Why Science Communication Needs the Humanities

Reflecting on the May 2012 National Academy of Science’s Sackler Colloquium, entitled “The Science of Science Communication,” Assistant Professor of Writing Michael Svoboda argues in a post for the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media that the humanities have an important role to play in communicating climate science. This role, which Svoboda emphasizes is largely unrecognized as of yet in scientific communities, draws on thousands of years of rhetorical, cultural, and political theory and historical knowledge in the humanities to effectively analyze and correct current barriers to communicating climate science.

For example, Svoboda emphasizes that simply trying to inform particular audiences about the data on climate change may not work, as “speaking to inform requires that speakers and audiences share an established social and cognitive framework: an audience must believe in the expertise the speaker claims to possess or represent.” One possible explanation for public skepticism regarding climate change, Svoboda points out, may have to do with the lack of this shared framework. Similarly, following Aristotle, Svoboda claims that “knowing is the outcome not of the passive reception of a message but of the rigorous discussion of a question or problem,” and, as a result, “science is communicated most effectively in the context of political deliberation.” Such political deliberation, however, is best theorized and constructed by political philosophers rather than by scientists.

Read the full post here.

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