The Science Policy Ambassadors, a new student group at the University of Cincinnati, will be hosting an online social on Monday, November 9th at 5 pm.
Affiliated with the Union of Concerned Scientists, this student group aims to provide graduate and undergraduate students opportunities to learn and engage in science policy, and ultimately help them gain experience as advocates for science. The Science Policy Ambassadors aim to help build a network of these opportunities, to create resources for students with an interest in these careers, and promote the opportunities that already exist.
This student group is open to all majors, and hosts six to seven speakers each semester. You can follow them @SPAUCS to get involved, and RSVP for the social hour here.
Science comes from curiosity, and many institutions have been fostering that curiosity in our community for decades. In the case of the Cincinnati Observatory, these efforts have been ongoing for over 175 years! This week, we had the privilege of hearing more about these early efforts from Kelsey Stryffe, Docent and Administrative Assistant at the Observatory.
In the 1840’s, Professor Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel at Cincinnati College lectured on physics, math and astronomy. Although these lectures were intended for his students, the professor was so engaging and charismatic that his students frequently invited their families. His audience continued to expand until they no longer fit within the walls of any lecture hall available on campus at the time. Eventually, they moved to other locations to handle the crowds, such as Wesley Chapel in downtown Cincinnati.
Mitchel saw this interest, and in it saw an opportunity. He began raising money, door to door; for about the equivalent of a month’s salary, families could buy shares in what would become a public observatory. This sounds like a lot, especially because funding can be hard to come by in science! But people were already so excited about astronomy that they were willing to support this endeavor. Soon he raised the funds to build the observatory on Mt. Adams, and purchase a telescope. From the day the observatory opened, it was available to the public.
Mitchel did not come to Cincinnati specifically to build a research observatory, happening to provide the community with an incredible opportunity. Mitchel grew up in Lebanon, outside of Cincinnati. The people here were his community, and his intention was to stay here to teach science.
Although he sometimes struggled to do research in between everyone who wanted to look into space, Mitchel had built “the Birthplace of American Astronomy.” This was the first telescope in North America, and at our latitude; therefore, it gave scientists what was at the time a new and unique vantage point to see into space. Mitchel was able to describe the sky from here, vastly adding to knowledge that had been acquired by scientists overseas. From this telescope, he described orbits and patterns. It was also used to discover a binary star and describe a region of Mars that would be named “the Mountains of Mitchel” in the professor’s honor.
As Cincinnati’s industries grew, the city’s air became more polluted from the amount of coal being burned. It created a tar-like smoke in the atmosphere, blocking the observatory’s view of space. Eventually, the building and telescope would have to move to Mt. Lookout, which was outside of the city at the time, to continue to be able to see the sky. However, before that happened, Mitchel moved to New York to get away from the pollution, and established another observatory there. He would go on to fight in the Civil War as a Major General, and would pass away from Yellow Fever while serving in South Carolina.
However, Mitchel’s legacy of educating and engaging the community in astronomy lives on through the observatory. Even through the light pollution, the telescopes at the Cincinnati Observatory can see to the edges of our solar system, and even to our neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. While this is more limited than most modern research telescopes, it is still a special opportunity for members of the public, and it continues to be open. Since it reopened in the 1990’s, the staff and volunteers at the observatory have worked hard to provide K-12 teaching materials affordably. They have been hosting classes about star gazing and space online since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, offer a program that allows members to borrow telescopes, and work with the Stonelick Star Gazers, a group of amateur astronomers, to have stargazes at Stonelick State Park.
The Cincinnati Observatory is currently open by reservation on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. As we get back to normal after COVID-19, watch their website for these hours to expand. In the meantime, watch their social media for events and things to watch for from your own backyard. You can read more about their history here.
Practical lessons from experience design, pedagogy, and social justice
This virtual presentation is taking place in the middle of a pandemic while school children around the country are Zooming into their classrooms – there is no better time to talk about opportunities to break some unquestioned classroom norms. This talk is about designing meaningful outreach, and how to think about what meaningful means for you and – more importantly – for the people you’re engaging with. I want to share a few real life examples of creative and powerful outreach programs at different scales that can inspire your own designs, and talk through some frameworks you can use to bring your ideas to life.
