Public Understanding of Science

Team members:
Mark Miller, Bunyakiat Raksaphaeng, Jonathan Rohmiller, Maureen Smith, and Cliff Wilke

The Public Understanding of Science Journal started as a quarterly internationally focused publication. It is a peer reviewed publication covering the interrelationships between science, technology, medicine and the public. The Public Understanding of Science Journal is published by Sage Publications.

PUS was founded by John Durant, an Adjunct Professor in STS and Museum Director at MIT. Dr. Durant now specializes in the debates between animal and human nature over the past century and how public policy and the media impact public perceptions of science. It is clear that Dr. Durant founded PUS to help deal with questions and issues close to his research area. Dr. Durant studies the social history of evolutionary science in the watershed of the religious challenge to evolution brought about by the rise of Fundamentalist Christian religions in the early 20th century. This challenge is a springboard for the topic covered in PUS.

Topics covered in The Public Understanding of Science Journal focus on public understanding, perceptions, and attitudes towards science and technology, popular representations of science, scientific and para-scientific belief systems, popular protest against science ('anti-science'), science education and of popular science, and so on.

The list of editors of PUS is short, but distinguished.

  • John Durant, 1992-1997 MIT Museum, Boston, USA, (founding editor)
  • Bruce Lewenstein 1998-2003, Cornell University, USA
  • Edna Einsiedel, 2004-2009, University of Calgary, Canada
  • Martin Bauer, 2009 - present, London Schoeditorol of Economics, UK

The current editor of the Journal is Martin W. Bauer (2009-present) from the London School of Economics. The managing editor is Susan Howard from the London School of Economics.

In the January 1992 Edition, Martin W. Bauer pays tribute to Edna Einsiedel from Calgary University that initially worked The Public Understanding of Science Journal and expanded publication from 4 to 6 issues per year. In his opening editorial he states that he sees at least three different attitudes to common sense manifesting themselves in the pages of The Public Understanding of Science Journal. He states that the first type of contribution is in the tradition of debunking and provides his perspective, the second type of contribution includes highlighting deluded or ignorant common sense is a focus of concern and intellectual outrage and the target of interventions to mend what seems broken and finally providing common sense as a resource of inspiration, oversight and legitimacy; it is not the problem. The resource view of the public understanding of science considers common sense as an asset, the past investment of traditions, local knowledge, social capital and values that needs to be handled with care and respect because people’s life-worlds are at stake (18 (2009) 378–382). Bauer states that these three types of basic attitudes shall continue to fuel the discussions and contributions to PUS. All three are eminently empirical concerns, because things are similar and different in the many regions of the world (18 (2009) 378–382).

The Journal Citation Reports is an annual publication by the Science and Scholarly Research division of Thomson Reuters Publications that ranks and rates the use and impact of journals. According to the 2012 Report the Public Understanding of Science Journal had an impact factor score of 1.724, ranking it 12th place out of 72 journals in the category "Communication" and 3rd out of 41 journals in the category "History & Philosophy of Science".

According to Bauer (2011), PUS has two competitors in the group of science Communication journal which are Science, Technology and Human Values (STHV) and Science Communication (SciComm). In recent years, PUS is having greater impact. Comparing current citations and h-index, PUS has more impact than SciComm and slightly less impact than STHV.

Before 2009, PUS published approximately 20 - 25 papers in 4 issues a year. The journal increased number of papers to 50 paper in 6 issues a year between 2009 - 2010 and 65 papers in 8 issues a year in 2012. PUSs conduct content analysis for each paper to identify the types of science, topics or concepts, used methodologies, and the sources of data. When looking at the pattern of topics and types of science coverage, changes can be observed. Between 1992 - 2001, PUS mostly published papers that discuss about science in general. After 2002, published topics are more specific, there are more published paper that discuss about genetics, GM/biotech, environment, nanotechnology, and climate change. There are much less papers on nuclear, physics, and health published after 2002. Moreover, the journal appears to give equal weight to other less popular topics. While representation of science is still the most popular social topic published in PUS after 2002, there are changing trend in other social topic coverage. Between 1992 - 2001, PUS focused much more on science literacy, health communication, science journalism, policy making and risk. In contrast, after 2002 the journal give more weight to engagement, science communication, and public perception.

