Last week, I wrote at Science Progress about how a group of scientists had dealt a devastating blow to the practice of MTR (mountaintop removal mining) with a good paper, some luck, and a good communications plan.
Now, the point is driven home further, as the chief scientist involved, Dr. Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland, was actually invited on The Colbert Report to discuss her work. Of course, the blowing up of mountains is a perfect Colbert topic, but I felt that Dr. Palmer did a good job, er, sticking to the science. Watch the whole thing:
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c Coal Comfort – Margaret Palmer
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy
I was thrilled to attend this fast-growing conference and get to see great peeps like Sheril K, Darlene Cavalier, Carl Zimmer, Tom Levenson, Isis, SciCurious, Jennifer Ouellette, and many, many more.
I didn’t always attend the panels (and only spoke on one, last minute) but I did have some reflections:
1. Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging – Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette: Hollywood getting into science = definitely cool. But will Hollywood’s ace marketers ever see a real need to court science bloggers to get the word out about films, given the relatively small size of our audiences and the vastness of their ad budgets? Not clear to me how much *we* matter, at least so far.
2. Trust and Critical Thinking – Stephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Desiree Schell, Greg Laden, Kirsten Sanford. Yes, science on the web is a total mess. But trying to “certify” good/accurate science bloggers, vs. bad/biased ones, is an idea that poses more problems than solutions. And anyway, bloggers aren’t the gold standard of scientific accuracy–scientific societies, the NAS, the IPCC, etc, are. Science bloggers should raise the profile of these organizations, and prop up the sense of their credibility, rather than slapping quality labels on various science blogs.
3. Broader Impact Done Right – Karen James, Kevin Zelnio, Miriam Goldstein, Jeff Ives and Beth Beck. It is exciting to learn how some recipients of federal research grants have built websites that have been effective at public outreach and thus at fulfilling the “broader impacts” stipulation of the grant. However, I seriously doubt that most grant recipients are innovating in these ways. Throwing up a website is not, generally, a good way of publicizing research, unless you really know what you’re doing, and plan to carefully measure your traffic and influence. More generally, why on earth do we have vast scores of different grant recipients all called upon to publicize their individual research projects separately? Why isn’t there some joining of forces, and some decisionmaking about what science really needs highlighting before the public, and which scientific teams are best equipped to do so?
Those are my semi-random opinions from ScienceOnline 2010. I’m so glad that I attended, and hope to do so again next year!
My latest Science Progress blog post looks at the case of a recent Science paper that has had a dramatic impact on the debate over so-called “MTR”–an extremely destructive and invasive form of mining that literally takes the caps off of mountain peaks to access the coal inside them. In essence, it’s the story of scientists being willing to stand up and say what they think about policy, and having a real influence as a result–a case study in how to make scientific information have its maximal impact. An excerpt:
To me, the most intriguing question is this: How did the 12 environmental scientists on the Science paper managed to achieve such an impact? Did they plan for it, or was it just fortuitous?
So I called up Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the article’s lead author. I was something like her 30th media interview on the topic, but unlike other journalists, I didn’t want to ask about either the policy or the science of MTR. Rather, I inquired about the communication strategy that had been employed to disseminate news about her paper. And thus unfolded a striking story of a group of scientists, with extremely important research on their hands, doing everything pretty much right to ensure its maximal impact.
As Palmer explained, the project out started as pure science. Her team of researchers began by synthesizing a wide array of data from different scientific fields on the consequences of MTR, in a more thorough way than had ever been done before—a process that consumed many months in the peer review process. But as the truly alarming results started to manifest, members of the scientists’ group soon coalesced around a strong, unanimous position about what they were finding. “Rather than just reporting the science,” says Palmer, “we all agreed that the consequences were so huge, we were very comfortable saying, ‘This just has to stop.’”
Resolved upon its message, the team then sought to disseminate it….
To hear more of the story, you can read the full post here.
Things have been so nuts for me over the past few days, I haven’t even been able to blog my Washington Post Outlook piece from Sunday about the need for better science communication in the wake of the devastating blow dealt by the ClimateGate scandal. The piece has been drawing tons of supportive private emails, as well as lots of online critiques and reactions, and fully 800 plus comments on the Post’s website, many of them from climate deniers.
Anyway, the article starts like this:
The battle over the science of global warming has long been a street fight between mainstream researchers and skeptics. But never have the scientists received such a deep wound as when, in late November, a large trove of e-mails and documents stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia were released onto the Web.
In the ensuing “Climategate” scandal, scientists were accused of withholding information, suppressing dissent, manipulating data and more. But while the controversy has receded, it may have done lasting damage to science’s reputation: Last month, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 40 percent of Americans distrust what scientists say about the environment, a considerable increase from April 2007. Meanwhile, public belief in the science of global warming is in decline.
The central lesson of Climategate is not that climate science is corrupt. The leaked e-mails do nothing to disprove the scientific consensus on global warming. Instead, the controversy highlights that in a world of blogs, cable news and talk radio, scientists are poorly equipped to communicate their knowledge and, especially, to respond when science comes under attack.
A few scientists answered the Climategate charges almost instantly. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, whose e-mails were among those made public, made a number of television and radio appearances. A blog to which Mann contributes, RealClimate.org, also launched a quick response showing that the e-mails had been taken out of context. But they were largely alone. “I haven’t had all that many other scientists helping in that effort,” Mann told me recently.
This isn’t a new problem….
Read here, there’s much more….on science communication strategies, how to fight the evolution war, and so forth. In essence, the piece builds on some of the central arguments of Unscientific America, but strained through the new example of ClimateGate, which is surely the number one reason yet that scientists have got to mobilize in the way that we recommended in the book. Hope you enjoy…
Chris will have more on our morning conversation with Tom Bowman about communicating science, but in the mean time I’ll touch on the afternoon discussion with Mark Dowie and K.C. Cole on science journalism.
Both Mark and K.C. are award winning journalists and authors. Mark’s most recent book is Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples and teaches science and foreign correspondence at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journal. K.C. teaches journalism and communication at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism and her latest book is entitled Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up. Each expert shared their career experiences and offered advice on speaking with journalists. They weighed in on why science reporting matters and how it’s changing. Mark focused on the state of the media and K.C. shared her perspective on how a journalist collects information to tell the story. In the end we discussed what styles of communication are most sucessful in America. (The comic after the jump is a great interpretation by Jorge Cham).
It was a terrific afternoon and our speakers raised a lot of thought-provoking points, followed by a round table Q&A. Chris and I are very interested to read reactions from students who were in the room and find out what resonated most for them…