Tag Archives: Dominique Brossard

Science literacy, science advice, the US Supreme Court, and Britain’s House of Commons

This ‘think’ piece is going to cover a fair bit of ground including science literacy in the general public and in the US Supreme Court, and what that might mean for science advice and UK Members of Parliament (MPs).

Science literacy generally and in the US Supreme Court

A science literacy report for the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), due sometime from early to mid 2017, is being crafted with an eye to capturing a different perspective according to a March 24, 2016 University of Wisconsin-Madison news release by Terry Dewitt,

What does it mean to be science literate? How science literate is the American public? How do we stack up against other countries? What are the civic implications of a public with limited knowledge of science and how it works? How is science literacy measured?

These and other questions are under the microscope of a 12-member National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel — including University of Wisconsin—Madison Life Sciences Communication Professor Dominique Brossard and School of Education Professor Noah Feinstein — charged with sorting through the existing data on American science and health literacy and exploring the association between knowledge of science and public perception of and support for science.

The committee — composed of educators, scientists, physicians and social scientists — will take a hard look at the existing data on the state of U.S. science literacy, the questions asked, and the methods used to measure what Americans know and don’t know about science and how that knowledge has changed over time. Critically for science, the panel will explore whether a lack of science literacy is associated with decreased public support for science or research.

Historically, policymakers and leaders in the scientific community have fretted over a perceived lack of knowledge among Americans about science and how it works. A prevailing fear is that an American public unequipped to come to terms with modern science will ultimately have serious economic, security and civic consequences, especially when it comes to addressing complex and nuanced issues like climate change, antibiotic resistance, emerging diseases, environment and energy choices.

While the prevailing wisdom, inspired by past studies, is that Americans don’t stack up well in terms of understanding science, Brossard is not so convinced. Much depends on what kinds of questions are asked, how they are asked, and how the data is analyzed.

It is very easy, she argues, to do bad social science and past studies may have measured the wrong things or otherwise created a perception about the state of U.S. science literacy that may or may not be true.

“How do you conceptualize scientific literacy? What do people need to know? Some argue that scientific literacy may be as simple as an understanding of how science works, the nature of science, [emphasis mine]” Brossard explains. “For others it may be a kind of ‘civic science literacy,’ where people have enough knowledge to be informed and make good decisions in a civics context.”

Science literacy may not be just for the public, it would seem that US Supreme Court judges may not have a basic understanding of how science works. David Bruggeman’s March 24, 2016 posting (on his Pasco Phronesis blog) describes a then current case before the Supreme Court (Justice Antonin Scalia has since died), Note: Links have been removed,

It’s a case concerning aspects of the University of Texas admissions process for undergraduates and the case is seen as a possible means of restricting race-based considerations for admission.  While I think the arguments in the case will likely revolve around factors far removed from science and or technology, there were comments raised by two Justices that struck a nerve with many scientists and engineers.

Both Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts raised questions about the validity of having diversity where science and scientists are concerned [emphasis mine].  Justice Scalia seemed to imply that diversity wasn’t esential for the University of Texas as most African-American scientists didn’t come from schools at the level of the University of Texas (considered the best university in Texas).  Chief Justice Roberts was a bit more plain about not understanding the benefits of diversity.  He stated, “What unique perspective does a black student bring to a class in physics?”

To that end, Dr. S. James Gates, theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland, and member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (and commercial actor) has an editorial in the March 25 [2016] issue of Science explaining that the value of having diversity in science does not accrue *just* to those who are underrepresented.

Dr. Gates relates his personal experience as a researcher and teacher of how people’s background inform their practice of science, and that two different people may use the same scientific method, but think about the problem differently.

I’m guessing that both Scalia and Roberts and possibly others believe that science is the discovery and accumulation of facts. In this worldview science facts such as gravity are waiting for discovery and formulation into a ‘law’. They do not recognize that most science is a collection of beliefs and may be influenced by personal beliefs. For example, we believe we’ve proved the existence of the Higgs boson but no one associated with the research has ever stated unequivocally that it exists.

For judges who are under the impression that scientific facts are out there somewhere waiting to be discovered diversity must seem irrelevant. It is not. Who you are affects the questions you ask and how you approach science. The easiest example is to look at how women were viewed when they were subjects in medical research. The fact that women’s physiology is significantly different (and not just in child-bearing ways) was never considered relevant when reporting results. Today, researchers consider not only gender, but age (to some extent), ethnicity, and more when examining results. It’s still not a perfect but it was a step forward.

So when Brossard included “… an understanding of how science works, the nature of science …” as an aspect of science literacy, the judges seemed to present a good example of how not understanding science can have a major impact on how others live.

I’d almost forgotten this science literacy piece as I’d started the draft some months ago but then I spotted a news item about a science advice/MP ‘dating’ service in the UK.

Science advice and UK MPs

First, the news, then, the speculation (from a June 6, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily),

MPs have expressed an overwhelming willingness to use a proposed new service to swiftly link them with academics in relevant areas to help ensure policy is based on the latest evidence.

A June 6, 2016 University of Exeter press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the proposed service and the research providing the supporting evidence (Note: A link has been removed),

The government is pursuing a drive towards evidence-based policy, yet policy makers still struggle to incorporate evidence into their decisions. One reason for this is limited easy access to the latest research findings or to academic experts who can respond to questions about evidence quickly.

Researchers at Cardiff University, the University of Exeter and University College London have today published results of the largest study to date reporting MPs’ attitudes to evidence in policy making and their reactions to a proposed Evidence Information Service (EIS) – a rapid match-making advisory service that would work alongside existing systems to put MPs in touch with relevant academic experts.

