Science communication researchers John Besley and Anthony Dudo identified a lack of diversity as a major shortcoming in science communication training. They highlighted that 90% of trainers were white and those “audiences trained are diverse in terms of career stage, but not in terms of cultural and/or ethnic background. Further, most training is not designed to account for diversity, nor is it specifically designed to help scientists engage with diverse audiences.” These deficiencies have multiple effects: they underscore the public perception of scientists as white and male; influence perceptions of the quality of science; compound the problem of limited sourcing by journalists; and increase the risk of alienating already marginalized communities of color in public discourse about environmental issues.

The SCIP project will contribute to academic literature on intercultural communication among scientists, trainers, and public audiences. The proposed study will address two significant gaps in science communication and intercultural communication research. 

  1. Despite the recognition that more research about race and ethnicity is needed in science communication, few studies have been conducted. Only scholarly proposals about diversity, inclusion, equity, and intersectionality and language in science communication are found. Just as science communication research on gender is making recent advances, so do we expect to contribute to the field’s scant literature on race and ethnicity. 
  2. While findings on intercultural communication research are consistent across fields such as health communication and business communication, the research has yet to examine how well-established theories in this area of study apply to the unique norms and processes of science. This study will test the extent to which those professional norms and processes relate to communication practices of URM scientists.

Science communication research has traditionally been based on psychological theories of human behavior and communication theories of information seeking and processing. Although these theories and models are robust in their ability to predict behaviors, they consider cultural differences in a limited way. The role of race/ethnicity is typically operationalized as a category in questionnaires that is used to statistically show differences among groups. What is missing is a deeper understanding of why these differences exist.

The SCIP project will test a theoretical framework for science communication training to explore how individuals’ cultural norms explain preference for science communication styles, self-efficacy, and communication objectives.

we are proposing a challenge to a dominant reductionist paradigm in science communication research that largely ignores identity and the processes of identity formation, and treats culture largely as a function of race or ethnicity. sCIP will bridge the research in intercultural communication and science communication to develop and apply a theoretical model that will seek to explain:

  1. How the process of socialization into the scientific community relates to the process of identity negotiation for pre-tenure racial and ethnic minority scientists, and
  2. How communication goal setting, self-efficacy, and communication styles relate to the assumptions of identity negotiation among racial and ethnic groups in the context of science communication training and activities.

Identity has been posited as an essential component of learning. Our examination of identity will consider intersectionality, or the overlapping nature of each person’s individual characteristics (e.g., gender, race, physical ability). The SCIP project will add significantly to current understanding of how cultural and social norms influence the efficacy of science communication training and how trainees construct their identities as science communicators. The proposed framework posits that individuals constantly negotiate their personal identity with their social identities, all of which are influenced by both their cultural values and norms (e.g., collectivism) and the values and norms of science (e.g., “publish or perish”). Adding this scientific context to the identity negotiation is a unique contribution of this project. 

The SCIP team will use a mixed-methods approach that includes in-depth interviews and surveys with URM scientists and science communication trainers to address the issues described above.

More broadly, we aim to achieve systemic changes in three arenas: in academia, by elevating science communication activities as a valued aspect of academics’ institutional contributions and implementing a peer-reviewed science communication podcast; among science communication trainers, by providing evidence-based methods for making science communication training more inclusive and intersectional; and in public discourse, by increasing representation of underrepresented minority scientists as science communicators and in environmental news coverage, and fostering culturally relevant conversations about environmental science.