Novelty in science – real necessity or distracting obsession?

Featured

File 20171219 5004 1ecssnn.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

It may take time for a tiny step forward to show its worth. ellissharp/Shutterstock.com

BY Jalees Rehman, University of Illinois at Chicago

In a recent survey of over 1,500 scientists, more than 70 percent of them reported having been unable to reproduce other scientists’ findings at least once. Roughly half of the surveyed scientists ran into problems trying to reproduce their own results. No wonder people are talking about a “reproducibility crisis” in scientific research – an epidemic of studies that don’t hold up when run a second time.

Reproducibility of findings is a core foundation of science. If scientific results only hold true in some labs but not in others, then how can researchers feel confident about their discoveries? How can society put evidence-based policies into place if the evidence is unreliable?

Recognition of this “crisis” has prompted calls for reform. Researchers are feeling their way, experimenting with different practices meant to help distinguish solid science from irreproducible results. Some people are even starting to reevaluate how choices are made about what research actually gets tackled. Breaking innovative new ground is flashier than revisiting already published research. Does prioritizing novelty naturally lead to this point?

Continue reading

Advertisements

OCEANDOTCOMM: The Opportunity Every Science Communicator Has Dreamed About

Featured

LUMCON Photo

Take a look at your twitter timeline. Any truly exciting and unique science communication going on? Probably not.

Let’s just admit that online science communication hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire…yet.

Sure, there’s good stuff happening, but where’s the innovation? Where’s the spark that will make us stop scrolling and think – ‘WHOA!, now here’s something different.’

Dr. Craig McClain, Executive Director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), says online science communication is stagnant. He’s had enough of scicomm conferences where attendees are lectured to and then enter into big discussions that result in no action, no innovation, no creativity – and no change. So his team at LUMCON has created OCEANDOTCOMM (March 15,-20, 2018). It’s not a conference – it’s an experience. McClain calls it a “collaborative, storytelling, social media event” that will have people DOING scicomm in brand new ways.

OCEANDOTCOMM is being billed as the ‘opportunity every science communicator has dreamed about’ – and the following Q & A with McClain explains why:  Continue reading

Inoculation theory: Using misinformation to fight misinformation

Featured

File 20170512 3682 1g3a9fh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

A shot of fake news now and your defenses are raised in the future? funnyangel/Shutterstock.com.

By:John Cook, George Mason University

As a psychologist researching misinformation, I focus on reducing its influence. Essentially, my goal is to put myself out of a job.

Recent developments indicate that I haven’t been doing a very good job of it. Misinformation, fake news and “alternative facts” are more prominent than ever. The Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” as the 2016 word of the year. Science and scientific evidence have been under assault.

Fortunately, science does have a means to protect itself, and it comes from a branch of psychological research known as inoculation theory. This borrows from the logic of vaccines: A little bit of something bad helps you resist a full-blown case. In my newly published research, I’ve tried exposing people to a weak form of misinformation in order to inoculate them against the real thing – with promising results.

Continue reading

How to spot fake news – an expert’s guide for young people

Featured

By: Beth Hewitt

Every time you go online, people are competing for your attention. Friends, strangers, businesses, political organisations, charities and news websites all serve up a constant stream of eye-catching pictures, videos and articles, wherever you might go looking for information – Google, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or YouTube.

But in the race to catch your eye, not all of these players feel like they have to tell the truth – and you can’t always rely on social media platforms to filter out the falsehoods. The result is fake news: stories that are specially designed to mislead or deliberately misinform people.

Continue reading

Climate scientists and policymakers need to trust each other (but not too much)

Featured

File 20171218 27591 1bh5wna.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
By: Rebecca Colvin, Australian National University; Christopher Cvitanovic, University of Tasmania; Justine Lacey, CSIRO, and Mark Howden, Australian National University

 

At a time when the effects of climate change are accelerating and published science overwhelmingly supports the view that humans are responsible for the rate of change, powerful groups remain in denial across politics, the media, and industry. Now more than ever, we need scientists and policymakers to work together to create and implement effective policy which is informed by the most recent and reliable evidence.

Continue reading

New research shows explaining things to ‘normal’ people can help scientists be better at their jobs

Featured

 

File 20171117 7529 1758qgp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Science communication: it’s not rocket science.
Pexels

By: Susanne Pelger, Lund University

In times when fake news and alternative facts circulate in society, spreading scientifically based findings is more important than ever. This makes science communication one of academia’s most vital tasks. But despite the pivotal role scientific communication plays in society, communicating with the general public is not always prioritised among researchers.

Continue reading

Facts Versus Feelings Isn’t the Way to Think About Communicating Science

Featured

The message might not come through if you put all your communication eggs in one theoretical basket. buydeephoto/Shutterstock.com

By John Cook, George Mason University and Sander van der Linden, University of Cambridge

In a world where “post-truth” was 2016’s word of the year, many people are starting to doubt the efficacy of facts. Can science make sense of anti-science and post-truthism? More generally, how can we understand what drives people’s beliefs, decisions and behaviors?

Continue reading

When Politicians Cherry-Pick Data and Disregard Facts, What Should We Academics Do?

