When was the last time you changed your opinion about something significant based on scientific facts? If you are anything like the average American, chances are you can’t think of one! Does that mean scientific research and it’s dissemination into the public square is unnecessary? Here to address this important question is Dr. Bruce Lewenstein.
Dr. Lewenstein is Professor of Science Communication and chair of the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. Trained as a historian of science, he works across the field of public communication of science and technology, including informal science education, citizen science, and communication training for scientists. Dr. Lewenstein holds a Ph.D. in history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.
What You’ll Hear On This Episode of When Science Speaks
- [1:07] Mark introduces his guest, Dr. Bruce Lewenstein.
- [2:30] Dr. Lewenstein discusses popular public opinion regarding scientific research.
- [5:20] Why is science so trusted in the public square?
- [7:30] Where did the term, “Public understanding of science” come from?
- [10:00] How to relate to those who deny scientific facts.
- [13:00] The distinction between a belief and a fact.
- [16:45] Why facts don’t change people’s attitudes.
- [20:30] Exploring the term, “Citizen Science.”
- [30:10] The evolving relationship between science and the media.
- [34:30] Closing thoughts from Dr. Lewenstein.
Connect with Dr. Bruce Lewenstein
Resources & People Mentioned
- Randy Olson
- An Inconvenient Truth
- Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style
- Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story
- Galaxy Zoo
- Carl Sagan
- Dance Your PhD
Why scientific facts are generally trusted
Did you know that in recent years confidence in all professions, across the board has dropped? Even with that drop, consistently ranked at the top of the public’s trust in any professional group are scientists and medical specialists. Between seventy and eighty percent of the public have a positive view of scientific research. What has allowed the scientific community to enjoy such broad appeal and support from the general public? Has the media conditioned everyone to blindly believe someone wearing a lab coat or with a Ph.D. behind their name?
There are two primary factors that contribute to the public’s support for scientific research. The first factor is the clear benefit that science has on the lives of the average person, they get to enjoy the fruits of scientific research with the smartphone they hold in their hand! The second factor is the level of respect and deference that we collectively have for scientists in our society. When you look back at some of the most significant moments in our nation’s history like the moon landing, you can clearly see the influence and impact of science.
How to reframe the conversation
With so much broad support for the scientific community in general, why are so many individuals and people groups are rarely persuaded when presented with scientific facts? Dr. Lewenstein says that the primary cause for this obstinate reaction is the strong ties that people have to their communities. If an individual’s tradition or culture has a narrative that refutes scientific facts, chances are, they’ll side with their community due to their strong emotional and psychological bonds. What is the solution?
Don’t waste your time hitting someone over the head, again and again with facts that prove your point, it won’t get you anywhere! Instead, you’ve got to take the more challenging approach, relate to these individuals on a personal level. It’s easy to lob “Scientific fact grenades,” but it takes discipline and patience to explore and identify common ground. At the end of the day, Dr. Lewenstein is convinced that opinions will shift and public perception will change when people take the time to listen to each other instead of trying to prove a point with facts alone.
Discover out more from Dr. Lewenstein’s expert perspective by listening to this informative episode!
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