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The importance of research on science advocacy

01/03/2017

The relationship between science, scientists and advocacy has been the focus of researchers and science communicators since a very long time. Nevertheless, the debate on whether should scientists take an active and public role in advocating for the importance and social implications of their research is more actual than ever. With governments in several countries shrinking budget for research funding - as recently announced by the US government - or climate change issues being openly denied by politicians and other public figures, it is important not to forget the vast amount of research that is already available on the topic of advocacy in science.

A newly published article by Environmental Communication, “Does Engagement in Advocacy Hurt the Credibility of Scientists? Results from a Randomized National Survey Experiment”, by John E. Kotcher, Teresa A. Myers, Emily K. Vraga, Neil Stenhouse and Edward W. Maibach, presents the outcomes of a “randomized controlled experiment to test public reactions to six different advocacy statements made by a scientist—ranging from a purely informational statement to an endorsement of specific policies”. The authors suggest that “(…) climate scientists who wish to engage in certain forms of advocacy have considerable latitude to do so without risking harm to their credibility, or the credibility of the scientific community.”

Often also called “scientific responsibility”, “responsible innovation” or “open science” (mostly in Europe), the effects of scientists engaging in political advocacy and public debates have been discussed in several articles published by JCOM in recent years. The latest contribution was made available online just a few weeks ago: the letter “Should the science communication community play a role in political activism?”, by Joseph Roche and Nicola Davis. The collection of contributions on “The blurred boundaries between science and activism”, coordinated by Andrea Bandelli, offers five reflections on why and how scientists take active roles in the debate on science and society.

The comment “Science communication and Responsible Research and Innovation. How can they complement each other?”, by Victor Scholten et al., draws on a dataset of 196 research projects and, by observing the two research streams of Science Communication and Responsible Research and Innovation, it provides suggestions for practitioners and scientists.

Open Media Science”, by Kristian Martiny, David Budtz Pedersen and Alfred Birkegaard, offers an overview of challenges faced by the Open Science (OS) movement, addressing two cases where experiments with open media have driven new collaborations between scientists and documentarists.

The article “Public science communication in Africa: views and practices of academics at the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe”, by Heather Ndlovu, Marina Joubert and Nelius Boshoff, explores the lack of engagement with the public, policy makers and popular media by academics at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Zimbabwe.