Abstract Uncertainty is a key part of the scientific process, and scientists are often able to be remarkably certain about how uncertain they are! But this can be confusing especially when it bumps up against ordinary people's everyday understandings of how science works. Our three speakers will explore how they have tackled the topic of uncertainty, and we will then ask audience members to share their experiences. By hearing about what has worked well and what has worked less well, trying to see if there are lessons we can learn. Session format: Panel discussion Speakers: Amanda Burls, University of Oxford Robin Hoyle, Glasgow Science Centre Doug Badenoch, Founding Director of Minervation Ltd session format: Three 10 minute case studies followed by a plenary discussion session audience: Anyone involved in science communication
What is uncertainty? So the abstract states that uncertainty is a key part of the scientific process, and scientists are often able to be remarkably certain about how uncertain they are! And this can cause confusion when it bumps up against ordinary people's everyday understandings of how science works. First off, what is uncertainty and then what is our contribution at the Glasgow Science Centre to helping remove / reduce these ‘bumps’ First off I love a dictionary definition – it is always so important to get a clear consensus on the words being used. Like the words uncertainty, bumps and ordinary. So the definition of uncertain describes someone, something as not known, not definite, not determined; not established, undecided or as not completely confident or sure of something or as questionable. I think when you start looking at the words that we use the to define the term uncertain there are words used that may resonant a wider publics understanding and in these may char with a that of science and scientists. I think for example scientists can be comfortable with a number of the ways in which uncertain is defined as they give the sense of a positive unknown, the experiment is to completed, the body of evidence is inconclusive but when read as ‘questionable’ this is a different matter. There is a mismatch of what it is to be a scientist and what we think a scientist does and mismatch of the inferred meaning of a word / understanding used in one environment and how it is applied in the wider community. You only have to consider daily occurrences in a work place or running a project that there is a general inconsistency in recognising risk, appropriately categorising and prioritising them and using evidence and logic to mitigate against them.
What do we believe? We believe that a “A nation whose citizens are interested in, and understand, science and technology is more prosperous, more successful and has a brighter future ahead of it.” Glasgow Science Centre is committed to playing a full, long term role in ensuring that we develop a scientifically literate society in which all have the opportunity to engage and participate.” I mention this as I think it helps set a context into which we, and many other science centres, contribute to the development of greater awareness of the scientific process and hence development of a scientifically literate society. It is important that we are all clear about where we are coming from, what our background is. There needs to be a common understanding of the language we use and there has to be an openness to how we communicate.
What is science literacy? Why do we introduce the concept of science literacy to this discussion. Well if we are to explore the sometimes gap between scientists comfort with uncertainty and the publics discomfort with it then a key component of this discussion is I think the concept of what is science literacy The term “scientific literacy” has been around since the late 1950s. Its introduction coinciding with a time of rapid technological advances in the USA, when public support for science was needed for the space program coupled with the idea that it was felt that children needed to be well educated in science in order to prepare for an increasingly scientific and technological society. There are numerous definitions of scientific literacy and what it means to be scientifically literate. These definitions are strongly influenced by the purpose of who is making the definition: social scientists; scientists; informal educators; formal educators. I think a useful is the one given here which is from the Canadian Council of Ministers which describes science literacy as "an evolving combination of the science-related attitudes, skills, and knowledge students need to develop inquiry, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities, to become lifelong learners, and to maintain a sense of wonder about the world around them.“ This is useful because it it give a more rounded aspect of science literacy as involving attitudes and skills as well as knowledge and it firmly places it in the context of making sense of the world. I think this is useful if in conjunction consider the motivations for engaging with the development of ones science literacy – Shen gives us three broad outlines – practical motivation – problem to be solved, new drug to be discovered, how do I get my washing machine to work, what is this treatment being offered to my father? There are civic motivations – engaging with science because of the one of the many big issues that we are confronted by – climate change, stem cell research, low carbon electricity generation. Lastly there are the cultural motivations – the wonders of the universe, the stuff we know
What does this mean? This definition of science literacy I think is in support of the capacities that the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence seeks to develop. A person who is a Successful Learner, Confident Individual, Responsible Citizen and Effective Contributor – a well rounded person who is an active member of society. The mention of attitudes and skills is a key element to developing better connection between scientists and the wider society and I think contained within the development of attitudes and skills, though not explicitly stated, and this is something we need to discuss further as to why it isn’t, is the states of certainty and uncertainty. It is useful I think to explore a little more about the skills and attitudes of a scientist and to frame that as scientific awareness's. A thought that we are all scientists, that we all have scientific awareness. That we all have Observational awareness, Causal awareness, Awareness of relationship, Awareness of models, Categorical awareness That the skills and attitude of a scientist are innate within us from the day we a born and these develop as we grow, trying to make sense of the world around us. But these awareness's have to be developed and encouraged. They are skills that we need to work at. Like the skills of Beckham or Mark Cavendish they need to be developed. Scientists have practised, honed these skills, developed structures around these awareness's to push the boundaries of human knowledge. I think contained within this is that if we develop these skills, practise them in open ended learning experience the we all become more comfortable with ‘uncertainty’ starts to become an outcome of the development of these skills