Dr Natalia Lawrence, of the University of Exeter, said: “It’s clear from our study that politicians want to ensure their decisions incorporate the most reliable evidence, but it can sometimes be very difficult for them to know how to access the latest research findings. This new matchmaking service could be a quick and easy way for them to seek advice from cutting-edge researchers and to check their understanding and facts. It could provide a useful complement to existing highly-valued information services.”

The research, published today in the journal Evidence and Policy, reports the findings of a national consultation exercise between politicians and the public. The researchers recruited members of the public to interview their local parliamentary representative. In total 86, politicians were contacted with 56 interviews completed. The MPs indicated an overwhelming willingness to use a service such as the EIS, with 85% supporting the idea, but noted a number of potential reservations related to the logistics of the EIS such as response time and familiarity with the service. Yet, the MPs indicated that their logistical reservations could be overcome by accessing the EIS via existing highly-valued parliamentary information services such as those provided by the House of Commons and Lords Libraries. Furthermore prior to rolling out the EIS on a nationwide basis it would first need to be piloted.

Developing the proposed EIS in line with feedback from this consultation of MPs would offer the potential to provide policy makers with rapid, reliable and confidential evidence from willing volunteers from the research community.

Professor Chris Chambers, of Cardiff University, said: “The government has given a robust steer that MPs need to link in more with academics to ensure decisions shaping the future of the country are evidence-based. It’s heartening to see that there is a will to adopt this system and we now need to move into a phase of developing a service that is both simple and effective to meet this need.”

The next steps for the project are parallel consultations of academics and members of the public and a pilot of the EIS, using funding from GW4 alliance of universities, made up of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

What this study shows:
• The consultation shows that politicians recognise the importance of evidence-based policy making and agree on the need for an easier and more direct linkage between academic experts and policy makers.
• Politicians would welcome the creation of the EIS as a provider of rapid, reliable and confidential evidence.

What this study does not show:
• This study does not show how academics would provide evidence. This was a small-scale study which consulted politicians and has not attempted to give voice to the academic community.
• This study does not detail the mechanism of an operational EIS. Instead it indicates the need for a service such as the EIS and suggests ways in which the EIS can be operationalized.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Service as a new platform for supporting evidence-based policy: a consultation of UK parliamentarians by Natalia Lawrence, Jemma Chambers, Sinead Morrison, Sven Bestmann, Gerard O’Grady, Christopher Chambers, Andrew Kythreotis. Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/174426416X14643531912169 Appeared or available online: June 6, 2016

This paper is behind a paywall open access. *Corrected June 17, 2016.*

It’s an interesting idea and I can understand the appeal. However, operationalizing this ‘dating’ or ‘matchmaking’ service could prove quite complex. I appreciate the logistics issues but I’m a little more concerned about the MPs’ science literacy. Are they going to be like the two US justices who believe that science is the pursuit of immutable facts? What happens if two MPs are matched up with a different scientist and those two scientists didn’t agree about what the evidence says. Or, what happens if one scientist is more cautious than the other. There are all kinds of pitfalls. I’m not arguing against the idea but it’s going to require a lot of careful consideration.

Survey of Canadian science blog readers

Science Borealis, which is a Canadian science blog aggregator (an online location where you can find approximately 100 Canadian science blogs), is surveying blog readers in partnership with Dr. Paige Jarreau; further down this posting, I’m extending their invitation to participate *(deadline: Dec. 14, 2015)* but first a few details about Dr. Jarreau and the research.

About Dr. Paige Jareau

It seems she’s a photographer, as well as, a researcher,

Macro image of the eye of an endangered California Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii. Credit: Paige Jarreau

Macro image of the eye of an endangered California Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii. Credit: Paige Jarreau

You can find more of her photographs here.

Jarreau doesn’t seem to have updated her profiles in a while but here are two (one from her blog From the Lab Bench on the SciLogs.com blogging network and one from her academic webpage,

I am a Bio/Nanotechnology scientist turned journalist, with an M.S. in Biological & Agricultural Engineering. Science is my interest, but writing is my passion. I translate science into story, and my dream is to inspire a love for science in every reader. I am also a new PhD student at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications, focusing in science communications and policy. I currently conduct research on the communication of science—specifically climate science—to various publics, and I write about all things science on a daily basis. Please feel free to ask me questions anytime, and follow me on Twitter @FromTheLabBench.

I’m always ready for a challenge, and I live to be inspired by science.

I will earn my PhD in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University in May 2015, and will soon be a post-doctoral researcher at the Manship School of Mass Communication, LSU (Fall 2015-Spring 2016). I currently study communication practices at the intersection of science communication and new media.

Her PhD dissertation is titled: All the Science That Is Fit to Blog: An Analysis of Science Blogging Practices and this is the portion of the abstract available for viewing,

This dissertation examines science blogging practices, including motivations, routines and content decision rules, across a wide range of science bloggers. Previous research has largely failed to investigate science blogging practices from science bloggers’ perspective or to establish a sociological framework for understa…

It seems that Jarreau has turned her attention to science blog readers for her latest research.

Jarreau’s research

Her latest work began with phase one in October 2015. Here’s the announcement from her Oct. 21, 2015 posting on From the Lab Bench (Scilogs.com), Note: A link has been removed,

Have you ever read one of these science blogs? Then head on over to fill out a readership survey for their blogs! We will learn much more about why people read science blogs, and you’ll get awesome prizes for participating, from science art to cash!

(Note – you have to completely fill out a readership survey for one of these blogs before taking the survey for another one of these blogs – but the survey will be shorter for the second blog you fill it out for!)

The survey closes on November 20th [2015] at midnight central US time!

