Communicating with Public Audiences 8.1 Why Do Scientists Communicate with Public Audiences? In Chapter 1 we noted that scientific disciplines are not only communities in themselves but also parts of the larger society in which these communities are sit- uated and in which scientists create, produce, and live. This relationship between scientists and society is of great interest to several national science organizations, including the Committee on Assessing Integrity in Research Environments (CAIRE). In a joint report issued in 2002, CAIRE et a1. state: The"pursuit and dissemination of knowledge enjoy a place of distinction in American cUlture, and the public expects to reap considerable benefit from the creative and inno- vative contributions of scientists. As science becomes increasingly intertwined with major social, philosophical, economic, and political issues, scientists become more ac- countable to the larger society of which they are a part. (p 33) In previous chapters we have explored gemes and conventions that professional scientists use to communicate with each other, and some applied forms used in the realms of industry and government. In this chapter we will explore conven- tions used to communicate knowledge of science and scientific research to public audiences in the larger society. The term public audience is a rather loose one and is meant here to imply a ':Vide range of listeners and readers with a variety of interests, needs, and educa- tional backgrounds. It may be a group or a professional person (even with a PhD in another field) in need of information about a particular scientific topic, or a general reader or listener simply curious about science. Public audiences for sci- ence thus can include, but are not limited to, those who regularly use the results of scientific research in the course of their daily work (such as agricultural pro- 176

Public Audiences Part 1

Embed Size (px)

Citation preview

Page 1: Public Audiences Part 1

Communicating with Public Audiences

8.1 Why Do Scientists Communicatewith Public Audiences?

In Chapter 1 we noted that scientific disciplines are not only communities inthemselves but also parts of the larger society in which these communities are sit-uated and in which scientists create, produce, and live. This relationship betweenscientists and society is of great interest to several national science organizations,including the Committee on Assessing Integrity in Research Environments(CAIRE). In a joint report issued in 2002, CAIRE et a1. state:

The"pursuit and dissemination of knowledge enjoy a place of distinction in AmericancUlture, and the public expects to reap considerable benefit from the creative and inno-vative contributions of scientists. As science becomes increasingly intertwined withmajor social, philosophical, economic, and political issues, scientists become more ac-countable to the larger society of which they are a part. (p 33)

In previous chapters we have explored gemes and conventions that professionalscientists use to communicate with each other, and some applied forms used inthe realms of industry and government. In this chapter we will explore conven-tions used to communicate knowledge of science and scientific research to publicaudiences in the larger society.

The term public audience is a rather loose one and is meant here to imply a':Vide range of listeners and readers with a variety of interests, needs, and educa-tional backgrounds. It may be a group or a professional person (even with a PhDin another field) in need of information about a particular scientific topic, or ageneral reader or listener simply curious about science. Public audiences for sci-ence thus can include, but are not limited to, those who regularly use the resultsof scientific research in the course of their daily work (such as agricultural pro- \. 'MW


Page 2: Public Audiences Part 1

8.1 • Why Do Scientists Communicate with Public Audiences? 177

ducers, fish and game managers, medical professionals); administrators, localgovernment agencies, and other public officials who need scientific informationto make decisions about issues such as waste management, industrial and envi-ronmental regulations, and road construction; clubs, classes, and other educa-tional or special-interest groups that want to learn about science; private citizenswho use natural resources for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other recreational pur-poses; and the public at large, which has a vested interest in science insofar asthey support it financially through government funding and must live with itsconsequences. ..

Thus, public audierices are not monolithic, but rather quite diverse, and so nosingle, "rationalistic" formula will suffice to define them or their interests (seeLocke 2001). In addition to addressing more general audiences within the scien-tific community (e.g., readers of journals such as Science and Nature, or the mixedaudience of the research proposal), scientists may wish to write articles for themuch broader audiences that read science-oriented journals such as ScientificAmerican and Discover, general-interest publications such as Time and Newsweek,or the feature section of a newspaper. They also may make presentatiQns to publicaudiences, participate in question-and-answer sessions, take part in public policydebates affected by developments in their research areas, and give press releasesand interviews on important discoveries or issues in their field.


Choose a topic in your field (perhaps derived from a research report you haveread), and identify some specific public audiences you might address on thistopic. Who outside your field might read or listen to what you as an expert haveto say about this topic? Why would they be reading or listening? How do theneeds and interests of these groups differ from those of experts in your field?What do they want or need from your presentation, and how much would theyalready know? (Are there any public audiences with whom experts in your fieldmight cofnmunicate but currently don't?)

