Meat and Potatoes: International Media Majors on Diet in IPCC Coverage

Climate Home News

Reporting on latest science around climate change and land use focused on rich nations’ eating habits, but did it miss the bigger picture?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is widely regarded as the gold standard of climate science. But is the world’s media paying attention to it?

Last week’s IPCC report on land use may not have turned out to be the headline-generating machine that the 2018 report on limiting warming to 1.5C was; nor did it go unnoticed. The scope for stories was wide, with co-chair Jim Skea telling Climate Home News the paper was “the most complicated thing I’ve ever been involved with”.

While some journalists picked up on trade-offs between carbon storage and food production, the importance of indigenous land rights or sustainable farming practices, one theme dominated: meat.

Led by western media, the majority of coverage focused on the environmental impact of readers’ steak habits – even in countries where vegetarian diets are dictated by financial constraints or spiritual practice, not consumer preference.

Despite being the first IPCC report with a majority of authors from the developing world, few news outlets in poorer countries dedicated space to it. What little reporting filtered through was largely based on the IPCC press release or newswire copy, rather than highlighting the stark implications of the science for vulnerable communities.

AFP led with “Can we eat Big Macs and still avoid climate chaos?”, summarising that “not everyone needs to become a vegetarian, much less vegan, to keep the planet from overheating, but it would probably make things a lot easier if they did.” Reuters also attempted to capture that nuance, writing “although the report stopped short of explicitly advocating going meat free, it called for big changes to farming and eating habits to limit the impact of population growth and changing consumption patterns on stretched land and water resources.”

In the UK, The Times called on the reader to “Eat less meat to save the Earth”, while in the Guardian leftist commentator George Monbiot hit out at the IPCC for “[understating] the true carbon cost of our meat and dairy habits”. It provoked a backlash from British farming unions, who lamented “biased” and “selective” reporting of the science.

Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine had a similar focus, describing it the report as “a thorn in the flesh” (the word “fleisch” also meaning meat). Spanish online magazine Economía Digital warned the report would worsen the dire state of the national meat sector, which has suffered from declining demand in the past decade.

The focus on diet isn’t without its problems, Max Boykoff, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research and a seasoned observer on climate coverage, told Climate Home News.

“Some of these ways in which certain outlets can choose to focus in on the individual can serve to distract and simply displace in a finite news hole those larger scale stories that need attention: the revolutionising of our agricultural practices, the way we manage our forests,” Boykoff said.

“Yes, [eating habits] are the way we come into contact with the environment most frequently. But to stay in that place is to atomise and limit the possibilities for making the kind of changes that are needed.” It also gave “corporations a free pass”, he said. Read more …

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Science Education is STEAM’N Along in a New Direction

STEAM’N Along in a New Direction With the Emmy-Nominated Program Adventures in Science

by Spencer Zeigler, CSTPR Science Writer

photo above: An image of the Alaskan wilderness where Ryan Vachon and Dan Zietlow filmed Adventures in Science and Cloven.

Do you remember when your teacher would roll out the gigantic TV and you would turn to your friends and whisper, “Yes! Movie day!”? Of course, because these were the days you got to watch a movie instead of doing worksheets. But to your chagrin, when the movie started it was almost more boring than regular class and you would just listen to a “dude in a lab coat pontificate” on and on about a subject that simply didn’t matter to you. Fortunately, those days have changed thanks to Dan Zietlow and Ryan Vachon, the creators and founders of Provare Media (pronounced ‘pro-vare-ay’), a film production company specializing in science communication and the effortless combination of art and science, whose program Adventures in Science was nominated for a 2018 regional Emmy award. Dan and Ryan both received their PhD’s from the University of Colorado Boulder and are currently both CSTPR Research Affiliates.

