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SCI-COM: What does the word 'science' bring to your mind? And how can the feeling be utilized in sci-com

When ordinary people were asked the Q in the US in a poll, 63% of respondents said the word “hope” comes to mind.

Effective science communication depends on understanding the factors that influence public perceptions of science, so that those doing the communicating—such as the research community, health professionals, or governmental agencies—can advance greater public understanding of the science or motivate the actions of individuals, groups, or society.

Emotions evoked by the word "science"

In 2018, ScienceCounts asked a representative group of 2,021 Americans "Of the following words, which one most clearly describes how you feel when you hear the word 'science'?"

This is what people said …

Hope - 63%

Fear- 9%

Joy- 6%

Boredom-3%

Caution-0%

Other-18%

Source: ScienceCounts, Get the data

The feeling of “hope” held across different demographics, regardless of political ideology. It’s a feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain outcome.

These feelings can be utilized by science communicators (1). How?

Science is a utility; it takes on meaning to the public once it is connected to issues that they care about. For example, segments of the public that are dismissive of scientific evidence surrounding science issues actually become more supportive of that evidence when the policy—a set of recommendations for future action—aligns with their existing worldview.

Connecting science to relevant societal values and beliefs is a key part of effective science communication. Leaders of the scientific community have called on scientists to develop closer ties to different public audiences. Decades of communication research inform how different stakeholders frame their messaging to align with different audiences.

Hope is associated with a future reward, what psychologists refer to as a “payoff-minded” orientation (1)

How do scientists see science? In a way different to those of others!

When scientists from 27 different scientific societies as well as faculty and research staff at 62 public and private research universities were asked the same question, this is what their response was:

Hope -36%

Fear-0%

Joy-40%

Boredom-1%

Curiosity and Interest-11%

Evidence, Knowledge, Truth-3%

Discovery and Wonder-2%

Other-7%

Source: ScienceCounts, Get the data

So scientists get ‘joy’ out of science!

Joy suggests a “process-minded orientation” (1). Because most scientists enjoy the work that they do.

How can we use these differences in perception to bridge the gap?

This gap between how scientists and nonscientists think and feel about science might have interesting implications for how one group communicates with the other about science.

Unpacking the different meanings of hope among both scientists and nonscientists is an important first step toward a unified vision for communicating the promise of science (2). What do people hope for within the context of science, and within what time frame? Understanding these different views of hope—and where common ground exists—is crucial for science to serve as a means to our collective well-being.

Now please let us know what the word science ‘means to you’.

Footnotes

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