Archive for the 'public communication & engagement' category

scio11: blogs, bloggers, and boundaries

Blogs, Bloggers and Boundaries? - Marie-Claire Shanahan, Alice Bell, Ed Yong, Viv Raper

AB: arsenic life – nasa spokesperson – not engage without peer review. But this is really a spam filter issue – too tight you miss things you want to hear, too loose and you’re overwhelmed by the junk. The scientists need some sort of filter.

Or think of science as a map (a la Gieryn). The world benefits from specialization – we can’t all be specialists in everything so we rely on trust and on shortcuts to navigate different spaces.

Boundaries keep people out but also create shared spaces inside. Jargon and in jokes. Jargon makes in groups, in jokes are an expression of friendship but also make people feel left out.

How do we calibrate our spam filter. Be clever about boundaries – who’s on the other side, do we want to speak to them? are the boundaries intentional

EY: strength of the authors conclusions are dependent on the community’s ability to explain differently. example foxes and magnetic north – ways to test and ways to interpret data.

Blogged about half male/female chickens. Got contacted by a farmer who has such an animal – connected him to the scientist. They formed a research collaboration across two continents.

The farmer said contacted EY bcs detailed but understandable information found through web search.

He does a who are you thread on his blog every year- and this helps him determine what to write and how to write it.

M-CS: boundaries > boundary layers in fluid and what degree of mixing and places where different fluids come together. blogs give us many different kinds of boundaries: information, people,

people: using blogs as an information source in a one way communication. her elementary education students didn’t think of blogs as conversational. newspaper comments – speaking to each other, no mixing,

VR: some more practical tips – instead of defining terms repeatedly in text, use a mouseover plain language glossary. picking terms that are sensitive to the audience you’re looking for. Had her mother read her blog – learned a lot.

EY: – you can alienate someone because you’re not in their very specific area of science – your language will be different from theirs (gave an example from the oil spill with a geophysicist and engineer – maybe on an agu blog?). you may be reaching a much smaller audience than you think

from the audience – blogs are intimidating to some people. blogging is a subculture in and of itself

even if you write for a general audience, commenters might be very sophisticated and use jargon and poke holes in things and intimidate other commenters.

how to keep and engage people who stumble across your blog when searching for answers to a specific question?

different crowd following DSN on the facebook page than at the blog itself. younger.

ey had the same experience – comments on facebook when none on blogs, but they’re often reacting to the title or at most first paragraph so you have to be more careful with titles and ledes.

and ran out of battery

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NASA can’t have it both ways

Not to anthropomorphize a government agency or anything, but NASA is really confused in their social media actions.

I’m the millionth person to point this out but it seems worthwhile for me to do so if for no other reason than to be able to find the information later by searching my blog.

NASA has had the policy and practice (and mandate?) to share their science with “the public.”  The public being US taxpayers, but also related scientists worldwide, children, and lots of other groups. They do this through websites and tv shows and more recently podcasts, blogs, and twitter. They publish scientific findings in scholarly journals, present them at meetings, and share scientific data freely through many different archives.  Organizations that receive funding from NASA are required to do the same.* NASA typically does a pretty good job of this – partly because their stuff is so very fascinating that it would be hard not to have a cool and interesting message about it but mostly because they have lots of professional communicators, outreach professionals, and experienced scientists who work hard at it.

With that said, what on earth (or in space, ha!) are they thinking in this reaction to Dr. Redfield’s evaluation of their recent microbiology/arsenic research? David Dobbs has a good blog post describing this. Dobbs quotes

From “NASA’s arsenic microbe science slammed,” at CBC News:

When NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown was asked about public criticisms of the paper in the blogosphere, he noted that the article was peer-reviewed and published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals. He added that Wolfe-Simon will not be responding to individual criticisms, as the agency doesn’t feel it is appropriate to debate the science using the media and bloggers. Instead, it believes that should be done in scientific publications.

My immediate concern isn’t whether the science is good or that the criticisms are valid, but certainly if NASA intends to engage with the “public” and not just broadcast to us, they need to respond to these criticisms.  Further, these responses should be in an appropriate manner – a blog post or a comment on Dr. Redfield’s blog. Dr Redfield’s blog is well known and well-respected and she registered the post with ResearchBlogging. Her comments section is also very informative. I agree that NASA shouldn’t necessarily be expected to engage on all fronts with people linking to their work, but as Dobbs says, this blog is different.

