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Project description

The aim of this series of workshops is to explore and build ideas at the intersections of scientific evidence, media reporting, and their influence on public policies and behaviour.

Primary participants

Principal Investigators:

Dr David Chivers, Department of Economics and Finance, david.chivers@durham.ac.uk   

Professor Susanne Braun, Department of Management and Marketing, susanne.braun@durham.ac.uk 

A series of interdisciplinary conversations will be held during the academic year 2022/2023, involving academics at Durham snd beyond as well as wider societal partners in practice, especially Science journalists in the UK.These exploratory workshops provide a space for encounter between the academic and non-academic stakeholders. They are held with the aim to identify key ideas that have the potential to result in Major Project proposal submissions to the IAS in future rounds.

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Three workshops will be held to address key area.

 

Workshop 1 / Theme: Science Communication

Science communication relies on expertise, accountability, and trust. The public looks to scientific experts for decision-making. However, expert advice can change as new results emerge. Whilst this is naturally evident to many scientists, change of advice and uncertainty perceptions have been met with a level of scepticism and lack of trust in the public.

Sample questions that can feed into this discussion to challenge the current understanding of science communication from a multidisciplinary perspective include:

  • Why do people trust experts? How do they decide who is, and who is not, an expert?
  • How do experts communicate the uncertainty associated with scientific evidence?
  • How can (or should) institutions and the public hold scientific experts accountable?

Disciplines which could contribute to the discussion and bring in complementary, but also opposing views or controversial perspectives:

  • Politics: Knowledge and accountability (e.g., politicians “following the science”).
  • Sociology/Psychology: Expertise as a social construct and “experts” as a social identity.
  • Anthropology: How other cultures view experts and expertise.
  • Philosophy: The nature of “evidence” and expertise.
  • Sciences: Presenting scientific evidence to the public.

 

Workshop 2 / Theme: Statistical Literacy

Literacy is regarded as a starting point to education, a means through which we can gather further knowledge. It is, however, often associated with reading and writing, rather than numeracy. Yet, most of what we value about literacy (e.g., identification, interpretation and understanding), requires an ability to interpret numbers and not just the written word.

Sample questions that can feed into this discussion to develop the current understanding and development of statistical literacy from a multidisciplinary perspective include:

  • Why do certain groups in society value statistical literacy, while others find it inaccessible?
  • Do journalists in the UK receive sufficient statistical training to communicate scientific evidence?
  • What are the causes of statistical illiteracy? Perhaps this is due to “maths anxiety” or an inability to see value in being numerical literate?

Disciplines which could contribute to the discussion and bring in complementary, but also opposing views or controversial perspectives:

  • History: History of the push towards literacy.
  • Economics: Relation between numerical literacy and economic development
  • Psychology: Numeracy and persuasion.
  • Education: Causes of maths anxiety.
  • Mathematics: National curriculum development to address statistical literacy.

 

Workshop 3 / Theme: Fake News or Post Truth

One of the consequences of statistical illiteracy in society is failing to spot misleading statistics by the media, governments, as well as academics. A question that arises from this is whether individuals responsible for producing misleading statistics are doing so deliberately (they know they are being misleading) or inadvertently (they are unaware).

While we are looking to keep the theme of this third workshop relatively open to be able to capture any new or developing themes from the previous two events, we believe that fake news or post-truth perspectives represent a potentially impactful angle to integrate controversial themes associated with science communication and statistical literacy.

Outcomes

The main outcome of this workshop series is a summary of the emerging themes and potential collaborations from each event to feed into a longer-term programme of work with the aim of submitting a major grant proposal to the IAS in following years. This summary will include:

  1. Mapping of themes and controversies originating from each workshop
  2. Set of potential research questions and how to address them via interdisciplinary perspectives with initial thoughts on research design
  3. A list of academic and non-academic key collaborators in the current network as well as potential to expand the network within and beyond Durham University