Adventures in Science is Vachon’s “pet project”, a television series for youths, aimed at middle schoolers, ages 9-14. In 2014, Vachon worked with the Rocky Mountain PBS to create a pilot and it was nominated for an Emmy Award back in 2015, but PBS simply didn’t have the bandwidth to support this project. After this set-back, Vachon let Adventures in Science take the back burner to other science outreach projects, but then, Zietlow came onto the scene. 

Dan Zietlow who always had a passion for both science and art– double-majoring in physics and art history in undergraduate, found Vachon on the suggestion of a colleague of his who noted both his and Vachon’s passion for science outreach and film-making. Zietlow reached out to Vachon, and they immediately became a powerful creative force. Together, they embody the concept of STEAM’N– Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Nature an acronym important to both of them as artists and scientists. With Zietlow at the head of photography, Vachon executive producing, and both acting as editors, Adventures in Science was brought back as a passion project.

Determined to make the show a reality, Vachon reached out to contacts at The University of Alaska Anchorage, where fellow University of Colorado alum Kathy Kelsey and Jeff Welker in ecosystem’s biology were writing a proposal for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study how the changing climate is affecting patterns in vegetation and what the knock-on effect of changing vegetation patterns are on migratory caribou. As with all NSF grants, a ‘broader impacts’ statement must be made. According to NSF director, France Córdova in a 2014 speech, the broader impacts statement’s purpose is, “to engage the public in order to help improve the understanding of the value of basic research and why our projects are worthy of investment.” Vachon, Zietlow and Welker saw the concept of Adventures in Science as the perfect project to fit into the broader impacts statement, so they were written into the grant. When the grant was successfully funded, Zietlow and Vachon had the chance to go to Alaska multiple times to film on the northern slopes and near the oil fields. Welker wanted films about this subjectto be accessible to both adults and children, so Provare Media was tasked with making two films utilizing the same materials—a television series for youths entitled Adventures in Science and a documentary for adults, called Cloven.

Ryan Vachon working in Alaska as a part of the NSF funded grant submitted by Jeff Welker and Kathy Kelsey at The University of Alaska Anchorage.

Cloven is a 20-minute documentary aimed at science-interested adults, which investigates the impacts of climate change on vegetation patterns and consequently, the impacts on caribou migration. It is more like a traditional documentary, where they follow and interview the scientists involved in the methodology of the experimentation. Vachon and Zietlow hope that this will encourage adults to think outside their personal expertise and perspectives and to help them understand that science isn’t just a cerebral exercise but is something they can engage and interact with. This film is now submitted to the Banff, Whistler, Anchorage, Boulder International, and other film festivals for 2020. While the adult documentary is focused on understanding how scientists go about answering the questions about the interplay between climate change, vegetation, and migratory caribou, the youth-version of Adventures in Science will be about comprehending exactly what the question is and why we’re asking it.

Dan Zietlow conducting an interview for Adventures in Science.

The pilot episode for the youths, Adventures in Science – How Caribou Survive Arctic Winters, is a 26-minute documentary-style show, filmed in Alaska, “designed for classroom use, informal use, and sparking that interest in science” according to Zietlow. Their work, although an artistic achievement in its own right, is also a monument to new tools in science education—such as ‘peer-to-peer learning’. This is a unique idea in science education, and hinges on the idea that if “somebody who looks like you and is roughly the same age as you is exploring these things and asking these questions, you are much more likely to engage with that knowledge and be curious about it yourself”, as Zietlow explained. To deploy peer-to-peer learning, Vachon and Zietlow recruited students from Broomfield Heights Middle School to act, explain concepts, and interact with the scientists in the documentary.

Zietlow wants watchers of Adventures in Science not just to learn the science, but to understand the importance of respecting the land around us, “We are stewards of this land, we need to take care of it, we need to understand it.” There is an importance that cannot be neglected any longer in making youths aware of the fact that while we love nature, we also have an undeniable impact on it— like the idea that the devices we use every day come directly from and thus directly impact nature. Seamlessly weaving together science, policy, art, human elements of the communities impacted by climate change, and ideas of the ‘human ecosystem’ is something that Provare Media is intent on achieving. Vachon sums up the objective of Provare Media and Adventures in Science succinctly with, “Creating informed, but curious and empowered, decision-makers is our goal.”

