Creating opportunities to think deeply about science - Panel discussion

This talk is part of the ‘Science and populism: from evidence to narrative’ series, co-hosted by the Oxford Martin School and the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, to celebrate their 20th Anniversary.

The growth of populism has led to a widening of rights and power of the people to question all elites – those holding leading positions not only in politics, but also in the media, arts and science. It is essential that those working in science and academia facilitate a deeper public understanding of the complexities of evidence. This is particularly acute given the increasing use of rhetoric or unrealistic proposals, including the questioning of scientific evidence, by those wishing to gain and retain popularist power.

With climate change being demoted to “weather events” by the US administration and Bank of England economic forecasts being labelled “Project Fear”, public understanding of the scientific process, the complexities of data analysis, and the often ambiguous, even opaque nature of scientific findings, is needed more than ever. As one of our panellists, Dr Roger Highfield, Science Museum, recently wrote, there is a “concerning trend of active opposition: some have derided experts, others have sought the ‘authenticity’ of anecdote……There is nothing palatable about the post-truth era, when facts are cherry-picked or invented to make up any narrative you like, when there is ….a move to curtail any science that challenges policy and dogma with inconvenient truths”.

People increasingly need access to bodies such as museums which can provide trusted and open information, and when an issue isn’t black and white, to explain why there’s a debate and guide them through the evidence. In the second of two panels exploring these complex issues, Dr Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum, Dr Alexander Sturgis, Director, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology and Professor Paul Smith, Oxford University Museum of Natural History will discuss and debate with the audience on communicating evidence in an era of increasing populism, and the vital role that the arts, sciences and humanities can play together in this process.