If there’s one thing about which even reasonable people can disagree, it’s science communication. The more I encounter this, the more I think that it’s often a misunderstanding about what others are actually trying to do. For example, a typical claim is that the deficit model has failed. What I think is meant by this is that if you want people to accept a scientific position, simply trying to reduce their knowledge deficit is a particularly poor strategy. The problem is that, as a physical scientist, my particular interest is public understanding of science, not public acceptance of science. As far as public understanding is concerned, the deficit model is essentially all there is. I think improving public understanding of science is a good thing to do, even if it doesn’t particularly influence public acceptance of science. Whether or not people choose to accept a scientific position is, in my view, entirely up to them.
On the other hand, I think that some physical scientists who criticise social science, don’t quite realise that what’s of interest to social scientists isn’t necessarily public understanding of science, but why some people don’t accept certain scientific positions, and how we can increase the level of acceptance of these positions. Physical scientists may be more interested in public understanding, than in public acceptance, but that doesn’t mean that studying public acceptance of science isn’t an interesting issue. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where everyone understood everything that they accepted, but we don’t, and it would be naive to think that we can. We all accept things that we don’t fully understand. There will also be occasions when working out how to increase public acceptance is important.
So, it would seem useful if people tried a little harder to understand each other’s motivations. I think improved public understanding of science is intrinsically good, even if it doesn’t lead to increased acceptance of contentious scientific positions. However, I also think that understanding why certain people may not accept certain scientific positions, and what strategies could be used to change this, is also useful; even if I have no great interest in using those strategies myself.