The Contested Science symposium – NeFCA report

On May 17, 2021, the Science Communication Division co-hosted a symposium about contested science in collaboration with Radboud University’s Behavioural Science Institute (BSI). The principal question of the symposium was why people sometimes reject scientific facts and how science can be communicated more effectively. Five experts presented recent research and insights related to topics such as climate change, vaccination, genetically modified food and the pandemic. Participants from BSI and NeFCA could sign up to join for (parts of) the symposium, which 137 did. At any moment during the symposium, about 70 people were present in Zoom.

The first speaker of the afternoon was Natalia Zarzeczna, from the Psychology Research Institute of the University of Amsterdam. Natalia presented research into gene editing aiming to test whether psychological distance can be utilized to reduce science skepticism. She demonstrated that psychological distance is important for people’s attitudes and can be altered to change those attitudes.

The second speaker was Bastiaan Rutjens, also from the Psychology Research Institute of the University of Amsterdam, where his Psychology of Science Lab is located. Discussing recent findings published here and here, Bastiaan argued that science skepticism is heterogeneous and showed differences in skepticism related to climate change, vaccination, genetic modification, and evolution across 24 countries.

After a short break, the symposium continued with a presentation by Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol. Stephan presented work related to the pandemic (and “infodemic”) and climate change, where he highlighted the asymmetrical role of worldviews. More specifically, he established that conservatism tends to correlate with rejection of science across a broad range of domains.

Naomi Oreskes’ quote “If people don’t like the implications of your knowledge, they will resist, reject, and even attack it” comes to mind during the fourth presentation. The speaker was BSI’s Marieke Fransen, who presented research related to resistance in persuasion. She discussed the why and how of resistance to persuasion and how one might overcome, as well as increase, resistance to persuasion.

Our last speaker of the afternoon was Sander van der Linden, Professor of Social Psychology in Society at the University of Cambridge and director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab. Sander presented work related to psychological inoculation against misinformation, discussing work related to climate change, The Fake News Game, The Go Viral Game, Harmony Square, and more.

There was a lot of interaction during the symposium. The five presentations lasted for about 30 minutes each and were followed by 10-15 minutes of lively discussion. Additionally, the chat was used to share related work, comments and insights. We ended the symposium with an informal discussion about science communication in general, finding that there are a lot of questions still to be answered and that there is much room for collaboration.

You can view all presentations (as pdf) here:

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