Striking a Balance

The White House Needs to Work on Science Communication
by Anna Flam -- January 14th, 2014

Unfortunately last week’s cold snap spawned idiocy galore. Apparently a few days of cold weather means that climate change is a myth. Ted Cruz even claimed that “Al Gore told me this wouldn’t happen”.

This shows a misunderstanding of climate. Climate is a long term average of weather patterns. Recent cold weather is a minor blip in that average. Also, don’t forget that the cold wasn’t universal — I’m looking at you California Facebook friends, if I get one more gloating status I’m going to unfriend you…

Happily the White House rebutted the Climate Change deniers with the following video. Unhappily the video isn’t a great example of science communication.

You can see Dr. Holdren struggling to explain the polar vortex to a larger audience, but the best he can do is describe the movement of cooler polar air as “wavy”. There are no analogies.

Analogies are extremely helpful in science communication. When I describe cephalopod chromatophores (the color-change cells on squid, octopus, and cuttlefish) I liken them to water balloons. If you squeeze a water balloon it changes color, cephalopods “squeeze” their chomatophores to change color.

Greg Laden does a better job of talking about the polar vortex in his blog post entitled “Go home, Arctic, you’re drunk.” With the title alone he’s far more engaging. Other gems include describing the tropics as the “giant global hula-hoop of warmth.”

Or we can turn to Jon Stewart’s less scientific, but highly entertaining, take-down of recent climate change deniers.


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