Sterlings 2
Nov 10, 2022 01:30 PM - 04:15 PM(America/New_York)
20221110T1330 20221110T1615 America/New_York The Philosophy of Science Journalism

Science journalism is an under-examined topic in our field. This is surprising, given the many points of connection between the presumptive goals of science journalism and topics of perennial interest in philosophy of science (discussed in detail in the long description below). The primary goal of the proposed symposium is to open discussion on these connections in order to promote philosophical research in this area. To this end, Mikkel Gerken, Vanessa Schipani, Chris Haufe and Matthew Slater will present on topics including conflict between the norms of accuracy and harm in science journalism and the practice of reporting science in a manner that appeals to the social values of the public. To ensure our philosophy relates honestly to journalistic practice, we've invited practicing journalists to participate in the symposium. Having journalists present also serves the symposium's secondary goal: To form a stronger partnership with journalists in their communication of science to the public. In addition to three presentations by philosophers, our program will include a panel and Q&A with the journalists on meaningful avenues of connection between philosophers and journalists. 

Sterlings 2 PSA 2022 office@philsci.org

Science journalism is an under-examined topic in our field. This is surprising, given the many points of connection between the presumptive goals of science journalism and topics of perennial interest in philosophy of science (discussed in detail in the long description below). The primary goal of the proposed symposium is to open discussion on these connections in order to promote philosophical research in this area. To this end, Mikkel Gerken, Vanessa Schipani, Chris Haufe and Matthew Slater will present on topics including conflict between the norms of accuracy and harm in science journalism and the practice of reporting science in a manner that appeals to the social values of the public. To ensure our philosophy relates honestly to journalistic practice, we've invited practicing journalists to participate in the symposium. Having journalists present also serves the symposium's secondary goal: To form a stronger partnership with journalists in their communication of science to the public. In addition to three presentations by philosophers, our program will include a panel and Q&A with the journalists on meaningful avenues of connection between philosophers and journalists. 