Carley Rutledge, an animator who owns Cool Cactus Media, Ryan Vachon, the actors from Broomfield Heights, and Dan Zietlow celebrating the finishing of filming Adventures in Science.

Provare Media is a new company, but its impacts are already far-reaching. PBS is interested in picking up Adventures in Science; How Caribou Survive Arctic Winters aired on select member stations, but many want it to be a series of 4-5 30-minute episodes on a variety of subjects, not just a stand-alone episode. Vachon and Zietlow are in the midst of working to make this a reality and are “totally stoked” about reaching more people through both PBS and the word-of-mouth that comes with the Emmy Award nomination. 

Provare is an Italian word meaning, ‘to try’, and that is what Provare Media is doing, “that’s the vision we’re working on, trying to communicate complexity in science and natural systems to different aspects of the public.” Provare media is trying to influence both youths and adults already interested in science, but who may have a fear of science, to make them more powerful and involved policy-influencing citizens. Zietlow clarifies, “Science is nothing more than asking the question “Why?” and being curious to find the answer. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to have a PhD or a master’s to do any of this, you just have to be curious about the world around you and we’re trying to elicit that feeling in people.” 

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MeCCO Monthly Summary: Monumental Challenges Remain

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
July 2019 Summary

New Zealand political developments contributed to a 31% increase in coverage from the previous month.

July Monsoon rains, floods and consequent landslides gripped India and contributed to a 5% increase in media coverage of climate change from June 2019.

July 2019 media coverage of climate change in Germany continued to rise like the mercury in the thermometer in continental Europe: it was up 9% from June and has been rising since April 2019.

US television news coverage dropped 37% in July 2019, from the previous month’s numbers. CNN in particular dropped nearly 50%. Perhaps coverage of the ‘horse race’ for the Democratic nomination for US President displaced some attention in the finite CNN news hole.

July media attention to climate change and global warming continued through ecological/meteorological, political, economic, scientific and cultural themes. Of note, New Zealand political developments contributed to a 31% increase in coverage from the previous month. Also, July Monsoon rains, floods and consequent landslides gripped India and contributed to a 5% increase in media coverage of climate change from June 2019 (along with an overall doubling of the amount of media coverage of climate change in India since April 2019). Meanwhile, July 2019 media coverage of climate change in Germany continued to rise like the mercury in the thermometer in continental Europe: it was up 9% from June and has been rising since April 2019. However, United States (US) television news coverage dropped 37% in July 2019, from the previous month’s numbers. CNN in particular dropped nearly 50%. Perhaps coverage of the ‘horse race’ for the Democratic nomination for US President displaced some attention in the finiteCNN news hole, despite the many new stories described below.

Figure 1 shows trends in newspaper media coverage in India – from January 2000 through July 2019.

United Kingdom (UK) media coverage has steadily increased over time. For instance, coverage in the first seven months in 2019 (January – July) has more than doubled from the first seven months of 2018. However, when these increases across outlets are disaggregated one can detect a slightly different set of trends. For example, stories in The Guardian (and Observer) and in The Times (and Sunday Times) ran the majority (55%) of climate change articles across these seven news outlets. Of note, the Daily Mail (and Mail on Sunday) accounted for just under 5% of overall newspaper stories in these seven UK news organizations (see Figure 2).

