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.

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.