SciBeh Virtual Workshop 2023: Collectively Intelligent Science Communication - Lessons learned for a post-COVID era

1–2 March 2023


In this workshop, we will examine how to make collective intelligence – shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration, collective efforts, and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making – a practical tool for effective science communication. The workshop will combine themed talks with practical attempts by participants, using collective intelligence tools, to generate better communication strategies that build on three central topics:

  • Topic 1 - differentiation of evidence communication vs. science communication
  • Topic 2 - combatting denialism in COVID-19 and climate change
  • Topic 3 - building trust in science.

After an initial introduction to these topics as talks given by domain experts:

  • Alexandra Freeman, Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge. (Topic 1)

Evidence Communication versus communication aiming to change behaviour: the potential benefits and risks.

Dr Alexandra Freeman is Executive Director of the Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication, which aims to communicate “to inform, and not persuade”, after a career as a science documentary-maker. This has made her very aware of the differences between communication that tries to change its audience’s beliefs and behaviour, and communication that tries to support the audience making their own autonomous decision, informed by the evidence - and its uncertainties. The Winton Centre has been involved in communication around many topics, including Covid-19, as well as research on its effects on different audiences.

  • Lee McIntyre, Centre for Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University (Topic 2)

Communicating directly with science deniers can be a challenge, yet remains the single most effective method for belief conversion. One must understand that virtually all science deniers use the same flawed form of reasoning, which is why facts alone will not usually convince them. Instead, one must attempt to build trust through active listening and asking questions, so that their identity and ego are not threatened. Through patient, calm, and respectful conversation perhaps we will not succeed in overcoming denialist beliefs, but may create an opportunity for deniers to see the flaws in their reasoning and change their own minds.

The Collectivistic Approach to Public Trust in Science and Our Dysfunctional Socio-Epistemic Infrastructure

The dominant individualistic approach understands public trust in science as primarily an individual-level epistemic phenomenon. The public trusts science insofar as individual members of the public have epistemic trust in a variety of sources of scientific information. In this talk, I argue that the individualistic approach is inadequate and that, instead, we should embrace a collectivistic approach according to which public trust in science is a societal-level and not purely epistemic phenomenon. The main practical upshot of this change of perspective is that policy interventions aimed at improving public trust in science should focus on improving what I call our socio-epistemic infrastructure rather than trying to persuade mistrustful individuals to trust science.

Integrity and trust in research: introducing the UK Committee on Research Integrity

  • Geoff Mulgan, University College London (Topic: Collective Intelligence).

Participants can contribute to discussions in any of the topics. These will take place as “Rapid Think Tanks”, a collective online asynchronous discussion consisting of three stages (each taking place on a separate day): (i) divergent collective exploration of the topic; (ii) convergence towards the most relevant emergent items from the previous phase; and (iii) final selection of items to be voted on and built into a final report.

Topic 1 - Evidence communication vs. science communication

  • While it is important to assess the quality of the scientific process, communicating the nitty gritty of this process to non-scientists is frequently complicated and resource-intensive. Yet, what eventually matters is mostly where the science points to, that is what the evidence tells them to do or not to do. It therefore seems reasonable to differentiate between communicating science and communicating evidence.
  • Can this differentiating increase the effectiveness of science communication? Are there differences in respect to times of crisis?
  • When is science communication needed, when does evidence communication suffice?
  • Is it enough to communicate evidence to decision makers? Does this create accountability problems?
  • Should authorities even be allowed to only communicate evidence?
  • Does it raise issues for transparency?

Topic 2 - Denialism: from COVID-19 to Climate Change

  • Psychological and philosophical foundations of science denialism.
  • Common aspects of anti-scientific movements but common solutions?
  • The politics of denialism: post-truth and anti-scientific populism.
  • Are social media platforms aggravating the problem?
  • How can we reach and engage effectively with denialists?
  • Is collectively intelligent science communication a potential solution?

Topic 3 - Building trust in science

  • Looking beyond trust in science as a problem with individuals: supporting trust with better social infrastructure.
  • Does visible (and uncivil) disagreement among scientists harm trust?
  • Is transparency in science the answer: What can transparent research processes, findings, and availability of data and methods for review and replication achieve, and what are their limits?
  • Acknowledgement and communication of uncertainty in scientific findings.
  • Engagement of the public in science—can we build trust through participatory processes?
  • The role of diversity in generating trusted and trustworthy findings.


Day 1

Day 2

Workshop’s Outcomes: RTT-produced Reports

The following reports showcase the outcomes of our application of the Rapid Think Tank (RTT) methodology during SciBeh’s Virtual Workshop 2023.

The RTT methodology begins with a topic definition, featuring three talks on distinct subjects that serve as the foundation for the emergence of RTT questions. In this particular instance, the talks centered around the following themes:

  1. How can scientists effectively collaborate with non-scientists to facilitate the communication of scientific knowledge and evidence?

  2. What measures are necessary to enable individuals to develop effective support mechanisms for families and friends who deny scientific facts?

  3. What are the essential characteristics of a tool that can provide reliable science communication, and how can collective intelligence methods be integrated?

These questions are collectively and asynchronously addressed through our online platform, following two phases: divergent (examining various relevant aspects of the questions) and convergent (selecting and focusing on the selected as most relevant aspects from the previous phase).

From these extensive discussions, we extract three preliminary drafts for the corresponding reports using a semi-automated process. These drafts are reviewed, curated, and edited by both the organizers and the participants, resulting in the following refined reports:

1. Report: Evidence communication vs. science communication

How and under what conditions could scientists collaborate with non-scientists to communicate science and evidence?

2. Report: Denialism and Role of Support Mechanisms for Denialists Social Environment

What do we need in order to allow people to create effective support mechanisms for families and friends of denialists?

3. Report: Trust in Science and the Role of Collective Intelligence Tools

What could be the features of a tool that offers trustworthy science communication, and how can collective intelligence methods be included?

Organization team