Evidence-based Science Communication in the Covid-19 Era

For science communication to be effective and inclusive, we need to understand and apply what works and why. Decades of social and behavioural science research provides us with a breadth of relevant evidence, alongside decades of lessons learned from experimenting with certain approaches in practice.

The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 was a drastic reminder about the importance of science communication. Policy-makers and researchers, communication practitioners and affected citizens have seen that measures to contain the spread of the virus will only be socially accepted if the communication between such stakeholders is effective. Weighing economic interests against public health concerns, and safety issues against data privacy concerns, has required regulatory trade-offs under conditions that have been described as ‘post normal science’. That is, the situation has called for urgent decisions with values in dispute while the stakes are high and facts uncertain.

These reflections are deeply embedded in the bigger picture of discussing the overall goals and taken-for-granted practices of science communication. In particular, the pandemic has provided a stark reminder of how important it is for science communication to more effectively put public interests at the heart of how scientific knowledge is produced, shared, and applied.

Initiatives such as the “Science of Science Communication” (SOSC, https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23674/communicating-science-effectively-a-research-agenda) and “Evidence-based Science Communication” (EBSC, https://doi.org/10.3389/fcomm.2019.00078) aim to combine professional experience from practice with the best available evidence from systematic social research, suggesting ways to address research/practice disconnects. Submissions will be expected to explicitly engage with specific aspects of the arguments/findings presented in SOSC and/or EBSC publications (with quotations/citations for particular aspects).

This Research Topic will address questions associated with the development and application of SOSC and EBSC in two consecutive Research Topics. This first Research Topic provides a space for theoretical, conceptual and methodological challenges and solutions to be discussed. A second Research Topic, coming soon, will gather together case studies and synthesis reviews of SOSC and EBSC in action. Contributions to the first series of articles (the ‘Debate’) are particularly welcome on the following topics:

  • General conceptual aspects of effective knowledge exchange between research and practice
  • How issues of social inclusion (broadly defined, including dimensions such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality, social class and intersectionality) can be addressed more effectively with SOSC/EBSC
  • How and why to effectively integrate theoretical or empirical evidence into practice
  • How science communication research can effectively address evidence needs that are being encountered in practice, including reviews or commentaries highlighting research gaps from a communication practice point of view
  • Ways of determining the practical relevance of different types of science communication evidence and advice, including the role of issues such as methodological rigor and generalizability
  • Systemic barriers to SOSC/EBSC such as closed access publishing and institutional competition criteria for career promotion
  • Models for co-creating evidence between science communication research and practice, such as funding schemes incentivising collaborative research
  • How evidence can be used to determine and compare the effectiveness of different activities in practice
  • How evidence can be used to reflect on, critically assess and compare established and potential communication goals
  • Arguments for / against integration of SOSC/EBSC within research funding programs, especially including those primarily aimed at natural, physical, engineering or medical sciences
  • Ways for research funding organisations to specify the communication goals for funded research projects and/or institutional funding, including monitoring of the compliance with these prescriptions
  • Arguments for / against (and ways to implement) research-funding organisations to determine and/or specify the communication competency among applicants, for instance by means of accreditation / certification
  • Reflection on a potential lack of methodological expertise in science communication to design robust social research, and the related implications
  • Opportunities and challenges for teaching and training of science communication, including the role of social science methods in curricula and the nature and extent to which evidence comprises the content of science communication curricula (as compared to anecdotal advice).

The accepted abstracts will be shared among the authors of the special issue to encourage cross-references and collaboration.

Learning from best practice: Contributions from science communication practitioners are particularly encouraged. We would highlight the submission option of ‘Perspective’ articles, which can be short (e.g. 500-700 words) and do not require academic citations.

Submission Deadlines:

Abstracts until 10 October 2020;

invited manuscripts until 22 February 2021