Samantha Finkelstein earned her PhD from Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction program in 2017. She has focused much of her work on supporting the needs of marginalized communities, especially youth. She’s spent time in classrooms, and worked on projects that involved web interfaces, conversational agents, mobile platforms, and immersive and augmented virtual reality systems.
One of the earliest lessons we learn in our training as scientists is to accept the simplest explanation of evidence, rather than assuming a more complicated solution. We call this “Occam’s Razor,” and it is repeated in class after class.
“Idealizations like these make it possible for scientists to focus in on one or a few factors in a sea of complexity in order to get a handle on how those factors are relevant and perhaps to use them as ‘levers’ for change. Where we go wrong—and “we” here includes many scientists, philosophers, policy-makers, and others—is in assuming that our simple explanations provide the full story. “
Associate Director of the Center for Public Engagement with ScienceDr. Melissa Jacquart presented a poster during the Public Engagement with Science conference (PEwS) this week. She discussed a NSF-funded workshop to be hosted by the Center for Public Engagement scheduled for May 2021. This three-day workshop will focus on the role of philosophers of science in science outreach, and will cover science communication, formal education, informal educations, and working with communities. It will also provide hands-on experience and training with each topic. The goal will also be to create a “beginners guide” to engaging the public with science.
The conference this week that Jacquart is participating in is being hosted by Michigan State University.
Click here to view a full version of Dr. Jacquart’s poster, as well as her explanation of the workshop.
To help other researchers increase the impact of their research, Melissa discussed strategies such as the use of social media and reaching out to various in-person venues. She emphasized treating outreach as a two-way discussion rather than a one-sided “pitch.” She also encouraged researchers to consider their own goals and their target audience prior to presenting it to the public. Finally, she informed her audience of the service and goals of the Center for Public Engagement with Science, including support for outreach activities, partnerships, and training.
University of Cincinnati affiliates can view her presentation here.
Written by Emily Michelle Bruff Simpson, Geology PhD student at the University of Cincinnati and the Center’s new Outreach and Social Media Coordinator
No one lives in a bubble. We are influenced by the world around us, and we influence our world. Scientists are no exception; although we might try to be neutral in our work, we are humans too, each with our own pasts, hopes, and ideas. Recent current events have led many researchers to re-examine our own biases with a desire to do better.
To a point, this happens every time we experience a hate-related tragedy. But personally, as a young woman in science pursuing a doctorate and a career in academia who has watched these conversations over the years, I saw something new this past June. I saw the academic societies that I am a member of put out statements such as this:
I have never seen systematic racism and sexism addressed in scientific communities the way that it has been this year. It gave me hope. However, it also felt empty; many groups issued statements of support with little guidance of how we can do better in academia. But the widespread recognition of our own biases is a new beginning.
Dr. Potochnik, the Director of the University of Cincinnati Center for Public Engagement in Science, recently published an op-ed in Scientific American addressing the need for this recognition, titled “Awareness of Our Biases is Essential to Good Science.” She wrote it in response to a piece by Lawrence Krauss, which suggested that science has become ‘ideologically corrupted’ by current concerns for racism and sexism. In her reply, rather than encouraging scientists to strive to work in a vacuum, Potochnik advocates for “ideological awareness,” or acknowledging our own biases so that blind spots can be brought to light and gaps can be better accounted for.
We had the opportunity after her article came out to discuss her thoughts behind writing it. Here is our discussion:
Question: What inspired you to write an opinion piece now?
Dr. Potochnik: The roles social and political values play in science is a research interest of mine, and it’s something that I think is an interesting topic to have in the public’s eye. In brief, I think a lot of the confusing features of science, like how there can sometimes seem to be conflicting findings over time, and disagreement among researchers, can be better understood if we appreciate how our interests and concerns and assumptions shape what questions are asked. I also think that greater awareness of how values shape scientific investigations could lead to scientists and the public audience for science to push for science that accomplishes the sort of goals we have, rather than just thinking any legitimate research is equally good.
