Science or policy?

Kristin: The talk on bushfires communications that preceded the opening of the Australian Science Communicators Conference raised a very critical question on the nature of science communications.

It seems there is evidence that some people died because they remained in their homes after the firestorm had passed. The science of fire would suggest that the bushfire itself passes in 15, maybe 30 mins but that usually a house would take longer than that to catch alight and burn. Therefore if people are able to shelter from the initial burst of flame and then emerge to fight the spot fires or the house burn, then the property, and lives, can be saved. The policy of Stay and Defend is built on this science.

But then this raises interesting questions, especially when we broaden the scope from emergency communications to consider all types of science and policy questions – on climate change, on emerging technologies and on health. Does understanding the science, then translate into understanding the reasons and motivations for the policy? And does understanding the underlying science mean greater adherence to the policy? Or can the communication of the policy be effective without explaining the science? Are there difference between science communications and policy communications that matter?

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