Why Science Needs PR

Sci­ent­ists need­ing to per­suade soci­ety at large shouldn’t be rely­ing on their data alone to per­suade but instead should employ PR tac­tics, sug­gests Wired’s Erin Biba (and a num­ber of PR com­pany employ­ees, natch).

I don’t totally agree with the idea (sci­entif­ic integ­rity and all that jazz) but some of the thoughts/suggestions are entirely val­id and sci­ent­ists could go far by listen­ing to some of the advice and cri­ti­cism.

For instance, this sug­ges­tion to remove science’s holier-than-thou atti­tude, repla­cing it with per­son­al stor­ies of those at its core (the sci­ent­ists them­selves):

It didn’t even occur to the [Amer­ic­an Asso­ci­ation for the Advance­ment of Sci­ence] pan­el­ists [at a recent cli­mate change sym­posi­um] that someone might find that here’s-the-data-we’re-right atti­tude patronizing—and worthy of skep­ti­cism. “Until sci­ent­ists real­ize they need us, we can’t help them,” [Kelly Bush, founder and CEO of PR firm ID] says. “They have to wake up and say: ‘I recog­nize it’s not work­ing, and I’m will­ing to listen to you.’ It’s got to start there.” Sci­ence increas­ingly must make its most import­ant cases to nonscientists—not just about cli­mate but also evol­u­tion, health care, and vac­cine safety. And in all of those fields, the sci­ence has proven to be incap­able of speak­ing for itself. It’s time for those with true pas­sion to get over the stigma, stand up, and start telling their stor­ies.

3 thoughts on “Why Science Needs PR

  1. Cedar

    I abso­lutely agree. Sci­ence is an unnat­ur­al way of think­ing, and sci­ent­ists often have too much prac­tice at it to real­ize how unnat­ur­al it is. What nat­ur­ally con­vinces people (the tools of per­sua­sion) are stor­ies, people they know, and trust in author­ity, things that sci­ence act­ively dis­cour­ages. What’s amaz­ing to me is that psy­cho­lo­gists aren’t at the fore­front of this, since there is a lot of psy­cho­logy research show­ing how unnat­ur­al sci­entif­ic think­ing is, and how well the sci­ence of per­sua­sion works (à la Cialdini)

  2. Greg

    I could not dis­agree more. Sci­ence is a dis­cip­line that is foun­ded and suc­ceeds on the abil­ity for oth­ers to come along and prove or dis­prove it. If sci­ence uses mar­ket­ing to advance the­or­ies, well, then you’re going to get a lot of crap sci­ence mak­ing it to the fore simply because someone can pack­age it bet­ter. Thank our lucky stars that over the long run, sci­ence doesn’t work that way. Mar­ket­ing an idea makes it a sac­red cow and sac­red cows don’t get slaughtered when we’re starving.

    Sci­ence should remain dif­fi­cult and obtuse for most people for the simple fact that most people don’t have any busi­ness deal­ing with real sci­ence until they them­selves are cap­able of act­ing in a ration­al man­ner that relies on facts and exper­i­ment­a­tion, not feel­ing and com­fort.

    I remem­ber a time when psy­cho­logy was meant to give us a win­dow into ourselves for the pur­poses of mak­ing ourselves bet­ter people, not using it to jus­ti­fy our weak­nesses and thereby make the world bend to our weak­nesses and, in my opin­ion, ulti­mately make us all incap­able of real per­son­al pro­gress.

  3. Nic Windley

    As an engin­eer and mar­keter I see both sides of the story.

    Sci­ence is point­less unless;

    a) it has a real pur­pose which can make a real dif­fer­ence – not just an exper­i­ment to prove a worth­less hypo­thes­is that has no point oth­er than to prove what some­body hypo­thes­ised (thou­sands of these are being done every year).

    Mar­ket­ing is point­less unless;

    a) it deliv­ers a meas­ur­able, quan­ti­fi­able and pre­dict­able out­come that helps people to under­stand why some­thing is or could be import­ant to them or oth­ers around them – mil­lions is spent on con­fus­ing and unmeas­ur­able mar­ket­ing because of beliefs.

    Notice the cross over ? Both pro­duce waste, both have meth­od­o­logy, both can be tested and adap­ted, both can change the world.

    Neither are to blame, and neither is more import­ant than the oth­er. The prob­lem is not what it is, its who’s behind it and their motive.

    The prob­lems is always people.

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