Opening Plenary

Communicating in an Era of Science Mistrust

This year’s plenary was developed by TWS President Don Yasuda and is sponsored by the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (Platinum Sponsor).

For five decades from the 1970s to 2018, the General Social Survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago found stable support by around 40% of American’s having a great confidence in the scientific community. The Union of Concerned Scientists has been tracking the politicization of science and although it has occurred since at least the 1950’s, it accelerated under recent administrations where policies and practices have eroded the trust in federal science. The politicization and social reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the polarization where it both strengthened and weakened the trust in science aligned to complex demographic associations.

This poses several challenges that we must address. How can individual members and TWS be effective at influencing policy in a social and cultural environment where there is mistrust of science and scientists? What can members and what can TWS do to maintain and rebuild trust by average citizens, managers, and policy makers? This plenary will address this topic starting with Dr. Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. Dr. Parikh will present the imperative that we rebuild trust in the scientific endeavor. The second speaker will be Dr. Emily Vraga, Associate Professor in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota who studies methods of correcting misinformation, including effective use of debunking and prebunking misinformation. This can be a more effective way to ensure the scientific process remains the relevant discriminator between what is known to date and what some want to believe based on values and beliefs but not necessarily grounded in evidence or logic-based reasoning. The final speaker will be Lindsay Martinez, Research Program Coordinator for the East Foundation, who received the TWS Ronald F. Labisky Graduate Fellowship in Wildlife Policy last year. Lindsay will provide a real-world case study in progress that is using science information to garner broad-based support for ocelot recovery in South Texas amongst private landowners, local communities, the conservation community, wildlife researchers, and government agencies. This project provides a hopeful example of using science communication strategies to build a foundation of trust that will guide constructive dialog to address difficult wildlife challenges.

Aldo Leopold Address

Immediately following the opening plenary, the 2022 Aldo Leopold Memorial Award recipient, Dr. John Koprowski, will provide the annual TWS Aldo Leopold Address.