There are three major reasons scientists communicate with the general public:moral, economic, and political. The National Academy of Sciences asserts that sci-entists have an ethical responsibility to understand and explain the effect of thework that they do on the society in which they live:

The occurrence and consequences of discoveries in basic research are virtually impos-sible to foresee. Nevertheless, the scientific community must recognize the potentialfor such discoveries and be prepared to address the questions that they raise. If scien-tists do find that their discoveries have implications for some important aspect of pub-lic affairs, they have a responsibility to call attention to the public issues involved.(NAS 1995, P 20)

Genetic research-including genetically modified foods (GMFs), stem cell re-search, and cloning-and nuclear power are two obvious cases in which scientific

Page 3: Public Audiences Part 1

178 Chapter 8 II Communicating with Public Audiences


discoveries are morally controversial or have complicated, long-term implicationsfor society (Associated Press 1996). Other controversial areas of research includeenvironmental protection and wildlife preservation, the use of laboratory animalsin medical research, the development of drugs, the application of medical tech-nology to prolong life, and biological studies of race and gender.

A second reason scientists communicate with the general public is economicand hinges on the practical question: Who funds science? In addition to privatelabs, corporations, and universities, it is the government, and therefore the public,that funds science through tax dollars and so indirectly chooses which projects tosupport. Public finari'bal support of science takes two forms: the funding of gov-ernmental agencies that conduct scientific research and the funding of govern-ment grant programs that support research by scientists at other institutions. Thefederal government's proposed budget for 2004 included $15,469,000,000 forresearch and development at NASA (NASA 2003), $74,000,000 for the Departmentof Agriculture (USDA 2003), and $27,893,000,000 for NIH (NIH 2003b). In 2002,$32,000,000 in federal and matching funds were awarded to the National SeaGrant Office (National Sea Grant 2003). And the President signed an authori-zation act increasing the National Science Foundation's (NSF) budget from$4,790,000,000 in 2002 to $9,840,000,000 in 2007 (NSF 2002b). Increases in some ar-eas of scientific research and education were undoubtedly spurred by the terroristattack on the United States on September 11, 2001, notably research on biochemi-cal and biological agents. But other government-run programs have either beenscaled back because of budget cuts (e.g., NASA's Mars expedition) or eliminatedaltogether (the Superconducting Super Collider). "Big science" projects in whichthe federal government plays a major role (such as the Hubble Telescope, the In-ternational Space Station, and the Human Genome Project) require costly equip-ment and the coordination of efforts of scientists around the world and can beprohibitively expensive. In a time of renewed budget deficits and economic belttightening, scientists must be able to convince not only their peers but also thepublic and its official representatives in government of the worthiness of scientificprojects. Responsibility for garnering public understanding of, enthusiasm for,and goodwill toward science ultimately rests with scientists.

The third reason scientists should learn to communicate with the general pub-lic is related to the politics of a democracy. A democratic society requires that itscitizens (both electorate and elected) be informed about the issues that confront it.Since science is a major cultural force in our democracy, many of the policy deci-sions we make are about or based on science. As the National Academy of Sci-ences states:

[S]cience and technology have become such integral parts of society that scientists canno longer isolate themselves from societal concerns. Nearly half of the bills that comebefore Congress have a significant scientific or technological component. Scientists areincreasingly called upon to contribute to public policy and to the public understand-ing of science. They play an important role in educating nonscientists about the con-tent and processes of science. (NAS 1995, P 21)

Thus, a democracy such as ours needs a scientifically informed citizenry to ar-rive at good decisions about what research to support and how to interpret andapply its results (see O'Keefe 2001). In a 1996 survey of the American public, the

Page 4: Public Audiences Part 1

8.1 • Why Do Scientists Communicate with Public Audiences? 179

National Science Foundation found only 25 percent performed well on a basic testin science and economics (Associated Press 1996). That same survey, however,found that 72 percent of the participants considered scientific research valuable. Alater study by NSF found that "[M]ost Americans have a positive attitude aboutscience and technology" (CAIRE et al. 2002, p 16), but also argues that scientiststhemselves have an important role to play in maintaining that positive relation-ship with the public. Scientists can help citizens understand and continue toappreciate science by becoming aware of the various genres through which thepublic gets its and by learning to use the conventions of those genresto effectively communicate with the public. According to John Wilkes (1990),director of the Science Communication Program at the University of SouthernCalifornia-Santa Cruz,

u.s. citizens get up to 90% 'of their information about science from newspapers, maga-zines, and, to a lesser extent, television. As producers of scientific knowledge, scien-tists are in the best position to use the media to teach the public what it wants-andneeds-to know about developments in medicine, science, and technology. (p 15)

While most scientists are not professionally trained in speaking or writing togeneral audiences, many scientists have recognized that the general public is animportant audience to reach. As Bazerman demonstrates in The Languages of Edi-son's Light (1999), Thomas Edison was a master of public relations; it would not befarfetched to say that the adoption of electric power and light was the result of hisability to employ various media (including the lightbulb itself in spectacular dis-plays of electric power) to persuasively communicate with a diversity of audi-ences: investors, businessmen, the U.S. Patent Office, international governments,the press, and the public.1 Books and articles by such famous scientists as physi-cist Stephen Hawking, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, marine biologist RachelCarson, research physician Lewis Thomas, and anthropologist Richard Leakey-just to name a few-as well as the current popularity of television programs aboutscience (National Geographic Explores, NATURE, and NOVA) suggest that ratherthan heading to ivory-tower labs and leaving the communication of science tojournalists, scientists are taking to public pages and airwaves to explain theirwork and pique an interest in their science.