In phase two, Jarreau has teamed up with Science Borealis, which started out as an aggregator for Canadian science blogs but has refashioned itself (from the Science Borealis About us page),

An inclusive digital science salon featuring Canadians blogging about a wide array of scientific disciplines. Science Borealis is a one-stop shop for the public, media, educators, and policy makers to source Canadian science information.

I wish they weren’t claiming to be “inclusive.” It’s too much like somebody introducing themselves as a “nice” or “kind” or … person. The truth is always the opposite.

Getting back to this latest phase of Jarreau’s research, approximately 20 Canadian science bloggers are participating through Science Borealis rather than the independent blog participation from phase one.

Extending the invitation

*From a Nov. 24, 2015 Science Borealis email,*

… Dr. Paige Jarreau from Louisiana State University and 20 other Canadian science bloggers [are conducting] a broad survey of Canadian science blog readers. Together we are trying to find out who reads science blogs in Canada, where they come from, whether Canadian-specific content is important to them and where they go for trustworthy, accurate science news and information. Your feedback will also help me learn more about my own blog readers.

It only take 5 minutes [I’d say more like 20 minutes as there’s more than one ‘essay’ question in addition to the questions where you tick off a box] to complete the survey. Begin here: http://bit.ly/ScienceBorealisSurvey

If you complete the survey you will be entered to win one of eleven prizes! A $50 Chapters Gift Card, a $20 surprise gift card, 3 Science Borealis T-shirts and 6 Surprise Gifts! PLUS everyone who completes the survey will receive a free hi-resolution science photograph from Paige’s Photography!

*(deadline for participating: Dec. 14, 2015)* You do have to read and ‘sign’ the consent form which provides a few more details about the research and outlines the privacy policy.

Having completed the survey, I do have a couple of comments. First, I’m delighted that this research is being conducted. I have stumbled across similar research some years ago but never had the chance to participate. (For anyone interested in previous research in this area),

Science, New Media, and the Public by Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele. Science 4 January 2013: Vol. 339 no. 6115 pp. 40-41 DOI: 10.1126/science.1232329

While the paper is behind a paywall, the link will take to you to the paper’s abstract and, more interestingly, a list of papers which have cited Brossard’s and Scheufele’s work.

Unfortunately, I found the survey a little confusing in that I was answering questions about Science Borealis  as if it were a blog but I use it as an aggregator. (I used the link from Science Borealis, I believe if you use the link from here you will be asked about FrogHeart first.) Science Borealis does have a blog which I don’t read often as it  represents a diversity of science interests and those don’t always coincide with mine.

Also, I was sorry to see the age demographic breakdowns which were fine for certain ages but started at the age of 15. While I realize it’s unlikely that I or my colleagues have many readers under the age of 15, it would be interesting to find out if there are any. As well, Vancouver’s Science World has a blog that’s on Science Borealis and chances are good that they might have child readers, assuming they might be participating. Moving to the other end of the spectrum, the last category was age 60 and up. We have an aging population in Canada and the United States and weirdly no one questions this huge category of 60 or 64 and up. It seems obvious to me but there’s a difference between being 60 and 75, which researchers will never find out because they don’t bother asking the question. It’s not just social science and marketing researchers, more worryingly, it includes medical researchers. Yes, all those research studies telling you a drug is safe almost always don’t apply to anyone over the age of 55.

Those comments aside, here again is the link to the survey,

 http://bit.ly/ScienceBorealisSurvey

Good Luck on winning a prize.

*’From a Nov. 24, 2015 Science Borealis email’ added on Nov. 25, 2015 at 1240 hours PDT.

*'(deadline for participating: Dec. 14, 2015)’ added Nov. 25, 2015 at 1535 hours PDT and changed from ‘Dec. 16, 2015’ to ‘Dec. 14, 2015’ on Dec. 14, 2015.

*Note: I have not been able to find a mention of if, when, and/or where the results of the survey will be disseminated or published. Added Nov. 25, 2015 at 1535 hours PDT.*

Audience perceptions of emerging technologies and media stories that emphasize conflict over nuance

A few names popped into my head, as soon as I saw a news release focused on audience perceptions and emerging technologies. I was right about one of the authors (Dominique Brossard of the University of Wisconsin-Madison [UWM] often writes on the topic) however, the lead author is Andrew Binder of North Carolina State University (NCSU). An August 31, 2015 NCSU news release describes a joint NCSU-UWM research project  (Note: Links have been removed),

Researchers from NC State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found more evidence that how media report on emerging technologies – such as nanotechnology or genetically modified crops – influences public opinion on those subjects.

Specifically, when news stories highlight conflict in the scientific community on an emerging technology, people who accept the authority of scientists on scientific subjects are more likely to view the emerging technology as risky.

“Scientists – even scientists who disagree – often incorporate caveats and nuance into their comments on emerging technologies,” says Andrew R. Binder, lead author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of communication at NC State. “For example, a scientist may voice an opinion but note a lack of data on the subject. But that nuance is often lost in news stories.

“We wanted to know stories that present scientists as being in clear conflict, leaving out the nuance, affected the public’s perception of uncertainty on an issue – particularly compared to stories that incorporate the nuances of each scientist’s position,” Binder says.

For their experiment, the researchers had 250 college students answer a questionnaire on their deference to scientific authority and their perceptions of nanotechnology. Participants were split into four groups. Before asking about nanotechnology, one group was asked to read a news story about nanotech that quoted scientists and presented them as being in conflict; one group read a news story with quotes that showed disagreement between scientists but included nuance on each scientist’s position; one group read a story without quotes; and one group – the control group – was given no reading.

