SCIENCE AND IMAGINATION
Inspiring public interest in inquiry and discovery
3-6 pm, 5 November, 2019
Humanities Institute Conference Room, 4th Floor, Homer Babbidge Library
In our “post-truth” era, we face a “post-trust” crisis: confidence in scientists and other experts is declining among significant segments of the public Scientists, scholars, educators, and journalists must take on the challenge of earning public trust, and sharing our passion for inquiry and discovery This workshop brings together scholars and writers to share their perspectives on this challenge.
|Science, Truth and Democracy
Why does truth matter so much in a democracy? The traditional answer is that democracies need informed publics. In this talk, I argue that the more important reason is that the pursuit of truth—particularly via science—is itself a fundamental democratic value, and one that is under particular threat right now.
|The Case Against Science
Public discussion of the communication, public awareness, or policy impact of science almost always presents those subjects as addendums or afterthoughts to the conduct of scientific research, as something scientists could or should do once the science is complete. In this talk, I present the alternative view; that blame for the breakdown of faith in science belongs to science itself, and that rebuilding that confidence requires a fundamental rethinking of what science is and why human beings bother doing it in the first place.
|AI’s Mistaken “Worry Budget”
In this talk, I discuss a perceived ‘worry budget’ that encourages the public and policymakers to focus their attention on either the ‘here and now’ issues involving AI/data or certain future existential/catastrophic risks, such as the control problem, and scenarios involving brain enhancement and conscious machines. (I raise these scenarios in my new book, Artificial You: AI and the Future of Your Mind.) I urge this either/or mentality is irrational, and I pinpoint its roots in certain media portrayals of AI, as well as corporate interests.
|Science communication as interdisciplinary practice
It is more urgent than ever for scientists themselves to be able to communicate their work to the public—not only for the sake of scientific accuracy, but also because scientists are uniquely positioned to talk about the process of trying to make sense of a complex reality in the face of uncertainty. But to become effective science communicators, scientists need to adopt an interdisciplinary stance. This means not only acquiring new techniques from journalists or professional writers, but also questioning and perhaps broadening their own assumptions and intellectual values. Just as with scientific research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries, this requires time and commitment on the part of individual scientists and support and resources from institutions.
|Science is still the endless frontier, but is Vannevar Bush’s vision still relevant?
It’s been nearly 75 years since the remarkable report by Vannevar Bush, which laid out a blueprint for what became the National Science Foundation. Bush argued for a central role for research universities, articulated reasons why Federal support was necessary, and offered a passionate defense of the centrality of basic research conducted outside of the private sector. Enough time has passed, and enough may have changed, that it’s important to revisit the values and arguments that lie at the core of Federal support for research universities. In particular, are they still relevant and if they are, how do we better communicate them at a time when universities, science, and the role of government support for research is likely to be challenged?
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.