Science Writing in the Age of Denial http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu Fri, 22 Jun 2012 18:46:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.1 Answering the questions, questioning the answers: Panel discussion http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/answering-the-questions-questioning-the-answers-panel-discussion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=answering-the-questions-questioning-the-answers-panel-discussion http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/answering-the-questions-questioning-the-answers-panel-discussion/#comments Thu, 03 May 2012 15:22:58 +0000 simis http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/?p=674 The “Answering the Questions, Questioning the Answers” panel assembled on Tuesday morning, consisting of Trudy Lieberman of the Columbia Journalism Review, Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chris Mooney, freelance writer and host of the Point of Inquiry podcast, and Marilynn Marchione of the Associated Press.

Trudy Lieberman opened the panel by explaining and drawing lessons from coverage of U.S. health reform, as, she explained, “the same thought processes that influence science inquiry also influence health policy.”

To begin with, the health reform mandate was never explained to the American public. Policymakers and politicians weren’t talking about health reform, and so the press didn’t cover it. “Was it a surprise, then,” Lieberman asked, “that the public didn’t support the mandate?”

On top of the lack of basic understanding of the mandate, several ideas — like the “demonization of insurance companies” and that health care would be universally more affordable — were not questioned in coverage.

Coverage of health care reform uses terminology like “medical homes” and “evidence-based medicine” that people don’t understand, and this widened the gap between the intended message and the audience. According to Lieberman, the biggest story of all in the health reform conversation — how the affordable care act would affect ordinary people — was not covered as the legislation worked its way through Congress.

Science writers, like writers covering health reform, need to write for ordinary people. Writing for ordinary citizens involves establishing credibility with the audience, and writing for the public, not the story’s sources.

Mark Johnson echoed Lieberman’s call to write for ordinary people, emphasizing the need to deconstruct jargon and avoid introducing a scientific word without explaining it. “People distrust what they don’t understand,” Johnson said, “… so when I’m talking about, for example, blood being analyzed, I don’t want to make the machine like a magic box. I want to explain the process.”

Explaining the process — showing what goes on, how the experiments are done — demystifies the process, making nonscientists more likely to trust what’s learned from the process. Visualization is key here, according to Johnson.

“With most things, we can get people to visualize what’s going on,” he said. “Einstein believed that ordinary people should be able to understand these complex topics like relativity, and we’re failing them if we can’t help them understand it.”

Questioning the answers isn’t easy, but Johnson suggested a place to start: looking for obvious problems with the way that research is constructed and keeping in mind that researchers have their own biases, fueled by academic competition, that may cloud their comments on competitor’s work.

Chris Mooney shifted the discussion to the motivations behind citizens’ decision-making processes. He took an informal poll of the room, asking the members of the audience to raise a hand if Republican or conservative. All hands stayed down.

“We’re engaged in a psychologically liberal activity,” Mooney stressed, expressing frustration at the course of discussion so far at this conference. “We’ve opened the door to thinking about things psychologically, but we haven’t walked through it.”

Mooney went on to explain motivated reasoning, furthering what Arthur Lupia had introduced in his keynote lecture: “People have a view of the world, if you attack it, their emotions fire unintentionally, and then they will come up with any argument to make themselves whole again. The smartest people do it the most.”

To engage with an audience that may viscerally disagree with an issue, Mooney suggested that journalists “kill the nuance” in order to avoid triggering that visceral response that leads to motivated reasoning. Journalists need to understand the nuance in their subjects, but steer through it, being mindful of narratives, word choice, and frames.

Journalists also need to recognize how different politically aligned people will respond to frames, and make use of appropriate frames accordingly to get the same information to a different audience. For example, Mooney said, “If you want conservatives to understand the climate change problem, frame it in terms of nuclear energy,” and by extension, privatization.

Mooney concluded by highlighting one small problem: “This all makes journalism into something we don’t even recognize anymore.”

Marilynn Marchione switched the focus from how the message is manipulated to exploring the denialism and bias within, and urged journalists to consider “how your inner bias might be priming you to alter your message before you even know that it is happening.”

