from the world's big
Message Shift: Engaging an Anxious, Difficult to Reach Public
--Guest post by American University student Becca Stern.
People are often scared of topics they do not understand, explain Matthew R. Hartings and Declan Fahy in their article “Communicating Chemistry for Public Engagement,” published at Nature Chemistry. In the article, Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook, is referenced as saying that she was advised not to include the word ‘chemistry’ in the title because having it on the cover would “tank sales,” according to the Penguin Group publishing team.
In reality, chemistry is not too difficult for the general public to understand, the field just has a stigma attached to it that scares people away, a phenomenon deemed “chemophobia” by chemist and popular science writer Pierre Laszlo.
In large part, this fear of chemistry in general results from a historically damaged reputation stemming from events such as the Bhopal disaster, Love Canal, and the pollution of the Rhine River in Germany
Communicating chemistry knowledge to the public does not mean sugar-coating past events and the risks related to a field, instead efforts at communication need to be done in a way that can engage the public without scaring them away.
The advent of new technologies and social media are making this somewhat easier to accomplish, as Geoff Brumfiel suggests in his much discussed news feature at the journal Nature, “Supplanting the Old Media.” This trend, however, brings up a whole new issue regarding the decline of science writing due to the prevalence of the web.
With ever-increasing access to the web, science blogging can achieve the difficult feat of communicating scientific knowledge to greater numbers of people, yet it may replace the need for professional science journalists.
According to Robert Lee Hotz, a science journalist for The Wall Street Journal, we are currently in somewhat of a “golden age” of communicating science to the public, yet he feels that blogs can't adequately “fulfill the additional roles of watchdog and critic that the traditional media at their best aim to fulfill.”
In other words, science blogs are great... but we could and should be doing something more to engage the public including thinking about new models for science journalism.
How to Engage with an Inattentive Public
Science blogging -- and to a greater extent science journalism -- can be an effective way to engage the public. However, just because scientific knowledge is being printed and published online does not necessarily mean that the content is being avidly consumed by the general population.
TV programs, online video, advertising, and other visual media are likely more effective at reaching otherwise unmotivated or inattentive audiences, especially if the presentation takes into account the background of the audience. As science communication researchers Dominique Brossard and Bruce Lewenstein write: “individuals do not simply respond as empty containers to information, but rather process information according to social and psychological schemas that have been shaped by their previous experiences, cultural context, and personal circumstances.”
Major corporations -- including oil companies -- have long understood this principle.
One obvious example of this process at work can be seen in British Petroleum’s public relations efforts following the Gulf Oil spill. At first, the company released commercials showing BP CEO Tony Hayward detailing recovery efforts and steps that were being taken to remedy the environmental damage from the oil spill. However, due to unsavory statements made by Hayward, in combination with the fact that he is from the UK and not from the U.S., the commercials were not well-received by the American public.
So BP changed their strategy and began airing commercials featuring local Gulf residents. With this added contextualization, the commercials were received more favorably by the public, leading to increased awareness of the measures being taken by the company to remedy the damage caused by the spill. You can watch one of the first of these commercials below followed by the most recent that features Gulf residents touting the restored region as a place for tourism.
--Guest post by Becca Stern, a student in American University's course on Science, the Environment, and the Media. Find out more about the MA programs in Public Communication and Political Communication as well as the Doctoral program in Communication.
Brumfiel, J. (2009). Supplanting the Old Media? Nature, 458, 274-277. [PDF]
Hartings, MR and Fahy, D. (2011). Communicating Chemistry for Public Engagement. Nature Chemistry. Vol 3. September, pp 674-677. [PDF]
Brossard, D., & Lewenstein, B. V. (2009). A Critical Appraisal of Models of Public Understanding of Science: Using Practice to Inform Theory. In L. Kahlor & P. Stout (Eds.), Communicating Science: New Agendas in Communication (pp. 11-39). New York: Routledge
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think.
Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.