In most instances, the reading assignments did not have a significant impact on study participants’ perception of risks associated with nanotechnology. However, those participants who were both “highly deferent” to scientific authority and given the “conflict” news item perceived nanotechnology as being significantly more risky as compared to those highly deferent study participants who read the “nuance” article.

“One thing that’s interesting here is that participants who were highly deferential to scientific authority but were in the control group or read the news item without quotes – they landed about halfway between the ‘conflict’ group and the ‘nuance’ group,” Binder says. “So it would seem that the way reporters frame scientific opinion can sway an audience one way or the other.”

The researchers also found that, while an appearance of conflict can increase one’s perception of risk, it did not increase participants’ sense of certainty in their position.

As a practical matter, the findings raise questions for journalists – since scientists have limited control over how they’re portrayed in the news. Previous surveys have found that many people are deferent to scientific authority – they trust scientists – so a reporter’s decision to cut nuance or highlight conflict could make a very real impact on how the public perceives emerging technologies.

“Reporters can’t include every single detail, and scientists want to include everything,” Binder says. “So I don’t think there’s a definitive solution out there that will make everyone happy. But hopefully this will encourage both parties to meet in the middle.”

I have one comment, this research was conducted on college students whose age range is likely more restricted than what you’d find in the general populace. I don’t know if the research team has plans or more funding but it would seem the next step would be to tested a wider range to see if the results with the college students can be generalized.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Conflict or Caveats? Effects of Media Portrayals of Scientific Uncertainty on Audience Perceptions of New Technologies by Andrew R. Binder, Elliott D. Hillback, and Dominique Brossard. Risk Analysis DOI: 10.1111/risa.12462 Article first published online: 13 AUG 2015

© 2015 Society for Risk Analysis

This paper is behind a paywall.

American Assocation for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago, Illinois (13 – 17 February 2014)

The 2014 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will take place Feb. 13 – 17, 2014 in Chicago (one of my favourite places), Illinois. It’s always interesting to take a look at the programme and here’s a few of the items I found interesting,

Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014  the AAAS has arranged a number of talks about ‘communicating science and, as usual, bloggers, etc. are confined to presenting under the rubric of social media:

9:00 AM-10:30 AM

Seminar: Communicating Science

11:00 AM-12:30 PM

Seminar: Communicating Science

Engaging with Social Media

To be more specific, here’s the list of presenters for the ‘Journalist’ talk (Note: I have removed links),

Moderator:
Cornelia Dean, The New York Times and Brown University
Speakers:
Carl Zimmer, Independent Science Journalist [Note: Zimmer writes for the NY Times and other prestigious print publications, as well as, being a blogger]

Robert Lee Hotz, The Wall Street Journal

David Baron, Public Radio International

Paula Apsell, NOVA [science program on the US PBS {Public Broadcasting Service} network)

[emphases mine]

Meanwhile, we have this for social media,

Moderator:
Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin
Speakers:
Kim Cobb, University of Georgia
Navigating the Science-Social Media Space: Pitfalls and Opportunities
Danielle N. Lee, Cornell University
Raising STEM Awareness Among Under-Served and Under-Represented Audiences
Maggie Koerth-Baker, BoingBoing.net
What’s the Point of Social Media?

It’s nice to see Danielle N. Lee as one of the presenters. Her blog, The Urban Scientist is on the Scientific American blog network (she also featured as a whistle blower and more in the 2013 science blogging scandals [my first post on the topic was Oct. 18, 2013 towards the end of the scandals and I mused on the scandals and discussed  gender in an end-of-year Dec. 31, 2013 posting ) and there’s of course, someone representing BoingBoing, an online publisher,which was conceptualized as a magazine and has now evolved into a group blog.

My basic thesis is that blogs and such are emerging as part of the science media landscape and the types of sessions which isolate bloggers, etc.  do not acknowledge that fact. Yes, it’s true that Zimmer blogs but I can guarantee that the discussion will revolve exclusively around his high profile publishers such as the NY Times and how the participants can get their stories in front of mainstream media journalists and as for the social media session that’s going to focus on how scientists can directly approach their publics.

Moving on, there’s a nanotechnology aspect to the following presentation, although you’d never guess it from the title,

 Preserving Our Cultural Heritage: Science in the Service of Art
Friday, 14 February 2014: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Acapulco (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
In 2009 a group of chemists and materials scientists from a wide range of institutions came together for a workshop on “Chemistry and Materials Research at the Interface Between Science and Art,” co-sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation. One of the workshop conclusions was that scientists in academia need to be encouraged to collaborate with their peers in cultural heritage institutions, to both increase scientist knowledge of this heritage and also to develop the necessary tools and apply the science to be able to preserve it. The session covers different collaborations that are ongoing in this area, relating to different mediums of art and different technologies that can be applied. The session will also include recent results and successes in this process, both in better understanding of materials as well as in developments for their conservation. The discussion will also address what is needed for collaborations like this to continue to flourish and grow.

One doesn’t get to the ‘nano’ part until looking at the speakers’ list (Note: Links have been removed),

Organizer:
Nicholas Bigelow, University of Rochester
Co-Organizer:
Leonor Sierra, University of Rochester
Speakers:
Nicholas Bigelow, University of Rochester
21st Century Tools for 19th Century Nanotechnology ‘[emphasis mine]
Richard Van Duyne, Northwestern University
Detecting Organic Dyestuffs in Art with SERS
Anikó Bezur, Yale University
Aiming for a Perfect Match: Pairing Collections-Based Scientific Research with Academia

The 19th Century nanotechnology referred to in the title of Biglow’s talk is the daggeureotype (a type of 19th century photographic process) which gained a lot of attention in the last few years when a display of irreplaceable pieces started showing signs of visible (25 pieces) and catastrophic (five pieces) deterioration. There’s more about this fascinating story in my Jan. 10, 2013 posting.

