Bienvenido León Talks About Communicating Science Online: Are You Not Infotained?

by Alison Gilchrist, CSTPR Science Writing Intern

Bienvenido León watches scientific online videos with an objective, critical eye. Many of us click through to a video about climate change because the penguin in the thumbnail image is totally adorable, and return to Facebook five minutes later without thinking about what compelled us to watch the video all the way through. León, in contrast, thinks about why you stayed to watch.

León is a visiting professor from the University of Navarra, in Spain, where he studies audio-visual science and environment communication. In particular, he’s interested in how climate change is being addressed with online videos. He is currently teaching a class at the CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR) called “How to Effectively Represent Climate Change in a 21st Century Multi-Media World.”

León described pluses and minuses about the rise of online videos on climate change. On one hand, he admires the innovation of organizations that are using the internet to reach (and teach) new viewers.

“Traditional players, the so-called “legacy media”, are doing the same thing that they did on TV,” said León. “They’re trying to adapt, but they are still very into what they used to do. New players such as Buzzfeed or Vice News are doing something very different to attract young people.”

But on the other hand, León recognizes that the trend is towards short and light “infotainment,” not always a good medium for relaying all of the background and facts of a complicated scientific topic.

“These videos are a reflection of the society we have,” he said. “We need to be entertained all the time.”

León pointed out the changes that this need has prompted in the world of journalism.

“Traditionally a journalist was supposed to be an outside point of view,” he said. But lately, journalists have become part of the action. They stand in the middle of protests, waving signs like the rest of the crowd. They narrate with a blatantly subjective point of view, tell stories, tell jokes. This is an important departure from traditional journalism, and leads to the question: is this kind of journalism useful?

“We know infotainment is important,” said León. “But how do we know this is effective in terms of, first of all, information retention—do people retain the information better? Or in terms of making people receive the seriousness of climate change?”

León, for his part, is conducting a study on this topic with other researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand and the Gulf University of Science and Technology in Kuwait. Their website, sciencefilms.org, leads to a survey you can take after you watch a video about climate change. The survey is designed to help the investigators assess how effective the video was.

León’s ultimate goal is to understand what format and techniques in online videos can help us understand climate change better. Hopefully, researchers and communicators all over the world will be able to use the findings of this work to improve our effectiveness in communicating the seriousness of climate change.

Photo caption: Bienvenido León speaking to polar researchers as part of the US National Committee of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (USAPECS) preceding the International Glaciological Society meeting.

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment

MeCCO Monthly Summary for July 2017

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
July 2017 Summary

July 2017 coverage of climate change and global warming consistently dropped in regions around the world. Compared to June 2017, coverage was down about 27% globally. However, June was a month of comparatively high levels of coverage, due mainly to the news surrounding United States (US) President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 United Nations (UN) Paris Climate Agreement on the first day of that month. July’s counts from fifty-two sources across twenty-eight countries in seven regions around the world were on par with the average number of articles on climate change or global warming appearing each month to date in 2017 (there have been approximately 2304 stories/month from January – July 2017). July 2017 articles were up 23% from July coverage in the previous year.

Figure 1 illustrates that coverage around the world has continued to ebb and flow in 2017. Much attention in July 2017 continued to be on events and developments associated with the US Trump Administration. Figure 2 shows frequency of words in articles across the US in July 2017. The word ‘Trump’ was invoked 5035 times through the 376 stories this month in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. This effectively furthered the ‘Trump Dump’ that has been mentioned in previous summaries. Comparing this with other prominent personalities, in US coverage former US President Obama was mentioned 526 times, French President Macron (with whom US President Trump met on July 13) was mentioned 441 times, and Russian Prime Minister Putin (with whom US President Trump met at the July 7th-8th G20 Summit) was mentioned 444 times.

