Translating science for young people

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Education

Abstract

The project is concerned with how state-of-the-art scientific knowledge is translated, or, possibly, not translated or mistranslated, in texts accessed by young people aged 11-16. The research focusses on texts produced around climate change, a socioscientific issue of central importance, and one which has implications for lifestyle and patterns of consumption. Understanding such socioscientific issues is central to young people's future lives as active citizens, but 11- to 16-year-olds are unlikely to be able to read the texts in which scientists communicate their research findings, such as articles in specialised journals. Rather, young people find out about scientific issues from a variety of educational and popular texts, as well as from online sources and social media. The translation of information across genres may result in distortion; for instance, there is some evidence that public understanding of the human role in climate change is significantly at odds with the current scientific consensus.

To investigate translation in this context, we will conduct linguistic analyses of three large language datasets, composed of collections of texts about climate change, representing the following:
(1) the language of science used by experts, represented by research articles and policy texts such as produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;
(2) the language of texts that young people access, represented by popular and educational materials, including curriculum materials, educational websites such as 'BBC Bite-size', popular science texts, internet forums, Twitter feeds and other texts used by young people. The selection will informed by interviews with young people and with teachers.
(3) the language used by young people interviewed about climate change.

We will analyse a group of linguistic devices including metaphors, metonyms, words combinations (collocations) and the use of technical terms. These have been shown to be important in communicating scientific information and stance towards ideas. They can also convey emotional attitudes towards what they refer to, and degrees of probability and certainty. We will compare the analyses of the three datasets and identify commonalities and divergences in what is communicated and how. By analysing the interviews with young people, we will also consider how scientific information, attitudes and probabilities are understood and reframed by the young people themselves. We will use the techniques of corpus linguistics, that is, the use of specialised software for studying large quantities of text automatically, supported by some qualitative manual language analysis. Our procedure is as follows:

We will use corpus linguistic software to perform preliminary analyses on the datasets. These techniques will enable us to identify significant quantitative features of the datasets, and differences in language use between them. For instance, we will be able to identify which words are used most frequently in each, and to compare these, and which combinations of words and semantic fields occur frequently in each dataset, and frequently relative to each other. We will also perform detailed manual text analysis of samples of each dataset to identify key linguistic characteristics. This information will be used as a starting point for more detailed language analysis. Corpus software will then be used to study language patterns in more detail, to determine key patterns of meaning and use in each corpus, and differences between them. This use of detailed linguistic methods in tackling young people's understanding of socioscientific issues is innovative.

Our findings will be important for professionals concerned with communicating science to the general public, especially young people, including scientists and science journalists. They will also be important for science education professionals, and for organisations concerned with public awareness of climate science.

Planned Impact

The research will benefit individuals, groups and organisations who are concerned with the public dissemination of science, and particularly the engagement of young people with scientific knowledge concerning climate change in the UK. These include:
(1) individual scientists and groups of researchers who are concerned to communicate effectively with the public, especially young people;
(2) science teachers and teacher organisations, and curriculum designers and policy-makers in the area of science education;
(3) charities and organisations devoted to scientific issues and specifically climate science.

We have identified the following organisations as channels through which we can reach potential beneficiaries:
The UK Youth Climate Coalition - an organisation run by young volunteers that aims to 'inspire, empower, mobilise and unite young people to take positive action on climate change for a cleaner, fairer future' (http://ukycc.org).
The Royal Society - which aims to 'recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity' (http://royalsociety.org); one of the Society's priorities is the engagement of young people with science.
The UK's Association for Science Education - the largest subject education in the UK, which promotes 'excellence in teaching and learning of science in schools and colleges' (http://www.ase.org.uk/home/).
SCORE, the Science Community Representing Education, a group which 'aims to improve science education in UK schools and colleges by supporting the development and implementation of effective education policy' (http://www.score-education.org).

We will also work with education professionals directly through our existing contacts, and through further contacts that we will build. The members of these different groups will benefit from an increased awareness of the language that is used to talk about scientific issues, and particularly climate change, in texts aimed at young people and in talk by young people themselves, and of how this relates to the language used by experts in scientific journals. This greater awareness can inform science teaching and education more generally, including campaigns by charities and organisations that aim to create a greater understanding and engagement in science on the part of young people.

