by Judith Curry
So, what is the difference between science journalism and science communication?
David Whitehouse elaborates further in the comments on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker:
Thanks to the Internet the range of science communication is wider than ever, and closer to the science and the public. But journalism is not science communication . . .
The journalism, news gathering, scoops required, zeal has not in general survived into the Internet age, and far from leaving it in the 20th century, I feel we need it now. Such qualities are seen as essential for other areas of journalism, and I believe they should be part of science journalism.
My comment about a bowl of cherries was about journalism. Why would I ask a scientist about the craft of journalism? Sure they may have their own opinions about journalism, but they are not journalists, even if a few are arrogant enough to think that journalism is easier than science.
Once one knows the science, no serious science reporter would ever make a decision to be either a supporter or a reporter of science. Either side is incompatible with journalism.
Perhaps the disconnect in perceptions on communication vs journalism comes from the classical conflict between journalism of the Lippmann style versus Dewey style. From the Wikipedia:
Lippmann understood that journalism’s role at the time was to act as a mediator or translator between the public and policy making elites. The journalist became the middleman. When elites spoke, journalists listened and recorded the information, distilled it, and passed it on to the public for their consumption. His reasoning behind this was that the public was not in a position to deconstruct the growing and complex flurry of information present in modern society, and so an intermediary was needed to filter news for the masses.
Dewey, on the other hand, believed the public was not only capable of understanding the issues created or responded to by the elite, it was in the public forum that decisions should be made after discussion and debate. When issues were thoroughly vetted, then the best ideas would bubble to the surface. Dewey believed journalists should do more than simply pass on information. He believed they should weigh the consequences of the policies being enacted. Over time, his idea has been implemented in various degrees, and is more commonly known as “community journalism“.
This concept of community journalism is at the centre of new developments in journalism. In this new paradigm, journalists are able to engage citizens and the experts/elites in the proposition and generation of content. It’s important to note that while there is an assumption of equality, Dewey still celebrates expertise. Dewey believes the shared knowledge of many is far superior to a single individual’s knowledge. Experts and scholars are welcome in Dewey’s framework, but there is not the hierarchical structure present in Lippman’s understanding of journalism and society. According to Dewey, conversation, debate, and dialogue lie at the heart of a democracy.
Americans, for example, may criticize some of the excesses committed by journalists, but they tend to expect journalists to serve as watchdogs on government, businesses and actors, enabling people to make informed decisions on the issues of the time.
The perspective of scientific institutions on science communications can be seen at:
- AAAS: Communicating Science tools for scientists and engineers
- NASA: Communicating Science
- NSF: Communicating Science: Becoming the Messenger
- AGU: Communicating Science
Fall AGU Annual Meeting
At the Fall AGU Annual Meeting (this week in San Francisco), there were a number of presentations and sessions focused on the theme of communicating science. These presentations provide insights into how climate science communication is viewed by scientists, science writers, communications professionals, and journalists. Note: ppt presentations are not yet available online for these; I present the abstracts and some comments.
Michael Mann: The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From The Front Lines. Abstract: A central figure in the controversy over human-caused climate change has been The Hockey Stick, a simple, easy-to-understand graph my colleagues and I constructed to depict changes in Earth’s temperature back to 1000 AD. The graph was featured in the high-profile Summary for Policy Makers of the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and it quickly became an icon in the debate over human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change. I will tell the story behind the Hockey Stick, using it as a vehicle for exploring broader issues regarding the role of skepticism in science, the uneasy relationship between science and politics, and the dangers that arise when special economic interests and those who do their bidding attempt to skew the discourse over policy-relevant areas of science. In short, I attempt to use the Hockey Stick to cut through the fog of disinformation that has been generated by the campaign to deny the reality of climate change. It is my intent, in so doing, to reveal the very real threat to our future that lies behind it.
JC comment: This talk mostly seems to describe Mann’s forthcoming book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. Mann clearly views science communication as a battle against the evil deniers. The main tactic he illustrated was to smear his opponents by bringing up unrelated activities of his opponents in an attempt to discredit them (e.g. bringing up Cuccinelli’s objection to the bared breast on the state seal of Virginia).
Richard Sommerville and Susan Hasool: Enhancing the communication of climate change science. Abstract: Climate scientists have an important role to play in the critical task of informing the public, media and policymakers. Scientists can help in publicizing and illuminating climate science. However, this task requires combining climate science expertise with advanced communication skills. For example, it is entirely possible to convey scientific information accurately without using jargon or technical concepts unfamiliar to non-scientists. However, making this translation into everyday language is a job that few scientists have been trained to do. In this talk, we give examples from our recent experience working with scientists to enhance their ability to communicate well. Our work includes providing training, technical assistance, and communications tools to climate scientists and universities, government agencies, and research centers. Our experience ranges from preparing Congressional testimony to writing major climate science reports to appearing on television. We have also aided journalists in gathering reliable scientific information and identifying trustworthy experts. Additionally, we are involved in developing resources freely available online at climatecommunication.org. These include a feature on the links between climate change and extreme weather, a climate science primer, and graphics and video explaining key developments in climate change science.
