Public understanding of science and technology


On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced the name of a new disease, COVID-19. As the virus that causes the disease spread across the globe, the world went into crisis mode. The various actors of the COVID-19 crisis include, in part, politicians, scientists, health experts, citizens, journalists, front line workers, first responders, organizations, and so on. Their voices and their related communicative processes play out in the rhetorical arena that emerges from the crisis. Crisis memes are a particularly intriguing and salient part of the COVID-19 public discourse. Combining the theoretical implications of rhetorical arena theory (RAT) with multimodality and its close ties to social semiotics, this paper will analyze the unique nature of memes created during the cycle of a crisis.


Based on recent accounts of the sociology of expertise, we analyse the public contestation and expansion of expertise in the context of COVID-19. During the epidemic, the expertise of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), became increasingly contested. By exploring Twitter discussions concerning the actions of THL during the first months of the epidemic from January to mid-June 2020, we analyse the main motivations and arguments in this public contestation as well as the alternative forms of expertise proposed by the critics. We focus particularly on two forms of criticism arguing for what we call networked expertise: liberal crowdsourcing supporters and data-solutionists presenting alternative epidemiological models.


This study explores the effects of food science perception on food decisions in the controversial case of genetically modified (GM) foods. We examine (1) how scientific consensus and scientific deference affect the public perception of GM foods; and (2) how perception and healthy eating interest influence people's actual food consumption decisions. We categorized our samples into four groups based on different risk/benefit perceptions of GM food: tradeoff, relaxed, skeptical, and uninterested in the process of further data analysis.


Public acceptance of vaccination and Genetically Modified (GM) food is low and opposition is stiff. During two science festivals in France, we discussed in small groups the scientific evidence and current consensus on the benefits of vaccination and GM food safety. Our interventions reinforced people's positive opinions on vaccination and produced a drastic positive shift of GM food opinions. Despite the controversial nature of the topics discussed, there were very few cases of backfire effects among the 175 participants who volunteered. These results should encourage scientists to engage more often with the public during science festivals, even on heated topics.


The goal of Science Cafés and Science on Taps is to encourage open discourse between scientists and the public in a casual setting (e.g., a bar) in order to improve the public understanding of, and trust in, science. These events have existed for over two decades, but there is no research studying their efficacy. Data presented here demonstrate that a yearlong Science on Tap series induced little change among the attendees with respect to attitudes, emotions, and knowledge about the nature of science. Ultimately, we found this event may be preaching to the choir rather than changing hearts and minds.


In this article, we follow up on food scientists' findings that people judge new food technologies and related products (un)favourably immediately after just hearing the name of the technology. From the reactions, it appears that people use their attitudes to technologies they know to evaluate new technologies. Using categorization theory, in this study we have found that, by triggering associations with a familiar technology, a name of the new technology can be enough to determine emerging attitudes. Comparison between the technology used for categorization and another familiar technology had a slight influence on the attitude formation process.


In recent times we have allegedly witnessed a “post-truth” turn in society. Nonetheless, surveys show that science holds a relatively strong position among lay publics, and case studies suggest that science is part of their online discussions about environmental issues on social media — an important, yet strikingly under-researched, debate forum. Guided by social representation theory, this study aims to contribute knowledge about the role of science in everyday representations of livestock production on social media. The analysis identifies two central themata, namely lay publics' contestations of (1) facts and non-facts, and (2) factual and non-factual sources.


Public confidence in research is important for scientific results to achieve societal impact. Swedish surveys suggest consistent but differing levels of confidence in different research areas. Thus, certain research-related factors can be assumed to have a decisive influence on confidence levels. This focus-group study explores the role of different narratives in shaping public confidence in research. Findings include four themes with potential to increase or decrease public confidence: Person, Process, Product and Presentation. The results offer insights as to how public confidence in research is formed and may give researchers agency in promoting confidence through their communication activities.


In this study, we suggest to amending the cognitive mediation model of learning from the news to explain the impact of news coverage on climate change on the recipients' acquisition of knowledge about the consequences of climate change. To test our theoretical assumptions, we combine a content analysis of 29 news media channels with a two-wave panel survey before and after the release of the 5th IPCC report. Results show that the amount of information on the consequences of climate change used in print media and prior knowledge are the strongest predictors of the knowledge in the second panel wave.


Meaningful science engagement beyond one-way outreach is needed to encourage science-based decision making. This pilot study aimed to instigate dialogue and deliberation concerning climate change and public health. Feedback from science café participants was used to design a panel-based museum exhibit that asked visitors to make action plans concerning such issues. Using intercept interviews and visitor comment card data, we found that visitors developed general or highly individualistic action plans to address these issues. Results suggest that employing participatory design methods when developing controversial socio-scientific exhibits can aid engagement. We conclude by recommending participatory strategies for implementing two-way science communication.


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