Please Note: This project is not currently active. The content on this site is provided for reference and is not actively maintained.

Author Archive

YouTube’s Hot Spot Analyses: Changing Behavior Raises Questions

by May 18, 2011

A few days ago, I wrote a post describing how three of our videos on the topic of ocean acidification measured up using the hot spots tool within YouTube’s Insights dashboard. Returning to this today, I planned to look at another batch of videos. When doing some comparisons, I realized that the hot spots graph had changed rather dramatically for one of the videos, “New Neighbor.” Here’s the before taken on 5.16.11:


Today, I found a considerably different hot spots trace:

new-neighbor-hot-spots-5-17-11 (more…)

More »

Incentives for Video Producers in Crowdsourced Contests: Setting the Stage for a Survey of Creators

by May 10, 2011


Photo by Steve Garfield

In doing research for a forthcoming survey of creators who participate in video contests, I ran across this excellent piece posted by Josh Tabb on the Case Foundation blog.

The take-home for me is that a variety of incentives are key, ideally with some of them being offered on a regular basis—such as a daily viewers’ choice award. Also key is promotion in order to get sufficient participation. Tabb summarized insight he heard from Ramya Raghavan, who was at the time YouTube’s Nonprofits and Activism Manager: “it was incentives and promotion which proved to be the most imperative elements for making a contest succeed – or fail miserably.”

As discussed in this earlier post on incentives in crowd-based video production, we are extremely interested in understanding how to optimize incentives for storytellers from the crowd. Our goal is to create a win-win situation for creators and Dialogue Earth so that we can produce videos on a large number of topics in a sustainable manner.

Building from our experiences, we feel that a smart next step will be to elicit feedback from those who have participated in video contests through a survey. We expect the survey results to be of use to all those in the crowdsourcing realm who sponsor and conduct video contests. We are definitely open to input upfront so that we tune the survey to meet the needs of as many groups out there as possible.

More »

Have We at Dialogue Earth Broken Free of Randy Olson’s “Nerd Loop”?

by May 9, 2011

nerd-loop-piecePrior to reading Andy Revkin’s post Climate, Communication and the ‘Nerd Loop’ just now, I was unaware of Randy Olson’s newly coined term the “Nerd Loop.” It is a term that he recently gave to in-the-box strategies for communicating science to general audiences (read about it on his blog, The Benshi).

Olson argues passionately that there needs to be more risk taking in the science communication realm. I equate this to needing more out-of-the-box approaches, some of which will fail and some of which will help members of the public to understand a bit more about important issues like global warming, energy, food, water, land use, and so on. There won’t be a single approach that will work in all cases. Nor do I expect that there will be massive uptake of new information. It’ll be a slow, gradual process.

For me, I think the key for out-of-the-box approaches to work is that there needs to be an underlying genuine quality. Is there an effort to change people’s minds, or just to inform? If the goal is ultimately to change people’s minds, I deeply believe that even the most out-of-the-box efforts to raise literacy on a number of key issues connected to the environment will face barriers.

That’s why I’m committed to a non-advocacy approach with Dialogue Earth. We’re advocates for good information being present in societal dialogue and decision making. Period.

I believe that our strategy based in understanding the public dialogue, building credibility by drawing in a wide spectrum of experts, and ultimately delivering highly-engaging, crowd-based multimedia products holds lots of promise.

Ultimately, we can convince ourselves that we’ve stepped outside of the box, but our opinion amounts to very little. What do you think?

More »

Looking at the Hot (and Cold) Spots in Our Ocean Acidification Videos

by May 6, 2011

youtube_logoWe recently became aware of YouTube’s powerful, Insights analytical tool. It appears that YouTube gathers data on each view of a video, keeping track if people rewind to a particular spot or click away mid-way through. The result is a graph that shows attention or interest during the video, shown to the video’s owner through a simple interactive display that pairs the running video with a line moving on the interest graph. It looks like a video needs at least 500 or so views before YouTube will provide hot spot data. Having explored the idea of doing some in-depth market research, we assume that this is no replacement for detailed studies by market research firms.

