Mark your calendars: Science March Apr 22nd

MARK YOUR CALENDARS. On April 22, we will walk out of our labs and into the streets.

We are scientists and science enthusiasts. We come from all races, all religions, all gender identities, all sexual orientations, all abilities, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all political perspectives, and all nationalities. Our diversity is our greatest strength: a wealth of opinions, perspectives, and ideas is critical for the scientific process. What unites us is a love of science, and an insatiable curiosity. We all recognize that science is everywhere and affects everyone.

Science is often an arduous process, but it is also thrilling. A universal human curiosity and dogged persistence is the greatest hope for the future. This movement cannot and will not end with a march. Our plans for policy change and community outreach will start with marches worldwide and a teach-in at the National Mall, but it is imperative that we continue to celebrate and defend science at all levels – from local schools to federal agencies – throughout the world.

AAAS helps us with the transition

AAAS has a nice website detailing information on the president-elect’s transition into the White house:

The 45th President of the United States will confront a broad range of global challenges, including addressing climate change, securing our energy future, and sustaining investments in scientific research efforts. AAAS has created this website to display information on the President-elect’s Transition and Cabinet appointments; white papers, transition statements, and letters from the scientific community; and news and other resources. It will be updated throughout the transition, inauguration, and the New Administration’s First 100 Days.

CHECK OUT THEIR WEBSITE. But be warned, there’s not a lot of promise for the future of science.

Vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. to lead commission on vaccine safety? #wtf

The real news is starting to sound more and more like the Onion. Today, it was announced that Trump has asked major vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. to chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity. Full details on WaPo.  REALLY?!

The nightmare keeps going on. I don’t know how many more times this blog is going to have to discuss that there is no link between vaccines and autism or how many more times we need to advocate for vaccination. I’ll save my full rant for another day, but it’s infuriating that in this “post-truth” world, scientists have to spend SO MUCH TIME convincing politicians that a discredited study is actually false and that it is inappropriate to make political decisions based on this false claim.

I still don’t understand how politicians come to these scientific conclusions such as vaccine skepticism when the overwhelming majority of established scientists argue otherwise. If 99% of dentists told me I had to get my tooth pulled, but 1 businessman told me no need, guess who I’d listen to? The dentists. Even though it will hurt, it’s going to be best in the long run.

In the case of climate change denialism, I can at least somewhat understand that accepting climate change means having to accept some very uncomfortable realities (as I discussed previously), and politicians and society may not want to accept that out of their own self-interest. But what is the financial, political, or personal gain in overturning vaccination laws and denying the efficacy of vaccines? I DO NOT get it. Seems like everyone will lose.


*note- As a scientist, obviously I think it is incredibly important to ensure quality control and safety when it comes to vaccine design, production, and testing. And that there’s always room for improvement in these areas. However, I’m worried that the intentions of skeptics like Robert Kennedy Jr. is not to improve and enhance vaccines, but to debunk and overturn progress under the guise of “safety”.


Do the candidates know what science can and cannot do?

Short answer- some candidates *cough* Hillary *cough* are way more informed than others. NPR has a nice commentary piece:

Tania Lombrozo poses three science questions for the presidential candidates.

Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

This election season, voters should be evaluating the presidential candidates’ attitudes toward science. proposes a set of 20 science and science policy questions for all candidates, suggesting that “science impacts voters at least as much as the economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values candidates share on the campaign trail.”

Yet beyond questions about specific scientific issues are broader questions about how each candidate understands the value of science itself. Science is unique among human enterprises in its insistence on systematic observation and reasoning as a means of drawing generalizations about the natural world. Scientific claims are at the mercy of evidence, subjected to constant scrutiny and revised as we learn more.Scientific methodology gives science special authority when it comes to answering empirical questions, an authority that isn’t shared by other human endeavors.

But is this an authority that the candidates recognize?

In her speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, Hillary Clinton affirmed her belief in science, an affirmation that an article in Slate derided as “bizarre,” since science shouldn’t be a matter of personal or partisan preference: “Science is a fact, and either people acknowledge reality or they do not.”

Yet Clinton’s affirmation makes sense in the current political context. It’s no secret that not all politicians hold science in equal esteem. Republican nominee Donald Trump has offered little in the way of science policy and has questioned scientific consensus. Astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss writes that “for science, research, and their impact on the economy, the election of Trump would simply be a disaster.”