Question the validity of the novelty, advised Marchione. For example, when encountered with a gene mapping or testing story about disease prevention, a journalist needs to honestly consider the novelty, and ask if any new information is actually gained and who the information is benefitting.

Marchione described cell therapies to illustrate the importance of investigating the actual health and financial impact any new medical treatment would have for an individual patient. A journalist needs to understand what an emerging treatment means for the average patient in order to cover it well.

Denialism is rampant in alternative medicine, Marchione said. Like Johnson, Marchione emphasized the importance of language, particularly the use of “natural” and “holistic” in coverage of alternative medicine.

Marchione urged science writers to seriously consider the implications of covering certain stories. The science, she said, “may be new, may have met a test of statistical significance. But what does it really mean? What does it mean for your audience? A lot of science shouldn’t be written.”

By Molly Simis

]]>
http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/answering-the-questions-questioning-the-answers-panel-discussion/feed/ 0
Communicating science in politicized environments: Arthur Lupia http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/communicating-science-in-politicized-environments-arthur-lupia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=communicating-science-in-politicized-environments-arthur-lupia http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/communicating-science-in-politicized-environments-arthur-lupia/#comments Thu, 03 May 2012 15:21:49 +0000 simis http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/?p=669 Arthur Lupia, political science professor at the University of Michigan, kicked off the Science Writing in the Age of Denial conference with a presentation about understanding how people try to avoid conflict with diverse audiences.

The oft-adopted knowledge-deficit model of communication — “If we tell them what we know, they will change how they think and what they do.” — doesn’t work, according to Lupia.

Neither do a lot of other attempts, but for different reasons: “In attempts to educate the public and policymakers about science, failure is common. Failure meaning the impact you want the presentation to have and the reality of what your audience perceives.”

The problem is not “them,” Lupia said. The problem is “us.” Blaming the audience for not receiving the message we intended “absolves us of the responsibilities of having to think about our strategies.”

In order to illustrate the perils of not knowing the audience’s starting point, Lupia invited the audience to take a walk in the woods: “Imagine that you grew up near the woods, and throughout your life developed an intimate relationship with the woods—so intimate that you can journey through it expertly. One day you’re walking with your friend, and you get separated from each other. Since you know the woods so well, you get out because you are an expert in navigating through these trees. Your friend, however, is stuck in these woods, and to get your friend out, you have to know two things: 1) the woods (check!) and 2) where your friend is in the woods. If you say to your friend ‘take three steps to your left’ without knowing where your friend is, you might be advising your friend to walk directly into a tree.”

Instead of fruitlessly trying to get the audience out of the figurative woods, communicators can turn to biology as a starting place of understanding where the audience is. Lupia explained that “biology defines the possibilities” of how people make decisions and are persuaded.

Persuasion, Lupia emphasized, is a “change in mind, not just metaphorically, but also physically.” As learning occurs, brain cells, fueled by electrochemical processes, move closer to other cells, creating associations. The physical basis of associations between, for example, the word wagon and the color red, is physical relationships between brain cells. “Ultimately, if you want people to think, you’re trying to grow new memories. If you can’t do that, then it’s game over.”

To grow new memories, communicators face a few battles: a battle for attention, a battle for elaboration, and a battle for credibility. The audience is not going to hang on the every word, and no one is an exception to that rule. Working memory has an impressively fast decay rate for most stimuli. To overcome distractions and short attention spans, a communicator must make the message urgent and relevant to the audience, and then seize the “opportunity to leave a cognitive legacy.” This requires inducing changes relevant to activation potentials and in, ultimately, long-term memory. Changes in long-term memory require elaboration.

People only remember a fraction of any event, even when remembering life-defining moments. People aren’t interested in objective information; they engage in motivated reasoning. In other words, Lupia said, “people have a tendency to seek out and/or view new evidence as consistent with one’s prior views, even if it’s not objectively sound.” To effectively fight the battle for elaboration, Lupia advises, communicators need to make the message close, concrete and immediate, and achievable.

None of this matters, though, if the communicator is not seen as credible.

