First Fall Colloquium: Jean Goodwin

“Communicating Science to the Partisan Tribes”

 Jean Goodwin, J.D. Ph.D.  | SAS Institute Distinguished Professor of Communication | North Carolina State University

October 27, 2017 | 3:30-5:00 PM | CMU 120

Abstract: We used to be concerned about the way motivated reasoning distorted some scientific topics. Still, we could hope that the sources of information people trusted would prove trustworthy, and slowly nudge them in the direction of critical thinking. Now, though, we can be even more worried, for motivated reasoning about science has become socially organized. Media silos, elite willingness to make scientific findings into wedge issues, and the widespread absorption of science into partisan identities all serve to pollute the science communication environment. The temptation then is for scientists to take up arms, join the tribe of the righteous, and fight back in the war against science. This temptation should be resisted, since such defensiveness reinforces tribalism. There is another way. In this talk Dr. Goodwin analyzes a lecture by pro-GMO scientist Kevin Folta to show a non-defensive approach to communicating controversial science.

Bio: Jean Goodwin joined NC State in August 2016 as a Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program cluster hire in Leadership in Public Science. Goodwin, a professor in the Department of Communication, studies how scientists can communicate appropriately and effectively to non-expert audiences. She took her baby steps in research by examining how citizens who deeply disagree can nevertheless manage to reason with each other. The communication techniques she uncovered among ancient Roman orators and contemporary policy advocates have proved surprisingly relevant to the challenges scientists face when they try to earn trust in controversial contexts. Goodwin uses discourse analysis to tease out the ways outstanding scientist-communicators address difficult audiences on topics such as GMOs and climate change. She also uses conceptual analysis to connect these practices to broader theories of the responsibilities and roles scientists can undertake in civic life.