Ecological and meteorological content dominated overall media coverage throughout the month of July. Of note, Europe faced a number of heat waves in July that were tied to changes in the climate. Starting the month, records were set across the continent. Many stories documented the record-breaking heat. For example, journalist Rob Picheta from CNN reported on July 1, “Europe’s scorching heat wave expanded across the continent on Saturday, with people from Britain to the Balkans sweltering under abnormally high temperatures after a record-breaking week. France is expecting temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts on Saturday, a day after it shattered its record mark multiple times in one day. Spain, which is dealing with the aftermath of a wildfire that tore through 10,000 acres of forest in the country’s north-east on Friday, is bracing for temperatures of up to 42 degrees, according to its national meteorological body AEMET. The country is still affected by a “mass of tropical wind coming from Africa,” the agency said. And the UK saw its hottest day of the year by some distance, with the mercury rising to 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit) and threatening the country’s hottest-ever June mark of 35.6 degrees, set in 1976”. A few days later, reporter Doyle Rice from USA Today linked the high temperatures to the hottest global June on record. He noted, “Global warming exacerbated the heat wave that baked Europe late last week, a report released Tuesday said. The news came as a separate report said the globe sweltered to its hottest June on record. Europe’s heat wave, which included France’s all-time high temperature of 114.6 degrees last week, was “made more likely and more intense by human-induced climate change,” the World Weather Attribution group said in a release. They also said this is true for every heat wave in Europe nowadays. Specifically, the report said the extreme conditions from June 26-28 in Toulouse, France, were as much as 10 times more likely now than they were in 1900, before greenhouse gas emissions from industry had a major effect on the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into our atmosphere, which has warmed the planet to levels that cannot be explained by natural causes”.

Also in early July, denizens along the US Gulf Coast braced for the impacts of Hurricane Barry to start the hurricane season. Just missing New Orleans, residents across the US state of Louisiana nonetheless were impacted. Numerous stories ran that tracked the storm and made links between hurricane events and climate change. For example, leading up to the storm making landfall, US National Public Radio journalist Rebecca Hersher reported, “People across southern Louisiana are spending the weekend worried about flooding. The water is coming from every direction: the Mississippi River is swollen with rain that fell weeks ago farther north, and a storm called Barry is pushing ocean water onshore while it drops more rain from above. It’s a situation driven by climate change, and one that Louisiana has never dealt with, at least in recorded history. And it’s raising questions about whether New Orleans and other communities are prepared for such an onslaught”. As a second example, journalists Kathy Finn and Timothy Gardner from Reuters wrote, “While no single storm can be linked directly to climate change, the trend of warming air and seas around the globe has caused conditions that scientists say will, on average, make storms stronger and rainier”. In the wake of the storm, New York Times journalist Christopher Flavelle reported, “New research shows that the extreme weather and fires of recent years, similar to the flooding that has struck Louisiana and the Midwest, may be making Americans sick in ways researchers are only beginning to understand. By knocking chemicals loose from soil, homes, industrial-waste sites or other sources, and spreading them into the air, water and ground, disasters like these — often intensified by climate change — appear to be exposing people to an array of physical ailments including respiratory disease and cancer … The movement of toxic substances by storms and wildfires joins a long list of threats that climate change poses to Americans’ health, whether they be more severe heat waves or the spread of dengue or other ailments previously restricted to the tropics. What makes this threat different, researchers say, is the ability of many contaminants to persist in the environment or in people’s bodies after the disaster has passed, and to accumulate in with each new storm or fire”. Read more …

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RC/RCCC Notes from the Field: Settling in and Beginning to Conceptualize the Impacts of Drought

Sarah Posner (left) with a co-worker at the Kenya Red Cross

Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program
by Sarah Posner

Sarah Posner is the 2019 Junior Researcher in the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCRCCC) program. She is a Masters student in the Geography Department at University of Colorado Boulder.

View photo gallery in the field by Sarah Posner

The last few weeks have flown by, and it is hard to believe I have already been in Nairobi for nearly a month! I have fully settled into my apartment, which is conveniently located near the Kenya Red Cross Headquarters. I look forward to my walks to work every morning and evening as part of my daily routine. They gave me a brand new desk at the office, which has been recently renovated and is sparkling clean. I was initially hesitant about the open office layout, but am finding it to be a refreshing reprieve from the isolation of my cubicle I was accustomed to at CU Boulder. The atmosphere is both friendly and professional, energized and collaborative, with the constant chatter of keyboards clicking and discussions in nearby board meetings. Every morning I am greeted by warm welcomes and freshly made chai which I am told requires at least two teaspoons of sugar! The workspace offers both opportunities for collaboration as well as the opportunity to make a few friends along the way.

