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You Got Your Politics in My Science

On Thursday, John Timmer and I ran a session at Science Online 2012 on balancing advocacy and credibility on science. Here is the video for this session. As video, it’s pretty silly, since neither John nor I spent much time at the front of the room where the camera was pointed. However, the audio is much better than in previous years. Most of what we discussed comes through pretty clearly. After the video, a few highlights.

There were four main problems brought up in the session:

  1. People don’t tend to listen to those they perceive to be culturally unlike them.
  2. Presenting information that contradicts someone’s worldview tends to make them assign you a cultural identity that is in opposition to theirs.
  3. Despite the fact that we don’t truly require scientists or reporters to maintain “neutrality” in the face of facts, the appearance of advocacy can still threaten funding or positions.

There were a number of solutions, none of which should be viewed as magic bullets:

  1. You don’t always have to be the advocate. Some scientists feed accurate, digestible information to advocacy groups for their use. Some organizations work to collect spokespeople whose positions on their issues are minority positions within their cultural groups. This allows them to reach into cultural groups they usually cannot.
  2. Keeping a line between your advocacy and your informing can be useful. It is easier for people to use your factual writing/speaking if it doesn’t contain explicit advocacy.
  3. Similarly, separating statements about problems and statements about solutions allows people to come to agree with you about the nature of the problem without feeling that they must simultaneously accept your proposed solutions.

There’s plenty more in the video. If something strikes you as particularly novel or useful, please note it in a comment.

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