November Update

Merchants 006The PoPUS Project had an outstanding November — for which we are thankful! First, we had an amazing turnout for our “Merchants of Doubt” events, including a lively panel discussion following the screening with the film’s director, Robert Kenner, Naomi Oreskes (the historian of science on whose work the film is based), Michael Mann (the renowned climate scientist), and world-renowned magician and expert on deception, Jamy Ian Swiss, who was kind enough to “MC” the panel discussion. It turns out that while some pairs of these fab four have gotten together for screenings and events, all four have not been involved in the same event. It was obvious that they enjoyed each others’ company as much as we enjoyed theirs.

One of the themes that emerged was that the issues are bigger (and more interesting) than just motivated deception about the scientific consensus on climate change. This comes across clearly in the documentary and was a major theme in the discussion that followed. It is especially significant when the risks are as great as they are in the case of climate change, of course, but the manipulation of public opinion is something we’ve seen in many different areas and can expect to see in the future and goes to the heart of how information is transmitted. As Jamy says, “credit the con man”; but recognizing what’s going on in such cases — the “con” is all about the manipulation of confidence — should give us pause, as transmitting knowledge requires trusting others. This is an area we plan to explore philosophically and experimentally in the coming months.

Professors Oreskes and Mann for a Q&A

Professors Oreskes and Mann with students

The next day, Professors Oreskes and Mann offered a student-oriented Q&A/discussion that ranged widely over the difference between denialism and skepticism, the brewing legal issues for companies like Exxon Mobil (which was recently revealed to have their scientists working on understanding climate change from the early days — much like Big Tobacco), and what students and citizens can do to shift our present trajectory. (See also Oreskes’s recent Times Op-Ed on this.)

Professor Oreskes's FLS talk

Professor Oreskes’s FLS talk

Speaking of confidence, Professor Oreskes gave an extremely well-attended talk for faculty and students in the TLC’s Friday Learning Series lunch on “Why We Should Trust Science” (for a shorter presentation of early versions of these ideas, see her TED talk here). Notice that the title is why we should trust science, rather than scientists. A central theme in her talk was the importance of understanding how science operates as the activity of a community of inquirers — it’s not about placing our confidence in individual scientists.

Jamy Ian Swiss's Friday performance

Jamy Ian Swiss’s Friday performance

That afternoon, Jamy Ian Swiss and Robert Kenner did multiple classroom visits for Film and Philosophy courses (and guests), leading up to a lovely dinner on campus followed by a compelling lecture and performance by Jamy on “The Dynamics of Deception” about how expert deceivers work in a variety of contexts. It was a fantastic couple of days. We learned a lot, got some good feedback and advice on our projects, and enjoyed generating discussion on these important topics on campus and in our community. For more photos, check out our Google+ album here.

That’s just the first thing! Early this same week, we were delighted to learn that both of our poster submissions were accepted to the AAAS 2016 Annual Conference. Registration is complete and Bucknell’s Sprinter van is booked! D.C. here we come! We’ll post more information about these projects in due course.

Student-lead Case Studies and Sub-projects

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Since this is my first blog post for the Production of Public Understanding of Science, I would like to take this opportunity to express how excited I am to be able to count myself as a member of this team. To learn more about me and my involvement with the project, please see Matthew’s post about my […]

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“Merchants of Doubt” with Panel Discussion

Merchants of Doubt

November 5th–6th, 2015 The PoPUS Project is delighted to announce a special public showing of the recent, critically-acclaimed documentary by Robert Kenner, “Merchants of Doubt”, based on the 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway. The film features prominently Professor Oreskes, as well as climate scientist (and previous PoPUS visitor) Michael Mann, and “honest liar” Jamy Ian […]

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Student Research Team

Jason and Jo

Building on the philosophical approach we took to recent work in the social science of science communication last year, we will begin to pursue some empirical work of our own this year with the help of our new postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Jo Huxster, and an expanded team of student research assistants. We bade a fond farewell […]

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The Project Continues!

Dr. Huxster with University of Delaware students

While our funding from the Varieties of Understanding Project officially concluded at the end of June, we’re extremely excited to announce that the Production of Public Understanding of Science (PoPUS) will continue for several more years thanks to a generous grant from the President’s Office at Bucknell. Even more exciting is the fact that this funding has […]

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Varieties of Understanding Midpoint Conference

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The Varieties of Understanding Project, which has funded our work for this year put on their first project conference. This “Midpoint Conference” (the project continues for the psychologists — data collection takes time, it turns out!) involved all of the grant-winners as well as commentators and plenary speakers for the Capstone Conference to come in […]

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SRPoiSE Conference 2015

Victor, Rachel, Jeff, and Matthew exploring Detroit

A subset of the PoPUS crew recently traveled to Detroit, MI to present at the Socially Relevant Philosophy of/in Science and Engineering (SRPoiSE) Conference. Three of our research assistants joined us and got a taste of what happens when you put a bunch of philosophers together in a room for a few days. We received […]

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Anthony Leiserowitz, “Climate Change in the American Mind”

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Wednesday, April 8th @ 7PM Forum (272 Elaine Langone Center) RSVP on Facebook Here and help spread the word! The Production of Public Understanding of Science Project is pleased to announce that Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, research scientist at the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Director of the Yale Project on Climate […]

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Themes from Mann’s Visit

Professor Mann in the student breakfast discussion.

We’ve had a very exciting week here at the PoPUS project. We had the good fortune to enjoy a full day and a half with Professor Michael Mann—prominent climate scientist, bigtime advocate for public understanding of climate change, and perennial target of the slings and arrows of outrageous denialism. Our indefatigable guest not only delivered […]

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Michael Mann, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: The Battle Continues”

Professor Michael Mann

Wednesday, March 4th @ 7PM Forum (272 Elaine Langone Center) — RSVP on Facebook Here and help spread the word! Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University and renowned climate scientist Michael Mann will give an evening lecture on his scientific and outreach work. For nearly two decades, Mann has worked to improve our understanding […]

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