JC comment: This talk is based upon an article recently published in Physics Today.
Chris Mooney: Science Communication Training: Lessons Learned. Abstract: For a year, the speaker has been working with the National Science Foundation to train hundreds of scientists across America to communicate. Here, a year and twelve trainings in, he’ll give a personal take on what this fairly dramatic experiment has revealed.
JC comment. The abstract isn’t very informative; see his blog for topics that Chris commonly discusses.. Topics covered include framing, how to make good ppt presentations, and issues raised in his book The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science. Chris introduced an interesting term: Smart Idiots. These are people that develop strong and outspoken opinions and can even make reasonable sounding arguments based upon reading popular books and blogs. Chris seemed to be applying this term only to the unconvinced; if used, this term should apply also on the convinced side.
Matthew Hirschland: Getting Our Story Straight: Taking the scientific process out of science communication. Abstract: Conveying the implications and applications of our science is becoming more, not less difficult. With media and policy debates around scientific issues fraught with gridlock, misinformation and confusion, we must recognize that the scientific process itself often contributes more noise than clarity. For science to occupy more of a privileged and influential place in the public and policy discourse, this must change. From the perspective of a communications professional, this presentation offers solutions.
Efforts to remedy this have disproportionately focused on training scientists to be “better” communicators. While this is necessary, it is far from sufficient in building the type of public trust and authority that really moves the credibility needle and our impact. By itself, a train the scientist approach actually complicates the issue by unleashing hoards of trained “science communicators”, trumpeting disconnected, qualified, and sometimes contradictory messages. The result, from the public’s perspective, is a focus on the sausage making elements of science, rather than the sausages – or the real consensus messages resulting from our work.
What is required is much better coordination in terms of framing and amplifying clear messages and findings around areas where real consensus exists, and a similar focus on deemphasizing those that occupy the opinion tails. Other sectors including government, corporates and medical sciences understand and practice this to better effect in building public consensus.
The correctives to this are threefold:
-Recognize that the scientific process, while excellent for doing science, is an awful way to communicate clearly. Publicly airing out the debates that are part and parcel of a healthy scientific discourse is a sure recipe for confusion.
-Create and bolster better coordination mechanisms for consensus message building and delivery. Professional associations can and must play a more central convening and shaping role when it comes to key message shaping, timing and delivery.
-Better leverage the tools, lessons and expertise of the communications profession. Often, communication is thought of as something everyone either can or should do. Other institutions regularly engage highly skilled experts to help build and shape messages for intended results. Better leveraging this group and their body of knowledge will pay great dividends.
All of these correctives are predicated on agreement that as a community we a) have a problem, b) can be disciplined and committed to promoting consensus views (as are those that seek to call into question our work), and c) are willing to examine our own incentive structures that push elements of scientific debate into the open that are better left behind closed doors.
As long as scientists continue delivering multiple, and often competing messages, we should not be incredulous that non-scientists continue to doubt even those consensus views that have been hard won and remain squarely built on fact.
JC comment: Hirschfield is the new director of communications at NCAR/UCAR.
Naomi Oreskes: Two Challenges to Communicating Climate Science. Climate scientists have been frustrated by the persistence of public opinion at odds with established scientific evidence about anthropogenic climate change. Traditionally, scientists have attributed the gap between scientific knowledge and public perception to scientific illiteracy, which could be remedied by a better and more abundant supply of well-communicated scientific information. Social scientific research, however, illustrates that this “deficit model” is insufficient to explain the current state of affairs: many individuals who reject the conclusions of climate scientists are highly educated, and some evidence suggests that, among certain demographics, more educated people are more likely than less educated ones to reject climate science. This talk explores two possible sources of resistance to, or outright rejection of, scientific conclusions about climate change: 1) the effects of long-standing organized efforts to challenge climate science and the credibility of climate scientists; 2) conservative Protestant religious beliefs concerning how factual claims about the earth are determined and how their significance is judged.
JC comment: much of the material seemed to be drawn from Oreskes book Merchants of Doubt.
Eli Kintisch: Experiments in Creative Climate Journalism. Creative experiments in climate journalism are my aim during a one year fellowship at a university. The goal is to engage the audience’s senses, mind, and hopefully, imagination in work about Earth’s climate. The work is done in collaboration with students, artists, scientists, musicians and actors, all marshalled to explain how the warming planet works through engaging and innovative means. This session will feature video examples of using design or music to visualize climate data.
A video using improvisational actors drinking Red Bull to bring the concept of climate sensitivity to life will be shown.