Yet, what can we learn from this about our videos on the topic of ocean acidification? You can view all but one of them on our YouTube channel.

Our “No Shell Blues” video appears to be a solid performer based on the hot spot analysis. Perhaps we could conclude that it gets off to a slow start, yet viewers appear to be hooked once Timmy snail first makes a sound.

no-shell-blues (more…)

More »

What Do We Need To Know About Rare Earth Metals?

by May 5, 2011


Photo credit: Giles Douglas

The short answer is: lots. This recent piece on rare earth metals in the New York Times is eye opening. The fact that each Toyota Prius uses a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of neodymium—an element that I honestly had not known even existed—is worth understanding. This article highlights the challenges facing companies who have been planning to recycle rare earth metals from old electronics, as well as the reality that China controls the vast majority of the rare earth market.

For me, that there is a role of elements like neodymium in our energy system, underscores its complexity. Obviously, Marvin just nibbles away at the edges of that complexity in our recent video created by Robert Deutsch. This is exactly the type of issue that we plan to address in efforts like our planned Media Challenge focused on energy topics.

More »

How To Weigh Fairly the Health Risks of Nuclear Energy?

by May 5, 2011


Photo credit, Sakucae

In her recent op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Unsafe at Any Dose,” physician Helen Caldicott presents a compelling health-based argument against nuclear energy. Specifically, she argues that the long-term consequences of nuclear plant disasters, like at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, are often understated. She argues that medical doctors should be consulted more frequently about cancer risks, rather than policymakers and others relying on evidence provided by physicists. She feels this is particularly true in relation to the risk of cancer from radioactive material that is ingested, such as would happen when foods are contaminated.

As I pointed out in this earlier post (Having A Rational Discussion in the Wake of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster), weighing the costs and benefits of nuclear energy will obviously have to take into account health risks from radiation following inevitable malfunctions. Caldicott’s piece certainly gives me pause, because of the challenge to get our arms around some of the long-term risks that she cites. (more…)

More »

Why We Are Compelled to Partner with Crowd-Based Storytellers

by May 4, 2011

Having just received several thoughtful comments on two recent blog posts—one about the rights of crowd-sourced workers; the other about crowdsourcing incentives—it seems worthwhile to step back and discuss why it is we at Dialogue Earth are so interested in relying on storytellers from the crowd to bring potentially dull science-based points to life. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I’d like to lay out what success would look like for us.

We were motivated to explore crowd-sourced video production because of our modest budget and the sense that this would be cost-effective route. Another key reason, however, is that we have been seeking a content production approach that would feature lots of different approaches to telling stories. For us, relying on storytellers from the “crowd” would ensure a steady stream of new ideas and fresh approaches, setting the stage for content that would become widely distributed across the Web because it appealed to a range of audience segments.

By way of example, we have been delighted to see the variety of ideas sparked by the crowd. From telling the story of ocean acidification with a snail who forms a band, a displaced mermaid, and grandma’s fruitcake. Similarly, to giving a brief introduction to our energy system with a pair of hamsters planning their escape and a flamboyant Uncle Sam eating his way through the U.S. energy portfolio.




More »

Understanding the Incentives in Crowd-Based Video Production

by April 28, 2011

There are some valuable take-aways from Jared Cicon’s latest reflections on online video contests. The post chronicles his return to contests on Poptent after time away due to a heavy workload. Having been in the sponsor’s shoes for several recent contests (ocean acidification, Why Dialogue Earth?, and intro to energy), we are keenly interested in understanding this approach to video production. Here’s a sample of Cicon’s work from one of the two contests on Poptent he won.