This op-ed by Lawrence Krauss was a good opportunity for me to wade into these topics, since he seemed to presume that traditional research is entirely objective, and the problem only starts when the humanities caused scientists to start worrying about values. In my opinion, that is exactly backwards.
Question: This is more of a nuts and bolts question. People are hearing a little bit about how peer-review works in the midst of COVID-19. What we publish has to be approved based on our data, our methods, and the basis of our ideas. What process did your article go through as an op-ed before being published? What place do these hold in the scientific community?
Dr. Potochnik: Well, keep in mind that this isn’t an academic article; it is an opinion piece in a popular venue. So there’s no peer review. The editor reads the pitch or draft piece, then makes a call on whether to accept. Then it goes into editing, and often the author doesn’t even see what changes they make in editing. The editors choose the title usually. When it comes to academic research, though, philosophy has peer review just like scientific disciplines.
Opinion pieces for a popular audience, like this, can sometimes raise the profile of one’s academic research. But they don’t usually “count” as research, rather, universities tend to see them as outreach or professional service.
Question: You summarize a point made by Dr. Richard Levins in 2006, saying thathis scientific work begins with the question of what science “will do for the children.” Is there a question that everything you do “begins with?”
Dr. Potochnik: Good question. I don’t think so. But, the ideas I like to think about revolve around how science is shaped by its human audience, and how complex the world is.
Question: In terms intended for the non-philosopher/scientist, how would you explain the line between “science being led astray by values” and “ideological awareness”?
As I described in that opinion piece, I think there are two ways the influence of values on science can go wrong.
One is if the values play illegitimate roles in scientific methods. A simple example: a widely shared value like “all people should have access to clean water” is problematic if it is used as a reason to ignore data. If researchers see that there is elevated lead in some drinking water, but say “everyone should have clean water, so we will ignore that!” then this is an illegitimate influence due to the role the value is playing.
The second is if the wrong values influence our science, even if the role those values play in scientific methods is unproblematic. Historically, there’s been much less medical research on women than men, which has led to practical implications like medicine dosage being less appropriate for those with the average body mass of women. There’s not necessarily anything scientifically wrong with the research that was conducted, but it prioritized men in a way that is problematic given that presumably we believe women and men are equally deserving of good health care.
Question: As I’ve watched the response to social injustice within the scientific community spearheaded by bold museums, societies, and even amateur groups… I’ve also pondered where to start. We want to encourage more diversity in the sciences and recognize our biases. How do we do this as scientists in fields not directly dealing with these issues? For example, a medical study should be including women so that we know how medicine impacts us. But what about those who aren’t actively studying people? Of course, you mention involving those in the humanities in these conversations. Are there other practical suggestions being discussed, both at the individual and institutional level?
Dr. Potochnik: Even your question hints at a lot of different answers to this! We can all work to promote diversity of scientists, students, and viewpoints in our own disciplines, in a variety of ways. We can think about the exact focus of our research and whether there’s a way to focus it or conduct it slightly differently that would improve the endpoint or the process, including who’s involved in the process and how. And yes, I think talking across disciplines is potentially hugely helpful! For example, I know a number of philosophers who have temporarily or permanently been embedded in a scientific lab, and I think it’s been helpful for all involved.
We can also push back when scientists write op-eds complaining that science has gone awry because of attention to racism and sexism! More generally, my hope is that cultivating a closer relationship between science and the broader public will contribute to redefining the kinds of people who contribute to science and the kinds of people who deserve to influence what science is accomplishing.
This is just gesturing in some of the directions I saw in your question. This is a very important question, and I am no expert on how to answer it.
Question: What is your reaction to the discussions happening now regarding diversity in STEM fields?
Like you, I’m impressed by the attention that the Black Lives Matter movement and the #MeToo Movement have received in science, and especially ‘grassroots’ actions that have been taken. I think that’s the direction change is really made in. More generally, over decades, philosophers of science and scientists alike have more broadly appreciated that science is part of society, and that we need to consider that relationship and work to make it what it should be. There’s lots of work to do, but like you, I am optimistic.