When it comes to these attitudes toward science, it’s not a straightforward matter of liberal versus conservative. Another article in Slate describes Green Party candidate Jill Stein as “a Harvard-trained physician who panders to pseudoscience.” It’s a mistake to deny scientific claims the authority they deserve (as Trump has done), but it can be just as deadly to confer that authority where it doesn’t belong (on pseudoscience).

A related mistake comes from thinking that science — on its own — can settle questions of policy. As I’ve written about before, science can answer empirical questions that should inform policy decisions, but the policy decisions themselves aren’t just a matter of science — they typically involve complex trade-offs between different risks and benefits, and evaluating those trade-offs is also a matter of values.

Vetting candidates on their views about specific scientific issues is clearly important — policies related to energy, innovation, education, water and beyond will profoundly shape the coming century. But the only constant in science is change. As science progresses, technology advances, and local and global issues take new forms, politicians will confront new challenges that science can inform, and we need to know that our future president will face those challenges with an appropriate appreciation for what science can — and cannot — do.

Some of ScienceDebate’s 20 questions for candidates do get at more basic issues about the process of doing science, including scientific funding and how to preserve the integrity of science. But to complement their list, here are three more questions for today’s presidential candidates, questions about the nature of science itself:

  1. Science is one of the most successful human enterprises. What do you think accounts for this success? What would you do to ensure the continued success of science during your term and beyond?
  2. Do you think science has special authority when it comes to answering certain kinds of questions? If so, what kinds of questions? How will you ensure that your decisions are based on the best answers to these questions? In particular, how will you differentiate good science from bad science and pseudoscience? (If this is a matter of having good scientific advisers, how will you select those advisers?)
  3. There are some questions that science cannot answer — either because it is insufficiently advanced or because the questions are, in principle, beyond the scope of science. Can you provide examples of questions of each type, and explain how science will — or will not — influence the way you approach those questions?

Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes about psychology, cognitive science and philosophy, with occasional forays into parenting and veganism. You can keep up with more of what she is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

Science communication training gets strategic @ConversationUS #scicomm

Science communication training should be about more than just how to transmit knowledge

John Besley, Michigan State University and Anthony Dudo, University of Texas at Austin

For some scientists, communicating effectively with the public seems to come naturally. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson currently has more than five million Twitter followers. Astronomer Carl Sagan enraptured audiences for decades as a ubiquitous cosmic sage on American televisions. And Stephen Jay Gould’s public visibility was such that he voiced an animated version of himself on “The Simpsons.” But, for most scientists, outward-facing communication is not something they’ve typically thought about much… let alone sought to cultivate.

But times change. Leaders in the scientific community are increasingly calling on their scientist colleagues to meaningfully engage with their fellow citizens. The hope is that such interactions can improve the science-society relationship at a time when we are confronting a growing list of high-stakes, high-controversy issues including climate change, synthetic biology and epigenetics.

The gauntlet has been issued, but can scientists meet it?

The answer to that question largely depends on one key group: professional science communication trainers who offer formalized guidance designed to improve scientists’ public communication efforts. There’s a wellspring of science communication programs, among them the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, the Center for Public Engagement with Science & Technology at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea. Programs like these typically provide communication courses of a half-day up to a week or more. Some organizations also employ in-house personnel to train their scientists to communicate.

Given the important role these training programs now play in the public communication of science, we sought to examine their work. Broadly, we were looking for commonalities in their efforts and experiences, and we wanted to spot possible opportunities for their growth. We were especially interested in something we view as being critical to effective public engagement: helping scientists identify and try to achieve specific communication goals.

What trainers focus on

In late 2014, we conducted a set of 24 interviews with science communication trainers from across the United States. Ours is the first published study examining this important community. We found that much of the training they provided focused on helping scientists share their research in clear ways that would increase knowledge.

This is consistent with what scientists have told us in surveys: their main objective in communicating their work is to inform the public about science and correct misinformation.

Sharing knowledge will always be a central component of science communication – knowledge generation is, after all, the main enterprise of science. And relaying knowledge makes up the bulk of the science journalism the public encounters through the media – stories about new discoveries and the latest research.

But there are other reasons scientists might want to communicate with the general public. We call these “nonknowledge objectives” – things like fostering excitement about science, building trust in the scientific community, or reframing how people think about certain issues. These objectives are different from a biologist wanting to share with a listener the details on her research on bird migration, for instance. They’re more about people, and forging relationships.

