Emerging areas of science and technology — such as new-generation vaccines, artificial intelligence or genome editing — are complex topics that raise many ethical, social, and legal questions. These issues require a good-faith exchange of ideas between science and the public, especially when misinformation and polarization threaten to erode that faith.
The Morgridge Institute for Research has made scientific engagement part of its mission, with programs that connect the societal benefits of research to thousands of people annually. UW–Madison also is home to the Department of Life Sciences Communication, which has long been an internationally recognized hub for studying the relationship between science and society.
In 2022, these two organizations launched a unique collaboration to connect the worlds of science communication theory and practice. Science Communication Incubator Lab (SCI Lab) provides a one-of-a-kind test bed for science communication practitioners and researchers to collaborate and jointly experiment with new ideas in public science engagement — informed by cutting-edge social scientific thinking and supported by robust approaches to assessing impact.
The State of Wisconsin is a perfect bellwether for many of the social and political dynamics surrounding modern science. Home to premier research universities, including UW–Madison, it has also seen fierce political battles over technologies like tissue engineering, nanotechnology, and embryonic stem cell research. Given Wisconsin’s long history as a “purple” state, representing a wide range of views across the political spectrum, it provides a perfect context for piloting and testing scalable models for communicating science that draw from many viewpoints and backgrounds.
An incubator for science communication innovation
SCI Lab is uniquely positioned to:
- Provide intellectual leadership on evidence-based strategies and tools for effective science communication;
- Become a center of gravity for collaborations and exchanges among researchers, practitioners, and community partners from all over the world, and;
- Allow Morgridge and UW–Madison to lead by example when it comes to sparking imagination and engaging in meaningful discussions with communities across Wisconsin, the U.S., and beyond.
Freedom to Innovate and Learn from Failures
SCI Lab is a vehicle for bold innovation that is often not possible in the context of research university realities and incentive systems. Given the urgency of some of the challenges facing the scientific enterprise, we need bold and ambitious on-the-ground science communication initiatives that also run a risk of failure. Similar to cancer research, setbacks and dead ends are inevitable. But failures will be able to inform better pathways forward if they are designed around the science of science communication. We provide the space for exploratory work that might fail, but that will inform more effective, scalable approaches moving forward.
About Life Sciences Communication (LSC)
SCI Lab is led by LSC professors Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele, who bring unique leadership experience in researching and building institutional infrastructures for more effective science communication. They are among the most prolific and highly-cited researchers examining effective on-the-ground mechanisms for public engagement, science learning, and science communication. Both have long been leaders in on-the ground infrastructure building efforts in this space for organizations like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).