AAAS panel examines field of science communication

Women make up the majority of the field of science communications (in some Cornell courses in the field, up to 90 percent), but until it became a professional field practitioners were more often male. “Science communication is now lower status, lower paid and has all the ghettoizing characteristics of other gendered professions,” said Professor Bruce Lewenstein at the recent Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference in Washington, D.C. Lewenstein moderated the panel, “A Feminist Agenda for Science Communication?” which despite an 8 am start time and a large room was standing-room only with more than 100 people.

The panel included two Cornell alumni: Stephanie Steinhardt MS ’15, PhD ’18 and Megan Halpern, MS’ 09, PhD ’14, organizer and discussant, both at Michigan State University; as well as Tania Perez-Bustos, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Colombia. 
Science communicators play an important role, noted Halpern. “There’s the assumption that knowledge that’s disseminated is knowledge that matters,” she said.

But because there are issues of representation related to women and people of color in the science and science communication communities, science communicators need to ask more difficult questions, said Steinhardt. “We need to ask, who is absent from the story? What does this data miss?”

The panel addressed what an intersectional feminist agenda for science communication research might look like, as well as guidelines for feminist practice. “Are there ways that the feminist approach gives us new ways of thinking about science communication?” asked Lewenstein, professor and chair of the Department of Science & Technology Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences and professor of communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

After the panel spoke, Lewenstein divided the large audience into groups of 3-5, “in order to give more people voices,” he said, adding that “sometimes you have to take explicit action in order to make sure everyone gets a chance.”

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