4 lessons on public attitudes

Kristin: The National Enabling Technologies Strategy has conducted awareness surveys on public attitudes towards emerging and transformational technologies since 1999. This includes attitudes towards stem cells, GM foods, cloning, science and technology in addressing climate change and nanotechnologies. Craig Cormick finished his presentation of the latest survey with four key lessons for those of engaged in the public response to science.

  1. People’s opinions are formed not by fact, but by values. Therefore, expecting people to change those opinions by giving them more information is cuckoo (my term, not Craig’s).
  2. Public perceptions are more important than reality.
  3. There is a discord between what people admit to doing and how they really behave. (People will say they buy healthy food, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they do or will.)
  4. Science is based on building a case from what’s know. Public perception is focused on the emotional response to what is unknown. Therefore to be effective science communicators we must think like the public, not like scientists if we want to have genuine engagement.

So great science communications that engages the public, changes misconceptions and transforms behaviour needs to be emotional, surprising and memorable – just like any good communication. What are your best examples of this well done?


  1. Persactly! – and this is where effective use of Social Media can be so powerful. Amplifying authentic human voice can really change perception of individuals, communities & help shape culture.

    Take for example the work of Barry Brook who effectively uses his http://bravenewclimate.com blog & other social media tools to alter perceptions about nuclear power.

    I was reading this blog post in another tab when your tweet distracted me over here:


    That’s just one one persons description of his perception altering experience.

    Fang – Mike Seyfang

    p.s. Now, if we could just get the Aust. Science Communicators to come out from behind closed ning & flickr accounts with open licenses we might just get somewhere…

  2. I think science’s greatest battle lies in the fact that it is often necessary to change the way people think about something.

    The problem is that people tend to form an opinion about a topic then close their mind on it. Any new thinking threatens to make them look silly if their opinion is no longer correct.

    We’re not all open to admitting we’ve been wrong about something all along and changing our worldview. We’re obstinate, traditional and sentimental, which is fine if you’re only interested in football; not so good if you’re making a life-and-death decision based on last century’s thinking, anecdotal evidence and superstition.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kristinalford, Lisa Bailey. Lisa Bailey said: RT @kristinalford: how do we transform behaviour? It's not about science information. Here's my blog http://ning.it/aRGMRh #asc2010 […]

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