We’ve found that these sorts of nonknowledge goals have a relatively lower priority for scientists compared to the desire to get information across about their direct scientific work. Not surprisingly, only a few of the trainers we interviewed indicated that, at that time, they were explicitly trying to help scientists achieve these other kinds of nonknowledge objectives.

Nevertheless, the trainers told us they believed many of the scientists they train want to communicate to help raise public support for science in general and because they think their research will help people see the value in specific policy options.

Our work suggests that scientists and the trainers they work with often focus primarily on the successful transmission of science information, leaving those other objectives to fall into place. But there’s a problem with that logic. Decades of science communication research – a research area now commonly referred to as the science of science communication – show that fostering positive views about science requires more than just trying to correct deficits in public knowledge.

Matching the training to the ultimate goal

It may be useful to consider alternatives (or additions) to the character of the current training landscape. The emphasis now is on teaching scientists key journalism skills to help them share information more effectively – by, for instance, distilling jargon-free messages. Training typically places limited emphasis on whether sharing that information will have the desired effect.

Instead, given scientists’ goals, training could help scientists avoid doing things that have little potential for impact or, worse, actually diminish people’s views of science.

Extensive research shows that we tend to trust people we judge to be warm and caring because they seem less likely to want to do us harm. With that in mind, more training could explicitly help scientists avoid doing the types of things that might convey a cold demeanor. For example, no matter how accurate a scientist’s argument may be, if communicated rudely it will likely miss its mark. Worse still, it may generate negative feelings that a recipient could then generalize more broadly to the scientific community.

Related research on what people perceive to be fair or not when it comes to making important decisions could also inform communication training. Studies emphasize the potential strategic value of making sure people feel like they’re being listened to and treated with respect. Imagine, for example, how you’d feel if a doctor didn’t give you a genuine chance to share your personal experiences with an ailment.

Similarly, given what we know about the value of framing, perhaps more training should help scientists find ways to talk about issues that are consistent with the scientists’ work but that are also consistent with the priorities or worldviews of the people with whom they are speaking. For example, given the value that people put on their families’ health, it may make sense to frame climate change in terms of health issues.

Challenges to getting more strategic

There are at least two challenges associated with suggesting a more strategic approach to science communication.

First, it is easier to communicate in ways that come naturally and simply hope for the best.

Second, there is a danger that some people will misconstrue being strategic as being dishonest. On the contrary, effective strategic communication rests on authenticity, just like science. Science communicators should never do things like pretend to be warm, fake listening or frame things in ways they don’t think are appropriate.

The point is that by thinking strategically, we can begin to recognize that our communication choices – whether it’s leaving time after a talk for real discussion, calling those with whom we disagree ugly names or framing every disagreement as a war – have consequences.

It also seems clear that science communicators and communication trainers – who, in our experience, provide outstanding training in key skills – are already focusing on certain tactics that affect things like trust without making the explicit connection. For example, just using accessible language and speaking without jargon might communicate that scientists care enough about those with whom they are speaking to accommodate them. The power of telling stories isn’t just a better way to convey information; it’s a social act with social consequences.

Effective public engagement involves high-quality interactions between people. This means that many of the actual effects are likely to be due to the quality of the relationships between participants, including scientists and nonscientists. Content matters, of course, but not unless a healthy dynamic for information exchange is established.

The science communication training community is already doing great work. Ultimately, as trainers and scientists get more strategic in their science communication, it will help justify the time and resources it takes to communicate effectively. And they can forgo activities that seem unlikely to have an impact.

The Conversation

John Besley, Associate Professor of Advertising and Public Relations, Michigan State University and Anthony Dudo, Assistant Professor of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The many reasons scientists are not Republicans – @salon #science

REQUIRED READING!! This Salon piece by Sean McElwee and Philip Cohen is EVERYTHING – about why scientists and Republicans are so at odds … or more that the Republicans are at war with science. We at CauseScience post often about the many times Republican politicians say or do things that are anti-science, and this article highlights the reasons why. My three favorite points below:

Research placing shrimp on treadmills was lampooned by Republicans, but it is part of important research on how marine organisms react to ecosystem changes, which has important implications for food safety. But in other cases, there are less benign motivations for cutting research spending. For instance, big fossil fuel donors have an interest in the government doesn’t take action on climate change. The GOP has tried to slash the NASA budget to prevent it from researching climate change. ExxonMobil has continued to fund climate denial, even after promising not to and after evidence surfaced that it has known about the existence of global warming for nearly four decades.