Two third of papers published in PUS use questionnaire-based survey study of public perceptions, content analysis of mass media, and case study of public engagement event. However, empirical studies such as film and bibliometric studies, ethnographic observations, network logic and discourse analyses appear more in PUS. The journal is interested in cutting edge investigations, both quantitative and qualitative.
PUS accepts paper from around the world. However, most papers or two thirds of published paper in PUS are from US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The rest are from other parts of Europe and Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

PUS is published by Sage Publications ( As other academic journals, there are two main types of subscription. Institutional subscription costs $1,433 - $1,751 a year depending on types of access. Individual subscription costs $104 a year for print only. Single print issue is also available for individuals ($17) and institutions ($251). Institutional members can access the journal in both print and online formats. Discount and non-standard pricing also available.

Sage does host a PUS blog that offers additional online content. The blog is run out of the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand and facilitates discussion of some of the research that has been or is about to be published in PUS. The blog also acts as a forum for anyone performing or writing about science to discuss science-related issues and also invites the public to discuss science and technology issues.

The five most cited articles in PUS are as follows:

  • Brian Wynne, Misunderstood misunderstanding: social identities and public uptake of science, Public Understanding of Science July 1992 1: 281-304.
  • Alan Irwin, Constructing the scientific citizen: Science and democracy in the biosciences, Public Understanding of Science January 1, 2001 10: 1-18.
  • Patrick Sturgis and Nick Allum, Science in Society: Re-Evaluating the Deficit Model of Public Attitudes, Public Understanding of Science January 2004 13: 55-74.
  • Jon D. Miller, The measurement of civic scientific literacy, Public Understanding of Science July 1998 7: 203-223.
  • Martin W. Bauer, Nick Allum, and Steve Miller, What can we learn from 25 years of PUS survey research? Liberating and expanding the agenda, Public Understanding of Science January 2007 16: 79-95.

Early Era Article Analysis

Selected articles for the early era article analysis are:

  • The measurement of civic scientific literacy by Jon D. Miller, University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, USA, Public Understanding of Science in July, 1998 7: 203-223.
  • Mass communication and public understanding of environmental problems: the case of global warming by Keith Stamm, University of Washington, USA, Public Understanding of Science in July, 2000.
  • Public communication between facts and fictions: on the construction of genetic risk by Alexander Görke and Georg Ruhrmann .Public Understanding of Science in July 2003.

The measurement of civic scientific literacy was selected as it was the 4th most cited article from the Public Understanding of Science.

Dr. Miller is a Research Scientist at the Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan – Institute for Social Research. He received his PhD in 1970 from Northwestern University in Political Science. His expertise is in the measurement and analysis of the public understanding of science and technology. Dr. Miller has measured the public understanding of science and technology in the United States for the last three decades, and has examined the factors associated with the development of attitudes toward science and science policy.

Some of the basic concepts of this article were updated and later became Chapter 12 entitled “The Conceptualization and Measurement of Civic Scientific Literacy for the Twenty-First Century in the book Science and the Educated American: A Core Component of Liberal Education. This book was published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MA in 2010.

The article provided a very good portrayal of civic scientific literacy in the US and EU. His call to action at the end of the article asks for more inclusion and more studies of public understating of science and technology. As this article seemed to be a springboard for more discussion on this topic and later became a chapter in another book, it did a very good job articulating the need for more research in this area.

Mass communication and public understanding of environmental problems: the case of global warming by Keith Stamm, Fiona Clark, and Paula Reynolds Eblacas was picked because the authors are from communication study field. The study was conducted from the perspective of social sciences and the humanities.

