Public Engagement and Science Communication
Available Public Engagement and Science Communication research projects:
Contact: Liesbeth de Bakker (email@example.com)
A research project focusing on higher education in the field of science communication around the issue of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion with audiences
In recent years ‘Equity’, which is closely related to social inclusion and an openness towards true engagement with diverse and new publics, has become a very important issue in society. Inclusion and diversity have become words of importance, not only at Utrecht University, but also in science centres / museums and other informal science education settings worldwide, and on the work floor. One of the relatively new and very active working groups in the field of informal science education is Equity@Ecsite (Ecsite being the network of European Science Centres and Science Museums).
The problem of exclusion / social inequality has been around for a long time. It has always been part and parcel of our current day society. Over the past decade more and more people came to realise that it is mainly the ‘haves’ that participate and make use of the facilities offered, rather than the ‘have-nots’ who would arguably be those who stand most to benefit from such experiences, in the field of science communication for instance from a museum visit.
Inequality is present in society in many different forms and ways. For instance, it’s attached to gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, physical ability, religion, and there are more aspects to name. Science and science communication are certainly also affected by it. In recent years equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) have received increasing attention in both science communication practice and research (Judd & McKinnon). In a similar vein EDI has become the Trend to focus on in the UU MSEC course Trends in Science Communication.
This course was set up in 2019 and consists of two main assignments: a ‘reducing gender bias in popular science texts’ assignment and a ‘more equity in everyday science learning’ assignment. The overall goals of the course are to make students more aware of the issue of EDI in science (communication), to motivate them to do something about it and to provide them with tools and skills to become more inclusive science communication practitioners (in the future).
In this research project I want to study how best to achieve those aims through science communication EDI education with my students. To make it a manageable research project (EDI is such a broad issue) I will focus on the ‘reducing gender bias in popular science writing assignment’.
The EDI related issue of gender bias has its base in the fact that men and women are regularly treated as unequal in society. In the natural sciences is it perhaps even more clear than elsewhere, in that it comprises quite a few disciplines that are regarded as masculine (Ikkatai et al., 2020; Kalender et al., 2019). Stereotypes – a scientist is a white man in a lab coat – play an important role in how people perceive their own lives and environment. And while stereotypes can be very helpful in quickly making sense of the world around you or of a particular situation, stereotypes can also severely hamper people in becoming the person they want to be. Just think of the little girl who wants to become a rocket scientist, but who grows up in an environment where her family and friends think that she’d much better become a nurse, a teacher or a house wife.
So in the course and in the gender bias assignment, students have to go through a complex learning process involving several phases: an awareness phase, a motivation phase, an application phase, and an evaluation / reflection phase. Each of those steps can be studied in detail, as well as a further deepening of understanding what gender bias in popular science texts actually means and involves (a deepening of the MSc literature thesis of Maartje Staal), and how best to deal with it or reduce it. In addition the Equity and Access framework for everyday science learning developed by Emily Dawson (2019) can be used as a relevant framework for analysis.
So, depending on interest in either the education aspects, the gender bias aspects, or the inclusive writing aspects of this research project, students can set up their own research question(s). An approach suitable for the issue under investigation will be selected, as well as relevant research methods.
Interested? Please contact Liesbeth de Bakker (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
Dawson, E. (2019). Equity, exclusion and everyday science learning. The experiences of minoritized groups. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY – Routledge.
Ikkatai et al. (2020). Masculine public image of six scientific fields in Japan: physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, information science, mathematics and biology. Journal of Science Communication, https://doi.org/10.22323/2.19060202
Judd K and McKinnon M (2021) A Systematic Map of Inclusion, Equity and Diversity in Science Communication Research: Do We Practice what We Preach? Front. Commun. 6:744365 doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2021.744365
Kalender, Z. Y., Marshman, E., Schunn, C. D., Nokes-Malach, T. J., & Singh, C. (2019). Why female science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors do not identify with physics: They do not think others see them that way. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 15(2), 020148. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.15.020148
Staal, M. (2019) Reducing Gender Bias in Popular Science Writing, master thesis UU.
Project supervisor: Liz Jenniskens / Albert Jan van Hoek
This research project is focused on understanding and eventually improving or optimizing the communication of a surveillance/citizen science project at the RIVM. Infectieradar is an online platform (since March 2020 – in connection to the covid pandemic) with over 10.000 subscribers who answer weekly questionnaires about their symptoms of acute infections to show a sudden increase of symptoms in the population and understand the affected age and risk-groups. The ambition of the platform is to be active for multiple years, continuously attract more participants, and to keep those who participate. To optimize our website we would like to develop an evidence based approach in our communication, where based on an understanding of our (possible) participants our communication (results on a data dashboard/information) is adapted and its effects tested.
The student is expected to develop an approach to survey (possible) participants regarding their experience with the platform and the extent to which it helps expand science literacy and based on these results formulate a series of recommendations regarding the communication. If possible these adaptations in communication could be tested regarding an improved understanding or user experience by participants.
Besides the above, a project could be developed on retaining participants and keep them participating due to implementation of feedback loops or gamification of the study.
Beside this internship there is also a product development task linked to Infectieradar, and therefore a joint project could be defined.