The explanation is rather simple: Scientists are more broadly in line ideologically with the Democratic Party. But there are two other factors that are accelerating the trend. First, the increasing extremism of the Republican Party, and its fealty to the donor class has led it to embrace positions outside the mainstream. Second, both the GOP base and legislators take an increasingly antagonistic view of science and scientists. Their work to delegitimize science raises deep concerns about the ability of academics to influence important public debates.

NYTimes and CauseScience discuss #ASAPbio -preprints in biology

The New York Times features an article today about ASAPbio (previous blog posts about ASAPbio). The purpose of the meeting was to accelerate the usage of preprints in biology. This comes in efforts to rescue the biomedical research system from its numerous flaws- including the difficulty in publishing (previous posts on the issues in academic publishing).

ASAPbio brought together numerous biologists- including Nobel Laureates, senior PIs, journal editors, junior faculty, and postdocs (including me!)- to try and establish a system in biology to publish in an open-access, quick manner online to supplement the current publishing system.

Check out the full NYTimes article. Here are some highlights:

On Feb. 29, Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University became the third Nobel Prize laureate biologist in a month to do something long considered taboo among biomedical researchers: She posted a report of her recent discoveries to a publicly accessible website, bioRxiv, before submitting it to a scholarly journal to review for “official’’ publication.

Why use preprints at all? One of the major issues with the current publishing system:

Unlike physicists, for whom preprints became a default method of communicating discoveries in the 1990s, biomedical researchers typically wait more than six months to disseminate their work while they submit it — on an exclusive basis — to the most prestigious journal they think might accept it for publication. If, as is often the case, it is rejected, they try another journal. As a result, it can sometimes take years to publish a paper, which is then typically available for a time only to colleagues at major academic institutions whose libraries pay for subscriptions. And because science is in many ways a relay, with one scientist building on the published work of another, the communication delays almost certainly slow scientific progress. .

One of the benefits of preprints is that the work can be featured immediately without waiting year(s) to go through peer review publication process. Another benefit is that this work is open access, which is a huge problem internationally, especially in developing countries (previous posts on open access).

Unfortunately, some journals and scientists don’t support the idea of preprints. One potential issue is that work will get “scooped” (although, physics has been doing preprints for 20+yrs and has not had this issue):

Some journal editors say that preprints would be detrimental to science. Emilie Marcus, the editor of Cell, told scientists at the #ASAPbio conference that in conversations with more than 100 scientists Cell editors had found that the main reason they wanted to use preprints was to scoop competitors, which she suggested would cause the quality of papers to decline as everyone rushed to post first: “Is that the direction that we want to go?’’ Others have argued on Twitter that allowing research to reach the public without being reviewed before publication would be irresponsible.

Preprint advocates counter that scientists care too much about their reputations to publish shoddy work, and posts to bioRxiv are clearly marked to indicate that they may contain information that “has not yet been accepted or endorsed in any way by the scientific or medical community.’’ Others note that plenty of peer-reviewed papers in high-profile journals have proved to be wrong, and some argue that carrying out peer review after a paper is published would provide a more rigorous and fair vetting of papers, anyway.

There are lots of major flaws in the current system of publishing (as it stands, scientists have to pay to submit their work to journals, that work is then reviewed FOR FREE by other scientists, and after the paper is accepted, you must pay to access it. WTF). The aim of ASAPbio is not to totally overhaul the publishing system, but to take a step in fixing the issues. If work is a) open access and b) accessible to the public on a quicker timeline, this will advance science in a huge way. Personally, if this system is to work, I believe two main things must happen:

  1. Journals must be on board. If something is posted as a preprint, journals should still accept this work for peer review and potential publication. A preprint should also act somewhat as a “timestamp” so that the work cannot get scooped. And if it does, journals should still publish the work
  2. Funding agencies should accept that preprints count as legit indicators of scientific progress. Sure, it’s not peer reviewed, but this work should show scientific productivity. Sometimes it takes years for work to get published with nothing to show for it in the meantime. This is a nice way to overcome that hurdle.

It’s nice to see several senior scientists on board!