Day 212. We need a cunning plan

In March 2013 on March 12, 2013 at 11:05 pm



“If only you knew what I knew, then you’d love it too.”

This phrase is my friend Heather‘s quick-and-dirty verbal summary of an approach for communicating science to non-scientists: it’s called The Deficit Model.

To explain a little further, The Deficit Model assumes that there is a core body of knowledge that scientists know, and the general public does not know. It assumes that if you find a scientist who can communicate her or his knowledge, and the general public is listening, then the knowledge will be transferred. Mission accomplished.

Is that all there is to it?

Do you have a big hole in your brain that is just waiting for a new bit of information to be slotted in?

To steal more words from Heather (this time from her blog): Are you just the same as me, only minus ‘the sciencey bit’?

Well no. Of course not. And this is where The Deficit Model fails. Science does not make sense unless it has some sort of personal connection, unless it tells you a story or resonates with your experience and way of life.

The problem is, a recent audit has found that at least half of the science communication projects which are happening in Australia at the moment can be categorised as adhering to The Deficit Model.

Jenni Metcalf – who conducted the audit along with Kristin Alford, with support from Australian Science Communicators –  despairs somewhat at the finding, asking:

“Why is Australia’s science engagement stuck in 20th century modes of thinking?”

“Why is science engagement still mostly about the promotion and celebration of science rather than about getting people to participate in it and critically evaluate it?”

For Jenni, the answer lies in looking for new ways of engaging people with science.

I think we need a cunning plan. Any ideas?

To read Jenni’s article on the national audit of Australia’s science communication activities, see here.


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