Science in Action So at GSC the philosophy of our learning programmes and exhibition developments have been moving towards supporting the development of the scientific awareness's. We have a wide range of programmes and exhibition galleries offering many different opportunities for engagement in science. We recognise that there is need to change what we are offering and how we offer it Our second floor gallery is Science in Action – exploring where science turns into technology – the significance of creativity and innovation in and the relationship between science and society – the consequences, risks and impact and the exhibitions. It is examples from two exhibitions within this floor that I will provide two different examples of where we contribute to the mismatch in how comfortable we are with uncertainty. Be Creative, Be Innovative Be Creative, Be Innovative is an exhibition based around the ideas generated from the Exploratorium about active prolonged engagement. The best way I can describe these exhibits is that there is an easy in but what you do with them is limited only but what you are willing to put into it. The exhibits are opened ended, they are not about a particular phenomena but rather an opportunity to explore and experiment. Curiosity that is about to open in Life in Newcastle is another example of this type exhibition development being explicitly developed in the UK. The types of exhibits encourages aspect of scientific awareness - supporting the development of skills and attitudes of a scientist. In working with these exhibits there is no pre-planned, defined outcome, the user generates these outcomes – and that brings a degree of uncertainty . By encouraging visitors through interactions with our communicators we encourage visitors to consider what the outcomes of their efforts might be. We have evidence of free-choice learning taking place through the feedback and evaluation but have not looked directly to see if the awareness of uncertainty has increased. In communication I think we a moving a way a little form the concept of we making the little scientist of the future. When policy makers in learned societies and universities talk like this it seems antiquated and out of date. I think we have moved quite far along the spectrum of beginning to think about free choice learning, the wider values that learning brings to support the development of citizens of the future, polymaths who are able to think, create and innovate In that context we are working towards creating experiences that allow visitors to engage with real scientist but on a one to one basis to , dig deep into there subject but to seem them face to face. That there is a desire to move away from the black and white, adversarial ‘debate that often takes place (in the media, with single issue groups).
Science in the Dock Also on floor 2 in Science in Action is our Science in the Dock exhibition Opened in 2006 the aim behind the exhibition was to explore the relationships between science and society. The exhibition was based around existing stock from 2001 and new exhibits developed specifically. In addition there have been a number of IT additions since then The images I show you here are of an animatronics theatre that covers different aspects of scientific development – the use of animals, how pr helped ‘sell’ modern developments and this one here that highlights legal issues around the first heart transplant by Dr Christiaan Barnard which made medical history in 1967. The exhibits use modern historical examples that are now fairly well accepted by society. Not many people think twice about the ethics, moral consequences of transplanting a heart in 21 st Century Britain, but is useful to juxtapose what people thought then with our own modern ideas. The surrounding exhibits then deal with issues around stem cell research, the use of animal tissue in transplantation and the role of the media. Throughout the exhibits the ideas of uncertainty of knowledge of outcomes are discussed and examined in the exhibits. The notions of where we get our evidence are touched upon.
Meet the Expert No exhibition can offer all the answers and it itself is not going to revolutionise the world. However by framing these experiences about developing scientific literacy and within that the ideas of scientific awareness the language and ideas that come from both sides may be better understood.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases Provide opportunities for exhibitions to develop a more contemplative, engaging process that combines the interactive experience with a opportunity to present the information Sexual health Preachy message Uncertaininy / risk Controversial / debate
SCC 2012 Positively Uncertain (Robin Hoyle)
Positively Uncertain Dr Robin Hoyle Director of Science Glasgow Science Centre Science Communication Conference 14 May 2012
What is uncertainty?A state of having limited knowledge where it isimpossible to exactly describe the futureoutcome(s)Risk: A subset of uncertainty where somepossible outcomes have an undesired effect
What do we believe?“A nation whose citizens are interested in, and understand,science and technology is more prosperous, moresuccessful and has a brighter future ahead of it.Glasgow Science Centre is committed to playing a full, longterm role in ensuring that we develop a scientifically literatesociety in which all have the opportunity to engage andparticipate.”
What does this mean?“An evolving combination of the science-relatedattitudes, skills, and knowledge needed todevelop inquiry, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities, to become lifelong learners,and to maintain a sense of wonder about theworld around them.” Practical Civic CulturalMotivations Motivations Motivations
What does this mean?Scientific AwarenessObservational awarenessCausal awarenessAwareness of relationshipAwareness of modelsCategorical awareness Capacities for CfE Successful Learner Confident Individual Responsible Citizen Effective Contributor