Category: science communication

Facts Don't Persuade Climate Skeptics–So What Does?

By Chris Mooney | September 14, 2011 10:54 am

The answer, according to a new study, is making them feel better about themselves. As I report:

…the contested issues under examination were whether the 2007 troop “Surge” decreased insurgent attacks in Iraq (it did), whether the U.S. economy added jobs during 2010 under President Obama (it did), and whether global average temperatures have risen since 1940 (they have). Those who opposed the Iraq war and supported troop withdrawals were disinclined to credit George W. Bush’s surge with having worked. Those who oppose President Obama are disinclined to credit him on the economy, or to generally believe in global warming—especially that it is human caused.

Nyhan and Reifler once again confronted partisans with information on these subjects that (presumably) contradicted their beliefs—but there was a twist. This time, the contradictory information was sometimes presented in the form of a convincing graph, showing a clear trend (in attacks, jobs, or temperatures). And second, sometimes the individuals went into the manipulation after having undergone a “self-affirmation” exercise, in which they were asked to describe a positive character attribute or value that they possessed, and a situation in which showing that attribute or trait made them feel good about themselves.

And in both cases, the manipulation worked—although by different means.

Presenting an unequivocal graph was powerful enough to change people’s views, even as presenting technical text (at least in the rising temperatures case) was not. Meanwhile, getting people to affirm their values and sense of self also decreased their resistance, presumably because they felt less threatened by challenging information after having had their egos reinforced and their identities bolstered.

Read on here. Huge implications for effective science communication.

Scenes from a Sci-Comm Training

By Chris Mooney | August 30, 2011 1:03 pm

We’re just wrapping up another installment of “Science: Becoming the Messenger,” this time in the beautiful Colvard Student Union at Mississippi State. The University ran this picture of one of my live improv interviews with a scientist–who did a very good job in response to some very crazy questions. Image caption below:

COMMUNICATING SCIENCE — MSU is hosting the National Science Foundation, which presented the workshop “Science: Becoming the Messenger” in the Colvard Student Union Monday. Facilitators Dan Agan, left, and Chris Mooney teach participants how to communicate complicated topics like research projects in a way that engages their audience. MSU postdoctoral associate Carrlet Stokes, right, had the chance to share her message about the importance of sweet potato research during a communication exercise on stage. The workshop continues today with a more intensive training session for invited researchers.

Update: The newly crowned Ms. United States [hearts] science.

By The Intersection | July 14, 2011 5:47 pm

This is a guest blog post from Darlene Cavalier,  founder of and

Last night,  Laura Eilers, AKA Ms. Virginia, was crowned MS. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! The Science Cheerleaders–current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science and engineering careers–are very fortunate to have Laura as our extremely talented choreographer and creative director.

In addition to being a former cheerleader for the St. Louis Rams, cheerleader and choreographer for the Kansas City Chiefs, and an NFL Hall of Fame Game Cheerleader, she’s also the creator of  Going Pro Entertainment, LLC, a network of professional cheerleading and dance alumni.

In school, her favorite science projects included “creating an amoeba structure out of cookie cake and icing, researching anthropologist Dian Fossey and her work with gorillas, as well as engineering a balsa wood structure that could withstand heavy weights. My team and I tested the structure repeatedly and competed with other schools for the strongest balsa structure.”

And, yes, she “most definitely believes evolution should be taught to our children.”

Congratulations, Laura!

And now, I’d like to turn your attention to a recent blog post written by Joshua Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas. Following up on all the chatter surrounding the Miss USA contestants’ answers to the question of whether evolution should be taught in schools, Josh writes:

I’m glad to see professional cheerleaders and pageant contestants stepping up and talking about science. It has to have been nerve-wracking for the Miss USA contestants to be asked about the question without time to prep, and I think the awkwardness and “ums” and “likes” and “you knows” in the transcript mostly just reflect how people actually talk, especially when we’re nervous. The substance of the Miss USA pageant answers wasn’t at all impressive, but the fact that the pageant thought Miss USA should be able to speak about science education is impressive.

Ms. Virginia, or “huge science geek” Miss California (now Miss USA), can go into rooms and connect with audiences that just don’t care to listen to anything said by me, or PZ Myers, or Richard Dawkins, or Eugenie Scott. So can a professional cheerleader. And if the goal is to make a more science literate society, it behooves us to make sure that women waving pom poms or wearing a sash with a state name on it are just as ready to talk about the joys of science as a doctor in a white coat or a geologist in dusty jeans.

