Science Communication Program

About the Program

The Science Communication Program (SCP) in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications supports research and innovation that advance our understanding and implementation of effective communication related to science issues. The goals of the SCP reflect the aspiration that scientific advancements achieve broader positive social impacts, an aspiration that is manifesting itself across Penn State, academia, research organizations, government, and society.

For many issues, this begins with improved public understanding and acceptance of science. Communications research is uniquely positioned to provide insight as to how this can be achieved in different social contexts, for different issues, with different information sources, and different audiences with fundamentally different worldviews and values. It is within this complex environment of competing truth-claims, interpretations and (mis)understandings that public policy preferences emerge and individual behavioral decisions are made.

The science of science communication research agenda seeks to unpack and understand how all these individual and cultural dimensions interact, with the goal of describing and predicting how different approaches to communicating science issues will impact society.

A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences (National Academy of Sciences, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Committee on the Science of Science Communication, 2016, p. 8) summarizes the challenge this way:
Communicating about science effectively with public audiences, however, turns out to be more difficult than it might at first appear. People communicate about science for diverse reasons, there is no single audience for scientific information, and the societal contexts surrounding different scientific issues can vary considerably…Fortunately, a growing body of scientific evidence can help inform the most effective ways of communicating with the public under different circumstances, and an increasing number of organizations are working to help scientists acquire the necessary communication skills.

The agenda called for in the NAS report begins with research, and this research requires collaboration between bio-physical and social scientists. This is why supporting multi-disciplinary research and collaboration is a top priority for the SCP.

The SCP supports these collaborations with seed funding and administrative support. Resources can be used for participant recruitment/compensation, research and conference travel, invited speakers and panels, materials, and other research expenses.