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EarthQ Core Business Model: Where Is the Sweet Spot?

by February 1, 2012

Recently, we have been working to launch a project dubbed EarthQ. The goal has been to shepherd good questions and cultivate good answers by bringing the right mix of experts to Quora, as is described in this post about bringing the carbon cycle to Quora. This work continues, but so far, my attempts to draw in a few experts to help with answers have come up dry. The Quora team thinks it is okay for those who pose a question to answer it, so that will likely be my next step. Perhaps with a solid answer to the first question, What are the compartments in which carbon is stored on Earth?, I can then start to draw in some colleagues to endorse the answer by up-voting it… (more…)

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Building A Knowledge Base About Ocean Acidification on Quora

by October 13, 2011

Some months ago, we did a proof-of-concept video contest on the subject of ocean acidification. Here’s the winning video, about a snail that doesn’t have a shell, goes to learn why, and then forms a band to spread the word about this phenomenon.

Our overall vision is that we’d only initiate video, or other multimedia, projects once we’d nailed down the “science behind the story.” Furthermore, to us, nailing down the story means that we’ve ferreted out those key points for which we can get widespread agreement from experts drawn from across society–those from industry, NGOs, government, as well as academics.

To be blunt, we skipped this (huge) step for ocean acidification for two reasons. We were trying to proof out a crowd-based process for creating videos that conveyed science points fairly. Also, I had a good bit of background on the issue from my graduate work in oceanography.

102__0x0_quora-picture Now that we’re aiming to cultivate Q&As on Quora on topics related to the environment, it seems only logical to revisit the topic of ocean acidification. We’re dubbing this Quora-based project EarthQ (see also this post about putting candidates on the spot about global warming). For reference, see this post I did on the science behind the story of ocean acidification.

The goal of EarthQ will be to identify the top questions about various issues people are likely to ask about ocean acidification–assuming we can shepherd solid answers that are endorsed by a wide spectrum of experts. Taking this approach ties into Anticipating Questions People Will Ask About a Topic. Of course, if we’re successful, we will have created a great network of experts ready to jump to assistance as new questions emerge organically on Quora.

I’m a big advocate of working with building blocks on an issue. Having given this a good deal of thought recently, it is clear to me that step one will be to develop Q&A that fully explain the carbon cycle. Then, we can move on to the topic of ocean acidification. Then we should have worked out enough of the kinks to take on the topic of global warming. Onward!

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Putting Candidates and Others on the Spot About Global Warming

by September 29, 2011

This opinion piece, written in response to a recent Star Tribune op-ed, was published on Yale’s Forum for Climate Change and the Media on September 29, 2011.

The presence, or perhaps more so the absence, of serious climate change dialogue in the run-up to the presidential elections could make the issue a volatile unknown: Few politicians in the national spotlight want to be caught holding strong opinions in favor of aggressive policies to slow, curb, or reverse anticipated climate change.

James Lenfestey, a former Star Tribune editorial writer on climate and education, recently argued in Minneapolis Star Tribune (op-ed 9/17) that journalists should drill presidential candidates on six questions related to climate change, presumably to highlight those who are silent, or openly hostile, toward taking action in the face of this global threat.

Commentary

The media clearly can do a better job in raising serious issues like global warming with those leading, or aspiring to lead, our country. BUT putting candidates on the spot is unlikely to yield what our country desperately needs: a serious, ongoing dialogue about this global issue, which has connections to nearly every aspect of our society. Such a dialogue MUST be built on a foundation of trust and respect for political and ideological differences, as well as different scientific backgrounds.

Lenfestey’s six questions can be boiled down to these two: Do you believe global warming is occurring? And, do you believe we should have aggressive policies to counter this threat?

Lumping together opinions about how persuaded one is by the underlying science with questions about the appropriateness of a policy response is a recipe for an unproductive dialogue. Having spent a number of years working with experts drawn from across society to describe the condition and use of our ecosystems, I learned that it is essential to separate these aspects of the conversation—especially for the more contentious issues. In other words, we collectively need to find some common ground before arguing about appropriate policy responses.

We need to build an initiative that is viewed as trustworthy to all of us, no matter our ideological and political positions, or our understanding of science. WE can do that. We can run a transparent process—open to full scrutiny and input from anyone—that develops a series of questions and broadly accepted answers relevant to the issue of climate change. Not 100 questions, but rather more like 10. Each answer would be endorsed by experts drawn from across society and viewed as trustworthy by citizens and politicians from across the spectrum, both politically and ideologically.

As an example, these answers would undoubtedly include:

  • Carbon dioxide, a colorless gas present in tiny concentrations in the atmosphere, can trap radiation from the Earth that would otherwise dissipate into space.
  • There is strong evidence of a marked increase in carbon dioxide directly linked with the growth of industrialized societies across the globe.
  • Our “fingerprints” are detectable in the altered chemical nature of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  • Long-term temperature trends indicate significant increases in recent decades.

These would be the first building blocks to a serious national dialogue.

Let’s take on this challenge. Let’s develop a robust, multimedia Web presence that brings to life the science behind the questions-and-answers for general audiences. Ideally, this effort would have its foundation on a public Q&A site, like Quora (http://quora.com).

Circling back to Lenfestey’s questions, let’s ask each candidate if he or she would support such an open, transparent process to create robust common ground across society. Global warming, which has the potential to irreversibly alter our world, demands a serious dialogue, and now is the time for to initiate it. Time is short, and there is a lot to do. Let’s make it happen.