The most prominent political news in July 2017 was tethered to the July 7th-8th G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, in the context of Trump’s first encounter with world leaders since his announcement of plans for a US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. At the Summit, despite concerns articulated in some news pieces that other nations may follow a US tact, world leaders of the G19 ‘took note’ of the US exit and announced ongoing unity in their commitments for action on climate change. The final communique from the G20 Summit read “The leaders from the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible”, while criticism of the Trump administration stance was widespread in the media both in the US and around the world. For example, in The Wall Street Journal former World Bank Chief Economist and Harvard University President Lawrence Summers expressed dismay regarding Trump’s rejection “of the concept of global community”. Many news stories covered other world leader statements of ongoing support for the Paris Accord, including G20 Summit host and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed President Jinping’s ongoing support for international cooperation in the form of the Paris Agreement to seek “solutions to the common challenges we face… as both a participant and a leader”. Further boomerang climate politics and policy engagement came at the US national and sub-national levels in July. For example, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt introduced a military-strategy-style ‘red team, blue team’ approach to evaluating climate research for policy applications. Administrator Pruitt proposed television debates to ‘advance science’ in the public arena and this proposal was met with resounding criticism in the days that followed in July. Also in the US in July, the ‘We Are Still In’ campaign to address climate change – a coalition of US states, cities and businesses – garnered media interest. For example, Hiroko Tabuchi and Lisa Friedman from The New York Times wrote about how these groups were working with outside experts to quantify their planned reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by the time of the next round of UN climate negotiations. At the sub-national level, Governor Jerry Brown from the US State of California announced that he will host a September 2018 ‘Global Climate Action Summit’. That this event would take place on US soil amidst US Trump administration obstinacy on climate policy action generated a number of media accounts. Read more …

Figure caption: A word cloud showing frequency of words invoked in media coverage of climate change or global warming in the United States in July 2017. Data are from five US sources (The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times).

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment

Following the Flood: Evaluating the Vulnerabilities of Communities Along the Awash River

Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program
by Katie Chambers
Ethiopia, July 2017

Katie is a PhD student in Environmental Engineering with a focus on Engineering for Developing Communities. In Ethiopia, Katie will be developing flood inundation maps for communities downstream of hydroelectric dams. These maps will guide the development of Early Warning Early Action frameworks for the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and IFRC. Her environmental engineering research investigates the comparative vulnerabilities and resilience of different types of sanitation systems found in resource-limited communities, as well as the tradeoffs made when prioritizing resilience in system selection.

View photo gallery from the field by Katie Chambers

Research has taken me down and across Awash River here in Ethiopia, going further down the river each day to reach new study areas. It has quickly become a landmark, and with each new community visited, the river is located to help with orientation. Flooding in the Awash River Basin is extensive and sometimes overwhelming, with the local Red Cross branch responding to over 500 flood-affected communities just this year. The current scope of the study focuses on communities bordering Awash River, with seven communities, a resort, and a government-owned sugar factory visited to-date. Each is affected by an annual flood event in the summer, with some affected by flash floods in May this year.

Inundation of agricultural land was reported as the most common negative effect of flooding. In most communities, farmland in flood-prone areas is not cultivated during the summer months. Farmers uniformly expressed a desire to farm year-round, noting that they could perform an additional harvest if flooding were not a problem. Additionally, speaking with representatives from Sodere Resort and Wonji Sugar Factory brought a unique dimension to the work. Sodere Resort is affected by annual flooding, which typically damages riverside rooms. Resort staff are notified about when these events will occur in advance, and move property (e.g., refrigerators, televisions) from vulnerable rooms to avoid property damage. This year, flash floods unexpectedly hit the resort in May which caused over $12M birr ($520,000 USD) in damage. Wonji Sugar Factory also suffers from annual flooding, and each year they relocate some of the 35,000 people living within their borders when flooding is predicted. It was interesting to include the mixture of different stakeholders downstream of Koka, and highlighted the need to tailor warning systems to their individual needs.

The early warning systems currently in place only notify communities of controlled releases from the Koka Dam. As reported by several community members, the releases themselves are not the sole cause of flooding. However, they often coincide with heavy precipitation events, and the combination of the two contributes to the flooding. As one community member put it “when there is high rainfall, Koka gets full and must release water.” Here enters my work, in partnership with the Climate Centre, in answering one of the many questions this project raises:

Can early releases from the Koka Dam, using predicted rain from weather forecasts, be used to minimize flooding in downstream communities?

