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Ethics and Practice in Science Communication

From climate to vaccination, stem-cell research to evolution, scientific work is often the subject of public controversies in which scientists and science communicators find themselves enmeshed. Especially with such hot-button topics, science communication plays vital roles. Gathering together the work of a multidisciplinary, international collection of scholars, the editors of Ethics and Practice in Science Communication present an enlightening dialogue involving these communities, one that articulates the often differing objectives and ethical responsibilities communicators face in bringing a range of scientific knowledge to the wider world.

In three sections—how ethics matters, professional practice, and case studies—contributors to this volume explore the many complex questions surrounding the communication of scientific results to nonscientists. Has the science been shared clearly and accurately? Have questions of risk, uncertainty, and appropriate representation been adequately addressed? And, most fundamentally, what is the purpose of communicating science to the public: Is it to inform and empower? Or to persuade—to influence behavior and policy? By inspiring scientists and science communicators alike to think more deeply about their work, this book reaffirms that the integrity of the communication of science is vital to a healthy relationship between science and society today.

336 pages | 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Philosophy: Ethics

Philosophy of Science

Sociology: Theory and Sociology of Knowledge


“Ethical dimensions of science communication compose an arena vastly underserved by the extant literature. This book does a convincing job of demonstrating that ethical judgments—whether intentional or not—saturate the construction of science messages and then offers a thoughtful and readable portal into the topic. It’s about time.”

Sharon Dunwoody, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“This book richly reminds us that every act of communication requires ethical consideration—and science communication is no exception. The authors draw out ethical principles addressing the obligations owed to readers, sources, and subjects of science communication. Detailed case studies show these principles at work in stories ranging from love drugs to genetic testing and biotechnology, to media coverage of the recovery of an Incan virgin sacrificed to the gods. The editors and authors are helping all science communicators become more reflexive about the complexities of their actions, which in turn increases the capacity for all of us to have deeper conversations about science, science communication, and society.”

Bruce V. Lewenstein, Cornell University

“There is a glaring absence of scholarship on the ethics of science communication, and an urgent need for resources such as this volume that offer a critical context on ethics that is both rigorous in its depth and scope, but also accessible and useful to a diversity of readers, including scientists and communication practitioners. This book will instantly and immediately be the leading source on the ethics of science communication.”

Matthew Nisbet, Northeastern University and editor-in-chief of "Environmental Communication"

Table of Contents

Rush Holt and Jeanne Braha
Introduction to this Book
Susanna Priest, Jean Goodwin, and Michael F. Dahlstrom

Part 1: How Ethics Matters

1: Effective because Ethical: Speech Act Theory as a Framework for Scientists’ Communication
Jean Goodwin
2: Communicating Science-Based Information about Risk: How Ethics Can Help
Paul B. Thompson
3: Communicating Climate Change and Other Evidence-Based Controversies: Challenges to Ethics in Practice
Susanna Priest
4: Framing Science for Democratic Engagement
Leah Sprain

Part 2: Professional Practice

5: Ethical Considerations of Using Narrative to Communicate in Science Policy Contexts
Michael F. Dahlstrom and Shirley S. Ho
6: Science Communication as Communication about Persons
Brent Ranalli
7: Journalists, Expert Sources, and Ethical Issues in Science Communication
Marjorie Kruvand
8: The Ethics and Boundaries of Industry Environmental Campaigns
Barbara Miller Gaither and Janas Sinclair
9: Scientists’ Duty to Communicate: Exploring Ethics, Public Communication, and Scientific Practice
Sarah Davies

Part 3: Case Studies

10: Just the Facts or Expert Opinion? The Backtracking Approach to Socially Responsible Science Communication
Daniel J. McKaughan and Kevin C. Elliott
11: Controversy, Commonplaces, and Ethical Science Communication: The Case of Consumer Genetic Testing
Lora Arduser
12: Excluding “Anti-biotech” Activists from Canadian Agri-Food Policy Making: Ethical Implications of the Deficit Model of Science Communication
Kelly Bronson
13: Science Communication Ethics: A Reflexive View
Alain Létourneau
14: How Discourse Illuminates the Ruptures between Scientific and Cultural Rationalities
Cynthia-Lou Coleman

Susanna Priest, Jean Goodwin, and Michael F. Dahlstrom

List of Contributors


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

Communication Ethics Division, National Communication Association: Edited Book of the Year

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