What role should scientist play in correcting bad science, fake science, and pseudoscience presented in popular media? Here, we present a case study based on fake documentaries and discuss effective social media strategies for scientists who want to engage with the public on issues of bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science. We identify two tracks that scientists can use to maximize the broad dissemination of corrective and educational content: that of an audience builder or an expert resource. Finally, we suggests that scientists familiarize themselves with common sources of misinformation within their field, so that they can be better able to respond quickly when factually inaccurate content begins to spread.
Communication and Education
There is increasing awareness of the need to meaningfully engage society in efforts to tackle marine conservation challenges. Public perceptions research (PPR) in a marine conservation context provides tools to see the sea through the multiple lenses with which society interprets both the marine environment and marine conservation efforts. Traditionally, PPR is predominantly a social science which has considerable interdisciplinarity, owing to the variety of disciplines which contribute to its delivery and benefit from its outputs. Similarly, the subjects of a marine application of PPR are diverse, and relate to public perceptions of any marine component or activity. Evidence shows this is a growing area of science, and the paper presents a qualitative approach to addressing key questions to inform the continuing development of this field through a workshop held at the Third International Marine Conservation Congress 2014. Key findings are discussed under the themes of 1) the benefits of PPR to marine conservation; 2) priorities for PPR to support marine conservation; 3) making PPR accessible to marine practitioners and policy makers; and 4) interdisciplinary research collaboration to deliver PPR. The workshop supported the development of a framework which illustrates: the key conditions which can support PPR to take place; the types of research which PPR can be used to address; the applications of PPR findings for marine conservation; and the types of marine conservation benefits which can be delivered. As PPR gains an increasing presence in marine conservation, it is hoped that this discussion and framework will support researchers and practitioners to identify opportunities for PPR to deliver benefits, and to work together to achieve these.
Addressing impacts from human activities requires the change of current practices. However, reaching a target audience about conservation issues and influencing their behaviour is not easy in a world where people are continually bombarded with information, and distractions are permanently available. Although not typically considered to be part of the conservation science toolbox, marketing techniques were designed in the commercial sector to identify and influence human preferences and behaviour by placing target audiences at the core of the marketing process. It thus seems reasonable that the same marketing principles and tools could and should be used to address pressing conservation issues. In this manuscript, we provide an introduction to the main objectives of marketing and illustrate how these can be applied to conservation and animal welfare issues. To that end we offer two examples: Project Ocean, where a major UK retailer joined forces with the Zoological Society of London to influence consumer behaviour around seafood; and Blackfish, which coupled social media with an award-winning documentary to create a discussion around the welfare of large cetaceans in captivity. Without the ability to influence human behaviour, a conservationists' role will likely be limited to that of describing the loss of biodiversity and the decline of the environment. We thus hope that conservation practitioners can embrace marketing as a fundamental component of the conservation toolbox.
Threatening and connecting messages are two types of appeals commonly used to encourage conservation behaviors, yet little research has examined their psychological impacts and behavioral outcomes. This paper describes two studies contrasting these approaches with a neutral comparison and testing their effects on state levels of negative affect, caring, and openness, psychological states which we expected in turn would encourage conservation behavior. Participants viewed visually identical nature videos with no text, connecting text or negative text. They then reported on their state experiences, and were asked to engage in conservation behaviors, including supporting conservation organizations. Findings showed that connecting messages increased caring and openness, and decreased negative affect, and by doing so elicited more conservation behaviors. On the other hand, threatening messages showed no beneficial effects above a neutral comparison without an appeal. Our findings, which we contextualize in motivational theory, can be used to inform the use of messages to promote conservation.
Over the past decade, ocean acidification (OA) has emerged as a major concern in ocean science. The field of OA is based on certainties—uptake of carbon dioxide into the global ocean alters its carbon chemistry, and many marine organisms, especially calcifiers, are sensitive to this change. However, the field must accommodate uncertainties about the seriousness of these impacts as it synthesizes and draws conclusions from multiple disciplines. There is pressure from stakeholders to expeditiously inform society about the extent to which OA will impact marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them. Ultimately, decisions about actions related to OA require evaluating risks about the likelihood and magnitude of these impacts. As the scientific literature accumulates, some of the uncertainty related to single-species sensitivity to OA is diminishing. Difficulties remain in scaling laboratory results to species and ecosystem responses in nature, though modeling exercises provide useful insight. As recognition of OA grows, scientists’ ability to communicate the certainties and uncertainties of our knowledge on OA is crucial for interaction with decision makers. In this regard, there are a number of valuable practices that can be drawn from other fields, especially the global climate change community. A generally accepted set of best practices that scientists follow in their discussions of uncertainty would be helpful for the community engaged in ocean acidification.