A glossy card designed to spoof an airline safety instruction card will be displayed; its design explains geoengineering techniques and their risks.
In doing this work I have benefitted from a fellowship at Massachusetts Institute for Technology, which has provided the precious gift of time and creative atmosphere. I am on leave from Science magazine. I will report on what has and hadn’t worked in fostering new means of communicating science in an academic setting.
The session will also explore the shifting role of the journalist in this new space. The challenges take me beyond simply using words as a medium between science and the public. I find myself as a convener or producer in engendering partnerships between scientists and great communicators like actors, sculptors or filmmakers.
Jeff Kiehl: Creating Affective Solutions to Communicating Climate Science. Abstract: Communicating climate change science to various sectors of society can be challenging. The science is complex and audiences may resist hearing about projected changes to their lived world that feel threatening. Yet, it is imperative that scientists improve their ways of communicating climate issues so that the public is more informed on this issue. In this presentation, I discuss a few of the more important psychological and social barriers to communicating climate science to the public. I show how these barriers are a natural result of defenses against a perceived change to the listener’s world. I then provide a framework for scientists to use that enables them to develop new narratives around climate science concepts. This approach employs metaphors that more effectively connect the listener to the message. These metaphors rest on the important role of affect and image in communication. Finally, I provide insight on my experiences in using this technique and how it can more effectively (and affectively) connect the public to climate science issues.
JC comment: to me, this was the most interesting (and unexpected) talk. Jeff Kiehl has a degree in psychology (which I didn’t know about). He also discussed material that we covered on a previous thread Climate Scientists are Different(?) From the General Public.
My AGU presentation: Engaging the Public on Climate Change
In his talk yesterday Michael Mann summed up the frustrations of communicating climate change in three words: WHY NO ACTION? Opinion polls show that many people are unconcerned by climate change. And there has been a failure of the public to act on the risks perceived by the climate scientists.
So what is the solution to the climate communication problem? At this Conference and in this session, we are hearing a number of ideas re improving communication:
- Better messengers?
- Clearer message?
- More exciting presentations?
- Better educated populace?
- Squashing skepticism?
These ideas for improving communication are consistent with the linear model of communication, whereby science plus communication and translation of the science, should lead to action. The current buzzword for this is “actionable science.” The communication part of the linear model generally includ simplified message, appeal to consensus, effective presentation, and translation for relevance. The focus of the linear model is on the message and messenger, as a disseminator of information.
In spite of substantial efforts in communication, many people remain unconvinced.
There is another model of communication, which is the circular model of communication. Unlike the linear model that focuses on the messenger, the circular model views the receiver as an equal partner in the communication and focuses on the process of engagement (which includes dialogue and feedback)
When a messenger actually makes the effort to understand why an individual is unconvinced, this inevitably leads to both deepening and broadening the discussion to address complexity and uncertainties. The end result can be raising the level of the public dialogue.
To engage effectively with the public on the issue of climate change, we need to recognize that the public salience of climate science is intimately connected with perceived risks and the costs of potential solutions, which are filtered through an individual’s world view and politics.
The goal of engagement is not just to inform, but to enable, motivate and educate the public regarding the technical, political, and social dimensions of climate change.
In the context of a circular process, experts and decision-makers seek input and learn from the public about preferences, needs, insights, and ideas relative to scientific topics, climate change impacts, vulnerabilities, solutions, and policy options.
There is a growing community of people that is demanding such engagement, not only on the policy issues but the scientific issues as well. The idea of the extended peer community has been around since the 1990’s, from the work of Funtowicz and Ravetz. When stakes are high and uncertainties are large, there is a public demand to participate and assess the quality of the data and research. There is a segment of the unconvinced public that consists of technically educated people who want to think for themselves. They are not prepared to cede judgment on this issue to the consensus authority.Further there is a growing number of scientists and other academics from an increasingly broad range of disciplines want to bring their expertise to climate research
The size of the extended peer community associated with climate change has grown substantially in the wake of climategate, which made many lose trust in the judgement of the IPCC experts.
New information technology and the open knowledge movement is enabling extended peer communities. These new technologies facilitate the rapid diffusion of information and sharing of expertise. This newfound power has challenged the politics of expertise. Climategate illustrated the importance of the blogosphere as an empowerment of the extended peer community.
My communication efforts have targeted the technically educated scientifically literate non experts, many of whom are unconvinced by the IPCC’s arguments. The people that I have been engaging with include engineers, statisticians, physicists, chemists, medical doctors, lawyers, and economists.
Why am I targeting this group? In terms of absolute numbers, there are a small fraction of a percent of the population. However, this group includes many opinion leaders. Failure to pay attention to this group (particular engineers interested in data quality and statistical analysis) arguably led to Climategate Further, these experts from diverse fields have much to contribute to the research, communication and the public debate.