Moreover, this paper is being reviewed on many blogs by scientists who are expert in this field and adjacent fields, and has been reviewed on F1000 (some links from Code for Life blog).  If you have a press release on a paper, then you should be prepared to continue the engagement after you have broadcast your message.

The paper’s author has also stated that replies should be in a “scientific venue.”**  My dear scientist, the web is a scientific venue! Haven’t you heard? This is the #altmetrics or post-publication peer review we’ve been talking about for quite a while.

Interestingly, some of the comments on the original post by Redfield basically indicate that responding on blogs is only for those who don’t have standing or who are not qualified. Grrr. That person needs to be educated! (I do hope that the technical comment or whatever that is eventually sent to Science attributes some credit to the commenters of that thread – a lot of good stuff there).

Update: Randy left a nice comment (thank you) which caused me to go and look at updates on the Guardian site. This caught my eye:

"'Any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated,' wrote Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. "The items you are presenting do not represent the proper way to engage in a scientific discourse and we will not respond in this manner."

So the proper way to engage in scientific discourse is to hold press conferences (2 now)? Gosh, maybe I should toss my entire dissertation because I've been witnessing scientific discourse at conferences, in conference hallways, on twitter, in blogs, on wikis, on post-publication peer review sites... Hrumph.

* One more time for the record. My place of work of course (google me) gets money from NASA. This post is my opinion only and does not reflect that of my place of work or any of the employees there. This post is purely from the point of view of an observer of scholarly communication.

** Do note that I am American. I put my . in my “” Canadians, Australians, and Brits for some crazy reason put it outside.

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Brief note: media in the case of Darwinus and Cold Fusion

Brian Switek just published this interesting account of the Darwinus (aka Ida) and the media (including science blogs) (probably via Bora?):

Switek, B. J. (2010). Ancestor or Adapiform? Darwinius and the Search for Our Early Primate Ancestors Evolution: Education and Outreach, doi:10.1007/s12052-010-0261-x

I don't know much about the science, but it's interesting to compare the story with that of Lewenstein's recounting [*] of the media surrounding cold fusion.

Both speak of secrecy and chaos and science reporters trying to get the story - the real story.  In both cases there was media hype that didn't match the science  - although how this happened and what happened is quite different between the two cases. The media want to tell grand stories of wonder and possible applications and scientists want their stories to be told... Hmm... deserves further inspection.

[*] Lewenstein, B. V. (1995). From fax to facts: Communication in the cold fusion saga. Social Studies of Science, 25(3), 403-436. doi:10.1177/030631295025003001

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RIN’s Use and relevance of web 2.0 for researchers

The announcement is dated January 6, 2010, but the report itself is dated July 2010. In any case it's new to me, so I thought I would run through some interesting points. Here's the citation (as much as I can tell):

Proctor,R., Williams,R. & Stewart, J. (2010). If you build it, will they come? How researchers perceive and use web 2.0. London: Research Information Network. Retrieved July 6, 2010 from

It often seems like people are very negative about the adoption of web 2.0 stuff in science; that is, when they're not hyping it way out of proportion. This report seems carefully written and overall quite positive. They did surveys (n=1308), interviews (n=56, stratified sample), and case studies of selected web 2.0 tools (n=5) - so lots of data.

Some background definitions. They include formal and informal scholarly communication as part of scholarly communication and they also add in coordination-type communication as well as popularizations. In other words, anything a "scholar" might communicate.  They also define web 2.0 more broadly. It's not just the technologies that enable the sharing of user-generated content, but the practices surrounding the use of these technologies.

About an eighth of their sample were frequent users of at least one of the technologies (13%). Almost half were occasional users (45%). It wasn't the youngest who were most likely - probably, as many people have mentioned - because more junior researchers have to play by the rules to graduate, get a job, and then get tenure. For blogging, a combined 16% write a blog occasionally or frequently and 23% comment on blogs either occasionally or frequently. With the fact that the arts and humanities had fewer frequent users, they were more likely to maintain blogs.

