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More Thoughts on How Google Can Help Us Understand the Debate Over Climate Change

Charles Spencer of American University Media services did a terrific Web story on the Google science communication fellows program I will be participating in this year.  Here’s an excerpt where I discuss some of the questions I will be examining:

“I’m interested in the variety of data sources and analytical tools Google has—they’re part of a new field where, instead of surveying people and asking what they’re doing, you have measures of actual behavior, particularly in terms of measures of information seeking,” Nisbet says.

How many people are searching for terms like “global warming”? What trends are revealed by searches for terms such as “Al Gore” and “global warming hoax”? Combined with data on the actual number of searches, the information can be viewed against contextual factors, “everything from the unemployment rate in a state or county to . . . the climate-gate scandal, or perceived scandal, an election, or the State of the Union speech,” Nisbet notes.

With those tools a researcher can analyze media coverage with a different lens.

“You can have a better aggregate sense of how society is responding in real time and in some cases perceiving an issue like climate change,” Nisbet says. Climate change communication is a hot topic in the School of Communication, Nisbet notes, and he is working with colleagues on a project to explore the issue.

The story continued with some of my thoughts on how Google computational tools and data can be applied to understanding the organizations who are attempting to communicate with the public:

Given the substantial challenges that policy makers and science communicators face, Google offers some unique opportunities during a period of major change in climate and energy policies.

“One of the strategies for taking advantage of that opportunity for progress is to break people out of their silos,” he says. How can blogging, social media, and the new communication tools Google is pioneering “facilitate constructive dialogue and debate rather than polarization?”

Finally, Nisbet wants to explore ways of communicating information on climate change within communities that will foster debate. Since online video could be a key tool in that effort, Google—which owns YouTube—could be a key player on that level.

And what if Nisbet is one of the lucky Google fellows who get to travel to the Arctic, Antarctica, or the Galapagos Islands for his project? Which destination would he choose?

“Growing up, part of the story of the world was the Galapagos and Charles Darwin,” he says. “My grandmother and grandfather have gone [there], and so has my uncle, and so it’s a bit of a family pilgrimage.”


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