4 Responses to At the conference (I)

  1. I think trust is a dangerous concept in science. A major advantage of truly sharing your research openly is that you make arguments or conclusions and reference the original raw data to support your claims. Any disagreements from there can involve a meaningful discussion of the evidence.

    • stevegrand says:

      That’s very true for open science itself – it increases the transparency and actually reduces the need for trust, since researchers can see beyond the journal paper and its simplifications and interpretations.

      But I imagine Ann is talking more about public engagement, and there trust is an important issue, whether the science is open or not. The general public isn’t usually in a position to judge the raw data, or even to understand the papers – after all, how many geophysicists can understand a paper on the role of kinases in melanoblastoma? People can usually only decide whether to trust someone else’s explanation or opinion of it. As an amateur expert myself I often come across papers where I think the conclusions are not warranted by the data, but I’m lucky enough to be in a position to test my suspicions. Most people aren’t.

      If the complexities of real research are to have any significance for most people there will need to be intermediaries who have the time and patience to explain it in more manageable terms and locate it in some kind of context. And deciding how much these people (people like me, I guess) should be trusted is an important issue. It’s like Wikipedia – how can someone know whether they’re reading the truth? They don’t have access to the raw data. When it comes to open science they have access to it but they don’t understand it. Measures of trust are one way to increase people’s confidence in what they read.

      There are many notable scientists with major TV careers, for instance, and they provide a case in point. The public very often trusts these people’s opinions and explanations, far beyond the scientists’ own competence. People don’t know how to judge whether a neurosurgeon is talking sense about global warming, but they often need to. All they can do is assess that person’s personality, which is a dangerous thing to do on TV – we are rarely the people TV producers make us out to be.

      One thing that open science offers the public is a way to see science in action, but that often requires even more interpretation than classical science and, as yet, most researchers are not very good at this.

      And in a complex subject like global warming, even the researchers can’t analyse the data to their mutual satisfaction. So journalistic analysis and opinion become even more necessary, yet even less reliable. Give those journalists access to the raw data and they might be able to check back and verify their story, but equally they might be able to make up their own minds – this may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the journalist, and people need some way of judging.

  2. Steve,
    There are many levels of scientific discourse between communicating to the public and raw scientific data. I don’t expect the public to dig through the raw data but if an issue comes up experts capable of interpreting the data may be able to contribute to the conversation. If links are not provided to ultimately track to the data it makes it much more difficult to have a rational discussion.

    We can’t turn science into what it is not – a collection of “facts” that all experts agree on with the same conviction. There is a lot of uncertainty and the public just has to accept that – no matter what system you come up with to establish a “trusted source”.

    I think the way forward is for everyone with a stake to join the conversation at the level that they are capable and make information as transparent as possible. Social networking tools can be great vehicles for this to happen.

  3. britt borden says:

    This post was very nicely written, and it also contains many useful facts. I enjoyed your professional manner of writing the post. Thanks, you have made it easy for me to understand.

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