16 July 2009

Communicating Science 2

Several good comments already to the first note on this line, at Communicating Science I'd like to continue a fair amount of discussion there.

Here, I'm pulling out some of the specific suggestions folks have made for more focused discussion and elaboration. All, I'll note, are from the commentators rather than myself.

Eric asked the important question of whether I mean ideas for me, personally, or for scientists in general. I mean both. It might be a good idea for scientists to appear regularly on The Daily Show and Colbert Report. But that's probably not a good venue for me (but if John Stewart or Stephen Colbert give me a call, I'll give it a try and find out :-). Worse would be some of the anti-scientific yelling shows on TV or radio. On the other hand, I only learned about Science Cafes by accident and that's a very good venue for me. (Both that I enjoyed it, and that my host and audience did.) There probably are a lot of others.

If I read jg and eric right, in addition to blogs, educationally-oriented web sites are also something to do and have. I did work on one in the 1990s -- http://www.radix.net/~bobg/ -- but had stopped that and thought that these days blogs might be the preferred route. Certainly google gives higher scores to blogs than web sites (my blog note on sea level change shows up much higher than my sea level FAQ that's been out there, and multiply linked to, for over a decade). But what sort of organization should it have? Encyclopedia was mentioned, but I don't see much improvement from encyclopedia over blog. Neither is very organized or coherent. But maybe I'm not seeing the virtue there. Comments welcome on that, and on alternate structures you might like instead.

jg and bart mention trade/industry journals and groups. I'm not sure either what groups are meant, nor how to publish there or speak to them. The scientific societies (AMS and AGU, for instance) have in-house magazines for their members -- Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, EOS: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union. But the audience there is already pretty knowledgeable about climate, and does routinely have articles on the topic. Plus, with about 60,000 members between them (and a lot of overlap), that seems an awfully small target.

Any suggestions on outlets to write for, groups to speak to?

And, of course, new and different thoughts are still welcome.


Hank Roberts said...

I've been wondering if there is any professional organization or accreditation for the people who write the science-related press releases for universities.

I'm thinking especially of Rice University a few days ago, of course.

Some groups do organize:


But I haven't found a group like that for science press releases. Anyone know?

jg said...

I'm not trying to use your blog to draw attention to my website, so please feel free to keep this comment private or bury it in an older post.

By industry trade journals, I'm refering to magazines produced in the industrial automation and the engineering world. Typical publications run the gamut from thinly veiled advertising magazines, that are free to the reader and contain articles written by the advertisers, to those produced by professional societies, like the Instrumentation Society of America (ISA). I've read many of the former that do a hatchet job on climate science, and I've emailed many letters. ISA on the other hand seems to understand science. I suspect that many of the former would like to enjoy the reputation of ISA, offering an inlet to raise their standards. Here's a link to one climate-change hatchet job that was printed. I captured the online blog version (which no longer appears on the publisher's site):

Industry Trade Journal Editor on Climate Change

I wrote two rebuttals to this that appear ignored. Maybe the words of a real scientist would have had a different effect. I think the other comments give a feel for how individuals in this industry -- people whom you'd trust to build a heart monitor -- fail to understand climatology. (In hindsight, as soon as scientists start publishing in these magazines, Heartland and the like will follow suit.)

Regarding a type of encyclopedia reference, I'd like to share a project that helps me review earth science. I'm working on a geological timeline that contains summaries (and later, illustrations) of articles I've read. Each summary is tagged by a point in time, and currently, the search categories are "climate", "evolution", and "geology". Search criteria could be extended to specific images used to construct the diagrams (eg, you could search on just the dinosour images). A cleverer programmer could do a lot with how the topics could be interconnected. Here's the link:

jg's timeline

So, the underlying database is an XML file that anyone can contribute to. It can contain hyperlinks and the referring author. I guess I would describe it as a interactive, graphical, narrow-topic wiki. I'm trying to do the same for climate change, largely so I can quickly check my understanding of the science before I write a rebuttal (and then link to my reference). The climate mini-topic wiki would be organized around this image (or a better one):

jg's climate big picture

and as with the timeline, clicking subtopics, e.g., oceans or atmosphere, would display iconic summaries that can be expanded and interlinked for related subjects. I would love to have RealClimate, your blog, (and too many others to mention) summarized in this way. It would be like an interactive chapter of an IPCC report.

I'm going to work on it if no one else does. If someone does a better job, I hope to contribute illustrations.


Philip H. said...

There's the National Association of Science Writers (http://www.nasw.org/) which I think include university public affairs folks who deal with science topics. There's also a European counterpart. Maybe more. Haven't fired up google yet today.

Anna Haynes said...

Hank, re
> Rice University a few days ago

could you provide a link to this? I missed it.

Along similar vein as the NASW, there's the World Conference of Science Journalists, which had a meeting recently; it was covered in CJR and elsewhere. I found the twitter stream interesting; particularly if you search within it for well known journalists' last names...