As a medium, the Internet also is increasingly being used as a means for sci-entists and scientific government agencies to communicate directly with publicaudiences. As discussed in Chapter 7, for instance, the World Wide Web providesa convenient medium for conveying safety information to a broad range of audi-ences, including technicians working in the field; swimmers, boaters, and fisher-men; and the public at large.

With open and rapid dissemination of information and the potential ano-nymity of sources on the Web, one problem that has emerged in the public com-munication of science online is the authenticity and quality of information. It is acommonplace that because of the frequent lack of quality control mechanisms, notall the information found on the Web is reliable. This is an issue that every user

]Lievrouw (1990) has studied the Pons and Fleischmann debate as a modern-day example of the way"scientists strategically use popular media to make knowledge accessible to the public at large and tomake themselves known." (p 1)

Page 5: Public Audiences Part 1

180 Chapter 8 • Communicating with Public Audiences

looking for information on the Internet faces, of course. On what basis can anddoes the public judge the validity of work (scientific or otherwise) displayed onthe screen? How can the public ,know which information is reliable?

.EXERCiSE 8.2. , . ,

On the World Wide Web, search for information on a subject that you are perhapsinterested in but don't know anything about. After reading the material, speculateon whether the inforfhation is reliable-whether you can trust this website. Howdo you know? Make a list of specific features of the author(s), the organization(sl,the website design and graphics, the writing, the content, and anything else thatyou are using to assess the validity and truthfulness of the information the sitecontains. What are some of the ways the public evaluates online information?What questions/issues about the validity and truthfulness of the information re-main unanswered for you? What else do you need to know before you can trustthis site? How can online communication with the public be improved?

One solution to the inconsistency of online communication may be the directinteraction of scientists with the public online. The interactive capabilities of theWorld Wide Web make the Internet a potential meeting place where scientists candirectly interact not only with each other (Smith 1997), but also with otherpublics. In fact, the online journal, Issues in Science and Technology Online, "a forumfor discussion of public policy related to science, engineering, and medicine"(2002, http://www.nap.edu/isssues/about.html) envisions itself as a publicmeeting place, focusing on social policy as well as policies designed to enhancespecific research fields-and not only the communication of social policy, but alsothe interactive discussion of it. The journal's editors state their mission on theirhomepage:


Aithough Issues is published by the scientific and technical communities, it is not just aplatform for these communities to present their views to Congress and the public.Rather, it is a place where researchers, government officials, business leaders, and oth-ers with a stake in public policy can share ideas and offer specific suggestions.Unlike a popular magazine, in which journalists report on the work of experts, or aprofessional journal, in which experts communicate with colleagues, Issues offersauthorities an opportunity to share their insights directly with a broad audience. Andthe expertise of the boardroom, the statehouse, and the federal agency is as importantas that of the laboratory and the university.

The public also may learn to distinguish between reliable and less reliable in-.formation simply by becoming more familiar with websites. Earlier studies of theimpact of technologies on audiences suggest that technologies do change "therange of experiences and skills that audiences bring to media" (Nightingale 1986,p 31). Improvement in the skills of the public also to some extent depends on con-tinuing innovations and improvements in the accessibility, quality, andtion of online information. For instance, computer companies learned in the 1980sthat they could not simply dump printed information online, but rather had to


8.2 Unde


Page 6: Public Audiences Part 1

8.2 • Understanding "General" Audiences 181

adapt that information to the new medium, as well as develop the new mediumin ways that would facilitate that adaptation. An understanding of the principlesand techniques of audience adaptation, and of general audiences themselves, isessential for successfully communicating with the public in any medium.

8.2 Understanding "General" AudiencesSome research that human reasoning, even in sciences, is "proverbial"-based on human experience and common sense (e.g., Shapin 2001). But ofcourse, human experience varies. Public audiences can be as diverse as the gen-eral population in their knowledge, interests, and needs. Listeners and readers inthese audiences will possess varying types and degrees of scientific knowledge.What these general audiences have in common is a presumed lack of knowledgeabout your topic. Just as scientists must understand the conventions governingcommunication with their peers to be successful professionals, so too must theyunderstand the conventions of communicating with public audiences in order todo so successfully. In this book we cannot describe in detail the many forms pub-lic communication may take. But we can discuss some general strategies foradapting scientific information to meet the needs and interests of nonscientists ina wide range of situations. These strategies can then be applied to specific audi-ences, genres; and mediums as the occasion demands.


