There is an urgent need to take stories seriously in order to improve public reasoning.
The challenges of using scientific evidence, of distinguishing news from fake news, and of acting well in anticipation of highly uncertain futures, are more visible now than ever before. Across all these areas of public reasoning, stories create profound new knowledge and so deserve to be taken seriously.
The two authors, Claire Craig, Provost of The Queen’s College, and Sarah Dillon, Professor of Literature and the Public Humanities at the University of Cambridge, talk to Charles Godfray, Director of the Oxford Martin School, about their theory and practice of listening to narratives where decisions are strongly influenced by contentious knowledge and powerful imaginings in areas such as climate change, artificial intelligence, the economy, and nuclear weapons and power.
Dr Claire Craig
Provost, The Queen’s College, Oxford
Dr Claire Craig is Provost of The Queen’s College, Oxford and has extensive experience of providing scientific evidence to senior decision-makers in government and business. Originally a geophysicist, she became Director of the UK Government Office for Science, a member of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, and got her grounding in strategy at McKinsey & Co. She developed her interest in the power of stories initially through their roles in public reasoning about strategic futures and alongside the use of computational models of complex systems.
Her 2018 pamphlet, How Does Government Listen to Scientists?, led her to become increasingly interested in the reasons behind the absence of systems and mechanisms to bring evidence about stories into public debate and decision-making explicitly, and the consequences of this absence.
Professor Sarah Dillon
Professor of Literature and the Public Humanities, University of Cambridge
Sarah Dillon is Professor of Literature and the Public Humanities in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge. She is a scholar of contemporary literature, film and philosophy, with a research focus on the epistemic function and value of stories, on interdisciplinarity, and on the engaged humanities. She is author of The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory (2007), Deconstruction, Feminism, Film (2018), and many academic articles and book chapters.
She is editor of David Mitchell: Critical Essays (2011), and co-editor of Maggie Gee: Critical Essays (2015) and AI Narratives: A History of Imaginative Thinking About Intelligent Machines (2020). In addition to her academic scholarship, Sarah is an established arts broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4, having been selected as a 2013 BBC Radio 3 and AHRC New Generation Thinker. She has an intellectual and practical commitment to demonstrating the value and importance of the humanities across sectors, including in higher education, government, and wider culture and society.
Professor Charles Godfray
Director, Oxford Martin School
Professor Godfray is a population biologist with broad interests in the environmental sciences and has published in fundamental and applied areas of ecology, evolution and epidemiology. He is interested in how the global food system will need to change and adapt to the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, and in particular in the concept of sustainable intensification, and the relationship between food production, ecosystem services and biodiversity. In 2017 he was knighted for services to scientific research and for scientific advice to government.
As well as leading the School, Professor Godfray is also a lead researcher of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food and the Oxford Martin Restatements project, a new approach to providing succinct summaries of scientific evidence around highly contentious topics.