Heuristics for communicating science, risk, and crisis
Scientific information about physical hazards is important and very easy to miscommunicate. Because science uses complex wording and sophisticated reasoning, many assume that sharing science with lay stakeholders is solely a matter of substituting simple words and sentences for unfamiliar terms and complex syntax. An additional frequent assumption is that ‘giving information’ or ‘educating’ are the only important goals when communicating with stakeholders about health and the environment. Indeed, one study shows that, among scientists who share science online with lay stakeholders, their principal goals when communicating with lay audiences are to ‘educate’ or ‘defend science’. Although these goals are important, their exclusive pursuit may squelch chances for productive dialogue and engagement. We suggest ‘heuristics’ or sets of questions to guide inquiry in science, risk, or crisis communication situations and to alert communicators to many rhetorical challenges and options for addressing them in a variety of contexts. The chapter offers an array of theory- and evidence-backed heuristics and illustrates their use in communicating science, risk, and crisis.