Jorden Gemuend – Week 13

November 21, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | Leave a comment

In their study “Facebook and Academic Performance: Reconciling a Media Sensation with Data,” Pasek et al. attempt to discredit and “set the record straight” for a draft manuscript that implied Facebook and lower grades are correlated. Karpinski, author of the draft manuscript, writes a response to Pasek et al.’s study in which she attempts to discredit it while defending her own. From both articles, educated scientists are in disagreement with each other and are using scientific processes, data, and arguments to combat each other. From this ensuing debate, it becomes clear that when science is in disagreement, the public, media, or even undergraduate educated people are going to fall short of understanding the conversation.

Therefore, my question is, what can we do in light of being educated about the disconnect between science and public opinion?


Megan Geske: Week 12

November 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Responses | 1 Comment

For the past 12 weeks, we have been examining three different issues that have made a splash in the media: intelligent design, climate change, and now vaccines and autism. We have seen that while scientists reach a consensus, the public does not necessarily follow their lead. Scientists have found no link between vaccines and autism, yet politicians and parents refuse to let their beliefs go. Kerr and Offitt examine the battle between science and parents, who have unwavering beliefs that while the science claims otherwise, vaccines caused their child’s autism. Both Kerr and Offitt found that even given scientific evidence, parents relied on the “evidence” of their children’s stories.
In chapter 8 “Science in Court”, Offitt looks at the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, a 2007 court case in which parents attempted to sue the federal government over vaccines. The petitioners had three different theories of how vaccines harmed their children: the MMR caused autism, thimerosol in the vaccines caused autism, and finally the combination of MRR and thimerosol caused autism. For each theory, the petitioners trotted out an autistic child, whose parents believed only regressed after given a vaccine. The defense (the federal government) had experts in the field of vaccines and autism, who discredited the petitioner’s scientists, and proved to the judges that there was no link between autism and vaccine. While the defense had science, the petitioners relied on anecdotal evidence (the autistic children) that showed the devastating effects of autism. While heartbreaking, the autistic children are not scientific evidence (nor evidence enough for the court) that vaccines were to blame.
Similarly, Kerr’s “The Autism Spectrum Disorders/Vaccine Link Debate: a Health Social Movement” found that activists of ASD/Vaccine Link rely on “their own experiential knowledge to inform their personal beliefs on ASD causation and treatment.” Parents of children with ASD formed groups that produced scientific research in order to gain credibility, but science is not the foundation of their movement, experience is. No matter what science says, these parents will continue to trust their own beliefs and observations about their children to color their views.
While science has a certain authority, parents and activists of ASD/VL consistently rely on their own brand of science, which often contradicts experts’ opinions. Parents are desperate to know what caused their children to regress, and have latched onto a hypothesis. My question is, is there a way that scientists, or the media, can frame their results to make parents understand that vaccines do not cause autism? Is it more important to find the cause of autism or the cure?

Jorden Gemuend – Week 12 – Offit Chapter 8 and Pitney

November 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 3 Comments

In line with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Act of 1986, more than 5000 parents attempted to sue the federal government because they believed that vaccines had caused autism in their children. The courts ruled against these petitioners and declared that vaccines are not related to autism. This, along with the political policies of autism, have left parents feeling unsatisfied, afraid, and frustrated.

Paul Offit explains this court case, called the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, in chapter 8 of his book Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Between 1997 and 2007, more than 5000 cases were filed claiming that vaccines had caused autism. Due to the enormous number of filers, it was decided to have one hearing for them all, much like a class-action lawsuit. The proceeding centered on Michelle Cedillo, a girl who appeared to have developed autism after receiving a vaccination with Thimerosal in it. The petitioners’ lawyers presented their expert witnesses, trying to convince a panel of three judges that the Thimerosal in Michelle’s vaccine caused her autism. However, the defense discredited these expert witnesses, while presenting their own who argued that vaccines did not cause autism. In the end, the three judges ruled in favor of the defense. Looking deeper, this trial can be seen as the hope of thousands of parents seeking some sort of legal resolution for their children’s autism. These parents are looking for answers, and eager to latch onto any that present themselves, such as vaccines.

John Pitney takes a step back and encompasses autism policy entirely in his article “Autism Politics: A Research Agenda.” Autism policy and politics thus far can be laid out in the 6 stages of the policy process. These stages are Initiation, Estimation, Mobilization, Selection, Implementation, and Evaluation. In the initiation stage, autism was first described in 1943 and defined as a disability in a congressional act in 1975. The estimation stage includes the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, and reflects the uncertainty and disagreement over the definition, extent, causes, and costs of autism. Groups interested in autism, whether new or preexisting, form in order to influence policy. However, this mobilization stage suffers from conflicts within the groups. The selection stage involves the successful passing of the Combating Autism Act (CAA), which lead to increased federal support for autism screening, public education, and scientific research. In the implementation stage, more conflicts arose as anti-vaccine groups reemerged, the extraordinarily high funding for autism overshadowed funding for other diseases, and the actual money being distributed for special needs was not necessarily being used for that purpose. The evaluation stage reveals that autistic people are not benefiting greatly from the policy surrounding autism, and parents are afraid for their autistic children.

While autism policy overall has led to the passing of the Combating Autism Act, which provides very generous federal funding for autism, the internal conflicts, confusion, and disagreement amongst the public groups must leave parents feeling dissatisfied. The fact that policy has advanced far enough to where autism is receiving considerable funding should provide some hope for parents, but the ways in which that funding is being applied crushes that hope. In one sense, money has largely gone towards research and law cases surrounding a link between vaccines and autism. While this research is not bad, showing that thankfully autism is not linked with vaccines, the continued pursuit of this association has led to both monetary and scientific excess. The Omnibus Autism Proceeding was a prime example of this, and parents who have been investing their hopes at the outcome of that trial must return to square one. Meanwhile, funding being allocated for the purpose of autism is being reassigned to other needs as institutions see fit. Again, this must be the source of great frustration to parents of autistic children. Together, confusing and conflicting autism policy has left parents unfulfilled, still yearning for answers, and afraid.

My Question: If you were a parent, and your child had autism, what would you do after learning that vaccines are not related to autism?

Week 11- Megan Geske

November 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Responses | 3 Comments

In chapter 3 “The Implosion”, Offitt explores the backlash that came after the discovery of Wakefield’s fraudulent research. In 2004, six years after Wakefield first published his paper in the Lancet, an investigative reporter (Brian Deer) discovered problems with Wakefield’s research. After Wakefield’s paper claiming an association between autism and the MMR vaccine, the rates of immunization with MMR in the UK declined. As a result of this, a measles outbreak occurred in the UK and Ireland, putting hundreds of kids in the hospital and killing 4 children.

While there is risk of not receiving the MMR vaccine, as stated above, parents remain hesitant about a possible link between autism and MMR. In “Parents’ Perspective on MMR Immunisation”, Evans et al conducted focus groups to unravel parents’ thoughts and feelings on the MMR vaccine and whether or not to immunize their children. 3 of the 6 focus groups performed contained parents who had given MMR vaccine to their youngest child, whereas the other 3 groups comprised of parents who refused the MMR vaccine. Results of the focus groups showed that while parents who immunized their child stressed benefits of vaccines and the perils of disease more than the “non-immunizers”, they still were unhappy about MMR and its possible association with autism. Overall, the “non-immunizers” were less fearful of possible diseases compared to “immunizers”. Evans et al concluded that there were four factors that strongly influence parents’ decisions :
1. Beliefs about risks and benefits of the MMR compared with contracting the diseases
2. information from media and other sources about the safety of MMR
3. confidence and trust in advice from the media and other sources about safety of MMR
4. Views on importance of individual choice within government policy on immunization “

It is clear that Wakefield’s fraudulent study has had major consequences on the public’s perception of the MMR vaccine. The immediate media fanfare about autism and MMR created doubt in parents minds about the safety of vaccines. Despite the retraction of Wakefield’s paper, the public remains skeptical. My question is after a scientific study has been retracted, is there a way to convince the public to abandon a hypothesis?

Jorden Gemuend – Week 11 – Evans et al. and Offit epilogue

November 11, 2011 at 11:55 am | Posted in Weekly Responses | Leave a comment

When vaccines, thimerosal, and autism are all mixed together, the resulting product is confusion. Despite the numerous scientific studies that support there being no connection between either vaccines or thimerosal contained in vaccines with the development of autism, there still remains a lot of disbelief. Evans et al. attempt to uncover some of this confusion by examining the thinking behind parents’ perspectives of the MMR vaccine, while Offit writes in the epilogue of his book about ways in which the scientific evidenced was trumped by parents, the media, celebrities, and politicians. However, while this state of confusion and debate over vaccines and autism seem to indicate room for differing opinions, the future will not leave such room. Society will adopt social norms where opposing opinions to those norms will be oppressed.

These pressures can already be seen forming within the medical community and the unwelcome pressure applied on parents to have their children vaccinated. Evans et al. write in their article “Parents’ Perspectives on the MMR Immunisation: A Focus Group Study” about the feelings that parents held in Great Britain about the MMR vaccine. They found 4 core attributes within their focus groups. First, they report that all parents, both immunizers and non-immunizers, saw MMR as both beneficial and potentially risky. Secondly, the media publicity about the possible link between MMR, autism, and Crohn’s disease raised doubts in people who would have otherwise not doubted. Thirdly, parents found it difficult to have an open discussion with health professionals about risks, benefits, and options for immunization. This is where the first signs of societal pressure can be seen. Many of these parents reported the unwelcome pressure they received, and how many allowed their children to be vaccinated due to this pressure. Another source of pressure was the government established vaccine quotas that were required to be met in order for health institutions to receive funding. Here, the pressures and norms have already been molded into the very structure of society. This leads to the fourth finding, that this potential conflict between government policy setting immunization targets and the rights of parents is important to parents. The authors conclude the study by suggesting that health professionals be more open and explanatory to patients, and that information about immunizations become more easily accessible.

Paul Offit attempts to clarify the truth on the matter in his epilogue of his book Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Offit goes through a series of media happenings that primarily focus on Jenny McCarthy, the celebrity mother who has become a representative of believing that autism is linked with vaccinations. Offit details how McCarthy went from the Oprah show, to Larry King Live, to 20/20, and finally to The View promoting her beliefs that autism is caused by vaccines, and that special diet is a cure for autism. Interestingly enough, Offit uses a style of presenting the statements of those who support the connection between autism and vaccines and then immediately following them with an opposing fact. This builds a sense of irony, which when read comes off as slightly humorous. This style of rebuttal plays off the social norms that are being developed in order to dismiss opposing viewpoints. Here, Offit seeks the truth, but in the future, the social norms will supersede the truth. Offit takes note of the strategies used by McCarthy. Her use of personal and emotional anecdotes was far more powerful than science. She also provided what health professionals and scientists could not, a cure, and thus hope. McCarthy proclaimed that doctors need to listen to parents more, the same claim as Wakefield. Offit decides to end the epilogue by painting a picture of how these “crusaders” against vaccines were winning.

Science, however, is not down for the count. In the case of autism and vaccines, the lack on connection will eventually take hold. Any attempt to connect the two will be shunned; not debated, but shunned. As Bill Clinton calls it un-American to debate global warming, these societal norms will begin their march towards dominance. By turning the situation personal, opposing beliefs are essentially connected with the believer, and thus both become attacked. As with evolution and intelligent design, the debate goes deeper than simply two sets of beliefs. No, instead, this is about two types of people, and the divide thickens. As Evans et al. explain, parents are already feeling the weight of unwelcome pressure to have their children vaccinated. Offit uses a satirical style of rebuttals to inch towards not only dismissing parents’ beliefs that autism and vaccines are related, but also towards their credibility. Soon, if you are not an expert of science, or a key policy maker, then you do not have a say in the matter. In cannot be possible that you may know something the world does not. Science will become the law.

My Question: Do you believe that with debates such as those we have been dealing with in class, the beliefs held by people become associated with a judgment of the person?

Jorden Gemuend – Week 10 – Wakefield et al. and Offit

November 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 1 Comment

While Andrew Wakefield was busy proclaiming that he had discovered a connection between the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and the development of Autism, the press, fellow scientists, and politicians all jumped onboard in support. Paul Offit describes this domino effect in chapter 2 of his book Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. This fall-out of scientific findings connecting the MMR vaccine to Autism, the subsequent support, and the reactions of the public are all similar to the debates of evolution and global warming.

Andrew Wakefield published his study first claiming that Autism can be caused by the MMR vaccine in 1998 with the title “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children.” Wakefield had performed a medical study of 12 children who after a period of normal development, lost acquired skills, including communication. Eight of the children’s parents linked the onset of the behavioral problems with the MMR vaccine. Wakefield, after performing many medical examinations and tests, concluded that all 12 children had gastrointestinal problems, which could be leading to Autism. He raised the possibility that the vaccine may be connected with these intestinal dysfunctions, and thus the association was made.

Paul Offit writes in chapter 2 of his book about the events leading up to Wakefield’s study being published, and the societal consequences that followed. Step-by-step, Offit walks the through the various medical findings that led Wakefield to his 1998 publication linking the MMR vaccine with Autism. The day after holding a press conference revealing these findings, the English media explodes with reports such as “Alert over Child Jabs,” and “Ban Three-in-One Jab, Urge Doctors.” As a result, thousands of parents stopped allowing their children to be vaccinated with MMR, lowering MMR vaccinations rates from 90% to 70%, and as low as 50% in some areas of London. Although some experts questioned these findings, the storm had already been formed. Offit describes how Measles outbreaks began occurring in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and some children were losing their lives. Meanwhile, many scientists and experts backed up the findings of Wakefield, and Congressman Dan Burton also raised support. Offit talks about how Burton created a hearing where Wakefield and supporting scientists presented their evidence for the MMR connection to Autism. However, Congressman Henry Waxman, with the help of scientist Brent Taylor, refuted the connection and the evidence put forth by Wakefield. The news had already spread, however, and many countries around the world had already reacted to Wakefield’s assertions. Although Wakefield was shown to be wrong, his theory still underwent a process of media explosion and scientific backing before crumbling.

The debates on evolution and climate change both include scientific consensuses stating that they are correct. Like Offit points out in his book, it only took the idea of the MMR vaccine being linked with Autism to spark an incredible amount of support from scientists, politicians, and the public. This support and media coverage was met with thousands of parents not having their children vaccinated, leading to Measles outbreaks in Great Britain and the deaths of children. Wakefield was not alone, however, as many scientists provided their own findings to support his assertions. Once these scientists knew what they were looking for, it seemed easy to provide findings that supported the connection. With evolution and global warming, the scientific consensus seems to have formed the same way. A starting point shoots off with more and more support building upon this initial direction. Eventually, other directions are forgotten, and not considered possible. The only direction is straight forward, in support with the inertia already built. Imagine if the MMR link with Autism had been left unchallenged, or perhaps the scientific support overshadowed other directions. Combined with the media coverage, political support, and public acceptance, this link would look similar to how evolution and climate change currently look. This will be another fact, backed by scientific consensus and normatively established in society. Perhaps evolution, climate change, and other concepts that have been adopted as “correct” have simply survived where Wakefield failed. It may only be a matter of time before the truth shines brightest.

My Question: Are ideas which deviate from the established scientific consensus able to be heard?

Jorden Gemuend – Week 9 – Grundmann and van den Hove et al.

October 26, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 1 Comment

In the face of scientific findings of anthropomorphic climate change, different institutions are bound to be effected. The difference is how these institutions are going to react, or essentially adapt to a world where climate change continues to be a pressing issue. While the consensus about scientific findings seems to grow more concrete, Reiner Grundmann and van den Hove et al. show how the reactions of national governments and international oil corporations drastically differ within themselves. Nonetheless, it is clear that the reactions of governments are closely related to the reactions of oil corporations.


