In August, members of the CONCISE team participated in the EASST/4S conference by presenting three papers. It was supposed to take place in Prague but due to the present circumstances it was entirely online. It was organised by the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology and by the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), who every four years hold a joint conference. Over 20 simultaneous panels at three/four time slots occurred in each of its four days, the conference covers a wide array of issues in science and technology studies. From biosciences to data sciences, from climate change to health, from innovation to science policy.
The CONCISE presentations were included in sessions about science communication and public engagement and Information, Computing and Media Technology. According to the organisers, there were 2,332 participants (presenters and non-presenters). Being virtual, the conference had the added value of recording all the presentations and making them available for later viewing. Thus, their impact goes beyond the initial audience present at the session.
The first paper presented during EASST/4S was ‘What Does the Public Expect from Science Communication? Explorations Based On A Participatory Methodology’ by Ana Delicado, Jussara Rowland, João Estevens, Giuseppe Pellegrini, Andrea Rubin, Ľubomír Šottník, and Dzhaner Ahmed in the panel ‘Making science in public: 2’, organised by Sarah Davies and Noriko Hara. In this paper, the authors explored both the methodology of the consultations and some preliminary results of the qualitative analysis. To do so, they showed some quantitative and qualitative data (exemplary citations from the participants).
In the panel ‘STS for a post-truth age: comparative dialogues on reflexivity (I)’ João Estevens presented a second paper concerning CONCISE: ‘Science as a gatekeeper for trust and collective responsibility in the “post-truth” era’. This session was organised by Melike Sahinol and Emine Onculer Yayalar. This paper compared two health issues in Portugal (VAX – vaccines and CAM – complementary and alternative medicine) considering the global growing context of disinformation, misinformation, and pseudoscience that have been challenging the societal place of knowledge and expertise in recent years. Several quotation examples showed that citizens perceived scientific information differently in these two topics, creating dissimilar pathways for the construction of trust. In VAX this process was more objective and relied on the scientific evidence, formal recognition, institutional apparatus, and trust on health professionals. As for CAM, the nature of this process is much more intersubjective as citizens’ perceptions about scientific information differ more, so they end up valuing the individual positive experiences they have. Of course those topics concern different dimensions of health. Citizens’ understanding of VAX affect their perceptions. They are not only an individual choice, but a matter of public health. This did not apply to CAM since it was only approached from an individual health perspective. The drivers of trust in CAM are less objective than in VAX. Additionally, the historical success and acceptance of vaccines in the Portuguese society makes this topic less contentious compared to CAM. Thus, the perceptions and beliefs shown by the participants in the Portuguese public consultation went accordingly. These discussions were held on November 16, 2019, before all the COVID-19 discussions about the role of science and scientists in society and in policy making, but it is clear that in general Portuguese participants valued science and scientists when assessing the reliability of the sources of scientific information.
The last paper presented was ‘The Platformisation of Scientific Knowledge: Affects and Effects on Publics Strategies and Perceptions’ by Jussara Rowland. That paper was presented in the panel ‘Digital Platforms, Knowledge Democracies and the Remaking of Expertise 2’ organised by Warren Pearce. The paper was the result of an on-going, exploratory analysis about the perceptions and strategies citizens have regarding the role of digital platforms in their access to information about science-related topics, focusing on the cultural dimension of platformisation: how media and information platformisation processes shape the general public cultural imaginaries and practices. Through the analysis of the references participants made on digital platforms during the CONCISE discussions, we explored four main themes regarding the role of the internet in the access of science information. The Internet as a source of (all) information, as the cause of information overload, as a channel for unreliable and misleading information, and as a channel that filters and curates the information accessed. These ‘Internet imaginaries’ refer to a large, integrated environment of affordances, but they include specific understandings on how different digital platforms (Google, Facebook, Youtube, etc.) work and how their social technological characteristics (algorithms, interfaces, users practices, etc.) facilitate and shape discussions around scientific topics. These multiple, cumulative and sometimes contradictory perceptions are relevant because, as we found during the group discussions, they permeate cultural practices, having productive effects on how people feel, think, and relate to science knowledge on and offline.
In all the presentations, the several comments and questions received showed the project generated interest from the audience. We expect we may have attracted more followers to the project that are now waiting for the project’s final results. The next step will be to further develop the main ideas of the papers presented, integrating additional insights from the project, and, in some cases, adding an international comparative dimension to the analysis.
João Estevens, Jussara Rowland and Ana Delicado