Disseminating science via social media

Even though much of our society and even our very lives is built upon and made possible through scientific advances, there is a significant anti-science bias in the United States–coming from people across the political spectrum.

One way to try and overcome this bias is for scientists to communicate directly (and understandably) with the general public–rather than stay within the scholarly communication cycle (which provides more rewards in academia).  Beyond writing for newspapers, popular magazines, doing interviews, etc., some scientists have also turned to social media as a way to reach the public.

Here, building an audience is key; is there a threshold beyond which the communication reaches more non-scientists?

A recent study “analyzed the Twitter followers of more than 100 faculty members in ecology and evolutionary biology.”  For those who had less than 1,000 followers, the majority of those followers were other scientists–an average of 60%.  But, once scientists’ Twitter accounts broke through the 1,000 follower level, “the range of follower types became more diverse and included research and educational organizations, media, and members of the public with no stated association with science.”  The greater the number of non-scientist followers, the reach of the scientists’ Twitter accounts increased exponentially “because those [non-scientist] Twitter accounts typically had larger followings than scientist-run accounts.”

Read the article (Jeffrey Brainard, Science, August 3, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of social media, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.


Why is it so hard to change people’s minds?

It’s Thanksgiving, your family is gathered uncomfortably around the turkey, and your uncle is loudly lecturing you about why climate change is a complete myth perpetuated by socialist radicals.  You, in turn, present a well-reasoned response complete with hard facts and clear examples showing the scientific consensus that climate change is, in  fact, happening right now (as torrential rain pours down outside).  Your uncle is unmoved; why won’t he change his mind?

“Addiction specialists figured out a long time ago that lecturing an addict about all the terrible things drugs and alcohol can do is unlikely to work” … unlikely to “scare them into taking action to curb their addiction.”

Why?  And, what has this to do with your uncle and his opinion about climate change or vaccinations and autism or the health benefits of radium or trickle-down economics or the motives and accomplishments of a politician, etc.?

People do not abuse drugs or alcohol “because of rational thought processes, the reward value of substances for addicts is overwhelming and the suffering from substance withdrawal is intolerable.”  The brain regions involved “are the basis for habit and emotion, not reason.”

So, what about your uncle?  “It turns out that holding onto an irrational idea that is the basis for membership in a group functions much in the same way as an addictive drug.”  Agreeing with the group beings reward (increased dopamine release).  Defying the group “stimulates many of the same brain regions that fire during drug withdrawal.”

So, even though evidence piles up against a belief–and a rational response would be to reconsider an opinion–it is very hard for an individual to do that especially if the belief is deeply held, or for another person to cause that to happen.

But, there are techniques that have worked “to help addicts change their behavior” and may work to convince people to change their minds.

Read the article (Sara Gorman and Jack M. Gorman, Psychology Today, November 7, 2017).

For more information about psychology, the impacts of social media, and technological deception, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

A change in diet can help mitigate climate change

It’s already known that corporate agriculture and “the global food system is a major driver of climate change, land-use change, and biodiversity loss” as well as depletion of fresh water and pollution and ecological damage through fertilizer runoff.

Certain kinds of agriculture though are especially damaging and, despite western preferences and even government subsidies, meat and dairy production are particularly resource-intensive.

The concern is that as global population approaches 10 billion by 2050 and incomes rise in some formerly less developed nations, more people will choose “meat-rich western diets.”  To a point that may be positive; people “who are undernourished need to eat a little more meat and dairy.”  But, not in western nations; for example, “UK and US citizens need to cut beef by 90% and milk by 60% while increasing beans and nuts/seeds between 4 and 6 times.”  This “flexitarian” diet (less beef, less pork, fewer eggs, much more beans, nuts, and seeds) could “halve emissions from livestock.”  That, and technological changes in farming practices–how manure is managed, more universal water storage, “far more careful use of fertilizers”, etc.–will help further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to agriculture.

A positive is that the needed diet and technological changes “are already being implemented somewhere in the world.”  But, “global change is needed.”

The evidence is now unequivocal–we need to change our diets if we are to have a sustainable future.  The fact that it will also make us healthier makes it a no-brainer.”

Read the article; see the graphic (Damian Carrington, The Guardian, October 10, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change and attempts to adapt and mitigate, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

The consequences of warming half a degree; and the courage to chart a new future

The recent IPCC report described the consequences of the Earth warming 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.  The Earth has already warmed 1 degree C since the 1800’s.

