Rodney H. Jones, "Health and Risk Communication: An Applied Linguistic Perspective" (Routledge, 2013)


Scientists - and I claim to include myself in this category - sometimes seem to be disparaging about the ability of people in general to understand and act upon quantitative data, such as information about risk in the medical domain. There's also an extensive literature on humans' irrationality. And it's grist to the mill when we notice people engaging in wantonly risky behaviour in the face of sound medical or scientific advice. Rodney H. Jones persuasively challenges this analysis of 'irrational' health-related behaviour. His argument is that, if we take seriously the complex web of dependencies and discourses that influence our actions, it's very often possible to see such actions as perfectly rational and soundly motivated. The goal in doing so is not to deny the correctness or primacy of scientific findings or medical advice, but to attempt to identify and overcome the barriers that actually block people (be they patients or politicians) from acting in accordance with this advice. In this interview, we discuss some cases in point, and consider how intricate the relation between discourses and behaviour can be. We get some impression of the transformative effect of technology, not just on how - for instance - the interaction between doctor and patient is mediated, but also in how new communities can form up around, and attempt to make sense of, results of the latest biomedical techniques. And we discuss how medical professionals (and scientific communicators) might try to ensure that their message reaches its audience and achieves an effect there.

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