Saturday, Feb.15, 2014, Alan Alda will be at the meeting as a plenary speaker,

Alan Alda: Getting Beyond a Blind Date with Science
Plenary Lecture
Saturday, 15 February 2014: 5:00 PM-6:00 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Fairmont Chicago)
Alan Alda is an actor, writer, director, and visiting professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, where he helps current and future scientists learn to communicate more clearly and vividly with the public. In collaboration with theater arts faculty at Stony Brook, he is pioneering the use of improvisational theater exercises to help scientists connect more directly with people outside their field. Alda is best known for his award-winning work in movies, theater, and television, but he also has a distinguished record in the public communication of science. For 13 years he hosted the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers, which he has called “the best thing I ever did in front of a camera.” After interviewing hundreds of scientists around the world, he became convinced that many researchers have wonderful stories but need to learn how to tell them better. That realization inspired the creation of Stony Brook’s multidisciplinary Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in 2009.

The last two sessions I’m highlighting are on standard nanotechnology topics. On Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, there’s

Nanoelectronics for Renewable Energy: How Nanoscale Innovations Address Global Needs
Sunday, 16 February 2014: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Regency B (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Sometimes it’s possible to get a handle on the world’s biggest problems by thinking creatively on a very small scale—and advances in the rapidly maturing field of nanoelectronics prove it. Innovations that hold promise for broader and faster adoption of renewable energy technologies loom large against a backdrop of population growth, rapid industrialization in developing countries, and initiatives to decrease reliance on both fossil fuels and nuclear power. In this symposium, researchers from the U.S. and Europe will review the latest progress in nanoelectronics for renewable energy across a series of interrelated programs. For instance, new manufacturing approaches such as nanoimprinting, nanotransfer, and spray-on fabrication of organic semiconductors not only point the way toward low-cost production of large-scale electronics such as solar panels, they also enable and inspire novel nanoelectronic device designs. These device-level innovations range from ultrasensitive molecular sensors to nanomagnet logic circuits, and they are of particular interest in solar energy applications. Many lines of research appear to be converging on nanostructure-based solar cells that will be vastly more efficient in capturing sunlight (or even heat) and converting it to electrical power. In addition to outlining these promising paths toward higher-efficiency, lower-cost photovoltaics, the symposium will highlight some of the remaining hurdles, including needed advances in fundamental science.
Organizer:
Patrick Regan, Technical University Munich
Co-organizers:
William Gilroy, University of Notre Dame
and Hillary Sanctuary, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL)

On Monday, Feb. 17, 2014,  nanotechnology features in the final plenary session,

John A. Rogers: Stretchy Electronics That Dissolve in Your Body
Plenary Lecture
Monday, 17 February 2014: 8:30 AM-9:30 AM
Imperial Ballroom (Fairmont Chicago)
Dr. John Rogers’ research includes fundamental and applied aspects of nano- and molecular scale fabrication. He also studies materials and patterning techniques for unusual electronic and photonic devices, with an emphasis on bio-integrated and bio-inspired systems. He received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005. He has published more than 350 papers and is an inventor on over 80 patents and patent applications, many of which are licensed or in active use by large companies and startups that he co-founded. He previously worked for Bell Laboratories as director of its research program in condensed matter physics. He has received recognition including a MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense, the George Smith Award from IEEE, the Robert Henry Thurston Award from American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Mid-Career Researcher Award from Materials Research Society, the Leo Hendrick Baekeland Award from the American Chemical Society, and the Daniel Drucker Eminent Faculty Award from the University of Illinois.
Speaker:
John Rogers, Ph. D., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

You can find out more about registration and public events for the AAAS 2014 annual meeting here.

Organizer:
Nicholas Bigelow, University of Rochester
Co-Organizer:
Leonor Sierra, University of Rochester
Speakers:
Nicholas Bigelow, University of Rochester
21st Century Tools for 19th Century Nanotechnology

Richard Van Duyne, Northwestern University
Detecting Organic Dyestuffs in Art with SERS

Anikó Bezur, Yale University
Aiming for a Perfect Match: Pairing Collections-Based Scientific Research with Academia

AAAS 2013 meeting in Boston,US and Canadian research excellence

The 2013 annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will be held in Boston, Massachusetts from Feb. 14 – 18, 2013 with a much better theme this year, The Beauty and Benefits of Science, than last year’s, Flattening the World. (It didn’t take much to improve the theme, eh?)

Plenary speakers range from AAAS’s president, William N. Press to Nathan Myhrvold, a venture capitalist to astrophysicist, Robert Kirshner to Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist to Sherry Turkle. From the AAAS webpage describing Turkle’s 2013 plenary lecture,

Sherry Turkle

Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT

The Robotic Moment: What Do We Forget When We Talk to Machines?

Dr. Turkle is founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist. Her research focuses on the psychology of human relationships with technology, especially in the realm of how people relate to computational objects. She is an expert on mobile technology, social networking, and sociable robotics and a regular media commentator on the social and psychological effects of technology. Her most recent book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Given my experience last year in the 2012 meeting media room, I’m surprised to see a social media session is planned, from the session webpage,

Engaging with Social Media
Communicating Science
Thursday, February 14, 2013: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Ballroom A (Hynes Convention Center)

In a constantly changing online landscape, what is the best way for scientists and engineers to engage the public through social media? This session will discuss how people are accessing science information via blogs and social networks and the importance of researchers getting involved directly. [emphasis mine]  Speakers will address the ways that researchers can create meaningful interactions with the public through social media.

