Science, Communication, and Uncertainty

Thursday May 4, 2017

•    Workshop
•    Dinner
•    Presentation by Ira Flatow, host of Science Friday®

You are invited to a Workshop on Science, Communication, and Uncertainty
Thursday, May 4, 2:00 – 4:45pm
UCen State Street Room

A central issue in the practice and communication of science is what scientific uncertainty means, and how that term and the content shape both scientific and public discourse.  For example, often media coverage notes or mentions uncertainty without clarifying whether it's general uncertainty (due to deficient knowledge) or scientific uncertainty (which is based on considerable information; we can state the boundaries of the estimates, or have a lot of knowledge about the conditions under which things happen). Then it's easy for people prone to either discount or be confused by science to say, well the scientists don't really know, so it isn't really happening (climate change, sea level rise, vaccinations, etc.).  But, scientists also deal with, measure and estimate, and communicate about various forms and sources of uncertainty. One paradigm of science is that we can never truly know, we can only try to reject explanations; those concepts and relationships that hold up well to attempts at falsification continue on as consensus knowledge. Other paradigms approach uncertainty in different ways.

The workshop will be interdisciplinary, with invited participants from the physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Short presentations and longer discussions will identify implications of the concept of uncertainty for communicating science to the public, understanding the public’s attitudes toward science, teaching science, and influencing policy. Presentations may include the scientific and common meanings and implications of uncertainty; uncertainty reduction in interpersonal communication; the portrayal of science and uncertainty in news stories and visuals; how the public processes error and uncertainty about science; uncertainty in scientific research; and related topics. We encourage examples related to sustainability and the environment, but that is not required.  Discussions will generate a small number of substantive foci and questions for future research and public policy, and for posing to Ira Flatow, the NPR science communicator, after his presentation on Science, Communication, and Uncertainty at Campbell Hall at 7:30 that evening. 

Anyone may attend but please register here: Science, Communication and Uncertainty Workshop Registration 2017.  If you also wish to be a presenter, please enter a 300-word abstract on the registration page. Full papers are not required, and there will be no proceedings, but participants will be expected to make a short presentation and engage in the discussions. The Workshop will provide presenters a buffet dinner from 5:00 to 6:45.  All participants are encouraged to also attend the evening presentation.

The interdisciplinary, cross-campus event is part of a series on Sustainable Science Communication, by the Mellichamp Academic Initiative in Sustainability, and the Department of Communication’s biannual Rupe Conference series. It is co-sponsored by the Bren School for Environmental Science & Management's Strategic Communication & Environmental Media focus, and the Associated Students Program Board, and is assisted by Arts & Lectures.