Honors Symposium Lecture Series

About the FVCC Honors Symposium

After a four year hiatus, the Flathead Valley Community College Honors Symposium has returned, offering FVCC students and members of the community five opportunities in February and March to hear science experts address various topics that support this year’s theme, “Science Matters: Skepticism, Inquiry and the Need for Literacy.”  The college brings these free lectures to the community to provide credible and substantive information on important topics of public interest.

This year’s lecture series will focus on the history and process of modern science; the accrued benefits of a scientifically literate society (as well as the burdens of a scientific literacy); the differences between science and pseudoscience; the political, economic and cultural lobbying affecting public policy related to science; and the ethics of scientific investigation.


All presentations start at 7 p.m.

“Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future”

Tuesday, February 25


Sheril Kirshenbaum, Ph.D. – Director of The Energy Poll – University of Texas, Austin

The vast majority of Americans do not see the ways in which science holds relevance in their lives, and too many scientists are unable to explain why their work matters. Meanwhile, economics, partisan politics, a new media environment, and religious ideologies have exploited the growing rift between science and mainstream American culture. Science should be a value shared by all, but there exists a “vast gulf of mutual incomprehension” (C.P. Snow) between scientists and everyone else. The scientific community must find new ways to reach out to the public and inform the larger decision-making process, so America can rise to meet the greatest
challenges of the 21st century.

Dr. Kirshenbaum is Director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin where she works to enhance public understanding of energy issues and improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. She is the co-author of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future.

“Informing the Citizenry: Where Science Can Succeed (and Fail) in the Technology Debates”

Thursday, March 6


Christopher Preston, Ph.D. – University of Montana, Department of Philosophy

Sometimes it is thought that if people simply knew more scientific facts, then policy decisions about complex emerging technology issues would be much simpler. Unfortunately, this “deficit” model of scientific knowledge can sometimes miss the fundamental nature of public policy disagreements about novel technologies. This lecture will explore how ethical responses in this tricky arena can be a complex mix of both fact and feeling.

Dr. Preston specializes in environmental philosophy, ethics, and interdisciplinary science and ethics. He grew up in southern England, receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Durham, a master’s degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in Eugene. He spent one year in Montana in the late 90’s, and came back to The University of Montana full time in 2004.

“Biotechnology: One Problem at a Time. Are you Kidding?”

Tuesday, March 11

dsands_256x256David Sands – Ph.D. – Montana State University, Department of Plant Science

To make a real inroad on a world-class problem, it might be necessary to solve as many as four world-class problems simultaneously. The approach of deploying a high-tech silver bullet against one such problem, while ignoring other problems, seems to be a prescription for failure. Sands will look at a nexus of several problems: (a) drought, (b) protein malnutrition, (c) water misuse, and (d) violence, with the objective of mitigating them all. He will outline the approach, building each solution separately and then combining their deployment.

Sands was a product of the Future Farmers of America, a liberal arts college (Pomona), a Ph.D. (Plant Pathology) from the University of California, Berkeley, and many years of teaching biotech applications and field research at Montana State University. His lab has produced a number of products that you might be eating now or in the near future: gluten-free foods, low glycemic, high protein rice alternatives among them. He is a current recipient of a Gates Foundation grant for work in Africa. He writes poetry.

“Climate Change, GMOs, and Vaccine Safety: Should We Trust Scientific Consensus?”

Thursday, March 20

intemannKristen Intemann – Ph.D. – Montana State University, Department of Philosophy

The history of science is full of instances where there was a scientific consensus around a theory that later turned out to be false. Given this, why should we trust the scientific consensus over issues such as climate change, vaccine safety, or the use of GMOs? Some argue that we have particularly strong reasons to be skeptical of the consensus view in these sorts of cases because 1) despite the appearance of a consensus, there are still deep uncertainties in the existing scientific evidence, and 2) the consensus view is likely to lead to policies that may incur significant economic, health, or social costs. The aim of this talk is to identify several important features that might guide us in evaluating whether we ought to trust a consensus view in developing public policy or guiding our own behavior. It is not only that a consensus exists that is important – but also the processes by which a consensus was reached (and whether they are sufficiently rigorous in certain ways). Understanding why certain processes tend to produce more reliable knowledge is crucial to trying to determine who to trust in developing policies and deciding how to live our lives, particularly when we may not have the expertise to understand all of the relevant science.

Dr. Intemann is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Montana State University and specializes in research ethics, the philosophy of science, and values and scientific investigations. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle in 2004.

“Harnessing Science in Service of a Thriving Democracy”

Monday, March 24

science-PallaviP-closeup-lowres200x200Pallavi Phartiyal – Ph.D. – Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, MA

Science and democracy have been intertwined since the founding of America. The founding fathers were citizen scientists and employed many scientific concepts in the design of our democracy, which the founders characterized as a grand experiment. Since those early times, policy decisions informed by scientific knowledge have continued to deliver benefits for citizens, in our health, environment, and security. But this long, fruitful relationship has taken a beating in recent years, where corporate and political interests have sidelined or misrepresented science to their advantage. A noisy digital media, where everyone can find a fact to support their preconceived opinion, only adds to the problem. To stem the assault on science, the public should have unfettered access to credible information so that it can understand how scientific knowledge affects their daily lives, and the consequences of disparagement and ignorance of unbiased data. An informed citizenry is vital to stop the abusive tide against science and scientists.

Dr. Phartiyal is a senior analyst and program manager for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and works at the nexus of science and public policy. Dr. Phartiyal has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from G.B. Pant University in India, a master’s degree in agronomy from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The FVCC Honors Symposium is supported by FVCC, Humanities Montana, Kalispell Branch of American Association of University Women (AAUW), FVCC Alumni and Ambassadors, and the Theodore Chase Endowment Fund. We welcome donations to this fund. Your contribution will ensure the future for innovative honors programs and activities at Flathead Valley Community College.

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Last modified: February 25, 2014