The importance and necessity of communicating about values

Leden van De Nieuwe Utrechtse School en het Journal of Trial and Error tijdens de Nationale Wetenschapscommunicatiedag.

On October 9 2023, members of The New Utrecht School, together with members of the Journal of Trial and Error, organized a workshop on values in science for the annual Dutch conference on Science Communication.

Values in science

The idea arose in early 2023 between Stefan Gaillard and Marcel Hobma. Gaillard studies promises and hypes within science communication for his PhD and Hobma has a degree in journalism. After several months of discussing, tinkering and online calls with the organization of the event, Gaillard and Hobsma  finally arrived at a concrete plan during the summer. They asked the help of Megan Milota, assistant professor in Narrative Medicine, and Robert Dasoviç, Socratic discussion leader.

Coming from the perspectives of ethics, history, and philosophy of science, the group was in the ideal position to make the audience approach their subject matter in a novel, insightful way. Rather than focusing on science solely as the rational process of knowledge production, the session focused on its social, political, and economic embedding.  

First, Hobma introduced the literature on values in science by reflecting on an article about sex differences in clinical trials he published. He indicated that if he would have emphasized the values in clinical research when he wrote this article, it would probably have led to more public debate and a better understanding of clinical research as a socially embedded process.

Next, Milota introduced her research on how the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in cancer diagnosis is being assessed. After the audience reflected on a study, they realized that although AI might lead to more efficiency and less workload for doctors in some areas, it might increase the workload in other areas. In addition, the assessment of AI tends to neglect additional costs and the view and experience of the patient.

Lastly, Gaillard asked the public to take a step back and reflect on the prevalence of discussions on AI during the conference as a whole: what values are embedded in these discussions, and could it be that some topics in science communication receive inappropriate amounts of attention – maybe even amounting to hype? Throughout the session, Dasoviç helped guide the interactive parts.

After an hour of discussing the cases, the session came to an end. Even though one hour was way too short for such an interactive session, the audience left the room with many critical questions and a new perspective on science. Hopefully something to be repeated next year!