Science Communication Needs to be Inclusive and Intentional

For the benefit of humanity and the environment, the scientific community must promote and protect free and open science communication and share scientific insights through communication that is accessible to all.

Communication by the scientific community, including the full range of AGU members, is essential for building knowledge and ensuring that science serves the needs of society. If done well, such communication can help build a shared understanding of research and knowledge systems that allow scientists to conduct Earth and space science that benefits humanity and the environment.

The scientific community must do its part to facilitate communication opportunities, eliminate communication barriers, and secure free speech. It must also embrace a diversity of perspectives, counter political interference, overcome censorship, and speak against intimidation. Together, we’re responsible for fostering a collaborative environment that produces, promotes, and protects the free and open communication of science. The scientific community, and society, should recognize, value, and support science communication, including with adequate financial resources and time.

In the evolving landscape of science communication, the scientific community must engage in meaningful dialogue, including listening and responding, with a full range of actors across society and share scientific insights through communication that is accessible to all. Our commitment to inclusive and intentional communication will help foster a society where people turn to science to make meaningful and impactful contributions to humanity and the environment.

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Public Comments
9 May 2024
I would like to see the word "decision(s)" in the statement somewhere, in the context of relying on factual scientific communication to make good life-impacting decisions.
I support the main themes in this position statement. However I have a few suggestions/comments: (1) not all science is done with the express intent for societal benefit. Discovery science is not necessarily also applied science. The statement as drafted seems to imply that all science - or all valuable science - must benefit society. I'd like to see that corrected. (2) The use of very strong language like "must" may come across as disingenuous because some of AGU science is not open access. While AGU is striving towards open access, not all journals are open access, not is access to science presentations at annual conferences (the fee for attending AGU is very high, even with reduced cost for some demographic groups). There needs to be some acknowledgement that AGU itself is striving towards open access but is not yet fully there.
30 April 2024
We agree with the values and principles advanced in the draft statement but note that they are general enough to encompass a very wide range of actual behaviors and practices. Therefore, we believe that the statement would have a greater impact on aligning individual behaviors with AGU’s expectations and ambitions if it contained more detail on how values will be operationalized and reconciled with each other.

The draft statement does not call for any specific practices to facilitate accessible communication. A reader may view any published work (even behind paywalls) as “accessible” in the sense that it can be accessed through libraries with journal subscriptions or through interlibrary loans or other means. If the statement anticipates specific practices to fulfill the obligation to accessible science, examples could be listed to clarify AGU’s expectations or advice. This might include calling for researchers to publish in open-access journals, or for funders to dedicate funds for publication in these venues, or for publishers of open-access journals to facilitate publication by researchers from authors at underresourced institutions.

We fully support the values of free speech and freedom from censorship and intimidation advanced in the draft statement. However, these values can sometimes conflict with each other (e.g., speech that is viewed as intimidating) or with other goals of a professional society (e.g., ensuring that speech of one party is not impeded by speech of another). There is a need for intelligible principles to help AGU members understand how these values will be reconciled in case of conflict and to be sure that the same standards will apply to all.

For example, there may be some confusion regarding the ranges and forms of speech that AGU will tolerate at its annual meetings in light of the withdrawal and subsequent restoration of the abstracts of Abramoff and Kalmus following their act of protest at the 2022 meeting. The code of conduct itself does not provide clear guidance on this point as “Disruption” has been a disallowed behavior since 2019 or earlier.*

Likewise, “censorship” can mean different things to different people. Does AGU construe censorship solely as government censorship? Or does it consider censorship to include the interventions of private actors (institutional or individual) to discourage or penalize some types of speech? If the latter, what principles will be applied to balance opposition to censorship with other values advanced by the statement such as freedom from intimidation? If AGU leadership has preferences guiding requirements for the expression of controversial or polarizing speech (verbal, written, etc.), including on the choice of venue (annual conference, AGU blog, etc.), this statement would be a very useful place to make those explicit.

Overall, we support the values advanced by the draft statement. We believe it will have the greatest impact if it clearly describes how the values should be pursued within the context of AGU activities and how AGU intends to reconcile conflict between them in the case of controversy or disagreement.