Tourism is of growing economical importance to many nations, in particular for developing countries. Although tourism is an important economic vehicle for the host country, its continued growth has led to on-going concerns about its environmental sustainability. Coastal and marine tourism can directly affect the environment through direct and indirect tourist activities. For these reasons tourism sector needs practical actions of sustainability. Several studies have shown how education minimizes the impact on and is proactive for, preserving the natural resources. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of a citizen science program to improve the environmental education of the volunteers, by means of questionnaires provided to participants to a volunteer-based Red Sea coral reef monitoring program (STEproject). Fifteen multiple-choice questions evaluated the level of knowledge on the basic coral reef biology and ecology and the awareness on the impact of human behaviour on the environment. Volunteers filled in questionnaires twice, once at the beginning, before being involved in the project and again at the end of their stay, after several days participation in the program. We found that the participation in STEproject significantly increased both the knowledge of coral reef biology and ecology and the awareness of human behavioural impacts on the environment, but was more effective on the former. We also detected that tourists with a higher education level have a higher initial level of environmental education than less educated people and that the project was more effective on divers than snorkelers. This study has emphasized that citizen science projects have an important and effective educational value and has suggested that tourism and diving stakeholders should increase their commitment and efforts to these programs.
Improving public awareness about the ocean can benefit the environment, economy, and society. However, low levels of ‘ocean literacy’ have been identified in many countries and can be a barrier for citizens to engage in environmentally responsible behavior or consider ocean-related careers. This study assessed the level of ocean valuation, knowledge, interaction and interest of public school students grade 7–12 (ages 12–18) in Nova Scotia, Canada, a region with strong connections with the sea. A survey was used in 11 public schools, with a total of 723 students participating in a quiz and survey. Many quiz questions were aligned with the ‘Ocean Literacy Principles’ established by the Ocean Literacy Campaign in the United States. Although the average quiz score was below 50%, students reported a high valuation of the marine environment and diverse interest in the oceans, including jobs and careers. There was a distinct difference in knowledge of biology-related questions and abiotic-related questions, with students having more knowledge of and interest in topics concerning ocean life. A significant positive correlation between knowledge and value indicated that ocean-literate students might value the marine environment more strongly. Students reporting greater interaction with the ocean also demonstrated higher knowledge levels, and students with higher knowledge levels were more likely to be interested in ocean-related jobs and careers. Participants׳ high valuation of the marine environment and interest in ocean jobs and careers suggests important links between ocean literacy and environmental and economic benefit, respectively. Enhancing interactions with the ocean through experiential learning could be the most effective way of improving ocean literacy as well as marine citizen- and stewardship.
Climate change is a significant global risk that is predicted to be particularly devastating to coastal communities. Climate change adaptation and mitigation have been hindered by many factors, including psychological barriers, ineffective outreach and communication, and knowledge gaps. This qualitative study compares an expert model of climate change risks to county administrators' “mental” models of climate change and related coastal environmental hazards in Crystal River, Florida, USA. There were 24 common nodes in the expert and the combined non-expert models, mainly related to hurricanes, property damage, and economic concerns. Seven nodes mentioned by non-experts fit within, but were not a part of, the expert model, primarily related to ecological concerns about water quality. The findings suggest that effective climate outreach and communication could focus on compatible parts of the models and incorporate local concerns to find less controversial ways to discuss climate-related hazards.
The design of interactive applications for online communication is an ongoing area of research within technical communication. This study reports on the development of an interactive sea-level rise (SLR) viewer, a data visualization tool that communicates about the potential effects of SLR along coastlines. It describes the formative evaluation of a location-specific SLR viewer created via integral stakeholder engagement. Participants performed a series of tasks, answered questions about the tool's usability and communicative effectiveness, and made suggestions for ways to improve its application to desired tasks. The authors discuss the implications of this study for visual risk communication and make recommendations for others developing similar interactive data visualization tools with audience input.
This research was conducted in the southeastern United States, one of the most rapidly developing regions in the country. The study included two sets of predictor variables: environmental experiences and perceptions (i.e., observation of pollution and assessment of pollution’s impact) and residential factors (i.e., rural vs. urban residence and upstream vs. downstream watershed location); sociodemographic characteristics served as control variables. Sequential regression was performed on survey data of watershed residents to isolate the predictors of environmentalism. Observation of pollution and assessment of pollution’s impact on water quality were most important for explaining environmental concern, self-reported household-based behaviors, and self-reported likelihood of engaging in water quality improvement efforts. The sociodemographic variables were also significant predictors; the residential variables had limited influence on the dependent variables. These results indicate that stormwater educators should account for experiential factors and perceptions of pollution when designing strategies for encouraging environmentalism.