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment

Ogmius, Issue 47 is Now Out

Ogmius
Issue #47, Summer 2017

This issue of Ogmius features an article by Elizabeth Koebele, a former CSTPR graduate student who recently received her Ph.D. in Environmental Studies and will begin a new position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada Reno. Her article addresses collaborative governance on the Colorado River. Feedback welcome! info@sciencepolicy.colorado.edu

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Collaborative Governance on the Colorado River
by Elizabeth Koebele

The Colorado River weaves through the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, providing water for over 40 million people, 5.5 million acres of irrigated farmland, and countless environmental and recreational assets along the way (United States Bureau of Reclamation 2012). Images of the mighty Colorado rushing through steep desert canyons and filling massive storage reservoirs can make the river’s flow seem limitless.

In reality, however, the Colorado River is largely over-allocated, meaning that more water has been promised to users than typically flows down the river each year (Kenney 2009). Now, climate change and a rapidly growing human population are exacerbating water shortages in the region, making the development of effective strategies to manage the Colorado River one of today’s most pressing challenges.

Conversations about water management in the American west tend to start from the same premise: here, “whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting” (United States Bureau of Reclamation 2017). As there’s less of the Colorado River to go around for the diverse users that depend on it, greater conflict seems imminent. Threats of impending “water wars” over the Colorado have become so forged into the region’s collective mindset that they’ve started to show up as plotlines for popular dystopian fiction novels, like Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife. Read more …

Navigating With Intention: CSTPR Alumna Bets McNie Talks About Her Career and Future

Elizabeth “Bets” McNie was part of the first ever graduate student cohort at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR). She knows that CSTPR is a special place.

“Being part of the community here was the best part,” says McNie. “I’m still really good friends with a lot of the students who were in my cohort. There’s a sense that the people here ‘get’ the importance of the science-policy nexus, and that’s one of the things that really appeals to me.”

McNie has studied the connections between science and policy ever since. During her PhD, McNie studied how a program called The Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment (RISA) produces usable data for decision makers. These studies showed her how difficult it can be to cross the stormy waters between scientists and policy-makers, but how important it is to cross those waters.

“CSTPR made me appreciate how complex the landscape is between science and policy, and how it needs to be navigated with intention,” said McNie. “It’s not simply about producing the information and plopping it on someone’s desk in a glossy brochure. It’s really about working intentionally with the intended users of the information to try and produce information that they can use and will use.” Read more …

A Fork in the Road: Jack Stilgoe Considers the Future with Self-Driving Cars

When you imagine a future with self-driving cars, what do you picture? Are you sliding into your own Tesla Model S, or are you calling up Driverless Cars Company X for a ride? Do the cars circle campuses and downtown streets until summoned? Or do they quietly return to driveways and parking lots, ready to be woken up when needed? For all of Elon Musk’s confidence, it is still unclear how self-driving cars will fit into or reshape our society.

Jack Stilgoe, visiting professor from the University College of London, became increasingly interested in self-driving cars after a crash in 2016 resulted in the driver’s death and reawakened some doubts about the technology.

“It’s a bit of a morbid interest,” laughed Stilgoe, “But people like me are extremely interested in accidents because they show the reality of technology, not just the shiny public image.” Read more …

New Data For Old Problems

What should social scientific research look like in this so-called age of “big” data, where everything is connected, and seemingly everything is digitized? Here I want to briefly reflect on some of the promises of new data and research methods, and consider the ways that we might integrate these computational approaches with traditional qualitative fieldwork. My main claim is that while the Internet has certainly transformed the world, our methods for understanding and explaining social life have not kept pace.

We live our life in a huge connected network. We check emails, make cell phone calls, text our friends, swipe our credit cards, communicate on social media, post videos, send money, or purchase our goods. Almost every transaction is recorded digitally, as doctors create digital records of our health, stores log our buying patterns, and so on, and so forth. Until recently, these behaviors – such as a simple phone call or simple store purchase – were not easily traceable. These digital “breadcrumbs” were not gathered. There were no digital timestamps or digital text duplicates of a handwritten note, or a cash exchange. Of course, this raises ethical concerns about privacy, of which certainly need to be front and center as scholars working outside of the private sector figure out how to incorporate this data into research for the public good. Read more …

View Full Issue

Posted in Announcements, Commentaries | Leave a comment

St. Vrain Valley Students Make Film on Climate Change at CU Boulder

The CIRES Education and Outreach group hosted a series of science camps for youth in Colorado, called the Lens on Climate Change (LOCC).

