Evaluate Impact of Communication
Effective communication between scientists and nonscientists calls for special evaluation and training procedures, not simply “more and better science” (Nature 468, 1032–1033; 2010). The impact of science communications on target audiences needs evaluation. And effective evaluation requires upstream planning and clear objectives if it is to inform practice (E. Jensen & B. Wagoner Cult. Psychol. 15, 217–228; 2009).
Unfortunately, institutions that sponsor science-communication activities are not always consistent in their evaluation requirements and rarely assess long-term impact. And when such projects are subject to independent evaluation, tenders are typically assessed either by the practitioners whose work is under scrutiny, or by staff without the relevant methodological expertise.
To enhance the quality of their engagement with the public and with policy-makers, scientists and other science communicators should make use of theories and results from the social sciences. Without training in media literacy, audience reception or the communication and sociology of science, communicators could find themselves rehearsing long discredited practices. I propose that such training should be incorporated into scientists’ graduate studies. This would spare governments and scientific institutions from reframing the funding and practice of science communication to protect the sciences and the public from the largely unacknowledged risks of miscommunication. Eric Jensen, University of Warwick, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org