Why are we interested in crowd-based video production? We are striving to communicate science-based stories to large, diverse audiences. We believe that using a wide selection of storytellers and approaches, Dialogue Earth will create videos that explain each issue in voices that will resonate with a range of audience segments. Here’s more on how we plan to create a trustworthy brand that will serve as the foundation for all of our video content. (more…)

More »

Just Around the Corner: A Longer-Running Pilot On Weather Emotions

by April 27, 2011

This week the weather in the U.S. has been pretty unusual. We set a record for rainfall here in the Twin Cities, which is really a footnote to the week compared to the violent extreme weather in the Southeast and beyond. While understanding how people are feeling about the weather day-to-day won’t change the weather, we see it as a great starting point for developing our Pulse system for tracking public opinion on issues discussed in the social media.

As a follow-on to our first weather pilot, we are gearing up to monitor mood about the daily weather across the U.S. for weeks at a time. In fact, we are just completing a run of about 8000 Twitter tweets through our “crowd-based sentiment engine” using the CrowdFlower platform. Once we have double-checked the results, we are set up now to collect tweets continuously, automatically send them over to CrowdFlower for sentiment judgments, have the judgments returned to our database automatically, and then publish the data on our interactive Pulse display. We expect to be analyzing several thousand tweets through CrowdFlower on a daily basis in order to create a detailed map of weather mood for the U.S. (see more here about our data sampling strategy). Look for more on this in the coming days. The image below is a sneak peek at our interactive platform, which our team has overhauled in recent weeks. It should prove to be a much-improved user experience!

Pulse social media analytics tool More »

Hans Rosling Uses Simple Math to Explain World Population Trends

by April 26, 2011

img_1022Just returned from a pre-event discussion by tonight’s Momentum Series speaker, Hans Rosling. Momentum 2010 is a string of three great talks this Spring put on by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Professor Rosling used simple math to explain masterfully human population issues globally in a few minutes (see the image taken from the whiteboard, reproduced in a table below).

The gist is this: humans clearly have a large “footprint” on the planet compared to a few thousand years ago, yet “population control” will not have immediate impacts on the size of our collective footprint. The reason is that there is, pardon the pun, a good deal of “momentum” built into global population. As the rough numbers in the table below indicate, globally two people are more-or-less producing two children—a stark departure from even 1920 when, on average, two of every six children born died per couple.  Yet, there are large numbers of children globally who will grow up and have children of their own. Even with births and deaths more-or-less balancing, this means the momentum in the system will lead us toward a global population of 9 billion by 2050. (more…)

More »

What A Mouthful: Eating Through the U.S. Energy Mix In 60 Seconds

by April 26, 2011


Energy sources in order from 12 o'clock as shown in Uncle Sam's Dinner video: natural gas, biomass, coal, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, and oil.

A recent post by David Roberts on demonstrated the value of explaining a rather simple concept about our energy system: the mix of our energy sources. In Robert’s post, he pulled out data from Black & Veatch’s Energy Market Perspective analysis on the energy sources for U.S. electricity generation, comparing the mix in 2011 to that projected for 2035.

This post made me want to take another look at the video, Uncle Sam’s Dinner, from our just-completed video contest. Specifically, I wanted to check how closely the creator, Henry Reich, had come to representing the various energy sources that make up the overall U.S. sector—not just for electricity generation. Comparing the pie chart below with the stop watch captured above, it is clear that the video is extremely accurate. See this post for the full background material on the U.S. energy sector provided to creators for this contest. (more…)

More »

Science Magazine’s Insights of the Decade: What Happens When Science Becomes Politicized

by April 25, 2011

f1-mediumFew would argue that topic of global warming (or the more general topic, climate change) is hugely polarizing. Richard Kerr and Eli Kintisch chronicle the past decade of research on the topic of climate change in the 17 December 2010 issue of Science. They also layer on a summary of the dynamics of the international political scene. As a scientist, I find it saddening that climate scientists have often become the target of very personal attacks. Perhaps the nadir of the decade occurred in the wake of the publication by hackers of private emails between climate scientists. Kerr and Kintisch’s synopsis will undoubtedly prove to be true: “the event may have profoundly damaged public views of climate science, with political repercussions yet to unfold.”

