Bringing the "Social" into SciComm
What is Social SciComm and what does it tell us?
First things first, readers — congratulations on making it another month through a pandemic that has gone on for almost two years. Are you making time for yourself and your mental health? If not, get to it — self-care is so important right now. Whether that means working less, spending more time with family and friends, or simply making time for walks, yoga, or just a cup of tea, make sure to schedule “me time” in our continued COVID times.
Now that we’ve gotten that part out of the way — this week, for the Fancy Comma, LLC newsletter, Kelly Tabbutt writes about the intersection of SciComm and society — what she calls “Social SciComm.” Kelly, who is working on her PhD in sociology, has a lot of unique insights into this aspect of SciComm.
Curious about Social SciComm and ways it can inform your science communication endeavors? Keep reading!
Why do we need social science discussions in SciComm?
We live in a world that is increasingly dependent on scientific research and advancements and scientific explanations of the most pressing issues. Today, more than ever before, being informed means having basic science literacy and staying up to date on the most recent scientific evidence and debates. Thus, SciComm, as a field designed to increase science literacy and make complex scientific information available to the broad public, is an indispensable tool.
This holds true across fields, whether that be natural, medical, or social sciences. However, Social SciComm is a far less visible field. Read on to learn more about what SciComm means in the context of social science and why we need social science discussion in SciComm.
Science Communication (SciComm) is a field of communication focused on making scientific information available to a broad audience. “Making available” means not only sharing the information but making it accessible. It also means breaking down complex topics and rephrasing jargon to make it comprehensible to a non-science-trained audience. SciComm traditionally refers to information related to the “hard” sciences of Physics, Biology, Chemistry, or Medical Sciences.
Science explains our experiences in the world. It is also an important basis of public policy and explanations of key issues facing our world. SciComm plays a vital role in making the average citizen informed about the issues so they can make informed decisions about these issues.
Social Science Communication (Social SciComm or Soc SciComm)
Given the definition of SciComm, Social SciComm would then be a field of communication doing the same work but focusing on topics related to social and behavioral sciences such as Sociology, Criminology, Anthropology, Political Science, or Psychology. Social – or “soft” – and physical – or “hard” – sciences are both referred to as sciences for a reason. They both follow methods of research that rely on previous accepted research, empirical data, testable (verifiable) and validated methods, and peer-reviewed conclusions.
Social SciComm topics include attitudes, choices, beliefs, actions, and opinions and the influence of environment, experiences, perceptions, and social constraints. They focus on specific behaviors like crime rates, voting, educational attainment, or employment.
The Value of Social SciComm
Social science is the science of human behavior – individuals, groups, in different contexts, institutions, and societies. In this way, social science is relevant to everyone. Further, many social science topics are vital to being an informed citizen and understanding the basis of much public policy. Understanding social science not only sheds light on our own behavior and experiences, but it also gives us crucial insight into our society and the way it shapes who we are and vice versa.
Altogether, social science has a unique role to play in teaching individuals to think critically about themselves and the world around them. Through Social SciComm, these key skills are brought to the broad public.
Social SciComm Best Practices
The main differences between these sciences, besides their subject matter and specific methods, is the level of certainty obtainable. Social sciences, because they are focused on human behavior, cannot isolate every possible influence on behavior. Thus, social sciences can provide highly likely predictions but can never provide absolute answers. Thus, a key aspect that is unique to Social Science Communication is the exceptional role of relaying (un)certainty and explaining the role this plays in determining the validity of conclusions.
Both SciComm and Social SciComm must abide by the standards of practice of the fields they are representing. The main uniqueness for Social SciComm rests in the increased importance of explaining why and where there is room for error and unmeasured or unmeasurable influences.
Science literacy is increasing in importance rapidly. This literacy is not restricted to the “hard” sciences like physics, but also includes the “soft” sciences like sociology. SciComm, which includes Social SciComm, plays a key role in increasing science literacy among the broad public and keeping the average citizen informed on the topics that are most pressing in their lives. SciComm plays the vital role of digesting and translating complex scientific data, methods, and findings so they are broadly comprehensible.
Whether the topic is environmental sustainability, the pandemic, political behavior, or immigration, SciComm (whether SciComm as we may normally think of it, or Social SciComm) informs people so they can make informed decisions. Informed decisions are always better decisions.
That’s a wrap for this week’s post. What do you think about the role SciComm can play in better understanding society? Comment below or feel free to tweet us @FancyComma.
Tidbits from around the web:
We’ve been talking a lot about SciComm on the Fancy Comma blog. PhD student Briley Lewis wrote about SciComm zines, and environmental journalist Keegan Sentner wrote about science storytelling.
If slogging through the pandemic has got you down, check out this article on pandemic dog adoptions for cute pet photos.
Intracranial brain recording is known as the gold standard for measuring brain activity — but it does come with some ethical issues, as this Nature article writes.
Government social media management can be fun — just ask Megan Coyne, who runs the state of New Jersey’s social media. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned from government social media management that can be applied to SciComm.