In Figure 8.1 we have reproduced the introductions to five different articles on thesame topic. You'll see that they are clearly intended for different audiences. Asyou read, think about what kind of publication these pieces would have appearedin. (Tl).is, exercise has been adapted from Bradford and Whitburn [1982].)

A. Read the five introductions and categorize them according to the level ofspecialized knowledge assumed on the part of the audience. Use a scaleof 1 (general audience) to 5 (most specialized audience). Speculate aboutwhere each piece might have been published.

B. After you've categorized the texts, reflect on what criteria you used to doso. In what ways do these introductions vary? What made you decide thatone article is intended for a more general audience than another? Be sureto consider all dimensions of the text, including such features as contentand orgartization, terminology and phrasing, formatting and visual pre-sentation, tone and point of view. List the many ways in which these textsvary. Illustrate each of these features with a pair of contrasting examplesfrom the passages.

C. Your instructor may ask you to work in small groups to develop a consen-sus ordering of the five texts, a consensus list of the features on whichthey vary, and a set of contrasting examples to illustrate each feature.


Page 7: Public Audiences Part 1

182 Chapter 8 • Communicating with Public Audiences


Introduction A Introducti


FIGURE 8.1 Five introductions. Bradford and Whitburn. "Analysis of the same subject in diverseperiodicals." Technical Writing Teacher 9 (Winter 1982).2

RECENT studies have provided reasons to postulate thatthe primary timer for long-cycle biological rhythmsthat are closely similar in period to the natural geo-

physical ones and that persist in so-called constant conditionsis, in fact, one of organismic response to subtle geophysicalfluctuations which pervade ordinary constant conditions in thelaboratory (Brown, 1959, 1960). In such constant laboratoryconditions a wide variety of organisms have been demon-strated to display, nearly equally conspicuously, metabolicperiodicities of both solar-day and lunar-day frequencies, withtheir interference derivative, the 29.5-day synodic month, andin some instances even the year. These metabolic cyclesexhibit day-by-day irregularities and distortions which havebeen established to be highly significantly correlated with ape-riodic meteorological and other geophysical changes. Thesecorrelations provide strong evidence for the exogenous originof these biological periodisms themselves, since cycles exist inthese meteorological and geophysical factors.

In addition to possessing these basic metabolic periodisms,many organisms exhibit also overt periodisms of numerousphenomena which in the laboratory in artificially controlledconditions of constancy of illumination and temperature maydepart from a natural period. The literature contains manyaccounts, for a wide spectrum of kinds plants and animals,

( v).. e.. '1\..\ oIv <MJ..

t,\:1A uJ\\t J' (l

of regular rhythmic periods ranging from about 20 to about 30hours. The extent of the departure from 24 hours is generally afunction of the level of the illumination and temperature.

It has been commonly assumed, without any direct sup-porting evidence, that the phase- and frequency-labile peri-odisms persisting in constant conditions reflect inherited peri-ods of fully autonomous internal oscillations. However, therelationships of period-length to the ambient illumination andtemperature levels suggest that it is not the period-length itselfwhich is inherited but rather the characteristics of someresponse mechanism which participates in the derivation of theperiods in a reaction with the environment (Webb and Brown,1959).

It has recently been alternatively postulated that the timingmechanism responsible for the periods of rhythms differingfrom a natural one involves, jointly, use of both the exogenousnatural periodisms and a phenomenon of regular resetting, or"autophasing," of the phase-labile, 24-hour cycles in reactionof the rhythmic organisms to the ambient light and temperature(Brown, Shriner and Ralph, 1956; Webb and Brown, 1959;Brown, 1959). It is thus postulated that the exogenous meta-bolic periodisms function critically as temporal frames of ref-erence for biological rhythms of approximately the same fre-quencies.

The basic principle of audience adaptation is that we build a discussion or ar-gument'on the knowledge, goals, values, and experience of the audience. Thisprinciple is the basis of all successful communication and teaching, including thatbetween professional scientists. It is also essential for the scientist communicatingwith public audiences. In adapting scientific information for nonspecialists, thewriter or speaker introduces new knowledge by trying to relate it to what the au-dience knows or values; this new knowledge, grounded in what the audience al-ready knows, then becomes the foundation for more new knowledge and so forth.

When you write for other scientists in your area of specialization, as in the re-search report, you can assume your readers have some degree of familiarity withthe topic to begin with, as well as some degree of interest. When you write forpublic audiences, however, you need to be more cautious. Instead of assumingknowledge on the part of your y01J. must help them develop that knowl-edge; instead of assuming interest in the topic, you must generate interest. Theway to begin is by assessing your audience's knowledge, needs, and goals.

