Persuading under Uncertainty: Challenges and Norms of Science Communication

Research Group (oct 2021-2016) Center of Advanced Studies, LMU

Scientists, no less than politicians, need to be persuasive: as shown in recent vaccination and COVID-19 crises, they have a crucial role to play to change people’s attitudes and beliefs. However, they need to do so without drawing on lengthy or technical arguments: communicating scientific findings to an audience of non-experts needs shortcuts and reformulations. 

One of the key challenges comes from communicating the epistemic uncertainty that characterises science: being persuasive requires clear-cut confident messages, but science is rarely clear-cut, and necessarily fallible. The project identifies this as a key and important dilemma: if scientists misrepresents the uncertainty around the scientific process, hypotheses and findings, they may gain influence, but be accused of being misleading. If they represent it transparently, they may lower their capacity to change people’s minds. So how should the fallibility and epistemic uncertainty of science be communicated? Is it legitimate to simplify or hide the uncertainty of given scientific claims for the higher good of improving people’s beliefs?

The Research Group will examine these timely questions by building on and pushing forward existing issues in epistemology, philosophy and psychology of persuasion and of science communication. This project’s originality comes from taking a normative perspective on a topic most often considered from a strategic perspective: many papers look at how to effectively communicate science, while the Research Group will examine how legitimate various forms of effective communication can be.

International members and visitors

Dr. Noga Arikha (Warburg Institute, UK) 

Prof. Paul Boghossian (New York University, USA) 

Prof. Joaquin Navajas (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, Argentina) 

Prof. Gloria Origgi (CNRS, France) 

Dr. Martina Orlandi (University of North Carolina, USA)   

Prof. Barry Smith (University of London, UK) 

Prof. Jason Stanley (Yale, USA) 

Dr. Emanuel Viebahn (Humboldt University, Germany)

Ophelia Deroy

Project Lead