Signed by (in alphabetical order)

Azar M. Abadi, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Jenny Bratburd, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Ryan S.D. Calder, Virginia Tech
Gaige Kerr, George Washington University
Laura Webb, University of Vermont
Michael Charles Wimberly, University of Oklahoma

I am excited to see the AGU picking up on this important topic in a position statement. It touches a great deal of interactions based on the role of our science in our society on a local to global scale. Therein lies, however, also a weakness of the statement. The complexity and difference between various systems of interactions make it difficult to formulate general statements. I would therefore like to suggest being more specific in various places.

“ If done well, [...] “- What does well mean? It might be more insightful if the statement could formulate basic criteria that would be necessary to facilitate the accessible, inclusive, and intentional science communication.

The second paragraph points to difficulties, that have to be overcome when communicating science (e.g., lack of opportunities, communication barriers, diversity of voices in shaping mediated realities, political interference). These are in part quite difficult to grasp without some a priori knowledge or experience. Being more explicit about the inhibitors might streamline the message and increase the value of the statement. I am thinking of some questions arising for me, but maybe also for others: What is meant by communication barriers (there are many and some mentioned issues are, in fact, such inhibitors)? What diversity is meant here (gender diversity, within the field, within our societies, on a global scale and across societies, between the global North and the global South,...). Following up on that, in how far is the diversity missing? Who is politically interfering with whom in the sociopolitical context, and when would it be considered harmful? I understand that many of these questions have normative answers corresponding to the local sociopolitical context. The more important it will be to be very clear what is meant.

In the last paragraph, an “evolving landscape of science communication” is mentioned, but it remains unclear in how far it is changing. In my experience, we are slowly moving away from the classical communication from peer to peer, leaving the translation processes for and communication to communities to science journalism and press offices. I thus suggest being more specific:

“ In recent years, members of the scientific communities have increasingly engaged directly with all parts of society and thus shifted the traditional paradigms of communicating their science. In this evolving landscape of science communication, a meaningful dialogue, including listening and responding, with a full range of actors across society is key to sharing scientific insights that is accessible to all. “

Finally, I would like to suggest supporting the most important parts of the statement with links/references. That would significantly strengthen the position statement. A work I very much appreciate is the following:

Scheufele, D. A. (2014). “Science Communication as Political Communication”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.supplement 4, pp. 13585–13592. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1317516111.
I applaud AGU for creating this position statement. The need for skilled science communication has never been greater. I hope these comments help to further strengthen the statement.

Paragraph 2: The first sentence (“Communication by the scientific community, including the full range of AGU members, is essential for building knowledge and ensuring that science serves the needs of society.”) seems to suggest that all AGU members must do more communication work. I disagree that all researchers or AGU members need to do the work of science communication. Instead, all AGU members can do the work of protecting and supporting science communication, allowing those who are interested and skilled in the communication work to do more. All members could also be encouraged to collaborate to increase communication of their science to interested and necessary parties. The last sentence would be strengthened by noting that building research understanding not only allows scientists to conduct beneficial work, but is also essential to supporting society in applying research results and realizing their benefits.

Paragraph 3: I agree with comments to clarify “diversity of perspectives”. My concern includes ensuring this cannot be misconstrued as setting up an all-sides-considered framework that can allow poorly supported science (or false science) to receive the same emphasis as well established science. This also aligns with James Boulter’s concerns over protecting false information by protecting free speech. Michael Wysession provides an excellent comment regarding the last sentence of this paragraph.

Paragraph 4: The mention of “through communication that is accessible to all” could be understood to suggest that all communication should be fully public. This has alignments with Open Science principles, but is not consistently a successful communications strategy for ensuring science is understood and actionable. High quality science communication must be audience-specific and non-public forms of science communication can be invaluable for reaching some audiences. I suggest modifying to support a wider range of communication types and audiences, with an emphasis on access for all being achieved across a range of activities and products.

Together, my comments do suggest that changes will also be needed in the opening statement/paragraph. I look forward to viewing the revised position statement. Thank you for AGU’s work on this."
29 April 2024
throughout the position statement, i could not find the definition of word "intentional". this word itself is not clear why it deserves a position statement. maybe there are some background debates about it but i would like to some explanation or definition. for example, what is "unintentional" communication?
"The clarity of the last sentence of the third paragraph could be improved. I do not understand what is meant by “and time.” Is this time allowed to carry out scientific communication? Time to read it? With the subject being “scientific community” and “society” this becomes confusing. In addition, a major problem with increasing science communication by AGU scientists is the lack of reward for it and even discouragement of it by most academic institutions, where a large portion of AGU members are employed. AGU and other science organizations now have awards for science communication (though there could be even more, particularly for also for scientists doing the communication, and not just journalists), but rarely is such recognition given at universities, where service work such as science communication is seen as a distraction from its core mission of research and teaching. [Also, no comma should be used before “and” when it separates two objects.]

