Segmented science communication audiences for more effective messages

An important step in crafting an effective science-related message is knowing your audience. Research in different countries has revealed distinct groups of people with differing attitudes towards science. John Besley from Michigan State University used survey data to determine six audiences for science communication in the United States.

Besley used demographic and ideology information to segment the public based on their attitudes towards science. Communicators can use existing information and data about their audiences to determine potential attitudes towards science and what type of science communication will be the most effective.


The disengaged – 24%

As the largest audience, the disengaged consumers are concerned that science and technology is changing too fast. They’re often older and don’t see as many opportunities and benefits in advancing science. This group tends to have a limited scientific background and not much interest in engaging in science. The disengaged are usually politically neutral. Because of their limited science background, trust building messages are the most effective,delivered through non-traditional channels like social media.

Example: Blue-collar professionals


The cautious conservatives – 21%

This group is also older, but more politically conservative than the disengaged group. They have a limited scientific background but tend to be more receptive to science and technology. The most effective way to reach this audience is through interest-building and relatable messages. Find messages and communications that make science relevant and provide a benefit for this group.

Example: Conservative politicians


The moderate optimists – 15%

The optimists have average science backgrounds, but they’re well-informed about science and technology. They tend to lean liberal but are moderate on most political topics. Because they are positive and optimistic about the future direction of science, this group responds the best to messages about opportunities to empower science. They also respond well to messages about additional science funding and pro-science policy.

Example: Middle-class communities


The worriers – 14%

Often the most difficult group, the worriers are concerned about most areas of science and technology. They’re usually younger and have less education than the other groups. They aren’t very political. No matter what the message is, this group is unlikely to see the benefits from science and technology. Similarly to the disengaged group and cautious conservatives, trust-building and emotional messages might be effective in reaching this audience.

Example: Conspiracy bloggers or anti-vaxxers


The liberal science supporters – 13%

This group differs from other liberal-leaning groups because of their high education. Politically, they’re very liberal and this group is made up of more females. The liberal science supporters see more value in funding and danger in outside organizations. Pro-science messages are the most effective with this group.

Example: Liberal-leaning college professors or science activists


The conservative science supporters – 11%

The conservative science supporters are similar demographically to the cautious conservatives but have a higher support for science and are more educated. Well informed and well educated, this group supports research funding for most science. Messages that support science funding and science enabling policies are effective. Communications that lump all conservatives as anti-science will alienate this group.

Example: Conservative-leaning industry scientists


segementation graphic.png
Graphic by Jordan Gaal, iconography sourced from freepik.


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