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 (a 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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