The Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCOST) Project was developed to improve public communication in science and technology.

Public Communication of Science
and Technology

The Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCOST) Project was developed to improve public communication in science and technology, including, but not limited to, emerging and converging technologies such as nanotechnology, bionanotechnology, neurotechnology, geoengineering and synthetic biology. Since 2008, we have broadened our interests to subject fields such as public health, safe drinking water, pests, natural disasters, climate change, and human and environmental hazards and risks.

Public communication in these fields must confront a variety of challenges, many that fall into two broad categories.

First, science and technology are a substantial challenge given high levels of uncertainties. Whether we are talking about synthetic biology or nanotechnologies or public health and weather warnings, the landscape and architectures of these issues are highly mutable in a global world. Oftentimes, hyperbole substitutes for data when anticipated consequences are discussed. We need to find ways to make decisions under moderate levels of uncertainty that both secure human and environmental health and safety without foregoing the benefits of development and higher standards of living. Ideologies must take a back seat to science studies research and critical discourse.

Second, digital media, the Internet and social media have changed the playing field. Traditional work in communication came from research undertaken on newspapers, magazine articles and television and how they affect the formation of perception and opinion involving agenda-setting and framing may need to be updated. While traditional research in pinion making remains highly valuable, digital media have complicated our understanding of the role played by media as both an extenuator and an amplifier of risk messages. Recent data indicates a significant trend towards net news at the expense of traditional sources especially in terms of science and technology issues. Most recently, we see social media in the likes of Facebook, blogging and microblogging (Twitter), and YouTube as important conduits of information about science and technology. For scholars in communication, digital media have changed the landscape of what we do. We need to find ways to link public interest, attention, and perception through these new media forms.

PCOST Director Dr. David M. Berube is advised by a board of directors on which he also sits. The project is recruiting members and will petition to become a Center/Institute in the near future.