Grundmann asks the question of why the IPCC consensus has led to different policy responses by governments. In his study, “Climate Change and Knowledge Politics,” Grundmann jumps into the different ways in which the German government and the U.S. government have reacted to the findings reported by the IPCC. He describes how many people see the IPCC as a hybrid of science and policy, which would be expected to have higher policy responses, and yet notes how this is not necessarily the case, as with the U.S. government. Knowledge politics, a key element in understanding the decisions made by politicians, is the use of knowledge provided by scientists/experts/professionals to justify policy action. Grundmann makes five observations of the reactions made by the U.S. and German government. First, climate change policy for both governments is driven by political agendas and institutionalized according to national groups of power. Second, both countries retrieved expertise from different sources besides the IPCC reports that were more familiar to that government. The two governments react differently, however, in that the German government uses the IPCC report to legitimate its climate change policy while the U.S. does not. Here, a clear distinction in choices is made where Germany chooses to acknowledge climate change, and the U.S. attempts to wait and see, or downplay the problem. Fourth, The U.S. rejects a global climate treaty, while Germany and the EU not only promotes it but tries to convince the rest of the world to agree. Again, Germany proactively reacts to climate change while the U.S. attempts to ignore it. Finally, Grundmann argues that the influence of the IPCC on national governments is limited by the political dominance that is present in the processes that collect expert knowledge. While the German government proactively engages the dilemma of climate change, the U.S. government does not.


In many ways, these governmental reactions are similar to those of international oil corporations. Van den Hove et al. brings light to these reactions in their study, “The Oil Indutry and Climate Change: Strategies and Ethical Dilemmas.” The authors are quick to point out that while all oil corporations aim to achieve profits, they differ in their attitudes of the constraints which society tries to impose upon them. This, of course, is related because oil companies are directly related to greenhouse gas emissions. Van den Hove et al. distinguish the three different reactions that ExxonMobile, BP Amoco, and TotalFinaElf have employed when confronted with building evidence of climate change. ExxonMobile attempted to fight against emission constraints, primarily through promoting the negative economic consequences such constraints would have. TotalFinaElf took a neutral stance and decided to wait and see how policy relating to climate change would develop before choosing to act. Essentially, TotalFinaElf is avoiding the problem. BP Mobile decided to acknowledge the dilemma and make changes by being proactive in its emission cuts. The authors point out that all three of these reactions has led to profits, or at least not a reduction. A suggestion to promote the proactive option by demonstrating that it is still profitable can help swing the industry towards acknowledging climate change and participating in more ethical practices.


Whether it is national governments or international oil corporations, the choices of how to deal with climate change seem to be the same. The similarities appear most vividly when separating the reactions into a proactive and acknowledging form and an avoidance and weakening the issue form. The German government acknowledges climate change and proactively creates policy in order to mitigate its effects. It seeks to use scientific knowledge and expertise as a backing for its policies, and hope to come out with more popular support as a result. This is the same tactic used by BP Amoco, who has taken a proactive approach to cutting carbon emissions. The U.S. government is more reminiscent of the reactions seen by ExxonMobile and TotalFinaElf, who either avoided the problem or attempted to weaken it through the fear of consequences. These reactions and their similarities are telling as to how policy is formed in relation to climate change in both government and corporations. Interestingly, van den Hove et al. point out that all three strategies used by the oil corporations have been successful. This could serve as a possible predictor for the outcomes of the U.S. and German government reactions. The difference here is that we pay government with our votes, and oil corporations with our money.


My Question: While these authors point towards a proactive reaction being best, does the wait and see reaction of the U.S. government have some merit?

Megan Geske: Week 8

October 23, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Responses | 4 Comments

Both Global Warming: the psychology of long term risk and Apocalypse Soon? look at why people are skeptical about climate change, despite scientific evidence indicating that it is occurring. These two articles went beyond just blaming the mass media, focusing instead on the psychological reasons that people are hesitant to jump on the climate change bandwagon.
In Global Warming: the psychology of long term risk, Oppenheimer and Todorov examine the difference between the American public’s beliefs, and the policies they support. Oppenheimer and Todorov found that while much of the American public claimed to be concerned about global warming, many individuals were not willing to support policies that would affect their way of life (like gasoline taxes). This conflict is known as the “American paradox”. One of the main problems that policy makers have in America is that climate change has become not an environmental issue, but a political one, dividing Republicans and Democrats. Oppenheimer and Todorov note that there is a “finite pool of worry” for political problems, meaning that the public in general only focus on one large issue at a time. To account for this, policy makers must find a way to focus attention on global warming, because without attention and support of the public, there will be no solutions to this problem. In addition, this article offered ideas for a successful campaign on climate change. The authors suggest that experts should speak about the consequences of climate change in terms of local consequences, so that people will feel that the issue is personally relevant.
In Apocalypse Soon?: Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs, Feinberg and Willer focus on one psychological principle in particular: the just-world phenomenon. This theory refers to people believing that the world is inherently just, with people getting what they deserve. Most campaigns concerning climate change have focused on the terrible consequences of inaction, such as future generations suffering. This notion of innocent people suffering does not mesh well with the just-world belief, and Feinberg and Willer argue that this results in people denying the existence of global warming. The results of the Feinberg and Willer’s two experiments showed that a positive message that did not contradict the just-world theory led to a decrease in skeptisim. Feinberg and Willer also found that presenting a potential solution to climate change reduces the threat to the just-world theory, thus resulting in lower skepticism.
Both articles introduce interesting psychological factors that explain the public’s reluctance to take action to combat global warming. The two articles also suggest possible ways to effectively communicate the reality of climate change. Oppenheimer and Todorov suggest personalizing the consequences of climate change, whereas Feinberg and Willer suggest presenting potential solutions to climate change, and not using a “doomsday” frame. Do you think either or both of these solutions would change public opinion? DO you think journalists would be willing to implement these different frames in their articles?

Week 8 Post – Dunlap/McCright & Feinberg & Willer

October 23, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Responses | 3 Comments

A Widening Gap by Dunlap & McCright talks about the difference between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of global warming. It addresses five very important questions concerning global warming. 1. Is it occurring 2. Is media coverage exaggerated 3. Is there a scientific consensus 4. Is it human-cause or natural change 5. Is it a threat. The difference between Democrats and Republicans are pretty distinguished. More Democrats believe that global warming is occurring, it isn’t exaggerated in the news, there is a scientific consensus, it is human-caused and it should be considered a threat. While Republicans also believe that global warming is occurring, there is a scientific consensus, and it is partly due to human activities, it isn’t as strong as the Democratic belief. Republicans also believe that the issue is extremely exaggerated in the news and should not be considered a threat.

Apocalypse Soon? Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs  by Feinberg and Willer was a study done to see if having dire messages aimed at stopping global warming actually hurts the amount of people believing in global warming. The results demonstrated that messages warning the severity of global warming actually increases skepticism about the issue because they are contradicting individuals’ beliefs that the world is just.

I was extremely interested in the second reading, I never would have I thought that trying to “promote” the idea of global warming and informing the public of its’ threats would in turn make more people skeptical of the issue. I thought the first article showed that people are concerned with this issue, Democrats more than Republicans, but still the general public seems concerned. This makes me wonder about whether Democrats or Republicans are more likely to feel like our “just” world is being threaten by global warming.

Question: do you think that the issue of global warming will be an important factor in the Presidential Election in 2012? And do you think people feel strongly against this issue, that they would not vote for a candidate because of his/her support for changes to reduce our carbon footprints?

Jorden Gemuend – Week 8 – Kellstedt et al. and Feinberg & Willer

October 20, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 2 Comments

As scientific authors report that the scientific consensus on anthropomorphic global warming is increasing, they search to understand why the public understanding does not match this. Kellstedt, Zahran, and Vedlitz attempt to grasp this disconnection in their study, “Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes Toward GlobalWarming and Climate Change in the United States.” According to their study, there is an assumption that the more the public knows about global warming, the more concerned they will be. While a logical inference, these authors argue that the opposite effect is true. A test was created to measure feelings of responsibility, concern, and informedness about global warming. As expected, those who feel responsible for global warming are more concerned about its risks. Opposite to their hypothesis, however, the more information a person has about global warming, the less responsible he or she feels for it and the less concern he or she feels for it. While surprising, these results are actually in agreement with previous research. The authors, looking for explanations, note that their data was built solely from self-reported information, and it has been shown that objective measures of informedness are not correlated with self-reports. The authors conclude by offering the possibility that people who are more informed have higher confidence in scientists’ ability to reverse the effects global warming.