Last week, I attended a series of workshops held at the decadent Boma hotel owned by the Kenya Red Cross. The topics of discussion primarily surrounded flooding and the implementation of early warning and early action systems to forecast impacts. The data team presented their findings from fieldwork conducted recently to assess the impacts of the recent flooding events that occurred in Narok county earlier this year. There was shocking footage that depicted swift rivers running through the middle of towns and roads so severely eroded they formed deep, impassable crevices. These flood related impacts are short-onset in nature, which are visible on the landscape immediately following an event. This got me thinking about how droughts and related impacts which are more slow-onset in nature are inextricably linked.

While the main focus of Forecast-based-Financing (FbF) has been on floods, the tides are shifting to more of a focus on early action to mitigate impacts related to droughts, which has never been successfully implemented before. As part of my work on Forecast-based-Financing (FbF), I will be focused primarily on impacts-assessment to assess magnitudes of drought that will be used to set reliable thresholds for early action. On Friday, I met with my supervisor, Maurine Ambani, to discuss methodology and to start to develop the process of how to define the thresholds for drought-related impacts to define magnitudes that can be used as thresholds for early action. Based upon a set of prioritized indicators by key stake-holders in the last Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting, I am compiling an exhaustive list of what indicators have been used previously to measure drought-related impacts and at what spatial and temporal scale the data is available.

The work poses some serious challenges due to the nature of drought which is slow-onset and difficult to define. Drought means something different depending on who you ask, and there is no universal definition. In fact, Lloyd-Hughes (2014) argues that such a universal drought definition would be impossible to achieve, let alone impractical. This is because different people will feel different effects at varying degrees of severity, thus any definition should consider the context of drought mechanisms in a particular place. In East Africa, drought occurrence is frequent but has been difficult to forecast attributed to various natural and anthropogenic factors along with inefficient forecasting capacities (Gebremeskel et al., 2019). It is an insidious problem that, unlike other disasters, disasters related to drought continue to tighten their grip over time, destroying lives and livelihoods in its path, tearing at the social fabric of society by destroying entire areas. Recurrent drought impacts continue to undermine livelihoods and exacerbate local conditions of poverty, health, and food security as past events continue to repeat themselves (Muller, 2014). Thus, development interventions must shift from being crisis-driven to an impacts-focused approach to implement precautionary, rather than reactionary, interventions.

Gebremeskel Haile, G., Tang, Q., Sun, S., Huang, Z., Zhang, X., & Liu, X. (2019). Droughts in East Africa: Causes, impacts and resilience. Earth-Science Reviews193, 146–161,

Lloyd-Hughes, B. (2013). The impracticality of a universal drought definition. Theoretical and Applied Climatology,

Muller, J. C.-Y. (2014). Adapting to climate change and addressing drought – learning from the Red Cross Red Crescent experiences in the Horn of Africa. Weather and Climate Extremes3, 31–36,

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Climate Change Countermovement Organizations and Media Attention in the United States

by Max Boykoff and Justin Farrell

Chapter 7 in Climate Change Denial and Public Relations: Strategic communication and interest groups in climate inaction edited by Núria Almiron and Jordi Xifra, Routledge (2019)


How influential has the right-wing think tank Heartland Institute been in shaping the United States (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agenda under the Donald J. Trump administration? That was the main question that motivated a March 2018 lawsuit by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Southern Environmental Law Center. The legal suit claimed that the U.S. EPA failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request from six months earlier that demanded correspondence between the Heartland Institute and the EPA specifically about their red team-blue team proposal for evaluating scientific evidence of climate change (Reilly, 2018).

