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2 posts from June 2009

June 12, 2009

Changes in science communications - recommendations to better engage the public

NaturecoverJune11 In the summer of 2008, SCN supported a workshop in Washington DC that brought a number of science, media and policy experts together to discuss what implications the rapidly changing media landscape has to the public's access and trust in science journalism.

A paper, "Science Communication Reconsidered", resulting from this workshop was published in the June 11 issue of Nature Biotechnology. Already there has been some discussion of the paper's recommendations in blogs by Matthew Nisbet (one of the authors) and in Knight Science Journalism Tracker, which includes a comment by another author, Stephen Strauss.

A summary of the eight recommendations in the article are excerpted below from the American University media release:

1. Scientists and science organizations should pursue a trust- and dialogue-based relationship with the public. More forums, conferences, and other public dialog initiatives should be held. The goal is not to persuade or to sell the public on the importance of science, but to "democratize" public input about scientific issues so that members of the public can meaningfully participate in science-related decision making.

2. Scientists and science organizations need to recognize the importance of framing science-related issues. Science communication efforts need to be based on careful audience research. In this regard, different frames of reference should be identified and tested that better communicate the nature and relevance of scientific issues across a diversity of audiences. This research on framing can be used to structure dialogue and to move public discourse beyond polarized arguments and entrenched positions.

3. Graduate students at science institutions should be taught the social and political contexts of science and how to communicate with the media and numerous publics. Graduate students are the future spokespeople and decision makers and need to understand the significance of research in the field of science communication. These programs should include specialized electives for doctoral students but also new interdisciplinary degree programs that combine scientific training with course work in communication, ethics, and policy.

4. Factors that facilitate media hype and errors should be recognized and addressed. Researchers should resist the temptation to describe their studies using hyperbolic metaphors and terminology, such as "ground breaking," and remain true to the significance of a study. Research funding and methodological details need to be included in media coverage so that the public may better assess credibility. Short term gains in media credibility should not be valued over longer term relationship building with journalists, decision-makers, and the public.

5. Science communication initiatives should investigate new forms of digital media and film, moving beyond traditional popular science outlets such as the science beat at newspapers, science magazines, and TV programs such as PBS NOVA. This includes finding ways online to create opportunities for incidental exposure among key audiences not actively seeking news, information, and science-related content

6. Scientific organizations need to track science-related media coverage (whether news, entertainment, etc.) to be aware of the numerous cultural contexts through which the public interprets science. National newscasts, talk radio, blockbuster films, entertainment TV, and late night comedy provide broader audiences with alternative messages about science topics and can be important outlets for science communication.

7. Journalism schools and news organizations should develop a science policy beat to address the gap between journalists covering science and those covering politics. Developing such a beat and training journalists to understand both science and policy would provide important background for science policy debates.

8. New models of journalism--whether foundation, university, or government supported--are needed. The for-profit journalism business model is failing and specialty journalists, such as science journalists, are losing their jobs. In addition, new media formats offer another avenue for public participation, as user generated content can enhance professionally produced content.

June 05, 2009

Muscle repair enhanced by stem cells: new research

Rudnicki In a Cell Stem Cell paper released today, my team at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute demonstrated how the Wnt7a protein,signaling through the planar cell polarity pathway, controls the homeostatic levels of stem cells in muscle tissue, generating close to a 20% increase in the size of the tissue. In lay terms, this means we were able to show that by increasing the numbers of stem cells in muscle tissue, we can improve the muscle’s ability to grow and repair itself. What are the implications of this finding?

First, this is important because we now have a defined signaling pathway in muscle stem cells – we can control, to a certain extent, the numbers of cells that they produce. We can look at how the delivery of this signaling protein can be used in the development of therapies for diseases such as muscular dystrophy, sarcopenia and other muscle wasting disorders.

Second, though it is not yet certain how this signaling will apply to other types of stem cells, we can now develop targeted drug screens to test the pathway, leading to possible drug treatments for any number of diseases. The identification of a pharmacopeia of drugs that could be used to target stem cells in very specific ways could have huge impact for many patients around the globe. 

Read the SCN media release.