20riginal formatting and typeface are reproduced as closely as possible. Sources for these introduc-tions are listed-in the Works Cited list and identified in the Instructor's Manual.,

A niVI

ttties with I

of theplucked fa Midwelives to (potatoesdict atm<advance?rhythms]things (capacitiestrangecontinue:the phenlOver'

organisrrronment:so subtleunderstaJtor of tlContribuments ofThee

us our 2rotation,about thhours anfrom rnaThe r

same re]the sunmonth. 'about th


Page 8: Public Audiences Part 1

8.2 • Understanding "General" Audiences 183

. minutes, yielding the year and its seasons.The daily and annual rhythms related to the

sun are associated with the changes in light andtemperature. The 24.8-hour lunar day and the29.5-day synodical month are associated mostobviously with the moon-dominated oceantides and with changes in nighttime illumina-tion. But all four types of rhythms includechanges in forces such as gravity, barometricpressure, high energy radiation, and magneticand electrical fields.Considering the rhythmic daily changes in

light and temperature, it is not surprising thatliving creatures display daily patterns in theiractivities. Cockroaches, earthworms and owlsare nocturnal; songbirds and butterflies arediurnal; and still other creatures are crepuscu-lar, like the crowing cock at daybreak and theserenading frogs on a springtime evening.Many plants show daily sleep movements oftheir leaves and flowers. Man himself exhibitsdaily rhythms in degrees of wakefulness, bodytemperature and blood-sugar level.We take for granted the annual rhythms of

growth and reproduction of animals and plants,and we now know that the migration periods ofbirds and the flowering periods of plants aredetermined by the seasonal changes in thelengths of day and night.In a similar fashion creatures living on the

seashore exhibit a rhythmic behavior corre-sponding to the lunar day. Oyster and clamsopen their shells for feeding only after the ris-ing tide has covered them. Fiddler crabs andshore birds scour the beach for food exposed atebb tide and retreat to rest at high tide.

(continued on page 184)

One of the greatest riddles of the uni-verse is the uncanny ability of livingthings to carry out their normal activi-

ties with clocklike precision at a particular timeof the day, month and year. Why do oystersplucked from a Connecticut bay and shipped toa Midwest laboratory continue to time: theirlives to ocean tides 800 miles away? How dopotatoes in hermetically sealed containers pre-dict atmospheric pressure trends two days inadvance? What effects do the lunar and solarrhythms have on the life habits of man? Livingthings clearly possess powerful adaptivecapacities-but the explanation of whateverstrange and permeative forces are concernedcontinues to challenge science. Let us considerthe phenomena more closely.Over the course of millions of years living

organisms have evolved under complex envi-ronmental conditions, some obvious and someso subtle that we are only now beginning tounderstand their influence. One important fac-tor of the environment is its rhythmicality.Contributing to this rhythmicality are move-ments of the earth relative to the sun and moon.The earth's rotation relative to the sun gives

us our 24-hour day; relative to the moon thisrotation, together with the moon's revolutionabout the earth, gives us'our lunar day of 24hours and 50 minutes. The lunar day is the timefrom moonrise to moonrise.The moon's arrival every 29.5 days at the

same relative position between the earth andthe sun marks what is called the synodicalmonth. The earth with its tilted axis revolvesabout the sun every 365 days,S hours and 48

Introduction B

FIGURE 8.1 (continued)

Page 9: Public Audiences Part 1

184 Chapter 8 • Communicating with Public Audiences

Introduction C IntroductiFamiliar to all are the rhythmic

changes in innumerable processes of ani-mals and plants in nature. Examples ofphenomena geared to the 24-hour solarday produced by rotation of the earth rel-ative to the sun are sleep movements ofplant leaves and petals, spontaneousactivity in numerous animals, emergenceof flies from their pupal cases, colorchanges of the skin in crabs, and wake-fulness in man. Sample patterns of dailyfluctuations, each interpretable as adap-tive for the species, are illustrated in Fig.1. Rhythmic phenomena linked to the 24-hour and 50-minute lunar-day period ofrotation of the earth relative to the moonare most conspicuous among intertidalorganisms whose lives are dominated bythe ebb and flow of the ocean tides. Fid-dler crabs forage on the beaches exposedat low tide; oysters feed when covered bywater. "Noons" of sun- and moon-relateddays come into synchrony with an aver-'age interval of 29:;' days, the synodicmonth; quite precisely of this averageinterval are such diverse phenomena asthe menstrual cycle of the human beingand the breeding rhythms of numerousmarine organisms, the latter timed to spe-cific phases of the moon and critical forassuring union of reproductive elements.Examples of annual biological rhythms,whose 36SY>-day periods are, producedby the orbiting about the sun of the earthwith its tilted axis, are so well known asscarcely to require mention. These peri-odisms of animals and plants, whichadapt them so nicely to their geophysicalenvironment with its rhythmic fluctua-tions in light, temperature, and oceantides, appear at first glance to be exclu-sively simple responses of the organisms

to these physical However, it isnow known that rhythms of all these nat-ural frequencies may persist in livingthings even after the organisms havebeen sealed in under conditions constantwith respect to every factor biologistshave conceded to be of influence. Thepresenlle of such persistent rhythmsclearly indicates that organisms possesssome means of timing these periodswhich does not depend directly upon theobvious enviro'nmental physical rhythms.The means has come to be termed "livingclocks."

