Trust and Sensation in the Public Communication of Exoplanet Science



Hosted by the St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science and the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs.
Funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Date: Tuesday 8th January 2018
Venue: room 104, Edgecliffe (Philosophy department), The Scores
There is, unsurprisingly, huge public interest in exoplanets, much of it tied to the anticipation of discovering extraterrestrial life. Yet there is a risk in focusing public conversation through the lens of ET, not least because it is easy to slide from ‘life’ to ‘intelligent life’. Scientists need to communicate responsibly, but this cannot mean that they need to be as cautious as is required for a dry journal article. How should they strike the right balance?
This topic raises issues of professional ethics for scientists. But it also raises wider issues about trust in science, the nature and importance of public engagement, and the challenge of harnessing public enthusiasm without risking scientific integrity. Exoplanet science is a crucible for these questions, not least because conspiracy-style thinking seems prevalent in public perceptions of the search for extra-terrestrial life.
This workshop brings together scientists, philosophers, and media/engagement professionals to discuss this issues, aiming to formulate questions for future work.
09.30: Welcome from Katherine Hawley (Philosophy, University of St Andrews)
09.45-10.45: Jen Whyntie (BBC World Service, CrowdScience)
11.05-11.20: Duncan Forgan (Physics and Astronomy, University of St Andrews)
11.20-11.35: Martin Dominik (Physics and Astronomy, University of St Andrews)
11.35-12.05: discussion
Short break
12.15-13:00: Stephen John (via Skype, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)
2.15-2.55: Mhairi Stewart (Head of Public Engagement with Research, University of St Andrews)
15:00-16:00: Roundtable discussion, led by Katherine Hawley