Stamm (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1968) is a Professor of Communications at the University of Washington. His research focuses on the effects of mass communication on public opinion with special emphasis on public opinion toward environmental problems. Clark and Eblacas are Ph.D. candidates in the School of Communications at the University of Washington.

The study shows that mass media and interpersonal communication create both understanding and misconception about global warming. Although public has misconception about the issue, people still support policies that are devised to solve global warming issues. The study also found the relationship between mass media, interpersonal communication, and public’s understanding and actions. For better results, government, communicators, and related parties has to focus on improving accuracy in mass media as well as public dialogue.

There are total 9 tables and 1 figure in the article. Most tables are used to show the results of measures such as levels of awareness, concerns, and understanding related to global warming issues and communication. The authors use the indices to make references and draw the conclusion.

The third reading was Public communication between facts and fictions: on the construction of genetic risk by Alexander Görke and Georg Ruhrmann. We picked this article because the subject of communications and science literacy is common to the first two articles. The study was conducted from the perspective of social sciences and the humanities.

Görke is currently a professor of the Communication of Knowledge and Science Journalism in the Department of Political and Social Science at Freie Universität Berlin. He was at the University of Jena when the article was published in 2003. Ruhrmann is a professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Jena.

The paper makes a strong call for further research. The authors suggest that emerging forms of infotainment, commodification, and hybridization require new methodologies and there is a need for long-term multinational studies. Moreover, Analysis that includes social systems science, culture, art and media will require an interdisciplinary approach. Media studies should be expanded to new media such television and film. However, the boundaries between play, entertainment and art need further specification.

The Current Era Article Analysis

The three articles we selected to examine in stage 3 are:

  • Microblogging and Nanotweets: Nanotechnology on Tweeter by Giuseppe Alessandro Veltri, University of East Anglia, UK, Public Understanding of Science in September, 2013.
  • A survey of scientific literacy to provide a foundation for designing science communication in Japan by Shishin Kawamoto, Minoru Nakayama and Miki Saijo Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan, Public Understanding of Science, August 2013; vol. 22, 6: pp. 674-690. first published on October 18, 2011.
  • How the public engages with global warming: A social representations approachitalic text by Nicholas Smith and Helene Joffe, Public Understanding of Science January 2013 22: 16-32, first published on June 1, 2012.

The first article is Microblogging and Nanotweets: Nanotechnology on Tweeter by Giuseppe Alessandro Veltri, University of East Anglia, UK. The article was published in Public Understanding of Science in September, 2013.

Giuseppe Alessandro Veltri holds a BSc in Psychology of Communication from the University of Siena, an MSc in Social Research Methods from the Methodology Institute of the London School of Economics (LSE) and a PhD in Social Psychology from the LSE. He is a Lecturer at University of Leicester. He has been Lecturer at University of East Anglia and a scientific fellow at the European Commission JRC Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS). Before joining the IPTS, he has been a research associate at the Institut Jean Nicod (Ecole Normale Supérieure) in Paris. He has taught extensively in the fields of methodology of social research and social psychology.

The social web represents a new arena for local, national and global conversations and will play an increasing role in the public understanding of science. This paper presents an analysis of the representations of nanotechnology on Twitter, analysing over 24,000 tweets in terms of web metrics, latent semantic and sentiment analysis. Results indicate that most active users on nanotechnology are distributed according to a power law distribution and that web metric indicators suggest little conversation on the topic. In terms of content, there is a remarkable similarity with previous studies of nanotechnology’s representations in other media outlets. Related to content is the sentiment analysis that indicates predominantly positively loaded words in the corpus. Negative sentiments mainly took the form of uncertainty and fear of the unknown rather than open hostility.

The second article, A survey of scientific literacy to provide a foundation for designing science communication in Japan by Shishin Kawamoto, Minoru Nakayama and Miki Saijo Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan, was picked due to its examination of scientific literacy and science communication.

