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Roslien Lecture: Shawn Otto “The War on Science”

October 29, 2024


“Wherever the people are well-informed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “they can be trusted with their own government.” Jefferson was a scientist and a lawyer, and the American experiment was a rejection of the authoritarian dictatorships of monarchs and popes in favor of the rule of the people informed by evidence. Two-hundred forty years later, science, our tool for producing that evidence, has become so advanced that it impacts all of life, yet so complex that it is increasingly difficult for voters to be well-informed. How do we know what’s actually true? Moreover, the political and economic implications of the knowledge science creates has made it a target of ideologues and industry, who have developed sophisticated disinformation campaigns to undercut public trust in objective facts they don’t like. The erosion is happening on the left and right, weakening democracies around the world and emboldening a new rise of anti-science authoritarianism and extremism. We will explore the roots of this crisis, how to protect ourselves and communicate with loved ones who’ve “gone down the rabbit hole,” and what we can do to turn things around before it’s too late.
About Shawn Otto
Shawn Otto speaks to audiences worldwide about the scientific foundations of democracy and the causes and dangers of anti-science authoritarianism.
He is author of the award-winning nonfiction book The War on Science, which predicted the rise of anti-science authoritarians and the threat they pose to democracy.  The book has been called “a game changer, and probably the most important book you’ll read this year.” He has advised candidate science debate efforts in many countries.
He also an award-winning screenwriter and novelist, including writing and co-producing the Academy Award-nominated movie House of Sand and Fog, and the LA Times Book Prize finalist literary crime novel, Sins of Our Fathers.
Otto was awarded the IEEE-USA National Distinguished Public Service Award for his work elevating science in American public dialogue. He is cofounder and producer of the US presidential science debates at ScienceDebate.org and the only person to get Donald Trump to answer science questions during the 2016 presidential campaign.
He lives in Minnesota with his wife, Rebecca Otto, the former Minnesota State Auditor and candidate for Governor, in a solar- and wind-powered green home he designed and the couple built with their own hands.

About the Roslien Distinguished Lecture
Dr. David J. Roslien Distinguished Lecture in Science and Leadership aims to bring internationally recognized individuals who have made impacts on society through the use of cutting-edge science or global leadership in policy and programs to Luther College to engage with faculty and students.

Roslien Lecture: Shawn Otto
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