In its first year in power in the United States, the Trump administration proposed to form an adversarial red team to debate and debunk the science of climate change (seen as a blue team perspective) (Siciliano, 2017). In so doing, this approach effectively sought to restructure the peer review process and elevate outlier and contrarian views in the public arena. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt introduced this military-strategy-style approach to evaluating climate research for policy applications, by proposing television debates to advance science in the public arena (Volcovici, 2017). Through this red team-blue team proposal (enlisting the help of the Heartland Institute), Pruitt began to identify potential contrarian scientists and economists as participants (Waldman, 2017). While a red team-blue team approach may be losing support both inside and outside the Trump administration, Pruitt has told the Heritage Foundation that there are ongoing plans to constrict climate science under the guise of reform (Wald-man & Bravender, 2018 ).

Numerous events in recent years like these have re-calibrated contrarian considerations in the public arena. Developments like these have pointed to the reality that ideological polarization around climate change issues – particularly in the United States – has increased in the last thirty years (Dunlap, McCright, & Yarosh, 2016) and that media have also played a role in this trend (Carmichael, Brulle, & Huxster, 2017). These kinds of actions have also marked novel approaches to climate change countermovement or think tank strategies to oppose various forms of science and policy engagement from the local to national and international scales (Cann & Raymond, 2018). Read more …

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The Public’s Trust in Scientists Rises, Pew Poll Shows

by Ashley Yaeger, The Scientist

Despite growing support, respondents still have concerns when it comes to scientific transparency and integrity.

Public trust in science rose in recent years, a new survey shows: 86 percent of Americans say that they have at least “a fair amount” of confidence in scientists to act in the public interest, up from 78 percent in 2016.

“As a scientist, I’m pretty cheerful about that,” Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University who studies trust and was not involved with the survey, tells The Washington Post. The results show scientists now rank slightly ahead of military leaders and well above religious heads, journalists, and business executives when it comes to trust.

The Pew Research Center conducted the survey in January 2019, asking randomly selected adults living across the 50 US states to take a self-administered web-based survey: 4,464 individuals participated.

The results showed that faith in scientists often depends on the researchers’ line of work. “Trusting a group or profession comes from thinking about what their intentions and motives are,” Fiske says. “The motive of the research scientist can be murky. But with a doctor, you assume [the motive] is to help people.” 

For example, survey respondents said that 47 percent of dietitians provide accurate information about nutrition recommendations all or most of the time while only 24 percent of nutrition scientists were thought to be honest when discussing their research. Medical doctors also appeared more trustworthy to the participants, with 48 percent believing they offer sound recommendations versus only 32 percent for medical research scientists. 

Race was also a factor in trust, specifically for medical scientists: African Americans and Hispanics were more skeptical than whites of these researchers.

Scientists’ transparency is one of the major issues preventing trust. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents said scientists are open and honest about potential conflicts of interest with industry all or most of the time, and survey participants also had doubts that scientists regularly admit their mistakes. “When you look at issues of scientific integrity, we see widespread skepticism,” Cary Funk, director of science and society research at the Pew Research Center and a coauthor of the report, tells NPR.

Perhaps the most promising step scientists have taken is to enter the public arena and talk about their science, Max Boykoff, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, tells Science News. More early career scientists are engaging with the public about their work and making it accessible to non-scientists, and more scientists are advocating “for facts, empirical evidence, solid methodologies.” Boykoff says. The March for Science events are evidence of such advocacy and a push for accessibility, he notes.

Survey respondents said that they have more confidence in science if the data are made publicly accessible and the findings are peer reviewed. “I think part of what’s going on here,” Fiske tells the Post, “is that the more [people] know, the more they trust.”

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Public Trust that Scientists Work for the Good of Society is Growing

But public confidence falters on questions of scientific transparency and integrity


These days, it can seem as if science is under assault. Climatologists are routinely questioned about what’s really causing global warming. Doctors can be disparaged for trying to vaccinate children against disease.

