Between Scientists & Citizens

Posts Tagged ‘trust

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

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

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Debate in the blogosphere: A small case study

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Steve Patterson over at RAIL recently wrote a typically fine piece on How Comments are Killing the Commons.   Coming at the subject as a student of public discourse, I find myself a little more tolerant of the blogosphere’s “partisan clowning” etc.  I’m more curious about specific communication strategies we can adopt to make comment threads work.  Steve McIntrye of Climate Audit recently referenced an essay by myself & Michael Dahlstrom, and my participation in the comment threads gave me an opportunity to observe close up several helpful and unhelpful strategies at work.  Here are three things I learned about blogospheric debate, especially in contrast to communication in more face-to-face settings.

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Written by jeangoodwin

July 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Who is “Jean Goodwin”?

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Pathos (emotion), logos (reasoning), and ethos (character)–for persuasion, these three;  but the greatest of these (according to Aristotle at least) is ethos.  Work across the sprawling contemporary discipline of communication agrees;  “source factors” like knowledgeability, credibility and likeability play a key role in getting a message across.

This raises the hope that some of our bitter public disputes over science might be resolved, if only we could find the right messenger;  a scientist whose conspicuous dignity, integrity and authority would make him (or her) trusted by all sides in the dispute.

Alas, even if we could locate such a scientist-saint, this communication strategy would be unlikely to work.  Read on to see how my own recent blogospheric experiences suggest why.

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Written by jeangoodwin

July 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Posted in discourse analysis

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another analogy explaining climategate

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Yesterday, I looked at how one analogy for the impact of climategate went astray.  Here’s another, from Randy Olson’s recent interview with Ed Begley, Jr., over at The Benshi:

Like the point Bill McKibben makes recently, what’s happening with global warming is like what happened with the O.J. case:  you have a mountain of evidence, yet they manage to get it all thrown aside through their theatrics.

Bill McKibben recently likened the “controversy” surrounding climate science to the botched O.J. Simpson trial

Climategate is nothing more than Mark Fuhrman. You have one cop that does some weird things and that’s enough to outweigh all the evidence. They had to come up with a Mark Fuhrman for the glove, because the glove had O.J.’s hair, it had Goldman’s blood, and Nicole’s blood and fiber from the bronco. If they didn’t have Mark Fuhrman, they’re screwed. Well that’s what they did with Climategate, there’s sea temperatures, air temperatures, melting glaciers, with all that’s there, they’ve got to come up with some guy in East Anglia in Britain that’s kind of wacky, and they gotta hack into his computers, and make a case as they did with O.J. That’s the point Bill McKibben made recently, if you’ve seen what he said.

Ouch!  Ed Begley, Jr. (and Bill McKibben), I don’t think this is what you want to say!

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Written by jeangoodwin

March 19, 2010 at 12:10 pm

explaining the impact of climategate

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On the same Canadian news show that I mentioned yesterday, Joe Romm offers an alternative view. Should climategate and the recently discussed IPCC errors change what citizens believe, or how reporters handle the matter?

There’s no question that in this 3000 page report, the IPCC report, there were one or two relatively trivial mistakes, as the Washington Post put it.  But they have been used as an excuse by some in the media to question the entire science.  The analogy I use is: every major newspaper publishes corrections every single day and yet they expect the public to come back and believe what’s in the newspaper (ca. 4:00).

The analogy is a good one, although it goes against the point Romm is trying to make.

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Written by jeangoodwin

March 19, 2010 at 9:39 am