The purpose of this article was to define the term “scientific literacy” and communicate the results and analysis of a large-scale survey of Japanese adults to determine their scientific literacy compared to their interest and attitude toward science, technology and society. The study used factor analysis and cluster analysis to produce a 3-factor/4-cluster model.

The three authors are from the same institute. Shishin Kawamoto is a research associate at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Since completing his Ph.D. in developmental biology at Hokkaido University, he has focused on scientific literacy and education in science communication.

Minoru Nakayama is a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He is using engineering methodology to analyze the relationship between the characteristics of human learning behavior and the environment in which a learner is placed. He is also studying a method of statistically evaluating learning methods and learning systems.

Miki Saijo is a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Her professional field of study is applied linguistics, and the central theme of her study is communication design in contact situations as it relates to formal communication between people having different knowledge and experience. She is also studying how scientific literacy enables public engagement

This article provided a survey of scientific literacy in Japan in effort to improve scientific literacy throughout Japan by better designing communication platforms aimed at specific sections or “clusters” of Japanese society. The funding for this study was provided under a research development program titled “Scientific Literacy of the 21st Century,” provided by the Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society of the Japan Science and Technology Agency.

The third article we selected was Nicholas Smith and Helene Joffe’s article entitled: How the public engages with global warming: A social representations approach that was in Public Understanding of Science January 2013 22: 16-32, first published on June 1, 2012.

Nicholas Smith is a social-environmental psychologist. He is associated with the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University. His area of interest is public engagement with risk and climate change in particular.

Helene Joffe is Reader in Psychology, Division of Psychology, and Professor of Psychology at University College London. She is a social and health psychologist. Her area of expertise is public engagement with risks, primarily emerging infectious diseases, climate change and earthquakes.

The present study utilizes social representations theory to explore common sense conceptualizations of global warming risk using an in-depth, qualitative methodology. Fifty-six members of a British, London based 2008 public were initially asked to draw or write four spontaneous “first thoughts or feelings” about global warming. These were then explored via an open-ended, exploratory interview. The analysis revealed that first thoughts, either drawn or written, often mirrored the images used by the British press to depict global warming visually. Thus in terms of media framings, it was their visual rather than their textual content that was spontaneously available for their audiences. Furthermore, an in-depth exploration of interview data revealed that global warming was structured around three themata: self/other, natural/unnatural and certainty/uncertainty, reflecting the complex and often contradictory nature of common sense thinking in relation to risk issues.

The article provided a very good portrayal of a research effort to get perspectives on Global Warming. They provided a very good depiction of the process that they used to conduct their research. In Summary they state that, this paper explored a London-based public’s “common sense” of global warming. Social representations theory was used to discover how members of this group represent global warming and uncover the latent drivers that constitute and shape their common sense. This has implications for those trying to understand and potentially change the discourse underpinning the issue. A novel free association methodology revealed which associations were most accessible for respondents and these resonated with visual media representations of the issue. Further in-depth thematic analysis identified three underlying themata that drive these associations. Access to this latent element of public thinking not only reveals a shared, deeper structure in how people engage with global warming, it demonstrates how nuanced and symbolic public engagement with a risk can be understating of science and technology. It did a very good job articulating the need for more research in this area.

Comparative analysis

What makes a successful science? Science generates a research program. Imre Lakatos (who we viewed in video early in the course) tells us that a successful science generates its own research momentum. This is by no means the only measure of a science, but it is a valid data point. Even though some have called citation analysis meaningless numerology, citation analysis can indicate cross pollination within a subject area. As such, we will look at some citation analysis for PUS.

Compare Among Disciplines

First we will do a comparison of academic disciplines. Next we will compare journals of STS. Last, we will look at articles within PUS on a horizontal same time-frame comparison and then on a vertical different time-frame comparison.