More to come, in separate comment.

Anna Haynes said...

A bit of news regarding the science-related press releases - NSF's Director of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, Jeff Nesbit, was head of communications for the Koch-funded Citizens for a Sound Economy, when it successfully fought Clinton's attempt to get an energy tax pushed through.

NSF is providing content for public outreach via the website science360.gov
...which features a "what the blogs are saying" section on its daily News page...and this section often features John Tierney's blog.

I haven't yet gone through it to see to what degree, if any, the JT "featurings" are disproportionate.

And a related Q, if anyone knows how best (most efficiently) to get apropos govt emails via a FOIA request, I'd like to hear it? (I don't work for a news outlet and can't afford to spend a lot of money for the info, and don't want to put people at the other end to tons of work, in any case.)

Robert Grumbine said...

I'll hope that Philip and Anna can provide more information. The most I know is that the AMS and AGU do give awards to the best science writing and journalism in their respective areas.

Links of substance are welcome. You've done good work there, and my Tuesday article will be giving an 'above the fold' link to your timelines.

Your big climate picture might be just the thing for what a friend has been looking for. He's seen Mark Isaak's Index to Creationist Claims and figures that something analogous would be good for climate. That, or some straight explanation, but how to organize it has been a question of his (and mine). If you're interested in working with him, drop me your email and I'll put the two of you in touch. He's a meteorologist.

My experience with comments suggests that the knowledge of the commentator is fairly irrelevant to the response the comment gets. My comments over at, say, dotearth or the intersection have had the same response as similar comments by nonscientists. And they get the same sort of response whether I identify myself as a scientist or not. On the other hand, the only observation there is what the people who make comments think. Folks who read but don't comment, I don't know whether it matters there.

One thing that I do know with some confidence is that few links that are provided in comments, as opposed to in the main article, get followed. Hank, for instance, has a couple of times mentioned putting a link back here in one of his comments. (Most recently for some dotearth sea ice things.) Maybe a handful of people came by way of those links. I would think dotearth's readership is quite a lot larger than 5.

Anna Haynes said...

What we need - what we REALLY, REALLY need - is a syndicated "Ask Dr. Climate Science" column in local newspapers, that readers could write in their Qs to. Someone who is recognizably an Expert.

Part of what Dr. Climate Science would need to do, is to explain practical epistemology - because people don't get it, and even if they do, they're not confident enough that they get it, to withstand the onslaughts of disinformation.

s/he would need to deal with these talking points (from my community's local anticlimate crowd)

Bogus #1 - that you have to understand the science behind climate change and be able to defend it against objections, in order to have "the right answer" re climate change - i.e., they feel that considering the credibility of the source isn't sporting, that it's an illegitimate and unscientific tactic.
(people don't grasp the difference between two tasks: a) doing science, and b) understanding the body of knowledge that the people doing the science have created. )

Bogus #2: that peer review is bogus because it is flawed.

And Ask Dr. CliSci would need to explain concepts - the "bathtub", and positive feedbacks.

Someone I know believes that we can't really measure temp rise since we built the measurement tools, after all. I can try to explain that multiple lines of evidence pointing the same direction - plus calibration - make that an insufficient objection, but to her I'm just another doofus; it needs to come from an Expert to be heard.

It should probably NOT come from NSF, for reasons detailed in my comment above.

Anna Haynes said...

From Earle Holland -

"To answer Hank's question [if there is any professional organization or accreditation for the people who write the science-related press releases for universities], the answer is no, there is no accrediting group for science journalists or for science public information officers.
In fact, there is no accrediting group for any of journalism NASW is a professional organization and people interested in joining must be sponsored by at least two members who, I presume, can vouch for their ability.
But having served three terms on the boards of both NASW and SEJ, I can affirm that neither organization decided to gauge the professional expertise of its members or wannabes.
While that may seem sad, practically speaking, a journalist's or PIO's expertise in reporting on science is gauged every day by whether the stories they produce are published and read by the public. Our work speaks for us.
I cover a lot of these issues at my blog, On Research ( http://researchnews.osu.edu/blog).

Anna Haynes said...

The Rice U. press release Hank was referring to is presumably this one:

Global warming: Our best guess is likely wrong

Eric L said...


Have you seen Coby Beck's How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic? That's the closest thing to the Index to Creationist Claims I have seen, but it's basically the work of one guy and there are other similar (usually less comprehensive) sites out there, the most useful of them being rcwiki.org, which organizes rebuttals by author, and the Climate Crock of the Week videos. I think better sites could be created if more of these guys would work together.

However, a site more devoted to learning about topics, with debunking misconceptions as a side goal, could be very useful, and I like your design so far jg.

Hank Roberts said...

Anna - yep; more, and comparison to another release from Moana where the corresponding author teaches, with excerpts here:

Comment on how the Rice but not the Moana release attracted attention:

Jesús R. said...

PenguinDreams, Eric L,

There are some other index sites:








Historical overview:

General picture: