Why more scientists are needed in the public square

This weekend, The Conversation published quite interesting article entitled: “Why more scientists are needed in the public square”. It is written by the University of California’s President Janet Napolitano as a call for “all scientists” to step out from their labs into public arena and convey, in a jargon free language, social importance of their work. The article is squarely located in the US presidential election season, but there are a number of thought-provoking ideas from the epistemic fluency perspective (a brief comment that we posted in the morning is copied below). Overall, this article clearly shows that challenges related to the (lack of) epistemic fluency are both deep and widespread across science, society and politics. While our book is about professional work and education, much of what we wrote about professional skilfulness to work across different “epistemic cultures” can be said about scientific work and relevant to education in general.

“Thank you for this very timely article. To add to this, developing graduates’ capabilities to understand different kinds of knowledge and different ways of knowing, and to engage in such deep dialogues between science, society and politics that lead to actionable decisions should be one of priority university missions and strategic aims. Presidents and politicians, we should acknowledge, are also graduates of same universities, who unfortunately haven’t been successful to prepare them for work in this epistemified, and saturated with diverse ways of knowing, world. We shouldn’t reduce this capability just to communication skills. We need to think very hard about how to prepare epistemically fluent graduates: http://epistemicfluency.com. Then we will have much more chances to have society and politicians who understand and value science, and, most importantly, we will have society that uses scientific knowledge for making practical decisions.”

Note: Some comments that were posted later today make the issues discussed in the article even more apparent: some commentators blame “illiterate journalists” who do not understand the nature of scientific work; other commentators blame scientists who poorly “understand reality and the people within in the media”. But what is actually involved in productive collaborations between scientists and journalists? Perhaps first we should seek to know what kinds of capacities enable skilful scientists to understand media people and skilful media people to understand scientists. It is not constructive to  blame that they can’t do this without really saying what they actually should be able to do.

3 responses to “Why more scientists are needed in the public square

  1. Start with young children, there is some really creative work going on with science literacy such as the Squid the Rhizome and the Moon and Zobi and the Zoox



    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Paul, for your comment and for the links. I more than agree with you. A lot of things could be done (and should be done) much earlier.


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