_delivering_his_keynote_speech_'The_Importance_of_Teaching'_(cropped)In early June, Michael Gove was Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom. (Image at left By Policy Exchange [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons) He helped lead the effort that lead to the vote for the UK to leave the European Union. He appeared on a Sky News program where he “refused to name any economists who back Britain’s exit from the European Union, saying that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’.” (https://next.ft.com/content/3be49734-29cb-11e6-83e4-abc22d5d108c) While Gove was speaking about economists, his words have clear implications for scientists. Being expert isn’t enough. Commanding the facts isn’t enough. I’m no expert, but this strikes me as a pretty good example of why the “deficit model” of science communication (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_deficit_model) is wrong.

Writing in EoS, Amy Luers and David Kroodsma have some good advice. Don’t report facts. Join conversations. Here are a few of the key points:

  • Science communicators need to focus on developing strategies to join and initiate conversations that start with people, not science.
  • Credibility is determined more by the communities scientists are associated with than by the papers they publish.
  • Scientists should embrace the fact that online communities enable people to come together and collaborate, and use this to identify new opportunities for coproduction of knowledge that can complement more conventional science communication efforts.

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