Evidence-Based Science Communication with Policymakers

Communication scholars have responded to the increasing politicization of important science topics admirably, tackling the study of "the science of science communication" with great energy and rigor. Yet, despite this, few have systematically studied the practice of science communication aimed at policymakers specifically. To increase the likelihood that quality scientific findings and advice make their way into the policymaking process, should science communicators proceed as they would with a general audience when communicating to policymakers, or are there important additions and/or caveats to the science communicator toolkit?

In collaboration with Emily Cloyd & Erin Heath at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Erin Nash at Durham University (UK), I seek to develop a set of recommended practices for scientists and others communicating science to policymakers. The research will proceed in four stages: We will begin by assessing what is already known about this topic with a literature review, proceed to an original survey of science communicators, conduct case studies to better understand the complicated web of information on which policymakers currently draw, and, finally, conduct in-person interviews with policymakers and their staff to gain insight into their perspective on science communicator-policymaker interactions.

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The Politics of Genetic Explanations for Social Inequality

I am in the midst of a new empirical project, funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, that seeks to understand how Americans explain social inequality, and how these explanations are connected to their political opinions. My main interest is in the belief that socioeconomic inequality is innate and immutable; however, I also explore other common explanations for difference, including culture, discrimination, education inequity, and individual choice (or "free will"). 

The project has two major phases. The first phase is a large representative survey (N=2,000, carried out in Fall 2016 as a part of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study) that asks Americans to offer their explanations for both objective differences (income inequality; different rates of incarceration) as well as perceived differences (intelligence, drive to succeed) between individuals and groups. With these data, I hope to understand how these beliefs are connected to political views (for example, are conservatives more or less likely to draw on biological explanations for inequality than liberals?) as well as examine whether individuals who are members of societally dominant groups are more likely than others to employ explanations for inequality that blame individuals for inequality, relieve society of responsibility for solving inequality, and/or render inequality permanent. The second phase of the project consists of two experiments that aim to get at why certain explanations for inequality are linked to political attitudes and dominant group status. Do people first develop general factual beliefs about who is responsible for inequality and then form their political attitudes in accordance, or is the link between explanations and attitudes the result of elite cues or "backwards" motivated reasoning? If motivated reasoning occurs, what is the motivation--ideology, social identity, or self-interest?

 

This project will eventually be a book manuscript, tentatively titled How Americans Explain Inequality, and Why It Matters.

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