How the emotional need for certainty and safety has handcuffed research and technology.

David Zaruk

Thursday, August 29 2019 at 2:00PM

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Rue des Alexiens 55
1000 Bruxelles

David Zaruk

What's the talk about?

Reason has always been the sceptical underpinning that keeps our emotions in check. And yet reason is a slave to the passions. On environmental health risk issues, trust, safety and the desire for certainty are emotional concepts driving our decisions. But in a world where social media groups and manipulative gurus guide public discourse, online communities and tribes make storytelling more immediate and locally trustworthy. In this novel situation, reason, facts and evidence are being relegated to an element serving the interests and objectives of the community-agreed narrative. It is becoming very difficult to challenge the views of the tribe or be reasonable in public discourse where scepticism is interpreted as trolling, denialism or fake news.

The dominant narratives today are challenging rational dialogue and the role of expertise. Two decades of precaution-driven regulations in Europe have created an anti-technology cultural mindset (to fix our problems, we don’t need more scientific solutions, but rather we need to remove the perceived source of the problem - technology). As trust models evolve, communities of shared interests are discarding the need for evidence and expertise while proposing a citizen-led decision-process. In such a structure, reason has left the building.


For the pre-congress event of the European Skeptics Congress 2019, the Comité Para has the pleasure to host a special Skeptics in the Pub with David Zaruk. David is an environmental-health risk governance analyst and a professor at Odisee University College. He sits on various research ethics panels and frequently serves as a chair, expert, rapporteur, ethics adviser or evaluator for European-funded research projects. Until 2006, David worked twelve years in chemicals issue management for Solvay, Cefic and Burson-Marsteller. In 2001, he was one of the founders of GreenFacts, a science-based risk communications tool for non-specialists. He writes a blog under the pseudonym: The Risk-Monger, assessing the European use of evidence in environmental-health policy management.