Featured

Advocating for facts and evidence at the March for Science in California earlier this year. Matthew Roth/Flickr, CC BY-NC

By: Andrew J. Hoffman, University of Michigan

When politicians distort science, academics and scientists tend to watch in shock from the sidelines rather than speak out. But in an age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” we need to step into the breach and inject scientific literacy into the political discourse.

Continue reading

Pilot Study: Why Academics Should Engage With The Community

Featured

Dr Ian Moffat explaining ground penetrating radar to community members during a survey of the Innamincka Cemetery.
Julia Garnaut, Author provided

By Ian Moffat, Flinders University

Australian academics will soon have a new incentive to get off campus and into the community to engage with the people who ultimately fund their research – the taxpayers.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) is currently piloting a new scheme to quantify impact and engagement by academics. It’s part of proposed funding changes under the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Continue reading

Fake News, Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles: Underresearched and Overhyped

Featured

By William H. Dutton, Michigan State University

Don’t panic: An international survey finds concerns about fake news are overblown. studiostoks/shutterstock.com

In the early years of the internet, it was revolutionary to have a world of information just a click away from anyone, anywhere, anytime. Many hoped this inherently democratic technology could lead to better-informed citizens more easily participating in debate, elections and public discourse.

Today, though, many observers are concerned that search algorithms and social media are undermining the quality of online information people see. They worry that bad information may be weakening democracy in the digital age.

The problems include online services conveying fake news, splitting users into “filter bubbles” of like-minded people and enabling users to unwittingly lock themselves up in virtual echo chambers that reinforce their own biases.

These concerns are much discussed, but have not yet been thoroughly studied. What research does exist has typically been limited to a single platform, such Twitter or Facebook. Our study of search and politics in seven nations – which surveyed the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain in January 2017 – found these concerns to be overstated, if not wrong. In fact, many internet users trust search to help them find the best information, check other sources and discover new information in ways that can burst filter bubbles and open echo chambers.

Continue reading

Marching for Science in the Deeply Red – Deep South

Featured

Chattanooga March for Science – April 22nd, 2017 – Courtesy of Shirley Zapf‎

On April 22nd, we watched as the world marched for science. Major media did a fine job covering demonstrations happening across the nation and around the world. However, most of what we saw on television and online focused on the largest events – which took place in big cities. Getting less attention, were hundreds of marches in smaller cities that brought people together in support of science.

With thunderstorms looming, residents of Chattanooga, Tennessee took to the streets to make their voices heard. Chattanooga is located in Hamilton County, where 56% of voters chose Donald Trump (39% chose Hillary Clinton) in November’s Presidential Election. Statewide, Trump topped Clinton 61% to 35%. With numbers like that, you’d think residents would be less inclined to participate in a political march targeting the policies of a person many of them helped elect.

The following is a Q&A with Sara Scott, one of the organizers of the Chattanooga March for Science. She defines herself as a feminist, leftist, and mother who has lived in Chattanooga for four years. I was interested in hearing her thoughts about organizing a pro-science event in the deep south.

Continue reading

“Chatt About Science” – What it Takes to Start a Science Cafe (Q&A)

Featured

Dr. Sarah Webb and Dr. Deanna Beasley outside a Chatt About Science event.

Can I interest you in a shot of science with your caramel macchiato?

Science cafes are popping up across the country and around the world.

The concept is simple, researchers chat with the public about their exciting work at a coffee bar, ‘real’ bar, or another public place. Instead of a technical presentation, the researchers share their stories in language easily understood by a diverse audience of non-scientists. Conversation, questions, and debate then follow with the goal of boosting public understanding of – and support for – science.

Most major cities have science cafe programs, but when freelance writer Dr. Sarah Webb moved to Chattanooga in 2012, she was surprised that the city didn’t have its own. It took a few years, but she started one herself – calling it Chatt About Science.

The first event took place November 2016. She’s currently planning number six. Each Chatt About Science attracts an average of 20 people to a local coffeehouse to learn about science. So far, topics have included plant ecology, chemistry, memory, urban ecology, and water quality.

In this Q & A, Dr. Sarah Webb shares what she learned as she brought Chatt About Science to life. Hopefully, this will inspire you to do the same in your community. Continue reading

How Scientists Should Communicate Their Work in a Post-Truth Era

Featured

By Andy Miah, University of Salford

It’s not an easy time for scientists to talk to the wider public. The US president, Donald Trump, has called global warming “bull—-” and a “Chinese hoax”. In the UK, leave campaigner and MP Michael Gove famously declared that people “have had enough of experts”. But now UK MPs have published a report arguing that there should greater backing for public dialogue and engagement with science.

Continue reading

Climate Change Communication: Taking the Temperature – Part 4 with David Schultz

Introduction

In this series of interviews, prominent climate scientists share how and why they communicate, the risks they are taking by publicly engaging in the climate discussion, and how their outreach activities have affected each of them personally and professionally. As the series continues, you’ll see that no matter where they stand on the science, they all have a great deal in common.

schultz1. Tell me about your research focus / area of expertise in 140 characters or less.

