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Posts Tagged ‘Dialogue Earth’

Anything New in the Story of Nitrogen Moving into the Gulf of Mexico?

by December 14, 2011

Dialogue Earth has roots in a broad, stakeholder-based national report on the condition and use of U.S. ecosystems published by the Heinz Center in Washington, D.C. (the report is available in hard-copy from Island Press). Curiosity about the ongoing relevance of these indicators has led me to dive in and see what, if anything, can be said about trends since the release of the report in 2008.

The first indicator in the spotlight is one that describes the movement of nitrogen (N) into major waterways, through run-off as well as point discharges such as sewage treatment facilities (here’s a link to download a pdf of the indicator). Why is this an important indicator of the state of U.S. ecosystems? Our explanation in the report does a good job of answering this question:

Nitrogen is an important plant nutrient and is essential to all life. Nitrogen is an abundant component of the earth’s atmosphere, but it is unavailable to most life in gaseous form. In order to be used by plants and other organisms, nitrogen gas must be “fixed,” or converted to a “reactive” form, that plants can use, such as nitrate. Nitrogen is fixed and accumulates in ecosystems through natural processes, such as the growth of nitrogen-fixing plants like clover and soybeans. However, human activity has greatly increased the amount of reactive nitrogen added to ecosystems. The largest human-caused input of nitrogen to ecosystems comes from the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen gas into fertilizers. Additional reactive nitrogen gas is produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. Reactive nitrogen from all these sources can ultimately enter streams and rivers. Excess nitrogen transported to coastal waters by rivers can lead to low oxygen conditions, threaten fish and animal life, and degrade coastal water quality. (more…)

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How Do I Go About Answering A Question on Quora?

by December 3, 2011

As a follow-up to a first infographic designed to help newcomers make sense of Quora, a relatively new question-and-answer site on the Web, this new infographic targets those who are new and want to dive in and begin answering questions. It is posted as an answer to How do you answer a question on Quora? There already are some great resources on Quora for those who are getting started, such as Lucretia Pruitt’s post “Welcome to Quora. Do Yourself a Favor & Slow Down” (1663 upvotes, and counting) and What are the basic rules around using Quora?

As an experiment, I created a short (3 min) video that walks you through the infographic. Note that there are a bunch of links to Quora questions throughout the video—ensure annotations are turned on to see them. Feedback welcome!

And, the infographic…

new-answerer-infographic-sketch-v02

 

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So You’re On Quora, Now What?

by October 16, 2011

As we gear up to tackle some basic questions and answers on Quora about the carbon cycle as part of our EarthQ project, with a goal of soon being able to tackle issues like ocean acidification and global warming, it seemed that a roadmap to Quora would be key for collaborators who might never have hear of it. Hence, the idea of a Quora Infographic emerged late this past week. Here’s version 0.1 that I’m throwing out for feedback. What do you think? Helpful? Silly? Gaping holes?

infographic-sketch-v02_small

UPDATE: Now showing version 0.2, thanks to a comment from friend Mike Troiano to highlight the start arrow. Keep the comments coming!

Version 0.1
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See this also on my post on Quora. I’d appreciate you up-voting it there if you like the idea.

Creative Commons License
So you’re on Quora, now what? by Dialogue Earth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license should be submitted here.

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Capturing Mood About Daily Weather From Twitter Posts

by September 29, 2011

After considerable preparation, we’ve just launched a version of our interactive tool, Pulse. Using Pulse, users can explore feelings about the weather as expressed on Twitter.

We began the process by choosing a topic that would yield a substantial volume of discussion on Twitter as well as be of general interest. Once we settled on weather, we wrote a survey designed to gauge Twitter users’ sentiments about the topic. With the help of workers from the “crowd” accessed through CrowdFlower, we had tens of thousands of relevant tweets coded as to the expressed emotion about the weather. These results were then used to create an “instance” of the Pulse tool, which manifests as a map of the United States that at a glance reveals Twitter users’ sentiments about the weather in their region on a given day. (You can read more about the coding process here and our choice of weather as a topic here.)

For our launch of Pulse for weather, we chose to feature tweets published over a month beginning in late April, 2011, a period in which many extreme weather events occurred—the devastating tornado in Joplin, MO; widespread drought throughout the South; and flooding of the Mississippi River, among others. The image below is from May 25, three days following the Joplin tornado (jump to the interactive map here).

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We gathered tweets from all 50 states as well as for about 50 metro areas. Here you can see a zoom up on several states centered on Missouri.

zoom-may-25-pulse

The interactive map tells part of the story, namely a state’s or city’s overall sentiment about the weather, while the content under the “Analysis” and “Events” tabs reveal some of the “why” behind this sentiment: what were some of the most notable weather events occurring on a given day? [Note: our "events" feature has a bug in it and is currently turned off. In the future, icons will show up on the map to highlight out-of-the-ordinary weather events, like outbreaks of tornadoes, persistent flooding or drought, etc.] To what extent did the weather deviate from normal conditions? Why were tweets from, say, the South, uniformly negative during a certain time? What was happening when we saw a single positive state amidst a region that was otherwise negative?

We hope that weather is just the beginning. We envision using the Pulse tool to visualize nationwide sentiments about more complex, nuanced topics in the future—a sample of emotions about gas prices is just around the corner, and see our preliminary work on opinions about global warming. For now, you can explore the Pulse tool here, and let us know what you think!

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Which Energy Questions To Answer?

by July 28, 2011

2540266946_df7114d8fa The memory of our frustration during our last car purchase, more than 10 years ago, is still strong. Fuel economy was central to our decision, and we ended up opting for a turbo diesel Volkswagon. Soon after our purchase, I certainly engaged in some second guessing. This was the older generation turbo diesel, which means the dirtier version. We were in Washington, D.C., so we had to carry with us the reality that we were contributing to lowering the air quality. A more nuanced issue—and one that I’ve not fully researched—is that fuel mileage for a diesel is not directly comparable to that of a gasoline powered car, especially if one is interested in their transportation carbon foot print. I’d forgotten about this for a while, but it is very relevant now that we at Dialogue Earth are working on a project proposal to supply information to support consumer decisions that are connected to energy use.

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be exploring how people get their information about energy use when they’re pondering a purchase, be it a new car or a clothes dryer. Is there the proverbial “low hanging fruit” in terms of information that would be relatively easy to provide, but is not readily accessible currently? No doubt consumers will span the spectrum from knowing very little about energy to having a deep knowledge. What do consumers with different energy knowledge want to know?

Have you thought about your personal energy use recently? Did you seek out new information? If so, was it easy to find? What sources did you tap? If not, why?

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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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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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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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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

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

by April 26, 2011

uncle_sam_stopwatch

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 Grist.org 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…)

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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…)

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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…)

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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 Twincities.com, 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!

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The Energy Challenge Series – Our First Concept Phase

by March 15, 2011

dialogue-earth-energy-promo-imageThrough our trials, we have found that it is best while administering our video production contests through Tongal to start out with a concept phase.  By starting the contests in this way, it gives us more opportunity to give feedback and a little bit more quality control as opposed to just allowing the producer contestants to create videos based on their interpretations of our instructions.

Also by allowing for the concept phase, we can involve the best storywriters within the creative community, many of whom do not have the resources to produce videos.  This increases overall participation, seeds our project with great concepts, and plays towards the collaborative spirit of our crowdsourcing endeavor.

(more…)

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