"Creating opportunities to think deeply about science" - Panel Discussion

Past Event

14 June 2018, 6:00pm - 7:00pm

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), Oxford, OX1 3BD

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This talk is co-hosted by the Oxford Martin School and the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, to celebrate their 20th Anniversary

The growth of populism has led to a widening of rights and power of the people to question all elites – those holding leading positions not only in politics, but also in the media, arts and science. It is essential that those working in science and academia facilitate a deeper public understanding of the complexities of evidence. This is particularly acute given the increasing use of rhetoric or unrealistic proposals, including the questioning of scientific evidence, by those wishing to gain and retain popularist power.

With climate change being demoted to “weather events” by the US administration and Bank of England economic forecasts being labelled “Project Fear”, public understanding of the scientific process, the complexities of data analysis, and the often ambiguous, even opaque nature of scientific findings, is needed more than ever. As one of our panellists, Dr Roger Highfield, Science Museum, recently wrote, there is a “concerning trend of active opposition: some have derided experts, others have sought the ‘authenticity’ of anecdote……There is nothing palatable about the post-truth era, when facts are cherry-picked or invented to make up any narrative you like, when there is ….a move to curtail any science that challenges policy and dogma with inconvenient truths”.

People increasingly need access to bodies such as museums which can provide trusted and open information, and when an issue isn’t black and white, to explain why there’s a debate and guide them through the evidence. In the second of two panels exploring these complex issues, Dr Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum, Dr Alexander Sturgis, Director, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology and Professor Paul Smith, Oxford University Museum of Natural History will discuss and debate with the audience on communicating evidence in an era of increasing populism, and the vital role that the arts, sciences and humanities can play together in this process.

Panel members:

  • Professor Sarah Harper, Director, Oxford Institute of Population Ageing (Chair)
  • Dr Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum Group
  • Professor Paul Smith, Director, Oxford University Museum of Natural History
  • Dr Alexander Sturgis, Director, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

About the speakers

Professor Sarah Harper is the Co-Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, which she founded in 1997, and Professor of Gerontology at the University of Oxford. Between 2014 and 2017 Sarah served on the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, which advises the Prime Minister on the scientific evidence for strategic policies and frameworks. In 2017 she was appointed Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and as a Director and Trustee of the UK Research Integrity Office. She chaired the UK government’s Foresight Review on Ageing Populations, (2014-2016) and has chaired the European Ageing Index Panel for the UNECE Population Unit since 2015. She is a Governor of the Pensions Policy Institute. Sarah was the first holder of the International Chair in Old Age Financial Security, at the University of Malaya (2009-10) and her research was recognised by the 2011 Royal Society for Public Health: Arts and Health Research Award. She is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropology Institute and of the Royal Society of Arts.

Sarah has a background in anthropology and population studies and her early research focused on migration and the social implications of demographic change. Her current research on demographic change addresses the impact of falling fertility and increasing life expectancy, with a particular interest in Asia and Africa. Recent research has focused on women’s education and empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa and the impact of this on desired family size, older women's health in Africa, and European life course trajectories and late life female health. She currently directs two research projects looking at the ageing of farmers in Vietnam and Myanmar. Sarah has just completed a monograph How Population Change will Transform our World (Oxford University Press 2016), and is working on her next book for Cambridge University Press on Population, Technology and Environmental Change. Sarah is the founding editor of the Journal of Population Ageing and editor of the Handbook of Ageing and Public Policy (Elgar 2014).

Dr Roger Highfield is the Director of External Affairs for the Science Museum Group. Prior to joining the National Museum of Science and Industry, he was a high-profile journalist, most recently as editor of New Scientist magazine, and before that as the award-winning science editor of The Daily Telegraph, where he worked for more than 20 years. He is also a regular on radio and TV, and has organised mass participation experiments with the BBC. He is at the leading edge of the integration of web and print and has starred in a series of web videos about everyday science.

Highfied has an MA and DPhil in chemistry from the University of Oxford and spent time working as a scientist at Unilever and Institut Laue Langevin, Grenoble, France, where he became the first person to bounce a neutron off a soap bubble.

He has written/co-authored seven popular science books, all of which have been translated into foreign editions, including After Dolly, The Science of Harry Potter, The Physics of Christmas, The Private Lives of Albert Einstein, Frontiers of Complexity, and SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed. In addition, he was the editor of Craig Venter's A Life Decoded and Life at the Speed of Light.

Professor Paul Smith is Director of Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Professor of Natural History. Prior to coming to Oxford in 2012 he was Head of the School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, as well as being Director of the Lapworth Museum of Geology. He has spent most of his career working in university museums at the universities of Cambridge, Copenhagen, Birmingham and Oxford.

His geological research is focussed on the interactions of Earth systems and organisms from the late Neoproterozoic to the Ordovician, using a combination of palaeobiology, sedimentology and geochemistry. Specific research questions addressed recently have included the transition from warm-water carbonates to glacial conditions at the start of the Sturtian Snowball Earth event; complex feedback loops as drivers of the Cambrian Explosion; the sequence stratigraphy of Cambro-Ordovician carbonate systems on the Laurentian margin; and the use of oxygen isotopes in conodonts to reconstruct water masses in Ordovician oceans. He has over thirty years experience of Arctic field expeditions and was awarded the Polar Medal for contributions to Arctic research in 2017.

He also has interests in the application of digital technologies to science museums, particularly in the areas of 3D visualisation, virtual reality and the evaluation of user experience. Much of this work is carried out in collaboration with WMG at the University of Warwick.

Paul has served as Co-Chair of University Museums Group UK and has been a President of both The Micropalaeontological Society and the Palaeontological Association.

Dr Alexander Sturgis is the Director of the Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology at the University of Oxford. In October 2014 Dr Alexander Sturgis became the Director of the Ashmolean Museum having had a distinguished career as the Director of the Holburne Museum, Bath, since 2005. Whilst at the Holburne Dr Sturgis oversaw a renovation of the Museum that included a £13 million extension. Prior to becoming the Director of the Holburne Museum Dr Sturgis worked at the National Gallery, London, for 15 years, in various posts including Exhibitions and Programmes Curator from 1999–2005.

Dr Sturgis is an alumnus of University College, Oxford and the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.