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.

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.

Anthony Leiserowitz, “Climate Change in the American Mind”

Wednesday, April 8th @ 7PM

Forum (272 Elaine Langone Center)
RSVP on Facebook Here and help spread the word!
Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz

Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz

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 Change Communication, will present a public talk at Bucknell on April 8th. Dr. Leiserowitz is an expert on public opinion and engagement with the issues of climate change and the environment. His research investigates the psychological, cultural, and political factors that influence environmental beliefs, attitudes, policy support, and behavior. In his talk, Dr. Leiserowitz will report on recent trends in Americans’ climate change knowledge, attitudes, policy support, and behavior and discuss strategies for more effective public engagement.

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.

Please join us for what promises to be a great event!

Themes from Mann’s Visit

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 an excellent public lecture to a capacity crowd—where he received an impassioned introduction from our own President John Bravman—he visited Matthew’s course on climate change (which Matthew co-teaches with Professor Duane Griffin), led a faculty-staff breakfast seminar, participated in a roundtable with STEM faculty, facilitated a breakfast conversation with students, and spent several hours with me, Matthew, and members of the PoPUS team discussing our project, including opportunities for future collaboration. All told, it was a tremendously inspiring and encouraging 36 hours. We’re grateful to Professor Mann for taking the time to visit, and we look forward to opportunities to work together in coming years.

Stay tuned for further posts from our research team with details from the events mentioned above. In the meantime, here are a few of the themes that emerged in our conversations with Professor Mann:

  • The idea that there’s a need for social scientific work that takes a more nuanced view of the cognitive goals science communicators have in trying to educate their audiences. While it’s widely acknowledged that we can’t achieve science communication goals simply by giving the public information about science, and while it’s also true that recognizing this has led to important reflection on how values and ideological commitments determine receptivity to messaging, the fact remains: there’s been very little work (empirical or otherwise) on the idea that the cognitive goal of science outreach should be to provoke understanding rather than to transmit information or knowledge.
  • The idea that understanding is more resilient than testimonially-based knowledge in the face of denialist challenges.
  • The importance of understanding not just the science, but how science works—in particular, the role (and compatibility) of uncertainty and consensus in science.
Professor Mann in the student breakfast discussion.

Professor Mann in the student breakfast discussion.

> More photos from the visit 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.

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.

Recap of Gary Hardcastle’s Talk

Gary Hardcastle

Gary Hardcastle, Associate Professor of philosophy at Bloomsburg University, came to Bucknell University on November 20th to give a talk entitled “(Really) Recovering Understanding: James B. Conant’s Theory of Understanding and its Contemporary Relevance.”

James Bryant Conant

Professor Hardcastle’s talk focused on Conant’s theory of understanding, as well as the social, political, and pedagogical projects he associated with it. At the center of these projects is On Understanding Science: An Historical Approach, published in 1947 and based on his 1946 Terry Lectures. At this point, Conant (1893–1978) had been President of Harvard University for ten years; he had served as the Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee during WWII, overseeing the Manhattan Project; he had, with Vannevar Bush, laid the foundation for what would be America’s National Science Foundation; and he had brought into being a model of post-war university education, a vision distilled in 1945’s General Education in a Free Society, aka the Harvard “Red Book.” These achievements brought Conant to regard public understanding of how science works as vitally important to human survival, spurring him to articulate a theory of the understanding of science and its transmission, a project he would continue for the rest of his life. Though Conant’s thinking about understanding was acutely tuned to WWII and the ensuing Cold War, Professor Hardcastle argued that his questions are just those that have motivated a resurgence of interest in understanding in the (heretofore somewhat insulated) fields of epistemology and philosophy of science: “Why,” Conant asks, “should any but a relatively few experts need to understand science,” and what, for that matter, does it mean, to “understand science?”

The most notable feature of Conant’s view, as Professor Hardcastle presented it, is that general science education should focus primarily on helping students understand the history of science rather than transmitting contemporary scientific knowledge. By examining case studies from the past, students learn about what it’s like to be a scientist. In this way, we can learn how scientists think and so how science makes progress—which, according to Conant, is not just by  collecting more data, but by developing new concepts. For the student, the result is not a gloss on current knowledge; it is a respect for—and understanding of—how science works. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to claim that contemporary science education falls seriously short in this respect, and that we could learn a good deal from Conant’s vision. Thank you, Professor Hardcastle, for bringing it to our attention!

Recap of Stephen Grimm’s Visit

Stephen Grimm, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University and Project Leader for the Varieties of Understanding Project (the main funder of the PoPUS Project), paid a visit to Bucknell earlier this month. His first stop was Professor Leddington’s Theory of Knowledge seminar on Monday evening. Our discussion focused on the nature of understanding and putting Grimm’s views in context with other philosophers. Grimm participated in the discussion and was very helpful in thinking and talking through examples to further our understanding of understanding. The members of the discussion were enthusiastic and engaged.

Stephen Grimm visiting Professor Leddington's Epistemology class

Stephen Grimm visiting Professor Leddington’s Epistemology class

The next day, Professor Grimm gave a public talk about how understanding people is different from understanding the natural world. There are two main views about this. One, the naturalistic approach, holds that understanding people is basically the same as understanding the natural world. The other is that we need a fundamentally different approach to understanding people—something like empathy—because human actions are fundamentally different from the behavior of a nonhuman. Grimm’s view falls somewhere between these extremes.

Stephen Grimm

For more photos from the visit, click here.

Grimm says that when we try to understand why someone performed an action purely naturalistically, there is a variety of understanding missing. Here’s his example: Your neighbor goes running only on certain days of the month. You have no idea why he runs on certain days and why he doesn’t on others. When asked, your neighbor tells you that he goes running only when there is a gibbous moon. When you get this information, you now have a better understanding of why he goes running only on certain days—a naturalistic understanding that stems from understanding the regularity. However, you might still have questions. For example, why would the gibbous moon be better for running than other moons? You still lack some type of understanding. You can’t really wrap your head around why your neighbor does what he does.

According to Grimm, while much of our understanding of people is structured like the understanding of the natural world, based on mechanisms and structures, the difference is that we also have to be able to make sense of their actions as desirable or choice-worthy in order to fully understand them. This is what he calls “understanding-as-taking-to-be-good,” and it is to be distinguished from empathy. Empathy involves putting yourself in the shoes of another person; however, understanding-as-taking-to-be-good involves no more than recognizing a certain end as desirable.

Grimm concluded his talk by discussing the relationship between understanding, morality, and our need to make sense of our own agency. He provided some well-known quotes insisting on the moral importance of understanding—for instance:

“Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” – John Steinbeck

Grimm’s hypothesis is that thinking of understanding in terms of taking-to-be-good rather than as grasping of structure promises to help us make sense of these sorts of connections between understanding and morality. Moreover, he thinks that if we try to think of our own actions merely naturalistically, then we will fail to understand ourselves as agents.

The Production of the Public Understanding of Science Research Team is thrilled to have had the opportunity and privilege to meet Professor Grimm. We all learned a lot!