Science Communication 101 bibliography

A couple of months ago, a colleague asked me to post an introductory bibliography for science communication studies. I was slightly wary, because the literature in the field is rather scattered and can be a bit dense in places. Moreover, I don’t like the idea that you need to have read any particular source to understand science communication. I do think they can help, but you can learn about the topic in a range of ways. The idea of a science communication ‘canon’ is silly.

Still, inspired by a recent set of History of Psychology bibliographies and a great one at the Science and Democracy Network, I thought it might be useful. I’ve tried to give sources which are accessible: both in terms of being easy to read and being easy to find (and as much as possible, free to download).

Let me know if I’ve missed something you think is amazing and want to share with others. I should also say upfront that this is quite UK centric.

  • Science in Public, by Jane Gregory and Steve Miller. This textbook is comprehensive, clear and ever so slightly cynical (in a good way). Annoyingly, it is also about 15 years old. It looks a bit dated in places and I wish they’d do an update, but most of the content still stands up and it’s still the first book I’d recommend.
  • These two recent books from the OU on Science Communication in an Information Age are designed as introductions and are pretty good (even if they don’t really get to grips with what they mean by information age…).  I especially like the essays by Alan Irwin, Robert Doubleday, Jack Stilgoe, James Wilsdon, Sarah Davies and Felicity Mellor.
  • See Through Science by James Wilsdon and Rebbecca Willis, published by Demos. This is free, downloadable, clearly written and reasonably short. It’s the manifesto for ‘upstream’ science communication, but’s also a great introduction to ideas in public participation in science. I tell students to read it to help revise for exams. Other Demos publications The Public Value of Science and The Received Wisdom are recommended.
  • Mike Hulme’s Why We Disagree About Climate Change provides a very clear run through the social studies of science which are relevant to science communication. Its focus is environmental science, but much of it is more broadly applicable. I can similarly recommend Steven Epstein’s  Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge as a book on a reasonably specific topic which manages to introduce a load of key ideas along the way.
  • The 2000 House of Lords Report on Science and Society. Yes, a Lords report that is totally readable and incredibly influential. For real. The government recently tried to update this with a series of more specific reports, and the one on trust is worth a read (though most of the others dated quite quickly). This recent study of scientists talking about public engagement from LSE’s BIOS Centre will also help bring things up to date.
  • If you want the classics, you should read Misunderstanding Science? from Alan Irwin and Brian Wynne. It’s worth listening to Wynne’s interview in the CBC “How to Think About Science” podcasts for a bit more context. Irwin’s Citizen Science is also worth a read. These will help explain why people bitch about a so-called ‘deficit model’. Stephen Hiltgartner’s paper on the ‘Dominant View’, is also useful for understanding a shift from talking down to the public about science and instead attempting to inspire conversations between science and society.
  • Peter Broks’ Understanding Popular Science is good for the long view, including some clear introductions to areas of social theory (or at least notions of ‘modernity’ etc). Don’t be put off by the title, it is about science communication in general (by which I mean it includes what some people prefer to call ‘engagement’ rather than ‘popular science’). If you like your social theory with a more sociological smell, try Science, Social Theory and Public Knowledge by Alan Irwin and Mike Michael.
  • Oh yeah, I edited a book once. I forgot about that. You should totally read that. Ok, don’t. It’s really rare, but the introduction, which you can download for free, is probably quite useful. My essay in that book – on the way we frame children’s relationships with science – is also free to download.
  • There is an Encyclopedia of Science Communication. Obviously it is BRILLIANT because I wrote two of the entries. It is also huge, heavy and £220. So… um, see if your local university library has a copy.
  • If you are interested in studies of what the public think/ know about science you really should try to get hold of Bauer et al’s ‘What can we learn from 25 years of PUS survey research’. It introduces all the main approaches and publications in this area, with brilliant clarity and fair context.
  • If you are interested in science in the news media, Stuart Allan’s Media, Risk and Science is a nice clear introductory textbook. I can also recommend this report from the University of Cardiff. It’s nothing especially shocking and starting to show its age, but I’ve found myself sharing it loads over the last couple of years as a great introduction to basic media analysis of science. Dorothy Nelkin’s Selling Science is another classic, and Martin Bauer’s longitudinal analysis of 20th century British science news is fascinating. There are loads of other great books on the topic, but they are quite rare.
  • If it’s popular science writing you are interested in, then have a read of some of Jon Turney’s essays on the topic. Elizabeth Leane’s Reading Popular Physics is also worth a look, and for a historical view, it’s hard to beat Fyfe and Lightman’s Science in the Marketplace (it’s not just about books either).
  • When it comes to ‘new-ish media’, science bloggers are a reflexive bunch and what they write about themselves is often worth a look. It doesn’t always have the same depth or breadth of view as you’d expect from academic research, but their subjective experience can be useful and interesting too. Ed Yong’s journalism category is certainly worth keeping a eye on. Alternatively, Brian Trench has some neat overviews of science online in these three books.