Can Reporting Accurate Scientific Information Harm the Public?View Abstract
Symposium 01:30 PM - 04:15 PM (America/New_York) 2022/11/10 18:30:00 UTC - 2022/11/10 21:15:00 UTC
Journalistic practice is guided by norms receive sparing attention from philosophers, especially in the context of science reporting. This presentation examines how a conflict between two norms manifests in science journalism due to the phenomenon of science denialism. As outlined by the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Code of Ethics, one norm tells reporters to maximize the accuracy of their reporting. Another norm tells them to minimize the harm of their reporting. In important cases, I argue, science journalists can’t satisfy both norms simultaneously. I then investigate an option to resolve this conflict, which I argue ultimately fails. Inspired by the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, I illustrate this norm conflict using the example of reporting scientific disagreement on the efficacy of masks in preventing the spread of a deadly virus. As empirical research by Gustafson and Rice (2019) suggests, communicating scientific disagreement can lead to the public’s rejection of scientific findings and, consequently, the maintenance of status quo behaviors. This can cause harm when behavioral change is needed to prevent harm. I argue that if journalists report the science on masks in a maximally accurate way, then they would report that, while the most evidence suggests masks work, some evidence suggests they don’t work and meager evidence suggests they could promote infection. However, reporting this scientific disagreement may cause the public harm because it could lead some to deny the science, not wear masks and increase their chances of catching and spreading the virus to others. Alternatively, journalists could merely report the leading hypothesis that masks work, thereby avoiding communicating scientific disagreement and causing the harm outlined above. But then they wouldn’t be reporting the science in a maximally accurate manner because they would be implying the science entails more consensus than it really does. One might argue that the accuracy norm should take precedence over the harm norm in such cases of conflict because “there is nothing more important” than this norm to journalism, as Fred Brown of the SPJ’s Ethics Committee notes. However, this resolution misses the point of the harm norm, I argue: As the SPJ’s Code notes, the harm norm guides journalists to “balance the public’s need for information against potential harm.” Thus, there are situations in which journalists – non-science journalists in particular – decide to sacrifice some accuracy to prevent harm. An example of this is reporting on suicide: Journalists intentionally leave the details of suicides vague (and, thus, don’t maximize accuracy), because research shows that providing details can lead to copycats. However, there are no cases, to my knowledge, in which science journalists have sacrificed some accuracy in their reporting specifically to prevent harm to the public. Ultimately, the goal of this presentation is to raise and begin to address the following questions: Why shouldn’t the harm norm apply in the pandemic case I outline above if it does apply in the suicide case? Or more fundamentally, why should (or shouldn’t) communicating scientific information be exempt from the harm norm?
Presenters
VS
Vanessa Schipani
Grad Student , University Of Pennsylvania
Scientific Values and Value-Based Science ReportingView Abstract
Symposium 01:30 PM - 04:15 PM (America/New_York) 2022/11/10 18:30:00 UTC - 2022/11/10 21:15:00 UTC
I will critically evaluate a science communication strategy – ‘Value-Based Reporting’ – which researchers in science communication are increasingly recommending to science journalists. According to Value-Based Reporting, science reporters should, whenever feasible, report a scientific hypothesis in a manner that appeals to the social values of the intended recipients (Dixon et al. 2017; Kahan et al. 2011). The strategy is motivated by empirical research which suggests that identity-protective reasoning is a central reason for laypersons’ selective skepticism of science communication regarding politically polarizing issues such as climate, vaccines, gun control etc. (; Kahen 2013; Nisbet et al. 2015; Frimer et al. 2017; Science journalists may implement the generic Value-Based Reporting strategy in different ways. One strand of the strategy is labeled identity affirmation and consists in showing the target recipient group “that the information in fact supports or is consistent with a conclusion that affirms their cultural values” (Kahan et al. 2011: 169). A different strand is labeled narrative framing and consists in “crafting messages to evoke narrative templates that are culturally congenial to target audiences” (Kahan et al. 2011: 170). I argue that while the empirical reasons for adopting Value-Based Reporting are strong ones, this strategy faces serious challenges in delivering on a number of desiderata for science communication. Given that science communication is a part of the scientific enterprise, broadly construed, these desiderata reflect core scientific values. In consequence, Value-Based Reporting is in tension with core scientific values. On the basis of the negative sub-conclusion, I consider an alternative positive science communication strategy – Justification Reporting – according to which science reporters should, whenever feasible, report appropriate aspects of the nature and strength of scientific justification, or lack thereof, for a reported scientific hypothesis (Gerken 2020). I conclude by arguing that although Value-Based Reporting and Justification Reporting may initially appear to be incompatible competitors, there are interesting ways of integrating them. In particular, I argue that such an integration may preserve the key advantages of Value-Based Reporting in a manner that addresses some of the noted challenges. In this manner, the paper exemplifies how resources from philosophy of science may be brought to bear on concrete challenges for contemporary science journalism. Dixon, G., Hmielowski, J., & Ma, Y. (2017). Improving climate change acceptance among US conservatives through value-based message targeting. Science Communication, 39 (4): 520-534. Frimer, J. A., Skitka, L. J., & Motyl, M. (2017). Liberals and conservatives are similarly motivated to avoid exposure to one another’s opinions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 72: 1-12. Gerken, M. (2020). Public scientific testimony in the scientific image. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 80, 90-101. Kahan D., Jenkins-Smith H, Braman D. (2011). Cultural cognition of scien¬tific consensus. Journal of Risk Research 14: 147–174. doi:10.1080/136 69877.2010.511246 Kahan, D. M. (2013). Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection. Judgment and Decision Making, 8 (4): 407–424. Nisbet, E. C., Cooper, K. E., & Garrett, R. K. (2015). The partisan brain: How dissonant science messages lead conservatives and liberals to (dis) trust science. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658 (1): 36-66.
Presenters
MG
Mikkel Gerken
University Of Southern Denmark
Philosophical Challenges Facing Science JournalistsView Abstract
Symposium 01:30 PM - 04:15 PM (America/New_York) 2022/11/10 18:30:00 UTC - 2022/11/10 21:15:00 UTC
A central concern of good reporting is to try to convey a sense of the range of opinions on an issue. This is part of the way in which a free press is understood to fulfill its essential role in functioning democracies. By presenting the electorate with an explanatory survey of plausible positions on matters of social concern, the press (in principle) provides voters with the information they need to make informed decisions regarding which of the competing positions seems, upon tutored reflection, to be worthy of their support. The problem is that this principle is not a great fit for reporting on science. One of the reasons is that disagreement among scientists has very different effects on lay consumers of scientific journalism than it does on members of the scientific community. The latter have a cultivated sensibility which allows them to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant disagreement. But outside the community, diversity of opinion is routinely perceived as a signal of ignorance. And who can blame them, given how much we have emphasized the central role that consensus plays in making scientific knowledge reliable? On the other hand, it is not clear what informational demands on democratic participation are satisfied by reporting on settled scientific ground. Now, granted, this is not a test that every inch of newsprint needs to pass. The box scores from last night’s game have no bearing on my ability to make decisions about what side of a social issue to support. But scientific knowledge and the communities that generate it permeate many facets of modern life. Moreover, the production of scientific knowledge is largely financed by public funding. We, through our elected representatives and the administrative functionaries they appoint, are significantly impacting decisions about which lines of inquiry receive funding and which will not be pursued. There is no superconducting supercollider in Texas. That is a consequence of public outrage over the cost. We are in demonstrable need, then, of accessible information that will enable us to perform our civic duties with respect to science. The challenge facing science journalists is that no one knows what sort of information that is. Lastly, we look at the unique pressures to which journalists are subject qua producers of news stories that necessarily have a distorting effect on the public conception of the scientific process. In particular, the narrative form that stories inevitably take when they are not reporting on standing controversies gives the mistaken impression that science involves a tidy linear march from fascinating observation to widely accepted explanation. This becomes a problem when, as with COVID-19, the scientific process is on full display and observed to be in a perpetual state of flux and confusion. Science is in a perpetual state of flux and confusion. That’s part of what makes it interesting to practitioners. But it is not clear how to convey that in the form of a journalistic report. Indeed, it is not even clear to what extent journalists are aware of this.
Presenters
CH
Chris Haufe
Case Western Reserve University
Matthew Slater
Bucknell University
WNYC's Radiolab
Quanta Magazine
University of Southern Denmark
Grad student
,
University of Pennsylvania
+ 2 more speakers. View All
Moderator
,
Eckerd College
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