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The Dilemmas of a “Post-fact” World

by Stewart Wills


In Advocating for Science, Are We “Communicating the Wrong Things”?
Given what seems an ever more polarized and uncertain political environment, scientists increasingly grapple with the need to persuade policymakers and the public about the importance of the work that science does. In a morning session at the 2017 Frontiers in Optics meeting, Rush Holt, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), suggested that scientists trying to make that case often end up “communicating the wrong thing.”
The dilemmas of a “post-fact” world
In introducing Holt at a standing-room-only morning session (aptly titled “The Rush Hour”), OSA President Eric Mazur noted that the speaker, who is also a physicist, had “spent 16 years in the thick of it all” as a U.S. congressman from the state of New Jersey before taking the reins at AAAS. Holt quipped that when asked by people what it was like to go from Congress to AAAS, he commonly answers, “It’s nice to feel needed.” But Holt’s talk had a serious theme, rooted in “deep concerns” about the place of science in U.S. and world society, and where it’s going.
“Polls will say that 90 percent of people in this country and other countries think that science is important, and they say they love it,” Holt said. “But despite these positive words, I think there’s reason for concern in what we now have come to call a ‘post-fact’ world.” He cited particular examples from the U.S.—such as the public’s lack of appreciation of the potential impact of immigration restrictions on scientific competitiveness—and also, of course, persistent pressure on funding. The focus of that pressure “varies from year to year, or from month to month,” Holt acknowledged. “But there’s always something under threat.”

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Posted: 20 Sep 2017 by Stewart Wills