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Communicating Controversial Science

Controversies around science topics are not new. In the age of social media, skepticism toward the science community may be driven by misinformation, a lack of trust, and differing values and biases. From addressing climate change to getting vaccinated, the lack of well-communicated information on scientific issues can have significant consequences for society.

Purdue University's online course in Communicating Controversial Science is for anyone who wants to communicate science information more effectively, whether professionally or even if it is just in a conversation between neighbors.

The six-module noncredit course covers tested techniques to better communicate scientific topics and is taught by an instructor with extensive strategic communications experience. Topics range from understanding how science topics become controversial; reasons why people believe misinformation; message framing for different audiences; and how to engage in discussions with those who feel differently on a topic. Readings and short videos, based on the latest in science communication research, convey key information in easily understood terms.

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Module Information

This module will cover topics such as:

  • Understanding the public’s perception of science and technology.
  • Understanding communication audiences.
  • How to frame a message for different audiences.

This module will cover topics such as:

  • How to identify the difference between advocacy and engagement.
  • How to engage with others on scientific issues.

This module will cover topics such as:

  • Identifying the factors that erode trust in science
  • Implementing steps to help build trust.

This module will cover topics such as:

  • How most people get scientific information.
  • Differences in science reporting in various media.
  • The impact of social media on science understanding.

This module will cover topics such as:

  • Reasons why people believe science misinformation.
  • Ways to correct science misinformation perceptions.

This module will cover topics such as:

  • Conducting an audience analysis prior to a conversation.
  • How to engage in dialogues with others on controversial science issues.

About the Instructor

Beth Forbes is Director of Science Communication and a Continuing Lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication at Purdue University. In her role, she helps faculty, staff and students better communicate science information to the public. She is also part of the leadership team for Issues 360, a transformational learning experience in the College of Agriculture that helps students learn how to engage with the public on controversial science-based issues. Beth has a long career in communications including media relations and strategic communications.

Course At A Glance

Modality: Self-paced
Access: 12 months
Fee: $75

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