The researchers asked about encouragement and of course the institutional part is high, but the impact of library & information services as well as conference organizers is notable.

One frustrating thing about this report is in the section on dissemination choices for scholarly content. Why oh why are "online subscription journals" different from "print-based subscription journals"?  What's the difference? Why are "open-access, online-only journals" listed separately? ergh.

As far as reasons why not, some were too busy, some were worried about how they would be valued.

There's a small piece on open science, but not too much.

As for information seeking - blogs really aren't the first place people go, but they're not last. That's open notebooks (to be fair, if there are so few, then they really can't answer all that many questions, even if they are wonderful).

The participants found these tools useful for filtering, meeting new people, the speed of communication.

The proliferation of resources make it difficult for newbies to get started. There needs to be more support and encouragement locally as well as technical support. Attribution and credit need to be worked out. All this without disturbing the traditional ecosystem.

All in all a useful report and worth a read.

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Academic study?

Another brief observation. I was just reading a popular cooking/recipe magazine and they mentioned that the New York Board of Health did an "academic study" of the new nutrition labeling laws. ARGH. I don't like calling scientific research "academic study" because to me that implies: 1) it's academic - it's a pursuit for it's own sake or for increased knowledge, not for evaluation or application, 2) only scientists in academe do studies, 3) the results might not be accessible for the public.

I ran into this at work and I tried to stamp it out because the vast majority of the work we support is application-based, not pure or basic science, and appearance is important.  Scientists in industry and government do research studies that are systematic and rigorous and sometimes related directly to evaluation or application.  They need library resources to directly support this work - not just for their education or for knowledge but to support the work that is central to what they do.

Ok. So that's my rant - is it just semantics or should we push for not using "academic study" in place of research/evaluation study, rigorous systematic research or whatever?

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More on Geobloggers

Anne Jefferson from Highly Allochthonous pointed me to a new essay from Geoscientist Online, the member magazine of the Geological Society (UK). That essay points both to the survey of women geobloggers (previously mentioned here) and a survey done by Lutz Geissler, Robert Huber, and Callan Bentley. (probably haven't mentioned before).

In the Geoscientist essay by Michael Welland, he discusses his own slowness in taking up blogging, but also his enjoyment of the geoblogosphere and the community he finds there. He learns of new things he wouldn't come across in his other readings and he engages with the 'interested public'... this quote is nice:

I subscribe (largely online) to several professional journals, but, for sheer breadth of supplementary coverage, the geoblogosphere is unequalled.

He also praises blogging - that is, the act of blogging - as a learning tool. This also came up in my qualitative study.

I have a much more selfish reason for investing my time in writing a blog: it makes me a better scientist. I have discovered that my thinking about science - my research, the work of others, basic concepts in our field - becomes much more coherent after I have been forced to properly articulate it.....writing regularly for my blog has greatly improved my communication skills in the conference hall and the lecture theatre

On to the survey done last fall by Geissler, Huber, & Bentley. A few interesting things:

  • in the GSA abstract for the women geoblogger work, they quote an article (~700kb pdf) that has 45% undergrad geosciences degrees earned by women and 14% of tenure track faculty in geosciences are women. This survey finds that about 20% of the geobloggers are women. Are women participating at a greater rate, are women with different degree levels participating more? hmm.
  • the biggest two groups are grad students and faculty - no surprise there. Seems like industry scientists in all areas of the sciences do not blog as much.
  • it's fascinating that 59 out of 78 respondents say that >70% of their posts are on geosciences. In my study there were a lot more hobby posts mixed in. Likewise, my participants mostly did not blog about their own work, whereas 73% of these bloggers do.
  • the respondents complained that there were too few geoblogs and no good way to keep up with them (or get an overview). maybe the societies should have blogging 101 sessions and have some post-genomic type of blog aggregator? (I also suggested this in my qualitative study - darn, i really need to publish that somewhere)
  • a bunch of the bloggers started in feb 2008 - what happened then?
  • the blog posts typically don't get a lot of comments - are they uncontroversial? are the comments on twitter or friendfeed or in person/offline?
  • as was found elsewhere, almost half the women post anonymously whereas few men do. definitely worth more study.

