Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘SciLine’

Climatologists offer evidence – and encourage action – on climate change

In Government on August 19, 2019 at 7:27 am
An aerial view of flooding at Camp Ashland, Nebraska on March 17, 2019.

An aerial view of the flooding at the Camp Ashland, Nebraska on March 17, 2019, after a Platte River levee broke. Nebraska experienced its worst flooding ever in spring 2019, something climatologists say is likely to become more common under global climate change. Credit: Staff Sgt. Herschel Talley, Nebraska National Guard, via photopin (license).

When you want to learn about climate change, talk people who study climate.

SciLine, the science information service for journalists, did just that. As part of a science essentials boot camp for political reporters, the nonprofit (associated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science) gathered three state climatologists before a Science Center of Iowa audience earlier this month.

The climate mavens from Iowa, Nebraska and North Carolina were unequivocal in their assertion that man-made climate change is real. Doubts among the public, especially farmers, are fading as bouts of extreme weather become more common, they said.

The three experts varied somewhat, however, in their thoughts on how we should respond to the climate change threat. And it seemed to me that the discussion mostly missed the point in a substantial way.

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50 shades of brown: Here’s a chance to hear about Iowa’s manure quandary – and drink beer

In Government, University research on July 31, 2019 at 7:40 am
A map of swine feeding operations in Iowa, with a big concentration in the state's northwest corner.

A map of swine feeding operations in Iowa, with a big concentration in the state’s northwest corner. From Christopher Jones’ presentation to the Iowa Academy of Science.

When it comes to manure, research engineer Christopher Jones of IIHR – Hydrosciences & Engineering at the University of Iowa has a knack for putting quantities and consequences in stark terms.

In blog posts earlier this year, Jones calculated how much animal waste Iowa’s millions of hogs, cattle, chickens and turkeys produce – an amount equivalent to 134 million humans – and where that puts us in the manure hierarchy of U.S. states.

The data caused a stir, with The Des Moines Register and other media playing up the implications. Now you can hear Jones discuss his findings in person.

March for Science Iowa is bringing Jones to West Des Moines’ Twisted Vine Brewery, 3320 Westown Parkway (just off Interstate Highway 235) on Wednesday, August 7, for a discussion over snacks (free), microbrew beer (on your own) and soft drinks. We’ll gather starting at 6:30 and begin the program at 7.

It’s one of two science-driven events worth your attention in the coming week.

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In the Iowa Caucuses campaign, science voters have the power to prod candidates

In Government, STEM on June 17, 2019 at 7:10 am
Science on the Stump journalists Sarah Beckman, Douglas Burns, Brianne Pfannenstiel and Pat Rynard

Sarah Beckman of WOI-TV speaks to the audience at the March for Science Iowa Science on the Stump forum. From left, Douglas Burns, Brianne Pfannenstiel and Pat Rynard listen in. Photo by Joe Sheehan.

For Iowans who care about science – government support for research, using evidence to define policy, and things like addressing climate change and backing vaccine safety – now is the time to speak up.

The caucus campaign gives us a quadrennial opportunity to push for these goals. Candidates – and the reporters who cover them – are listening.

That was one message from Iowa journalists last month at Drake University in Des Moines. They were on the second of two panels gathered for Science on the Stump, hosted by the March for Science Iowa, a nonpartisan group that advocates for evidence-based policy and research in the public interest. I helped organize the event and previously wrote about the first forum, of scientists and science observers.

You can listen to the entire discussion on the March for Science Iowa Facebook page.

The journalists who spoke noted that Iowans often dictate the subjects candidates address when they appear in cafes, barns, auditoriums and living rooms across the state. For example, activists and interested voters have made climate change a key science-related issue.

Reporters, editors and producers also respond to voter feedback, but a lack of science expertise sometimes makes it difficult for them to sift competing claims. Read the rest of this entry »

Just the facts, ma’am (and sir): Website offers valid science to reporters and the public

In STEM on September 3, 2018 at 8:20 am
A page from Science comics, circa 1939, when newspapers warned of a mad scientist rampage – and the president trusted the FBI. Via the Digital Comic Musem.

A page from Science comics, circa 1939, when newspapers warned of a mad scientist rampage – and the president trusted the FBI. Via the Digital Comic Museum.

If you’re looking for it, there’s good science news reporting everywhere. There’s a long list of science blogs (this is only a few), many written by researchers themselves. There also are innumerable podcasts and videos – some authoritative, some not.

But unless you’re seeking such information, you probably won’t see it. Science coverage in general-interest publications, like newspapers, is almost nonexistent. (Exceptions include the USA Today section in Gannett papers around the country, which often has a science story anchoring its cover, and the New York Times Tuesday section.) Most media can no longer afford reporters who specialize in science.

So what’s a local newspaper or television station to do when science issues burst onto the scene? How can they answer readers’ questions about whether the latest flood or wildfire is related to climate change? How can they address the latest discovery at their local university and gauge its importance?

A nascent website, financed through donations grants from foundations, offers those local reporters quick, scientifically valid and understandable explanations on these issues, free of charge. Its organizers were in Iowa recently to promote the effort and attract both reporters and the scientists who can help them.

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