Workshop in Milan : Techno-Scientific expertise and disinformation

Last Friday 14th February, the European Science-Media Hub was presented at the workshop ‘Eclissi della verità o crisi della delega tecnocratica: expertise techno-scientifiche, fake news e pratiche mediali’, organised by the Italian Society of  Science and Technology Studies (STS Italia) in cooperation with the interdisciplinary network of SSH (Social Sciences and Humanities) of Milano Politecnico (META)

The workshop dealt with the intersection between techno-scientific expertise, the disinformation phenomenon and the role of media in this landscape called “the post-truth era”. Vitalba Crivello was invited to discuss the role of the Hub – and of the public sector, more widely – together with 30 professors, researchers representing various Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) departments of some Italian universities, part of the STS network.

The workshop opened with questioning how the spread of phenomena such as ‘citizen science’ and ‘public engagement’, together with the increasing presence of social media platforms  – id est the involvement of ‘non experts’ in the dissemination of scientific and technological knowledge – could be dealt with.

An interesting discussion with the audience followed the presentation of the ESMH activities. Among other questions, there was a particular interest in knowing:

  1. Which actors in the science communication realm are the more resistant to collaborate in the Hub? and on the contrary, with whom it is currently easier to build alliances?
  2. How does the ESMH consider the generalised tendency of the public/citizens to avoid the inter-mediation between the science production and its ‘direct consumption’? How does the Hub try to respond to this trend and deal with the social media platforms?

The ESMH has been positively welcomed so far – either at EU level and at different MSs’ levels. Nevertheless, important distinctions need to be recognised when referring to different science and tech careers’ systems (with a different positioning for academics and researchers in different EU countries) and cultural media landscapes.  The recently launched project ‘Engagement of journalists/science communicators in different Member States’ will give a further and more detailed insight and will help to draw more sound conclusions.

ESMH presentation at Milan

On the widely spread use of social platforms by the general public and the high risks of circulating misleading scientific and technological information, the ESMH is closely monitoring what is going on and is responding with alternative, positive narratives. The role of science journalists and other media makers as knowledgeable inter-mediators is highly valuable and that is the main reason why the Hub to invest in training opportunities. Producing sound science communication, results of the interaction between writers and scientists is one way to respond to disinformation.

The second part of the morning was then devoted to a round table on ‘Emerging challenges & the answer of STS’. Via the intervention of four professors, we got into a rich debate on the origin and wording of ‘fake news’, by questioning the role of ‘science policy’ and the EU approach (from a legislative point of view, also, and related application to the EU funding schemes). The workshop was then closed with an overview of the existing current media studies on the circulation of ‘alternative scientific facts’ (commonly referred as fake news), from the role of fact checkers and debunkers to some network dynamics.

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