Credibility is bestowed by audiences, is specific to each domain, and — most importantly — is not objectively about the communicator. It’s about how the audience perceives the communicator. Credibility is a function of source, message and contextual attributes, as well as audience effects. To establish credibility with a nonscientific audience, communicators have to move away from making presentations that affirm their own values (and from blaming the audience if it does not persuade) toward understanding different perspectives of different audiences.

“We can understand them, and if we do we can take our conversations to great places by understanding why they do what they do,” Lupia said.

The panel, including John Hawks, science blogger and University of Wisconsin–Madison paleoanthropology professor, Wilson da Silva, editor and founder of Cosmos magazine, and Robert Lee Hotz, science columnist at the Wall Street Journal, followed up the talk with a discussion of the nature of uncertainty, the golden age of science (which we’re in, according to Hotz) and the trustworthiness of science itself.

By Molly Simis

]]>
http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/communicating-science-in-politicized-environments-arthur-lupia/feed/ 0
Persuasive writing in a world of denial: Panel discussion http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/persuasive-writing-in-a-world-of-denial-panel-discussion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=persuasive-writing-in-a-world-of-denial-panel-discussion http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/persuasive-writing-in-a-world-of-denial-panel-discussion/#comments Thu, 03 May 2012 15:20:46 +0000 simis http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/?p=665 The Tuesday afternoon session “Persuasive writing in a world of denial” was designed to help writers communicate effectively with readers who question scientific consensus. Panelists spoke about the need to understand their audience’s existing mental models, and to write stories that take those models into account.

Freelance writer Steve Silberman spoke first about his experiences writing about autism, which is now diagnosed in more than 1 percent of U.S. children. Silberman noted that a vocal community of parents, fueled by a now-debunked study linking autism to the MMR vaccine, continues to promote the autism-vaccine link and use language like “vaccine-injured children.” Even though there is no scientific controversy surrounding vaccines and autism, much of the press coverage persists in focusing on the notion of debate.

Silberman said he decided to write a book about autism because he was “horrified” by the development of the story of autism into a debate about vaccines. He said, “I wanted to write something parents could relate to, in an accessible way.”

Story-telling is “our oldest tool,” said Silberman. He believes the broadening of diagnostic criteria is a “heroic story,” albeit with mistakes along the way.

Freelance writer Christie Aschwanden echoed Silberman’s emphasis on the importance of story-telling. Stories are “the way the human mind works,” she said. “It’s not something that only deniers do; we all do it. Scientists do it, too.”

However, Aschwanden noted that many of the stories science writers tell are not ones readers want to hear. The science of cancer, for example, contains some “really ugly truths: some cancers will never kill you, some are really bad, some can’t even be caught with screening.”

Likewise, Aschwanden said, “With global warming, the message we’re sending is ‘you’re evil, you’re killing the planet, the only solution is to do things you don’t want to do.’ Climate change contradicts our stories about ourselves, that we’re good people. The place we have to start from is to speak to that story.”

Dietram Scheufele, professor of science communication at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, concurred with previous speakers that the “knowledge deficit model” is not what is needed to reach skeptical audiences. Scheufele spoke about the importance of framing, which he acknowledges has little to with the contents of a story. The question is, he said, “Can we present facts and phenomena in a way that lay audiences can attach them to what they already know?”

“We’re being out-communicated” at reaching hard-to-reach audiences, Scheufele said. “Persuasive communication has to be finding language that resonates with how people see the world.”

The final speaker was Wilson da Silva, editor-in-chief of the Australian science magazine COSMOS. Da Silva made a forceful case that “you cannot pussyfoot around science. It’s important that we defend science and that we stick up for science.”

Like Sean Carroll in his talk on Monday, Da Silva provided a list of points — in this case about how to write persuasively. Da Silva’s list included recommendations that writers attempt to persuade with writing that has “color, analogy, and humor.”

“Use humor to win arguments,” he suggested.

Da Silva also spoke about the importance of using analogies to get climate change “out of its pen.” Although climate change denial is no more common among scientists than the denial that HIV causes AIDS, da Silva noted, the public believes the scientific controversy is much greater. Similarly, people insure their houses when there is only a small risk of fire or flood. “Shouldn’t we insure the earth if climate change is 90% likely?” he asked.