For the cross discipline analysis, we will look at the 5 year time-frame. In math, an author should expect 5 citations in five years. For the social sciences it is around 6. For physics, you expect to see 10 citations in five years. For neuroscience you average 20 citations and for genetics you see 25 citations in five years. As STS is a member of the social sciences, we would expect to see 6 citations in five years. For PUS, this is not the case. The expected citations after 5 years for PUS is lower. However, the good news is that the momentum of citations is increasing in PUS. In 2000, the two year citation rate was 1. In 2010, the citation rate for two years is up to two. This suggests that PUS is maturing.

Comparison of Journals

Social Studies of Science is the oldest journal being over 40 years old. It was the original journal to bring together many different fields to try to create a new discipline. Next is the Journal of Science, Technology and Human Values. It is important because it focuses on human values. Interesting is the fact that an article was written in JSTHV in 1981 by Leon Trachtman calling for better public understanding of science and comparing that objective to missionary work. As a journal, PUS also stays to its mission. Public understanding is the focus

Horizontal Comparison in Early and Late Time-frames

Comparative Analysis of early papers – all of the old papers were PUS focused, but they were more oriented to defining issues and measures of public understanding. One also called for more study of particular areas. Specifically, the third paper (Gorke) is a little different in that it tries to build a new analytic perspective and is a call for more studies using that perspective, than an actual research case

The citations of all three articles were downloaded and filtered. The filtering and sorting process isolated the cited authors for each article. The logic for this filter and sort was to determine outside influences on each author, but not necessarily the strength of the influence. In other words, the analysis is how many different authors were cited by the paper, but not the number of times an author was cited or strength of influence. The strength of influence questions is a legitimate issue, but some author cited themselves and other writers so many times it seemed to confusing to attempt that analysis at this time. We wanted to just look at outside influences. Second and third authors for articles were also split out when possible.

The first article (Miller) cited himself and 39 other authors. The second article (Stamm) cited himself and 46 other authors. The third article (Gorke) cited himself and 73 other authors. One reason for the difference of the Gorke article was that it was more of a survey and call for further research. Of all these citations, only two were found to be in more than one article. Those two articles were the Miller and Gorke articles and the authors were Brian Wynne (University of Lancaster) and Martin Bauer (London School of Economics). This suggests that each of these articles are focused on particular content area, rather than STS disciplinary frameworks, though it should be noted that the Miller article does cites both Kuhn and Popper. A preliminary conclusion would be that this sub-field area of STS had not yet developed an overall methodological framework as of 2003.

PUS accepts papers from different perspectives related to public’s understanding of science and technology as we can see the variety among the three articles we picked.

Comparative Analysis of Current era papers

Current er papers also focus in public understanding of science. But, they differ from the early articles. First, the current articles seem much easier to read. Second, they have heavy focus on public agency (or praxis). Third, they focus on global themes.

Similar to Stage 2, the number of citations and self-citations is as follows. The first article (Veltri) had 63 citations citing himself and 57 other authors. The second article (Kawamoto) had 30 citations citing herself and 29 other authors. The third article (Smith) had 55 citations citing himself and 41 other authors. Using the online tool to determine number of citations of each of the three articles, we find that Veltri has been cited by 7, Kawamoto has been cited by 6, and Smith has been cited by 15. The number of citations of each of the three articles suggests that each topic is of interest to many. The field of STS is acting as an umbrella for the varied topics found within Science and Technology Studies.

While the authors are quite diverse in location, they have in common many publications each, along with their articles being frequently cited.

  • G. Veltri, 15 papers, 3 books, 2 chapters, lots of funding average 300,000 eros per year ( Although this article did not receive funding.
  • Shinshin Kawamoto, 6 papers with 11 citations*, science communication and literacy
  • Saijo Miki, 7 publications with 3 citations*, along 20+ papers in Japanese Journal of Scientific Communication & Journal of Science Education in Japan.
  • Minoru Nakayama, 6 publications with 11 citations*, authored & coauthored numerous papers on emerging technologies, e-learning, ocular movements & visual attention.
  • Nickolas Smith of Yale University, now in the UK, 2 publications with 8 citations*, climate change and
  • Helene Joffe, 42 publication with 409 citations*

*as found in Research Gate. Research Gate is a free collaborative / professional network where scientists and researchers opt-in to share their work.

