21 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2012 Last revised: 15 Aug 2012
Date Written: March 30, 2012
One challenge in the field of communication and information policy is situating the discussion such that all interested parties are able to contribute and so that parties affected by the policy are made aware. Perhaps more so in this area than any other, participants run the gamut, from scientists with highly specialized technical knowledge; to well-versed, but not scientifically trained, members of government or industry; to academics immersed in the legal or policy issues but with little understanding of the underlying technologies; to the general public that feels the results of the policy making. Every one of these members may have value to add to the discussion, but there is a challenge in creating an adequate discourse community. And regardless of who participates in policy making, a resulting course of action may need to be communicated to all who are regulated, regardless of their interest or level of understanding.
My research in this area involves applying concepts from the science of science communication to areas of intersect between law, science, and language. My particular focus is how rhetorical devices can be used in legal and policy fora to explain scientific and technical concepts to non-scientist policy makers and others, regardless of how steeped in the subject matter they may be. Explaining terms of art to ensure all discussion participants are on the same page, particularly the terms of relevant science and technology, is difficult, especially in conjunction with the overlay of political and legal jargon that accompanies policy. Successful explanation is more than simply the choice of words used (which is of course important) but also the use of rhetoric in providing the account – narrative, metaphor, metonymy, personification, and so on. As all the participants have varied backgrounds, and perhaps more importantly, different interests in and agendas regarding the subject, the effective use of rhetorical devices is more challenging. However, the policy making process, as well as the act of making the public aware of the policy, is enriched by focusing creating a reasonably uniform understanding.
The project is significant because little work has been done in the field at the intersection of policy, law, language, and science – the precise location of communication and information policy. Articles that purport to discuss rhetorical devices in the law generally use the tool as a vehicle for explaining the law itself, rather than how technical information is conveyed to a participant in policy making. Articles directed towards explaining science to laypersons generally do not have a policy or legal overlay, allowing for a simplification of the science that would not be effective in the policy making arena. More and more often, communication and information policy will need to involve an understanding of the science to promote discourse; the parties at the table need to have an understanding to make it work.
Keywords: science communication; discourse communities; policy making; law and language
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