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Another idea from the scholarly evaluation metrics workshop

One thing that kind of bugs me is that people answer the question "what impact has your funding had" with things like "I hired 3 postdocs and 2 support staff." Dr Lane talked about this at the workshop, but to some extent, I don't think her solution actually got at the bigger problem: societal impact. How has your research - done with our money - made the world a better place (maybe it hasn't, but that's ok, too). In the last post I mentioned a way I think we could start to learn more about how much scientific articles were taken up in the general media. This is at least opportunity for public engagement if not actually making the world a better place.

Another thing from the workshop - that I and others keep coming back to is the strikingly different behavior of the Google user vs. the astronomer user of ADS. Kurtz mentioned that Springer has something like 6090% of their hits from Google. I suspect IEEE and maybe ScienceDirect are about at that level, too. So I'd like to see (or be pointed at, if it already exists) a study that clusters and names behavior types of users of these Google-able science digital libraries.

  • How much traffic comes from Google?  Of that traffic, what % are from recognized IPs; that is, those institutions that subscribe to this platform or have at least registered with the platform?
  • Based on the activities, actions, clicks, time.... can the users be clustered?  Can these clusters be named?  Of these named clusters, can we identify k-12 students? k-12 teachers? undergrads? scientists outside of the specialty targeted by the system (like physicists visiting ADS, astronomers using SPIRES)?
  • Can these clusters, and their frequency of occurrence and behaviors be used to describe or better understand the impact of this system, and the scientific knowledge held by it on the broader public?

Update: Michael Kurtz corrected me that 90% of Springer's traffic comes from Google. He also suggests some places to look for studies of this type. (thanks!)

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Classic post from the archive:Implications of newer models of popularization of science for science library collection development

(I'm posting things from my old blog while I'm on a much-needed vacation)
This originally appeared December 21, 2007
Implications of newer models of popularization of science for science library collection development*
When we look at science communication - communication about science or by scientists - we normally divide that into communication among scientists (scholarly communication) and communication to non-scientists (variously: popular communication of science, popularization, or the French - vulgarization). Within scholarly communication we have formal scholarly communication (journal articles, books, textbooks, etc.) and informal scholarly communication (sometimes conference papers, but basically any communication among scientists besides what's in formal - see my review(pdf)). The formal/informal bit was really solidified in the Garvey and Griffith models [e.g., 1].
The "dominant model" of popularization developed over the 20th century (maybe starting in the 19th), but it has become obvious from SSS research that it no longer adequately models reality, if it ever did [2,3, 4]. Some of the proponents of the dominant model are the scientists themselves. The dominant models makes some very large assumptions. Namely:

  • scientists produce genuine knowledge and then it is dumbed down, translated, distorted, simplified, and polluted
  • the public is ignorant -- essentially a blank slate
  • the information flows one way -- scientist to public [5]
  • scientists don't want to talk to the public, but they will if they have to to get funding [4].

But we understand now from Paul's study [4] and others cited by her that:

  • popularization is a continuum
    • writing journal articles in general scholarly publications is a form a popularization
    • textbooks are a form of popularization
    • can be children's books, to heavy duty journal articles that require a high level of more general science knowledge
  • science is so very specialized now, that anyone outside of the exact area needs a popularized view
    • science professors need textbooks outside their particular field (more to come out of my current research project)
    • scientists are big consumers of popularizations to get ideas from adjacent and disparate research areas for their own work as well as for their own popularizations or teaching
  • popularizations are used by scientists to gain the support for their revolutionary ideas (in the Kuhnian sense) from other scientists

