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Archive for June, 2011

Sentiment Analysis Milestone: More Than One Million Human Judgments

by June 27, 2011

judgment-shot We have developed a process, dubbed Pulse, to extract nuanced sentiment from social media, like Twitter. We recognized early on that tools weren’t available to adequately answer specific questions, such as: “What’s the mood about today’s weather?” or “What portion of Twitter authors who discuss global warming believe that it is occurring?” or “Did Apple or Google have a more favorable buzz during this year’s South-by-Southwest Interactive?” Specifically, we concluded that it was necessary to get humans involved in the process—especially for Twitter posts, or tweets, which are often cryptic and have meaning that might be missed by a computer algorithm.

So, we turned to crowdsourcing.

However, successfully leveraging the power of the crowd for our sentiment analyses required cultivating the crowd, which we have achieved by working with partner CrowdFlower. In short, CrowdFlower offers an approach where we can access various work channels (we have relied mostly on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk), yet do so by layering on a quality control filter. Specifically, we intersperse within jobs what CrowdFlower terms “gold” units—in our case, tweets for which we already know the sentiment.  Workers build trustworthiness scores by getting the gold units correct. If they miss a gold unit, they get some feedback from us that has been tailored to that unit, such as “This person is happy that their garden is getting rain, so this should be marked as a positive emotion about the weather.”

We have been running a lot of jobs through CrowdFlower, but only recently did I step back and add up the tweets processed. For more than 200,000 individual tweets, we have received more than 1,000,000 trusted, human judgments from the CrowdFlower workforce! I know our research team, who had to do a bunch of judgments early on as we worked out a viable strategy, are grateful that we could get help from the crowd.

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Teasing Out Opinions About Global Warming From Twitter

by June 24, 2011

snapshot-ca A couple of months ago, we posted results from a quick sampling of mood about global warming in the Twittersphere that was featured in Momentum, the publication of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Along with our work on weather mood and mood about gas prices, we are on the verge of releasing a more in-depth analysis of sentiment about global warming. Here, we explain the method behind our sentiment analysis related to global warming, building off an earlier post that presented some of the details of our methodology on studying global warming chatter. (more…)

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The Periodic Table of Videos From University of Nottingham

by June 15, 2011

periodic-table

Periodic Table, with colors representing numbers of views for each element's videos. Red is more than 200K, blue less than 10K.

I have a chronic problem of letting my issues of Science and Nature pile up. Having picked up an issue essentially at random from the pile, I experienced that reminder that I’m missing a lot by not keeping the pile under control.

Video journalist Brady Haran and chemist Martyn Poliakoff authored an article in the 27 May 2011 issue about their amazingly successful project to create videos for each element on the periodic table.

Having just watched the video for hydrogen, I am really impressed. It is no wonder that they have amassed a loyal following and over 15 million views in total. Lots to learn from this impressive science communication endeavor!

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Tom Toles Weighs In on Explaining versus Persuading

by June 15, 2011

A few days ago I wrote a post on the importance of of nonpersuasive communication. Scanning the Washington Post site just now, I noticed that Tom Toles, my favorite political cartoonists, weighed in on the topic two days ago in a post entitled “Explaining and Persuading.” His statement that “[t]hese are two things that seem like they ought to go together, but somehow rarely do” illuminates the issue nicely within a different domain: inside the Beltway.

This reminds me of advice of a PR exec this week at the Google Science Communication workshop, which I had the honor of attending: scientists should “stay in their lane.” It can be a very tough pill to swallow when one feels that decisions do not line up with the latest understanding from the science community, but as Baruch Fischhoff stated in an ES&T piece discussed in my previous post:

Scientists faced with others’ advocacy may feel compelled to respond in kind. However, they can also try to become the trusted source for credible, relevant, comprehensible information by doing the best job possible of nonpersuasive communication. With long-term problems, like climate change, communication is a multiple-play game. Those who resort to advocacy might lose credibility that they will need in future rounds.

I sure wish Toles would pen a cartoon on this topic!

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To Persuade, or Not to Persuade? That’s A Key Question in Science Communication

by June 11, 2011

The philosophy behind Dialogue Earth is deeply rooted in a sense that our provision of information should be advocacy-free in order to maximize trustworthiness (see our history and strategy sections). That is, providing information about an issue while also urging the public to take a particular action based on this information has the real potential to erode trustworthiness, especially among those audience segments who are likely the most important: those people who are skeptical about the credibility of the information and the intentions of its source. This becomes all the more true for issues that are controversial, where I believe advocacy-driven information campaigns can deepen the societal polarization (here’s a short video I recorded explaining more about how I feel we can cut through the polarization, based on an op-ed that I penned for the Pioneer Press in April).

I recently discussed this issue in the context of an edgy hip-hop video featuring climate scientists that has become a YouTube phenomenon over the last month. In that piece, I referenced a 2010 letter to the editor in the journal Science by Bowman and colleagues that advocates for a new initiative to spread information about climate change, and that this initiative should be rooted in a nonpersuasive approach.

Digging into this issue further, it is clear that there is a debate centered on the goal of science communications. To boil things down into a few words: those calling for advocacy and persuasion by scientists cite growing disregard for science in public discourse and within policymaking, while those who urge caution suggest that mixing advocacy with the provision of science-based information jeopardizes the trust in the source of such information. By the way, a great book to read as background on the role of science in American society is “Unscientific America” by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirschenbaum. (more…)

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Don Shelby: Climate Experts to Ratchet Up Language

by June 2, 2011

In his most recent article for MinnPost, Don Shelby describes a meeting he had with three climate science thought leaders about communicating their scientific findings to the public more effectively.  He describes a current message shift that many of them will undertake when fielding questions from reporters about global warming.

The example Shelby gives is when a reporter asks a climate scientist if current weather phenomena are due to global warming.  Rather than the typical, “no single event can be contributed to global warming,” the response will shift to, “no single event can be attributed to global warming, but we told you this was going to happen.”  The former statement has the potential to reinforce complacency by those who are skeptical of global warming or its predicted impacts.  Those supporting this new strategy, as Shelby explains, are hoping that adding a twist will reduce or eliminate some of this fodder for complacency.

(more…)

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A Look At Hollywood’s Recipe For Environmental Disaster Movies

thedayaftertomorrow2004 For decades the synopsis has been pretty much the same when Hollywood tangles with the environment. In some cases, the Earth looks like it has been run over by army of ATVs. In other cases it appears to have been mauled by a disaster of the screenwriter’s choosing—earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis and by global warming.

A 2007 New York Times headline put it most succinctly: “On Screens Soon, Abused Earth Gets Revenge.”

You leave the Cineplex with ears ringing and confidence shaken, wondering when environmental judgment day will arrive. Or you leave it singing “it’s the end of the world, as we know, and I feel fine.”

At Dialogue Earth we occasionally delve into how pop culture intersects with perplexing problems such as climate change, energy policy and pollution. (See our recent post on a rap song defense of climate scientists.) (more…)

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