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Help close the consensus gap using social media

Posted on 20 May 2013 by Matt Birdoff

Over the last few days, there has been intense interest in our consensus paper and The Consensus Project website. The fact that the paper has been reported widely in mainstream media across the world is an important step towards reducing the gaping chasm between public perception of scientific consensus and the 97% reality. Having President Obama tweet about our paper to over 31 million followers (with 2,400+ retweets!) will certainly help close the consensus gap.

revised gap

However, as the above Consensus Gap graph shows, it will take a broad, persistent effort to reduce this misperception. To contribute to this effort, our team at SJI Associates (who put together the amazing Consensus Project website) will continue to work on eye-grabbing, compelling graphics. These graphics are designed to be shared through social media - on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

This is a key part of our communications strategy, and could be a powerful way to reach people and make a significant impact, if we can get our messages to go viral. But in order for the social media to be successful, it will take the full participation of the engaged community to help spread the word, so we're asking for everyone's help. 

Share and like our page and posts from Facebook. And follow us on Twitter and retweet our tweets. 

Initially we'll be focusing on communicating the level of consensus across published papers, and then the scientists themselves, but as time moves on we'll be expanding that message in order to keep it fresh and engaging (there are only so many times and ways you can say "97% level of consensus" before it gets repetitive). We already have some intriguing ideas in the planning stages, but in addition to those campaigns, we'll also be creating easily adaptable templates so that we can respond instantly to timely events when appropriate. 

As posts containing graphics are more likely to be noticed and reposted, visual style and simplicity of message are key. One part of the project that has been challenging is boiling down the complex message into the simplest, boldest one possible. Our firm's mantra has long been "The fewer words, the better." when it comes to advertising, and this has been proven to be an effective strategy in the complex media landscape we live in. I'm often teased for seeking out the one-word headline as the Holy Grail—sometimes we even get there. It's my hope that in the future, when we look back on The Consensus Project and write the summary of it, I'll be able to write that one-word headline. 


But we'll need everyone's help to get there.

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. For some time now I'm convinced this issue needs a more skillful aproach - PR wise.

    Documents like that joint statement from academies of science are not nearly enough to reach the broader audience. Only a few climate geeks get to read it.

    Simple and direct messages are much more suitable for this kind of task. If you could get the endorsement of a few top-rank climate research insitutions, it could be even better (GISS? NOAA? Hadley Center?). I don't think it's beyond the reach of the SkS community.

    This project is definetely a step in the right direction. I wish you success.

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  2. I think SkS does this job very good. Perhaps the issue of polluting without paying a price to it should be compared to avoiding taxation at the expense of others, but again, I am not sure about public perception of this as some people do think that avoiding taxation is good and not a cheating on others.

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  3. Well, here is my latest Huffington Post article with my attempt to generate climate awareness.  It is the complete text of the dramatic climate policy speech we all want Obama to make.  It's gotten some buzz in the climate world and I am hoping folks will share it enough so that it comes to the attention of Pres. Obama himself.  Here it is:

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  4. Okay- think I got the hyper-link inserted now:

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  5. dagold at 05:22 AM on 21 May, 2013


    Not likely, I know, but I wish there were more people dreaming of the right things...

    Already liked on Facebook.

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  6. Hey, Alexandre:  Yes, sometimes I think it is necessary to 'leap ahead' and at least put the 'picture' out there of what we want to help bring about.  Not in any way, shape or form to compare anything I do or say or write to MLK, but his 'I have a Dream' speech sort of did that.

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  7. Will the consensus project website be made available in different languages (similarly to some of the SkS material)?

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  8. Why is it important to convince people of scientific consensus?

    Also just what do scientist intend to do to reverse the earths thremostat? Convince world governments to implement taxation so the brunt of the co2 reduction is aimed at the population that can least afford it? Or preventing less advanced countries from increased living standards?  Mybe go to war with countries that refuse to limit co2 output?

    suppose for a moment that the earth is warming at an alarming rate but turns out that it is not humans causing the increase or we are not the primary driver.

    Will we just throw up our hands and walk away?

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  9. user6244,

    1. Why is it important?  The problem can be mitigated by personal and public action.  

    2. Scientists won't do anything other than their research that points out the problem and their own carbon choices.  Engineers will do something, if the political will demands that they do so.

    3. Not liking one possible method of making people more responsible is not a good reason to discard the science that's pointing out the problem.

    4. Humans not causing the increase?  Possible, but not probable.  There are threads on this site that are more appropriate, but the short version is this: our emissions are a fact, not an opinion.  No matter what mechanism you come up with for the increase in atmospheric CO2, it must account for human emissions and no observed increase in volcanic activity.  At any rate, such conjecture is not a good reason for inaction.  The cancer analogy is useful: you have $300k in your bank account.  Life is sweet right now.  You get a terminal cancer diagnosis. You get a total of ten opinions.  Nine say terminal cancer.  One says indigestion.  You say: "well, it could be indigestion.  If I accept the cancer diagnosis, then my whole life will be screwed up.  I'll want to enjoy the six months I have left, so I'll quit my job and drain my bank account.  I think it's indigestion."  Wise?  By the time the cancer becomes obvious, it will be too late to enjoy the remining time.  Not a perfect analogy, of course, because AGW is not terminal.  It's like what happens to someone who kicks Moose Molloy in the groin.  Moose might accidentally kill the person, but most likely he'll slap the person upside the head for about three weeks.


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  10. My earlier post got deleted.


    I am trying to point out why it doesnt really matter what is causing the climate to change.

    Instead we need to focus on methods to turn it around if the dire predictions are correct.


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  11. Actually, it does very much matter why.  If we know why, then we know what to expect in general.  We know the trend isn't going to go into long-term reverse -- not for a very long time.

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