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Weekend update: going to SENCER summer camp to learn about the "self-measurement paradox," the "science communication problem," & the "disentanglement project"

I'll be participating next week in the annual SENCER Summer Institute.

The 14 billion regular readers of this blog already know this, but for the rest of you, SENCER is an organization dedicated to obliterating the “self-measurement paradox” -- the truly weird and ultimately intollerable failure of professions that traffic in scientific knowledge to use science's signature methods to assess and refine their own craft norms.  

Most of the organizations' members are educators who teach math & science.

But SENCER definitely recognizes the link between the self-measurement paradox and the broader science communication problem in the Liberal Republic of Science.  That problem is a consequence of the self-measurement paradox on a grand scale--our systematic failure to use of evidence-based methods of science communication to assure that the vast scientific knowledge at our society's disposal is conveyed under conditions that enable free, reasoning citizens to reliably recognize it and give it the effect it is due when they govern themselves.

(Just to be clear: What effect it is due depends on citizens' values. Anyone who insists the best available scientific evidence uniquely determines policies either is very ill-informed or engaged in deliberative bad faith. Values, of course, naturally vary in a free society, creating the project of deliberative accommodation that is democracy's answer to the puzzle of how to reconcile individual autonomy with law.)

So ... in the session I'll be helping to lead, we'll be focusing on what I regard as the precise point of intersection between the self-measurement paradox and the science communication problem: the disentanglement project.  

In the science classroom, the "disentanglement project" refers to the development (by scientific means, of course) of strategies for unconfounding the question "what does science know" from the question "who are you & whose side are you on" in the study of scientific topics that have become enmeshed in antagonistic cultural meanings.

Critical in itself, learning how to disentangle knowledge and identity in education can, however, be expected to generate benefits that are even more far-reaching.  Disentangling knowledge from identity is in fact central to solving the broader science communication problem. Thus, studies aimed at implementing the disentanglement principle in science classrooms supply researchers with classrooms for acquiring the knowledge necessary for them to discern how to implement the disentanglement principle in institutions of self-government, too. That is the primary objective of the "new political science" essential to perfecting the Liberal Republic of Science as a political regime (Kahan in press). . . .

Boy, I can't wait for my SENCER summer camp session! Not to mention the all between-session volleyball games and evening marshmallow roasts!

My session description:

The science communication  disentanglement  project: What is to be done -- and how to do it with reliable and valid empirical methods

The topics of climate change  and  human evolution both feature the science communication  entanglement  problem. This problem occurs when a fact or set of facts that admit of scientific investigation become enmeshed in antagonistic cultural meanings that transform positions on those facts into badges of membership in opposing cultural groups.   This condition is actually rate, but where it occurs the consequences can be spectacularly damaging to propagation of both the collective knowledge and the norms of constructive deliberation essential to enlightened self-government.  The session will feature existing research on how to  disentangle  knowledge from antagonistic meanings both in and outside the classroom. The primary goal, however, will be to draw on the informed judgment of the participants to form conjectures on how, using the tools of empirical inquiry, educators and other science communicators can enlarge public understanding of how to protect free and reasoning citizens from being put in the position of having to choose between knowing what's known by science and being who they are.


Kahan, D.M. What is the "science of science communication"? J. Sci. Comm  (in press).

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