As scientists continue to expand their efforts to communicate effectively, they will also encounter challenges of how to communicate appropriately. How can the obligations to be accurate to the science and engaging to the audience be balanced? What roles can scientists play, especially on controversial topics? Are scientists responsible for what happens to their messages when journalists and other communicators get involved? The Cases for Teaching Responsible Communication of Science project at Iowa State University has developed case studies based on actual events to allow these and related questions to be explored in classroom settings.
Each of the cases below includes a student packet to provoke discussion of these challenging ethical issues. In addition, most also include a more in depth role-play version, inviting students to take on different “characters” with different perspectives of the communication choices. Finally you’ll find teachers’ guides to using the cases in both formats, bibliographies of possible readings, issues briefs summarizing the likely arguments in the case, and a description of the actual outcomes.
This collection of "mini cases" expands the set of TRCS full cases to touch on more fields, more communication situations, and more ethical dilemmas. All are based on real decisions that have come to our attention, although we have not always followed up with interviews with participants. We use the cases to spark 5-10 minute discussions of communication ethics … Continue reading Assorted Bite-Sized Case Studies
This case focuses on the similarities and differences in the communication roles, goals and normative standards of journalists and scientists. Katie Couric, a reputable journalist with a good record on health issues, did a show on the HPV vaccine that used the powerful communication technique of story-telling in a way that over-emphasized alleged harms. She … Continue reading Vaccine Stories
Political decisions regarding science can have significant impacts on society and scientists often have the expertise to allow them to meaningfully add to the public debate about those decisions. But is it appropriate for scientists to voice their opinions about policy? Or is it inappropriate for scientists to remain silent when they possess the most … Continue reading The Opinionated Scientist
Scientists are being encouraged to share their enthusiasm about science with the general public, engaging them with scientific results relevant to their lives. But when scientists try to do so, they may find that enthusiasm, engagement and relevance look like hype to their colleagues. This case asks students to serve as advisors to a young … Continue reading Should I hold a press conference?
Ken Ham, head of the Creation Museum, has challenged Bill Nye, the Science Guy, to debate creationism. Should Nye accept? Arguing this case will allow students to explore questions including: How should scientists interact with those who take positions that have no legitimacy in the scientific community? What functions are served by debates between scientists … Continue reading Debating Evolution
In 1999, scientists working at Cornell University, led by John Losey, completed a preliminary study in which they found that monarch butterfly larvae are harmed when they consume milkweed dusted with transgenic corn pollen. This finding was immediately used by some environmental groups to argue that transgenic crops should be banned, and was criticized by … Continue reading Monarchs in the Corn
Should scientists intervene in contentious issues? And if so, what can they do that will be appropriate and effective in supporting good decision-making on the issue? This case invites students to participate in drafting a public statement that uses the occasion of an extreme drought as a "teachable moment" on climate change. In drafting their … Continue reading Extreme weather, extreme communication?
When researchers and public information officers understand how the media select and shape news stories, they can predict what aspects of scientific research will gain media attention and even how the interpretation of that research may shift over time. How these groups should use this knowledge raises questions of ethics. This case focuses on a … Continue reading Genetically Modified Headlines
There are a number of incentives and societal pressures to communicate study results with statistically significant treatment differences. However, overstatement of scientific findings, even in the absence of factual errors or data falsification, can have negative effects for both the communicator and his or her target audience. This case focuses on a fictional abstract in … Continue reading Data Mining: Diamonds or Deceit?