Scicomm is not new

Nice piece briefly pulling together the long history — and inherent importance — of science communication.

Ecology is not a dirty word

‘Scientists shouldn’t have to do scicomm’ is a thoroughly modern misperception.

Communicating science has been ‘normal’ for centuries, from painted messages on cave walls, to classical orators and beyond. From ancient times, scientists took their responsibility to share science with people very seriously.

Yet today, mastery of language and the art of non-scientific communication are rarely taught or encouraged in modern science degrees. History isn’t taught much either.

Instead, many science students and graduates train to be skilled data collectors and ‘facts’ wranglers. Scientists are consistently bombarded with rigid anti-eloquence ‘rules’ that only succeed in suppressing the power of language – never use passive voice, don’t use big words, shorten your sentences, simplify your message etc. etc. God forbid you should sound like you care about your subject matter.

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Ethical requirements for advocacy by scientists

Noodling around on my nascent book (stay tuned!), I saw this note and felt it was worth posting, although I’ve quoted Nelson & Vucetich several times here before:

Michael Nelson and John Vucetich (2009) noted “All citizens have a moral obligation to actively promote in their society that which they are justified in thinking is right or good and to actively oppose that which they are justified in thinking is wrong or bad. Consequently every scientist has an obligation to be a just and transparently honest advocate… When scientists reject advocacy as a principle, they reject a fundamental aspect of their citizenship. Rejecting one’s responsibility as a citizen is unethical.”

I’ve yet to hear a counterargument that did not fall into either (1) “but advocacy risks my standing as a scientist,” or (2) “but I don’t want to.” Nelson and Vucetich cover both of these. (And numerous other arguments for and against advocacy.)

Long story short, if one accepts that citizens have moral obligations as citizens, there is no simple escape to their logic. Having other priorities or desires does not expunge ethical obligations (N&V point out that most of us would agree that obligations to one’s scientific career does not, for example, excuse one from obligations to care for one’s children).

Let me be the first to say that all decisions should not be purely based on one’s conception of cold, hard logic. But given that many scientists claim to want more decision-making based on evidence and logic, I am still awaiting good arguments gainsaying N&V’s point that depend on some kind of systematic/evidence-based reasoning rather than feelings. And of course, even then, one’s feelings can’t exclusively determine our obligations, otherwise, when we don’t feel like it, we could skip reasonable suggestions for revisions to our papers; we could not pick our children up when we were feeling too tired; we wouldn’t have to run that fourth replication or re-calculate our statistical tests. “I don’t want to have to be a responsible citizen” should be no more compelling than “I don’t want to reconsider my paper’s conclusions based on this new evidence.”

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And then … there was a state of emergency

Somber and sad reflection on the state of things and their implications in Ethiopia. [[]]

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

An eventful week in Ethiopia lies behind me. Months ago, protests started in Ethiopia, initially relating to the expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, into surrounding land. Protesters argued that farmers had been insufficiently compensated. The latest level of escalation was reached yesterday, when the government declared a state of emergency for the next six months.

Ethiopia has long been seen as one of the most stable countries in Africa. Outsiders have often commented that it might not be quite as democratic as it could be, but at least it was stable, and experienced impressive economic improvements.

The latest unrest stems, at least in part, from a sentiment in the population that “development” did not seem to be benefiting everyone equally. Especially in Oromia, more and more people started to protest, initially against further plans to expand Addis, but more recently also for the release of political…

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A social-ecological perspective on food security and biodiversity conservation

Highlights from our recent paper together by Joern Fischer at Ideas4Sustainability.

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

At last, a paper we started to think about at a SESYNC workshop in Maryland finally got published in Regional Environmental Change. The paper lays out a conceptual foundation for how to think about food security and biodiversity conservation from a social-ecological perspective. In this blog post, I’d like to highlight two key features of the paper: (1) the conceptual framework as such, and (2) its empirical basis.


First, the conceptual model recognises that both biodiversity and food security outcomes are influenced by phenomena at different scales. For convenience, we propose to consider local, landscape, regional and global scales — but depending on the example, this might be adjusted. We argue that one particularly useful scale for analysis is the “landscape” scale. Here, the biophysical landscape is composed of patches, whereas the social landscape is analogous to a community of people, composed of a series of households. Both food security…

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Deep Thought (on the moral/utilitarian relevance of strong reciprocity)

With apologies to Cosma Shalizi (and an inability to be equally pithy):

If strong reciprocity is indeed an important, if not fundamental, part of the social character of humans, then scientists wishing members of any given community to expend resources on issues the scientists consider of highest priority, will need to expend their resources on issues that community considers high priority.

And no, attempting to convince a community that your highest priority should be their highest priority doesn’t count.

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An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism

As scholar Juanita Sunberg writes of this 2014 piece by Indigenous scholar Zoe Todd,

“A thoughtful and insistent piece about the necessity of thinking and pursuing decolonial practices.”

As political ecologists maintain, ignoring the kind of critique that Todd makes, this lacuna in prominent Western thought, makes our analyses and science less rigorous. The can be no apolitical ecology; the alternative to political ecology is ecology that willfully ignores the real and existing politics and power present in all of our work.

