Future of Science Communication Conference: Moving Forward Research & Practice

How can we connect research and practice in the science communication field? How can science communication help make science more trustworthy? What lessons have we learned on the relationship between science and politics during the Covid-19 pandemic? Over 1000 participants joined two days of digital discussions and workshops to tackle these and more questions at the Future of Science Communication Conference.

After a year of planning and curating, the event took place in digital format on 24-25 June, co-organised by ALLEA and Wissenschaft im Dialog, the organisation for science communication in Germany and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research within the scope of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The international conference brought together actors from research and practice of science communication. Its goal was to sensitise the various stakeholders from science, science communication and politics to the respective challenges and to provide an impetus for stronger networking and transfer between the ‘science of science communication’ and European practitioner communities.

Attendees could enjoy three keynotes and six panels, participate in ten workshops and attend three lightning talk sessions, a poster session and a matching session. All sessions were related to one of five topics: Science & Politics, Trust in Science, Target Groups of Science Communication, Open Science & Citizen Science, and Fake News & Disinformation.

“We are at a Fork in the Road moment in science communication.” – Mike Schäfer (University of Zurich)

From Science Communication to Trust in Science

Day one started with welcoming words from Thomas Rachel MdB (Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research) and the ALLEA President Antonio Loprieno, before featuring two keynotes by Mike Schäfer (University of Zurich) and the Chief Scientific Advisor to the European Commission Nicole Grobert (University of Oxford), who shared input from their scientific and political perspectives.

Schäfer presented an overall analysis of the science communication field with three main questions: how can we move forward, what is going well, what is not going so well. His take-home message was to recognise that science communication is in a “Fork in the Road” moment. Institutions, scientists and communicators should work together to push forward and scale up the synergies between practice and research. For instance, he proposed to increase “inreach” into science: motivate, train, support, valorize and sensitize scientists for societal demands.

The Chief Scientific Advisor Nicole Grobert added a science advice perspective to the discussion and provided insights on how to communicate emergency and strategic science advice. Particularly, she suggested to follow four key questions when communicating science advice for policy:

  • What we know
  • What we don’t know
  • What is uncertain
  • What cannot be known

The discussions continued in the afternoon with the panel “Trust in Science: nurtured, built or earned?”, moderated by Dr. Birte Fähnrich (Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences/Zeppelin University) and with speakers Rainer Bromme (University of Münster), Maria Baghramian (University College Dublin/PERITIA), John Besley (Michigan State University) and Tracey Brown (Sense About Science).

The debate focussed on how to create a concept of trust in science useful for science communication. Speakers debated how to frame such debate for practical approaches, from focusing on the causes of distrust to understand the importance of trustworthiness in science. Their advice to the science communicators was:

  • Make the right questions about science (Brown).
  • Talk about your honesty, good intentions, competence (Besley).
  • Explain the process of science (Baghramian).
  • Foster epistemic trust (Broome).

“The infodemic in fact preceded the Covid-19 pandemic by many years” – Cissi Askwall (VA Public & Science)

Are we living an “infodemic”?

The second day was kicked off by our third keynote speaker, Cissi Askwall, sharing her perspectives from science communication practice, who argued that the “infodemic in fact preceded the Covid-19 pandemic by many years”.

Friday’s first panel “Fake News & Disinformation: A pandemic of its own?” developed further this question. The debate featured Natali Helberger (University of Amsterdam), Dan Larhammar (ALLEA/Royal Swedish Academy) and Philipp Lorenz-Spreen (Max Planck Institute for Human Development) and was moderated by journalist Kai Kupferschmidt. Panellists discussed digital media literacy and the importance of including schools in the debate on fake news. Lorenz-Spreen added: “We cannot rely on the idea that with the next generation and digital natives problems with fake news will disappear. We can see even university students today can be victims of fake news.”

