Argh agnotology

26Jun19

Yesterday I went to an ACT Associations Forum lunch, and Anna-Maria Arabia, CEO at the Australian Academy of Science gave a lunch talk on The Challenges Associations Face in a Post-fact, Post-trust World.

The Australian Academy of Science has 530 fellows/members elected by peers.

My notes:

New word for me: Agnotology  is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data

Anna-Maria provided lots of facts and figures – evidence. Quoted the Rand Corporation ‘Truth Decay‘ report of 2018. There are four trends that characterise Truth Decay:

  1. increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data
  2. a blurring of the line between opinion and fact
  3. the increasing relative volume and resulting influence of opinion and personal experience over fact
  4. declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts.

This erodes trust, seeding doubt, facts are cherry picked.

Uncertainty – scientists are familiar with uncertainty, but others not.

with easy access to information – no interpretation, validation, value added, synthesis. It’s hard for debate if information and arguments are not unpacked. We need facts to make decisions.

Interestingly in climate debates of 2011- giving more and more facts didn’t work. Trust is built on relationships and stories. Need to connect with emotions. Need to appeal to value systems. You can’t just give facts to change people’s minds. Tell stories.

what can we do?

  • synthesise data
  • uphold integrity with what we do
  • have conversations, stories to tell the facts
  • ensure integrity, robust systems  of debate

Anna- Maria pointed out that we don’t routinely say ‘what does the science say?’, or if we do the science is not transparent and evidence based but cherry picked and out of context. Politicians more likely to hear ‘what do the economics say?” or ‘what about my marginal seat?’

The Academy of Science – social media processes- five fellows approve each post to maintain integrity of posts. Now using quick videos to highlight reports (which link to shorter and longer content.



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