As Climate Change debate wages on, scientists turn to Hollywood for help
Politicians and the public question global climate change evidence, so scientists look to Hollywood and websites for a new voice. Lights, camera, science!
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Some might look for today’s Carl Sagan, the scientist who popularized astronomy through books and TV shows decades ago. Dr. Sagan had a way of engaging people by explaining the wonder of space – a very positive message, Semper says.Skip to next paragraph
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Today’s climate story is often framed as a sober warning, not as an exciting adventure. Some of that is by necessity. “It’s important for the public to know that scientists are coming across this evidence [of climate change] – it’s real evidence – that there may be some disagreements among the details but that doesn’t negate the entire picture,” Semper says. But the effort to better understanding earth’s climate is also exciting, a message that has been lost, he says. “The scientific questions are absolutely fascinating.”
Universities have stepped up their communication efforts as well. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., the paper-and-ink campus newspaper is long gone. But in September, the MIT News Office unveiled a new website aimed not just at the college community but at readers around the world, says Nathaniel Nickerson, editorial director of the news office. Five full-time science writers don’t try to “hype” the work of MIT scientists, he says. Instead, as journalists would do, they seek sources outside MIT to critique the research. The new website is attracting 350,000 to 400,000 unique visitors per month, Mr. Nickerson says, more than expected and accomplished “without any marketing whatsoever.”
Even the US government has joined in with a new site called climate.gov, aimed at being a reliable source of data and facts on climate change.
“It’s clear that there’s been an insufficient job of communicating climate information to the public,” says Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the website. “I think much more needs to be done to communicate to policymakers and citizens everywhere how important this issue is, what’s at stake, and what the opportunities are for addressing climate change.”
Scientists must learn that in the online era, sharing with the public is now a two-way conversation, not a one-way broadcast, blogger Zivkovic says. “Talking ‘one to many’ is now seen as talking down,” he says. Scientists today also need to know how to produce compelling videos and still images that explain their work. “We don’t need one Sagan,” Zivkovic says. “We need several hundred of them, each in a different place.”
[Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated which group will team up with the University of Southern California. It will be the National Science Foundation.]