Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Neurotalk: improving the communication of neuroscience research

Abstract

There is increasing pressure for neuroscientists to communicate their research and the societal implications of their findings to the public. Communicating science is challenging, and the transformation of communication by digital and interactive media increases the complexity of the challenge. To facilitate dialogue with the public in this new media landscape, we suggest three courses of action for the neuroscience community: a cultural shift that explicitly recognizes and rewards public outreach, the identification and development of neuroscience communication experts, and ongoing empirical research on the public communication of neuroscience.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1

    Hayes, D. P. The growing inaccessibility of science. Nature 356, 739–740 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Caplan, A. Bioethics for the brain. The Scientist 16, 12 (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Illes, J. & Bird, S. J. Neuroethics: a modern context for ethics in neuroscience. Trends Neurosci. 29, 511–517 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Racine, E., Amaram, R., Seidler, M., Karczewska, M. & Illes, J. Media coverage of the persistent vegetative state and end-of-life decision-making. Neurology 71, 1027–1032 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Dumit, J. Objective brains, prejudicial images. Sci. Context 12, 173–201 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Illes, J., Racine, E. & Kirschen, M. P. in Neuroethics: Defining the Issues in Theory, Practice and Policy (ed. Illes, J.) 149–168 (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2006).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    McCabe, D. P. & Castel, A. D. Seeing is believing: the effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning. Cognition 107, 343–352 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Racine, E., Bar-Ilan, O. & Illes, J. fMRI in the public eye. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 6, 159–164 (2005).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Office of Economic Co-operation and Development. Understanding the Brain: Toward a New Learning Science (OECD Publications, Paris, 2002).

  10. 10

    Weisberg, D. S., Keil, F. C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E. & Gray, J. R. The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 20, 470–477 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Blanke, O. & Metzinger, T. Full-body illusions and minimal phenomenal selfhood. Trends Cogn. Sci. 13, 7–13 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Leshner, A. I. It's time to go public with neuroethics. Am. J. Bioethics 5, 1–2 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Nisbet, M. C. Framing science: the future of public engagement. The Scientist 21, 38–49 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Russell, C. When science journalism goes global. Science 324, 1491 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Leshner, A. I. Editorial: Outreach training needed. Science 315, 161 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Friedman, D. Public outreach: a scientific imperative. J. Neurosci. 28, 11743–11745 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Bubela, T. et al. Science communication reconsidered. Nature Biotech. 27, 514–518 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Illes, J. & Chin, V. Trust and reciprocity: foundational principles in human subjects imaging research. Can. J. Neurol. Sci. 34, 3–4 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    McDonald, M., Townsend, A., Cox, S. M., Paterson, N. D. & Lafrenière, D. Trust in health research relationships: accounts of human subjects. J. Empir. Res. Hum. Res. Ethics 3, 35–47 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Crawford, M. B. The limits of neuro-talk. New Atlantis 19, 65–78 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Illes, J., Kirschen, M. P. & Gabrieli, J. D. E. From neuroimaging to neuroethics. Nature Neurosci. 6, 205 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE). Many experts, many audiences: public engagement with science and informal science education. The CAISE website [online] (2009).

  23. 23

    Peters, H. P. et al. Science–media interface: it's time to reconsider. Sci. Commun. 30, 266–277 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Chandrashekaran, M. K. Editorial: Popularizing science. Resonance 1, 1 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    [No authors listed]. Editorial: Filling the void. Nature 458, 260 (2009).

  26. 26

    Poliakoff, E. & Webb, T. L. What factors predict scientists' intentions to participate in public engagement of science activities? Sci. Commun. 29, 242–263 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Horrigan, J. B. The internet as a resource for news and information about science. The Pew Internet and American Life Project website [online] (2006).

  28. 28

    The Society for Neuroscience. Neuroscience core concepts. The Society for Neuroscience website [online].

  29. 29

    Golde, C. M. & Walke, G. E. (eds) Envisioning the Future of Doctoral Education: Preparing Stewards of the Discipline (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2006).