Perhaps the last sentence could be changed to:

“The scientific community, academic institutions, and society should recognize, value, and support science communication, including with adequate opportunities, encouragement, financial resources, recognition, and reward.” "
I am thrilled to see AGU develop this statement on communicating science. This statement succinctly describes the importance of science communication, and I strongly support the points that support inclusive science communication that ‘embraces a diversity of perspectives’ and is ‘accessible to all.’

In my reading of the statement, the primary call to action appears to be directed towards scientists and individual members of the AGU community to act now and engage this work. This is an effective and important call to action in the current statement. There is also reference to systemic challenges in the statement: “The scientific community, and society, should recognize, value, and support science communication, including with adequate financial resources and time.” I am glad to see this recognition, but suggest moving this point towards the beginning of the paragraph to highlight that individuals are working within a system that has not traditionally supported this work- and this is just as important to address as calling on individuals to act now.

If the writing panel wanted to highlight specific systemic changes-- such as the efforts currently being made across academic institutions to revise tenure and promotion criteria to include public facing and engaged scholarship – as well as efforts that support untenured science communication practitioners, this could strengthen this point. There are certainly programs that support members of the scientific community seeking to communicate, but as the panel knows, there are larger structural changes to reward systems in science that need to be addressed for the scientific community to engage more fully. For many scientists, this work is seen as extra. In addition, much of this difficult work is being taken on by early career practitioners, and communicators who work without the protection of tenure (Kearns 2021). Structural changes such as these would also make the current reward system in science more inclusive (Davies et al., 2021).

Finally, I would suggest adding ‘relationship and trust building’ to the list of things the scientific community must engage in.

Thank you to the writing panel for your work on this important statement.

Davies et al., 2021: Promoting inclusive metrics of success and impact to dismantle a discriminatory reward system in science. PLOS Biology.

Faith Kearns “Getting to the Heart of Science Communication.” Island Press 2021
26 April 2024
This is an excellent effort and I commend the panel. Please consider cross-linking language to other AGU position statements, particularly “The Responsibilities and Rights of Scientists” statement. Scientists are under attack, and the right for free and open communications is one of the most basic rights scientists have. There are colleagues prevented from freedom of expression, travel to meetings, choice of topics and modes of exploration, and abilities to take actions of conscience. This statement should acknowledge this sad reality.
25 April 2024
I appreciate the general direction of the AGU comments recognizing the importance of inclusion, free speech, and informing all about scientific advances. We scientists are funded to increase human understanding, and that cannot occur without communication (and archival) of the results.

However, like other commenters, I wish the AGU took in this statement a more active stance regarding its own role in establishing those communication channels. For example, AGU has begun some open access journals (e.g., JAMES) and begun to allow scientists to purchase open access for their publications as well. Also, AGU has begun to get a broader range of perspectives at its conferences, particularly in keynote addresses. However, the *cost* of open access to authors and the *cost* of admission to AGU meetings remain exorbitant, which is most definitely not inclusive. AGU expressing its values is a good first step, but please also act on those values in the arenas which you control.
Suggest clarifying that scientific results (i.e. results that are supported by data, independently verifiable, and subject to peer review) are what we are prioritizing when we say ""scientific communication"". The statement is should not be misunderstood as supporting all communication.

Do we need to explicitly call out access for visual and auditory impairments as part of the science communication strategy?
22 April 2024
I appreciate and strongly support the prioritization of scientific communication from the geophysical community via AGU. And there is much in this statement I admire (e.g. " fostering a collaborative environment that produces, promotes, and protects the free and open communication of science." and "the scientific community must engage in meaningful dialogue, including listening and responding,")

However, I feel that this statement contains a great many generalities that make it difficult to ascertain what its true intent is. For example, "diversity of perspectives" is unclear. Which diverse perspectives are included? Are they globally diverse perspectives or those of historically underrepresented (either in number or prominence) groups within the scientific community? I would argue that BOTH are needed and vital to the enterprise, but this is not stated explicitly.

