GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA - 2018

Paper No. 76-6
Presentation Time: 9:25 AM


PHILLIPS, Michael A., Natural Sciences, Illinois Valley Community College, 815 N. Orlando Smith Rd, Oglesby, IL 61348-9692

The evidence is clear, the case has been debated, and the conclusions are settled science; but the public debate rages on with seemingly no end in sight. The question for scientists and educators is how best to convey sound science to a public that is uninformed and encouraged to be skeptical. Classroom and community practice informed by cognitive research and experience indicate several useful approaches.

In the classroom, instructors can build trust and understanding with extended discussions on the nature and methodology of science as well as the influence of areas such as philosophy, economics, politics, and culture on knowing and decision-making. It is best to begin a course with examples and topics that are readily processed and not controversial, to allow students to focus on how scientists perform research and develop and share conclusions. Human activities that damage the environment can then be discussed with an understanding that while science can very clearly indicate the causes of and remedies to environmental degradation, many other factors influence how that information is received and, ultimately, acted on.

In the community, it is also important to build trust before addressing areas of controversy. The demand for geoscience expertise is broad and includes topics from rock and fossil identification to natural hazard awareness. Opportunities to engage include presentations to youth groups and in public forums, discussions with elected leaders, and serving in leadership positions in community organizations and public office. When relationships are built and trust established dealing with local issues, that trust can be translated to areas that are more controversial. Personal relationships are often just as important as degrees and professional recognition.

The rejection of sound science can be very frustrating and discouraging. However, it is important to recognize that the scientific community did not immediately and fully accept what is now considered settled. Appealing to the authority of science without first building a foundation of trust is not likely to succeed.

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