A lively question-and-answer period kept the conversation going 15 minutes past the scheduled end of the session. Audience members asked panelists about some of the challenges in changing entrenched beliefs, and in finding new ways to address challenging ideologies. Panelists also acknowledged some of the limitations of persuasive writing. Aschwanden said, “I don’t think we’re going to win every battle – we’re never going to convince every denier. You have to choose your battles.”

“You cannot win an argument with facts,” Da Silva added. “But if you write persuasively you can get your point across.”

By Gabriel Popkin

]]>
http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/persuasive-writing-in-a-world-of-denial-panel-discussion/feed/ 0
Cheerleading, shibboleths and uncertainty http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/cheerleading-shibboleths-and-uncertainty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cheerleading-shibboleths-and-uncertainty http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/cheerleading-shibboleths-and-uncertainty/#comments Thu, 03 May 2012 15:19:08 +0000 simis http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/?p=661 Consumer healthcare news may leave you wondering—where is my ticking time bomb? In a lump in my breast, colon or lung? And if you haven’t found anything yet, you may conclude it’s just a matter of not looking hard enough. Gary Schwitzer likens our fixation on cancer screening to a search for weapons of mass destruction, a fixation he diagnoses as a symptom of poor consumer healthcare coverage.

Schwitzer has more than 40 years of healthcare reporting experience to reflect on and for the last six years has taken healthcare journalists to task as publisher of HealthNewsReview.org. In his conference talk, “Cheerleading, Shibboleths and Uncertainty,” Schwitzer said journalists covering consumer healthcare have largely become cheerleaders, often advocating the aggressive use of expensive and new healthcare tests and technology, while ignoring or denying costs and harms.

“We’re giving people a kid in the candy store view of U.S. healthcare,” he said. “Seventy percent of the time, making things look terrific, risk free, without a price tag.”

In the last six years, HealthNewsReview.org has reviewed more than 1,700 consumer healthcare news stories that include a claim of efficacy or safety for a healthcare intervention. The organization rates stories based on ten criteria and the report card doesn’t look pretty. About 70 percent of the stories reviewed, for example, fail to address the intervention’s costs, quantify the benefits and harms or evaluate the quality of evidence presented in support of its use.

As an example of the “worst episode of public discussion of healthcare” he has seen, Schwitzer discussed the visceral media response to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s 2009 revision of breast cancer screening. Revisions reducing the recommendations for screening were criticized as gender genocide.

“Throwing women under the bus, that’s what we heard,” he said.

Meanwhile, the potential costs and harms of aggressive screening were largely ignored. Schwitzer says many healthcare consumers incur unnecessary costs, anxieties and medical procedures due to aggressive cancer screening. Out of 1,000 women screened every year or two, for example, an estimated 50 to 200 experience at least one false alarm requiring a biopsy. The reduced risk, on the other hand, can be quite small and particularly for women under 50. Regular screening reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer from 3.5 to 3 out of 1,000 for a woman under 50.

Schwitzer argued that we shouldn’t tell anyone to be screened or not to be screened, but give them the facts and let them plug their own values into the decision.

“A hell of a lot of consumers believe that more is always better, that newer is always better, that screening tests always make sense for everybody,” he said.

He said too few stories are told of the people who received screening and then wished they had not. And too few consumers realize that in addition to finding a potential harm, screening can also raise unnecessary anxiety. While a blood screening test might seem like a harmless precaution against prostate cancer, for example, Schwitzer cautioned that it is unwise to take such a test without considering the downstream consequences.

“Once you kick off that cascade of events of a score, that’s a little high, you may wish that you could roll the carpet back again,” he said.

Schwitzer encourages journalists to ask questions like—how often do we need to screen? How long do we need to screen? And take an evidence-based consideration of both harms and benefits.

“To cherry pick and to deny the harms, and to only tell the state on benefits is an imbalanced presentation that harms people,” he said. “I would submit that we will never effect meaningful healthcare reform in this country, if we don’t improve the public dialogue about screening tests.”

