Society is increasingly concerned about environmental and personal chemical risks. Environmental sciences were established as a response to the anthropogenic impacts on environmental and human health, for example, reports about acid rain and its impacts on forests, or effects of chemicals in the environment (see Rachel Carson’s pioneering report “Silent Spring“). Environmental sciences are at the heart of what people deal with in their daily lives: environmental quality, food safety, clean air, fresh water, human health. Yet, research outcomes are seldom cited in the public press, decisions about commercial products are based on false and emotional suspicions about chemicals, and public knowledge of fundamental science is woefully inadequate. How can we change that? Numerous decisions are taken every second which could be supported by knowing the outcomes of our research.
Expressing science in simple terms is difficult. As a result, scientists often avoid engaging in formal communications to general audiences. Nevertheless, since environmental research is driven by a concern about the environment as a whole, disconnection from the general public is more than just a typical academic characteristic - it is a complete failure of our fundamental intentions. Connections between ”the laboratory” and “the public” of course exist, through press offices at institutes, news on institute web sites, or reception of important findings in newspapers. However, crucial questions remain: Are the influential public perceptions accurate? Are scientific results, which can provide important information for decision-making, reaching the appropriate audience in a timely manner?
Communication means to convey meaningful information to create shared understanding. Messages from environmental scientists must generate public comprehension and engagement so that we can all live in a safer and healthier environment. Clear and understandable communication is crucial, which means merely contacting the public is insufficient. A strategy is hence required to effectively and sustainably compile and distribute scientific findings. This strategy should be based on state-of-art tools and methods, designed for optimal dissemination of findings from environmental research. Furthermore, it should be regularly reviewed, improved and adapted to the ongoing technological and philosophical developments in science communication.
Recognizing an urgent need for expansion and improvement of communication of scientific findings by the SETAC community, we started a series of well-attended sessions on science and risk communication at SETAC World Congress 2012 in Berlin, SETAC Europe annual meeting 2013 in Glasgow, 2014 in Basel, 2015 in Barcelona, 2016 in Nantes.
We furthermore initiated an article series on science and risk communication in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe (ESEU) to provide a platform for colleagues with expertise or interest regarding communication-related topics.
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