Why is social science communication so underdeveloped compared to natural science communication?

The evidence included below is rather crude but it lends support to my impression that social science communication lags far behind natural science communication. The former isn’t taken seriously as a specialist role (frustrating for someone like me who increasingly thinks of myself as a communicator of sociology as much as a sociologist) whereas the latter is a well established occupational role with its own conferences, support structure and occupational culture.

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This relates to the ideas Steve Fuller and I offered a few months ago about the need for a public understanding of sociology chair and how this might work: here, here and here. More self-interestedly, it also relates to my awareness that despite effectively working as a consultant social science communicator, my sense is that I would just confuse people if I described myself that way when looking for work.


Categories: Committing Sociology, Digital Sociology

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2 replies »

  1. That’s really interesting. I wonder if its also because scientists merely need to expand on lab notes, whereas sociologists and other social scientists are working with very complex, abstract ideas – difficult to explain to the initiated, let alone others. We are also forced to use jargon in order to seem credible to our peers, this maybe makes it more difficult for us to then bridge the language gap, to re-express ourselves in plain English?

  2. This may be a legitimation problem. Is it the public’s fault for not understanding, is it the social scientist’s fault for not communicating, or is it something deeper within social science discipline? I’m going with #3.

    Before I got into Sociology, I was in natural sciences (physics/chemistry). I was surprised at how few Sociologists (and social scientists in general) think like scientists. In the natural sciences, we are not afraid of the unknown. The words “I don’t know” is almost sacrilege to utter in the social sciences. In the natural sciences, if a theory doesn’t support the observable facts, then the theory is tossed out. In the social sciences, it’s the opposite; if observable facts don’t fit the theory then it’s not the theory that’s bad, it’s that the data wasn’t manipulated enough, we observed the wrong thing, or (worst case) observations just don’t matter.

    If Social Science wants to be a “science,” then perhaps it’s time that Social Scientists start to think like “Scientists.” Once that happens, then transmitting knowledge to the public will not only become easier, but will become legitimate in the public view.

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