By Patrice Kohl

]]>
http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/cheerleading-shibboleths-and-uncertainty/feed/ 2
Working within the psychologies of belief and learning: Panel discussion http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/psychology-of-belief-and-learning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=psychology-of-belief-and-learning http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/psychology-of-belief-and-learning/#comments Wed, 02 May 2012 15:31:43 +0000 simis http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/?p=648 Session II on the second day of Science Writing in the Age of Denial included a workshop panel titled “Working within the psychologies of belief and learning.” On the Panel: Bill Blakemore of ABC News, psychologist Peter Ditto of the University of California, Irvine, historian Ronald Numbers of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and John Rennie, former editor-in-chief at Scientific American and instructor at New York University.

A theme of the discussion was belief as support for psychological, social and historical opposition to evolution and climate change science.

Opposition to the wealth of scientific data is not simply being denied, according to Ditto. People’s wishes, fears, social allegiances shape their judgments. One doesn’t just believe what one wants and deny what one does not.

When a doctor tells a patient they are fine, he or she may not question it. But when someone is told they are sick, they are likely to need more proof before they believe the diagnosis. Ditto calls this asymmetric deployment of doubt “motivated skepticism,” a concept he developed in his research in the 1980s and 1990s, and a term he prefers to “denial” in this context.

“What we believe in is some compromise between what we want to believe and what the data and adaptive concerns will let us believe,” Ditto said. “People have a stricter criterion to accept things they don’t want to believe than things they do want to believe.”

“In this bifurcated media environment, you might want to believe in something, and then you can turn to a TV station where everybody reinforces that belief,” Ditto concluded.

Calling climate change “the coming story” and “too big to cover,” Blakemore analyzed the psychology of its denial, and put the media’s feet to the fire.

“People resent the story because it asks you to ask and think about big, existential questions,” Blakemore said. “There is the possibility that humanity might not make it or that there’s going to be some kind of great upheaval. We resent being made to ask that.”

Blakemore has a talk, called “The Many Psychologies of Global Warming,” that he gives on these issues and which he hopes to help people to “stop feeling bad about feeling bad about global warming, so they can get right down to just feeling bad about global warming — which is a lot more practical.”

While climate change is a political issue, it is an event story, not a politics story, according to Blakemore. He later expressed his desire for the media to deal with the topic holistically as an all-encompassing issue — like the business section or the sports page, as suggested by an audience member.

Numbers, a science historian, switched the focus to evolution and the historical “evolution” of its denial.

He began by pointing out that the “old age creationism” of the early 20th century did not deny evolution itself. It was not anti-science. Rather, the movement denied the scientific status of the discipline.

These old creationists did not deny the antiquity of the Earth, but something happened around 1970. A new group of American conservatives co-opted the term “creationism,” according to Numbers. Though the movement interpreted the Bible more literally, claiming the Earth is thousands of years old, not billions.

This is anti-science, and Numbers claims it is spreading globally.

“America is less and less exceptional,” Number said. “(Europeans) are catching up… not even half of Britons believe in Darwinism any more.”

John Rennie rounded out the panel by bringing into focus the communication aspects when of learning and the psychology of belief. As journalists and communicators, Rennie instructs professionals to do the following:

• Know who your audience is
• Know what you are asking of your audience
• Know your metrics/how to judge your success in communicating science

Specific audiences in modern media can be found, according to Rennie. Such advice is not without its pitfalls, though.

“The way that you communicate with those audiences may mark you as someone in this debate, forevermore, and poison you in the eyes of some other audiences,” Rennie points out. Nevertheless, professionals “end up having to make these choices anyway. It is a fight. If it is becoming political, there is no simple way that we are always going to keep it out of that.”

In this effort, the panel agreed that the tone of scientists and communicators should be more constructive than apocalyptic or combative, as such language does not sway belief in the modern political and media landscape.

