Home Science CommunicationCommunity & events What happens on the internet does not stay on the internet (part 3) – what everyone should know about science

What happens on the internet does not stay on the internet (part 3) – what everyone should know about science

by Eva Amsen

Guys, first of all, I am so sorry about how long-winded this is. This installment only has one step, about summarizing suggestions from the poster, about what everyone should know about science!
Next time I’ll talk about the panel discussion I did at SciBarCamp. I have a problem, though: I have no notes of it, because I was moderating and was very busy with making sure the discussion was happening fairly and interestingly. I didn’t have time to reflect on what people actually *said*. If you were there and took notes, please send me them.

Part 1 – online conversation
Part 2 – poster with suggestions


Step 6: Summarizing suggestions from the poster

After the first day of SciBarCamp I was left with a poster full of individual suggestions for things people thought everyone should know about science, and the promise to hold a session the next day to talk about it. I tried to narrow down the next day’s discussion by grouping somewhat similar statements under more collective sentences, to make it easier to talk about. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to interpret underlying themes from short statements, and when I looked at the list a few days later I saw different ways of grouping everything, which would have changed the whole discussion.

Due to the nature of the weekend’s events, I also ended up doing all this at 3 AM after coming home from the pub after a long day of running around. Ideal work conditions? Not so much. But another reason why this part didn’t seem to go so well is that this was the only part of the entire process where I did all the thinking myself. Everything else was collaborative.

Had I had more time, in retrospect, I would have preferred to have the grouping done by a large group of people, if at all. I don’t like how this part was very much dependent on just my own middle of the night brain activity.

But just to put everything out there, this is the complete list of everything on the poster and the way I grouped it (Numbers indicate the number of people who agreed if this was more than one. So a sentence with one check mark got marked “x2′, because it was two peoples’ suggestion for something that everyone should know about science.)


Anyone can do science

  •  “Even my six-month old is a scientist”
  • “When you go to bed every night you observe that the floor exist. You have a (subconscious?) theory that the floor will be there when you wake up. When you awake and test your theory by stepping out of bed, you have used science”
  • “Science doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated, elite, or gendered” (x2)

Science does not have all the answers

  •  “Science-based reasoning should not be the only criteria for determining policy”
  • “Science will not save the world”
  • “It’s not the only way to truth and understanding” (2x)
  • “There is a lot of uncertainty in science, and that is okay” (x2)


Science has all the answers

  • “It’s not science’s job to save the world”
  • “Science IS the only way to truth and understanding”
  • “Science always wins in the end”


Practicing science is a human activity

  • “Key ingredients of science are intuition and imagination” (x2)
  • “Science
    Can be expressed
    As a haiku”
  • “Science is a human activity, take from that what you will” (x2)


Observations and perception are not independent of the observer

  • “There is nothing as an “objective fact”. We always filter perception by sensors and models”
  • “Observations, like opinions, are based on frame of reference”
  • “Science is a way of finding things out without (un)intentionally fooling yourself into arriving at false conclusions”


The practice of science is independent

  • “That it is falsifiable, and other so-called ways of knowing are not”
  • “The appearance of “design” does not necessarily imply design”
  • “Science is about evidence”
  • “That is based on testable hypotheses and replication” (2x)


Everyone should be aware of some basic scientific facts and principles that are undisputed in the scientific community

  • “Evolution” (x3)“[everyone should know] Basic proven facts, like the time earth takes to orbit the sun”
  • “[everyone should know] Basic proven facts, like the time earth takes to orbit the sun”
  • “C = ? d “
  • “You can’t “escape” gravity” (2x)


There isn’t one kind of science

  • “Scientific knowledge is not isolated. Different scientific theories connect” (3x)
  • “Science can be done in several ways. Finding a “valid” one is as much part of the “process” as any other”


Some misunderstandings about science are caused by linguistic limitations

(NB – I should have used “semantic” here. Just another regret about this list.)

  • “The words “theory”, “believe”, and “random” are used differently by scientists than by the general public”
  • Reply to “science always wins in the end” was “what does that mean?”
  • Reply to “Basic proven facts…” was “but when is something “proven”


If you scrutinize what’s in these categories, you’ll notice a few things:

  • I sometimes had a very hard time coming up with the proper description for a group of statements. “The practice of science is independent” is probably the best example of this. I should have said something about “evidence” or “experimental data” there, I guess.
  • Some categories might be considered more significant than others, even though they all contain roughly the same number of statements. The entire group about basic scientific facts could be considered a whole different discussion: are we talking about facts people should know, or about the practice of science?
  • Some statements could have been in different or in multiple groups, or some groups could have been merged. “Anyone can do science” and “Practicing science is a human activity” are quite similar. And the statement I would much rather have put into a different group was “Science is a way of finding things out without (un)intentionally fooling yourself into arriving at false conclusions”. It should have been in the “independent” rather than the “not independent” group. I ended up crossing it out from the list I brought with me to moderate the panel discussion (more on that later), so nobody knew that I had grouped it wrong and the bigger categories stayed the same, but still…

What I could or should have done was not meddle with the things people wrote down, but pick some of the more popular statements directly from the poster and discuss those. By grouping them and giving the groups new names, I changed what people wrote, and likely influenced the rest of the discussion.

If there had been more time in between having people write on the poster and the discussion afterwards, grouping might have been done as a group. And if I may take a minute to dream about this: The whole list of suggestions could have been posted online, and people could have collectively decided how to summarize it. About a week or two weeks time between poster and discussion would have been enough time for people to digest the poster, and in a perfect world there would be a kind of interactive website where people could first suggest different categories and then a week later the website would show the suggested categories and people could visit again and drag different statements to the different bigger themes – a choice that wouldn’t be visible to other website visitors but would be tallied behind the scenes to ultimately make a list similar to the one I made by myself, but done by a whole bunch of people.

So that was the step I didn’t like. Either this type of discussion should not be done in one weekend, so there is more time to think about this part of the process as a group, or if it has to be in one weekend this step should be entirely left out.

Next time: the panel discussion!

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