Category Archives: science literacy

Covid-19, mystery novels, and how science works

This is a guest post from Emma Despland.  Her first pandemic-themed guest post is here; this week, she asks what the pandemic can teach the public about science, and teach us about public understanding of science.

There is considerable frustration about uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, how serious it is and what we should do.

Do we need to wear masks? What kind of mask? If you’re had Covid-19, are you immune? For how long? Do I need to disinfect my groceries? Is it safe to go jogging outside? One model  suggests that you need to be 10 m away from someone who is running to avoid getting hit by their microdroplets and possibly contaminated, whereas other experts think this long-distance transmission is unlikely.

Fictional representations of science show too many Eureka moments. Continue reading


Vaccinations, global warming, and the fork in the canning jar

Images: Global Warming Predictions Map, Robert Rohde, CC BY-SA 3.0 via and (Business-as-usual projection, 3ºC average warming. Jars of mango chutney: Photo (and chutney) by Stephen Heard.

Do you cringe when someone asserts that vaccines cause autism, or that global warming isn’t happening? I do. I’m a scientist, and like most of my colleagues, I think of this not just as a 9-to-5 job but also as a way of thinking about the world around me. So, at least in my mental picture of myself, when I have a choice to make, I quantify and tot up advantages and disadvantages of each option* and come to a reasoned decision. When I don’t know something, I look for answers in the scientific literature. When it turns out that nobody knows that something, I have a set of approaches to fill the gap – experiments and models and statistics and the rest (and I can deploy this scientific toolkit in writing and cooking and doing laundry every bit as much as I can in matters more traditionally scientific). In short, I picture myself as a rational being – and this is probably why antivaxxers, climate-change denialists, and their irrational brethren drive me bananas.

But. Continue reading