By Joe Doolen

]]>
http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/05/psychology-of-belief-and-learning/feed/ 0
Journalistic ethics in the Age of Denial: Panel discussion http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/04/journalistic-ethics-in-the-age-of-denial-panel-discussion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalistic-ethics-in-the-age-of-denial-panel-discussion http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/04/journalistic-ethics-in-the-age-of-denial-panel-discussion/#comments Wed, 25 Apr 2012 22:11:56 +0000 simis http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/?p=638 The workshops kicked off Tuesday morning with coffee and a conversation on Journalistic Ethics in the Age of Denial. This panel featured Deborah Blum, journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; George Johnson, freelance science journalist; Dennis Meredith, research communication; and Dan Fagin, professor at New York University.

Deborah Blum began by admitting the journalists have been discussing the ethics of their work probably for about as long as there have been journalists. However, today, science journalists are writing more about retracted papers and the mistakes of science. Blum asked if this poses an ethical question for science journalists: If, as we cover the messy process of science, do we play an implicit role in fueling public distrust of science?

Blum argued that the responsible decision is give more coverage of the story of science. Through increased transparency on sources, links to the primary papers, and discussion of the human process, replete with natural mistakes, we can tell better, more truthful stories.

George Johnson followed Blum, pointing out that how we do good journalistic work hasn’t really changed in the new age of denial. While all good journalists admit that we’ll never be able to achieve complete objectivity, he still believes that we can all aim in that direction.  Johnson took issue with the idea that transparency is the ideal solution for telling stronger science stories. He argued that perhaps if we are experts at what we do, maybe we need to worry less about transparency.

Johnson also talked about the difference between fact-checking and running copy past a source.  He thinks that showing a full story to a source is not ethical fact checking, and says that journalists need to be careful about not getting to close to our sources.

Dennis Meredith shared a quick PowerPoint presentation about working with a Public Information Officers. He started with a cartoon that showed a researcher’s simple correlation expanding through a game of “telephone,” exaggerated though every step of the news cycle until it was blown way out of proportion. Jokes asides, Meredith encouraged journalists to ask PIOs some hard questions:

Is the PIO part of the development office? Are there quirky administrative policies in place at the institution? Where does the PIO get his or her information from? What is the PIO culture at the institution? Meredith also recommended pushing back against PIOs who mislead or mismanage.

Lastly, Dan Fagin tried to define how journalism ethics have changed in the new media landscape. He describes the fundamental changes in the media environment that allow news to be produced and shared by anyone. Journalists are no longer the gatekeepers of information, and he warned against responding like a castle under siege. But, continuing with his analogy, if journalists come out of their castles, they have to engage in a world where most people don’t follow the journalistic code of ethics. Fagin asked, How can we learn to navigate that?

Fagin also cautioned that it’s very easy to create an “us versus them” mentality but stereotyping is dangerous, especially political stereotyping. There’s a difference between correlation and causation, and there are certainly exceptions. With this in mind, he warned us to beware of a partisan framework for our stories.  Fagin reminded us to look for the difference between denial and outliers, because outliers require both respect and skepticism from us.

Lastly, the conversation turned to new media landscape and the role that new generation of journalists play in the world where they won’t be the gatekeepers of information. Both Blum and Fagin explained that so many new ways to communicate and new ways to reach an audience are perceived as opportunities by younger journalists who have joined the profession in the social media age.

Robert Lee Hotz, of the Wall Street Journal, asked the first question from the audience, offering a passionate endorsement of Fagin’s statement about refusing to accept a partisan framework. He said that it can be dangerously convenient to put on partisan blinders that prevent journalists from engaging directly with their readers.

Next, Joann Rodgers related that in her many years of experience at Johns Hopkins, only a handful of journalists ever asked her about who funds the research or other potential conflicts of interest. She explained that conflicts aren’t necessarily bad or good, but they need to be part of the story, and she asked the panel how they would teach journalists to ask those hard-hitting questions. Fagin responded that perhaps it might feel awkward to ask these questions, but it shouldn’t be, because it’s how the world of research works today.

The panel concluded that these questions about the conflicts and the context that surround a science story are the places where journalists can succeed in the new media environment. Professional journalists might not be the first to break a story, but they can do the best job of giving a story the context it needs to be objective and relevant.

