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.

“Merchants of Doubt” with Panel Discussion

Merchants of Doubt New

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 visitorMichael Mann, and “honest liar” Jamy Ian Swiss. It documents the efforts of a small number of well-funded skeptics worked to slow the public’s acceptance of the science behind the hazards of smoking, acid rain, ozone depletion, and climate change.

The film will begin at 6:30PM on Thursday, November 5th in the beautiful Campus Theatre in Lewisburg and will be immediately followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with Kenner, Oreskes, Mann, and Swiss. The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP on Facebook (or spread the word) see here. Here’s a trailer:

Swiss Magic Poster_rv3In addition, Jamy Ian Swiss — an internationally-recognized magician and public intellectual — will give a performance/lecture on Friday, November 6th at 6:30PM (Facebook event) entitled “The Dynamics of Deception (How and Why Smart People Get Fooled)”. It’s going to be a really interesting series of events. Bucknell Faculty interested in other opportunities for student interaction with these folks, please get in touch with Jo Huxster.

These events were made possible by the sponsorship of The Production of Public Understanding of Science Project, and the Offices of the President, the Provost, and the Deans of Arts & Sciences and Engineering, the Bucknell Innovation Group, the Bucknell Center for Sustainability & the Environment, the University Lectureship Committee, and the Departments of Biology, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Economics, Environmental Studies, Geography, History, International Relations, Markets, Innovation, and Design, Philosophy, and Sociology & Anthropology.

For a bit more background, you can hear me discussing the events and these issues in an interview with WKOK radio here.

Student Research Team

from left: Jeff, Nic, Victor, and Caroline

from left: Jeff, Nic, Victor, and Caroline

from right: Nate, Mack, Melissa, and Julia

from right: Nate, Mack, Melissa, and Julia

Jason and Jo

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 to Rachel Greenburg (class of 2015) and lost rising sophomore Erin Schwab to a project in Engineering more closely tuned to her career ambitions, but were lucky enough to pick up three new students: first-year Presidential Fellow Nate Aspinal (undeclared), junior Mack Jones (a Classics and Biology double-major), and Melissa Hopkins (a Philosophy and Psychology double-major). They join our five returning researchers, bringing the PoPUS crew up to an auspicious eleven (“one louder”, you know).

To start the term, we will be dividing our work between several distinct sub-projects under the public understanding of science umbrella, managed by Jo but spearheaded by student teams. The proximate goal will be to design some experiments that put our theoretical framework concerning the epistemic resilience of understanding over knowledge to the test and begin collecting pilot data in order to apply for further grant support. We will be updating this blog in the coming months with news of our progress.

The Project Continues!

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 allowed us to hire a postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Joanna Huxster. Previously a Visiting Research Professor at Drexel University, Dr. Huxster received her Ph.D. from the University of Delaware in 2013 in Marine Studies with a Concentration in Marine Policy.

Dr. Huxster with University of Delaware students

Dr. Huxster with University of Delaware students

As a social scientist, she will be helping us to conduct some empirical studies concerning understanding and epistemic resilience when it comes to the public’s understanding of science, supervising our growing team of undergraduate researchers — something she already has great experience with. Here’s a press release concerning a recent publication on the understanding of climate change from her previous position.

Look forward to more exciting announcements about PoPUS projects and events in the coming months!

Varieties of Understanding Midpoint Conference

VoU 2015 002The 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 Summer of 2016. It convened at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, in the fancy law school building, and was a fantastic affair.

Update: It turns out that you can watch all of the presentations — including ours!here. This is great news for us, because sessions ran in parallel, so we didn’t get to see all of the talks. A short paper version of our talk can be read here. We hope to expand this to journal-length in the fall term.

For photos from the conference, you can check out this gallery.

SRPoiSE Conference 2015

Victor, Rachel, Jeff, and Matthew exploring Detroit

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 some very useful feedback on our work, met some new folks with similar interest, and generally got inspired about the social relevance of philosophy! And everyone returned in one piece — whew!

More photos here.

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

Wednesday, March 4th @ 7PM

Forum (272 Elaine Langone Center) — RSVP on Facebook Here and help spread the word!
Professor Michael Mann

Professor Michael Mann

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 of the global climate: how it has changed and what we should make of those changes. In 1998, he was part of the team to publish “Hockey Stick” graph, depicting a relatively smooth end of the Holocene (over the last millennium) and a sharp uptick at the beginning of the industrial revolution (heading into what some propose calling the “Anthropocene”).