Kent Cavender-Bares is an environmental scientist and the founder of Dialogue Earth, a nonprofit media project that has received major seed funding from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the Foundation for Environmental Research. The views represented are his alone and do not represent those of the University of Minnesota.

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Message From the Bubble: A Concept for Periodic Videos About the Environment From A Roving Earth Bubble

by September 23, 2011

Brace yourselves, this is not high-production value material. Rather, this is a video that I produced in about 15 minutes, start-of-script-to-exporting-video-from-iMovie. It is the product of a brainstorming session during a great workshop put on by Liz Neeley of the COMPASS team at the U of MN’s Institute on the Environment.

Here’s the concept. I build an “Earth Bubble” that would be a moveable “studio.” Each week, or so, I plan and shoot a new video of the flavor of the one below. Aside from hopefully being a fun and engaging style, the final bit would be to zoom out and show where the Bubble is this week. Hanging from a tree, by a river… You get it.

Thoughts?

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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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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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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. (more…)

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Sleuthing Out Questions about Hybrid Cars from Twitter

by May 20, 2011

It is hardly news that we are all paying a lot at to fill up our vehicles. As we prepare to launch a multi-week analysis of mood about gas prices (here’s the background on how we extract sentiment from tweets), I’m curious what questions people have that may have been sparked by high gas prices.

Questions around the topic of hybrid cars/vehicles seem like a good starting point, given that one of the key benefits of hybrids is the potential to cut down on fuel expenses. One goal could be to create something like this Wired flow chart that is designed to help people choose a social search site. Not sure yet what the starting question would be to draw in as many people as possible on the topic of hybrids, but I think it would need to be responsive to feeling pain at the pump. One can imagine an interactive flow chart that offered up explanatory videos at various decision points.

st_flowchart_social_f

So, what are people asking about hybrids on Twitter? Below is a sampling of what I observed from a quick search on the string “hybrids ?” (by the way, I’m impressed with Storify’s handy interface for creating this kind of graphic). (more…)

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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:

new-neighbor

Today, I found a considerably different hot spots trace:

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

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“Momentum” for Dialogue Earth

by May 11, 2011

We are thrilled that Dialogue Earth is featured in the most recent issue of Momentum magazine, an award-winning publication from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

momentum_dropshadow_300dpi While we work to optimize key aspects of our business—from the incentives we provide crowdsourced video creators, to the quality of the underlying data for Pulse, our social media analytics tool—we’re also rapdily ramping up our efforts to engage and broaden our base of supporters and collaborators.

Indeed, this Momentum feature piece comes at a great time for us.  There’s a ton going on.

Our Pulse tool is just about ready for prime time.  In a matter of weeks, we’ll have an version of Pulse that will provide daily information on the Twittersphere’s mood about the weather.  On the heels of that, we’ll be looking at Twitter chatter related to gas prices.

(more…)

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

by May 10, 2011

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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.

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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?

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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…)

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What Do We Need To Know About Rare Earth Metals?

by May 5, 2011

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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.

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How To Weigh Fairly the Health Risks of Nuclear Energy?

by May 5, 2011

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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…)

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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.

httpvp://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=453EDEF9F8E2C873

httpvp://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=DBC8B2B1C41691E9

(more…)

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US to Expand Seeding of Biomass, Yet Another Reason For Increasing Public Understanding

by May 2, 2011

In her most recent post (NYT), Elisabeth Rosenthal outlines recent efforts by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy to provide seed funding to fledgling businesses in the biomass fuel industry.

Discussions of biofuels have been in the news a lot in recent years. In the U.S., that has primarily focused on creating ethanol from corn, or biodiesel from soybeans, although many companies are working on second-generation strategies for creating liquid fuels. While biomass is commonly used for heat (think firewood), Rosenthal’s post points out that large-scale use of chopped up plant material (biomass) to create electricity and heat is not widespread. Interestingly, Brazilian ethanol derived from sugarcane is often argued to have an attractive energy balance because the left over plant material is used to fuel the energy-hungry distillation process. (more…)

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Warming up, turning sour, losing breath: A Call for Dialogue

by May 2, 2011

In a recent blog post at Discover Magazine, Warming up, turning sour, losing breath, Carl Zimmer outlines some of the threats to the ocean and it’s related ecosystems posed by an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He discusses the concept of a “triple whammy” put forth by environmental scientist Nicolas Gruber, who posited that three separate trends will equate to an impact greater than the sum of the parts: increased ocean warming, increased ocean acidification, and decreasing oxygen dissolved in the ocean.

Thus, it is of the utmost importance to have a clear dialogue that is backed by reliable, factual information, so that the situation can be properly assessed and we can move forward constructively to a solution. (more…)

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A Crowdsourcing Bill of Rights

by April 29, 2011

bill-of-rights-300x214_0I just listened to an excellent podcast by David Alan Grier on The Daily Crowdsource, focused on the rights of crowdsourced workers. Grier defined four broad classes of crowdsourced workers–the microlabor, partial employment, contest and public opinion worker.

We at Dialogue Earth are extremely interested in this topic, as crowdsourcing is core to our strategy, both in the way we analyze social media, and in how we produce media content to engage diverse audiences. It is critical to us that we achieve high quality, efficient work and, more importantly, that our crowdsourced workforce is treated fairly. Heck, we’d like them to feel as great about this work we do. (more…)

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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…)

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