CSTPR and CU FIRST (Faculty-In-Residence Summer Term) Scholar, Bienvenido León, gave a talk on and students showcased their films in a public screening on Saturday, July 22.

Lens on Climate Change was also highlighted in the Daily Camera.

Photo: Lesley K. Smith

Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment

MeCCO Monthly Summary for June 2017

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
June 2017 Summary

June 2017 coverage of climate change and global warming went up nearly 46% compared to May. This was attributed largely to the news surrounding United States President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 United Nations Paris Climate Agreement, with media coverage on emergent US isolation following through the Group of Seven (G7) summit a few weeks later. These June 2017 numbers were also a 24% increase from the amount of June 2016 climate change coverage around the world. This was predictably most pronounced at the epicenter of the (in)action, where coverage in June in North America doubled from the previous month’s counts (see Figure 2 for US coverage).

Article 28 of the Paris Agreement states that a party to the agreement may withdraw at the earliest after three years from when the agreement entered into force. Since the Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016, this process can be completed at the earliest on November 4, 2020 (the day after the next scheduled US Presidential election).

While coverage around the world has ebbed and flowed in 2017 (see Figure 1), generally coverage in the first six months of 2017 is still 19% down from the first six months of 2016. While ongoing media treatments from the December 2015 UN Paris Agreement fueled early 2016 attention, time will tell how this June 2017 coverage of the US Trump Administration withdrawal will fuel ongoing media representations through the July G20 summit in Hamburg and beyond.

So, the most prominent political theme in June 2017 proved to be largely focused on the Trump Administration and the Paris Climate Agreement withdrawal. Moreover, this theme contributed to the uptick in coverage around the world. Examples included reactions from Ireland (in The Irish Times) to Zimbabwe (in The Herald). However, political coverage was not limited just to this beginning-of-June development. In other news, G7 leaders – from Italy, Japan, Canada, United Kingdom, United States, Germany and France – met in Bologna, Italy and issued a communique with a strong statement on climate change policy engagement, covered by The Washington Post among a number of outlets. In addition, in mid-June, many media sources, including The Wall Street Journal, covered the story that a number of prominent oil companies – including Exxon Mobil, Total, Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum and General Motors – voiced support for a neoliberal US carbon taxation scheme developed by the ‘Climate Leadership Council’.

Coverage of scientific dimensions of climate change in June 2017 included new studies of scientific and economic dimensions of climate change challenges. As examples, sources like The Independent (UK) covered an instantly influential opinion piece in the journal Nature that argued that the global community has three years to take ambitious action in order to bend the greenhouse gas emissions curve steeply enough to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goals. Earlier in the month, media attention was paid to a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters which found that that wildfires on the Great Plains have increased by over 350 percent over the past thirty years. The Guardian and other outlets also covered a study in the journal Science that examined economic impacts in exacerbation of inequality from the effects of climate change. Read more …

Figure caption: Word clouds showing frequency of words invoked in media coverage of climate change or global warming in Australia, India, the United States and in Canada in June 2017. Data are from five Australian sources (The Sydney Morning Herald, The Courier Mail & The Sunday Mail, The Australian, The Daily Telegraph & The Sunday Telegraph, and The Age); from four Indian sources (The Indian Express, The Hindu, the Hindustan Times, and The Times of India); from five US sources (The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times).

 

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment

CSTPR Welcomes Professor Bienvenido León, FIRST Scholar

Professor Bienvenido León joins CSTPR for this summer. He is visiting through the Faculty in Residence Summer Teaching program (FIRST) in the Office of Continuing Education at CU Boulder. This is a collaboration with ENVS and Inside the Greenhouse.

Bienvenido is associate professor of science journalism and television production at the University of Navarra (Spain). He has also worked as a documentary film director, scriptwriter and producer for over 30 years. He teaches regularly in other universities of Spain and other countries, and has been a visiting scholar at the University of North Carolina and the University of Otago. His research has mainly focused on audio-visual science and environment communication. He is the founding director of the Research Group on Science Communication at this university, and currently the director of the international research project “Online video as a tool for communicating science”. He has published 21 books as author or editor and over 60 peer-reviewed papers or book chapters. Before joining the academic field, he worked as a TV journalist for a decade. He has founded and directed two environmental film festivals: Telenatura (2001-2013) and Urban TV (2002-2014).