Autonomous-Clock Hypothesis

From the earliest intensive studies ofsolar-day rhythmicality during the firstdecade of this century by Pfeffer (I),with bean seedlings, certain very inter-esting properties of this rhythm becameclearly evident. Pfeffer found that whenhis plants were reared from the seed incontinuous darkness, they displayed nodaily sleep movements of their leaves.He could easily induce such a movement,however, by exposing the plants to a briefperiod of illumination. Returned to dark-ness, the plants possessed a persistingdaily sleep rhythm. The time of daywhen the leaves were elevated in thedaily rhythm was set by the time of daywhen the single experimental lightperiod commenced. It was apparent thatthe daily rhythmic mechanism possessedthe capacity for synchronization with theoutside daylight cycles while having itscyclic phases experimentally altered byappropriate light changes made to occurat any desired time of day. These alter-ations would then persist under constant

conditions. Since Pfeffer's time, thisproperty has been abundantly confirmedfor numerous other plants and animals.The daily rhythms, therefore, exhibit thecapacity for synchronization with exter-nal, physical cycles while having freelylabile phase relations.

A second discovery, also made byPfeffer, was that the daily recurringchanges under constant conditions couldoccur earlier, or later, day by day, to yieldregular periods deviating a little from thenatural solar-day ones. Periods have nowbeen reported ranging from about 19 to29 hours. The occurrence of persistingrhythmic changes under constant condi-tions, with regular periods of other thanprecisely 24 hours, clearly indicated thatthese observed rhythmic periods couldnot be a simple direct consequence ofany known or unknown geophysical fluc-tuation of the organism's physical envi-ronment.

A third fundamental contribution tothe properties of the daily rhythms wasmade by Kleinhoonte (2). While con-firming, in essentials, all of Pfeffer'sfindings, she discovered that the dailysleep movements of plants could beinduced to "follow" artificial cycles ofalternating light and dark ranging fromabout 18-hour "days" to about 30-hour"days." When the "days" deviated furtherthan these limits from the natural solar-day period the plants "broke away" toreveal their normal daily periodicity,despite the continuing unnatural lightcycles. This observation clearly empha-sized the very deep-seated character ofthe organismic daily rhythm.

A deep-ones,metically Sl

and with daconclusionnatural elec

A numbtrostatic fiesudden expresulted froopment into deposit etrois. Mawshielded frethan were fsimulated v

A studyin Dugesinplaced horitaining thefields betwsupply. A (Packard In:fields of 15


CZ, '7 l .t

" [OvutJ (if11\[ L

.FIGURE 8.1 (contin,ued)

Page 10: Public Audiences Part 1

8,2 • Understanding "General" Audiences 185

FIGURE 8.1 (continued)

In THe Rhetorical Act, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell (1982) gives the following ad-vice on assessing audience (p 149-150). Consider your subject from the point ofviewof your readers or listeners. What expectations does your audience have about thesubject? About you? How is your audience likely to see and/or understand thetopic or issue? Are there conflicting beliefs or concepts that will have to be dealtwith, and how will you deal with them? Are familiar explanations trite or boring?Does the audience have firsthand experiences that you can draw on to illustratepoints in your discussion?

To answer these questions, you will need to find out as much as possibleabout the background, areas of expertise, probable beliefs, values, and general in-terests of members of your audience. One way to learn about your audience is toask 'the organization sponsoring your talk about who will be in attendance andwhy. Or read the magazine you are writing for and look at the kinds of text fea-tures you noted in Exercise 8.3; these features can often provide hints about howto interpret and adapt to a particular audience.

A deep-seated, persistent, rhythmic nature, with periods identical with or close to the major natural geophysicalones, appears increasingly to be a universal biological property, Striking published correlations of activity of her-metically sealed organisms with unpredictable weather-associated atmospheric temperature and pressure changes,and with day to day irregularities in the variations in primary cosmic and general background radiations, compel theconclusion that some, normally uncontrolled, subtle pervasive forces must be effective for living systems. The earth'snatural electrostatic field may be one contributing factor.A number of reports have been published over years advancing evidence that organisms are sensitive to elec-

trostatic fields and their fluctuations. More recentfy Edwards (1960) has found that activity of flies was reduced bysudden exposures to experimental atmospheric gradients of 10 to 62 volts/cm., and that prolonged activity reductionresulted from gradient alternation with a five-minute period. In 1961, Edwards reported a small delay in moth devel-opment in a constant vertical field of 180 volts/cm., but less delay when the field was alternated. The moths tendedto deposit eggs outside the experimental field, whether constant or alternating, in contrast to egg distribution of con-trols. Maw (1961), studying rate of oviposition in hymenopterans, found significantly higher rates in the insectsshielded from the natural field fluctuations, whether or not provided instead with a constant 1.2 volts/cm. gradient,than were found in either the natural fluctuating field, or in a field shielded from the natural one and subjected tosimulated weather-system passages in the form of a fluctuating field of 0.8 volts/cm.A study in our laboratory early in 1959 (unpublished) by the late Kenneth R. Penhale on the rate of locomotion