The University of Cincinnati (UC) seeks to fill a full-time staff position to serve as Executive Director of the Philosophy of Science Association (PSA) and Program Director for the UC Center for Public Engagement with Science (that’s us!) We invite applications from candidates with an interest in nonprofit leadership, budgets and fundraising, and philosophy of science. Experience in these areas is desired but not required, as is an advanced degree in philosophy or another discipline in the humanities or sciences. Minimum degree requirement is a Bachelor’s degree.
Approximately three-quarters of the job (or 0.75 FTE) is dedicated to serving as Executive Director (ED) of the PSA. The ED is the executive leader and public face of the PSA, responsible for overseeing the organization’s administration, programs, and strategic planning. The ED works closely with the President, Governing Board, and PSA committees to develop and implement initiatives that further the mission of the organization, such as public outreach, expanding and diversifying the membership, and fundraising. Key responsibilities include managing business office operations, including the website and member communications, facilitating board meetings, serving as the principal liaison with the editors and publisher of the journal Philosophy of Science, and above all ensuring the successful functioning of PSA biennial conferences.
The remaining one-quarter (or 0.25 FTE) is dedicated to serving as Program Director for the UC Center for Public Engagement with Science. This Center is an interdisciplinary initiative to expand and enrich the interface between science and the public to benefit all stakeholders. The Program Director will serve on the Center’s leadership team, managing organizational matters, budget and fundraising, and performing other activities congruent with PSA ED responsibilities.
This is a continuing, twelve-month appointment with an annual salary of $60,000 and benefits. Start date is negotiable with the aim of October 19, 2020.
Application Process Interested and qualified candidates must complete the online application at UC’s recruitment website (link). In addition to the online application, please include a cover letter detailing your qualifications and interest in the position, curriculum vitae or resume, and the names of at least three references (who will not be contacted without advance notification to the applicant). Review of applications will begin on August 24, 2020, and will continue until the position is filled.
If you have any questions about the position, you are welcome to contact any member of the search committee: Angela Potochnik (search committee chair, UC-PEWS Director), Jessica Pfeifer (current PSA Executive Director), Alison Wylie (PSA President).
The University of Cincinnati, as a multi-national and culturally diverse university, is committed to providing an inclusive, equitable and diverse place of learning and employment. As part of a complete job application you will be asked to include a Contribution to Diversity and Inclusion statement.
The University of Cincinnati is an Affirmative Action / Equal Opportunity Employer / Minority / Female / Disability / Veteran.
In April, Angela Potochnik and Melissa Jacquart (Center Director and Associate Director) presented in-progress research at an online event, “Doing Science in a Pluralistic Society,” organized by the Philosophy Department at the University of Dayton. They discussed a current project of the Socially Engaged Philosophy of Science (SEPOS) Research Group, “Divergence of Values and Goals in Participatory Research.” This is a collaborative research project by Lucas Dunlap, Zvi Biener, Amanda Corris, as well as Potochnik and Jacquart.
You can view Potochnik and Jacquart’s remote presentation here (link). See here (link) for more about the Dayton event, including access to the other presentations.
Center Faculty Affiliate Zvi Biener is co-sponsoring A Pact With Reason, a series of ten free lectures by Dr. Piers Bursill-Hall of Cambridge University hosted by the Mercantile Library. The lectures will begin on Thursday, July 16, at 1:00 p.m. (EST) and continue weekly.
The lectures provide a dynamic overview of the rationalist, scientific tradition that has given human civilization some of its greatest triumphs but has also precipitated some of its greatest failures. The lectures are of timely importance since we see daily evidence that some are turning away from facts, science, and reason itself as the basis for structuring our everyday life and beliefs. This is a very dangerous turn of events and one that we need to combat vigorously. To do that, we need to understand our “pact with reason:” how it emerged, the twists and turns it has taken for over two and a half millennia, and the place it has brought us to now in 2020. Those are the topics that will be covered in these ten lectures.
Piers Bursill-Hall is a highly regarded lecturer on the history and philosophy of science and mathematics at Cambridge University. His talks on the history of science, mathematics, and medicine are celebrated for their breadth of knowledge, insights, clarity, and wit.