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SCIENCE AND SOCIETY ISSUES



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SCIENCE AND SOCIETY ISSUES

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The Role of Communications and Scientific Thinking BARBARA SCHAAL Washington Uniersity T he international scientific community faces many challenges, from the funding of scientific research and the recruiting of new individuals into the fields of science and technology to the communication of both the value of science and specific scientific information. Communication of science is a topic that is frequently omitted in the discussion of science and science policy, yet scientific information is often ignored in policy decisions as a result of a failure in communication. This failure can have profound consequences. It is very clear that the future economic development of many countries increas- ingly rests on innovations in science and technology. Without adequate scientific input into policy decisions, future development may be hindered. A challenge for both national scientific groups and the international scientific community is to communicate the importance of science and its direct role in economic and social development. An even greater challenge is how to effectively communicate scientific information to decision makers in such a way that policy decisions are based on sound science. Scientific groups, such as national academies of sciences, professional societies, and research institutions and universities, all have particular, varied strengths and limited financial and personnel resources. Here we consider how national academies can effectively communicate the importance of science and scientific thinking to decision makers who are not scientifically trained. In addi- tion, we address how scientists can effectively communicate to decision makers the specific scientific information that is essential for sound science policy. Effective communication programs for any organization go through a prescribed planning process that includes identifying goals and tactics. Planning includes addressing such questions as: What do we want to communicate? To whom do we 

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 SCIENCE AND SOCIETY ISSUES want to communicate? How do we communicate information? Such an exercise is extremely useful in identifying goals, setting priorities for communication, and effectively using limited resources. Several recent studies and popular books have made the claim that the globe is becoming increasingly flat (Friedman, 2005). Past reports from the U.S. National Research Council have stated that decision making in our increasingly complex and connected world environment will be based on complex, inter- disciplinary scientific research and that decision makers and stakeholders will need to have increased involvement with science in order to make appropriate policy decisions. For interactions between scientific organizations and decision makers to be successful, several components are necessary. Jacobs identifies areas that need to be considered for effective communication of scientific information (Jacobs, 2003). The first is understanding what information is needed for a policy deci- sion and understanding the perspective and context of the “client.” Just as in any communication initiative, it is essential to understand who the audience is. Second is the need to understand the mechanisms of communication for an effec- tive collaboration between scientific organizations and decision makers. Science groups should develop a communication strategy to ensure open and effective dialog. Issues such as the usability of information and equity of benefits need to be discussed. Third, incentives for change need to be considered. In many past cases, interactions between scientists and decision makers have been ineffective. What are the incentives to work together? Are there common goals? Fourth, it is essential that mechanisms for evaluation, feedback, and measures of success be put in place. Without a dialog between scientists and policy makers, the quality and usefulness of scientific information will not be improved. Is the scientific information adequate and has it been provided in a form that is useful? National academies of sciences have a unique role to play in national and international science policy. National academies have the prestige to speak for a country’s scientific establishment, and they are often the source of the most cur- rent scientific information, information that is increasingly important for policy decisions. Communicating that information in an effective and useful manner to decision makers will increase the quality and usefulness of the policy decisions that are essential for a nation’s future development. REFERENCES Friedman, T. 2005. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Jacobs, K. 2003. Connecting Science, Policy, and Decision-Making: A Handbook for Researchers and Science Agencies. Silver Spring, MD: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Global Programs.