in Dugesin suggested strongly that the rate was influenced by the difference in charge of expansive copper platesplaced horizontally in the air about six inches above and closely below a long horizontal glass tube of water con-taining the worms. Locomotory rates in fields of 15 volts/cm. (+ beneath the worms) were compared with those infields between equipotential plates. The fields were obtained with a Kepco Laboratories, voltage-regulated powersupply. A comparable study with the marine snail, Nassarius. by Webb, Brown and Brett (1959), employing aPackard Instrument Co., high-voltage power supply, confirmed the occurrence of such responsiveness to verticalfields of 15 to 45 volts/cm., and advanced evidence that the response of the snails displayed a daily rhythm.

(continued on page 186)


Introduction 0

iiL"Y." ''; ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Q'7 l!,b. 11vl{

Ocll\;d (lfJ\t;

Page 11: Public Audiences Part 1

186 Chapter 8 • Communicating with Public Audiences


Introduction E

Everyone knows that there areindividuals who are able toawaken morning after morn-

ing at the same time to within a fewminutes. Are they awakened by sen-sory cues received unconsciously, oris there some "biological clock" thatkeeps accurate account of the pas-sage of time? Students of the behav-ior of animals in relation to theirenvironment have long been inter-ested in the biological clock question.Most animals show a rhythmic

behavior pattern of one sort oranother. For instance, many animalsthat live along the ocean shores havebehavior cycles which are repeatedwith the ebb and flow of the tides,each cycle averaging about l2Y,hours in length. Intertidal animals,particularly those that live so far upon the beaches that they are usuallysubmerged only by the very highsemimonthly tides when the moon'spull upon the ocean waters is rein-forced by the sun's, have cycles ofbehavior timed to those IS-dayintervals. Great numbers of loweranimals living in the seas have semi-lunar or lunar breeding cycles. As aresult, all the members of a specieswithin any given region" c;u.ry ontheir breeding activities synchro-nously; this insures a high likelihood

of fertilization of. eggs and mainte-nance of the species. The Atlanticfireworm offers a very good exam-ple of how precise this tim;ng canbe. Each month during the summerfor three or four evenings at a partic-ular of the moon these lumi-nescing animals swarm in the watersabout Bermuda a few minutes afterthe official time of sunset. After anhour or two only occasional strag-glers are in evidence. Perhaps evenmore spectacular is the case of thesmall surface fish, the grunion, ofthe U.S. Pacific coast. On the nightsof the highest semilunar tides themale and female grunion swarm infrom the sea just as the tide hasreached its highest point. They aretossed by the waves onto the sandybeaches, quickly deposit their repro-ductive cells in the sand and thenflip back into the water and are off tosea again. The fertilized eggsdevelop in the moist sand. At thetime of the next high tide when thespot is again submerged by waves,the young leave the nest for the opensea.

A lmost every species of animal isdependent upon an ability to

carry out some activity at preciselythe correct moment. One way t, testwhether these activities are set off

by an internal biological clock,rather than by factors or signals inthe environment, is to find outwhether the organisms can antici-pate the environmental events. Thefirst well-controlled experimentalevidence on the question was fur-nished by the Polish biologist J. S.Szymanski. In experiments conduct-ed from 1914 to 1918 he found thatanimals exhibited a 24-hour activitycycle even when all external factorsknown to influence them, such aslight and temperature, were keptconstant. During the succeeding 20years various investigators, espe-cially Orlando Park of NorthwesternUniversity, J. H. Welsh of HarvardUniversity and Maynard Johnson(currently in the U.S. Navy), demon-strated that comparable rhythmicprocesses persisted in many insects,in crustaceans and in mice. Persis-tent daily rhythmicity has beenfound in animals ranging from one-celled protozoa to mammals. Andthe Austrian biologist Carl vonFrisch, using a slightly differentapproach, discovered that bees couldbe trained to come to a feeding sta-tion at the same time on successivedays but not at different times-afinding which suggested that beeshave an internal daily cycle.