Again, seeking deeper explanations as to why public opinion is disconnected from scientific opinion, Feinberg and Willer look into beliefs in a just world skepticism. In their article, “Apocalypse Soon? : Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs,” the authors argue that dire messages about global warming actually lead to increased global warming skepticism because they conflict with peoples’ just-world beliefs. In order to support this argument, two studies were conducted. The first study looked at the relationship between belief in a just world, and levels of skepticism when exposed to dire messages. The results showed that the greater participants’ belief in a just world, the more skeptical they become about global warming when exposed to the dire message. Conversely, positive messages saw an increase in reported belief of global warming over time. The second study tested the effects of priming participants with dire messages on levels of skepticism and willingness to change lifestyle to reduce carbon footprint. As predicted, dire messages lead to increase skepticism, and those primed with just-world statements reported less willingness to change their lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint than those primed with unjust-world statements. The authors suggest that dire statements be coupled with a solution in order to not threaten just-world beliefs.


Both of these studies are interesting in that they pick up on the not-so-obvious clues as to what influences public opinion on global warming. Whereas Feinberg and Willer’s article makes logical sense, Kellstedt et al.’s article provides surprising results. It seems odd that the more informed someone is about global warming, the less responsible and concerned they feel for it. Perhaps this is because people who are more informed perceive themselves to be more careful about their contributions to global warming. They may also feel less threatened by something they perceive themselves to be relatively more informed about than others. This is contradictory, however, to the scientists who are both informed and concerned. For this study, the limitations of self-reported data need to be closely looked at. The Feinberg and Willer article goes even further with the idea of just-world beliefs. In a bold and intuitive move, they support that beliefs in a just world actually cause skepticism to increase and willingness to change lifestyle decrease when presented with dire statements about the effect of global warming. This is not only extremely informative, but it tells a lot about the alternative influences besides the media that affect public opinion. A further study could compare the beliefs of a just-world within the United States against other countries around the world. The results may show that while just-world beliefs are existent, skepticism and willingness are not consistent.


My Question: Can the understanding of what influences public opinion be used to manipulate the public?

Week 7- Megan Geske

October 16, 2011 at 11:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Responses | 3 Comments

The public gathers most of its knowledge about climate change from the media, and so it becomes important to understand both the methods used to generate media messages and the effects they have on the audience. In Communicating Climate Change: Why frames matter for public engagement, Nisbet focuses on how the media conveys climate change, whereas in Testing Public (Un)Certainty of Science Corbett and Durfee look at the after-effects of new-stories. Both articles offer ideas for communicating the scientific certainty of climate change.
Nisbet discusses the frames currently used in the media that have enforced the climate change debate. America is currently divided on this issue along ideological lines, with Republicans questioning climate change, and Democrats accepting it. Nisbet notes a few key problems in the way climate change is presented: the fragmented media, the tendency to dismiss climate change because a lack of immediate and visible impacts, and the fact that “prioritization and opinion intensity on other issues eclipse general concern about climate change among public.”
Corbett and Durfee used an experimental design to test how controversy and context to a story about global warming influence readers perception of its scientific certainty. Corbett and Durfee found that emphasizing or adding controversy or disagreement between scientists heighten scientific uncertainty. Including scientific context, on the other hand, can help mitigate this uncertainty.
Both articles note that the current way climate change is presented in the media is problematic. Nisbet suggests employing frames that resonate with a person’s background and addresses personal informational needs. Corbet and Durfee suggest a better metaphor that emphasizes the seriousness of climate change, as well as the scientific certainty. The two articles also mention the fact that climate change does not have immediate or visible impacts, which allows the public to dismiss the urgency of the situation. A few years ago there was a media campaign to think of future generations, but this did not sway the public much as we are much better at thinking short term. Is there a way to convey the need for immediate action to the public?

Week 7 Post – Nisbet & Fortner

October 16, 2011 at 10:54 am | Posted in Weekly Responses | Leave a comment

The Nisbet article addresses climate change and the framing of the issue in the media. Climate change is still not one of the top domestic priorities for Obama and Congress, and a main cause of this is simply the public’s engagement with this issue; it is non-existing. But it isn’t the job of Obama and Congress to get these people actively involved with the climate change issue, it’s the media and the scientists. The goal needs has to get more people connected to the issue of climate change and the way to do that is reframing climate change. This ultimately means, “remaining true to the underlying science of the issue, while applying research from communication and other fields to tailor messages to existing attitudes, values, and perceptions of different audiences, making the complex policy debate understandable, relevant, and personally important.” There are  lot of barriers that are preventing the public to get engaged with this topic of climate change: human nature, media fragmentation, and partisan identity. To get around these, broadcasts need to frame these messages to a specific audience; “using metaphors, allusions, and examples that trigger a new way of thinking about the personal relevance of climate change.” This article also touches on the typology of frames that are applicable to climate change that we discussed in class.

Public Understanding of Climate Change: Certainty and Willingness to Act was a 10-week study prior to the 1997 Kyoto conference on climate change. Two studies were administered to test the hypothesis that media hedging is related to uncertainty. “Study one examined media portrayals of global warming and the certainty with which information was reported (percentage of ‘hedgin’); Study two was a telephone survey to assess public knowledge about key topics in global climate change, people’s certainty about their information, trust in the media, and willingness to take action on global warming.” With Study one, they found that media reports with which global warming and certainty were connected were very few. With Study two, half of the references to global warming were found to be hedged. So with comparing these two results it doesn’t support the idea that media hedging is related to uncertainty.

In the study’s results it mentioned that these 139 adults were fairy knowledgeable and certain about global warming and they would be willing to adopt a new set of behaviors that would be considered useful in countering global warming. It also stated that over 50% of them trust their media sources. We learned from the Nisbet reading that it is important for the media to frame the issue of climate change to reach out and connect with a greater audience. If the media is successful in targeting and receiving a larger audience, the study shows that more people are going to accept global warming. But what confuses me with the study is the fact that these adults say they are knowledgeable and are willing to adopt responsible behaviors to slow down the global warming, but this is only a small sample – do you think if we took 2000 adults from all over the US the results would be the same? Would there be less “consensus” with global warming? Do you think if the public accepts global warming that all will be willing to change certain behaviors that are causing it?

Jorden Gemuend – Week 7 – Zhao and Nisbet

October 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 4 Comments

In studying the media, audience activity and media effects have commonly been given their own unique categories. Xiaoquan Zhao in “Media Use and Global Warming Perceptions: A Snapshot of the Reinforcing Spirals” aims to unite the two areas under the premise of global warming using the reinforcing spirals model. This model asserts that there is an increased use of selected media with a maintenance or strengthening of the attitude or behavior in question. Information seeking, an important concept of this study, explains that the effects of prior media use should influence subsequent media use. These are relevant areas of study considering that the public primarily uses the news as its source for information on global warming. The predictions of this study are that concern for global warming of Polar Regions is influenced by media use. This prediction relied on two mechanisms of media: 1) Media’s general function as an information purveyor 2) Media’s impact of perceived scientific agreement. The results of the study supported that newspaper reading and web use mediated the effects of age, race, and education on perceived knowledge of global warming. There was support that perceived knowledge and concern significantly predicted future information seeking. The study found no direct effect of media use on scientific agreement, but it did support that concern mediates the effects of perceived knowledge and scientific agreement. An interesting finding of the study was that party affiliation had no effect on media use or perceived knowledge, but it did effect perceived scientific agreement.


Again zooming in on media, M.C. Nisbet discusses how the media is a powerful tool in “Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter for Public Engagement.” According to Nisbet, the public level of engagement is missing over climate change, while the Obama administration wants to address it. For policy change to be successful, however, public support is needed. This lack of public support and engagement can be made up through reframing the issue of climate change. Despite increased consensus and news coverage of climate change, the public sees it as a low priority. The existence of partisan divides and an ever fragmented media system are also attributed to the lack of public support. Nisbet explains that frames are not only largely responsible for the low level of public engagement, but they are also the key to reversing it. Skeptics of climate change have used scientific uncertainty and economic consequences frames to try and persuade others against it. Supporters, however, tend to employ frames of climate crisis, public accountability and public health. A powerful, recent frame that spreads across partisan lines is one of stewardship, constituted scientifically, morally, and ethically. Nisbet believes that framing needs to be strategically and effectively employed if climate change is to be engaged by the public.


These two articles share the common topic of how the media is related to public perceptions of global warming. Interestingly, both point towards there being a strong influence of the media in the discussion of climate change. The findings from Zhao on how newspaper and web use are mediators for perceived knowledge on global warming is expected, but relevant. What really stands out is how media use was found to have no direct effect on perceptions of scientific agreement, and yet party affiliation did. This is consistent with the discussion of Nisbet and how frames are employed by political parties in order to garner support one way or the other. The fact that the media is used in this fashion most certainly creates a feeling of uneasiness. It would seem that the media is being used as a market to sell political and scientific ideologies.


