This text is part of the special booklet 90th Acfas Congress
Climate change, pandemic, biodiversity: while planetary and scientific concerns are at the heart of the news, they continue to face public misunderstanding and misinformation. The dialogue between science and society is the subject of a second symposium this year at the 90e Acfas Congress.
Last year, the first symposium, which was part of the events marking the centenary of Acfas under the title One hundred years of dialogue between science and society, looked at various aspects of scientific communication and mediation with the aim of making an inventory. This year, the 2e symposium on the same theme will take place on May 10 and 11.
“For Acfas, the dialogue between science and society is an important value,” says Pierre Chastenay, professor in the Didactics Department at UQAM, himself a scientific communicator and organizer of the symposium. Initially, the society was conceived as a learned society bringing together researchers. Very quickly, the need arose for activities aimed at the public, because it is the public who benefit from scientific breakthroughs and who pay for them. »
Last year, researchers from several countries as well as science communicators were present. “We would have liked there to have been more, so this year we made an effort to have the Association of Science Communicators (ACS) involved from the start in the organization of the colloquium. In addition, an agreement between Acfas and the ACS was concluded to facilitate the participation of a greater number of science communicators at the congress, and in particular at the symposium. »
This second symposium will thus continue the reflection with questions relating to the importance of this dialogue in 2023, given the rise of disinformation in recent years. “We realize that the development of critical thinking in school and in the public is not what it should be, so as to allow people to distinguish good information from bad,” emphasizes Pierre Chastenay. We also wonder how to properly train scientists to do effective scientific communication. We also have a panel on mediation. What are the best approaches so that scientists, who are specialists in their field, feel fairly well equipped to step out of their comfort zone and talk to the public about the results of their research and the socio-scientific questions that arise from certain research benefits? »
The results of a survey on the perceptions that scientists have of their role as mediators will be presented. “This is a good example of an activity launched in 2022 and which will find its conclusion in 2023, says Pierre Chastenay. I think that the majority of scientists are aware that they have a role to play, but we will better understand their needs and questions in this regard. »
Indeed, when they communicate, scientists may have fears, either in relation to the sometimes outrageous reactions of the public, particularly on social media, as well as in relation to the judgment of their peers. “Often, if you want to explain a concept to someone who is not a specialist in the field, you have to use everyday words that don’t betray your thinking too much. By doing this, we expose ourselves to criticism from colleagues who will challenge our remarks, says the professor. This is one of the issues that is raised, and on which scientists must work, namely that we have to get rid of this obligation to be precise for our colleagues when we communicate with the public. What is important is to be understood by the public you are addressing. »
Science and misinformation
Among the papers presented, some blocks are oriented towards debates that have been taking place for several years in the media around science-related issues.
The block “Criticisms, judgments and polarization in the face of science” and the block “Disinformation and credibility of science. State of play and reflection on good practices” will deepen the challenges that the scientific community faces when it comes to communicating science to the public.
“One of the important questions we ask ourselves is, of course, how to properly prepare scientists to mediate, but the counterpart of this, which will be dealt with in the block “Criticisms, judgments and polarization in the face of science” , it is how to properly prepare the public to receive this information and all types of communications that may come from scientific or non-scientific people: how to decide between the wheat and the chaff? We are therefore interested in the development of critical thinking and the phenomena of radicalization. What we see in schools is that teaching critical thinking is considered a cross-curricular skill. This means that he is not supported by anyone and often falls between two chairs. »
On May 11, a panel will discuss the future of science popularization in Quebec and the multiplication of popularization activities. Science education is also important to prepare the public to understand science.
“The symposium is designed to have spinoffs,” says Pierre Chastenay. We are generalists in our approach, but that is intentional. We want to see how people working in different fields could work together to improve the dialogue between science and society. »
Get to know. 100 years of science in French
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