ESA 2020 Short Course Proposal: Making Science Matter by Leveraging the Science of Science Communication to Address the Moral Imperative of Effectively Sharing Ecology

This is a landing page for our proposed ESA 2020 short course on the science of science communication. Scroll down for the proposal itself.

Session Description

Ecologists face a moral imperative: share research effectively and inclusively, so it is incorporated in individual and society-level decisions. To inform public policy, we must reach, and resonate with, varied stakeholders (e.g. funders, practitioners, educators, policymakers, diverse public(s), media). This is a complex challenge. We’re faced with alternative “facts,” short attention spans, and information overload. Worse, a growing body of research shows people are not persuaded by data and do not distinguish scientific evidence from other views. Indeed, examples abound of policy decisions made contrary to scientific advice. Unsurprisingly, research also documents that most scientists are still trained to remain neutral, avoid advocacy, and expect science will be transmitted by someone else. Other studies indicate ecologists increasingly want training and advice to enhance their communication efforts. Thus, this special session highlights the science of science communication. Through a panel, facilitated activities, and a manuscript-brainstorming session, attendees will engage with local and regional researchers in fields including experimental psychology, consumer decision-making science, and human-wildlife conflict research. Participants will be surveyed (pre/post) regarding their behaviors, attitudes, and motivations around science communication (scicomm) along with knowledge of the science of scicomm; results and session discussions will inform a survey of ESA membership regarding engagement. This baseline research will inform further research and support ESA’s Extending the Tent initiative, newly formed Public Engagement at Annual Meetings subcommittee, and the many ESA sections and members working on human dimensions of ecology. See proposal justification, diversity, and broader impacts statements:

One-sentence Summary

Ecologists are no longer willing to rely on “the facts” while remaining seemingly neutral in the face of a climate crisis and deep inequities in social systems. To effectively share science, participants will engage with researchers in the science of SciComm, troubleshoot their efforts, and brainstorm at least one collaborative manuscript. 

Session Justification + Diversity and Broader Impacts statements

Although these statements are not required for the short course proposal, we consider them a critical component of all session proposals. Thus, we provide them here.

While scientists are trained to interpret research findings in the context of well-developed bodies of theory, we are often unaware of equally robust research on communication. Literature informing best practices in SciComm and engagement is extensive, contemporary, and growing. Considering science’s colonial history, we ecologists have an ethical obligation to leverage our knowledge and skill sets in support of efforts and policy-making which can address the major socio-environmental issues of our era. It is imperative that we integrate the expertise of disciplines such as cognitive psychology and communication pedagogy, so that we are able to effectively communicate scientific information. We can no longer rely on the “facts” to state the case for us, while remaining seemingly neutral in the face of a climate crisis and deep inequities in social systems (including academia). While research indicates that many ecologists are not trained to be responsive to these moral imperatives, other studies point to a deep desire among ecologists for the training necessary to effectively and equitably share their science. However, existing training programs are limited in capacity, and many are prohibitively expensive for many ecologists. These factors raise further issues regarding who can afford to access training and thus build their capacity to effectively share their science. Additionally, the science of science communication is a key element missing from much communication training for ecologists. For example, much more than research results, people are influenced by prior beliefs, social pressures, and convenience. Furthermore, the messenger of a science message (particularly one that is politically fraught) is crucial for the efficacy of the messaging effort. 

A goal in organizing this session is to bring intentionality to representing the diversity of disciplines and identities that are important to this topic. The topic of the session – the science of science communication – is an opportunity for the ESA membership to learn from diverse perspectives outside of the traditional field of ecology, specifically, researchers that have completed scholarly work in communication, social media, and the public understanding of science. Beyond the topic of the session, we have extended speaker invitations to center marginalized voices in ecology and science communication.

While it is widely accepted that the deficit model of sharing science is ineffective, ecologists may struggle with identifying communication tools that are effective, inclusive, and useful in communicating environmental controversy. The literature on the science of science communication is increasingly robust, yet, knowledge of that literature is often lacking among ecologists. This session is an opportunity for the membership of ESA to 1) learn from experts in the field of science communication, 2) develop networks of colleagues interested in advancing and applying science communication and engagement techniques, and 3) learn how to translate theory into practice. While the consequences for not effectively sharing our science with colleagues has important implications, our failure to communicate to broader society on issues such as the current climate crisis are dire making the need to learn and apply the science of science communication increasingly urgent. Ultimately, this session highlights peer-reviewed research on effective communication which ecologists can no longer afford to overlook:  research into how to effectively engage and persuade people in inclusive and justice-informed ways.