My Question: In most of the articles we read, supporters of climate change describe the lower levels of public engagement with terms such as “lacking” and “missing”. This automatically implies that the public is inferior and scientists are superior. Do you agree that these terms indicate an arrogance in scientists?

Phil Morris Week 6: Bennett/Schrope

October 9, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 1 Comment

What is news?

It can be loosely defined as any contemporary matter that is of some interest to a loosely defined public.

How is news constructed?

The most basic rules of formulating a news story are fairly straightforward. All cub journalists are taught early on to try and answer five questions in any story they report. Those questions are who, what, where, why and how.

Those elementary guidelines are about as close as some journalists and likely a majority of news consumers ever come to fully appreciating the conflicting pressures that actually determine the structure, the content and the point of view (usually thinly concealed) in most news content.

As Bennett suggests in his essay on political journalism, there are actually three guiding principles or “normative orders” that pre-determine the reporting and presentation of what is considered newsworthy. The first of these “norms” is a self-imposed industry standard, where an attempt or at least the pretense of objectivity are pursued. The next “norm” is the continuous awareness that a constitutionally protected industry (media) is tasked with promoting political accountability. Thus the journalist is always subconsciously aware of the notion that she is an integral part of the nation’s democratic process. And the final, and most complex, “norm” is the reality that news organizations are profit-seeking organizations that constantly seek to find the balance between news presentation and profit maximization.

These guiding principles, often in conflict, still manage to lead to a mostly homogeneous industry presentation of what is considered noteworthy and important. Industry leaders such as the New York Times, Associated Press, the news divisions of the networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN, et. all) largely determine the information agenda (what will be reported) and their lead is closely followed by news outlets throughout the nation. This results in a mostly consensus presentation of what is newsworthy on a national and international level.

But further complicating the reporting, packaging and dissemination of news are powerful political, business and social actors  that try to determine and shape the news agenda in a way that best compliment their own political or social agendas.

That is why the president of the United States or his communications chief meets weekly, if not daily, with the White House press corp. They seek to influence the direction of policy coverage.

The same is true of powerful business forces (who through the use of heavily funded political action committees) seek to influence politicians to pursue their agenda and to in turn use the same politicians to sell that agenda to the public via a compliant media that only deviate from a pre-packaged, herd formula when news can be presented as scandal or a spectacle.

It’s this collusion of competing forces and conflicting agendas that cause Bennett to somewhat wrongly conclude that the news industry is failing or increasingly disconnected from its audiences (that’s a topic for another conversation/essay) and that traditional American media is on a “juggernaut path, stirring up much criticism as its moves, yet changing in mysterious ways that seem immune to most of the criticism.”

Many of the essential Bennett points are valid, though, about the operation of media and the fact that a largely consensus version of news is generally presented unless a man bites dog scenario necessitates a deviation from the norm. The only other point where I would quibble with him is his decision to minimize the intent and deliberation with which many reporters attempt to identify conflict in their newsgathering and to spotlight dissension whenever it is easily highlighted. That’s how journalistic reputations are made.

His point about consensus journalism, unless conflict is easily uncovered, is somewhat proved in the Schrope article, though. There is little scientific debate on whether global warming exists, yet mainstream coverage of the phenomena continues to accord a consistent voice to those who discredit the warming trend and dismissively label it as alarmism or a hoax. That industry reality does a disservice to science, the pursuit of truth and diminishes the necessary and protected status of journalism. 

Question for the class:

Does the constitutional protected status of media (first amendment) remain as important today to our democracy as it was when the founding fathers advocated for a free press? Given the conflicting political and social agendas as well as business objectives that largely frame news coverage, would this nation be better served by a public form of objective “truth seeking” media that was un-tethered from business pressures and social agendas (think NPR or PBS without the current bias)?

Week 6 Post – Boykoff & Schrope

October 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Responses | 2 Comments

Climate Change and Journalistic Norms: A Case-Study of US Mass-Media Coverage discusses the consensus that the top climate scientists have about human activities contributing significantly to global climate change and how journalistic norms have  shaped the mass-media coverage on human contributions to climate change. Journalists are said to have a “faithful adherence to their professional norms”, and this could explain the inaction of the US to do anything about global warming. This article stated that the “influential mass-media newspaper and television sources in the US have misrepresented the top climate scientific perspective, and thus have perpetrated an informational bias regarding anthropogenic climate change.” There are First-order, and second-order journalistic norms that they think contribute to this informational bias. First-order consists of personalization, dramatization, and novelty; second-order consists of balance and authority order.

Consensus Science, or Consensus Politics? talks of the process of developing a report on climate-change science. A group of 400 delegates from many different countries participated in the report’s preparation and review – some that had strong relative background scientific discipline, others did not. They had to “ensure a wide international participation, considering climate change means different things to different countries.” Government representatives might want to have policy objectives implemented into the summary, as oppose to science. Many negotiations had to be made, and the most difficult one was the connection between human activity and climate change. “Some critics of the IPCC believe that removing politicians from the process could be one way of ending the arguments.” But other critics believe that the problems aren’t with the general process, but with the climate research community. Most climate scientists have environmentalist views, so they emphasize the need of research and portrays a “worrying picture” of climate change to get the politicians attention.

Even both of these articles are both looking from different angles, they are looking at the same issue that has been in debate politically, economically and environmentally for some time – the contribution of human activity on climate change. In the first article it is human activity and climate change vs. the mass media and journalistic norms. The second article is human activity and climate change vs. politicians and different views of what climate change means to a country.

Question: Do you believe that the journalistic norms that Boykoff talks about are subconsciously done by the people that cover the media? And do you think that Bush’s decision not to support the treaty are directly related to these journalistic norms?

Week 6- Schrope and Boykoff & Boykoff

October 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 4 Comments

The public most often relies on journalists to learn about new scientific discoveries. The question is: how well do scientific journalists report scientific findings? Can they accurately describe what is happening in the scientific community? The topic of climate change represents an extra challenging problem because the scientific consensus itself has been brought into question. In Consensus Science or Consensus Politics, Schrope examines the process of making the IPCC’s SPM report, and the looks at the criticisms some have about the role politicians play in it. Boykoff & Boykoff, on the other hand, look at how the media represents climate change, and the role the media has had shaping the publics beliefs.
Due to the vast size of the IPCC report, Schrope states that many people rely on the Summary for Policymakers to get information. This is worrisome to critics, because this section is not written by scientists alone, but with the input of politicians. According to Schrope, most of IPCC’s authors are satisfied with the process employed to create the SPM sections, but this does not appease critics. Fred Singer, a climate change skeptic, believes that the SPM sections downplay uncertainties in climate change so that governments will take climate change more seriously.

In Climate Change and Journalistic Norms” Boykoff and Boykoff do not look at the science itself, but rather how it is portrayed in the media, and how this affects public opinion. Despite the fact that IPCC reached a consensus that human activities are at least partially to blame for climate change, the United States refused to join international efforts to curb human activities (for example, signing the Kyoto Protocol). Boykoff and Boykoff argue that this is due to the journalistic norms of personalization, dramatization, and novelty, which influence the use of authority order and balance. These norms, they argue, lead to information-deficient media coverage.


These two papers delve into two different sources for climate change skepticism. Is it the journalists’ fault that the public is reluctant to believe in climate change, because of the way they frame stories? Or is the problem the scientists themselves? Are the scientists conspiring with politicians in order to influence policies?,8599,2096055,00.html

Week 6 – Emily Thibodeau

October 8, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 1 Comment

Stocking examines how journalists deal with uncertainty and Schrope discusses the IPCC’s Summary for Policy Makers, touted as an corner stone for the global response to climate change–but why isn’t the IPCC’s SPM the news topic it should be? Stocking points out that journalists often don’t include caveates when discussing controversial scientific issues the way scientists would. Journalists, Stocking speculates, often present science as far more certain than is generally agreed upon. However, there are challenges to presenting scientific uncertainty that range from issues on the organizational level — such as appealing to readers and advertisers, and on the individual journalists level, which may include a lack of knowledge.  Overall, while scientific controversy may be detailed, it is rarely shown to be as controversial as scientists feel it is.