Organizer: Cornelia Dean, The New York Times
Co-Organizer: Dennis Meredith, Science Communication Consultant
Moderator: Carl Zimmer, Independent Science Journalist

Speakers:
XXXX Scicurious, Neurotic Physiology
Science Blogging for Fun and Profit
Christie Wilcox, University of Hawaii
Science in a Digital Age
Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin
Science and the Public in New Information Environments

I’d love to see how the theme of ‘researcher engaging directly’ gets developed. In theory, I have no problems with the concept. Unfortunately, those words are sometimes code for this perspective, ‘only experts (scientists/accredited journalists) should discuss or write about science’. A couple of quick comments, my Jan. 13, 2012 posting featured an interview with Carl Zimmer, this session’s moderator, about his science tattoo book and Dominique Brossard, one of the speakers, was last mentioned here in my Jan. 24, 2013 posting titled, Tweet your nano, in the context of a research study on social media and nanotechnology.

In keeping with the times (as per my Jan. 28, 2013 posting about the colossal research prizes for the Graphene and Human Brain Project initiatives), the 2012 AAAS annual meeting features a Brain Function and Plasticity thread or subtheme. There’s this session amongst others,

The Connectome: From the Synapse to Brain Networks in Health and Disease
Brain Function and Plasticity
Saturday, February 16, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)

A series of innovative studies are being done to map the brain from the molecular to the systems level both structurally and functionally. At the synaptic level, how neurotransmitters, their receptors, and signaling pathways influence neural function and plasticity is becoming much better understood. Integrating neuronal function at the level of single neurons and groups of neurons into larger circuits at the anatomical level in the mammalian brain, while a daunting task, is being studied by advanced imaging techniques requiring vast amounts of information storage and processing. To integrate local circuit function with whole brain function, understanding the structure and processing of brain networks is critical. A major project to accomplish this task, the Human Connectome Project, is in the process of integrating the structure and function of brain networks using the most advanced imaging and analysis techniques in 1,200 people, including twins and their nontwin siblings. This step will allow for major new insights into not only brain structure and function, but also their genetic underpinnings. Comparing this information in both the normal brain and in different brain disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases is providing novel insights into how understanding brain function from the molecular to the systems level will provide insights into normal brain function and disease pathogenesis as well as provide new treatment strategies.

Organizer:

David Holtzman, Washington University

Speakers:

Mark F. Bear, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Molecules and Mechanisms Involved in Synaptic Plasticity in Health and Disease
Jeff Lichtman, Harvard University
Connectomics: Developing a Wiring Diagram for the Mammalian Brain
Steve Petersen, Washington University
The Human Connectome Project
Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University
The Brain’s Dark Energy and the Default Mode Network
Nicole Calakos, Duke University
Synaptic Plasticity in the Basal Ganglia in Health and Disease
William W. Seeley, University of California
Brain Networks: Linking Structure and Function in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Then, there’s this session featuring graphene,

What’s Hot in Cold
Sunday, February 17, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)

The study of ultracold atoms and molecules is now the frontier of low-temperature science, reaching temperatures of a few hundred picokelvin above absolute zero. This field was made possible by a technique that did not exist 30 years ago: laser cooling of atoms. It is hardly obvious that the laser, which produces the most intense light on Earth and is routinely used in industrial applications for cutting and welding medal, would also provide the most powerful coolant. Such are the surprises of science, where a breakthrough in one area transforms others in unexpected ways. Since 1997, eight Nobel Laureates in physics have been recognized for contributions to ultracold atomic and molecular science, which has become one of the most vibrant fields in physics, cutting across traditional disciplinary boundaries, e.g., atomic, molecular, and optical; condensed matter; statistical physics; and nuclear and particle physics. This field builds on two accomplishments that it was the first to achieve: first, the production of quantum degenerate matter using a wide range of elements and, second, exquisite control of quantum degenerate matter at the atomic level. These have led to record low temperatures, ultraprecise atomic clocks, and new forms of quantum matter that generalize ideas from magnetism superconductivity and graphene physics.

Organizer:

Charles W. Clark, Joint Quantum Institute

Speakers:

Markus Greiner, Harvard University
Quantum Simulation: A Microscopic View of Quantum Matter
Ana Maria Rey, University of Colorado
Atomic Clocks: From Precise Timekeepers to Quantum Simulators
Daniel Greif, ETH Zurich
Exploring Dirac Points with Ultracold Fermions in a Tunable Honeycomb Lattice
Gretchen Campbell, Joint Quantum Institute
Superflow in Bose-Einstein Condensate Rings: Tunable Weak Links in Atom Circuits
Benjamin Lev, Stanford University
New Physics in Strongly Magnetic Ultracold Gases

Amongst all these other sessions, there’s a session about Canadian science,

Introduction to Canadian Research Excellence: Evidence & Examples
Friday, February 15, 2013: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)

The Canada Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall gives a taste of what lies north of Boston and the 49th parallel. Join us at this workshop to learn about opportunities in Canada for research and study. Canada recently completed a comprehensive analysis of its domestic science and technology strengths. The final report of the expert panel of the Council of Canadian Academies will be presented, including the use of global benchmarks and insights on international collaborations. Two of the drivers for Canadian excellence will be introduced: large-scale science facilities in key fields and a system of targeted fellowships and research chairs that recruit globally.

Coordinator:

Tim Meyer, TRIUMF

Presenters:

Tim Meyer, TRIUMF,
Chad Gaffield, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Eliot Phillipson, University of Toronto

“Introduced,” really? Large scale science facilities are not new in Canada or anywhere else for that matter and the programmes of targeted fellowships have been around long enough and successful enough that it is being copied.

