SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  11 April 2013
Volume 14 Issue 4

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How Can We Communicate to Improve Our Outreach?

Thomas-Benjamin Seiler, RWTH Aachen University, Agnieszka Hunka, Roskilde University, Mattia Meli, Roskilde University, and Peter Calow, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Modern societies are increasingly worried about environmental and personal risks. Hence, the “why” regarding public and risk communication should be obvious to researchers, but the “how” question remains more or less unclear.

The session “Bridging the Gap between Risk Perception and Ecotoxicology Research―How Can We Communicate to Improve Our Outreach?” planned for the SETAC Europe 23rd Annual Meeting in Glasgow, Scotland is a follow-up to the acclaimed “Escape from the Ivory Tower―Environmental Sciences Should Impact Public and Policy,” which was held at the 6th SETAC World Congress/SETAC Europe 22nd Annual Meeting in Berlin, Germany. It will feature four presentations of very different perspectives and close with a panel discussion over two full time slots. BBC Science, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and European Commission Joint Research Centre representatives also will attend this event.

The environmental sciences have a natural link to the public and the media. They were established as a response to human impacts on environment, e.g., on reports about acid rain and its impacts on forests, and effects of chemicals in the environment. Rachel Carson's pioneering and highly influential book Silent Spring is a remarkable example of the link between environmental sciences, the media and the public. So, environmental scientists should not have to convince the media to distribute and publicize their work. Nevertheless, science and risk communication have been topics of ongoing debate and criticism for focusing mostly on “top-down” communication that has led to public disengagement.

The presenters at the session in Glasgow will address diverse aspects of science and risk communication.

Stefanie Wieck will start with a talk on the private use of disinfectants, with toilet brushes as an example. She will show that the information about biocides available for consumers is either limited or hard to understand.

Ivonne Stresius will then report on a case of experts communicating to non-scientists about highly complex information on the management of environmental risks in complex natural systems like estuaries and lagoons. She will introduce the tool SIMACLIM as a possibility for providing for a true participatory process between all stakeholders.

Agnieszka Hunka next will elaborate on the problem of public communication of different opinions in the scientific community. She will use an example of scientific disagreement regarding a study about long-term toxicity of a genetically modified maize.

Françoise Lafaye will close the presentation portion of the session and lead us into the panel discussion. She will address the necessity of intra- and interdisciplinary communication as a prerequisite for successful and sustainable public communication.

This programme shows that environmental sciences are at the heart of what people need, and affect, in their daily lives: environmental quality, safe food, clean air, fresh water. Hence, environmental sciences are crucial for sound public health. Why aren't we in their daily thoughts? How can we get there? Why should we want to?

Moderated by Peter Calow, and together with presenters and external guests from the media and regulatory authorities as a panel, we want to discuss the current and future state of science and risk communication in environmental sciences in an open forum that will encourage audience participation. The panel discussion will last over two full-time slots and thus will give plenty of room to further address the challenges of science communication to the public.

Questions we plan to address include:

  • How could we increase interdisciplinary communication and collaboration to better understand the public impact of our research?
  • How can we make non-experts real partners in science and risk communication?
  • How can we communicate uncertainty without losing credibility?
  • Which principles of communication do scientists have to know to successfully convey their message?
  • Is there a place for scientists in science journalism?

We invite scientists from all over the world to share ideas, thoughts and experiences regarding the communication of risk and scientific findings.

Looking forward to seeing and discussing with you in Glasgow!

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