The science of attributing extreme weather and climate events has progressed in recent years to enable an analysis of the role of human causes while an event is still in the media. However, there is still widespread confusion about the linkages between human-induced climate change and extreme weather, not only among the public, but also among some meteorologists and others in the scientific community. This is an issue of communication as well as of science. Many people have received the erroneous message that individual extreme weather events cannot be linked to human-induced climate change, while others attribute some weather events to climate change where there is no clear evidence of linkages. In order to advise adaptation planning and mitigation options, there is a need to communicate more effectively what the most up-to-date science says about event attribution, and to include appropriate information on linkages when reporting extreme weather and climate events in the media. This article reviews these issues, advancements in event attribution science, and offers suggestions for improvement in communication.
Communication and Education
Social media has created networked communication channels that facilitate interactions and allow information to proliferate within professional academic communities as well as in informal social circumstances. A significant contemporary discussion in the field of science communication is how scientists are using (or might use) social media to communicate their research. This includes the role of social media in facilitating the exchange of knowledge internally within and among scientific communities, as well as externally for outreach to engage the public. This study investigates how a surveyed sample of 587 scientists from a variety of academic disciplines, but predominantly the academic life sciences, use social media to communicate internally and externally. Our results demonstrate that while social media usage has yet to be widely adopted, scientists in a variety of disciplines use these platforms to exchange scientific knowledge, generally via either Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or blogs. Despite the low frequency of use, our work evidences that scientists perceive numerous potential advantages to using social media in the workplace. Our data provides a baseline from which to assess future trends in social media use within the science academy.
Shark conservation has become a focus of current international conservation efforts. However, the misunderstanding of sharks and their negative public portrayal may hinder their conservation. More importantly, the consumption of shark fin, which is very common in Chinese cultures, poses a significant threat to sharks. Hong Kong has long been the world’s largest shark fin trading center. Shark conservation would become more sustainable if public understanding of this predatory fish and an appreciation of its ecological significance could be promoted. It is possible that the demand for fins could be effectively managed through long-term educational efforts targeted at younger generations. To provide essential baseline data for planning of these educational efforts, this project investigated the perceptions of 11 to 12 year-old primary school students in Hong Kong about sharks, and their understanding of ecological concepts and shark-related knowledge. The findings indicate that these students lack sufficient knowledge and possess misconceptions about sharks and their ecological significance in the marine ecosystem. The students’ conceptual understanding level is strongly correlated with their perceptions. Correlational analyses further demonstrated a positive association between formal education and perceptions toward shark conservation. The students who favoured shark fin consumption did so because of its tastiness, whereas concerns about shark population decline and the cruelty of shark hunting were the main reasons for not favoring shark fin consumption. This pilot study provides preliminary but important insights into primary school education regarding the conservation of sharks.
People vary considerably in terms of their knowledge, beliefs, and concern about climate change. Thus, an important challenge for climate change communicators is how to most effectively engage different types of audiences. This study aimed to identify distinct audience segments that vary in terms of their values, beliefs, and responses to climate change and determine for each segment which specific message attributes increased motivation to engage in climate adaptation. A sample of 1031 Australian residents (aged 18–66 years) completed an online survey assessing their values, beliefs, and behaviors related to climate change, and recording their responses to a broad range of climate change adaptation messages. Latent profile analysis identified three distinct audience segments: alarmed (34.4%), uncommitted (45.2%), and dismissive (20.3%). Sixty climate change adaptation messages were coded in terms of the presence/absence of six attributes: explicit reference to climate change, providing specific adaptation advice, strong negative emotive content, emphasis on collective responsibility, highlighting local impacts, and underscoring financial impacts. Participants viewed a random sample of six messages and rated the extent to which each message motivated them to seek out more information and immediately respond to the climate change threat portrayed in the message. Multilevel modeling indicated messages that included strong negative emotive content or provided specific adaptation advice increased adaptation intentions in all three audience segments. Omitting any mention of climate change and emphasizing local impacts increased adaptation intentions in dismissive audiences. Implications for tailoring and targeting climate change adaptation messages are discussed.
