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.

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.