Public scientific testimony in the scientific image

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    In this paper, I draw on philosophy of science to address a challenge for science communication. Empirical research indicates that some people who trust a meteorologist's report that they are in the path of a storm do not trust a climate scientist's report that we are on a path to global warming. Such selective skepticism about climate science exemplifies a more general challenge: The Challenge of Selective Uptake Laypersons who generally accept public scientific testimony nevertheless fail to accept public scientific testimony concerning select, equally well warranted, scientific hypotheses. A prominent response arising from the novel interdisciplinary science of science communication is a principle called Consensus Reporting. According to this principle, science reporters should, whenever feasible, report the scientific consensus or lack thereof for a reported scientific view. However, philosophy of science may offer a different perspective on the issue. This perspective is critical insofar as it indicates some inadequacies of Consensus Reporting. But it is also constructive insofar as it guides the development of an alternative principle, Justification Reporting, according to which science reporters should, whenever feasible, report aspects of the nature and strength of scientific justification or lack thereof for a reported scientific view. A central difference between these proposals is that Consensus Reporting appeals to the authority of the scientists whereas Justification Reporting appeals to the authority of scientific justification. As such, Justification Reporting reflects the image of science. The paper considers the philosophical and empirical motivation for Justification Reporting and its limitations. This includes prospects and problems for implementing it in a way that addresses The Challenge of Selective Uptake. From a methodological point of view, the paper illustrates how empirically informed philosophy of science may help address challenges for science communication.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
    Pages (from-to)90-101
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


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