With the continuous growth of internet usage, Google Trends has emerged as a source of information to investigate how social trends evolve over time. Knowing how the level of interest in conservation topics—approximated using Google search volume—varies over time can help support targeted conservation science communication. However, the evolution of search volume over time and the mechanisms that drive peaks in searches are poorly understood. We conducted time series analyses on Google search data from 2004 to 2013 to investigate: (i) whether interests in selected conservation topics have declined and (ii) the effect of news reporting and academic publishing on search volume. Although trends were sensitive to the term used as benchmark, we did not find that public interest towards conservation topics such as climate change, ecosystem services, deforestation, orangutan, invasive species and habitat loss was declining. We found, however, a robust downward trend for endangered species and an upward trend for ecosystem services. The quantity of news articles was related to patterns in Google search volume, whereas the number of research articles was not a good predictor but lagged behind Google search volume, indicating the role of news in the transfer of conservation science to the public.
This paper explores the role that Internet and online technologies played in research dissemination and knowledge mobilization in a recent climate change research project, MC3. In addition, the team looked at the potential of online expert-practitioner research collaborations for these purposes. Electronic communication was seen as a key element for creating distributed networks essential to the project and for building new practitioner/research knowledge collaboratives. The paper discusses how online communication strategies and technologies were used for wide dissemination of its research outcomes. MC3's research dissemination and knowledge mobilization strategies are analyzed, using engagement as the primary measure, to gain insights on the effectiveness and challenges of using Internet-based tools for communicating climate change innovations and actions.
Interviews were conducted with 110 marine users to elicit their salient beliefs about recording marine species in a citizen science project. The results showed that many interviewees believe participation would increase knowledge (either scientific, the community’s, or their own). While almost half of the interviewees saw no negative outcomes, a small number expressed concerns about targeting of marine species by others, or restrictions on public access to marine sites. Most of the people surveyed (n = 106) emphasised the importance of well-designed technological interfaces to assist their data collection, without which they would be unlikely to engage in the project.
As anthropogenic stressors threaten the health of marine ecosystems, there is a need to better understand how the public processes and responds to information about ocean health. Recent studies of public perceptions about ocean issues report high concern but limited knowledge, prompting calls for information campaigns to mobilize public support for ocean restoration policy. Drawing on the literature from communication, psychology and related social science disciplines, we consider a set of social-cognitive challenges that researchers and advocates are likely to encounter when communicating with the public about ocean health and emerging marine diseases—namely, the psychological distance at which ocean issues are construed, the unfamiliarity of aquatic systems to many members of the public and the potential for marine health issues to be interpreted through politicized schemas that encourage motivated reasoning over the dispassionate consideration of scientific evidence. We offer theory-based strategies to help public outreach efforts address these challenges and present data from a recent experiment exploring the role of message framing (emphasizing the public health or environmental consequences of marine disease) in shaping public support for environmental policy.
Interactions between social science and environmental policy have become increasingly important over the past 25 years. There has, however, been little analysis of the roles that social scientists adopt and the contributions they make. In this paper we begin the process, offering tentative answers to two key questions: in relation to environmental problems: (1) how do social science and public policy interact? and (2) in the future, what types of interactions can social scientists engage in? To answer these questions we build on research in policy studies and science and technology studies, and extend it through public scholarship debates.
Flagship species are frequently used by conservation practitioners to raise funds and awareness for reducing biodiversity loss. However, uncertainty re- mains in the academic literature about the purpose of flagship species and lit- tle research has been conducted on improving the effectiveness of these cam- paigns. To reduce this problem, here, we suggest a new definition that further emphasizes their marketing role and propose an interdisciplinary framework to improve flagship identification, based on methodologies from social mar- keting, environmental economics, and conservation biology. This framework emphasizes that conservationists should specify the purpose of a campaign before working with the potential target audience to identify the most suit- able species, and should monitor the success of their campaigns and feed this back into the marketing process. We then discuss the role of return on invest- ment analyses to determine when funds are best spent on high-profile flagships and when raising the profile of other species is more appropriate. Finally, we discuss how the flagship concept can be applied to other aspects of biodiver- sity, such as priority regions and species sharing specific traits. Thus, we argue for closer collaboration between researchers and marketing experts to ensure that marketing becomes a mainstream part of the interdisciplinary science of conservation.