As part of his visit, Bienvenido will be giving a talk August 3 in CSTPR on ‘How have nature and environmental documentaries changed since the internet arrived?’ at 3pm. More information is available here.

Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment

Inside the Greenhouse, Climate Discourse Cools Down

Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine
July 7, 2017

Where one stands on the validity of climate change science depends largely on where one sits on the political spectrum, surveys show. This fact vexes people who respond to climate science doubt by producing more data.

But relying solely on facts doesn’t necessarily advance the discussion, and, thanks to confirmation bias, can actually harden opinions. This is one reason a trio of scholars at the University of Colorado Boulder is practicing and teaching ways to advance climate discourse through the arts and social sciences.

CU Boulder’s Inside the Greenhouse project describes itself as a “collective of professors, students, scholars, practitioners” who creatively frame climate change issues in ways that emphasize people’s common ground. The trio of faculty members who launched the project teach courses in creative climate communication and in climate change and film.

The project’s mission is to “to deepen our understanding of how issues associated with climate change are/can be communicated, by creating artifacts through interactive theatre, film, fine art, performance art, television programming, and appraising as well as extracting effective methods for multimodal climate communication.”

Associate Professors Max Boykoff of environmental studies, Beth Osnes of theatre and dance, and Rebecca Safran of ecology and evolutionary biology, say their initiative springs partly from the fact that climate change discourse often breaks down.

“People keep throwing scientific information at people, thinking that’s going to change their behavior, and we see time and time again that it doesn’t,” Osnes recently told Colorado Public Radio.

Osnes and her colleagues believe better discourse is possible. Students who’ve taken Inside the Greenhouse courses concur.

Barbara MacFerrin, who graduated with a master’s in technology, media and society this year, has taken Osnes’ Creative Climate Communications class and Safran’s Climate Change and Film course. A professional photographer herself, MacFerrin wanted to fuse her passion for photography and film with a desire to communicate climate change information effectively.

While in the class, she created a video for the “More Than Scientists” project, a nonprofit initiative that disseminates short video interviews with climate scientists that strives to show the humans working in climatology.

MacFerrin’s film (below) featured her husband, Mike, a research glaciologist at CU Boulder, and highlights his feelings about the dramatic melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

MacFerrin later worked with the city of Boulder Youth Opportunity Advisory Board, where she helped develop and produce a short film about climate change mitigation in Boulder. She also traveled to Churchill, Manitoba, last year to film polar bears in the wild.

She praises the program: “I think Inside the Greenhouse is a great initiative, is effective in getting students creatively involved with climate change communication efforts, and offers many opportunities to get engaged.” Read more …

Posted in In the News | Leave a comment

Notes From the Field in Ethiopia: From Addis to Adama

Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program
by Katie Chambers
Ethiopia, June 2017

Katie is a PhD student in Environmental Engineering with a focus on Engineering for Developing Communities. In Ethiopia, Katie will be developing flood inundation maps for communities downstream of hydroelectric dams. These maps will guide the development of Early Warning Early Action frameworks for the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and IFRC. Her environmental engineering research investigates the comparative vulnerabilities and resilience of different types of sanitation systems found in resource-limited communities, as well as the tradeoffs made when prioritizing resilience in system selection.

My first week of fieldwork brought me out of Addis Ababa for the first time this summer. The field site – Koka Dam and its surrounding communities – is located about two hours outside of Addis by car. The landscape outside Addis changes quickly and dramatically from urban to rural, with farms lining the highway as far as the eye can see. It was refreshing to escape the city’s business, and driving through the countryside to Koka Dam was beautiful.