In terms of my personal experiences, I’m reminded of the inaugural public event for the new Heller-Hurwicz Economics Institute at the University of Minnesota earlier this year. I had the occasion to meet a delightful older couple. Immediately after being introduced to them as being affiliated with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, the woman asked what I thought about Al Gore. Soon I realized: people do not tend to ask your opinion of this iconic figure in the global warming debate if they are a fan of his. My realization came after explaining that my feelings are mixed—his science is largely sound, yet I believe his politics have, unfortunately, increased the polarized nature of the debate in our country. I was left wondering if she discounted the science because of the icon, although that would be a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Polarization is the norm, yet it is rather paralyzing. Does it need to be the norm? I believe the answer is a resounding no. That is why I am so passionate about launching Dialogue Earth (for more see this post and my recent op-ed in the Pioneer Press). Can we cut through the polarization on a topic like global warming? I am certain we can, although it will be no easy task.

More »

A New Data Point for Homeowners Considering Installation of Solar Photovoltaic Panels

by April 25, 2011


Photo credit:

As discussed by a number of media outlets, including the NY Times’ Green blog, a report just released by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (link to download page here) provides one more data point for homeowners weighing the costs and benefits of installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on their home.

Making decisions about installing solar systems is very complex, and this type of information is sure to be helpful to the decision making of homeowners. As we tackle issues like solar energy as part of our forthcoming Media Challenge, we will work with a broad network of experts to distill information such as this study. We will then work with great storytellers to bring these points to life, like in our recently-released videos that discuss energy in general terms. (more…)

More »

What is the best way to develop a top 10 list on Quora?

by April 24, 2011

quora-pictureTwo days ago I posted a question on Quora asking for the top ten energy issues the general public should understand (see my blog post here).  To my delight, the question has already received several thoughtful answers, and it has been viewed nearly 100 times.

I have just posted a new question on Quora to understand the best way to create such a top-ten list (view it here). Asking each person to provide a listing of 10 issues seems that it might not be the most productive way to get a great top-10 list. If one person has five points that the next person agrees with, they could suggest changes to the answer’s author or copy those five points and add more. As a potential answer writer, I could find this to be cumbersome and potentially off-putting.

Because Quora provides a voting system that allows all registered users to promote answers up, or down, on a list, perhaps it would be more efficient to have each person provide just a single issue per answer (individuals could certainly provide multiple, discrete, answers rather than a list of multiple issues per answer). Then, with good participation in voting, an ordered list should result organically.

Within minutes of posting this question on Quora, I had already received an excellent answer that nicely summarized the options two of the options I had been considering: (a) as the question poster, I should jump in at some point and summarize, or curate, the answers; and (b) the results from Quora could serve as the input to a committee of independent experts. The respondent also suggested that, as the question poster, I might choose to ask several of the respondents to work together to come up with a collaborative answer. I look forward to seeing what other great ideas come out of this!

More »

What are the top 10 energy topics that the general public should understand?

by April 22, 2011

quora-pictureGetting a handle on the priority issues that should be included in Dialogue Earth’s upcoming Media Challenge is no small task, plus it needs to be done transparently and in an inclusive manner that ultimately builds trust.

Ten years ago there were fewer options for answering a tough question like this (refer to our History section for a description of the lengthy process used in an effort to identify 100 indicators to describe the condition and use of U.S. Ecosystems). Today, there are some powerful platforms that hold considerable promise for helping to expedite this process (see discussion in this recent post).

Today, we have launched an experiment using one of the prime Q&A platforms, Quora, to explore the viability of exploring answers to this question in an open and transparent manner. If you have an opinion, please jump over to Quora and make your voice heard. You can enter answers directly, and you can vote on answers provided by others. Here is the background material that I added to the question on Quora: (more…)

More »

Bringing Trustworthy Energy Information to the Table

by April 20, 2011

This opinion piece authored by Kent Cavender-Bares was published in the Pioneer Press on April 20, 2011.

‘We need all of our energy options on the table!’ So say those advocating for the removal of the legal barrier preventing new nuclear plants in Minnesota. I completely agree with the sentiment and would go a step further: We need to understand all of our energy options so we can make informed decisions about them.

