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

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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.

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Climate Cynics Lack Media Literacy

by Futurity.org

CORNELL (US) — The public’s distrust of climate science is due in large part to an overall misunderstanding of how the media works and where it gets and how it disseminates its information.

Evidence shows that media literacy education would help the public critique media messages and better assess the truth behind them, says Caren Cooper, a research associate at Cornell University.

“To be climate change literate, the public must first be media literate,” since print, TV and radio reports and opinion pieces are the main ways that the public gets its information about climate change science, she says.

The research is reported in BioScience.

Previous research demonstrates that informal science education in the United States has not emphasized critical thinking, but rather, offers one-way communication from researchers or educators to the public that assumes a deficit of information needs to be filled.

A small number of climate change skeptics—who Cooper says are often linked to corporations and the fossil fuel industry—have exploited this model by encouraging partisanship, framing climate change as an insignificant problem; and disseminating scientifically inaccurate “educational” messages.

Laypeople and the media tend to view all scientific viewpoints as equally valid and, therefore, give too much credence to the minority viewpoint of skeptical scientists.

As a result, they may frame global warming as scientifically controversial, when it is only politically controversial, Cooper says. The number of scientists who support action to address climate change far outweighs researchers who oppose it.

Climate skeptics have also effectively used multiple media formats, including the print press, television punditry, talk radio, magazines, journals, blogs, and columns, to create doubt and a disparity between mainstream science and public policy.

A new approach emerging in the field of science communication that engages the public in activities and dialogues that interpret scientific knowledge would be an effective means to counteract the trend. Citizen science, where the public actively collects scientific data, offers one such example.

Science educators should embrace media literacy education, so when faced with new information, members of the public will ask such questions as “who made this message?”; “why was it made?”; “who paid for it?”

The public might also be taught to question the content in a message, ask what information has been omitted, and question the credibility of the information as fact or simply opinion, Cooper says.

Lastly, educators would be more effective if they expanded their modes of communication beyond science centers and museums to radio, television, movies, and blogs.


More news from Cornell University: www.news.cornell.edu

Republished from Futurity.org under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Scientific Theories Aren’t Mere Conjecture: To Survive They Must Work

by Tom Solomon, Bucknell University

Image 20170307 14951 ks286
There wouldn’t be statues acclaiming Darwin and his theory if it couldn’t stand up to decades of testing.
CGP Grey, CC BY

“The evidence is incontrovertible. Global warming is occurring.” “Climate change is real, is serious and has been influenced by anthropogenic activity.” “The scientific evidence is clear: Global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and is a growing threat to society.”

As these scientific societies’ position statements reflect, there is a clear scientific consensus on the reality of climate change. But although public acceptance of climate theory is improving, many of our elected leaders still express skepticism about the science. The theory of evolution also shows a mismatch: Whereas there is virtually universal agreement among scientists about the validity of the theory, only 33 percent of the public accepts it in full. For both climate change and evolution, skeptics sometimes sow doubt by saying that it is just a “theory.”

How does a scientific theory gain widespread acceptance in the scientific community? Why should the public and elected officials be expected to accept something that is “only a theory”? And how can we know if the science behind a particular theory is “settled,” anyway?

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Climate Change Communication: Taking the Temperature (Part 3) – Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon

Introduction:

climate-series-headerThis 12-part series includes interviews with prominent climate scientists from a variety of universities and government agencies. This series provides a closer look at how these well-known scientists are communicating, the risks they are taking by publicly engaging in the climate discussion, and how their outreach activities have affected them personally and professionally.

I hope you enjoy reading this series as much as enjoyed putting it together.

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Climate Change Communication: Taking the Temperature (Part 2) – Dr. Kevin Trenberth

Introduction:

climate-series-headerThis 12-part series includes interviews with prominent climate scientists from a variety of universities and government agencies. This series provides a closer look at how these well-known scientists are communicating, the risks they are taking by publicly engaging in the climate discussion, and how their outreach activities have affected them personally and professionally.

I hope you enjoy reading this series as much as enjoyed putting it together.

Continue reading