My first day of fieldwork began with an introduction to the Ethiopian Red Cross Society branch office in Adama. I met with the branch officer, Buseri, to plan logistics for the visit and future work. From there we drove to Koka Dam to tour the facilities and meet the dam manager. I thought the visit would just consist of meeting the manager and walking around the dam’s perimeter, but was pleasantly surprised when I received a personal tour of the dam’s inner workings. As large machinery surrounded me and turbines spun loudly, the little engineer inside of me was giddy with excitement at my first visit inside a hydroelectric dam and its control room. The dam has staff working 24/7 to maintain and control the infrastructure, and it was incredible seeing it all come together inside. Even better, the manager was equally as enthusiastic to talk about how the dam infrastructure works as I was able to listen. Luckily, my background in civil and environmental engineering allowed the discussion to progress beyond simply describing how dams work to nitty gritty technical details of daily operations. Following the tour inside the dam, we walked the perimeter of the dam and viewed it from the outside. Seeing the dam in person, as opposed to on the computer, was impressive and helped me better visualize the scope of the project and modelling.

The next day I talked to members from two communities situated around the dam. The initial interviews were with a small group of members, allowing me to scope the project and learn about the interactions between community members, dam staff members, and the infrastructure itself. This baseline information, in conjunction with Red Cross staff and frameworks, will guide the development of the surveys and interview scripts used in subsequent visits with the communities. The first field visit was successful in scoping the project’s extent and setting the stage for future visits, and I’m looking forward to future fieldwork around Koka Dam.

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment

What Will Happen When a Self-Driving Car Kills a Bystander?

by CSTPR Visiting Scholar, Jack Stilgoe

The Guardian
June 24, 2017

As a social scientist researching emerging technologies, I am fascinated by the bumps, scrapes and abrupt turns of self-driving cars as they accelerate towards the market. Here is a technology whose algorithms are learning how to behave in the wild. For the rest of us to make sense of the opportunities, we need to get beneath the hyper-optimistic story offered by the would-be disruptors. This is why accidents are so important. They shatter the veneer, forcing society and its innovators to confront the very real uncertainties of technology.

In May last year, a crash in Florida made Joshua Brown the first casualty of a self-driving car. His Tesla Model S, in Autopilot mode, failed to see a truck that was crossing his path. Without slowing, his car drove between the wheels of the trailer at 74mph. The Tesla’s roof was torn off and Brown died instantly. Purely by chance, nobody else was harmed.

I have already written about the report earlier this year from the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a body whose responsibilities include issuing product recalls for defective cars. The NHTSA report largely exonerated Tesla, blaming the driver for failing to understand the technology’s limits. This week, the other group investigating the crash, the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB), released its own reports.

The NTSB is an independent body originally set up to investigate plane crashes. It is one reason why the airline industry’s safety record is so good and, more importantly, has improved so quickly over the last few decades. The NTSB’s job is not to lay blame but to find out what happened, so that the chances of things happening again can be reduced.

The 500-plus pages of NTSB reports include interviews, weather reports, blood tests and a detailed autopsy of the Tesla autopilot system. There is a gruesome medical report of the injuries sustained to the driver’s head as his car passed under the truck, and a transcript from the only witness to have come forward. The witness was surprised that the car was travelling so quickly before and after the crash. He reported seeing:

A white cloud, like just a big white explosion… and the car came out from under that trailer and it was bouncing…I didn’t even know… it was a Tesla until the highway patrol lady interviewed me two weeks later…. She said it’s a Tesla and it has Autopilot, and I didn’t know they had that in those cars.

The car kept going because nobody was in control.

The easy explanation for the crash is that the truck driver was in the wrong place, moving slowly across a road that he didn’t have time to cross. However, a human driver might still have been able to swerve or brake. We know from data Tesla gave to the NTSB that the brakes were never applied. We also know that Brown’s 40-minute journey consisted of two and a half minutes of conventional driving followed by 37 and a half minutes of hands-free Autopilot. While in Autopilot mode, he touched the wheel every five minutes or so in response to the car’s warnings, but spent 37 minutes with his hands off the wheel. There was no evidence Brown was watching a Harry Potter film, as was widely reported after the crash, but an SD card found in the car did contain tunes from the Harry Potter soundtrack. Read more …

Jack Stilgoe is a senior lecturer in the department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London. He teaches courses on science and technology policy, responsible science and innovation and the governance of emerging technologies.

Posted in New Publications | Leave a comment