How big of a problem is half a degree more?  It’s huge!

See this article and graphic for a look at the consequences.

Keep in mind that the Earth will warm more than 1.5 degrees C.  That target was the aspiration of the Paris climate negotiations in 2015.  But, nations won’t meet that target.  “Holding warming to 1.5 degrees C would entail a staggering transformation of the global energy system beyond what world leaders are contemplating today.  Global greenhouse emissions would need to fall in half in just 12 years and zero out by 2050.”  “Virtually all of the coal plants and gasoline-burning vehicles on the planet would need to be quickly replaced with zero-carbon alternatives.”

Current national/international efforts are more consistent with an increase of 3.1 to 3.7 degrees C by 2100.  Keep that in mind when looking at the enormous consequences of 1.5 degrees C.

“Each time the Earth heats up an extra half degree, the effects aren’t uniform across the planet.  Some regions, such as the Arctic, will heat up 2 to 3 times faster.”  “The number of extremely hot days around the world … tends to rise exponentially as the global average temperature increases.”

The bottom line is that changes fueled by climate change are happening now especially in places like the United States.  They will continue to happen and will get worse.  But, we still have an opportunity individually and collectively to mitigate and adapt to the consequences.  That opportunity will require courage and bravery.  We can’t look to and live in the past.  It’s not about making something great again.  It’s about making a new future that is more responsive to the planet we live on.  It’s an opportunity; we need to take it.  It’s happening to us right now.

(Brad Plumer, Nadja Popovich, and Iris Gottlieb, New York Times, October 7, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change and attempts to adapt and mitigate, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.



100 years later, we are even more vulnerable to an influenza pandemic

100 years ago–in 1918–a global influenza pandemic killed 20 million to 50 million people worldwide; perhaps 20% to 33% of all people living at that time were infected.

100 years later, medical science has advanced tremendously in many ways and we have regular flu vaccines.  However, despite all that, “we are much more vulnerable today to a catastrophic influenza pandemic than we were in 1918.”

Why?  Compared to 1918, the global population has increased by at least 3 times.  For the vast majority of the world, crowded living conditions are worse.

And, while we do have regular flu vaccines today, the effectiveness of the vaccines is limited.  Plus, much of the world has no quick access to flu vaccines.  And, if vaccines continue to be made with eggs, distribution won’t improve and they will continue “to have only a limited impact.”

Also, “we are extremely vulnerable today to any disruption in international trade in lifesaving medicines and medical devices.”  “The vast majority of drugs that we use in [the United States] come from China.”  “There are no stockpiles [of drugs] anywhere.”  If China was affected by a pandemic or some other disaster or was disposed not to assist due to politics and this trade was impacted, “the collateral damage from people dying of all kinds of medical conditions will far exceed even the first months’ mortality associated with the flu.”

What is one large barrier to preparing adequately for a possible flu pandemic?  Science literacy … “so much antiscience has become the mainstay for how we make decisions.  You can’t do anything about … response to any of these issues if you don’t have a population that is willing to support them.”

Read the interview with Dr. Michael Osterholm (Rebecca Voelker, JAMA, September 28, 2018).

For more information about medical advances and preparedness, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.


Seeking information about a science topic–where do you go? Who do you trust?


Take the short survey (click the link above) … when you are looking for information about a science topic, where do you go?  And, which source/tool do you trust the most?

Much of our day-to-day society–globally–is based on the fruits and sometimes the hard lessons of scientific research.  The things we can do on a daily basis, the foods we eat, the tools we have available to us, the ways we can communicate,  the ways we travel, the ways we work, the ways we reproduce, and on and on … literally our entire lives (and even the ends of our lives) are all made available to us through scientific research.

Yet, at a time  when the world grapples with the sober realities of increasing climate change, when diseases thought controlled once again spread across countries and kill thousands, when the short-term view gains ascendancy among the power class, when people need to really understand challenges and options, then the communication of science needs to be as clear and straightforward as possible … and people likewise need to make extra effort to look behind the headlines and really understand the issues, the options, and the trade-offs.

Please take the survey and help us to understand the paths and preferences of the communication of science information.  Thank you!

(Kevin Engel, October 7, 2018)