Subscribe to the OSS Weekly Newsletter!

This is the age of the pandemic. And that is truly terrifying. But it is also the age of the “infodemic,” and that too has some chilling features. We are relentlessly bombarded by a tsunami of information, the reliability of which is often questionable, especially when the source is social media. When it comes to controversial issues, be it in the area of medicine, nutrition, or environmental concerns, bloggers and politicians with sketchy relevant backgrounds are as likely to throw their hat into the ring as scientific experts. Unfortunately, in the public eye, the divergent opinions of these groups are often given equal weight.

In face of the seriousness of the health and societal problems we have to confront, judging the trustworthiness of the information we use to guide ourselves is becoming more and more critical. However, making such judgments is not an easy matter. Possible vested interests, evaluation of appropriate expertise, sources of published information, extent of peer review, scientific plausibility, the difference between anecdote and evidence, reliance on confirmation bias, distinguishing between correlation and causation, and the reproducibility of cited research all have to be considered before we jump onto one of the many bandwagons that are rolling by. This year, to reduce the risk of leaping onto one that is destined to crash, the Trottier Public Science Symposium will address the question of “in whom do we trust?”

Britt Hermes & Brendan Nyhan - Day 1


Anthony Warner & Wendy Zukerman - Day 2


About the Speakers

Britt Hermes | "Fake doctor. Real Harm. Confessions of a former naturopathic “doctor”

The practice of naturopathy is unscrupulous and dangerous. For three years, I practiced as a licensed “naturopathic doctor” in the United States. I can say that the overwhelming majority of naturopathic care relies extensively on dubious alternative therapies, rather than established protocols based on medical and scientific research. In this talk, I share the experiences that led me to be interested in natural medicine and how I became the most hated (by them) naturopath in the world.

Britt Hermes is a writer, scientist, and a former naturopathic doctor. She practiced as a licensed naturopath in the United States and then left the profession after realizing naturopathy is a pseudoscientific ideology. Since this time, Britt has been working to understand and communicate how she was tricked by alternative medicine, so others do not repeat her mistake. She now writes to expose issues with naturopathy, the current rising profession in alternative medicine. Her work focuses on the deceptions naturopathic practitioners employ to scam patients and contrive legitimacy in political arenas. She hopes her stories will protect patients from the false beliefs and bogus treatments sold by alternative medicine practitioners. Hermes is currently living in Germany where she is completing her doctorate in evolutionary genomics. Follow Britt Hermes on Twitter @NaturoDiaries.

Brendan Nyhan | “The Consumers of “Fake News”: Why people read untrustworthy sources online” 

Concern has grown since the 2016 election about the prevalence of online misinformation and the ways social media has potentially exacerbated its reach and influence. Using unique behavioral data measuring online exposure, we measure the prevalence of exposure to untrustworthy websites about politics and health and show that the consumption of these sites is typically limited and concentrated among small, unrepresentative groups of people. These findings contradict popular narratives about the prevalence and influence of so-called “fake news” sites.

Brendan Nyhan is a Professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College whose research focuses on misperceptions about politics and health care. He has been named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow and is a contributor to The Upshot at The New York Times. He previously co-authored All the President’s Spin, a New York Times bestseller, and served as a media critic for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow Brendan Nyhan @BrendanNyhan.

Anthony Warner | “Ending Hunger - The Quest to Feed the World Without Destroying It”

The production of food has more negative impacts on the planet than any other human activity. Over the next thirty years, we desperately need to make huge changes to the way we produce and consume food, otherwise, the effect on the natural world will be devastating. This talk will explain how misinformation is one of the most powerful forces preventing this from happening and explore a series of cognitive biases that push us towards misinformation on these issues, thereby resulting in widespread confusion, apathy, and lack of action.

Graduated in Biochemistry from Manchester University, then thoroughly wasted my qualifications by embarking on a career in professional kitchens. Worked as Head Development Chef for the UK’s largest food manufacturer for 11 years, developing recipes for some of the country’s best-known brands and products. Apparently, over 99.5% of UK households contain a product that I have worked on. Frustrated by pseudoscience and misinformation in the world of food, started an initially anonymous blog called the Angry Chef in 2016, intending to share it with a few friends and colleagues. It accidentally became successful, leading to work writing for national newspapers and magazines including the Sun, Guardian, New Scientist, The Telegraph and a column in the Sunday Times. A few years on, the Angry Chef has led to a trilogy of award-winning books and an a lot of arguments, including the time that I accidentally upset the mayor of London. Currently work as an ambassador for Sense About Science’s Ask for Evidence campaign. Equally disliked by vegans and carnivores. Was once asked on BBC Radio 4’s ’The Moral Maze’ if I would eat my own dog. Follow Anthony Warner on Twitter @One_Angry_Chef.

If you are interested in purchasing Anthony Warner's books, please visit the following links:

Ending Hunger: The quest to feed the world without destroying it (Jan. 2021, available for pre-order)

The Truth About Fat: Why Obesity is Not that Simple (Jan. 2020)

The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating (June 2017)

Wendy Zukerman | “Science journalism during the Pandemic: How do you keep up with the facts and the fears”

This year, Science took center stage as we all scrambled to understand "the curve", "fomites" and single-stranded-RNA. For months - science was in the headlines, as people demanded and needed the facts, not just for their own curiosity but to keep themselves and their families safe. But science didn't have the answers immediately. And so, to fill the vacuum, came the misinformation, and the conspiracy theories. With every new kernel of science that was published, came ten hydra heads of exaggeration and confusion. So as a science journalist - how do you keep up? How do you report the science in a satisfying way, when the answers aren't satisfying? How do you balance fear with facts? 

Wendy Zukerman is the stigma-breaking science journalist and host behind Gimlet Media’s chart-topping podcast Science Vs. Wendy has spent the past decade working across television, audio and print, cutting her teeth at New Scientist Magazine and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Follow Wendy Zukerman on Twitter @WendyZuk.

The Trottier Foundation is a proud supporter of the McGill Office for Science and Society’s Public Science Symposium and believes it is a vital vehicle to promoting scientific communication and presenting scientific information to a broader audience. Established in 2000 by Lorne Trottier and Louise Rousselle Trottier, The Trottier Family Foundation is a Montreal-based private Canadian charitable foundation whose mission is to provide support to organizations that work towards the advancement of scientific inquiry, the promotion of education, fostering better health, protecting the environment and mitigating climate change. The Foundation believes that science, the environment, health, and education are crucial pillars in building a better world.

Back to top