First, there was the Canada Research Chair programme, which was instituted in 2000. From the About Us page (Note: A link has been removed),

The Canada Research Chairs program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development. [emphasis mine]

In 2000, the Government of Canada created a permanent program to establish 2000 research professorships—Canada Research Chairs—in eligible degree-granting institutions across the country.

The Canada Research Chairs program invests $300 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds.

This was programme was followed up with the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program in 2008, from the Background page (Note: A link has been removed),

Launched in 2008, the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Program supports Canadian universities in their efforts to build on Canada’s growing reputation as a global leader in research and innovation. The program awards world-renowned researchers and their teams up to $10 million over seven years to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities. These awards are among the most prestigious and generous available globally.

In May 2010, the first group of Canada Excellence Research Chairs was announced. Selected through a rigorous, multilevel peer review process, these chairholders are helping Canada build a critical mass of expertise in the four priority research areas of the federal government’s science and technology strategy …

Here’s an excerpt from my Feb. 21, 2012 posting,

Canadians have been throwing money at scientists for some years now (my May 20, 2010 posting about the Canada Excellence Research Chairs programme). We’ve attempted to recruit from around the world with our ‘research chairs’ and our ‘excellence research chairs’ and our Network Centres of Excellence (NCE) all serving as enticements.

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced that they will be trying to beat us at our own game at the AAAS 2012 annual meeting in Vancouver (this new ERC programme was launched in Boston, Massachusetts in January 2012).

The Canadian report these folks will be discussing was released in Sept. 2012 and was  featured here in a two-part commentary,

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 1: the executive summary)

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 2: the rest of the report)

My Sept. 27, 2012 posting features my response to the report’s launch on that day.

As for the AAAS 2013 annual meeting, there’s a lot, lot more of it and it’s worth checking out, if for no other reason than to anticipate the types of science stories you will be seeing in the coming months.

Tweet your nano

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have published a study titled, “Tweeting nano: how public discourses about nanotechnology develop in social media environments,”  which analyses, for the first time, nanotechnology discourse on Twitter social media. From the Life Sciences Communication University of Wisconsin-Madison research webpage,

The study, “Tweeting nano: how public discourses about nanotechnology develop in social media environments,” mapped social media traffic about nanotechnology, finding that Twitter traffic expressing opinion about nanotechnology is more likely to originate from states with a federally-funded National Nanotechnology Initiative center or network than states without such centers.

Runge [Kristin K. Runge, doctoral student] and her co-authors used computational linguistic software to analyze a census of all English-language nanotechnology-related tweets expressing opinion posted on Twitter over one calendar year. In addition to mapping tweets by state, the team coded sentiment along two axes: certain vs. uncertain, and optimistic-neutral-pessimistic. They found 55% of nanotechnology-related opinions expressed certainty, 41% expressed pessimistic outlooks and 32% expressed neutral outlooks.

In addition to shedding light on how social media is used in communicating about an emerging technology, this study is believed to be the first published study to use a census of social media messages rather than a sample.

“We likely wouldn’t have captured these results if we had to rely on a sample rather than a complete census,” said Runge. “That would have been unfortunate, because the distinct geographic origins of the tweets and the tendency toward certainty in opinion expression will be useful in helping us understand how key online influencers are shaping the conversation around nanotechnology.”

It’s not obvious from this notice or the title of the study but it is stated clearly in the study that the focus is the world of US nano, not the English language world of nano. After reading the study (very quickly), I can say it’s interesting and, hopefully, will stimulate more work about public opinion that takes social media into account. (I’d love to know how they limited their study to US tweets only and how they determined the region that spawned the tweet. )

The one thing which puzzles me is they don’t mention retweets (RTs) specifically. Did they consider only original tweets? If not, did they take into account the possibility that someone might RT an item that does not reflect their own opinion? I occasionally RT something that doesn’t reflect my opinion when there isn’t sufficient space to include comment indicating otherwise because I want to promote discussion and that doesn’t necessarily take place on Twitter or in Twitter’s public space. This leads to another question, did the researchers include direct messages in their study? Unfortunately, there’s no mention in the two sections  (Discussion and Implications for future research) of the conclusion.

For those who would like to see the research for themselves (Note: The article is behind a paywall),

Tweeting nano: how public discourses about nanotechnology develop in social media environments by Kristin K. Runge, Sara K. Yeo, Michael Cacciatore, Dietram A. Scheufele, Dominique Brossard, Michael Xenos, Ashley Anderson, Doo-hun Choi, Jiyoun Kim, Nan Li, Xuan Liang, Maria Stubbings, and Leona Yi-Fan Su. Journal of Nanoparticle Research; An Interdisciplinary Forum for Nanoscale Science and Technology© Springer 10.1007/s11051-012-1381-8. Published online Jan. 4, 2013

It’s no surprise to see Dietram Scheufele and Dominique Brossard who are both located the University of Wisconsin-Madison and publish steadily on the topic of nanotechnology and public opinion listed as authors.

Unintended consequences of reading science news online

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Dominique Brossard and  Dietram Scheufele have written a cautionary piece for the AAAS’s (American Association for the Advancement of Science) magazine, Science, according to a Jan. 3, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

A science-inclined audience and wide array of communications tools make the Internet an excellent opportunity for scientists hoping to share their research with the world. But that opportunity is fraught with unintended consequences, according to a pair of University of Wisconsin-Madison life sciences communication professors.

Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele, writing in a Perspectives piece for the journal Science, encourage scientists to join an effort to make sure the public receives full, accurate and unbiased information on science and technology.

“This is an opportunity to promote interest in science — especially basic research, fundamental science — but, on the other hand, we could be missing the boat,” Brossard says. “Even our most well-intended effort could backfire, because we don’t understand the ways these same tools can work against us.”