Whether it is snowstorms, windstorms, heavy rain or tornadoes, I don’t make the weather forecasts. I do research to help make the forecasts better.

2. How do you view your role in communicating science?

I see my role in communicating science in four ways.

The first is to help my graduate students and postdocs develop better communication skills through the papers that they write and the presentations that they deliver.  That’s what all good advisors should be doing, so perhaps that is an obvious answer.

The second is to help undergraduates in developing better communication skills, specifically through writing.  Many undergraduates are never taught properly how to write even the simplest essay.  Yet, in the United Kingdom, they are expected to deliver these 30-page research dissertations at the end of their third year.  Even if they leave science, proper writing skills will benefit them in whatever career they have.  We don’t do enough to prepare them, so it’s been my goal to improve that within our School.

The third is to help improve the written communication through the scientific journals.  I’ve served as a decision-making editor at five different journals in my career, and I believe that a good editor is one who is involved in the review process and works in conjunction with the authors and reviewers to improve submitted manuscripts.  My biggest satisfaction is seeing articles that would not have been published without the work that the authors, reviewers and I have done to improve it.

The fourth is to enter into a dialog with the public about my research and atmospheric science, in general.  The public has a natural curiosity about the weather because it affects them every day.  Yet, they may not know much about how the atmosphere works and why it rains, for instance.  I think talking with the public to find out what they know, what their misconceptions are, and helping them learn and be fascinated by the science and beauty of the weather is one of the most satisfying things that I can do.

3. In your view, how has your role in communicating science changed in the past 10 years?

My role in communicating science has changed a lot over the past ten years because my job has changed a lot over the past ten years.  Ten years ago, I was a research scientist at a government research laboratory in Oklahoma.  Now, I am a full professor at the largest university in the United Kingdom.  Although I still enjoy doing research myself, I rarely have time for that anymore.  So, I have to live vicariously through my students and postdocs!  They are the ones now presenting their science at meetings, talking at schools and Brownie events, attending science fairs and interacting with the public.  So, my job is to give them the skills that they need to be successful in these various enterprises.

That said, they are much more adept than me at some things: developing beautiful and effective graphics, communicating through social media, developing software applications to get students and the public involved in the wonders of meteorological and climate modeling.

4. Do you think it’s important for scientists and other researchers to be directly involved in outreach activities? If so, why?

Doing outreach activities is important because it keeps you in touch with the people who are funding your research.  You want them to understand and appreciate what you do, but you should also be proud enough of your own work to tell others about it, even if they aren’t scientists.  Anything we can do to help improve public understanding of science is good for society.  Plus, when the public comes away from talking with a scientist having learned something, they are less scared of learning about science in the future.

Interacting with the public also leads to quite a bit of feedback that I simply would not have considered.  For example, I’ve learned a lot about what the public thinks of my science. I’ve had some people come up to me after my talk and say, “Wow, I didn’t realize that there was so much science and math in weather forecasting.”

5. Do you use social media for science outreach? If so, how do you use social media – and why?

I have a Twitter account @EloquentScience that I mostly use to talk about science communication issues.  It developed out of my book Eloquent Science: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Writer, Speaker, and Atmospheric Scientist. Although I mostly dwell on how scientists talk to each other, if you can improve the way we write and talk about science to each other, the benefits of talking to the public follow from that.  Speaking to the public is a more down-to-earth approach to talking about science.  Take away the veil of jargon and you are forced to explain things simply.  And, I believe that most science is simple enough to communicate to the layperson.

These skills of speaking to a nonspecialist audience are transferable to our communications with other scientists.  I think scientists that are really good at communicating to the public tend to be better writers of journal articles and presenters at scientific conferences, as well.  There is a great feedback between the two.

16. Do you think social media (social networks, blogs, etc.) add value to scientific discussions?

Absolutely.  I haven’t used it much for communicating my own science, but I can see that blogs can be useful for showing active discussion about interesting and controversial new research ideas.

7. Have your outreach activities had an impact on your scientific research? Are there any examples of positive or negative impacts you’ve experienced personally?

Yes.  Through talking with the public about my science, I’ve seen that some concepts that are commonly presented as fact in the media are wrong.  For example, consider the prevalence of tornadoes in the central United States. Common media explanations are that tornadoes result from “the clash of the air masses” (warm air from the Gulf of Mexico meeting cooler air from the polar regions).  We know this isn’t right, but even after millions of dollars of research into tornadoes and a large public outreach effort with the field research program VORTEX2, the media still gets it wrong.  Why?  So, we wrote an article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and are on a crusade to get people to think about tornadoes in a realistic manner.  I hope we succeed.

8. Have you ever come across scientific misinformation or misconceptions, online or elsewhere, which you addressed directly? How did you do it, and what was the result?

See above.

The other thing I did was use an invitation to talk on the Paul Hudson Weather Show on BBC York to develop a series called “Urban Legends of Meteorology”.  In there, I explore a bunch of outdated ideas that have incredible persistence.  Examples include: not touching someone who is struck by lightning because they might transfer their charge to you, the Gulf Stream leads to the warm climate of western Europe, and tornadoes avoid urban areas.  I actually received a piece of fan mail encouraging me to continue debunking bad science.