In a pre-recorded impulse video, Dietram A. Scheufele (University of Wisconsin-Madison) challenged common wisdom on the relevance of disinformation in today’s science communication debates: “There is very limited social scientific evidence, if any, to suggest that misinformation directly connects to more pro-social behaviours, for instance, physical distancing or getting vaccines when available”. The moderator Kupferschmidt provided additional thought-provoking ideas and key takeaways on a Twitter thread:

Friday also featured a panel discussion on science and politics moderated by ALLEA President Antonio Loprieno. The panel included Prof. Dr. Antje Boetius (Alfred Wegener Institute), Dr. Janusz Bujnicki (International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw), Prof. Dr. Ortwin Renn (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Potsdam) and Dr. Bella Starling (Vocal / Wellcome Engagement Fellow / Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust). A key question that centred the debate was: What do policymakers want from scientists? Ortwin Renn had some suggestions:

In the final panel discussion, panellists touched on the question whether there is a gap between research and practice in science communication. Brian Trench (Dublin City University/PCST Network) asked whether instead we are overstressing this disconnection between the science of science communication and science communication practice. He also presented his manifesto for a future of science communication that is authentic, engaged, open, surprising, uncertain, ethical, inclusive, unfinished and interpreting.

“Science Communication is about interpreting the meaning of science for people” – Brian Trench (Dublin City University/PCST Network)

SAPEA and PERITIA workshops

Two ALLEA projects also found space in the programme. The workshop “Communicating microplastics risk: Balancing sensation and reflection” was hosted by SAPEA and featured Bart Koelmans (University of Wageningen), Sabine Pahl (University of Vienna), Lesley Henderson (Brunel University) and Toby Wardman (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies).

Additionally, our PERITIA colleagues organized two workshops, “Trust in science in social surveys: challenges, measurement and case studies” and “Using experiments to fight science disinformation online: an evidence-based guide”. The first workshop provided an overview on the nuances and complexity of measuring trust in science across countries and different contexts.

The second workshop led by Carlo Martini (PERITIA) offered an overview on strategies to tackle disinformation attempts with the use of attention and monetary incentives interventions on social media. The contribution of John Cook (Monash University) brought additional perspectives on the use of gamification to foster critical thinking. Read more about this on our interview with him at the ALLEA Digital Salon.

 

For further reading on the contents of the conference, you can find the summaries of Day 1 and Day 2 published at the German science communication portal Wissenschaftskommunition. More documentation will be published in the coming months. If you want to receive future updates, subscribe to the ALLEA newsletter.

 

PERITIA Lecture: Quassim Cassam

As part of the PERITIA Lectures series, Quassim Cassam, Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Warwick, will present a talk on ‘Misunderstanding Conspiracy Theories’ on 20 April 2021. Registration is open to all but mandatory.

PERITIA Public Lectures: [Un]Truths, Trust in an Age of Disinformation

PERITIA – Policy, Expertise and Trust – is launching a series of public lectures from 6 April to 1 June 2021. Around the topic of [Un]Truths: Trust in an Age of Disinformation’, these five meetings will explore the concept of trust and truth, both becoming contentious topics for science and democracy. Conspiracy theories disrupt political elections, disinformation campaigns target scientific consensus around climate change and vaccines, and anti-elite populism overshadows public debates. In the midst of a pandemic, citizens find themselves asking quintessential philosophical questionswhat truth is, whom we can trust, or how we should trust. 

Hosted by the UCD Centre for Ethics in Public Life and the American University of Armenia, the lectures are open to all upon registration via Zoom and moderated by science communicator Shane Bergin. The first part of this online series runs every second Tuesday, from April to June 2021. Participants are invited to join an interactive Q&A debate after each lecture. Registration is free.

  • Lecture 1: Trust in Science

    6 April 2021, 17:00 CEST
    Naomi Oreskes, Harvard University

  • Lecture 2: Misunderstanding Conspiracy Theories

    20 April 2021, 17:00 CEST
    Quassim Cassam, Warwick University

  • Lecture 3: The Democratic Value of Truth

    4 May 2021, 17:00 CEST
    Michael Lynch, University of Connecticut

  • Lecture 4: Trustworthy Science Advice

    18 May 2021, 17:00 CEST
    Heather Douglas, Michigan State University

  • Lecture 5: Trust vs. Argument

    1 June 2021, 17:00 CEST
    Dan Sperber, Institut Jean Nicod

Read more and register here

PERITIA Online Discussion: Creating a Climate of Trust

How can scientists and science communicators (re-)establish trust in trustworthy science in a changing media environment? As part of the international conference SCI:COM, PERITIA experts will discuss the different strategies used to tackle COVID-19 and their impact on trust in science communication under the motto “Creating a Climate of Trust in Science”.