The KlimaatHelpdesk is a unique and accessible communications platform that connects the general public with scientists and experts, run by a volunteer group and meant to become the go-to place for people with climate-related questions. These may cover the whole range of academic disciplines and range from physics, economy, geography, psychology, history, biology, etc. As such, it highlights the need for a multi- and interdisciplinary approach to address climate change. The questions are answered by a network of active experts who write evidence-based responses in an accessible language and each answer will be reviewed by at least one other expert.
The aim of the KlimaatHelpdesk is to provide an easily accessible source of reliable and evidence-based information, as well as insight into how science works. This is of crucial importance in a time in which the validity of available information is difficult to check for non-specialists and sometimes deliberately undermined [Howe et al 2019, Petersen et al 2019].
The general public submits the questions, drawn to the KlimaatHelpdesk via social media (twitter, Instagram), national media (e.g. NOS.nl) and partnerships with klimaatakkoord.nl and Teachers4Climate. The platform stores the exchange of questions and answers, thereby becoming a source of easily accessible and reliable information. This procedure improves the quality of information and demonstrates to a broad audience how research works.
Since the official launch of the KlimaatHelpdesk in November 2020, it has assembled a database of 200 enthusiastic experts ready to answer questions, published more than 100 questions and answers on the website and attracted more than 10,000 visitors.
By lowering the threshold of engagement for a variety of leading experts, through providing access to a well-developed platform and broad audience, the platform motivates high level public scientific communication. The KlimaatHelpdesk is run by approximately 40 (UU) volunteers, with two part-time student-assistants to coordinate them. While all tiers in academia are represented in the team, most are (MSc) students or PhD candidates.
However, it is unclear how effective the method and vision of the KlimaatHelpdesk is [Corbett 2021]. Which target groups are reached with the KH (are people that ask the questions the same as those that are using the website as a source for reliable information) and what are they using the information for? What are key factors that can be used to predict whether a question (as well as an answer) is effective?
In this project, you will work together with the KlimaatHelpdesk team to measure and assess the effectiveness of the platform.
Corbett JB (2021) Communicating the Climate Crisis: New Directions for Facing What Lies Ahead (Lexington Books)
Howe LC, B MacInnis, JA Krosnick, EM Markowitz and R Socolow (2019) Acknowledging uncertainty impacts public acceptance of climate scientists’ predictions. Nature Climate Change, 9, 863–7
Petersen AM, EM Vincent and AL Westerling (2019) Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians. Nature Communications, 10, 3502
Project supervisor: Mark Bos (email@example.com)
Whether we are talking about The Vitruvian Man by Da Vinci dated from 1490, the iconic picture of Albert Einstein dated from 1951, or about more recent visualizations of, for example, the Corona virus; the use of visuals in communication of science is very common, yet under studied.
Whether you are interested to learn more about how these visuals come about, or what type of visuals are present in what type of media, or what the effect is of using visuals in science communication, we should talk!
Together with Alice Veldkamp and two students, we have researched how artists design visuals for complex biological process; resulting in insights into experiential knowledge and potential guidelines for future designs (and testing of these guidelines). Together with Aike Vonk, we are interested in the visuals used by scientists (in press releases for example) vs journalists (in news articles for example) to communicate about climate change and ocean plastics (e.g., how do visual frames compare to textual frames) and the effects thereof (e.g., how do people interpret what they see and what are the effects of potential incongruence between text and visual). And other projects are possible (e.g., the use of pictograms to enhance treatment adherence).
Moving from Gestalt, Semiotic and Rhetoric theory, we want to continue our investigation of the design, use and effect of visuals in science communication. Based on work of people like Alberto Cairo and Jos van den Broek, and with your help, we plan to contribute to both theoretical and societal insights and practices in visual science communication.
Interested? Please contact me, Mark Bos (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Visual Language – Jos van den Broek, Willem Koetsenruijter, Jaap de Jong, Laetitia Smit
Praktijkgids infographics ontwerpen – Jos van den Broek
Cairo, A. (2019). How charts lie: Getting smarter about visual information. WW Norton & Company.
Cairo, A. (2012). The Functional Art: An introduction to information graphics and visualization. New Riders.
van Beusekom, M. M., Kerkhoven, A. H., Bos, M. J., Guchelaar, H. J., & van den Broek, J. M. (2018). The extent and effects of patient involvement in pictogram design for written drug information: a short systematic review. Drug Discovery Today, 23(6), 1312-1318.
van Beusekom, M. M., Grootens-Wiegers, P., Bos, M. J., Guchelaar, H. J., & van den Broek, J. M. (2016). Low literacy and written drug information: information-seeking, leaflet evaluation and preferences, and roles for images. International journal of clinical pharmacy, 38(6), 1372-1379.
Van Beusekom, M., Bos, M., Wolterbeek, R., Guchelaar, H. J., & van den Broek, J. (2015). Patients’ preferences for visuals: Differences in the preferred level of detail, type of background and type of frame of icons depicting organs between literate and low-literate people. Patient education and counseling, 98(2), 226-233.
Many more from Science Communication or Public Understanding of Science – be sure to contact me for more information and materials