We are delighted to welcome back Dr Brian Hughes, Director of the Centre for Research on Occupational and Life Stress (CROLS) and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
In the novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author and skeptic Douglas Adams described the fictitious Babel Fish as "the oddest thing in the universe". If you inserted a Babel Fish into your ear, you could instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. When listening to modern scientists, it is easy to form the impression than most audiences would benefit from the availability of such a fish.
Most scientists are poorly skilled at communicating their findings to audiences outside of their discipline. The main dilemma faced is that conveying science in technical terms can exceed the scientific literacy of a general audience, while attempting to simplify scientific explanations can often alter their meanings. As such, when scientists talk to non-scientists, the risk of confusion is high.
As well as exposing scientists to problems such as litigation, this confusion can leave the general public susceptible to anyone who wishes to exploit their misunderstandings. This can include scam artists, hoaxers, conspiracy theorists, quacks, and other pseudoscientists. This talk will highlight a number of prominent abuses of public confusion around science, discuss examples of how people in public life (who should know better) can often struggle with scientific concepts, and look at some catastrophic events that have as their root scientific misunderstandings. The talk will also attempt to recommend ways in which scientific miscommunication can be minimised.