PERITIA Conference ‘Trust in Expertise in a Changing Media Landscape’

The EU-funded research project PERITIA is organising the virtual scientific conference ‘Trust in Expertise in a Changing Media Landscape’, to be held on 18-19 March. The registration and programme are available on the event website

The event will bring together researchers from all over the world, discussing how best to assess, establish and maintain the credibility and trustworthiness of expertise in a rapidly changing media environment. 

Scholars will present their latest findings on distrust and disinformation, populist responses to expertise, and the role of journalism and platform algorithmic design in formations of public trust in science. 

The highlights of the multidisciplinary conference include keynotes by Onora O’Neill (University of Cambridge), Christoph Neuberger (University Free, Berlin), Natali Helberger (Amsterdam), and Michael Latzer (Zurich). 

A welcome keynote will be delivered by the organisers José van Dijck and Donya Alinejad (Utrecht University), which will be followed by two days with more than 40 speakers and a dozen of panel discussions. Among the topics covered by the programme are the pandemic, climate change, conspiracy theories, algorithms and social media platforms.

The conference will close with a roundtable discussion featuring Stefan Larsson (Lund University), Jo Pierson (Free University Brussels), Judith Simon (University of Hamburg), and José van Dijck (Moderator, University of Utrecht).

Registered participants will be invited to join the Digital Café, a networking platform run by wonder.me to informally meet participants and speakers during the coffee breaks and after the event. 

ALLEA is part of PERITIA as one of the project partners working on coordination, communications and dissemination. The research project, funded by the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme was launched as a continuation of the research work developed under ALLEA’s working group Truth, Trust and Expertise.

Special Issue on Vulnerability and Trust

PERITIA Special Issue on Vulnerability and Trust

How can we characterise the affective nature of trust? How can we explain the ethical demands that arise from deliberately making yourself vulnerable by trusting someone? What is the application of this to the question of the epistemic vulnerability involved in communication? And how can we explain trust and distrust of sources of knowledge in society?

These four questions are the focus of the new PERITIA Special Issue of the International Journal of Philosophical Studies this month. The work tackles the need to investigate what Annette Baier (1986) called “the variety of forms of trust” and “the varieties of vulnerability”.

The closing article “Vulnerability in Social Epistemic Networks” is the winner of the PERITIA special prize. In this paper, Emily Sullivan (EU Eindhoven), Max Sondag (TU Eindhoven), Ignaz Rutter (Universität Passau), Wouter Meulemans (TU Eindhoven), Scott Cunningham (University of Strathclyde), Bettina Speckmann (TU Eindhoven) and Mark Alfano (Macquarie University & Delft University of Technology) examine the nature of epistemic vulnerability within the virtual networks of social media.

Other articles in this volume include “Epistemic Vulnerability” by Casey Rebecca Johnson (University of Idaho), “From Vulnerability to Precariousness: Examining the Moral Foundations of Care Ethics” by Sarah Clark Miller (Penn State University) and “Expressive Vulnerabilities” by Joe Larios (Emory University).

The special issue is part of PERITIA’s investigation on the conditions under which citizens trust science-based policy advice. ALLEA is part of this EU-funded project that brings together a multidisciplinary team of researchers from across nine countries.

Read more about this publication on PERITIA’s website.

Why Trust Experts?

ALLEA’s EU-funded research project PERITIA has launched the new animation video “Why Trust Experts?“. Inspired by their principal investigator Maria Baghramian’s article “Trust in Experts: Why and Why Not”, the video invites everyone to reflect on the role of expertise in our daily lives.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown once again that experts play a key role in advising politicians and citizens. There may be no better time to ask ourselves some relevant questions about trust in expertise.

  • How does trust in experts work?
  • How is trust in science related to trust in media?
  • Why is trust in expertise important for democracies?
  • How can we learn to trust trustworthy experts?