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Ward, V. L., House, O. & Hamer, S. Knowledge brokering: exploring the process of transferring knowledge into action. BMC Health Serv. Res. 9, 1–6 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Eaton, M. L. & Illes, J. Commercializing cognitive neurotechnology: the ethical terrain. Nature Biotech. 25, 1–5 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Tairyan, K., Federico, C. & Illes, J. Internal and external ethics motivators in neuroscience: a large scale survey. (Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, Chicago, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    Herculano-Houzel, S. What does the public want to know about the brain? Nature Neurosci. 6, 325 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    Cooperrider, D. & Whitney, D. Collaborating for Change: Appreciative Inquiry (Brett-Kohler, San Francisco, 2000).

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Racine, E. Pragmatic Neuroethics: Improving Treatment and Understanding of the Mind-Brain (MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2010).

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36

    Shapiro, H. T. Reflections on the interface of bioethics, public policy, and science. Kennedy Inst. Ethics J. 9, 209–224 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37

    Thompson, L. A. et al. The intersection of online social networking with medical professionalism. J. Gen. Intern. Med. 23, 954–957 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38

    Farmer, A. D., Bruckner Holt, C. E., Cook, M. J. & Hearing, S. D. Social networking sites: a novel portal for communication. Postgrad. Med. J. 85, 455–459 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39

    O'Doherty, K. C. & Burgess, M. M. Engaging the public on biobanks: outcomes of the BC biobank deliberation. Public Health Genomics 12, 203–215 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40

    Milewa, T. Health technology adoption and the politics of governance in the UK. Soc. Sci. Med. 63, 3102–3112 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41

    Lombera, S. & Illes, J. International dimensions of neuroethics. Dev. World Bioeth. 9, 57–64 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42

    Abi-Rached, J. M. The implications of the new brain sciences. The 'Decade of the Brain' is over but its effects are now becoming visible as neuropolitics and neuroethics, and in the emergence of neuroeconomies. EMBO Rep. 9, 1158–1162 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43

    Wolf, S. M. Neurolaw: the big question. Am. J. Bioeth. 8, 21–22 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44

    Illes, J. et al. International perspectives on engaging the public. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 6, 977–982 (2005).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45

    Vul, E., Harris, C., Winkielman, P. & Pashler, H. Reply to comments on 'Puzzlingly high correlations in fMRI studies of emotion, personality and social cognition'. Persp. Psychol. Sci. 4, 319–324 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46

    Jabbi, M., Keysers, C., Singer, T. & Stephan, K. E. Rebuttal of “voodoo correlations in social neuroscience” by Vul. et al. NeuroImaging Center Groningen website [online] (2009).

  47. 47

    Iacoboni, M. et al. This is your brain on politics. The New York Times (New York, 11 Nov 2007).

  48. 48

    Aron, A. et al. Politics and the Brain. The New York Times (New York, 14 Nov 2007).

  49. 49

    Grosse, S. D. et al. Population screening for genetic disorders in the 21st century: evidence, economics, and ethics. Public Health Genomics 29 Jun 2009 [Epub ahead of print].

  50. 50

    Adair, A., Hyde-Lay, R., Einsiedel, E. & Caulfield, T. Technology assessment and resource allocation for predictive genetic testing: a study of the perspectives of Canadian genetic health care providers. BMC Med. Ethics 10, 6 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This paper is based on NeuroTalk: Communication for Senior Scientists, a workshop held at The Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada, 19–22 March, 2009 (co-chairs J. Ingram and J. Illes.). The support of Imperial Oil (to J. Ingram and M.A.M), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) CNE #85117 (to J. Illes), NIH/NIMH 9R01MH84282-04A1 (to J. Illes), CIHR and Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (to E.R.), and CIHR, CTV and a Globemedia Fellowship (to K.D.S.) is gratefully acknowledged. We also thank S. Lombera for research assistance.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Judy Illes.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Related links

Related links

DATABASES

OMIM

Alzheimer's disease

depression

FURTHER INFORMATION

Judy Illes' homepage

The AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program

Data sets from Pew Internet and American Life Project

Demographics of Internet Users, Pew Internet and American Life Project

FASEB Washington Update

Internet Activities, Pew Internet and American Life Project

Society for Neuroscience Science Educator Award

The Brain from Top to Bottom

Twitter and status updating, Pew Internet and American Life Project

Wellcome Trust Broadcast Development Awards

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Illes, J., Moser, M., McCormick, J. et al. Neurotalk: improving the communication of neuroscience research. Nat Rev Neurosci 11, 61–69 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2773

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing