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.

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.

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.