Rob: Hello! I’m Rob O’Malley.
Rachel: And I’m Rachel Kline.
Rob: We’re joining you from the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (or “DoSER” for short), a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Rachel: Since 1995, DoSER has facilitated communication and engagement about science between scientific and religious communities, recognizing that these often overlap.
This is part 1 of our 4-part series on Science Engagement with Faith Communities. Today we’ll discuss why considering culture, including faith and spirituality, is important for inclusive public engagement with science.
Rob: Science is part of our lives. The science and society relationship is complex; it can be constructive, disruptive, or something in between. It’s critical for scientists to hear diverse perspectives on science and technology to help identify potential challenges and problems, to evaluate solutions, and to find common ground. Public engagement with science can help integrate public views and scientific expertise to inform personal and communal action, including policy.
Rachel: So, what is public engagement with science? AAAS defines it as “intentional, meaningful interactions that provide opportunities for mutual learning between scientists and members of the public.” This includes:
o Multi-directional dialogue that incorporates varied perspectives
o Listening to and respecting diverse communities and individuals
o Addressing the benefits and limitations of science
o Being responsive to issues and concerns raised through discussion
Rob: Historically, science communication has focused on presenting facts and data clearly. In more recent years, research on science communication has consistently shown that just providing facts and data doesn’t necessarily influence people’s opinions. Facts are important, but facts are not enough. A growing body of research suggests that engagement, as we’ve just described it, is more impactful.
Rachel: So public engagement with science is important, but why should scientists themselves do it? Scientists have valuable expertise in their areas of study, and there are many topics where their direct involvement as experts can be important for framing, understanding, or discussing science topics or issues. It’s important to remember, though, that in these discussions, scientists aren’t just talking with other scientists, and scientists aren’t the only ones with expertise or insight on science and society issues. This means scientists should be prepared to engage constructively with policymakers and communities too.
Rob: Happily, Americans are broadly supportive of science. According to a survey done every 2 years since the 1980’s, this support has remained fairly consistent. Interestingly, other studies suggest that most Americans learn about science from popular media, informal science settings like museums, or their social networks and communities, and not through formal science education.
Rachel: So… why is it important to engage with religious people about science? Well, most people, both in the U.S. and worldwide, self-identify as religious or spiritual. Many scientists also identify as religious. And whether you’re religious or not, you are probably already regularly engaging with people of faith, so it’s worth thinking about how to do that in ways that are constructive and impactful.
Rob: It’s also important to think about how faith can intersect with other elements of identity. In a 2015 national survey, more than ¾ of US adults claimed a specific religious identity, and a similar fraction affirmed that religion is “somewhat” or “very” important in their lives. Each of us has a personal worldview, which influences our understanding and decision-making, and is informed by the many aspects of our identity. For most Americans, faith or spirituality is one of those aspects.
Rachel: Also remember that many faith communities are already engaged on many science and society issues, for example environmental justice or health inequity. These institutions and communities can be important collaborators in promoting constructive public discourse, ethical scientific practice, evidence-based policy, and pro-science advocacy.
Rob: For all these reasons, as you’re considering how to engage people inclusively, you should think about the role faith may play in shaping people’s opinions about science and technology.
Today, we’ve talked about what public engagement with science is, why scientists should do it, and why people of faith should be part of that engagement. In part two, we’ll discuss the social and historical context of public engagement with science.
Thanks for joining us! See you next time!