But for the U.S. public at large, scientists are generally seen as a trustworthy bunch. In fact, 86 percent of Americans hold at least “a fair amount” of confidence that scientists work for the public good,  according to a survey released August 2 by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

That’s far better than how respondents felt about what motivates politicians (only 35 percent said they were fairly confident that elected officials acted in the public interest), journalists (47 percent) or even religious leaders (57 percent). And that general trust in the goodwill of scientists has grown steadily over the last four years, from 76 percent in 2016.

But confidence falters on narrower questions of scientists’ trustworthiness. For instance:

  • The kind of scientist matters. Nearly half — 48 percent — thought doctors gave fair and accurate information, but only 32 percent thought the same of medical researchers. Dieticians also were considered trustworthy by 47 percent of respondents, while that number fell to 24 percent for nutrition scientists. Overall, scientists whose work involved engaging with the public tended to be more trusted than those focused on research;
  • How research is funded matters. More than half of respondents — 58 percent — said they are less trusting of studies financed by industry. And there’s skepticism that scientists reveal all of their industry ties: Fewer than 2 in 10 people thought scientists always disclosed conflicts of interest with industry, or faced stern consequences for failing to do so;
  • Sometimes, who is being asked matters. On questions of scientific misconduct, black and Hispanic respondents were more likely than whites to see it as a “big problem.” That could reflect wariness due to past cases of experiments being conducted without patients’ consent, such as the decades-long Tuskegee Study in which hundreds of black men with syphilis were denied treatment (SN: 3/1/75, p. 134), the Pew report notes. Or it could reflect the fact that, when it comes to environmental justice, these communities are often more likely to be affected by unchecked pollution (SN: 12/6/97, p. 366).

“The issue of trust in scientists is part of a broader conversation that society is having on the role and value of experts,” says Cary Funk, the director of Pew’s science and society research. “What we wanted to do was get a look at the potential sources of mistrust.”

Conducted from January 7 to January 21, the survey questioned 4,464 randomly selected adults who are demographically representative of the U.S. population, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points. It focused on three scientific fields: medicine, nutrition and environment. But it did not look at specific topics that have become highly politicized, for example, childhood vaccination campaigns (SN: 6/8/19, p. 16) or climate change (SN Online: 7/28/17).

The growing trust in scientists is “really great to see,” says Jacob Carter, a research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. But the fact that so few people had faith in scientific transparency and accountability was “a bit disheartening to me as a scientist,” he says. There are systems in place to prevent scientific misconduct and penalties “if, for example, you’re caught plagiarizing or fabricating results,” he says.

The introduction in March of congressional legislation called the Scientific Integrity Act marks a positive step toward building public trust in science, Carter says. The bill aims to prevent political interference in scientific policy and to allow government scientists to share research with the public, among other things.

The survey also found that 60 percent of Americans believes scientists deserve a place in debates over crafting science policy — though that result reveals a partisan divide. Among Democrats, 73 percent wanted scientists at the table in policy discussions, but that fell to 43 percent among Republicans.

Still, those numbers are encouraging, especially in a national survey covering all 50 U.S. states, says Max Boykoff, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Empowering scientists to step into these [policy] arenas is great,” he says. “Certain kinds of advocacy, I would argue, are part of their responsibility: advocacy for facts, empirical evidence, solid methodologies.”

Overall, scientists have been more willing to step into the public arena in recent years. Thousands of scientists and science advocates joined the first annual March for Science in 2017 in Washington, D.C. (SN Online: 4/22/17). Journalists have become more interested in covering science stories, and social media is carrying messages further across society. Boykoff noted that younger scientists especially have been open to speaking about their work, which has helped to make science more accessible to the public.

