Making (political) science accessible, relevant

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Arthur Lupia.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

The future of funding for political science research is in danger. Under particular threat is National Science Foundation (NSF) aid, a key source of support for political research. Pressure from congress led the NSF to review its criteria for grants, and even cancel the latest round of applications.

Yes, the sequester and general state of the economy play a role. But also under fire is a perceived lack of relevance of science to public discourse. That is, science – including political science – often seems too far removed from everyday life.

How can we change this perception? That is, how can scientists make their work accessible and relevant?

Center for Political Studies (CPS) researcher and Professor of Political Science Arthur Lupia explores these questions in a recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.

Making science relatable is no small task. Changing beliefs actually requires changing the structure of brain cells within neural networks. Scientists attempting to change beliefs face two challenges. First, audiences must pay attention to learn. Second, even with attention earned, politicized environments create resistance.

What can be done? Lupia incorporates cutting edge research on persuasion, communication, and knowledge to offer concrete tips to scientists seeking to connect with a broader audience.

1. Present information so that it’s easy for the audience to comprehend. The more understandable the content, the more likely people will listen. On the flip side, the more challenging the information, the more prior beliefs will interfere.

2. Keep the information non-threatening. When faced with threatening facts, people tend to create counterarguments.

3. Create common ground between speaker and listener. Overlapping interests increase source credibility.

Lupia champions these strategies as a way to connect to and inform diverse audiences without losing the value of the research. These tips target both political scientists and science researchers in general. Lupia concludes:

“If we take the time to make presentations that produce relevant and credible new memories for our audiences, we can help them to replace false beliefs with knowledge that scientists have evaluated and validated. Our claims can be memorable and persuasive while staying true to the science that we have discovered.”