AAAS Conference and Spring updates

Naama, Nate, and Nic at an evening AAAS event

Naama, Nate, and Nic at an evening AAAS event

It’s hard to believe we’re already into March, but PoPUS has had an eventful spring semester so far! Most notably, seven student research assistants, Matthew, Jason, and I attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC last month. In addition to taking in many relevant talks at the conference, two PoPUS student groups presented posters in the student poster competition.

Victor presents in the Science and Society category

Victor presents in the Science and Society poster session

The first poster was entitled “The Use and Abuse of ‘Understanding’ in Public Understanding of Science.” The student researchers analyzed papers published in the journal Public Understanding of Science from 2010–2015. They used digital text analysis to identify and examine definitions of epistemic success terms, and systematically read and reviewed all papers claiming to measure epistemic states in that time period. The results, generally indicating a lack of differentiation between epistemic states — particularly between knowledge and understanding — and a dearth of instruments attempting to measure understanding. We will be writing up a paper discussing these results this spring. Victor LoPiccolo represented the group, presenting the poster in the Science and Society session.

Jo, Julia, and Melissa at the Social Science poster session

Jo, Julia, and Melissa at the Social Science poster session

The second student poster, “Can You Succeed at Science Without Knowing You’re Trying? The Effect of Priming Intellectual Virtues on Individual Effort and Understanding,” presented our researchers’ attempts to utilize the psychological methodology of priming to increase effort applied to learning a scientific subject. Participants were primed with “intellectual virtues” having to do with focus, motivation, and endurance. The researchers found no significant difference in either understanding or effort (as measured by time spent learning and answering questions) between groups. The null results were presented by Melissa Hopkins in the Social Sciences poster session. This project received an honorable mention!

Congratulations to all of the students who participated in these research projects. These students were in the mix with accomplished graduate students and their work fit right in.

Jason, Nate, and Nic come down to led support

Jason, Nate, and Nic lending support at a poster session

Now that the AAAS meeting is over, we are back to work on these and other important projects. We would also like to welcome three new student research assistants to our group! Carson Maurice ’19 and Naama Kipperman ’17 will be working on our project examining the relationship between understanding of the scientific process and trust in science. Greg Ruda ’17 will be joining the project exploring communication tools for more resilient beliefs.

For more photos from AAAS 2016, check out this album.

Student-lead Case Studies and Sub-projects

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 joining the project or my professional webpage.

Over the past year, the PoPUS team has worked on the theoretical side of public understanding of science, striving to develop a philosophical theory of understanding and its relevance to science education and communication. This work continues, but we are also branching into some empirical research on several sub-projects and case studies. Our student research assistants will be spearheading each of these projects, and developing both this_is_file_name_2552theoretical and empirical approaches to each case.

The first of these case studies will be examining the role of intellectual virtues — such as curiosity, open-mindedness, and so on — in individual effort to understand complex scientific topics. Melissa Hopkins and Julia Bresticker are leading this project, and will be drawing on recent work in virtue epistemology as a theoretical framework for this case study, which will include methodologies from Psychological research.

The second sub-project will be spearheaded by Jeff Bergman and Mack Jones. These students, with the help of their fellow researchers, will be conducting an in-depth literature analysis using digital text visualization and analysis software. The goal of this project is to get a better sense of the of the public understanding of science literature across several different academic fields, and the relation of previously existing work in the social sciences to the way philosophers think about understanding.

The third student-led case study examines communication methodologies, and more specifically communication styles and tools, used for conveying scientific information to the public. Nicolas Diaz and Nate Aspinall, who will be leading this study, will be utilizing anthropological, sociological, and educational methodologies to study various communication tools for complex scientific processes. They will be assessing the best strategies for communication based on understanding and resilience of true beliefs.

Finally, Victor LoPiccolo and Carolyn McGlynn will be spearheading research into public trust in science and scientists, specifically when it comes to matters of public health and well-being such as the safety of childhood vaccines and the urgency of the climate change threat. They will be assessing effectiveness of various sources of information, measuring public trust, and identifying potential ways to improve scientific communication efficacy.

I think I speak for the entire group when I say that we are eager to move forward with these projects and are excited to see where each one takes us. Expect more updates to come!