Source: An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism

Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî

Personal paradigm shifts have a way of sneaking up on you. It started, innocently enough, with a trip to Edinburgh to see the great Latour discuss his latest work in February 2013. I was giddy with excitement: a talk by the Great Latour. Live and in colour! In his talk, on that February night, he discussed the climate as sentient the climate as a ‘common cosmopolitical concern’ [thank you to commenter Philip for pointing out my error in my recollection of the nature of Latour’s assertion about the climate — discussion of this in the comments below]. Funny, I thought, this sounds an awful lot like the little bit of Inuit cosmological thought I have been taught by Inuit friends (friends who have taught me that the climate is an incredibly important organizing concept for many actors). I waited, through the whole talk, to hear the Great Latour credit Indigenous thinkers for…

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Making progress in the hardest science

I’ve been using this idea a lot recently, but he got there (7 years) before me!

I haven’t extensively read other blog posts, but this one at least left out one extra point that I think is interesting/important: the traditionally termed “hard” sciences (physics et al.) are also called in some cultures “exact sciences.” In other words, “hard” sciences get their extra science-y sheen in significant part because they *are* easier [to get exact answers/confirmation/disconfirmation] for. In other words, the snottiness some evince is really a way of saying “This science is more rigorous *because it is easier*.”

Ok, two things: the other one is that insofar as critiques of social science are of the “but you can’t make generalizations” type, the person who says this is essentially saying *it is better or equally valid for us to use our own often uninformed instincts and gut to understand social dynamics over systematic, if challenging, study.” Not only is this a silly point of view for a scientist, it is also something that SOCIAL SCIENCE has shown is demonstrably untrue: our instincts are *not* the best possible indicators of real social dynamics….

The Hardest Science

The name of this blog comes from a talk I gave at the SPSPconference.

The talk was in a training symposium for people starting out in academic psychology. People at various stages of their careers were invited to talk about how we approach research. I titled my talk “Making Progress in the Hardest Science,” and the first third of the talk was a half-serious, half joking explanation of the title.

The idea is that you often hear people arrange the sciences on a continuum from “hard” to “soft,” with physics at the hard end and psychology at the soft end. The implicit message is that the “hard” sciences are more scientific. But that’s not based on anything fundamental or substantive. As best as I can tell, it’s about scienciness. We have these preconceptions and stereotypes about what science is supposed to be about — big fancy equipment…

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Everything is fucked: The syllabus

A great collection of thought and consideration of current crises facing academic pursuits, “evidence-based” work, science, and scholarship broadly. And pretty funny.

The Hardest Science

PSY 607: Everything is Fucked
Prof. Sanjay Srivastava
Class meetings: Mondays 9:00 – 10:50 in 257 Straub
Office hours: Held on Twitter at your convenience (@hardsci)

In a much-discussed article at Slate, social psychologist Michael Inzlicht told a reporter, “Meta-analyses are fucked” (Engber, 2016). What does it mean, in science, for something to be fucked? Fucked needs to mean more than that something is complicated or must be undertaken with thought and care, as that would be trivially true of everything in science. In this class we will go a step further and say that something is fucked if it presents hard conceptual challenges to which implementable, real-world solutions for working scientists are either not available or routinely ignored in practice.

The format of this seminar is as follows: Each week we will read and discuss 1-2 papers that raise the question of whether something is fucked. Our focus…

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Paper recommendation: motivational crowding (out) in conservation

A great paper recommendation and some reflection by Joern Fischer.

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

I’d like to recommend the following paper: Rode J, Gómez-Baggethun E, Krause T. 2015. Motivation crowding by economic incentives in conservation policy: A review of the empirical evidence. Ecological Economics 2015 Sep; 117:270-282; DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.11.019

In a conservation context, “crowding” refers to effect that economic incentives to engage in conservation action have on people’s intrinsic motivation to engage in such action. Crowding in occurs when economic incentives further strengthen intrinsic motivation, while crowding out refers to a reduction in intrinsic motivation, following economic incentives.

This paper reviews the evidence generated to date of motivational crowding in a conservation context. This is very timely because many modern conservation schemes use economic incentives. Arguably, when conservationists routinely advocated stronger regulation in the 1980s, right now, they routinely argue for the use of economic instruments.

This article shows that calls for economic incentives need to be scrutinised carefully in any given…

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How does ‘complexity thinking’ improve our understanding of politics and policymaking?

How does complexity thinking interact with policy analysis? Last for today from Professor Paul Cairney.

Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

Presentation to ‘A jurisprudence of complexity? Rethinking the relationship between law and society’, University of Lancaster, 25th September 2015

It is customary to describe complexity theory as new, exciting, and interdisciplinary. Its advocates suggest that it offers a new way of seeing the world, a scientific paradigm to replace ‘reductionism’, a way for many academic disciplines to use the same language to explain key processes, and the potential for an impressively broad and rich empirical base. Robert Geyer and I explore these themes in the introduction and conclusion to our edited Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy.

In this short discussion, I present a more critical discussion of these high expectations, examining how they translate into something new for political and policy science, and asking: what does complexity theory offer policy studies? I suggest that its focus on greater interdisciplinarity is potentially misleading, that its theoretical appeal…

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