The forum for my engagement with this group is my blog Climate Etc. at judithcurry.com. My blog is a forum for engagement of technically educated people. My role is lead with topics for discussion, many of which are suggested by participants. Sometimes I make my personal opinion known and sometimes I do not. I most definitely do not try to tell people what to think. My blog is unmoderated, where the discussion is for the most part unconstrained. I’ve tried to establish a fair place for an open debate.
The end result has been thousands of interested bloggers, laypeople and scientists interacting, arguing, disagreeing, and learning. I often feature papers that are skeptical of aspects of the consensus science. In addition to responding the concern that skeptical papers are discriminated against by the mainstream community, I find that very interesting discussions can be provoked by considering a skeptical paper.
About a month ago, I received an email from scientist wanted to do a guest post on two papers that he recently had published on the topic of surface temperature data. I agreed to host his post, since his papers were relevant to the discussion we had been having on the analysis of the Berkeley surface temperature data. This particular scientist was a prominent member of the German skeptic group EIKE.
One of the first comments on this thread was from an IPCC lead author who thought that these papers were deeply flawed, and thought I was irresponsible and peddling disinformation by hosting this post.
This controversy was picked up by a number of different blogs, and there was a particularly good discussion on this at collide-a-scape. The argument on this topic was a classic clash between the linear and circular models of communication: scientists as gatekeepers of information to be disseminated to the public, versus scientists as a facilitator of a free wheeling dialogue.
A well known climate scientist and blogger wrote this statement on collide-a-scape:
Judith decided a while back that the judgment of the community on what was interesting and what was not, was not itself to be trusted.
My judgment on what is interesting to the broader community has been formed by actually listening to them and trying to address issues of their concern. The community that I am interacting with on my blog is interested in these issues:
- Natural climate variability and nonlinear dynamics
- Climate model verification and validation
- Data quality
- Statistical analysis, uncertainty, logic of arguments
- Scientific method and responsible conduct of research
- Skeptical arguments
This is a different list of issues than the climate establishment has decided are interesting. 3 years ago, I wasn’t focusing my attention on any of these issues. Over the past 2 years, I have focused extensively on these issues on my blog, and increasingly in my published academic research.
This is the difference between linear and circular communication.
So where do I see all this going? I think that social media, particularly the blogosphere, has enormous unrealized potential to:
- facilitate understanding of complex issues
- provide transparency
- identify the best contributions
- increase the signal and filter out the noise
- drive public policy innovation
- reduce polarization
Climate scientists are increasingly experimenting with the climate blogosphere, in a variety of different ways. It is something that I have found to be enormously rewarding and educational on a personal level. I will leave the impact of my efforts to be judged by others.
In closing, I will state that I hope to see many more climate scientists developing their voices and communicating publicly in the blogosphere. To quote Chris Mooney: you have nothing to lose but your irrelevance.
AGU Communication Prize: Gavin Schmidt
A new award from the AGU recognizes excellence in climate communication. Gavin Schmidt is the inaugural winner of the award.
“AGU created this award to raise the visibility of climate change as a critical issue facing the world today, to demonstrate our support for scientists who commit themselves to the effective communication of climate change science, and to encourage more scientists to engage with the public and policy makers on how climate research can contribute to the sustainability of our planet,” said AGU president Michael McPhaden. “That’s why we are so pleased to recognize Gavin for his dedicated leadership and outstanding scientific achievements. We hope that his work will serve as an inspiration for others.”
Schmidt said, “Talking to the public and the media is often neglected in assessing people’s contributions, and yet, as taxpayer-funded scientists we have a collective responsibility to share the expertise we have with the broader public. I’m very happy that the efforts I’ve made-in collaboration with many colleagues-have been recognized by this new award. I hope that this can serve as an encouragement for more scientists to dip their toe into the public discussions.”
The prize, which comes with a $25,000 cash award, is sponsored by Nature’s Own, a Boulder, Colo.-based company specializing in the sale of minerals, fossils, and decorative stone specimens.
“This award will help increase communication of our scientific understanding of climate change and its consequences, and I congratulate Gavin for all that he has accomplished and what it means for the scientific community,” said Nature’s Own president and founder Roy Young, an AGU member. “Gavin has worked tirelessly to bring the work of scientists in understanding our changing world to both the public debate as well as to the broader scientific community.”
My view of climate communication is starkly different from the other presenters. Using the Dewey vs Lipmann models of journalism to describe differences in approach to climate communication, I would say that Gavin’s approach is in the Lipmann style, whereas my own is in the Dewey style.
Science blogging is not journalism in the traditional sense, but it exists on the continuum between science communication and science journalism.
Keith Kloor is taking on the issue of science journalism in this thread at collide-a-scape, which is worth visiting.