This graph would become an iconic image of climate change and the ensuing “climate wars” for the hearts and minds of politicians and the general public. Because of his contributions to climate science, Professor Mann was asked to be a Lead Author for key chapters of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Assessment Report. His prominence made him a lightning rod for criticisms and personal attacks on his integrity and credibility by industry-funded denialists. Nevertheless, he remains one of the foremost champions for a scientifically-informed science policy. His lecture will describe his continuing efforts to help the public understand the threat of anthropogenic climate change.

We gratefully acknowledge support from the departments of Economics, Education, International Relations, Philosophy, Physics & Astronomy, Religious Studies, Sociology & Anthropology, in additional the Bucknell Center for Sustainability and the Environment, the Program for Environmental Studies, the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy, the University Lectureship Committee, the Deans of Arts & Sciences and Engineering, and the Office of the Provost.

Dispatches from the AAAS

Jason and I attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San José, California in mid-February and were pleased to see — not surprisingly — a great deal of interest in science communication. In addition to attending some top-notch, cutting-edge scientific lectures, we wanted to get a sense of where the broader scientific community is in their thinking about best practices for science communication.

IMG_2438What we saw was a bit of a mixed bag. One the one hand, there seems to be an appropriate amount of skepticism about the so-called “deficit model” of science communication (that basically says “what the public needs is simply more information”). There was also a good amount of attention to the role that values and framing play in science communication and several folks helpfully discussed the challenges that scientists face when they take on the role of champions and communicators and how to help meet those challenges. But we didn’t see as much as we were expecting that went beyond these points to think about the cognitive outcomes of various types of outreach. Though the deficit model is explicitly shunned, it still seems to hold sway in depicting what the end goal of science communication ought to be: the public knowing and believing more true things about science.

This is where we think our project can help. The next AAAS meeting is in Washington, D.C. Maybe we’ll be there. More photos from the trip here.

Spring Events Preview

Professor Mann

Professor Mann

As our work on the Production of Public Understanding of Science project has progressed, we have gravitated more and more to the climate change case study as both one of the most important and also one of the most illuminating for conceptual and pragmatic goals. Thus, our events for the Spring 2015 term will take on this thematic unity. We’re very pleased to announce two of our public lectures (more to come!).

On March 4th, Professor Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, and indefatigable climate change communicator will give an evening lecture (precise time/location TBA). Professor Mann was a Lead Author in key chapters of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Assessment Report and the author of Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming and The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.

Professor Leiserowitz

Then on April 8th, we will continue the climate change theme with Professor Anthony Leiserowitz, Research Scientist in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. One of the very important early contributions is the identification of the “Six Americas” concerning climate change — well worth a read. You will find much else of interest on the YPCCC page, including reports, quizzes, academic papers, and videos. Consider signing up for their excellent email updates, following them on Twitter, or listening to some of their 90-second radio series spots. Your understanding of climate change will only improve; indeed, your understanding of others‘ understanding stands to gain, too! Professor Leiserowitz’s lecture will also take place in the evening (details TBA).

We hope you’ll be able to join us for what promise to be interesting and important discussions.

Upcoming Talk: “How Understanding Human Beings Differs from Understanding the Natural World”

Stephen Grimm

Stephen Grimm

Stephen Grimm, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University

Tuesday, Nov. 4, 4:30pm  » Willard Smith Library, Vaughan Literature Building

Abstract: When we try to understand the natural world, we often appeal to things like causes or mechanisms or laws. But what happens when we try to understand other people? Do we need to appeal to something different—perhaps to notions like values or goods? I will consider a few ways in which philosophers have claimed that there is something distinctive when it comes to understanding human beings, and argue that these attempts have fallen short in various respects. I will then offer my own view about how understanding human beings differs from understanding the natural world.

Professor Grimm specializes in epistemology, the philosophy of science, and value theory. Since July of 2013 he has led a three-year $4.5 million dollar project — The Varieties of Understanding project — on the nature of understanding, supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, with additional support from the Henry Luce Foundation. The project examines the various ways in which human beings understand the world, how these ways of understanding might be improved, and how they might be combined to produce an integrated understanding of the world. This is the project which funds our work on the Production of Public Understanding of Science.