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Christina's LIS Rant
Friday, January 18, 2008
  Science Cafe: Public Understanding of Science
(doing a little catch up blogging)
My husband and I attended a science cafe event at the House of Sweden Wednesday (1/16). (as an aside: I thought the cool modern building would be uncomfortable and forbidding, but it was very comfortable and welcoming. The exhibit of photographs in the auditorium is amazing. The building also has a fabulous view).
Borrowing from the announcement that was sent to the SLA-DC list:
Speakers:
Jan Riise, Goteborg Center for Public Learning and Understanding of Science
Matthew C. Nisbet (blog), Assistant Professor at American University, the School of Communication

Moderator:
Nils Bruzelius, Deputy National Editor/Science at the Washington Post

The cafes are a continuation of the 2007 Linnaeus Tercentenary celebrations where Swedish and American researchers debate important science & technology issues.


We were a tad late (quel surprise), so only heard a little of Bruzelius' introduction.

Riise spoke about events he's organized and efforts in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe to enable scientists and the public to meet to exchange information. He also talked about his small city and his country and some views they have on communicating science to the public. I think these things are great -- why not have more events instead of just science museums, etc?

Nisbet's work is well known and has been discussed thoroughly elsewhere. It was very valuable to hear him speak in person because I really do understand his view from communications theory and research better. This overlaps what I've read to an extent, but is also quite different from some of the more sociological things I've read.

The interesting thing is that another audience member felt that this is "ruining science" and "asking scientists to lie and manipulate the public" and is "absolute garbage." WHOA?! So we argued for a while, but I still cannot figure out the harm in helping scientists to learn how to speak to the public more clearly, and so their information will be heard and accepted. (a nutshell version of what was presented is that public support for science, etc., is not only dependent on the public's level of knowledge about the science, but the way the science is presented, and how that fits into their schema/mental models, religious beliefs, past history, etc.).

OTOH, I think that we should not necessarily require scientists to learn how to talk to the public, there are public affairs folks who can do an awful lot of good. But if there are scientists who
want to talk to the public, then learning how communication works might help a bit.

As a (not often as I should) church-going theist, I do appreciate his arguments against New Atheism's lack of tolerance or understanding for how scientists can be other than atheist.

Oh, and as a minor criticism (one I should heed myself), Nisbet really said some things that required a bit of social sciences training to get. He has a very different world view than people with physical sciences training so I wonder if he was too bent on making a strong academic argument and maybe didn't reach everyone? He talked really, really fast to cover all of his slides. Hm.

There was something else, too, but I've forgotten. If it comes back to me I'll add to this. BTW- there were << 170 people there.

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Sounds fascinating!
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

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