Playing with (Epistemic) Power: A Workshop on Critical Scientific Literacy

by Playing with (Epistemic) Power: A Workshop on Critical Scientific Literacy

Track: Queer, Feminist and Anti-Racist Pedagogies

Workshop Rationale:

This workshop emerged from the presenters’ shared recognition of a need for greater scientific literacy in women’s studies, the humanities in general, and in the academy at large. Alongside this need, the presenters recognized the dangers of a “scientific literacy” frame divorced from the critical interventions of science studies, including the sociology, philosophy, and history of science. They envision a feminist professoriate and student body competent to engage scientific stories in their teaching, learning, and in everyday interactions with breaking scientific news, medical expertise, and casual explanations for difference. This workshop emerged as an attempt to create practical and accessible training in feminist science studies, training in a skill set we call “critical scientific literacy.” They imagine this skill set being put to use in curricular, community organizing, and other contexts, far outside the scope of “science studies.” They aim to offer resources for resisting the pro/anti science frame that has so powerfully dominated the contemporary political landscape, disciplinary and otherwise. The two presenters are trained in feminist theory and neuroscience respectively and have collaborated as activists and in research and curriculum development for many years. Their work on critical science literacy draws on work in feminist science education and science literacy more broadly such as that by Angela Calabrese Barton and Matthew Weinstein. Together – and in dialogue with other colleagues and students – the presenters have developed a working methodology for unpacking and reframing scientific stories. It is a methodology that resists a nature/culture framing that encourages us to read scientific truth claims as true or false, biological or social. Instead, it insists on curiosity, imagination, and political accountability as core facets of a critical approach to science with the potential to bring into being new knowledges, and in so doing, new worlds.

Workshop Description:

The presenters will give an account of their collaboration and how it informs their approach to critical science literacy and then lead an interactive workshop that will prepare participants to engage scientific stories directly, in their teaching, research and everyday life. The presenters will describe the path that scientific results take from lab bench to popular news article and explain how to use this understanding to back track from popular news to the original primary science publications of a laboratory. In the first activity, participants will work through a model scientific article in groups to learn the methodology.

Groups will learn to find the scientific publications on which a particular pop culture or news media reference is based, read and understand its “results”, and generate questions that call attention to the cultural, economic, and political frames of reference that make the funding of the question at hand seem logical. They will produce scientifically literate assessments of the claims that do not resort to dismissal of science out of hand or to the separation of good and bad science as biased and objective, respectively. Instead, they will practice using critical science literacy skills to explain how we know what we know in ways that blur the line between critique and knowledge production. Following this initial activity, participants will outline the steps necessary to apply the skills to an article of their choice that relates to a teaching or research topic. Participants will be given resource sheets to help them repeat this methodology on their own outside of the workshop space as well as an invitation to participate in a blog project to discuss popular science news as it is published as a project in active critical science literacy.

Workshop equipment needs: projector to show powerpoint slides (we can bring our own computer)