And, in fact, the survey found that people overall were more trusting of research in areas that they were more familiar with. Two other key factors boosted confidence, too: whether research data was made publicly accessible and whether findings were reviewed by scientific peers.

“Trust is important to legitimacy, credibility and effectiveness,” Boykoff says. “Without trust, scientists would just be screaming into the wind.”

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Distributional impacts of the North Dakota gas flaring policy

A drilling area in North Dakota can be seen in this nighttime image of the United States.

The Electricity Journal (2019)
by Utkarsh Srivastava, David Oonk, Ian Lange, and Morgan Bazilian

Abstract: This paper considers whether the reform of North Dakota’s natural gas flaring policy provided large operators a competitive advantage, leading to increased market concentration. North Dakota was the highest gas flaring and venting state in USA until it was taken over by Texas in 2015 coinciding with the implementation of its gas flaring policy in 2014. Two analyses are performed in North Dakota (and Wyoming, as a control) to compare the effect that the flaring policy had on the state’s oil sector. The analyses show mixed evidence, larger firms gained an advantage leading to fewer smaller firms operating in the state. The paper concludes with highlighting possible further areas for research, and methodologies for acquiring more reliable data. Read more …

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Is Adaptation Success a Flawed Concept?

Universally applicable notions of climate adaptation success are not realistic—adaptation is ever-changing, and implemented at local levels with wildly different baseline conditions. In a new Nature comment, CSTPR faculty Lisa Dilling and international colleagues ask: is adaptation success a flawed concept?

Nature Climate Change (2019)

The Paris Agreement established a global goal on adaptation and invites parties to review the effectiveness of adaptation actions. However, the measurement of adaptation success remains elusive. Focusing on the capabilities of households and governments to pursue a range of adaptation futures provides a more robust foundation.

The Paris Agreement established a global goal on adaptation (Article 7, para. 1) and invites Parties to “review the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation” in a global stocktake (Article 7, para. 14c). Creating universally applicable measures of adaptation success remains elusive, however, given that most adaptation projects are implemented at the local level and start from wildly differing baseline conditions. Further, the adaptation process is never truly ‘finished’ in a changing, evolving climate1. Berrang-Ford et al.2 propose tracking government adaptation policy instruments as a way to assess progress. However, these and other approaches do not address what constitutes ‘success’, focusing instead on government planning, or how vulnerability is changing — and leaving open the questions of vulnerability of whom, to what, and who decides. In this Comment, we propose that the focus should be on bolstering and measuring the capabilities of individuals and institutions — capabilities that are necessary to pursue a range of resilient futures and adaptation goals.

We know from experience in other fields that developing metrics to define progress or success can be challenging. Although technologies of assessment might appear apolitical, in fact they privilege certain worldviews and processes over others3. Read more …

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Roger Pielke, Jr. Testifies at House Science Committee Hearing on Scientific Integrity

Founding CSTPR Director, Roger Pielke, Jr., testified before the House Science Committee hearing on Scientific Integrity in federal agencies.

His testimony focuses on the importance of scientific integrity policies within federal agencies that fund, conduct, or oversee research and the current status of these policies. In an appendix Pielke offers specific comments on H.R. 1709, the Scientific Integrity Act. His testimony is dedicated to the memory of Radford Byerly, Jr., 1936-2016, who was a staff member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology from 1978-1987 and from 1991-1993 served as the committee’s staff director.

Four Take-Home Points

  1. Scientific integrity legislation is important and necessary. Careful attention is needed to ensure that such legislation integrates well with existing, related policies;
  2. It is essential to distinguish science advice from policy advice, and both types of advice should fall under scientific integrity policies;
  3. Individual researchers and studies are essential to the process of science, but science best guides and informs policy when it has been assessed by scientific advisory bodies to characterize the current state of knowledge on a particular topic or to present possible policy options – including perspectives on uncertainties, disagreements, areas of ignorance;
  4. Good science and policy advice from experts also results from the upholding of scientific integrity by elected and appointed officials.
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