The project will benefit from an Advisory Group, which will include representatives of the users we wish to reach. The group will advise on the research and on the engagement and impact strategy. We will engage with users through a range of events, including workshops for education professionals in the region, and presentations regionally and nationally. We will document news of the project and our findings through a variety of formats including those accessible to the general public and to young people. We aim to produce a greater understanding of the issues involved in translating scientific knowledge, and in communicating its relevance to young people, and as a result, more effective communication across the parties involved and a greater engagement by young people with scientific knowledge and socioscientific issues.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We compared scientific knowledge about climate change as discussed among scientific peers in technical writing and its transformation into educational and popular texts for young people. We used interviews with young people to explore their understandings of this knowledge, and to analyse the language that they used. We found that 'dead' metaphors in scientists' language tend to be given new life in educational and popular materials, which encourage students to reflect on literal meanings of terms such as 'greenhouse'. Linguistic devices such as simile are used to this end. We found that young people have a tendency to further explore these metaphors, in a way which reflects enthusiasm for the topic and engagement with texts, but that this leads to misconceptions. We also found that young people rarely make connections between climate change and their own behaviour. Some of heir scientific conceptions are inaccurate and/ or exaggerated.
An unexpected finding, which will be explored in more detail in future research, is that a significant proportion of young people (native speakers of English) have only very limited command of semi-technical scientific vocabulary (for instance, scientific uses of words such as 'record' and 'impact'). This suggests that they lack the language necessary to access the secondary school curriculum.
Exploitation Route We gathered a 3 relatively large corpora of scientific language which are roughly comparable in terms of topic. These data can be used for further exploration of genre differences. Our findings regarding students' language level can be replicated for other school subjects. Our findings regarding students' limited vocabulary knowledge have formed the basis of further school based research.
Sectors Education,Energy

 
Description The linguistic challenges of the transition from primary to secondary school
Amount £499,351 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/R006687/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 04/2021
 
Description University of Bergen, Norway 
Organisation University of Bergen
Department Department of Pathology
Country Norway 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I and a project Co-Investigator have been named as Co-Investigators in a bid to the Research Council of Norway on the education of climate change. We will conduct a study on climate change education in Britain.
Collaborator Contribution Partners have developed a bid to investigate the teaching of climate change in primary schools in Norway.
Impact bid submitted to Research Council of Norway
Start Year 2016
 
Description University of Oslo 
Organisation University of Oslo
Country Norway 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed as co-investigator to a bid entitled 'Figurative language in crisis management and understanding', submitted to the Research Council of Norway. Contributed concepts developed in Translating Science for Young People research.
Collaborator Contribution Developed bid.
Impact Linguistics, psychology
Start Year 2020
 
Description 11th conference of European Researchers in Didactics of Biology, Environmental Education section 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact poster presented and discussed with science education practitioners. Raised awareness of usefulness and potential problems with the use of metaphor in science teaching, with the example of climate science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Blog post for UKRI & AHRC associated with AAAS meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I prepared a 700 word blog post about the project, which appeared on the AHRC and UKRI websites to mark UKRI's presence at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in February 2018. This resulted in some Twitter presence.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/research/readwatchlisten/features/translating-science-for-young-people-the-cas...
 
Description Blog post for social science and metaphor researchers, and non academic users of this research 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We were asked to provide a blog post for the Metaphor Lab, based at Amsterdam University. The Metaphor Lab's mission is to 'stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration, innovation, and application in all areas of metaphor research inside and outside academic communities and focus on how metaphor cognition works in discourse processing.', and it aims to 'develop new products and services for the non-academic community, to improve self-awareness, monitoring, training and testing of metaphor use in design, management, communication, and interaction.' (website text). We have since been asked to provide a workshop for Dutch school teachers about the project, as part of a conference on Metaphor and Narrative in Education, at the Free University, Amsterdam, March- April 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://metaphorlab.org/about/current-reseach/alice-deignan-metaphors-and-translations-of-science-for...
 
Description Contribution to professional publication 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Piece on emagazine of English and Media Centre, for secondary school teachers: When is a greenhouse not a greenhouse? Metaphors and climate change in science, education and young people's talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.englishandmedia.co.uk/e-magazine
 
Description Interview for radio station 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On 16th Feb 2021, I was interviewed for by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, for a radio programme to be broadcast in Canada and Australia. The topic of the interview was the metaphors of climate change. I described the research project and our key findings, and implications for educators and policy makers in their aim of making young people and the general public more widely aware of the seriousness of the climate crisis.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Invited keynote talk to teachers and educational researchers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact We have a keynote talk to 20 education researchers, practitioners and postgraduate research students entitled 'Metaphor and climate science in secondary school discourse', and then participated in a Q&A session. Interest was shown in our close engagement with schools. Discussion focussed around schools co-researching with linguists to bring research evidence to support teachers and materials writers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://baalroutledgeworkshopcognitivelinguistics.wordpress.com
 
Description Talk entitled "Metaphors, climate change and children's understandings of science and beliefs about the future" 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 20 Year 12 school students attended this talk, which was given as part of an Educational Engagement program for students from schools with high numbers of WP students. Students were from Leeds, Halifax, Bradford and Manchester, some brought in groups by their teachers, some attending as individuals. Aspects of the talk that t students showed particular interest in were the purpose of science teaching, changes to the National Curriculum, and analysis of Key Stage 3 students scientific language.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Workshop (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 25 stakeholders in science education, including materials writers, science education researchers, representatives of examination boards and science teacher trainers, attended a one day workshop. The workshop included a number of talks about the project findings and implications for science teaching, and a keynote address by Michael Reiss, Professor of Science Education at UCL. There were discussion sessions, and feedback showed that delegates recognised the importance of climate change education, and the contribution that language research can make.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://translatingscience.leeds.ac.uk/2016/06/29/impact-event-at-the-royal-society-on-june-27th/