This statement COULD also be (mis)interpreted as diverse "perspectives" on matters of scientific understanding. The reference to protecting “free speech” seems unusual to me in a scientific community. We can debate whether speech running counter to established scientific understanding should be amplified in the general public (e.g. in social media). However, in scientific communication (i.e. by the AGU) such discredited “science” must not receive communication priority. Rather, we want to amplify only the best science, with due acknowledgment of legitimate scientific uncertainty and productive intellectual conflict. Furthermore, we should strive to accomplish this with a diverse, inclusive set of people to most effectively communicate it. In other words, the diversity should be of the voices communicating, NOT what is communicated.

Finally, it should be made clear that the diversity in voices should be of individual or aggregates of scientists, but not corporate (i.e. businesses) or even bureaucratic (i.e. governmental) perspectives. There is room for individual scientists working in industry and certainly employed by the government to contribute to this communication. But they must primarily be representing the science they are engaged in, not the interests of their employers.

So my request is: please be more clear about whether this statement is about WHAT is being communicated - or WHO is communicating it.
I am delighted to see AGU make a statement regarding the need for free and open science communication, with an emphasis on inclusivity both in terms of those doing the communicating and in the audiences and topics of communication. I think the point about countering political interference is also crucial.

I think it is critical that prominent scientific institutions like AGU clearly and strongly articulate these goals and values. My main question about the statement follows directly from that: if these are issues that the AGU community feels strongly about, what is AGU proposing to do about them? Is there a strategy in place or can AGU at least commit to developing a strategy in this statement?

For instance, with the sentence, “The scientific community, and society, should recognize, value, and support science communication, including with adequate financial resources and time” it’s not clear to me if that’s re-affirming support for the current system or suggesting new efforts. Should we be offering more communications training in graduate programs? Should there be some guidance on what evaluating communications work looks like in tenure and promotion, including assessing the inclusivity aspect? Would there be some benefit to coordinating with other professional societies like AMS on this?

For climate communications, at least, I think there need to be a new paradigm. I’m thinking particularly of:

Swain, D., 2023: Climate researchers need support to become scientist-communicators. Nature 624, 9.

In terms of political interference, is this statement intended to replace or augment previous AGU statements?

It seems to have less detail on that issue, so I hope it’s intended to be complementary but that might be worth making explicit.

I hope this statement is more the beginning than the final word for AGU on this topic and I look forward to the next steps!
16 April 2024
A very strong statement; well written.

In the opening sentence, consider changing "the environment" to "our planet". Science communication ultimately impacts all aspects of Earth and referencing planet rather than just environment is more inclusive.

The reference to 'knowledge systems' is a very strong word choice!

Last sentence of paragraph 2, why not use the term research instead of science? Scientists are conducting research and it seems more straightforward to state that rather than as written stating they are conducting science. In the same sentence, consider replacing environment with planet.

Third paragraph in particular is very strong. Thanks for the opportunity to provide feedback!
10 April 2024
Congratulations on an excellent draft. It may be useful to add text supporting opportunities to learn about effective scientific communication, noting that it a skill that can be strengthened.
4 April 2024
The AGU membership, is part of the scientific community. This draft tends to read as though the scientific community is a separate entity that we are examining from afar. Maybe a phrase emphasizing that we are a part of that scientific community, something like, "we, as members of the scientific community are obligated to facilitate communication, eliminate barriers, .....etc. " A more forceful introductory sentence that pulls us as a society into the responsibility of the position statement is needed.
2 April 2024
Perhaps it might be useful to add that (in your words) exploring the evolving landscape of science communications should be a part of science education.
25 March 2024
Missing: Knowledge (as mentioned in the first sentence), loosely adapted from Miller's Compentence Dimensions, is only the foundation that ultimately enables Competence (Know how), Perfomance (shows how), and Action (does) (Miller GE (1990). The assessment of clinical skills/competence/performance. AcadMed. 65:63-S7). This is what makes science communication so valuable - it has an empowerment function which, in the sense of science literacy, enables people to make sustainable and responsible decisions and take action.

"If done well" - here we would have to define "well". For example: good external science communication is science- and audience-oriented, makes the right choice from a variety of possible formats and considers its impact (adopted from Wormer H. (2023) TU Dortmund.