Similarly, Schrope accounts for the controversy surrounding the IPCC’s SMP report. He discusses how the political influence of diplomats in writing the most read section of the report is controversial, but potentially a necessary evil to make the document as important as it is regarded to be. Additionally, the negotiated nature of the SMP leaves room for controversy as to how each individual change was made. This article in general is a perfect gateway for learning about the controversy behind politically important scientific documents. Why is this controversy not public knowledge? This article details not only the climate change controversy but how key individuals react to such controversy. Because this article is short and fairly easy to understand, it should be a more valuable piece to journalists who may not be adequately educated on climate change prior to their writing of pieces about climate change.

Both articles discuss the inclusion of uncertainty. Stocking focuses on However, each article leads to different conclusions about uncertainty. Stocking’s article points out how journalists often overstate certainty or give weight to illegitimate sources of uncertainty on scientific topics. Examples of this include how journalists may give equal weight to good scientists as they do to fringe scientists or non-scientists. Schrope discusses how some scientists and individuals who contest climate change believe the SPM does not highlight uncertainty where it is necessary in an attempt to force governments to act.  My question is: is there any real way journalists, irrespective of education or organizational differences, make an effort to present scientific uncertainty in a better way?

Jorden Gemuend – Week 6 – Bennett and Schrope

October 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 2 Comments

W. Lance Bennett charges right in by stating that while U.S. journalists face competition and journalistic freedom, political news is standardized and not diverse. Bennett explains these confusing patterns in his article “An Introduction to Journalism Norms and Representations of Politics.” Through the process of routinized decision making and rules for deciding what is newsworthy, journalistic practices have become standardized into generating similar content. While the fact that there are more channels for news should index more diverse news, there are actually less sources of news, creating the opposite effect. Bennett describes three norms that he believes guide political content decisions in the news: 1) Norms about the journalism profession; 2) Norms about the proper role of the press in politics; 3) The normative constraints of the business side of news organizations. These norms place pressures on journalists in choosing political representations. Bennett goes on to list a set of 5 rules in which he argues that govern the journalistic practices regarding political news. These rules touch on how official sources dominate the viewpoints in political stories, the process of indexing what viewpoints make the news, following the trail of power for stories, the use of cultural metaphors and rituals to describe politics, and events that challenge existing politics. Through the process of abiding by these rules, the public, and even journalists, are left unconvinced that a political situation is reported in the best possible way. The article explains how the norms of the news have led to entertainment over information. The coherence in the news is created through the formation of narratives. Bennett sums up his argument by stating that while these news rules have become dysfunctional, they are resistant to change by both internal and external factors.

M. Schrope also discusses politics, but in the science realm. In “Consensus Science, or Consensus Politics?” Schrope discusses the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its third review of climate change. This report was a massive undertaking, unusual for scientific publications and very consequential. Some view the report as a success for global scientific consensus, while others see problems with political involvement and skewed scientists. In order to flesh out these allegations, Schrope walks through the many intensive processes in which the IPCC undergoes in forming a review. The step most in question is what is known as the Summary for Policymakers (SPM). This final report is revised and changed by about 400 delegates from all the countries involved, of which no relevant scientific background may be present. This allows room for political agenda, not science. While this report is clearly not solely the work of scientists, the report fails to acknowledge that. Obviously, different viewpoints have arisen, many criticizing the process and results and many supporting it. The IPCC and supporters argue that the science is not fundamentally changed, and that the process of delegates revising is necessary for global consensus and to be taken seriously by governments. Critics, however, point out that climate researchers have motivation to overstate and exaggerate their findings in order to create action amongst policy makers. Others see the problems with political agendas being carried out over scientific evidence, and the possibilities for vested interests to be inserted.  Finally, many scientists would like the IPCC to focus on other topics such as deforestation and fresh water supplies.

While Bennett discusses the media and Schrope talks about science, the two collide in politics. Together, the two articles deal with completely different topics, but patterns and effects of politics and processes can be drawn out. For instance, where the processes for which news journalists decided and represent political topics comes into question, so do the processes of how the IPCC uses national delegates to revise its review. Politics, it seems, has the effect of diluting pure communication. For Bennett, it is political news, for Schrope, it is the SPM of the IPCC. However, Bennett does not seem to place blame on the politicians themselves, but he rather focuses on the norms and standardized rules that have developed in the media. The criticisms of the SPM do place the blame on the politicians, but also relate that to a fundamental problem with the IPCC process. The pattern that can be drawn out is having both internal and external factors changing the communication that the public receives, in some fashion inserting ulterior motives and effects in the process. In light of these revelations, it becomes more apparent as to why the public has disconnection with the scientific community in the case of climate change. Not only are there possible problems in the way that the science itself is reported, but the news that relays this information is also being morphed by certain norms and rules.


My Question: In what ways would our nation change if the public had full understanding of both news events and scientific knowledge?

Week 6 – Journalism

October 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Weekly Responses | 2 Comments

Science is arguably one of the four fundamental subjects taught in every high school. Science topics range from biology to chemistry, giving students a basic, science foundation from which to build off of in years to come. Upon entrance into college, students are exposed to multiple formats of scientific essays, some journal articles and some press stories written about scientific findings. It has been argued by multiple authors this week that scientific uncertainty is an issue plaguing the global climate change discussion. However, much of the public being exposed to the issue has not been equipped with the tools to fully understand scientific uncertainty. It is evident that in order to aid the public in understanding the claims made about scientific issues such as climate change, students need to be educated about scientific uncertainty at some point in their high school career.


The article Consenses Science discusses how political and scientific bias enter the climate change discussion but more importantly stress uncertainties surrounding climate change. Arguments were presented in the piece that claim that the IPCC ignores some uncertainities, aligning the facts to represent their environmental goals. This would be something important for readers/journalists to identify because much faith is entrusted in the IPCC’s document because so many credible scientists contribute to the process. It is also stated in the piece that because uncertainties are present, it is easy for the public/journalists to play up these uncertainties to justify not taking action in slowing climate change.


Secondly, the Zehr piece we read for this week spends a substantial amount of time discussing scientific uncertainties. This piece explicity states that scientists often utilize uncertainties to strengthen their view, or sometimes discredit the views of other scientists. It continues to discuss why uncertainties are problematic in the press and how “uncertainty” has become a common frame utilized by journalists. Lastly, the article stresses that by discussing uncertainty, journalists can make it appear to public that the limited actions necessary to aid climate change can all be done by government officials alone.


Overall, it is important for the general public to understand the concept of scientific uncertainty. Without this knowledge, people cannot clearly understand what an issue is about, how likely it is that a problem is occurring, and how to help solve the problem. If scientific uncertainty was taught in schools, it would be more likely that people could understand and correctly interpret problems mentioned by both Zehr and Schrope.


My questions are:

Would teaching scientific uncertainty be controversial?

Would the teaching of scientific uncertainty even be feasible at a high school level?




Megan Geske Week 5- Peterson/Doran & Zimmerman

October 1, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Posted in Week 5, Weekly Responses | 4 Comments

As was the case with evolution, there is a difference between what the scientists say about climate change and what the public believes.

In “The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus”, Peterson et al looks back to the ‘70s, when despite a general scientific consensus, the public still was divided. Reid Bryson, a climate researcher, laid out four questions in 1972 that were “central to the climate science enterprise”:
1. How large must a climate change be to be important?
2. How fast can the climate change?
3. What are the causal parameters, and why do they change?
4. How sensitive is the climate to small changes in the causal parameters?

By 1978, greenhouse warming had become the dominant theory, with the role of aerosol cooling sorted out. However, the myth of global cooling persevered. Why? Peterson notes that the myth “lies in selective misreading of texts both by some members of the media at the time, and some observers today,” and that the myth was most often found in new coverage. News coverage reported “dramatic or new” stories rather than “the complexity of nuanced discussion within the scientific community.” For example, a troubling report in Newsweek “juxtaposed the possibility of cooling temperatures and decreasing food production with rising global population”, despite the fact that the general consensus was that the world was warming, not cooling. In addition, Peterson et al performed a literature survey of the time, and found that only 7 articles indicated cooling, compared to 44 reports indicating warming.

