05. 2017-June-12

First week of proper studying for comps. My goal is distributed practice, rotating to a different committee member's materials from day to day, and writing up my takeaways in brief here. So today I decided to start off with Duff's materials, and rotate through. Duff gave me two categories of topics, Science Communication, and The Validity of Historical Science as Science. Today I decided to dig into the six papers about Science Communication

First was the article The Communication Process as Evaluative Context: What Do Nonscientists Hear When Scientists Speak?. The first major section discusses the elaborate diaspora of meanings for the term biodiversity, which, of course, is quite relevant to me. It's initial concept was referring primarily in the context of environmental conservation, but eventually developed into the definition that I typically associate it with, namely the diversity of genotypes, species, and ecosystems. Naturally (Frustratingly!), the interaction of multiple interest groups' perceptions of a word's definition eventually solidifies into several actual meanings, which then leads to the complexity and collapse of communicative ordeals. The takeaway is the importance of framing, the idea that facts only take meaning when embedded into a context (frame) that gives them structure. This can become problematic when the passion and interest of scientists, rather than a source of motivation, can be viewed as a source of subjectivity and personal bias, statements come across as declarations, and facts can become, I dread to say it, alleged.

People tend to interpret information in a way that is useful to them, which frequently leads to misuse, misunderstanding, and misinterpretation.
Thus, resolutely, the simple conclusions are reached of:

"[...] communication involves negotiation of meanings."

"[...] dialogue in some form is the primary trait of a communication process."

So, the nature of this dialogue is recursive, featuring a problem-fact-solution framework, and a series of repetition coupled with revision, as part of our process of negotiating meaning.

"Our task is to avert others' surprise -- or to share with them our own. Explain how the variables you are discussing may relate to other, less obvious variables. It is a useful technique to confirm others in some of their prior knowledge first and only then to introduce new or disconfirming information, rather than vice versa."

A list of questions follows that all scientists should be ready to answer, my absolute favorite is "Who disagrees with you? Why?" In my realm it's particularly important as I deal with the realm of creationists and doubt.

Can you believe there are five more articles? Me neither! Thankfully this is more for me than for you, the reader.

Walking and talking the tree of life: Why and how to teach about biodiversity

This paper is fantastic. The first phrase of the abstract reads, "Taxonomic details of diversity are an essential scaffolding for biology education, yet outdated methods for teaching the tree of life (TOL), as implied by textbook content and usage, are still commonly employed."

Wow. I wish that sentence was my dad (wut?). TOL is sorta the entirety of my passion, and this paper really does a fantastic job (with a single caveat) of illuminating the challenge of replacing the outdated Linnean taxonomy with phylogenetic taxonomy, what we, of course, call tree-thinking. Understanding synapomorphies, monophyletic groupings, meaningful content is so crucial for there to be anything meaningful to take away from understanding biodiversity.  I must say it's a great read, but my only issue is that the paper, its authors from Cornell, have a degree of.. what I would almost describe as unintentional pretention. It elaborates on the steps they've taken to improve their own course curriculum, but seem to fail to acknowledge the limitations of curricula at both the course and degree levels at other university. As someone trying to do work in informal education, I acknowledge that formal ed is by far the best beachhead to make progress in scientific literacy, there is a strong need for the secondary and stopgap methods to cover for existing misconception, especially as such broader formal implementations are not something that can be effected on the requisite scales, particularly below university level education. they observe the quality of texts in high schools, and really seem to not even consider the near insurmountable obstacles that are posed by educational budgets in such institutions.

Might I suggest the following apps they refer to, however:

  • The TimeTree
  • The Tree of Life
  • Lifemap (this is the only one, sadly, available on android phones)
  • The five diversity chapters of Hillis et al.'s Principles of Life (not an app, obviously)

The measurement of civic scientific literacy

Scientific literacy is.. a problem. Obviously, scientific literacy is important, and this paper dissects the issue into some pieces, of which one is a primary focus, namely civic scientific literacy. This refers to "Familiarity with science and awareness of its implication.." as opposed to practical science literacy, which, from the continuation of the above "..the acquisition of scientific information for the solution of practical problem."

Again, in a beautiful summary, "[...] meaningful citizen participation requires a level of civic scientific literacy sufficient to understand the essential points of competing arguments and to evaluate or assess these arguments."

Which is a challenge, or as I said earlier, a problem. From there proceeds an elaborate review of the methods developed to examine civic scientific literacy, and is full of incredibly useful takeaways. Open-ended questions and their construction in conjunction with multipart close-ended questions. There's a gorgeous IRT item response curve, an ideal construction showing the likelihood of someone being able to answer a question based on their knowledge level, with a low number of low-knowledge participants being able to answer correctly, and a certain knowledge threshhold beyond which 100% of participants answer correctly. 


I'll really need to revisit the paper above.

Drought, debate, and uncertainty: measuring reporters' knowledge and ignorance about climate change

While my focus drifts further and further away from global climate change, it remains still a perfect model for this sort of problem of science communication. The main takeaways here are most distinctly the presence of what is called a "climate change news 'food chain'", where journalists increasingly get their information not from primary sources (such as scientists themselves, or journal publications, 20% and 15%, respectively), but rather from other newspapers (37%). So what is happening more and more is that journalists, especially in environmental beats, get more of their information from other journalists, than from the actual primary sources that the information properly should be coming from. But, not to sound negative, one of the big takeaways of the study showed that "..it was actually the process of being a full-time science reporter that produced more accurate climate change knowledge, rather than a college science background". Of course, this is made problematic by the fact many science reporters are not so full time, and the pressures of for-profit newspaper publications often makes it logistically impossible, due to editorial and supraeditorial pressures to get stories out as quickly as possible.

The last two papers, have aggravatingly clever/recursive titles, Assessing what to address in science communication and The sciences of science communication.

Some quotes:

"The goal of science communication is not agreement, but fewer, better disagreements."

"Science communication cannot succeed when people feel that attack its message is the only way to get redress for other concerns."

"Science education provides the foundation for science communication."

"Science communications that fulfill this mission must perform four interrelated tasks:

  1. Identify the science most relevant to the decisions that people face.
  2. Determine what people already know.
  3. Design communications to fill the critical gaps (between what people know and need to know).
  4. Evaluate the adequacy of those communications.

Repeat as neccessary."

"Whatever its source, vagueness undermines the precision essential to all science."

"a communication is adequate if it (i) contains the information that recipients need, (ii) in places that they can access, and (iii) in a form that they can comprehend."

If we revisit the concept of grok, mentioned briefly in the last post:

"However, like many experts, scientific experts may not remember what it was like to be a novice in their field and therefore, may have inaccurate intuitions about people's informational needs. After many years of deliberate training and practice, specialized knowledge becomes intuitive, and technical terminology becomes central to communicating with other experts."

Grok can interfere in effective communication unless you can get the other side to grok as well. Laura Palmer, or maybe FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper said it best:

"Fire, grok with me"

Not a clever play on words? I don't care, something about it makes me smile.

Assessing focused primarily on how to build surveys to appreciate the mental models of who you're communicating to (and then, how to communicate it), while Sciences is more about broader conceptual elements of doing so.

So, having read six papers in a day, and summarized my biggest takeaways here (thanks highlighter!), I've got a better grip on science communication, and a number of citations I need to follow up on. In a week or so we'll look into Historical Science as Science, but tomorrow we'll dig into another layer of comps. AWAY!




06. 2017-June-13

04. 2017-June-10