As with any list of introductory texts, it’s a bit vanilla in places. If you want the juicy bits, follow up the interesting sounding references in bibliographies. Or, for more up to date and detailed work, have a dig around the field’s main two journals: Public Understanding of Science and Science Communication. You might also find Science as Culture, the Social Studies of Science, and Science, Technology and Human Values useful. There is also the Journal of Science Communication – a fair amount of it is just masters’ dissertations, but these can be interesting and it’s open access.


21 thoughts on “Science Communication 101 bibliography

  1. John M. Peterson

    Thanks, so much, Alice! Just what I was waiting for to get started in my sci101 classes. Lots of material, but this will be the canon for me for quite a while. Thanks again.. JMP..

  2. Steve McGann

    Hi Alice,

    Thanks! Lots of useful stuff I hadn’t seen in there :-)

    I’ve found these to be useful too:-

    Bucchi, M. (2004). Science in society : an introduction to social studies of science 1st ed., London ; New York: Routledge.

    Russell, N. (2010). Communicating science : professional, popular, literary, Cambridge UK ;New York: Cambridge University Press.

    1. alice Post author

      Thanks – obviously I should have referenced Nick’s book (head of dept during my PhD…). Yes, the Bucchi book is good. I mentioned it in another list, though I could have included it for the chapter on communicating science.

      Bucchi’s edited a couple of other great intro books too, but I largely avoided them here because they’re so rare. Great if you can find them in the library though.

      1. Katie Goates

        I think, from dissertation recall, all the above Bucchi books can be found at The Wellcome Library.

    1. alice Post author

      From what I know of those books, they are slightly different the bulk of above (which are largely, though not exclusively, sources from the academic study of science communicaiton). That’s not to say those books aren’t worth reading, just that they hold a slightly different place in the literature.

  3. Nick Hewling

    ‘The unresolved tension between expertise and democracy appears whenever experts and specialists have found themselves engaged with other groups, not least in the contemporary debate about science and the citizen.’ Rethinking Expertise by Harry Collins and Robert Evans.

    1. alice Post author

      Yes, I thought about Collins and Evans, I figured that was more Science Communication 201 though? Maybe I’m wrong though.

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  6. Angela Cassidy

    Thanks Alice, this is incredibly useful: particularly because the literature *is* so scattered.

    If you were going to recommend, say, 3 items from the list for, say, a harassed scientist with an interest in the area but not much time, which ones would you choose?

    1. alice Post author

      Good question, although I think it’d really depend on the scientist, which is partly why I did such a long list (so people could glance down and see what’d interest them/ was accessible).

      Again, I’d say Science and Public is my first choice, even if it’s a bit old, and the OU books are reasonably comprehensive, if a little variable in quality and not especailly gripping. The Demos publications like See-Through Science do include some great summaries of previous work. I’d say the same for Bauer et al’s ‘What can we learn from 25 years of PUS survey research’ PUS paper too.

      I wonder if there is a space for a piece that connects ideas in this area, but in a way that makes you want to actually read the book in it’s own right. Some of the 25 years of PUS stuff might come close, but they all seemed to have been from very partial perspectives (which is interesting, but doesn’t do as an introduction). Or maybe it’s all too niche.

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  12. holaciencia

    Thank you, Alice. This list is very useful.
    I recently decided to take the plunge and study sci-comm instead of something “traditional”. It took a lot of thinking because sci-comm doesn’t exist as something you can study in my country, and now I’m looking forward to learn as much as I can.


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