Between Scientists & Citizens

Unilateral Disarmament in the “War on Science”

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Here is the thesis that I’m nailing to the cathedral door.

Some scientists perceive themselves as an embattled minority, fending off attacks from a public whose declining trust in science has been manufactured by self-interested adversaries aided by an easily-duped press. This perception is largely unfounded. When scientists communicate to the public from this point of view, they don’t contribute usefully to public deliberations. In fact, they add more toxins to the already polluted science communication environment. There has to be a better way.

This is a story that the public is anti-science–I want to promote an anti-“anti-science” story. Or put dramatically, I want to promote unilateral disarmament in the so-called war against science.

To make a case for this thesis, I aim to advance discussion of the following questions:

1. What does the anti-science story look like, in detail? How frequent is it, who is telling it, for what purposes?

2. Which aspects of the anti-science story are largely true, which speculative, and which false? For example, a small number of scientists have been targeted for harassment–that is true, and reprehensible. But is there evidence for a decline in trust, a significant role for “denialists,” or misbehavior by the press?

3. How does the anti-science story influence scientists’ public communication? How does it influence the reception and impact of scientists’ public communication?

4. Why do scientists find the “anti-science” story so attractive?–especially the speculative/false bits? Are there psychological biases in play, e.g., the false polarization effect?

5. What are approaches to communicating in the face of deep disagreement and even hostility that aren’t based on the anti-science story?

6. How can scientists be engaged in reflection on and discussion of this topic?

Written by jeangoodwin

August 30, 2017 at 10:00 am

Scientists: Don’t feed the trolls

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We all know how internet trolling works. The troll writes something outrageous, which provokes the readers to respond with outrage, which amuses the troll and his cohorts. We also know the solution: don’t feed the trolls.

Yes, this applies to science communication, too.

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Written by jeangoodwin

December 5, 2016 at 10:35 am

5th ISU Summer Symposium: Public Participation

5th Iowa State University Summer Symposium on Science Communication
Confronting the challenges of public participation in environmental, planning and health decision-making
3-4 June 2016; Ames, Iowa
Submission deadline:  January 29, 2016

In January 2014, the editor of the leading journal Public Understanding of Science acknowledged that his publication has transitioned from the focus suggested by its name to a new focus on public engagement. Still, he wrote: “the meaning of this transition is not unambiguous.” The purpose of this conference is to explore these ambiguities, in a supportive, yet critical examination of the processes, outcomes and impacts of public participation in decision-making in natural resources, planning and health contexts. A variety of fields have taken up the call to develop new forms of interaction between experts and decision-makers, on one hand, and community residents, patients, landowners, industry representatives and other affected publics on the other. This expanding area for research and practice goes under a variety of names:  public participation, deliberation, dialogue, consensus communication, collaborative governance, participatory modeling, citizen science, among others. Significant creativity has been invested in developing specific practices–indeed, Rowe and Frewer (2005) list 113 mechanisms. We propose to explore both procedural and normative issues in the design, implementation and assessment of public participation processes. Public participation is widely expected to be “better”:  to lead to better physical and social science (e.g., better models), better social outcomes (e.g., trust, collaboration), and better decisions on environmental, health and planning issues. Our goal is to promote a conversation that asks:  better in what ways, compared to what, and measured how?

We invite contributions from relevant disciplines including communication, rhetoric, human dimensions of natural resources, planning, science and technology studies, history & philosophy of science, psychology, sociology, etc.–as well as from scientists who have been involved in participation exercises; using approaches including conceptual analysis, case studies, qualitative and quantitative methods. Possible foci include:

  • defining the boundaries of public participation as situated between public consultation and social movements;
  • articulating key assumptions of public participation such as “representation,” “transparency,” “stakeholder,” “democracy,” “expertise” and of course “public” and “participation” themselves;
  • incorporating, accommodating and managing indecorous voices, deep disagreements, skepticisms and irreconcilable conflicts in public participation mechanisms;
  • exploring the affordances of new technologies and media to support public participation;
  • exploring defensible and practical mechanisms for assessing participatory processes, including by defining what “better” means in these contexts;
  • documenting connections between the public participation processes, their immediate outcomes on participants and their long-term impacts on environment, health, and communities;
  • developing sustainable institutions for public participation;
  • linking public participation activities with curricula in secondary and higher education.

Proceedings of the workshop will be published in print-on-demand and electronic formats. For consideration, submit to Jean Goodwin ( by January 29, 2016:  (a) a blinded 250-500 word abstract with an additional 5-10 item bibliography, and (b) a separate cover page with complete affiliation and contact information.  Please also indicate the expected status of the work to be presented (from early overview to completed study); note that this will not affect acceptance, as we look forward to promoting dialogue among scholars at different stages.  For further information, see or contact Dara Wald ( or Kathleen Hunt ( ).

Program Planning committee: Dara Wald and Kathleen Hunt (Iowa State University) with S. Scott Graham (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee).  Organizing committee:  Michael Dahlstrom and Jean Goodwin (Iowa State University)

Written by jeangoodwin

November 17, 2015 at 7:06 am

Posted in stray remarks

New York Times: Your reporting fed McCarthyite attacks on Kevin Folta

with 5 comments

So, follow below the fold to find my defense of these three claims:

  1. Folta is an outstanding science communicator.
  2. He is being targeted by McCarthy-style attacks.
  3. The New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education failed to resist the McCarthyism.

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Written by jeangoodwin

September 10, 2015 at 7:23 pm

Posted in discourse analysis

Tagged with , ,

The cost of hidden metaphors

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The New York Times’ blog Scientists at Work is a good example of how scientists’ communication might focus on process, not results.  I’ve been enjoying the current sequence about glaciers in Bhutan;  each episode ends with a cliffhanger!

A couple of words in the most recent post jumped out at me, though.  In addition to “reconstructing the history” and “behavior” of the glacier–how it “changed in the past”–the scientist-author explained his interest in figuring out what the glacier was like when it “last maintained a robust, healthy profile.”  Healthy?

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Written by jeangoodwin

November 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm

CFP: Ethical Issues in Science Communication: A Theory-Based Approach

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Third Iowa State University Summer Symposium on Science Communication

May 30 – June 1, 2013; Ames, IA

Submission deadline: January 31, 2013

As science continues to become implicated in personal and collective decision-making, the stakes for communicating science to non-expert audiences intensify. In such an environment, a clear articulation of ethical issues arising from science communication is essential. Unfortunately, such an articulation does not yet exist. The purpose of this symposium is to bring together scholars from across disciplines whose research can contribute toward a theoretical articulation of the ethical issues surrounding the communication of science to non-expert audiences.

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Written by jeangoodwin

November 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Three little words so hard to say

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Our science communication team here at Iowa State is having fun interviewing scientists about their communication challenges, as part of our NSF funded work to develop cases for teaching responsible communication of science.

Here’s one situation that’s come up a couple of times in our talks.  A scientist is making a presentation to a public (non-specialist) audience.  She’s asked a question relevant in a general way to her topic, but outside of her immediate research area.  She remembers reading something about it, but isn’t quite sure of the answer.  What should she say?

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Written by jeangoodwin

November 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Posted in cases

Tagged with ,