Additionally, we find the three articles are focused on public awareness and interpretation and understanding of science and technology concepts and theories, concentrated on communication methods. All three articles are written in such a way as to allow the lay person to read and interpret the content critically. Words and word phrases such as, social dialogue, opinion mining, public understanding, engage, science communication, free association and common sense conceptualizations, support the idea that the public is an actor, an audience worth including. These articles are evidence of a changing time, a time in which the researchers and authors choose to include and engage the public, in addition to informing the public. Further, the word choices and phrases are the words and descriptors "of the time,” they are current, and focused on a global perspective versus a backyard perspective.

Final Comparative Thoughts

Both the citation analysis and the comparative content analysis suggests that PUS is maturing as a journal. The subject of articles is less on building a journal and more on doing the analysis the journal was established. One last item, in the Kuhnian tradition, we also looked for STS exemplars. Specifically, we were looking for STS citations for Kuhn, Popper, Merton, LaTour, Foucault or Marx. We only found one reference to Kuhn and Popper. PUS is not showing much love for old STS heavyweights. In addition, we looked at citations in the articles. Martin Bauer was cited in three of the six articles. Brian Wynne was cited in two of six, as was JD Miller. As Martin Bauer is the editor of PUS, we should all learn that citing the editor may greatly increase our chance of being published in PUS.

What does our review of PUS tell us about what STS is?

(1) Largely North American and Western European and exclusively English speaking.
(2) It draws from the public, but does not make its studies freely available to the public.
(3) Shifting between understanding to influencing. “The axiom of PUS is “the more you know, the more you love it”; lack of knowledge is the driver of negative attitudes and biased risk perceptions. A knowledgeable public will agree with experts, who do not succumb to biases as the public does. The battle for the public is a battle for rational minds trained in probabilistic reasoning”
(4) Multi-disciplinary “Daring scholars take risks, venture outside their disciplines and stay in touch with competing disciplines; they are not afraid of ‘polluting’ their disciplinary pursuits. Scholars who effectively bring together otherwise detached peers create opportunities to be innovative and to be more widely cited than scholars who simply focus on their number of publications.”
(5) All these activities draw on public or private sponsorship. "Ideals of public education compete with self-interest, public entertainment, national pride in international competition, or more managerial notions such as Public Relations (PR) for the purpose of creating a favorable image for science or a particular institution. A public profile and favorable images are important to sustain public goodwill that may translate into higher citation counts and into funding for future research."


Bauer, M. (2009). Public Understanding of Science. (18 (2009) 378–382). Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Bauer, M. & Howard, S. (2013). Public Understanding of Science: Compiled Bibliography, 1992 - 2011. London
Görke, A. & Ruhrmann, G. (2003). Public communication between facts and fictions: on the construction of genetic risk. Public Understanding of Science. 12, 229-241.
Journal Citation Reports. (2013). Thomson Reuters Publications. New York, NY
Kawamoto, S., Nakayama, M. & Saijo, M. (2013). A survey of scientific literacy to provide a foundation for designing science communication in Japan. Public Understanding of Science, 22(6), 674-690.
Lewenstein, Bruce V. A Decade of Public Understanding. Public Understanding of Science. (11:1 (2002) 1-4).
Miller, J. D. (1998). The measurement of civic scientific literacy. Public Understanding of Science, 7, 203-223.
Smith, N. & Joffe, H. (2013). How the public engages with global warming: A social representations approach. Public Understanding of Science, 22. 16-32.
Stamm, K. (2000). Mass communication and public understanding of environmental problems: the case of global warming. Public Understanding of Science, (9), 219 - 237.
Veltri, G. A. (2013). Microblogging and Nanotweets: Nanotechnology on Tweeter. Public Understanding of Science, 22, 832-849.

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