The short animation video summarizes the key questions of PERITIA’s research in the context of today’s pandemic crisis and raises some relevant points. It touches upon the different dimensions of trust in expertise from a philosophical perspective, the influential role of media (and social media) in how we access scientific information, or the difficult balance between science independence and policymaking.

In the dedicated webpage “Why trust Experts?“, PERITIA delves into these key questions including resources. The page is available to help you learn more about the topic and find more scientific contributions to the debates from the team and their partners.

About PERITIA

PERITIA is a Horizon 2020-funded research project exploring the conditions under which people trust expertise used for shaping public policy. The project brings together philosophers, social and natural scientists, policy experts, ethicists, psychologists, media specialists and civil society organisations to conduct a comprehensive multi-disciplinary investigation of trust in and the trustworthiness of policy related expert opinion. As part of consortium of 11 partners from 9 countries, ALLEA leads the work on public engament and interaction of the project.

Who to trust on Covid-19?

ALLEA is pleased to announce the PERITIA webinar ‘Who to trust on Covid-19: When science advice gets “dirty” in the political mud’. The event will take place on 2 November (14:00-15:00 CET) and is part of the Berlin Science Week. Registration is already open.

The one-hour Q&A webinar will delve into the impact of this pandemic on trust in expertise with a particular focus on three questions:

  • What lessons can we draw from the handling of the pandemic for understanding trust in policy-driven expertise?
  • How have different countries dealt with the delicate enterprise of communicating and relying on uncertain and evolving evidence and advice in extremely difficult times?
  • Is a loss of public trust in expertise the “collateral damage” of this crisis or are people trusting experts more than before?

PERITIA experts will join the discussion with Dr Shane Bergin, who will moderate an interactive debate where participants will lead the questions of the roundtable. The speakers include:

Prof Maria Baghramian
Professor of American Philosophy at University College Dublin
PERITIA Lead Investigator

Tracey Brown
Director of Sense about Science

Prof José van Dijck
Professor of Media Studies at University of Utrecht

Prof Bobby Duffy
Director of The Policy Institute at King’s College London

Dr Carlo Martini
Assistant Professsor of Philosophy at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University

PERITIA is an EU-funded research project and ALLEA is part of the consortium. The project explores the conditions under which people trust expertise used for shaping public policy. It brings together philosophers, social and natural scientists, policy experts, ethicists, psychologists, media specialists and civil society organisations to conduct a comprehensive multi-disciplinary investigation of trust in and the trustworthiness of policy related expert opinion.

Trust in Expertise at times of Covid-19

The EU-funded research project PERITIA just launched its first newsletter dedicated to Covid-19 and trust in expertise. The issue includes highlights from the first five months of the project with a selection of essays, news, interviews, blog posts, and podcasts from its team dealing with how the pandemic is affecting trust in expertise and science advice systems. A general introduction to the project’s research agenda emphasizes three key questions:

  • What is the role of expertise in democracies?
  • How should science inform political decisions?
  • How can we prevent a populist backlash against expertise?

If you are curious about how PERITIA’s team has engaged in public debates and research around these questions, we kindly invite you to take a look and let us know what you think. If you enjoy it, don’t forget to subscribe here.

The project is conducting a comprehensive multi-disciplinary investigation of trust in, and the trustworthiness of, policy-related expert opinion. Its research will develop a theoretical framework to understand the fundamentals of trust, which will be complemented empirically with surveys and in-lab experiments.

Science advice and public engagement

A central part of PERITIA’s work will consist of a comparison of existing science advice mechanisms in four European countries. PERITIA researchers will investigate how expert advice is elicited and which of the available models is more trust enhancing.

The project’s plans also reach beyond research. Investigators seeks to design effective indicators and tools to build trust in expertise informing policy. Their conclusions will be tested in a series of citizens’ forums where experts, policymakers, and citizens will engage in face-to-face discussions on climate change.

ALLEA is a partner in the PERITIA consortium, which is formed by eleven organisations from nine countries, and is leading its work on communications and public engagement. The project is a follow-up of the ALLEA working group Truth, Trust and Expertise.