Category: Science Communications

Photography as a Conservation Science Tool

More than pretty pictures: Photography is one of the field biologist’s most reliable tools, helping monitor conservation results and helping share stories of people and the land with new audiences. Conservancy scientist Joseph Kiesecker shares his own odyssey with the art and science of field photography around the world.

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Book Week: ‘Field Notes on Science and Nature’

Peer over the shoulder of noted field biologists in this engaging collection of essays on the science — and art — of note taking. And you might just become a better writer, and better scientist, in the process.

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The Cooler: PLoS ONE and the Panic Over Impact

A free, online-only journal sees its impact ranking drop because it’s so popular with researchers. Should scientists abandon it?

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A Green Contagion: What Could Make Investing in Nature Catch On?

New information and data is never enough to make ideas contagious, says new research. We need to add behavioral economics, social psychology and a healthy dash of emotion, too.

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The Cooler: Does Environmentalism = Totalitarianism?

French philosopher Pascal Bruckner says environmentalism is addicted to apocalyptic thinking, self-hatred and behavior control worthy of totalitarianism. Is his “ecology of admiration” the cure?

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The Cooler: Celebrity Species and the Science Deficit Model

Do conservation NGOs use tigers, lions and pandas to market and fundraise at the expense of other threatened species? David Salt and Hugh Possingham say yes. Here’s why their solution isn’t the answer.

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Why Climate Change Denial May Not Be as Common as You Think

Scientists are such bad communicators, which is why the majority of the public doesn’t believe in climate change despite scientific consensus.

Does this drum beat sound familiar? I can almost hear science communicators Randy Olson and Nancy Baron whispering it in my ear.

Well, Zoe Leviston and colleagues from CSIRO in Australia offer at least some relief. In work published this week in Nature Climate Change, Leviston and coauthors report evidence of a strong “false consensus effect” around climate change belief in Australia.

Essentially, people who believed that climate change was “not happening” grossly overestimated how prevalent that same opinion was in society, whereas those who did believe in climate change (the vast majority) underestimated how common their views were.

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Sanjayan: There’s a Better Way to Communicate about Climate Change

The Orion Magazine blog put up this week an excellent post by Conservancy lead scientist Sanjayan on how his recent trip to Santiago — and the recent, two-day disappearance of that city’s otherwise plentiful water supply — has catalyzed his thinking about how scientists can better communicate the effects of climate change.

While global warming was almost certainly a cause of Santiago’s taps suddenly running dry, Sanjayan writes for Orion that he was surprised there to find that “no one has asked me specifically about climate change — about parts-per-billion, about carbon markets, about a carbon tax, about pipelines, or Kyoto, Copehhagen, or Doha — all the ways U.S. environmentalists and journalists often talk about it.”

Instead, Santiago’s residents wanted to talk about…water supply. So he quickly pivoted to focus on the water issue itself — on a local concern — and conservation measures for the watershed, while avoiding lectures about necessary behavior changes related to emissions. And through this approach, he found people receptive to hearing about climate change.

It’s a fresh and flexible look at why audience-sensitive science communications actually works. Anyone tired of the counterproductive rhetoric and approaches that have dominated climate comms for the last two decades will welcome the model Sanjayan puts forward here.

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Why Everything You Know About Science Communications is Wrong, and More Science is the Answer

Recovery begins by admitting you have a problem. But the real problem with communicating science — particularly around climate change and other issues involving risk — is that we’re often focused on the wrong problem. And, as a must-read new paper by Harvard risk communications scholar Dan Kahan argues, only getting truly serious about the science of science communications can keep us from digging the hole even deeper.

Think back to the last conversation you had about climate change with someone who wants global action on the issue. Chances are, the conversation quickly devolved into a cycle of finger pointing that went something like this:

* Blame scientists, because they don’t communicate the risks of climate change clearly and simply enough. Or emotionally enough. Or starkly enough. (Or maybe they shouldn’t be communicating at all, because they’re just no good at it.)

* Blame the media, because they’re not covering climate change enough (or prominently enough, or in a way that connects with people, or with the right mix of local and global relevance, or because they airwaves have been flooded with anti-climate-change rhetoric fueled by big money interests).

* And blame the public, because it’s not scientifically literate enough to understand the risks of climate change, or it’s too distracted by media-fueled triviality to care.

The assumption underlying all this blame? The public isn’t getting the gravity of the problem — because if they did, how could they fail to act? (This is what Kahan and other social scientists call the “public irrationality thesis.”) Ergo: If we could just transfer our scientific knowledge to enough people (and make enough people receptive enough to understand it), those people would of course change their minds to agree with us, change their voting patterns and behavior in the ways we desire…and the world would be saved.

Communications scholars call this chain of reasoning the “injection” or “empty bucket” or “science deficit” model of communications. The real problem: About two decades of science on the science deficit model have shown that it’s not true.

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Forest Dilemmas

Too many deer. Logging one tree to save another. Beavers versus old growth. Welcome to forest conservation in the 21st century. Join us for a provocative 5-part series exploring the full complexity facing forest conservation in the eastern United States.

What is Cool Green Science?

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

Innovative Science

Investing in Seagrass
Marine scientists and fishers alike know that grass beds are valuable as nursery habitat. A new Conservancy-funded study puts a number to it.

Drones Aid Bird Conservation
How can California conservationists accurately count thousands of cranes? Enter a new tool in bird monitoring: the drone.

Creating a Climate-Smart Agriculture
Can farmers globally both adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change? A new paper answers with a definitive yes. But it won't be easy.

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