9. What do you consider to be the most effective and ineffective ways to disagree about scientific topics?

Effective: Comments and replies in journals.  Massively underused, but can be nasty and time-consuming.  I would like to see more scientific arguments occur in the scientific literature.  Blogs can also be effective tools, although there is no sort of peer review there.

Ineffective: Public debates between sides that are clearly unequal in standing.

10. Individuals in the scientific community and the public are often labeled and grouped depending on their particular views. What do you consider to be the impact of these groupings?

To the extent that these groups are homogeneous, labels can be useful to identify common sets of beliefs.  But, when people are inappropriately labeled as members of a group because they hold unpopular but reasoned ideas, then that’s when the utility of these labels breaks down.  I think we need to be careful about lumping everyone who doesn’t agree with us into a camp that allows us to summarily dismiss them.

211. Please share your thoughts on the future of science communication as a vehicle for enhancing public trust in science? What should the path forward look like?

It’s disappointing to see that the public trust in scientists as a whole has been dropping, even as it is more cool now to be a nerd/scientist.  I’m sure that more than one factor is involved, so solutions will need to address multiple facets of the problem.  I am also confident that much of the problem is caused by a few bad apples and is not characteristic of scientific enterprise as a whole.  So, what the good apples need to do is make whatever appeals they can through whatever venues they have to remind people about the high standards we set for ourselves within science.

I see three points that scientists should discuss when they have the opportunity.

  1. Peer review is an important gate through which scientific research must pass.  The public should be wary of research that is not published in a respectable peer-review journal, but comes out as a press release or a media report from a conference.
  2. That being said, not all research that gets published is correct.  The public should recognize that the evaluation of published scientific claims takes time.
  3. There is often a large disconnect between the sensationalism of press releases and the careful wording in scientific journal articles. Articles often contain caveats and limitations that press releases omit.  So, everyone needs to be a bit careful about latching onto the latest press release and taking it as the truth.

Additional Resources for Dr. David Schultz:

Personal Web Page

Eloquent Science Blog

Twitter: @EloquentScience

ManUniCast: Real-time weather and air-quality forecasting over the UK and Europe

Climate Change Communication: Taking the Temperature – Part 5 with Gavin Schmidt

Introduction

In this series of interviews, prominent climate scientists share how and why they communicate, the risks they are taking by publicly engaging in the climate discussion, and how their outreach activities have affected each of them personally and professionally. As the series continues, you’ll see that no matter where they stand on the science, they all have a great deal in common.


schmidt1. Tell me about your research focus / area of expertise in 140 characters or less.

I work on building simulations of climate that have the same emergent patterns that we see in the real world.

2. How do you view your role in communicating science?

I try to raise the level of conversation so that people are arguing about the things that matter, not the things that don’t.

3. In your view, how has your role in communicating science changed in the past 10 years?

I’ve moved from blogging towards social media and direct connections to journalists and public speaking. This is mostly a function of getting to be a more senior scientist and having more admin and management responsibilities, which leave less time for intensive blog content creation. What I’ve understood about how to communicate, the issues of advocacy and values etc. have all evolved too – I find myself agreeing with Stephen Schneider more than I used to!

4. Do you think it’s important for scientists and other researchers to be directly involved in outreach activities? If so, why?

In most cases, yes. The public would greatly benefit from a ‘deeper bench’ of public scientists with myriad views and insights into how science works and how we know what we know. I am a firm believer in the importance of an informed public in a democracy, and if people with expert domain knowledge don’t share it, the chances of making rational choices on science questions is obviously lessened.

35. Do you use social media for science outreach? If so, how – and why?

Yes. Twitter (@ClimateOfGavin). Tweeting is certainly less onerous than blogging – posting links, short comments etc. But I find it very useful for getting notice of interesting articles – in the mainstream press, on blogs and in journals, and casually interacting with colleagues. My tweeting is definitely focused on my scientific domain – I don’t tweet about personal stuff or on non-scientific topics. It is a little addictive, but it serves as a better news source than email listservs or journal tables of content. The necessity of compression to 140 characters is a great writing discipline – many researchers could benefit!

6. Have your outreach activities had an impact on your scientific research? Are there any examples of positive or negative impacts you’ve experienced personally?

Yes. There have been a number of papers that I’ve written that have expanded in more depth issues that first arose in blog comments or where I couldn’t find a suitable existing reference. As for positive impacts more generally, blogging definitely raised my public (and scientific) profile leading to greater exposure, and awards for public outreach. With that came greater attention from political actors – including misrepresentations, hostile FOIA requests, letters and implied accusations of criminal conduct from ranking minority Senators etc. You know, normal stuff. While this is unfortunate, the positive benefits of people thanking me for being ‘out there’ or for pointers to interesting research far outweigh the negatives.

7. Have you ever come across scientific misinformation or misconceptions, online or elsewhere, which you addressed directly? How did you do it, and what was the result?