The Jan. 3, 2012 University of Wisconsin-Madison news release by Chris Barncard (which originated the news item) notes,

Recent research by Brossard and Scheufele has described the way the Internet may be narrowing public discourse, and new work shows that a staple of online news presentation — the comments section — and other ubiquitous means to provide endorsement or feedback can color the opinions of readers of even the most neutral science stories.

Online news sources pare down discussion or limit visibility of some information in several ways, according to Brossard and Scheufele.

Many news sites use the popularity of stories or subjects (measured by the numbers of clicks they receive, or the rate at which users share that content with others, or other metrics) to guide the presentation of material.

The search engine Google offers users suggested search terms as they make requests, offering up “nanotechnology in medicine,” for example, to those who begin typing “nanotechnology” in a search box. Users often avail themselves of the list of suggestions, making certain searches more popular, which in turn makes those search terms even more likely to appear as suggestions.

Brossard and Scheufele have published an earlier study about the ‘narrowing’ effects of search engines such as Google, using the example of the topic ‘nanotechnology’, as per my May 19, 2010 posting. The researchers appear to be building on this earlier work,

The consequences become more daunting for the researchers as Brossard and Scheufele uncover more surprising effects of Web 2.0.

In their newest study, they show that independent of the content of an article about a new technological development, the tone of comments posted by other readers can make a significant difference in the way new readers feel about the article’s subject. The less civil the accompanying comments, the more risk readers attributed to the research described in the news story.

“The day of reading a story and then turning the page to read another is over,” Scheufele says. “Now each story is surrounded by numbers of Facebook likes and tweets and comments that color the way readers interpret even truly unbiased information. This will produce more and more unintended effects on readers, and unless we understand what those are and even capitalize on them, they will just cause more and more problems.”

If even some of the for-profit media world and advocacy organizations are approaching the digital landscape from a marketing perspective, Brossard and Scheufele argue, scientists need to turn to more empirical communications research and engage in active discussions across disciplines of how to most effectively reach large audiences.

“It’s not because there is not decent science writing out there. We know all kinds of excellent writers and sources,” Brossard says. “But can people be certain that those are the sites they will find when they search for information? That is not clear.”

It’s not about preparing for the future. It’s about catching up to the present. And the present, Scheufele says, includes scientific subjects — think fracking, or synthetic biology — that need debate and input from the public.

Here’s a citation and link for the Science article,

Science, New Media, and the Public by Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele in Science 4 January 2013: Vol. 339 no. 6115 pp. 40-41 DOI: 10.1126/science.1232329

This article is behind a paywall.

Religion and nanotechnology but no spirituality?

Chris Toumey, a cultural anthropologist at the University of South Carolina NanoCenter, has written an article for Nanowerk about the impact that religious belief has on nanotechnology and other science issues. In the Nov. 16, 2011 article on Nanowerk, “Nanotechnology and religion,” Toumey opens with this,

Survey research indicates that religious belief will be a powerful influence in shaping public views about nanotechnology, while knowledge about nanotech will be less influential. And yet religious thought about nanotech has received little attention. We know that nanotechnology has evoked a large body of literature on moral and ethical issues, but almost all of this is expressed in secular voices, e.g., those of philosophers, ethicists, and scientists. Religious commentaries about nanotechnology have been much more rare. Now it is worth knowing what religious voices have said about nanotechnology, so that we might anticipate future religious reactions.

Toumey cites three studies, George Gaskell and colleagues’ 2005 paper, “Social Values and the Governance of Science“, Dominique Brossard et al.’s study  “Religiosity as a perceptual filter: examining processes of opinion formation about nanotechnology” (the abstract is free; the article is behind a paywall), and a third study compared the US and twelve EU nations “Religious beliefs and public attitudes toward nanotechnology in Europe and the United States” (the abstract is free; the article is behind a paywall)  as forming the basis for his own paper, “Seven Religious Reactions to Nanotechnology,” to be published in the December 2011 issue of NanoEthics. From Toumey’s Nanowerk article,

Because of those considerations, I assembled a collection of seven religious reactions to nanotechnology from a variety of faiths. Four are documents from religious organizations that deliver official institutional positions, namely: a major American Lutheran denomination; the Catholic Bishops Conferences of the European Community; a coalition of German Protestants; and, a Muslim think-tank in the United Arab Emirates. The other three are: a certain line of Jewish thought about technology; a group of Catholic and Protestant who oppose transhumanism; and, a pair of focus groups, one in England and the other in Arizona US.

Two common themes appear in those religious reactions.

According to the first, many religious persons worry that nanotechnology will contribute to re-defining human nature in ways that are amoral or dangerous. … For the second theme, religious persons worry that the control of nanotechnology by irresponsible entities will lead to adverse consequences like inequality or injustice.

At any rate, these seven case studies remind us that those who create new technologies can benefit by listening to the voices of thoughtful religious people.

I find the discussion about the impact of religious belief on one’s attitudes to nanotechnology and other emerging technologies quite interesting. After all, the Amish drew the line at allowing electricity and subsequent modern technologies into their lifestyles. Drawing on that example, I wonder what other groups may choose to reject one or more new technologies based on their religious beliefs.

I have one other thought about these studies with their focus on organized religion as opposed to spirituality. I expect it’s easier to study a religious group rather then something so nebulous as spirituality but I think it would be interesting to attempt an investigation into the impact that one’s  ‘spirituality’ has on one’s response to emerging technologies.

In the meantime, it is possible to get a copy of Chris Toumey’s paper, “Seven Religious Reactions to Nanotechnology,” by contacting him (Toumey@mailbox.sc.edu).