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Is A Hip Hop Video Featuring Climate Scientists Responsive to the Science Communication Challenge?

by May 20, 2011

scienceMy head is spinning right now, the result of a collision of an eddgy, pop-culture approach to elevate the image of climate scientists and their science with a thoughtful piece by Thomas Bowman and colleagues in the journal Science about the need to take action on climate communication.

If you haven’t already seen the hip-hop video, here is the non-raunchy version (click here if you want the uncut piece, that has amassed more than 100,000 views in the past few days).

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what to think when I saw this video. My feeling was that it would do little to draw in anyone who wasn’t already in the “choir,” so to speak. For this reason, it really conflicts with the approach we are taking at Dialogue Earth. In chatting with friends about it, they suggested that the goal was not to inform but rather the video was just a good way to vent and release frustration for climate scientists who may be feeling that the public isn’t listening to their warnings about the state of the world.

I was going along with this idea, until I read this Fast Company piece. The video is apparently the brainchild of Australian comedian Dan Ilic. He’s quoted as saying: “I felt like I need to make a point in the media discourse that would stand out, get noticed,” Ilic says. “I believe advertising wankers call it ‘cut through’ the track had to be loud and funny. Talking heads [as in a documentary, not the band] weren’t going to cut it.”

So, if the goal was something more than venting, then it might be fair to probe its communication value. There’s already a good bit written about the video, including posts on Adventure Journal and Huffington Post that fairly question whether this approach will have the intended effect.

For whatever reason, it was during this mental turmoil about the video that I happened upon the aforementioned letter to the editor in Science by Bowman and colleagues.

They call for the science community “to develop, implement, and sustain an independent initiative with a singular mandate: to actively and effectively share information about climate change risks and potential solutions with the public, particularly decision-makers in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.”

I was particularly taken by their statement that the “initiative should be an embodiment of what [Baruch] Fischhoff calls ‘non-persuasive communication.’ It should not advocate specific policy decisions; good decision-making involves weighing the best available information with the values of the decision-makers and those affected by the decisions.” This is cornerstone of Dialogue Earth’s approach (described in this post about building a trustworthy brand), and it is great to see that the thought leaders in this Science piece understand the importance of separating information from issue advocacy.

We truly support innovative, out-of-the-box approaches to communicating science to general audiences. Heck, we have a snail and a wacky mermaid explaining ocean acidification, and hamsters along with a flamboyant Uncle Sam describing the U.S. energy mix. We’ve by no means figured out the best approach.  A key part of the journey will need to be evaluating how various videos work with different audiences (as a first step, we have begun analyzing the hots spots in our ocean acidification videos).


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