Of course, that was the main motivation for becoming a public scientist in the beginning. I’ve tried many tactics, and depending on the source of the misinformation it has had different effects. If the mistake is inadvertent or just from lack of time (for instance a detail in a newspaper article), I’ve found that most journalists are happy to correct this quickly. If the whole piece is based on a fundamental misconception, that doesn’t work and getting caught up in the technical details is a pointless waste of time. Instead, it’s far better to blog at depth about the conceptual issue or the real context and come back to it again so that over time people learn to recognize it.

I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t simply fix these things one article at a time. Most of these specific articles are very ephemeral, and so your effort is better spent talking about the general issues. In all of the interactions though, attitude is important. People will see you as symbolic of something larger and so will attack/praise you according to how they feel, rather than what you say. You need to not take these things personally and remember that overtly emotional or angry reactions generally backfire. One other thing I’ve learnt is that only some things need to be treated seriously. If you can’t or don’t want to ignore them, dealing with your inevitable trolls with humour is more effective (and more fun) than getting defensive. Don’t try and be all things to all people. If you can find a specific role for your voice and/or expertise stick to it.

48. What do you consider to be the most effective and ineffective ways to disagree about scientific topics?

Depends totally on the context. What works in an academic setting is completely wrong on TV or in a politicized environment. And it is always important to think about ‘effective for what’. People talk publically about science topics for many reasons so their goals and effectiveness will vary. Disagreements can be productive though. Try and get to the heart of the issue – is the disagreement about something real? Is it based on some implicit value judgment? Is it an opportunity to talk about some murky details and context that people are unaware of? Addressing all of these things is useful for other people, even if your correspondent never accepts your points. Always think about who’s reading/watching, not necessarily who you are nominally talking to. Daniell Dennett’s ‘Tools for Thinking’ has a good ideal that people should aspire to when disagreeing in public.

9. Public trust in science is critical. What role do you believe both consensus and disagreement play in building or eroding that trust?

Public trust is mostly enhanced by being trustworthy. But it is undermined by accusations of misconduct regardless of the truth of the matter. That means that people wanting to adopt a shoot-the-messenger strategy will almost certainly indulge in efforts to erode trust – regardless of the probity of the scientists concerned. Scientists should be clear about the situation – if there is broad agreement they should not be afraid to say so, and likewise for issues where there isn’t. Scientists should also be able to place attacks in context and be open and transparent about what they do. Attacks on other scientists and personalizing debates – though relatively common – is a bad idea and usually backfires. However, scientists shouldn’t indulge people who are not engaging in good faith.

10. Individuals in the scientific community and the public are often labeled and grouped depending on their particular views. What do you consider to be the impact of these groupings?

They are mostly shorthand that don’t necessarily apply in detail to individuals. People could be more careful about making that distinction.

11. What lessons have you learned from your outreach activities, and what advice do you have for other researchers who want to do more outreach?

It is mostly fun and more people should do it. You get better with practice so start small and build up. The bad stuff is disarmed if there are a lot of targets, rather than just one or two. Don’t take mean things people say personally. Try and do more slow thinking and writing, but remember that the whole conversation is a work in progress so don’t expect everything to be perfect. Sustainability of the conversation is very important – don’t burn out and don’t burn bridges.

12. What do you think the future looks like for science communication/outreach as a vehicle for enhancing public trust in science? What should the path forward look like?

If more scientists get out there, it will be easier for members of the public to identify scientists they know and perhaps that will humanize the profession. It might not help public trust in “Science” because a lot of that is itself based on misconceptions, but I think it will help people get an honest sense of what science is (and isn’t).


 Additional Resources for Dr. Gavin Schmidt:

Climate Change Communication: Taking the Temperature – Part 6 with Kim Cobb

Introduction

In this series of interviews, prominent climate scientists share how and why they communicate, the risks they are taking by publicly engaging in the climate discussion, and how their outreach activities have affected each of them personally and professionally. As the series continues, you’ll see that no matter where they stand on the science, they all have a great deal in common.


cobb1. Tell me about your research focus / area of expertise in 140 characters or less. 

I study past climate change to learn more about future climate change, using coral and cave samples to reconstruct temperature and rainfall.

2. How do you view your role in communicating science?

My role as a climate science communicator is to deliver the most accurate information about climate change to a public that is hungry for data, but is often confronted with conflicting information.

3. In your view, how has your role in communicating science changed in the past 10 years?

It has changed profoundly. Ten years ago I would present my own lab’s research results to my public audiences, complete with lovely photos of coral reefs and tropical caves. I wanted to excite my audience about my research, and to share my passion. Six years ago, I delivered my first broader climate change talk to a standing-room-only audience at a local church. After the talk, I was overwhelmed with positive feedback from people of all ideological bents. Everyone appreciated me delivering some key facts, while stressing the areas of high uncertainty. That talk marked the beginning of my concerted efforts in climate change communication.

4. Do you think it’s important for scientists and other researchers to be directly involved in outreach activities? If so, why?