And at the end of the day, I smile every time I see Cavalier play this video. Because why shouldn’t a little girl at a massive science festival want to be a doctor and a teacher and a cheerleader? How better to encourage all of her dreams than to chat with a former professional cheerleader who is now a doctor and cheers for science? Someone else might see that you can call yourself a science geek and a history geek and still be chosen Miss USA, and decide to take her schooling more seriously. And that’s for the best.

Read Josh’s full post here.

Miss USA 2011, "A Huge Science Geek"

By The Intersection | June 20, 2011 11:12 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D.

Last night, the unlikely happened in Las Vegas, Nevada when Miss California Alyssa Campenella, a self-professed “huge science geek,” was selected to be the next Miss USA. The pageant appeared on my radar Friday afternoon when Bora Zivkovic tweeted that the Miss USA pageant contestants had been asked a science-related question, “Should evolution be taught in schools?”

Subsequently, much of the internet chatter focused on the contestants from states known for their anti-evolution policies such as Kansas, Texas and Kentucky. I decided to go the other route and find out which of these women supported the teaching of evolution. I was disheartened to find that only a few of them really understood the issue. Many were apparently unaware that evolution is currently taught in schools. And, most of them thought creationism or “the other side” should be taught, as well.

The pre-pageant interviews revealed how much work remains to be done in order to improve science literacy in America. However, Campanella’s answer demonstrated that she possesses a respectable appreciation and understanding of science.

The evolution issue is addressed in the second question in the video:

Her forthright and honest, not to mention scientifically accurate, answer established her geek status even before the pageant. She reinforced her geek credentials during the pageant by deftly answering a question about whether the U.S. should legalize the use of marijuana:

“Well, I understand why that question would be asked, especially with today’s economy, but I also understand that medical marijuana is very important to help those who need it medically,” she said.

“I’m not sure if it should be legalized, if it would really affect, with the drug war,” she said. “I mean, it’s abused today, unfortunately, so that’s the only reason why I would kind of be a little bit against it, but medically it’s OK.”

I believe in Campanella we will have a science ambassador representing us in the Miss Universe pageant come September and you better believe I’ll be supporting her. My only hope is that someone will get her to talk about science a little more so the next generation will know that beauty and intelligence are one and the same.

More on the Psychology of Anti-Evolutionism: Need For Closure, Fear, and Disgust

By Chris Mooney | June 9, 2011 9:58 am

Jamie Vernon did a great post here earlier, showing some of the psychological research that supports the view that direct confrontation of anti-evolutionists, and especially criticism of their religious beliefs, probably won’t work most of the time and may even backfire.

In particular, Jamie cited a study in which supporting “intelligent design” was linked to the fear of death–thus, accepting ID may be part of a psychologically satisfying “terror management” strategy. Here is the abstract:

The present research examined the psychological motives underlying widespread support for intelligent design theory (IDT), a purportedly scientific theory that lacks any scientific evidence; and antagonism toward evolutionary theory (ET), a theory supported by a large body of scientific evidence. We tested whether these attitudes are influenced by IDT’s provision of an explanation of life’s origins that better addresses existential concerns than ET. In four studies, existential threat (induced via reminders of participants’ own mortality) increased acceptance of IDT and/or rejection of ET, regardless of participants’ religion, religiosity, educational background, or preexisting attitude toward evolution. Effects were reversed by teaching participants that naturalism can be a source of existential meaning (Study 4), and among natural-science students for whom ET may already provide existential meaning (Study 5). These reversals suggest that the effect of heightened mortality awareness on attitudes toward ET and IDT is due to a desire to find greater meaning and purpose in science when existential threats are activated.

Recently I came across another psychology study which reinforces some of this, from 2008. Read More

Will the IPCC Be Ready to Communicate About Its Fifth Assessment Report?

By Chris Mooney | June 2, 2011 9:52 am

Please excuse the lack of posting yesterday; I was entombed by work and not feeling particularly insightful. In a “new directions” post coming up soon, I’ll explain how we are going to have some new voices here at “the Intersection” that should increase total content volume in the future, and prevent many post-free days from occurring on weekdays.

In the meantime, though, I want to call attention to my latest DeSmogBlog post, which is about the IPCC and communication. It builds on Andy Revkin’s recent writings, and starts like this:

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the world authority on the science of climate. But at the same time, it has been increasingly beset by controversies that call into question its approach, and its preparedness, when it comes to communication.

Essentially, the IPCC releases highly technical reports, fairly infrequently, that get an initial flurry of mainstream media attention and then get attacked viciously until the next report comes out. And when attacked, IPCC has opted for an ill advised strategy of “hunkering down,” as Andrew Revkin puts it. Indeed, following “GlacierGate”—when a very real error was found in one of IPCC’s reports—IPCC came off as defensive and was very slow to admit the mistake.

