Montana State University

Mosquito-borne diseases and risk management to be discussed at Feb. 9 Café Scientifique

January 9, 2017 -- From MSU News Service

MSU professor Bob Peterson will present “Managing Risk in a Complex World: Reflections on Mosquito-Borne Diseases and the Scientist’s Role in a Post-Fact Media Landscape” at 6 p.m. at the Baxter Hotel Ballroom in Bozeman. The event is free and open to the public. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – Bob Peterson, Montana State University entomology professor and incoming president of the Entomological Society of America, will be the featured speaker at the university’s upcoming Café Scientifique.

Peterson will present “Managing Risk in a Complex World: Reflections on Mosquito-Borne Diseases and the Scientist’s Role in a Post-Fact Media Landscape” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at the Baxter Hotel Ballroom in downtown Bozeman. The event is hosted by MSU and co-sponsored by its INBRE and COBRE programs. It is free and open to the public.

During the talk, Peterson will briefly summarize his research on mosquitoes and provide an overview of the tools and techniques currently used to manage mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile, Zika, malaria, yellow fever and dengue. He will also touch on the risks and benefits of common pesticides as well as cutting-edge control possibilities such as gene-editing techniques.  

Peterson, who specializes in environmental risk assessment, plans to describe how scientific facts form the basis for risk-evaluation models in his field.

“Reasoning which insect-management solution to use, when to use it or whether to intervene at all in a particular situation involves weighing a complex set of environmental factors, risks and expected benefits,” he said. “These inputs are all based on facts and inferences derived from the scientific method.”

Research on mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases illustrates how the scientific method can do more than just elucidate facts about the natural world, Peterson said. He also sees it as tool that can help researchers and policy makers weigh potential consequences and ultimately inform decision-making.

“I view science as a force for good,” Peterson said. “We figured out about 400 years ago how to test, falsify and verify truth claims, and since that discovery, we’ve experienced, on balance, the greatest flourishing in human history. Hundreds of years later, the scientific method is still the best tool we have to discover truths about the world and then use those insights to improve our decisions about what to do next.”

Peterson will conclude his talk by reflecting on scientists’ role in an information landscape that contains widespread reports of fake news and what Peterson deems as a waning public deference to facts and expertise.

Peterson, from the MSU College of Agriculture's Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, leads the research, teaching and outreach program in agricultural and biological risk assessment. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses, including environmental risk assessment, insect ecology and various special topics graduate courses. He also directs the MSU online graduate program in environmental sciences and is the author or co-author of 106 peer-reviewed journal articles, 14 book chapters and one book, to date.

In 2019 Peterson will begin a term as president of the Entomological Society of America, which is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines.

Café Scientifique provides a relaxed setting for people to learn about current scientific topics. The concept started in England in 1998 and has spread to a handful of locations in the United States. Following a short presentation by a scientific expert, the majority of time is reserved for lively conversation, thoughtful questions and respectful dialogue. Refreshments are provided free of charge.

Housed at MSU, Montana INBRE and COBRE are each Institutional Development Award Programs (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant numbers P20GM103474 and GM103500, respectively.

Contact Bill Stadwiser with Montana INBRE at (406) 994-3360 or william.stadwiser@montana.edu for more information about the Café Scientifique concept or check the Web at http://www.inbre.montana.edu/cafe/index.html.

Contact: Bill Stadwiser, Montana INBRE, (406) 994-3360 or william.stadwiser@montana.edu