Science Literacy in the Misinformation Age – #LMASA

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chuck Nice and David Helfand in the StarTalk Radio studio. Credit: Ben Ratner.

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About This Episode

Continuing with our Let’s Make America Smart Again series, Neil deGrasse Tyson, comic co-host Chuck Nice, and astronomer David Helfand are here to sift through the data and help you stay scientifically literate in the misinformation age. David discusses the “absent curation” of daily data and how the creation of search engines was helpful but also created more intricate problems. You’ll hear about science browsers and filters, why science might be too successful, and David’s top three tools you can use to sift through misinformation. David describes teaching at Quest University Canada, where he allowed students to “construct knowledge” instead of feeding them a constant stream of information. Discover more about the “reproducibility crisis” in the science community. Learn about the role that scientists play in the age of misinformation and about the many biases scientists can be exposed to – and persuaded by – during their research. Explore why the democratization of information is good overall but comes with baggage and responsibility. Dive into David’s book, A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind. All that, plus, Neil and company answer fan-submitted Cosmic Queries about a variety of topics including the Dark Ages, dark matter, a global space agency, the correct definition of a fact, dealing with the anti-science culture, and using social media to confront alternative facts.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Science Literacy in the Misinformation Age – #LMASA

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  • Drew

    If we implement a science BS filter, who decides what is true and what is BS?

    For example, I have a pair of MS degrees in applied statistics and applied mathematics. I studied physics and chemistry as an undergrad. What I learned about statistics as a graduate student is seen as “wrong” by my chemistry and physics profs and scientists in general.

    If you do a web search for “Design of Experiments” you find several websites for companies selling stats software that can create designed experiments. Almost all of these designs test different combinations of factors( the things you want to test) at different levels (settings for those factors). Literally, a statistician will design an experiment that changes multiple factors simultaneously. Look up “Definitive Screening Designs”, “Plackett-Burman Designs” “Fractional Factorial Designs”, “Box-Behnken Designs” and “Optimal Response Surfaces”. (These are some of the methods statisticians teach students that are good designs for experiments.)

    If you do a web search for “Design a scientific experiment” you find a lot of academic web sites that tell you, “You can’t change more than one factor at a time during an experiment.” This goes against what the statisticians tell you to do. Statistics teaches us that you NEED to change more than one thing at a time. But, try telling an academic scientist that.

    So who is correct? The statisticians that tell you to do what you were taught is “impossible” or the scientists that tell you to do the opposite of statisticians teach?

    • Randy

      It seems like the statistical approach should have value wherever it can be applied. Is the problem with the impossibility of adequate data collection? Why would anyone turn down a potentially useful analysis tool?

  • Adam Griffin

    This was one of the most fascinating episodes of StarTalk I have heard. Thank you for your thoughts and ideas on this very important topic.

  • KBI2113

    As awesome as this episode was, I found it nearly impossible to listen to with how much Neil and Chuck kept interrupting David. Let the man speak!

  • Mike

    I had to laugh at the discussion of anecdotal evidence preceding the square space commercial that said “I use it, and it worked out great!”

  • MAWA

    David’s last answer is very similar to what Neil always says

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