Critica co-founder Sara Gorman speaks at William Paterson University
What is truth? How do we define it and agree on what’s true and what’s not as a society? These are not the kinds of broad, philosophical questions most scientists predict they’ll be thinking much about over the course of their careers, but nowadays these seem like obvious questions with which every scientist must wrestle. As scientists, we’re used to spending a lot of time identifying, usually in a very technical manner, when data and evidence are strong “enough” to allow us to make certain claims. In the health field, there have been many important watershed moments in which the field as a whole decided there was enough evidence to come to a consensus. Some major examples from the past few decades include the realization that cigarette smoking causes cancer, that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS, and that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine does not cause autism.
Despite our attempts to neatly define what constitutes “truth” in our respective scientific fields, people outside our fields sometimes have different ideas of what makes something “true.” This can lead to some serious misunderstandings, which in some cases, such as the belief that vaccines cause autism, can lead to tragic consequences.
These were among the many issues discussed at a recent day-long conference at William Paterson University. The conference, the 6th Annual Multidisciplinary Conference of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, took place on October 18 and was entitled “BYO Truth: Language Matters and (Mis)information in the Public Sphere.” Five speakers were chosen from across an array of fields, including Critica co-founder Sara Gorman, who spoke on the topic of “Science Denial in a Post-Truth World.” She was joined by four other distinguished speakers: Dr. Ana Celia Zentella, Professor Emeritus of Ethnic Studies at University of California at San Diego; Dr. Jennifer Forestal, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Stockton University; Dr. Paul Mihailidis, Associate Professor of Marketing Communication at Emerson College; and Dr. Steven Sloman, Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences at Brown University and co-author of The Knowledge Illusion, who gave the keynote.