What's on tap for spring semester? "Science of Science Communication" seminar!
Monday, January 16, 2017 at 6:20AM
Dan Kahan

First session, on HPV vaccine, is tomorrow.

I"ve posted exerpts from this "general information" document before, but having consulted the rulebook on blogs, I found there is no provision that bars repeating oneself (over & over & over, in fact).

I don't think I'll post summaries for every session this yr. Thanks to Tamar Wilner (e.g., here), that worked incredibly well the last time I taught this seminar.  But precisely b/c it did, the utility of a "virtual" companion for this yr's run strikes me as low.

Of course, if anyone wants to argue that I'm wrong, I could change my mind. Especially if they agree to be this yr's Tamar Wilner (Tamar Wilner is prohibited from doing so, in fact!)

 From the course "general information" document:

          1. Overview. The most effective way to communicate the nature of this course is to identify its motivation.  We live in a place and at a time in which we have ready access to information—scientific information—of unprecedented value to our individual and collective welfare. But the proportion of this information that is effectively used—by individuals and by society—is shockingly small. The evidence for this conclusion is reflected in the manifestly awful decisions people make, and outcomes they suffer as a result, in their personal health and financial planning. It is reflected too not only in the failure of governmental institutions to utilize the best available scientific evidence that bears on the safety, security, and prosperity of its members, but in the inability of citizens and their representatives even to agree on what that evidence is or what it signifies for the policy tradeoffs acting on it necessarily entails. 

            This course is about remedying this state of affairs. Its premise is that the effective transmission of consequential scientific knowledge to deliberating individuals and groups is itself a matter that admits of, and indeed demands, scientific study.  The use of empirical methods is necessary to generate an understanding of the social and psychological dynamics that govern how people (members of the public, but experts too) come to know what is known to science. Such methods are also necessary to comprehend the social and political dynamics that determine whether the best evidence we have on how to communicate science becomes integrated into how we do science and how we make decisions, individual and collective, that are or should be informed by science. 

            Likely you get this already: but this course is not simply about how scientists can avoid speaking in jargony language when addressing the public or how journalists can communicate technical matters in comprehensible ways without mangling the facts.  Those are only two of many science communication” problems, and as important as they are, they are likely not the ones in most urgent need of study (I myself think science journalists have their craft well in hand, but we’ll get to this in time).  Indeed, in addition to dispelling (assaulting) the fallacy that science communication is not a matter that requires its own science, this course will self-consciously attack the notion that the sort of scientific insight necessary to guide science communication is unitary, or uniform across contexts—as if the same techniques that might help a modestly numerate individual understand the probabilistic elements of a decision to undergo a risky medical procedure were exactly the same ones needed to dispel polarization over climate science! We will try to individuate the separate domains in which a science of science communication is needed, and take stock of what is known, and what isn’t but needs to be, in each. 

            The primary aim of the course comprises these matters; a secondary aim is to acquire a facility with the empirical methods on which the science of science communication depends.  You will not have to do empirical analyses of any particular sort in this class. But you will have to make sense of many kinds.  No matter what your primary area of study is—even if it is one that doesn’t involve empirical methods—you can do this.  If you don’t yet understand that, then perhaps that is the most important thing you will learn in the course. Accordingly, while we will not approach study of empirical methods in a methodical way, we will always engage critically the sorts of methods that are being used in the studies we examine, and I from time to time will supplement readings with more general ones relating to methods.  Mainly, though, I will try to enable you to see (by seeing yourself and others doing it) that apprehending the significance of empirical work depends on recognizing when and how inferences can be drawn from observation: if you know that, you can learn whatever more is necessary to appreciate how particular empirical methods contribute to insight; if you don’t know that, nothing you understand about methods will furnish you with reliable guidance (just watch how much foolishness empirical methods separated from reflective, grounded inference can involve).


Update on Monday, January 16, 2017 at 1:27PM by Registered CommenterDan Kahan

B/c some folks are apprently keen to follow the course on-line, here is a reading list for Session 1.  I'll post these every week & people who are interested should definitely offer their perspectives, as @Gaythia already has done for tomorrow's class! (saves me from having to prepare my class notes!)

Article originally appeared on cultural cognition project (http://www.culturalcognition.net/).
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