Volunteer opportunity turned into a big win for SkS and students!

At the end of May we published our Call for Help in order to find volunteers who'd be willing to fix broken links in our rebuttals and add references of published papers to our glossary. In this blog post we'll focus on what happened for the 2nd of our volunteer opportunities, the glossary entries.


It didn't take long for the first applications to arrive and in early June we received an email from Tara Holland, who teaches climate change at Simon Fraser University in Canada. Tara had the neat idea to encourage her students to apply for the task and to turn this into one option for the final assignment of the summer semester which - incidentally - was about climate communication. What a perfect fit and intriguing suggestion!

The Assignment

We quickly agreed that from the two tasks available, identifying and adding references to our glossary was the best fit for Tara's students to work on. Within a couple of days of her making the announcement in class we started to receive their applications. Once the deadline for submissions had passed we set up a Zoom-call, so that we could get to know each other. We also used that call to explain in more detail what the task involved and what the expectations were. The students then had a few days to decide whether or not to do this assignment and we ended up with a group of six who set out to work.

The assignment for the students included adding at least 20 glossary entries each and to also write a short reflection upon completion of the task. Most of the students did more than they were asked for and all told identified and added about 170 references to our glossary. In order to identify entries to add, they read through 50 of our rebuttals and - as a first step - collected the papers' titles via the links to published papers found in the rebuttals. These were added to an ever growing shared spreadsheet.

While the students were gatherig these data, Doug was busy putting together a query which would help with the assembly of the actual content of the glossary entry. This involved querying UnPaywall and CrossRef and eventually produced a text file for each student from which they could easily fill the glossary via copy & paste. As this was obviously a lot more involved than is possible to go into here, we'll leave that story for another blog post!

Another volunteer

In addition to Tara’s students, Marc Kodack, a retired Department of the Army civilian, had volunteered to work on this task in parallel to the students. In his application, Marc had given the following as a reason for helping: “[..] I want to provide assistance to strengthen your current efforts to bring the science behind climate change to the general public. Fixing/updating references in rebuttals is part of the strengthening of the underlying science and it’s the academic process of "doing" science.” And help he did! He single-handedly added 130 references to our glossary thus far and in addition provided a lot of additional feedback via the Google-form we link to at the bottom of each rebuttal. We’ll still have to sift through the long list this generated, hopefully with Marc’s help as he already agreed to join our team!


A random sample of newly added glossary entries


Adding all these glossary entries has been an obvious win for us, but what did the students gain from the experience? Judging from the reflections they sent in as part of their assigment, quite a lot! In the following paragraphs, we are sharing some snippets with the students' permission.

Mengjia Chen

"[...] I learned a lot from completing this assignment. Due to the word limitation, it is hard for me to explain all references in detail. However, the big difference between the Skeptical Science assignment and the regular class assignment is I could read more journal articles or papers. During the reading, I found out that I had some misconceptions that were the same as mentioned in the rebuttal articles. During the process of adding glossaries, those studies well answered my questions and curiosity. I also realized that how important to have a website to lead people to have a correct understanding of the topics related to climate change. Nowadays, more and more people rely on social mediate or online materials to access information. Therefore, I think I am doing a meaningful thing, which better helps myself and others to conveniently access the original papers or texts to get further information to correct people’s common climate change misconceptions."

Shania Cheung

"[...] The first takeaway I obtained from assisting in the glossary curation for Skeptical Science was the knowledge I gained from reading through a number of climate change myths and rebuttals I was previously unfamiliar with. My participation provided the opportunity for me to learn and understand under what conditions I most optimally learn and work at. I found that having clear instructions and deadlines provided very early on helps me plan and organize my time better. [...] [I]nstead of feeling pressured to fulfill certain criteria to achieve a good grade, my learning experience was much more enjoyable and fulfilling, in which this is also due to the fact that my contributions were helping the team at Skeptical Science."

Wan Yi (Cynthia) Huang

"[...] I also learned about this website and generally how entering information through software to a website works. I am not very good at anything technical, so I don’t think that is something I would’ve learned in other assignments. It was a very interesting experience, and it deepened my appreciation for the countless journals about climate change."

Uyen (Katherine) Vu

"[...] I’m in the end so glad that I chose Skeptical Science volunteering project as an alternative to the class assignment. Skeptical Science’s volunteer definitely required a lot more work and effort, but the experience also really rewarding. To begin with, I feel truly thankful that Skeptical Science volunteer project gave me a chance to be more involved during the online learning period where I have a chance to give back and contribute to such meaningful work of helping people to become more aware, more knowledgeable and have more attention on Climate Change. I believe this is a long-term benefit that many people at my age will definitely enjoy, care and take action to protect our climate as well as our future. Moreover, I ‘m myself able to gain many benefits, improve my knowledge, build up my unique experience on my journey with Skeptical Science. I enjoy it so much that I‘ve never once felt like schoolwork, but more like a fun thing to do when I have time. The experience was amazing! Lastly, Climate Change, one of my big interest topics from the start, and Skeptical Science gave me a chance to work closely with what I’m interested in, so I always have my motivation up.

Besides, I think I’m able to learn the most from Skeptical Science not just on Climate Change issues, impacts, strategies, … but also what is trendy in Climate Change, what people are most concerned about and those popular misconceptions that people may have on Climate Change in general.

My decision helping Skeptical Science so far was the best decision I’ve made this term. I believe what I receive from this experience is actually much bigger what I gave. If I have chances in the future, I still would love to help when they needed."

Xilin Wan

"[...] I am glad to volunteer with SkepticalScience to add glossary entries and help more people access academic sources and correct information about climate change. This volunteer experience allows me to further understand the significance of communication about climate change because popular unreliable sources can affect people’s perception of climate change. During this process, I have reviewed several rebuttals and explored the academic references that break some climate myths such as sea-level rise, climate change, and economic impacts on carbon pricing. These rebuttals not only provide further information on the topics covered in lectures, but also dip into the other unique impacts and perspectives of global warming. [...] Besides that, the comments section of SkepticalScience is an online forum where people can interact with others who have different opinions or further supporting resources about the rebuttals. Since science is dynamic, the discussion and interactions urge me to consider climate change and its impacts critically rather than follow the lectures and instructions to finish the “regular” class assignments."


What started with a "we are looking for help" blog post, turned - as far as I can tell - into a win-win for us and Tara's students. Some of them enjoyed the activity so much, that they plan to keep working on this task and to also branch out into other activities like translating selected content into other languages. How neat is that?!?

Let me end with a big THANK YOU to all who volunteered to help with this - admittedly at least partially - tedious task! Thanks to your enthusiasm and engagement, this turned into a very satisfying project to help organize and run!

Posted by BaerbelW on Tuesday, 17 August, 2021

Creative Commons License The Skeptical Science website by Skeptical Science is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.