Following the various “-Gates” of 2009 and 2010, a cry went out in many circles that we need to improve climate science communication. As a result, all kinds of communication innovations are now going forward, many of which are ably summarized by Revkin in a recent article in the Bulletin of the World Meteorological Organization (which was central to creating the IPCC itself in 1988).

But where does IPCC fit in the context of this innovation wave?

Read here for my at-best-mixed answer.

On Communication, Does the IPCC Still Not Get It?

By Chris Mooney | May 31, 2011 3:36 pm

Andrew Revkin has a good article in the current Bulletin of the World Meteorological Organization about science communication, climate science communication, and the expanding array of options for scientists to use in engaging with the public. Much of it sounds like what we teach at the NSF trainings–you’ve got to be on the web, you’ve got to learn video, and so on. And you’ve got to be creative and tell a story–your story.

All of this is right, uncontestably. But I noticed this in particular from Revkin’s piece:

Diving into this arena requires time, some level of culture change and even courage, particularly given how the Web can be an amplifier for unfounded attacks and disinformation as much as knowledge. But hunkering down, as some institutions – including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – tried to do after recent controversies, is probably not a sustainable approach in the long haul. As the IPCC prepares its Fifth Assessment Report, it does so with what, to my eye, appears to be an utterly inadequate budget for communicating its findings and responding in an agile way to nonstop public scrutiny facilitated by the Internet. I would love to think that the countries that created the climate panel could also contribute to boosting the panel’s capacity for transparency, responsiveness and outreach.

I made this point recently in an e-mail exchange with three leaders of the climate panel’s next assessment – the chairman, Rajendra K. Pachauri, and Thomas Stocker and Christopher Field, scientists respectively co-leading the reports on climate science and impacts.

They all agreed that more resources and a clear communications strategy are badly needed. “Despite several years of highlighting the need for effective communications and outreach, we have really made very little headway, and I know that we cannot delay action in this area much longer,” Dr Pachauri wrote. “If we do, it would be at our own peril.”

Well, at least Pachauri is right to be worried. But why on Earth is nothing happening? After all the pseudo-scandals of the past few years and all the attacks on climate research, what more prodding do you need?

Congratulations to Naomi Oreskes

By Chris Mooney | May 31, 2011 7:44 am

I’m a bit late on this, but Naomi Oreskes, the co-author of Merchants of Doubt and a Point of Inquiry guest last year, has been recognized as “Climate Change Communicator of the Year” by the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication. The Alliance for Climate Education, as an organization, was also recognized.

I’ve known Naomi Oreskes for a long time, been on panels with her, interviewed her, spoken to her classes. She’s a fearless historian of science who has done pivotal work to defend the idea that the scientific consensus on climate change is robust and should be listened to–and in Merchants of Doubt, she and Eric Conway took it further by exposing the long history of how a small group of scientists moved from being Cold Warriors to, essentially, the first generation of climate “skeptics.” It’s a must read.

I congratulate Naomi, as should we all. She very much deserves this honor.

Interestingly, by the way, her book could be classified as being part of a “war on science” narrative, which Matthew Nisbet doesn’t like. And yet it is winning a “climate communication” award!

Listen to Naomi’s Point of Inquiry appearance here.

A Live, Crowd Sourced Limerick on Science Communication from Norman, OK

By Chris Mooney | May 24, 2011 3:18 pm

Following in the tradition of prior NSF “Science: Becoming the Messenger” workshops, I am once again getting the group here in Norman, OK, to compose a Limerick about science communication in real time. I’ve given them the first line…

There once was a workshop in Norman….

…and I’ve sternly instructed them that this is not to be a dirty Limerick, as this is a family friendly website. Here’s what they came up with:

There once was a workshop in Norman,
And outside there was threat of stormin.’
We learned how to blog
Despite the brain fog,
Our communication skills rapidly formin’.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: science communication

Off to Norman, OK, for "Science: Becoming the Messenger"

By Chris Mooney | May 23, 2011 6:51 am

Blogging may be light from me today, as I’m flying off to Oklahoma for the latest sci comm training.

This one will be at the National Weather Center in Norman, which I had the privilege of visiting in 2009–the home to many of our country’s talented and invaluable tornado experts.

Point of Inquiry will go up later today, and I’ll have a DeSmogBlog post. I’ll put those up here as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, the NSF meeting–as usual–will be using the Twitter hashtag #nsfmessenger, so you can tune in there. I suspect we’ll also be composing another science communication Limerick tomorrow….


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