What the ‘post-truth’ era means for Feiro

Our Mission: Feiro contributes to a strong community by providing local marine and watershed learning experiences, inspiring us all to act on behalf of our environment.

In case you missed it, the Oxford English Dictionary has chosen “post-truth” as the word of 2016. The definition reads: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

I can’t admit to being shocked.

One of my first science education jobs was at a planetarium and astronomy museum. I vividly recall one group of young adults scoffing at our full-size model of the Mars Rover Opportunity – the idea of sending a machine to another planet just seemed ridiculous to them. Despite the video evidence, despite the personal testimony of the thousands of people working at government and corporate labs across the US, and despite its installation at a major museum in a large urban center (at the time, over 85% of respondents in a survey called museums “one of the most trustworthy sources of objective information”), they did not believe this could be true.

That was a tough day.

Not long after this, studying the practice of science communication was launched. It wasn’t the facts that were at issue, it was how they were packaged, scientists and educators were told. Become friendlier, use less jargon, tell more stories. Museums across the country started “science today” presentations, science skill building activities, evidence analysis programs (remember CSI?), and more. But apparently this movement started too late, or didn’t have the right social networks, because here we are in the post-truth era.

The Earth isn’t waiting for us to decide what’s true. Its cycles and ecosystems are moving on – our Artic had near-record low sea ice this year. Our seafood consumption habits have inspired the EPA to raise the Clean Water Act standards in Washington State to reduce our exposure to toxic pollutants. The awareness of plastic breakdown affecting ocean life grows with new studies seemingly monthly.

What is a science organization to do? Our existence relies on the gate fees, donations and grants that come from bringing people and the ocean closer together, sparking curiosity and empathy, inspiring deeper understanding, and building skills that people can use in their future decision making needs. If large segments of people reject factual analysis or dismiss evidence, how can we still be relevant? Or are we needed now more than ever? Our staff and volunteers do our best to keep up with the communication and teaching techniques that have been shown to be most effective, but that takes a significant investment of time and money, and we’re a bit short on both.

I ask that, as you are considering the community investments you are making with your personal funds, you consider how to help us be as strong and successful as possible with our learning experiences. Investing in our staff and volunteers as more equipped and able educators means accessing training resources, attending professional development conferences, fostering internal practice sessions, evaluating our effectiveness, connecting guests directly to citizen science and stewardship learning projects, and more.

And then I invite you in to get a sea urchin hug. It’s guaranteed to make you forget all about “post-truth,” and simply put a smile on your face.

 

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