Understanding Science: How to Fill the Communication Gap
Beakers and flasks of clear fluid.


Understanding Science


How to Cite

Rumble, Joy N. 2016. “Understanding Science: How to Fill the Communication Gap: AEC592/WC254, 6/2016”. EDIS 2016 (5):4. https://doi.org/10.32473/edis-wc254-2016.


The industrialization of society has led to many scientific advancements, which have both benefits and controversies. Despite sound science, controversies around scientific issues have led the public to make decisions that disagree with scientific evidence. Why does this gap between science and perception exist? This 4-page fact sheet looks at the characteristics of scientists, the media, and the public to help explain how the gap in science communication has occurred while also providing strategies for closing that gap in the future. Written by Joy N. Rumble and published by the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, June 2016.



Axelrod, R. (1973). Schema theory: An information processing model of perception and cognition. The American Political Science Review, 67(4) 1248-1266. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1956546 https://doi.org/10.2307/1956546

Basalla, G. (1976). Pop science: The depiction of science in popular culture. In G. Holton & W., Blanpied (Eds.), Science and its public (pp. 261-278). Boston: Beacon. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-010-1887-6_17

Cook, G., Pieri, E. & Robbins, P. T. (2004). 'The scientists think and the public feels': expert percpetions of the discourse of GM food. Discourse & Society, 15(4), 433-449. doi:10.1177/0957926504043708 https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926504043708

Davis, R. (1963). Scientists and engineers: The public's image. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Engineering Education, Philadelphia, PA.

Felt, U. (2000). Why should the public "understand" science? A historical perspective on aspects of the public understanding of science. In M. Dierkes & C. von Grote (Eds.), Between understanding and trust: The public, science and technology (pp. 7-38). Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Association.

Funk, C. & Rainie, L. (2015). Public and scientists' views on science and society. The PEW Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/

Hampton, K., Rainie, L., Lu, W., Dwyer, M., Shin, I., & Purcell, K. (2014). Social media and the 'spiral of silence.' The Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/08/26/social-media-and-the-spiral-of-silence/

Hartz, J. & Chappell, R. (1997). Worlds apart: How the distance between science and journalism threatens America's future. Nashville, TN: First Amendment Center.

Jarrard, R. D. (2001). Scientific methods. Retrieved from http://emotionalcompetency.com/sci/sm0.htm

Kiousis, S. (2001). Public trust or mistrust? Perceptions of media credibility in the information age. Mass Communication and Society, 4(4), 381-403. doi: 10.1207/S15327825MCS0404_4 https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327825MCS0404_4

Long, M., & Steinke, J. (1996). The thrill of everyday science: Images of science and scientists on children's educational science shows in the United States. Public Understanding of Science, 5, 101-120. https://doi.org/10.1088/0963-6625/5/2/002

Lundy, L. K., Ruth, A., Telg, R., & Irani, T. (2006). It takes two: Public understanding of agricultural science and agricultural scientists' understanding of the public. Journal of Applied Communications, 90(1). https://doi.org/10.4148/1051-0834.1290

McIntyre, L. (2015, June). The attack on truth. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/The-Attack-on-Truth/230631/

National Science Board. (2014). Chapter 7: Science and technology: Public attitudes and understanding. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/index.cfm/chapter-7/c7s3.htm

Nisbet, M. C., Scheufele, D. A., Shanahan, J., Moy, P., Brossard, D., & Lewenstein, B. V. (2002). Knowledge, reservations, or promise? A media effects model for public perceptions of science and technology. Communication Research, 29(5), 584-608. doi: 10.1177/009365002236196 https://doi.org/10.1177/009365002236196

Perloff, R. M. (1999). The third-person effect: A critical review and synthesis. Media Psychology, 1, 353-378. https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532785xmep0104_4

PEW. (2011). Press widely criticized, but trusted more than other information sources. The PEW Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.people-press.org/2011/09/22/press-widely-criticized-but-trusted-more-than-otherinstitutions/

PEW. (2013). Social networking fact sheet. The PEW Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/

Rainie, L. (2012). Changes to the way we identify internet users. The PEW Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/10/03/changes-to-the-way-we-identify-internet-users/

Ruth, A., Lundy, L. K., Telg, R., & Irani, T. (2005). Trying to relate: Media relations training needs of agricultural scientists. Science Communication, 27(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547005278347

Shanahan, J. & Morgan, M. (1999). Television and its viewers: Cultivation theory and research. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488924

The Hartman Group. (2015, July). GMOs: Symbolic for what's wrong with America's food system? Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/thehartmangroup/2015/07/01/gmos-symbolic-for-whats-wrong-withamericas-food-system/

Webster, F. (2014). Information society (4th ed.). New York: Routledge.