Workshop: Science & Imagination, 5 Nov. 2019


Inspiring public interest in inquiry and discovery

An academic and public-facing workshop at the University of Connecticut (UConn)

5 November, 2019

Tentative time for public session: 3-5pm

We are living in what has been called a “post-truth” era [1], with an accompanying “post-trust” [2] crisis, where public confidence and interest in science and expertise is declining among significant segments of the public [3]. A tremendous challenge for proponents of scientific and academic inquiry — including scientists themselves, other scholars, educators, and journalists — is communicating not just the “what” of their work, but “why”, “how”, and “who”.

Scientists find the what of their work — the intricate details of research and analyses — fascinating, but communicating passion for details requires explaining why (not just costs and benefits, but intellectual curiosity and the quest for knowledge), how (why scientific progress can be so slow, technically difficult, and expensive), and who (demystifying how one becomes a scientist and opening the gates to underrepresented groups). Inspiring public imagination and interest in science is essential for earning public support for basic and applied research, and reinvigorating interest in scientific careers.  

Our aim with this workshop is to share ideas and brainstorm about ways to effect change. We hope to attract not just the academic community, but teachers, policy makers, students, and any other interested community members. We hope to share our ideas and excitement, and to listen to ideas from the public about how to connect scientists and community members through shared interest in inquiry and discovery. 

Confirmed invited participants so far include:

  • Michael Lynch, University of Connecticut, Philosophy
  • Tim Miller, writer, and science communication specialist, University of Connecticut 
  • Susan Schneider, University of Connecticut, Philosophy
  •  Michael Tanenhaus, University of Rochester, Brain and Cognitive Science
  • Julie Sedivy, writer and language scientist, University of Calgary, Psychology

        This workshop will be sponsored by the UConn interdisciplinary PhD training program in Science of Learning & Art of Communication and the UConn Humanities Institute. It will receive financial support from U.S. National Science Foundation grant 1747486, “Real-world communication: Future directions in the science of communication and the communication of science“, originally awarded to support a 2018 conference honoring Michael Tanenhaus on the occasion of him receiving the Cognitive Science Society Rumelhart Prize.

          [1] For example: (a) Lynch, M. P. (2016, 28 November).Fake News and the Internet Shell Game. New York Times. (b) Keyes, R. (2004). The Post-Truth Era: Dishonest and Deception in Contemporary Life. St. Martin’s Press. (c) Tesich, S. (1992, 13 January). Government of Lies. The Nation.

          [2] A term used by Åsa Wikforss in her public address, “Resisting the Facts”, contributed to a symposium on Presenting Science to the Public in a Post-Truth Era at the University of Connecticut, 24 May, 2019. 

          [3] A recent Pew Research Center survey (Funk, C., Hefferon, M., Kennedy, B., & Johnson, C. [2019, August]. Trust and mistrust in American’s views of scientific experts. Pew Research Center.) found overall trust in scientists to be quite high in the U.S.A. (with 84% of respondents indicating ‘a great deal’ or ‘fair’ amount of confidence in scientists), but support varies with political affiliation and education, and declines dramatically when linked to specific scientific issues that have become topics of political rancor, such as vaccines or climate change.