I think it is critical that scientists engage with the public however they see fit. Everyone has a role to play, because the sphere of public engagement is so large and varied – one person might enjoy K-12 outreach while another enjoys building long-term relationships with policymakers. If we as scientists don’t take the time to share our knowledge and passion with the public, we shouldn’t be surprised when science is under-valued.

55. Do you use social media for science outreach? If so, how do you use social media – and why?

I use social media to reach a broader audience of science enthusiasts, as well as members of the general public. Those scientists that use social media form a sort of club of like-minded individuals who are committed to engagement. It’s a space where engagement is celebrated, and where standard academic metrics play second fiddle to creativity, inclusiveness, and humor. Mostly, I use my blog and twitter (@coralsncaves) account to keep track of and participate in conversations that I wouldn’t have otherwise in my job as a professor of climate science and geochemistry at Georgia Tech. Pet interests include women in science, public engagement and climate change policy, to name a few.

6. Do you think social media (social networks, blogs, etc.) add value to scientific discussions?

Yes, in the sense that the average American cannot be expected to digest the peer-reviewed published literature in a topic of interest. That said, I think that scientific progress should be measured through the peer-reviewed literature, and I’m wary of efforts by some bloggers to bypass that conduit of knowledge, which leads to confusion among the public.

7. Have your outreach activities had an impact on your scientific research? Are there any examples of positive or negative impacts you’ve experienced personally?

I would say there are both positives and negatives. On the plus side, my social media engagement constantly reinforces the importance of my work in targeting key uncertainties in climate science – it is not just an academic undertaking. On the negative side, there are only so many hours in a day, and social media takes time away from my research. Obviously I think the benefits outweigh the costs for me personally, but I dream of a time when such engagement is celebrated and rewarded across higher ed, just as publications and proposals are currently.

8. Have you ever come across scientific misinformation or misconceptions, online or elsewhere, which you addressed directly? How did you do it, and what was the result?

When I was first starting out in social media, I made the mistake of thinking that I could enter into a logical exchange with someone I profoundly disagreed with, exchange some facts, make my point, and get out. I was sorely mistaken – there is no “winning” such arguments when a large portion of the audience is openly hostile to your viewpoint and can hide behind anonymity. Now, I think that writing op-eds or dedicated response posts on blogs is a much better strategy than direct engagement. That said, I still prefer face-to-face conversation to on-line exchanges when it comes to addressing misinformation, as I feel that such encounters foster greater mutual respect with clearer rules of engagement.

9. What do you consider to be the most effective and ineffective ways to disagree about scientific topics?

For least effective, see above. For most effective, exchange ideas in the peer-reviewed literature, optimally, or by giving presentations at a large meeting or workshop. While these are highly structured, formal encounters, they allow one to assess the scientific merit of the arguments for themselves, based on facts.

10. Public trust in science is critical. What role do you believe both consensus and disagreement play in building or eroding that trust?

Both aspects have a role to play, in that both are essential to the scientific method. There are some broad areas of results that have been reproduced so many times, using so many different approaches, that scientific work naturally gravitates towards those areas where key uncertainties still exist. The public must understand that scientists live and breathe uncertainty every day, and I believe it is our job to showcase that aspect of the scientific method when given the opportunity. That said, the fact that we do broadly agree on some key facts concerning issues of societal relevance, like climate change, should not be obscured, nor dismissed, in service of particular ideologies.

11. Individuals in the scientific community and the public are often labeled and grouped depending on their particular views. What do you consider to be the impact of these groupings?

Such groupings are incredibly detrimental to the conversations that we need to be having about specific scientific results and their relevance to policy-making. For me personally, I try to make sure that I am not somebody else’s spokesperson, essentially being used to further somebody else’s political agenda. Rather, I try to be true to the science, and most of all, I try to be an effective and trustworthy source of information.

612. Please share your thoughts on the future of science communication as a vehicle for enhancing public trust in science? What should the path forward look like?

I believe that if more scientists were engaged directly with the public, then the public would value science more highly. Unfortunately, as it stands, this important activity is relegated to a few passionate individuals, who by their nature have fairly strong perspectives to share. In the future, I hope that institutions of higher ed will invest in public engagement by training students and faculty, provide resources to promote their engagement, and reward those who take time away from research and families to feed the public’s hunger for scientific information. These types of activities demonstrate the societal value of science, which in turn demonstrates the value of the institutions that enable scientific research.


 Additional Resources: 

  • URL for your personal web page/blog  http://cobblab.blogspot.com
  • Twitter address: @coralsncaves
  • The diving photo in the header was taken on a shoot for the Emmy Award-winning documentary “Years of Living Dangerously”, which aired April, 2014. www.yearsofliving.com

Climate Change Communication: Taking the Temperature (Part 7) with Marshall Shepherd

Introduction

In this series of interviews, prominent climate scientists share how and why they communicate, the risks they are taking by publicly engaging in the climate discussion, and how their outreach activities have affected each of them personally and professionally. As the series continues, you’ll see that no matter where they stand on the science, they all have a great deal in common.


shepherd1. Tell me about your research focus / area of expertise in 140 characters or less. (1 Tweet)

My research focuses on aspects of the hydroclimate, including storms, precipitation, and extreme events. I also focus on urban climate.

