AGU 2014 – Day 3

AGU Fall MeetingToday was the first day I finally had a chance to attend some sessions in the morning. But that was after I missed a couple of presentations as I had to run to Radio Shack to get a new external harddrive. We’ve recorded so much interview footage that the drive I had with me just didn’t have enough space.

At AGU I dropped walked in the session Climate Literacy: Culture of Science AND Broader Impacts Done Well (ED31H) just before the start of the presentation Integrating Explicit Learning about the Culture of Science into the Pre-Service Teacher Curriculum through Readings and Reflections presented by Anne Egger.

Egger gave a really good talk about how basic understanding of science terminology, the scientific process, and how scientists co their work is important for both teachers and students. Teachers can use what they learn to greatly improve their science classes. For students it helps their education greatly and can foster an interest in becoming a scientists.

She had some great points about how incorporating Visionlearning’s, freely available, web-based Process of Science series improved science lessons greatly. There are of course some challenges for teachers to incorporate what they learned in their lessons, but with follow-up activities to let them practice with new vocabulary and concrete advice to teachers on how to improve their lessons these were resolved.

One of the response quotes shown that I really found interesting was “I never knew that real scientists make poster presentations, I thought that it was just what we did in school for an assignment.” These types of realizations show how important it is to show how some skills we learn in school actually apply in real life.

Dan Bedford asked a good question on how to adapt these lessons to help teachers teach students how to distinguish between real science and science myths. Egger told that this is not directly a part of the current course but the course is a good first step in teaching this.

The next talk was Advancing Science Literacy Through the Climate Change National Forum by John Nielsen-Gammon. I have some mixed feelings about this talk. There we some great points in it about how science reporters (or their replacements) report on press releases and how this can ignore details or later refutations of a paper. Having a resource for reporters, and interested parties, could provide necessary information for good science reporting.

My mixed feelings come from the fact that right next to scientists who create great content on science subjects they have people like Judith Curry spreading their message. This could be a good thing, as the CCNF has a public discussion forum for scientists, but it can give the impression of a debate where there is none.

The talk that got me the most excited during this session was It ain’t (just) the heat, it’s the humanity by Peter Jacobs. This talk was extremely well structured and beautifully illustrated. The talk started with the scientific consensus on global warming and how this consensus was demonstrated. It also explained how you can recognize a scientific consensus:

  1. Consilience of evidence:
    All the different pieces of evidence that we have independently confirm, and point to, the same conclusion.
  2. Social diversity:
    When a scientific consensus arises the consensus is expressed across cultures and borders. International science organizations confirm it, different types of science fields confirm it, and you see companies like insurance companies plan for the consequences.
  3. Social calibration:
    Here there’s a reference to the research Bart Verheggen did and how you see the scientific consensus reflected in polling.

The talk also highlighted that consensus messaging is very important to what the public thinks and supports. If you know that there’s a scientific consensus on global warming then there’s a greater chance that you support policy action on global warming.

After this I stayed in the room for the session Climate Literacy: Overcoming Barriers – €”Research Outcomes and Best Practices for Supporting Education and Informed Decision Making. The first talk was Climate, Companies, and Public Policy: How Transparent Is the Private Sector in Reporting Climate Policy Influence? by Gretchen Goldman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

A very interesting talk about research on trade associations and the companies that support those trade organizations. One interesting detail was that companies are either unaware or unwilling to disclose their trade group associations. Companies that do disclose often disagree on the trade association climate position or what the association lobbies for. This then of course raises the question who these trade associations are representing when they lobby on climate issues.

To tackle this issue more transparency is needed about which trade associations companies associate with. Companies also have a role in disclosing in publicly distancing themselves from the positions trade associations hold that do not align with their position. They also should try to change those policies if it doesn’t represent the companies stance. As a last resort companies should leave if this doesn’t succeed.

Another great talk in this sessions was From Disinformation to Wishful Thinking by Naomi Oreskes. Not much new in this talk for anyone who has read the book The Merchants of Doubt. But it was a very well delivered readers digest of the basic points contained in the book.

Though there were some great do’s and don’ts that Oreskes gave:

  1. Don’t debate skeptics:
    You cannot win a debate with someone who cannot be convinced. It also gives the impression that there’s a debate where there is none. This then also can create the impression that there’s controversy.
  2. Don’t emphasize uncertainty
    Bit of a delicate point, as all science is uncertain to a certain extent. Discuss these uncertainties honesty and openly, but don’t focus on them. You need to focus on what we know.
  3. Don’t play fetch:
    Just because a so-called sceptic makes a claim it doesn’t mean you need to go after it. Pick your battles and go after those that matter.

Soon after Oreskes talk I had to step out of the session to prepare for another round of interviews. So I missed all the other great talks for the rest of the day (which is also the reason I splurged a bit on the amount of detail on the talks that I did attend).

Though I did have a short walk around the exhibit floor after the interviews and I came across the following scene:

erosion play

Now that is one nice set up for getting children interested in how water transports sediments. I do need to visit their booth again and have a little chat with those good folks.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.