FIGURE 8.1 (continued)

Take a moment to consider the rhetorical situation described in Exercise 8.4.To extend a distinction drawn by Flower (1993), Jane was "speaker-based" ratherthan "listener-based": She was more concerned with what she as the speaker wasmterested in and had to say about lasers than in what Mike as the listener was in-terested in and may have wanted to hear about lasers. The story of Jane and Mikeis a microcosm of large- and small-scale breakdowns in communication that occurevery day in our society. In fact, communication breakdown has been cited as amajor contributing factor in a number of serious technological accidents. In thecase of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown in 1979, for example,

/ ,

Page 12: Public Audiences Part 1

8.2 • Understanding "General" Audiences 187


Consider this scenario. Jane, a premed student working with lasers, wanted toshow her friend Mike, a zoology major, how a new laser in her lab worked:"Come on over to my lab and I'll give you a demonstration." Mike had neverstudied or worked with lasers, but from what he had heard, they seemed fascinat-ing; so one day he took Jane up on her offer. When Mike got to the lab, Jane es-corted him through a maze of machines to the lab table where her laser was setup, and she proceeded tp take the laser apart and explain each major component.Mike quickly lost interest and wandered away to look at the other machines,while Jane continued to discuss at length the technical details she had learnedabout lasers, oblivious to the fact that Mike was no longer listening. What do youthink happened? .

A. Using the information given about Mike and your own common senseand empathy (both necessary in audience adaptation), what do you thinkMike expected when he walked into Jane's lab? What would Mike like tosee and learn about lasers?

B. Now, if Mike were an administrator of the lab-say in charge of personneland finance-why would he be interested in the laser? What would hewant to see and learn?

C. IfMike were a parent whose child's school was about to purchase a laserfor use in science classes, what would he want to know about it?

faulty assumptions about how to communicate with the public hampered the ef-forts of officials to find the best way to inform them and to control the emergencyand led to Widespread panic and social disarray (Farrell and Goodnight 1981). Theinability 9f engineers and managers to understand each others' values has beendirectly implicated as a major cause of the Challenger shuttle explosion (Herndl etal. 1991), and is more than likely an important factor in the Columbia accident aswell (see Columbia Accident Investigation Board 2003, esp. Chapter 7). And theinability of experts and government officials to consider the values and emotionsof public audiences has been a factor in unsuccessful attempts to site low-level ra-dioactive waste facilities all around the country (Katz and Miller 1996).

In all these situations, communicators in one area of expertise seriously mis-understood the audience outside their fields, with dire consequences. Unlike theexpert colleague, who has both knowledge of the subject and an intrinsic interestin it, public audiences have different perspectives on and interests in the subject,

thus different expectations and needs that must be appealed to. . ile ex ertsare interested in theor and technical details, in methods and results, public audi-ences are generally interested in what things "do" and theiceffect on publicsafet, health,_and welfare

In addition to the three general modes of appeal (logos, pathos, ethos) discussedin Chapter 6, two special appeals often come into play in the accommodation ofscientific knowledge to public audiences 1986). The first is the wonder,

Page 13: Public Audiences Part 1

188 Chapter 8 III Communicating with Public Audiences


.}7\ \ -\

exo.. \tIIIfL't "t\}\



app.eal,.which emphasizes the sense of surprise and joy and awe people (both gen-eralists and specialists!) often feel when confronted with an exciting scientific dis-covery. The second is the application af2]2f{Jl, which emphasizes the practical bene-fits of a scientific concept or discovery for a particular audience, a society at large,or humankind. This appeal is especially effective with administrators and publicofficials.3

Most of us are fascinated by the accomplishments and spectacle of science,and interested in what things do from the point of view of common experience ordaily life. Practical ap;plication is also important to the general public. Figure 8.2contains a blurb by John O'Neil in the New York Times, reporting the results ofChiba et al.'s (2002) use of an H. pylori breath test in the study they published inthe British Medical Journal (contained in Chapter 10, pages 280-286). Comparingthe blurb to the original article, note the amount of scientific detail that has beenleft out of the blurb. Also note the appeals to "wonder" in the title and the graphicthat is not included in the scientific article in BMJ, and the two direct appeals to"application," quoted from the BMJ article, in the last paragraph of the blurb: thebreath test (which is as good as endoscopy) is less invasive than endoscopy, and ischeaper than endoscopy.

Both the wonder appeal and the application appeal work well with generalaudiences. In the scenario described above, Mike may have secretly wanted toask: "Can we see the laser burn a hole in something?" (wonder). "How can lasersbe used to shoot down missiles in outer space and also perform delicate eyesurgery?" (wonder and application). "How could I use lasers in my zoology ma-jor?" (application). He never got a chance.

Assume you're a member of Stephen Reynolds's research team. You've been in-vited to speak to a local amateur astronomy club on the topic of supernova rem-

the audience analysis questions on page 185 as your starting point,write a paragraph describing your audience. Write a second paragraph describingwhat kinds of appeals you would use with this audience.

In the remainder of this chapter, we will explore several different strategieswriters can use to adapt scientific and technical discussions for general audiences.

3The administrator is interested in what things do from the point of view of cost, production, publichealth, environmental safety, and resource management: How can this new piece of equipment beused in the lab? How much does it cost to purchase and maintain? What products (or discoveries) arelikely to arise from it, and will they be profitable for the lab or company? Is the piece of equipment orproduct cost-effective? Safe? Efficient?


8.3 Ada_iWW _