2. How do you view your role in communicating science?

I try to make science accessible. I believe too many scientists are comfortable in the ivory tower, journal space, and conferences. However, a gale of misinformation rushes in to replace the void if scientists are not communicating to the public, stakeholders, and students. Further, if scientists continue to speak in jargon, graphs, and trend lines – the message is lost. Recently, I began hosting a show, WxGeeks, on the Weather Channel. This show provides a forum for sharing the weather and science topics of the day with a national audience.

3. In your view, how has your role in communicating science changed in the past 10 years?

Social media is the obvious answer. Good and credible science information is now up against Wikipedia University, Blog State University, Twitter Tech, and Op-Ed Institute.

4. Do you think it’s important for scientists and other researchers to be directly involved in outreach activities? If so, why?

Yes, because if we are not, professionals skilled in communication will own and manipulate the messages. Science and expertise are under attack. We have to show the public that the very iPhone or GPS that they are using has come from sound science and technology. Science is not about an agenda or politics, it is about questions, discovery, and advancement.

75. Do you use social media for science outreach? If so, how do you use social media – and why?

I use social media (‪@DrShepherd2013) to share credible science information, write blog posts on my expertise, and to keep up on the latest trends and information in science. I find Twitter to be particularly useful and annoying at the same time. There is good information if you can find it, but it also gives people the impression of equal expertise just because they have equal access.

6. Do you think social media (social networks, blogs, etc.) add value to scientific discussions?

I think they can if you can filter through the noise and find good signal.

7. Have your outreach activities had an impact on your scientific research? Are there any examples of positive or negative impacts you’ve experienced personally?

Sure, as a scientist seen as capable of speaking science in an accessible form, I have been able to communicate with a large audience via major media outlets. I have also been called to brief Congress and the White House.

I think my biggest negative is early in my Twitter experience, I learned very quickly that there are trolls and troublemakers that will try to manipulate your online words, so you must choose your words carefully.

I think many scientists are stuck in this old perception that scientists that also do outreach are selling out or not “true” scientists. I frown upon that. That is an outdated view of the world. However, I would suggest that a scientist must earn their science credibility first because that makes the outreach more effective. I have a solid reputation scientifically, am a fellow of my major professional society and the past president, and I received one of the nation’s highest awards, the PECASE for scientific research. So, I have no problem doing outreach, and I don’t really care what the old guard thinks.

8. Have you ever come across scientific misinformation or misconceptions, online or elsewhere, which you addressed directly? How did you do it, and what was the result?

I will often engage on misinformation, but in a non-hostile way. I try to convey sound information in a respectful manner, but you do have to realize that some people have agendas or adhere to an ideology, and that you will not move those people. So I am generally more interested in addressing those who really have no ideological bias and just want to learn. I also use Facebook to provide educational posts about weather and climate.

9. What do you consider to be the most effective and ineffective ways to disagree about scientific topics?

I have never understood why people can’t disagree and still like each other. I have several colleagues that I disagree with on climate, but I get along fine with them. However, there is a cadre of people out there that want to be vitriolic and negative. I steer clear of them. The name-calling and personal attacks must end, and I try my best not to engage.

I think a rational discussion based on the premise of facts, objectivity and science discourse is effective if done respectfully, even if in the end the person doesn’t agree with you.

810. Public trust in science is critical. What role do you believe both consensus and disagreement play in building or eroding that trust?

Consensus is tricky. Disagreement has always been a part of science. However, I find now that in the era of ‘arm-chair’ science – many people just don’t understand the scientific process, the peer-review process, etc. They see things more like a legal system and reasonable doubt. If there is reasonable doubt or slight uncertainty, they think the basic scientific premise is flawed. Science doesn’t work that way. There is uncertainty in an 80% chance of rain, but you will probably grab an umbrella. There is uncertainty in many medical doctors’ diagnoses, but we consume the information.

At the end of the day, one must look at the motives of people and also remember a very important statement by Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”

11. Individuals in the scientific community and the public are often labeled and grouped depending on their particular views. What do you consider to be the impact of these groupings?

They are very destructive.

I am generally a consensus builder. I can also accept someone disagreeing with me. But I am less patient with the notion that just because someone tweets it or post a graph they generated that they are an expert. If you can establish credentials, peer-reviewed work, then I will meet you halfway even if I disagree.

12. Please share your thoughts on the future of science communication as a vehicle for enhancing public trust in science? What should the path forward look like?

More scientists need to engage and move beyond the old school model of academia and scholarly engagement. If we are not in the communication game, someone else will be and misinformation will continue to spread. Social media is no longer new or for the ”young kids” – it’s here and for everyone, embrace it, learn it, and use it to the best of your ability.