In 2009, Doran and Zimmerman looked into what the scientific consensus on climate change is currently (Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change). Doran and Zimmerman surveyed scientists about climate change. Overall, 90% of participants answered that global temperatures have generally risen, and 82% thought that human activity is a significant contributing factor. Looking at the “specialists” surveyed (scientists that had more active research on the subject and specialized in climate science), 96.4% said that global temperatures had risen, and 97.4% said that human activity was a contributing factor. This is a stark difference of the general public, with only 52% thinking that most climate scientists agree that Earth has been warming, and only 47% think that climate scientists agree that human activities are a cause.

I think if 97% of climate specialists agree that human activity is a leading cause of climate change, there is a consensus within the scientific community. However, the public does not seem to agree. How many scientists must agree before the public does not think that there is a debate? Does it matter if not all scientists agree, or some are uncertain? How would this affect what politicians/policy makers do?

Jorden Gemuend – Week 5 – Crichton and Oreskes

September 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Posted in Week 5, Weekly Responses | Leave a comment

As our class has discussed the debate between intelligent design and evolution, the most common figure thrown out in the support of evolution was the overwhelming scientific consensus. It is hard to be heard when there is a crowd surrounding you all shouting the same chant. The question that needs to be asked is whether a scientific consensus translates into something being true. In the case of “climate change,” a newer, more politically accepted term than global warming, the idea of a scientific consensus is again employed. Just because everyone agrees on something, does not make it right, but it may hold importance nonetheless.

Michael Crichton understands this dilemma of scientific consensus and attacks it at its core in “Aliens Cause Global Warming.” Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the article does not talk about why aliens cause global warming, but rather why science is wrongly mixing with policy. Crichton grew up during the Cold War, where fear and nuclear predictions were just another part of the day. This led him to a belief that science was the hope that would save the world. First discussing the Drake equation, an equation predicting the likelihood of aliens in our galaxy, Crichton points out that the variables cannot be tested. He relates this to the predictions made about how the atmosphere would be affected in the case of nuclear warfare, and avidly asserts that these types of methods are not science. They are religions based upon pure faith and nothing else. Turning his view to the concept of a scientific consensus, Crichton states plainly that this is an absurd and incredibly weak argument that is irrelevant to science. This is supported by a slew of examples where the scientific consensus was wrong, and he claims that consensus is invoked where the science is not solid enough. The issue of second-hand smoke is used to show how science has been mixed with policy and politics. Science is now elastic, a realm where “anything goes.” Not finished yet, Crichton turns his sights on computer models, and explains how past science and global warming have ridiculous dependencies on them. A humorous line talks about how people don’t believe weather forecasts 12 hours from now, and yet they are expected to believe climate forecasts 100 years from then. Crichton proposes double blind style computer models and unknown sources of funding. He ends by talking about how the scientific community is rife with policy.

On an opposite side of things, Naomi Oreskes published “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” an article solely devoted to proving that there is in fact a scientific consensus on climate change. Short and sweet, Oreskes first addresses the fact that people have attempted to attack climate change by saying there is not conclusive science or consensus. Immdetialy refuting these claims, she fills the bulk of her article with a list of publications and organizations that all support and agree on global warming. She deduces that without substantial disagreement, the scientific community is indeed in consensus that humans are causing temperatures to rise. Oreskes, however, decides to end the article with wisdom in saying that a consensus is not necessarily right, as the history of science has shown. She concludes that although the consensus may not be right, it does not want to risk not acting.

These two authors both took a logical approach to the debate of climate change. The interesting thing is that neither of them actually disagrees with the other, although it is difficult to see this. Crichton is asserting that a scientific consensus over climate change is a weak argument and in no way indicates the truth of the matter. Oreskes is merely asserting that there is a consensus, but also acknowledges that this does not necessarily indicate the truth. Whereas Crichton would argue that until there is hard evidence, despite any type of consensus, there is no debate. Oreskes, on the other hand, wants to use the consensus to generate action, and by relying on a science-expert framing scheme, she encourages support out of fear for what may happen. Both of these articles complement each other like two puzzle pieces being mashed together in order to fit; complementary, but messy. It is plain and obvious that these two authors’ completely disagree on the topic of climate change, but they have cleverly written these two articles so that they avoid the conflict. While Crichton enlightens about why a scientific consensus does not equal truth, Oreskes claims that it might be better than nothing.

My question: Do you believe that there is an absolute truth to existence independent of human conception?

Week 4 – Jade Hanson

September 25, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Posted in Week 4 | 2 Comments

This week I examined the Center For the Renewal of Science & Culture article and the Labov and Pope piece, both of which discuss attempts at creating support for one side of the evolution vs intelligent design debate.

The Center for Renewal piece discusses how the Discovery Institute’s Center of the Renewal of Science and Culture aims to get rid of the scientific perspective in attempt to bring about a theistic understanding of nature. In short, this institute strives to replace the belief of science with the belief that God is the creator of all. This packet of information demonstrates the goals of the institute and lists the objectives for the group as well. Finally, it draws up a strategic plan on how to implement their belief system into society. Multiple routes to promote their beliefs will be used including broadcasting and political speeches.

However, this piece lacks evidence to convince people of their non-scientific materlialism beliefs. As we have discussed in class, this is often the case with supporters of intelligent design. The pieces lays out solid ground work for what they want, for example on hundred scientific article by their scientists within 5 years. The piece lacks sufficient explanations of how achieve the goals of the Institute however. Without a way of providing evidence to their supporters, the plan will fail and the “Wedge Theory” will go down as wishful thinking.

The second piece I examined was the Labov and Pope piece. This article discusses how the National Academy of Sciences has been working to implement a system that solves the evolution and creationism debate. The article takes a close look at the NAS’s publication, Science, Evolution, and Creationism. This book, which is shaped off of audience research, highlights the evidence and support for evolution and presents ways in which science teachers in support of evolution can sway others to see their side and prove intelligent design is invalid. The pamphlet defines science and it’s limitations and also explains why religion and other nonscientific ideas should be left out of the public school system. Overall, this piece defends why only scientific theories should be taught in schools.

The National Academy of Sciences utilized audience research to better understand the proper way to promote science only systems in schools. This is a tactic that could have been used by the Discovery Institute Center of Renewal of Science and Culture to better promote their ideas. Science, Evolution, and Creationism had a better chance at convincing audiences of NAS’s beliefs because it used well-supported evidence to support it’s beliefs unlike the Discovery Institute.

On the other hand, one thing that the Discovery Institute strived to do that would have helped NAS, had they attempted, was to try and utilize the media to get their message into the public realm. The real struggle with the debate between evolution and intelligent design is the support of the public. As proven in last week’s readings, it is not the scientists that need convincing that evolution is real, it’s the public. If NAS would have attempted to launch their piece into the public realm, the intelligent design vs evolution debate may have been greatly impacted.

Questions for discussion: Can an belief system, like that created by the Discovery Institute, ever succeed in the public realm if the tactic of getting the word out is well planned? Or will it never have any level of success due to the lack of evidentiary support?

Was NAS correct in naming a book Science, Evolution an Creationism? By doing so, I thought that upon seeing the title, the book would discuss all three topics equally which may draw readers in or turn them off to the book.

AbbyLieberman_Week 4

September 25, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Posted in Week 4 | 1 Comment

In his presentation, “From Dayton to Dover: A History of the Evolution Teaching Legal Controversy in America”, historian and Professor, EJ Larson traces the historical account of the debate between evolution and creationism.  He goes through the chronological order of court cases in communities across the country and and discusses what he refers to as “the storm testing our tradition.”  In, “Understanding Our Audiences: The Design of Evolution of Science, Evolution, and Creationism,” Jay B. Labov and Barbara Kilne Pope report on the existence of National Academy of Sciences’ newest edition of “Science Evolution and Creationism.” The feature goes into the importance of understanding the the public’s beliefs on certain scientific issues as well as how they form those beliefs.  It proposes and talks about why this edition of “Science, Evolution, and Creationism” is a vehicle for teachers and organizations to use when explaining the debate between evolutionism and creationism. When looking at the the court cases and outlook of the evolution/ creationism battle that Larson delves into, in combination with the discussion of understanding audiences and providing a means to explain what is and is not science that  Labov and Pope discuss, it is clear that definitions of science have come a long way.  Furthermore, it is clear that they have come that long way due to the role that history and law have played in determining definitions of science.