About Libraries

Academic and Research libraries in the sciences (in my experience) collect "popular works" as extra or entertainment reading. These are the first to go because they are seen as extra or not real science. When libraries collect these, they may be shelved in a special place for popular books, and not in with the subject area. Yet, these works can spark creativity and connections for the scientists. In a place with applied scientists who have their heads down in their work, these may serve the very important purpose of connecting the scientists to new relevant research.
But they have to be the right popularizations. There exist book reviews written by scientists of popular science books. How do librarians tell if this popularization is more on the sciencey end of the continuum? Probably from reviews in science magazines and journals as well as by the publisher. Maybe by browsing within the pages? Looking at the footnotes and citations. Hey, how about looking in the science blogosphere (hm, oh that's another post there...)!
Here's my point: research science libraries should make more effort to collect and market popular science materials. These materials should be an important part of the service we do -- plus they're cheap. Compare $25 for a popular book and minimum $125 for a specialized science book (yep, really).
Notes (in some strange half apa half other format):
[1] Garvey, W. D., & Griffith, B. C. (1967). Scientific communication as a social system. Science, 157(3792), 1011-1016.
[2] Whitley, R. (1985). Knowledge producers and knowledge acquirers: Popularisation as a relation between scientific fields and their publics. In T. Shinn, & R. Whitley (Eds.), Expository science: Forms and functions of popularisation (pp. 3-28). Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Pub. Co.
[3] Hilgartner, S. (1990). The dominant view of popularization: Conceptual problems, political uses. Social Studies of Science, 20(3), 519-539. (or actually probably Whitley in 1985, but I don't have e- access to this to check it)
[4] Paul, D. (2004). Spreading chaos: The role of popularizations in the diffusion of scientific ideas. Written Communication, 21(1), 32-68. DOI:10.1177/0741088303261035
[5] Myers, G. (2003). Discourse studies of scientific popularization: Questioning the boundaries. Discourse Studies, 5(2), 265-279. DOI:10.1177/1461445603005002006

* since this was written there have been a few well argued articles that the "dominant" model is not passe and is in place the same time as those developed by Wynne and others. I'm sure I'll be looking at that stuff again the way my dissertation topic is forming up

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Understanding urban, low socioeconomic status, African-American Girls’ attitudes towards science

Aug 29 2009 Published by under public communication & engagement

So often we hear of large studies like the GSS being used for attitudes towards science. We also hear the results of science achievement metrics and are disappointed. This article provides a great mix between generalizable quantitative understanding gained through use of a validated instrument and more individualized understanding gained through qualitative research using a critical feminist lens. The authors choose this sequential mixed-methods approach to attend to "questioning how to meet the needs of the many while coming to understand the uniqueness of the individuals among the many."  The other problem they address is confounding categories. In other words, typical studies study either urban/suburban/rural OR majority/minority OR gender OR socioeconomic status, but they seek to understand attitudes in this population who are urban AND low SES AND African-American AND female. There's definitely a tension between grouping this category and exploring the heterogeneity within the category - and what will be most useful in eventually promoting the participation of this group in science. Attitudes are important because they are predictors of choosing science classes.

The study participants were 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at a school in the midwest. The school population is 99% African American, 1% Multiracial, and 88% qualify for free lunch (this is a typical measure in the US for the SES of a school). Eighty-nine students completed the questionnaire (the modified Attitudes Toward Science Inventory). Thirty were purposively selected to participate in group interviews. The selected students represented each grade and level of academic achievement as shown by their results on a statewide standardized test.  All participants qualified for free lunch and were African American.

The questionnaire was administered by an African American teacher who is part of the research team. The group interviews consisted of 3 or 4 participants and were semi-structured. They were conducted by a Caucasian (or shall we say European-American) researcher who is a former science teacher. The authors mitigated the impact of this choice by having her introduce herself and make several site visits prior to the interviews. However, IMO, this is still a problem, particularly with this group of participants.

The girls generally had positive perceptions of science, were confident, were not anxious, and had a desire to do science. The girls either had content-related definitions of science (it's about plants, the moon, keeping your body healthy) or process-related definitions (a way of learning about..., help you be a detective..., "an adventure of fun"....) (yay process girls!). In discussing the importance of science a third mentioned things like knowing what to eat, how to stay safe from a tornado, and what not to touch on a nature hike. A few mentioned science's importance for doing well in school or for an eventual career like in forensics or as a teacher or veterinarian. Some girls didn't see science as important for them at all (as in, well you need to know how to read to get a job, so that's important). Some of the girls experimented with their families at home or even at home on their own. Others saw it as just another thing done in school where you read the book, do what the teacher tells you to do, and then answer questions. They saw no relationship to things outside of school. Some of the students felt that they were very successful in doing science and if they ever got stuck, some help from the teacher would be enough to get them past it. Others were very frustrated and didn't understand the questions they got in their labs or projects they did.