Additional Information:

Twitter: @DrShepherd2013

Full Faculty Profile (CV)

UGA Atmospheric Sciences ProgramWxGeeks TV Show Clips

WxGeeks TV Show on FacebookWxGeeks TV Show on Medium

Dr. Shepherd’s Weather Underground Blog

Email: marshgeo@uga.edu

Climate Change Communication: Taking the Temperature (Part 8) with Edward Maibach

Introduction

In this series of interviews, prominent climate scientists share how and why they communicate, the risks they are taking by publicly engaging in the climate discussion, and how their outreach activities have affected each of them personally and professionally. As the series continues, you’ll see that no matter where they stand on the science, they all have a great deal in common.


maibach1. Tell me about your research focus / area of expertise in 140 characters or less.

My research – which is funded by NSF, NASA and private foundations –  focuses on public engagement in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

2. How do you view your role in communicating science?

I see myself (and my research center) not as a voice to communicate climate science, but rather as a voice coach. We investigate public understanding and methods to enhance public engagement, and we share our findings broadly with members of the climate science community and other organizations.

3. In your view, how has your role in communicating science changed in the past 10 years?

Ten years ago, I was deeply (and happily) ensconced as a strategic communication expert in the public health community. Shortly thereafter, I recognized climate change as a profound threat to public health and responded by developing the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. Initially, I found the climate change community oddly resistant to the science of science communication. Happily, that is no longer the case; I am now deeply engaged in exciting interdisciplinary work with a wide array of climate experts, social scientists and communication practitioners.

4. Do you think it’s important for scientists and other researchers to be directly involved in outreach activities? If so, why?

It’s important for the community of scientists to be highly involved in sharing what they know with members of the broader community, so that society can benefit from the rapidly accumulating insights from science. That said, for a variety of reasons, many individual scientists would rather stay focused on their knitting; that’s perfectly OK.

5. Do you use social media for science outreach? If so, how do you use social media – and why?

I send a tweet or two on many mornings before work (as I am enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the news). I aim to share developments that I feel are potentially important.

6. Do you think social media (social networks, blogs, etc.) add value to scientificdiscussions?

I’ve seen many terrific social media conversations about issues pertaining to science, although “the nasty effect” (troll-like behavior that quashes thoughtful interaction) does tend to kick in all too often and ruin it for everyone.

97. Have your outreach activities had an impact on your scientific research? Are there any examples of positive or negative impacts you’ve experienced personally?

I was surprised to learn how differently medical/public health scientists and climate scientists view the concept of “advocacy.” “Scientist as advocate” is normative in public health while decidedly non-normative in climate science. My colleagues and I are currently conducting research to explore how members of the public respond to various kinds of actions and statements by climate scientists that might (or might not) be construed as “advocacy.” Climate scientists may be right to avoid certain types of actions and statements, but our sense is that they may be undermining their potential contributions to society by avoiding other actions.

8. Have you ever come across scientific misinformation or misconceptions, online or elsewhere, which you addressed directly? How did you do it, and what was the result?

There is consensus among nearly all climate scientists that human-caused climate change is happening, yet most members of the public are unaware of it. Our research shows that providing members of the public with quantitative information about the extent of the consensus changes people’s views of the consensus, and of climate change. I set the record straight about the scientific consensus about human-caused climate change whenever an occasion arises, and I encourage members of the climate science community to do the same.

9. What do you consider to be the most effective and ineffective ways to disagree about scientific topics?

The parties should take steps to identify and affirm what they agree about, before delving into the disagreement. Surfacing the major points of agreement provides as a firm ground from which to explore the points of disagreement.

1010. Public trust in science is critical. What role do you believe both consensus and disagreement play in building or eroding that trust?

In journalism, disagreement is more interesting than agreement (consensus), therefore members of the public can get a distorted view from new media about the current state of the science. Disagreement per se does not undermine public trust, as long as efforts are made to provide the proper context – a thoughtful explanation of exactly what the disagreement is, and how the disagreement could be settled (presumably through further and better research).

The community of scientists, for the most part, does a great job of earning the public’s trust (e.g., we set high standards for ourselves – and for our peers – and we have good mechanisms to uphold those standards). In turn, the community of scientists is indeed highly trusted by most members of the public. There has been some loss of trust in scientists among highly conservative Americans, but I’m betting that the scientific community will earn back their trust over the long run. This key question – How do we earn public trust, especially when some members of the public may not like what we are learning? – is increasingly becoming a topic of scientific investigation, and that should be quite helpful in the long run.

11. Individuals in the scientific community and the public are often labeled and grouped depending on their particular views. What do you consider to be the impact of these groupings?

When meaningful variation exists in a population, it does help to identify and understand groups of people who are similar to one another, and different from other people. Communication experts call this “audience segmentation,” and it can be quite helpful in communication planning, and in social science research. What we call those groups, however, is important. If a group is “labeled” in a hurtful or spiteful manner, it will likely alienate members of that group, and undermine public discourse.

12. Please share your thoughts on the future of science communication as a vehicle for enhancing public trust in science? What should the path forward look like?

I’m “all in.” The fruits of science will only nourish human civilization to the extent that we make good decisions about how to use the knowledge. As the science of science communication develops, the odds are good that the science/society partnership will become more effective at understanding our challenges, and managing them.


Additional Information:

  • Dr. Maibach’s Personal Web Page/Blog: climatechangecommunication.org
  • Dr. Maibach on Twitter: @MaibachEd