In his lecture, Larson divides the history of the evolution and creationism debate into three successive parts.  The first, he says, is “removing evolution altogether.”  Larson explains that this first phase began with the 1925 Dayton, Tennessee case, when John Scopes, a biology teacher, was accused of violating Tennessee’s ban on teaching evolution. Key players in the case, William Jennings Bryan, and Clarence Darrow held world views that were at war and, ultimately, Scopes lost the case.  The reason? At the time, the “Supreme Court could not argue on 1st Amendment grounds,” explains Larson.  The second phase, he says, is “balancing evolution with some form of creation,” which came about as a result of religious organizations and individuals attempts to make creationism sound scientific. The appearance of “science proved religion,” he said, is what sparked the balance approach. The idea was spread though Henry Morris’ publication of Genesis Flood and the Institute for Creation Research. However, balance wasn’t enough for many creationists and, their anger spawned the emergence of the 3rd phase of debate: teaching evolution as just a theory. Larson discusses the outcry of proposals in states and local school districts to change policies regarding what evolution was and how it was taught schools.

Labov and Pope, like Larson, discuss what is and is not science and what has been concluded as a result of scientific history and progress.  They discuss an idea called “the wobbly public,” those who “are undecided about whether or not evolution, creationism, or some combination should be taught in public schools.” They talk about how this group must be targeted and with the right information.  Their book “was developed and organized by an expert committee of the NAS to help individuals better understand and thereby explain the principles of science in general, and evolution specifically, to other people with whom they interact” (24). By creating a publication from which teachers can gain correct knowledge and pass its on to others, Labov and Pope hope to reach that “wobbly public”.

However, the questions that came to me while watching and reading the two discussions of the debate is, how do you decide who to trust? Can we trust the decisions made throughout history when making our own ? What if we do not agree on what happened and the decisions made in past cases in the first place?  How can we accept what is known now on evolution and creationism to be true and if we can’t trust it, then what can we effectively teach to others?

Phil Morris – Week 4: Shipman, Labov & Pope

September 25, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Posted in Week 4, Weekly Responses | Leave a comment

Science has belatedly come to an understanding of the enormity of the threat it faces from religious purveyors of creationism and those who attempt to define intelligent design as science. As the article by Labor and Pope and the essay by Shipman starkly demonstrate, the scientific community formerly adopted a decidedly unscientific approach to understanding the danger it faced in the arena of public opinion and public policy in regards to the origin of life. An aloof and dismissive scientific community did not take the enemy seriously and it proved costly.

The leadership of the ID movement perceptively recognized a casual establishment response as an opportunity and effectively leveraged it against the academy. It was able to skillfully get the jump on science and further confuse the issue in the pubic mind by strategically marketing its beliefs to the “wobbly middle,” a public that remains open to the suggestion that ID is science or, at a minimum, a viable alternative theory to evolution.

Science now understands the threat and is fighting back. But that marketing battle now involves a necessary education or re-education of the public as to what constitutes science as well as a clarification of the enormous health and social stakes involved.

The scientific community, by no means a monolith, now understands that it can no longer present facts and assume they will be universally accepted or point to the rule of law and assume the issue settled.

As Labov and Pope write in “Understanding Our Audiences,” the scientific community had to come to the understanding that Kitzmiller v Dover did not frame the issue in the public mind.

“The (NAS) committee originally thought that this decision should be prominently touted … as one of the main reasons why various forms of creationism (including intelligent design) should not be taught in the classroom – it’s illegal. However, feedback from our research suggested that the public does not readily understand the role of the courts in such matters.”

Gaining a better understanding of how to educate the public to matters pertaining to science remains one of the primary challenges facing the scientific community. This challenge will force science to step far from its comfort zone and go into areas of educating that will closely resemble product marketing. The science academy must explain how understanding and accepting evolution as a scientific fact – not theory – will eventually lead to cures for diseases not yet discovered. But mostly the public must be led to the understanding that science is essentially about self-preservation.

“Now I know that I and my colleagues in science are being stalked with careful and deadly deliberation, I fear my days are numbered unless I act soon and effectively,” writes Shipman.

“As scientists, we must stop ignoring the ID movement. It won’t go away. Each of us must learn to avoid jargon in order to communicate better with the public,” she concludes.

That conclusion succinctly describes the difficult work that confronts science as it fights to gain the hearts and especially the minds of a conflicted and often ill-informed public.

If it fails to expand or even change the language and public vehicles that it uses to communicate essential scientific truth, it will continue to see a regression in public understanding of its purpose. Such a trend has dangerous and lasting policy implications.

Perhaps a useful start would be for science to re-brand the theory of evolution as the Law of Evolution. Given that the general public has consistently failed to understand or accept the scientific definition of a theory perhaps its time for scientists to begin speaking in language the public understands.

W4: The Wedge Strategy v. Being Stalked by I.D.

September 25, 2011 at 11:21 am | Posted in Week 4 | 3 Comments

In, The Wedge, the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture is in opposition to the idea of scientific materialism. They claim that Western civilization was built on the principle that humans were created in the image of God, and that materialism pushes the idea that “everyone is a victim and no one can be held accountable for his or her actions” – this is decidedly destructive to society. Since materialists claimed the environment dictates our behavior and beliefs, they are in denial of the existence of an objective moral standard. The Center, consequently, explores “serious doubt” about scientific materialism. Furthermore, they propose the “Wedge Strategy”, a metaphor for wedging their beliefs into what is accepted as American science. This plan consists of three phases: P1 – Scientific research, writing and publicity, P2 – Publicity and opinion-making, P3 – Cultural confrontation and renewal. Their main goal is to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies. They want more people to believe that nature and human beings are created by God. They want people to see I.D. as an accepted alternative within 5 years, and as the dominant perception in science in 20 years. In short, they favor the teaching of science with Christian and theistic convictions. They plan to accomplish these goals through solid scholarship, research and argument. They planned to prepare for popular reception of their ideas – for instance with the production of a PBS documentary, and by phase three there will be a direct confrontation with advocates of materialists through challenge conferences in significant academic settings.

In, Being Stalked by Intelligent Design, Pat Shipman takes the opposite stance. He begins by explaining the Dover decision to question the validity of Darwin and evolution in schools. He then takes the stance that Intelligent Design is “religious prejudice disguised as intellectual freedom.” I.D. will therefore harm the teaching of science. Shipman was one of the petitioners of this decision that further caused a trial. He then proclaims that I.D. reasoning is an argument of incredulity, and is therefore inherently weak because you cannot test it. He then points out that science is different from opinion and philosophical belief, which he says I.D. is based upon. He was upset by how a student could opt out of learning evolution with a letter from a parent. He says this constitutes malfeasance. He then goes deeper in the the issues surrounding the debate between the I.D. movement, such as those in support of the Wedge Strategy. In doing so, he praises those who can accept both the existence of God and evolution such as the Bishop of Oxford and Archbishop of Canterbury who see evolution as compatible with the belief in God. He then explores the OSU study on whether students maintain their beliefs after learning supporting and challenging evidence of macroevolution. However, he points out that there is no valid scientific data challenging macroevolution and that this is misleading and this study is miseducating students. He opposes the Center for Science and Culture agenda to encourage students to believe a scientific theory is the same as a philosophical assertion. With regard to the new scientific evidence the Center claims to have for proving I.D., he calls this pure propaganda. He then proclaims that the success of the I.D. is “terrifying”, due in part to the fact that the U.S. is falling behind other nations in mathematics and scientific literacy, and should the I.D. vision come true, this will get even worse. Young people will likely suffer the most as a result of this. He ends by saying the I.D. movement will likely not go away, so it is unwise for scientists to ignore it. In short, the counter-plan for scientists should be “to expose I.D. for what it really is: religious prejudice masked as intellectual freedom.”

Some questions for discussion:

Did Shipman go too far by saying I.D. was “religious prejudice masked as intellectual freedom? Or, did he have good reason for proclaiming such?

Are movements like the Wedge Strategy truly a threat to students’ progress in science and mathematics? Or, can an alternative be discussed without the U.S. falling further behind in math and science?

Is the “evidence” the I.D. movement uses to support their beliefs legitimate, or are they propaganda, like Shipman claims?

Would you be upset, bothered, annoyed etc. if a student were permitted to be excused from science class with a letter from a parent?

Luke Yiannatji

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