From these results the authors created profiles of some girls who, for example, viewed science as a process, did work outside of school, and are successful as high confidence/anti-anxiety, high desire/value and other profiles that were low on one or another of these areas.  What's really interesting is that there were some girls in this group with positive attitude, with high confidence, high desire, and who valued science who were C students in science. Why?

The authors are going to try "connected problem based learning" to try to challenge the girls with real world problems, have them work together in small groups with a teacher as a facilitator, etc.

This article is one of what will, I hope, be a series as these authors continue to work in and with this school.

  Buck, G., Cook, K., Quigley, C., Eastwood, J., & Lucas, Y. (in press). Profiles of Urban, Low SES, African American Girls' Attitudes Toward Science: A Sequential Explanatory Mixed Methods Study Journal of Mixed Methods Research DOI: 10.1177/1558689809341797

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When discussing scientists’ engagement with the media and public, trotting out obsolete ideas is neither helpful nor useful

Jul 12 2009 Published by under public communication & engagement

I'm not an expert on public understanding of science or science communication; however, I've certainly read enough to know that some of the statements constantly being rehashed are not only out of date, but have been repeatedly discredited through peer-reviewed empirical research.

(to be fair - I, too, trotted out some of these ideas before some of this research was pointed out to me *).

Myth 1: Scientists don't want to talk to the public

They do. For example, in a decent sized (n=1354) international study of epidemiologists and stem-cell researchers, 60-70% have spoken with the media about their work in the past 3 years [1].

Myth 2: Lack of knowledge of scientific facts is why the public doesn't support some scientific endeavors

This just doesn't hold water in very large surveys done internationally over the past 20-30 years.  There are lots of reasons why people don't support, for example, GMOs or stem-cell research that have nothing to do with being able to correctly answer factual science questions. (see Allum and co-author's work using GSS data in the US and equivalent in other countries - [6] is an example)

Myth 3: There's nowhere to go for help and scientists are completely on their own in communicating with the public

There are entire fields of science communicators, technical writers, and science journalists - seriously. We don't need to take productive bench scientists and keep them from doing science so that they can spend a ton of time learning how to communicate with the public. Work with someone who is a professional science communicator. If you are a scientist and you'd like to communicate with the public - fine. Take a workshop from AAAS. Get your professional society to host a workshop at the next annual meeting. Or, collaborate with your local science communication professional. Practice by blogging.

Myth 4: The Golden Era

see Nisbet.

Myth 5: The only education that matters is k-12

Lifelong learning has to be stressed in school. Seriously.  Just think about how much science has changed since you were in k-12.  I went to a small rural school - we still learned about "races". We also learned about the 9 planets 😉

Myth 6: That science communication is a linear path, in which it is translated and dumbed down and transmitted to the public. (the "dominant view")[2]

I'll leave this for [2] and [5].

BTW - Turns out that scientists read popularizations [3,4], too.

* You might ask: hey, aren't you supposed to be studying for your comps which are just a few days away?  To which I would respond: CRAP! I know!

[1]Peters, H. P., Brossard, D., de Cheveigne, S., Dunwoody, S., Kallfass, M., Miller, S., et al. (2008). SCIENCE COMMUNICATION: Interactions with the mass media. Science, 321(5886), 204-205. doi:10.1126/science.1157780

[2]Hilgartner, S. (1990). The dominant view of popularization: Conceptual problems, political uses. Social Studies of Science, 20(3), 519-539.

[3]Paul, D. (2004). Spreading chaos: The role of popularizations in the diffusion of scientific ideas. Written Communication, 21(1), 32-68.

[4]Lewenstein, B. V. (1995). From fax to facts: Communication in the cold fusion saga. Social Studies of Science, 25(3), 403-436. doi:10.1177/030631295025003001

[5]Myers, G. (2003). Discourse studies of scientific popularization: Questioning the boundaries. Discourse Studies, 5(2), 265-279.

[6]Allum, N., Sturgis, P., Tabourazi, D., & Brunton-Smith, I. (2008). Science knowledge and attitudes across cultures: A meta-analysis. Public Understanding of Science, 17(1), 35-54.

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