Go to Google Images and search for “science.” What are the results? More than likely, the search will come up with beakers, protons, lab coats, double helixes, pulsars, microscopes and perhaps a smattering of trees and images of the globe. Photographs of researchers boot-high in streams collecting samples, for instance, or of a Cayman Island blue iguana in its natural habitat, would probably be few and far between. But images such as these—which show an aspect of the biological sciences, environmental processes or a subject of ecological research—rarely show up, even though they are of course also science.
Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Terence Houston.
Twenty-five years ago on October 18, Nintendo launched its Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States and—depending on your point of view—began a video game revolution that has taken entertainment technology to previously unfathomable heights. Or it has captivated the attention and interest of millions of children and adults, in over two decades of software and console development, prompting Americans to stay indoors and avoid exercise. Perhaps you see it both ways.
Many science communicators suggest that the key to effectively translating climate change research is to keep the message concise, accurate and interesting, all in one tight package. Perhaps the most streamlined of platforms to communicate this science is a comic strip in which the cartoonist has just a few panels to neatly and accurately convey the findings, the alternative viewpoint and the gravity of the issue at hand. Oh, and it should be funny too.
When was the last time you sat down after dinner to watch the local news? How about the last time you forwarded or received a link to a news story? Odds are, with the prevalence of social networking, blogs and email, you probably sent or received news in some form during your lunch break this afternoon. In fact, just by reading this post you are providing evidence that consumers tend to prefer cherry picking news throughout the day, rather than replenishing their news supply all at once.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, was once quoted as saying: “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is Freedom, in water there is bacteria.” While there is certainly some truth to this quote, especially considering water quality in the 1700s, it should be noted that beer’s long history is also fraught with microorganisms—both helpful and harmful in the eyes of the brewer.
Scientists have a lot of data. And with so many high-profile environmental policy issues, ecologists are increasingly faced with turning these data into something that makes sense not only to other scientists but to policymakers and the public. But what we’re learning from these various policy debates is that making sense is only a first step. As we have seen in the climate debate and elsewhere, decision makers often get the science, but they place other topics—the economy, social justice, local culture—ahead of it. More critical, then, is scientists’ ability to make their findings matter, and matter enough.
It seems the only certainty amidst the Gulf of Mexico environmental disaster is that nothing is certain. From the amount of oil continually pouring from the seafloor to British Petroleum’s use of chemical dispersants, this crisis has been anything but straightforward. As evasive, and at times downright misleading, as BP has been, the environmental impacts of this disaster are far from allusive. Just take a look at the photos on the Public Broadcasting Service’s News Hour site to get a sense of urgency surrounding this crisis.