A collection of tweets from the session can be found on Storify here

By Kate Prengaman

]]>
http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/04/journalistic-ethics-in-the-age-of-denial-panel-discussion/feed/ 0
The denial of evolution, and the evolution of denial: Sean Carroll http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/04/the-denial-of-evolution-and-the-evolution-of-denial-sean-carroll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-denial-of-evolution-and-the-evolution-of-denial-sean-carroll http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/04/the-denial-of-evolution-and-the-evolution-of-denial-sean-carroll/#comments Tue, 24 Apr 2012 22:50:59 +0000 simis http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/?p=601 Sean Carroll’s discussion on the denial of evolution and other scientific concepts so piqued conference goers’ interest that they were willing keep the discussion going 25 minutes after they were supposed to be eating lunch.

Carroll, a UW-Madison geneticist and vice president for science education at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, presented six categories of argument that make up what he called “A general manual of denialism.” He extracted the six categories from an article describing arguments specific to anti-vaccination but that can be broadly applied to many issues of denial. The six categories are:

  1. Doubt, directed at the actual science related to the issue.
  2. Doubt, directed at the personal motives and integrity of scientists. In this case, it’s not the data that is dubious (as it is in argument #1), it’s the people behind the data.
  3. Magnified disagreements among scientists, often credentialed but non-expert people holding a minority opinion fuel unfounded debate.
  4. Exaggeration of potential harm of the science in question, this is an unreasonable perception of the risk involved.
  5. Personal freedom, an issue that is framed as an infringement on personal freedom (e.g. a child should have the choice of whether or not to learn about evolution)
  6. Acceptance of the science in question would repudiate a key philosophical belief.

Dealing with these six categories of argument is where we are now in confronting denial of science, Carroll told the audience. The question is, he said, where do we go? Where do we go when we know that a significant percentage of the country will be completely deaf to the progress of evolutionary science? While he hesitated to offer a “cure” to denialism, he said that doing nothing is unacceptable.

Carroll, the Allan Wilson Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the way to counter denialism was to tell the story of science in a more compelling way. Science lends itself to a narrative and people remember stories more than they remember other types of information. To support his storytelling approach, Carroll discussed narrative theory’s relationship to cognitive psychology. Human thought, he said, is fundamentally structured around stories and people use narratives to understand cause and effect over time. The most powerful part of a story is that listeners become immersed in the information you are trying to tell; in a great story, they share motivations and emotions of the protagonist. He suggested writers should use the power of storytelling to convey the conclusions of science.

In his position at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Carroll helps make 10- to12-minute videos with stories illustrating science concepts for K-12 students. He showed one of the videos, which demonstrated how a favorable genetic mutation can lead to the evolution to an animal population.

“I know how to reach under 18 (year-olds) where they are captive — in the classroom,” he told the room. “Four million of them become voters each year. Within a decade that’s 40 million new voters.”

If you can reach a population with compelling scientific evidence at an age when they are forming opinions, Carroll thinks the political discussions among the electorate may slowly change.

Carroll’s six arguments — especially the last one, which stated science challenges the fundamental ideologies of denialists — ignited a round of discussion by the panel and questions from the audience that could have lasted for hours. The panel included Robin Marantz Henig, of New York Times Magazine; Dan Fagin, director of the health science and environmental reporting program at New York University; and Cristine Russell, science journalist at the Washington Post and contributing editor to Atlantic.com.

To get a sense of the conversation following Carroll’s talk, see the tweets of people as they experienced it at this storified account.

-By Emily Eggleston

]]>
http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/04/the-denial-of-evolution-and-the-evolution-of-denial-sean-carroll/feed/ 2
Welcome! http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/04/welcome/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=welcome http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/04/welcome/#comments Thu, 19 Apr 2012 18:50:55 +0000 simis http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/?p=583 Welcome to the Science Writing in the Age of Denial Blog.

Us conference bloggers are students from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and we’ll be covering and posting about as many sessions as we’re able. Our goal is to continue the conversation on denialism in science and its implications in science writing that this conference initiates.

Comments, question and discussion are encouraged. Enjoy!

]]>
http://sciencedenial.wisc.edu/2012/04/welcome/feed/ 0