College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Symposium to Explore Science Within Political Controversies

Panelist Lineup

Ames, IA - An interdisciplinary panel of science communication scholars will discuss how scientists can better communicate within controversial policy decisions at the first annual science communication summer symposium held this May 13 and 14 at Iowa State University.

The symposium, entitled The Ethical Challenges of Communicating Science within Political Controversies, combines both humanities and social science disciplines to better understand the path of science communication from the lab to legislature, and why that communication often breaks down. 

“Often, the lack of scientific influence within policy-making is not merely a problem of simplification, but also a problem of inappropriate communication that can damage trust and credibility even if information is factually accurate,” said Michael Dahlstrom, one of the panelists and assistant professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. “The used-car dealer may be telling the truth, but if I don’t trust him, what’s the point?”

The symposium aims to explore the ethical perceptions driving expectations about how scientists should communicate within the political process, hopefully helping scientists more effectively offer their expertise within controversial policy settings.

Panelists include Michael Dahlstrom from Iowa State University, Matthew Nisbet from American University, Dane Scott from the University of Montana and Paul Thompson from Michigan State University.

The symposium will open with a keynote speech by Matthew Nisbet, presenting findings from the first-ever comprehensive study of the financial resources, strategies, and communication activities of environmental groups and scientists working to mobilize societal action on climate change. The keynote, entitled Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate, will be held May 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Cardinal Room of the Memorial Union.

On May 14, the panelists will hold an all-day roundtable discussion to present and respond to new research regarding the ethics of science communication within a policy context. 

“Many of the federal granting agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, are now requiring scientists to engage with the public or policy-makers,” said Jean Goodwin, associate professor in English and a member of the research group hosting the symposium. “I think this symposium will only be the first in a national trend of addressing the communication pitfalls waiting at the intersection of science and politics.”  

The symposium is organized through the Science Communication @ ISU research group and is the first of an ongoing summer symposia series on science communication. The symposium is funded through the Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities and the keynote speech is co-sponsored through the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication.

The symposium is free and open to the public. Registration and the full schedule of events are available on the website:

Matthew Nisbet

Matt Nisbet from American University will open the 2011 Science Communication @ ISU Summer Symposium with a keynote speech discussing the future of public debate on climate change. The keynote will be held on May 13 in the Cardinal Room of the Memorial Union at 7:30 p.m.

Panelist Lineup

The 2011 Science Communication @ ISU Summer Symposium brings together four local and national experts to explore the ethical considerations of science communication within policy-making on May 13-14. Panelists include, from left to right: Matthew Nisbet from American University; Dane Scott from the University of Montana; Paul Thompson from Michigan State University; and Michael Dahlstrom from Iowa State University.

-- Wed, 27 Apr 2011 --