12 January 2018

Science of Sharing Science discussion #1

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Shane M Hanlon 

As mentioned yesterday, today is our first discussion of the science behind scicomm. Below is a preview of what folks in the Sharing Science Network will see and be able to discuss. If you’re interested in that thing, join the Sharing Science Network today!

Our first paper is:

Gheorghiu, Ana I., Mitchell J. Callan, and William J. Skylark. 2017. “Facial Appearance Affects Science Communication.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114 (23):5970–75. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1620542114.


The abstract reads:

First impressions based on facial appearance predict many important social outcomes. We investigated whether such impressions also influence the communication of scientific findings to lay audiences, a process that shapes public beliefs, opinion, and policy. First, we investigated the traits that engender interest in a scientist’s work, and those that create the impression of a “good scientist” who does high-quality research. Apparent competence and morality were positively related to both interest and quality judgments, whereas attractiveness boosted interest but decreased perceived quality. Next, we had members of the public choose real science news stories to read or watch and found that people were more likely to choose items that were paired with “interesting looking” scientists, especially when selecting video-based communications. Finally, we had people read real science news items and

found that the research was judged to be of higher quality when paired with researchers who look like “good scientists.” Our findings offer insights into the social psychology of science, and indicate a source of bias in the dissemination of scientific findings to broader society.

 Some things to think about:


  • What are folks general thoughts about the study; high-level stuff: Are the results surprising? Were the methods robust? Do the conclusions support the results?
  • The author focused on three core traits: competence, sociability, morality. Are these strong metrics? What other measures could’ve been assessed?
  • The authors roughly assessed facial competence and morality as positive traits and sociability and attractiveness as negative traits. Though the findings of this study are more complex than these broad classifications, do these relationships seem to make sense from a qualitative perspective (i.e. would you assume these relationships without any scientific evidence)?
  • The primary fields represented in this study were physics and biology. Would the results be different if broader fields, such as Earth and space sciences, were represented?


These are just prompts. We’d love to hear y’alls thoughts!

Shane M Hanlon is a Senior Specialist in AGU’s Sharing Science program