Does this mean entering a cycle of unending study? No. Expert studies certainly have their important role. But they are not the weak link. Rather, what is missing is an adequate transfer of knowledge from the expert community to the rest of us regarding the multiple, unequal options available. We need translators to bring technical key points to life in a way that furthers our understanding while remaining faithful to the underlying science and technology.

The challenge in making that happen with complex, controversial topics such as nuclear energy is twofold.

First, it means traversing the gap between the language of those who understand a technology like nuclear energy and the rest of us. That is where great communicators come into the picture.

Second, it means separating trustworthy information from hyperbole. We need to be able to identify and then clearly communicate a knowledge base that is widely shared by experts drawn from across society — experts from corporations like GE and Xcel as well as academics and experts from various advocacy groups and government agencies. (more…)

More »

Dialogue Earth’s Strategy for Building A Brand That Diverse Audiences Will Grow to Trust

by April 20, 2011

Today’s issue of the Pioneer Press carries an op-ed of mine introducing Dialogue Earth to the Twin Cities (see a re-posting on our blog here). I am very grateful for having the opportunity to get our story out in this forum.

Here’s a brief video I just recorded to explain two key elements of our strategy for building a trustworthy brand: engaging experts drawn from across society and not telling people what they should do with the information we are providing (a.k.a. non-advocacy). We believe this is at the heart of a successful formula for creating a brand that large, diverse audience will seek out to answer questions on topics that are often quite polarized.

If you are coming from, you might be interested in this recent piece on energy security and this one on safety related to nuclear energy. In addition, you may be interested to view the videos from our just-completed contest designed to introduce the topic of energy to general audiences as part of our forthcoming Dialogue Earth Media Challenge. We welcome your feedback!

More »

Nuclear Energy: Having A Rational Discussion in the Wake of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster

by April 17, 2011

3686680582_c4e2a0c7fa_mIn a recent post on the Strategy + Business blog, Booz & Company analysts highlights the conundrum we face as a society in charting our energy future. Specifically, the authors provide an excellent argument for not taking nuclear off the table, stating, “The stakes are too high right now to base either political or business decisions on any rush to judgment.” Rather, they suggest that there may be no better time than in the wake of the disaster in Japan to focus our attention on increasing the safety of nuclear energy.

It may well be too early to have a rush to judgment about nuclear. We at Dialogue Earth echo the sentiment of the authors who emphasized the need for increasing public understanding of the risks and benefits of various energy sources. This is our reason for launching a year-long campaign to increase public understanding on energy topics like nuclear. We think of it as basic “energy literacy,” and it will be the focus of our inaugural Media Challenge.


More »

Energy Security: What It Includes Is A Matter of Perspective

by April 15, 2011

Security, as it relates to the topic of energy, is front and center lately, with oil prices on the rise and the nuclear disaster in Japan. Earlier this week, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) released an open letter to the American people and our leaders on the issue of “energy security.” As was highlighted by Andy Revfkin’s post on the Dot Earth blog, the former U.S. Senators and high-ranking officials from previous administrations zero in on reducing our “oil intensity” and setting up the systems and accountability to achieve this goal.

Oil intensity is the amount of oil needed per unit of GDP. It is clear from the piece that their focus is by and large on economic and national security aspects of energy policy. As pointed out by Revkin, economic and national security often trump considerations having to do with the environment. (more…)

More »

Grabbing A Random Sample from the Twitter River

by April 13, 2011

As we prepare to report on weather mood and emotions about gas prices on an ongoing basis, we are faced with an issue of scale. For example, we have been collecting weather-related tweets continuously for the past two weeks, using the keyword list described here, and we now have about 600,000 that have sufficient location information to be of interest to us. There are undoubtedly a bunch of duplicates in this batch, but still, it represents a huge volume of tweets from which we need to extract a sense of the authors’ emotions, and it would simply be too costly to consider sending all of them to our distributed workforce via CrowdFlower. (more…)

More »