How can scientists use web videos to communicate climate science?

Let’s face it: not every scientist is a potential David Attenborough, David Suzuki or Carl Sagan. Such supernovae are rare in any field.

But in this digital age, most scientists can use online platforms and simple digital tools to communicate directly with the public and/or policy makers. At least some scientists try to tap this potential — and we are grateful.

The World Resources Institute (WRI), a respected non-profit research and advocacy group, is currently trying to understand “how recent climate science discoveries can best be communicated via video”.

With support from Google, and with the help of three climate scientists, WRI has recently produced 3 different video types in order to test which works best. They are currently on display on their website, with a request for readers to vote and comment:

1. “A webcam talk” uses a self-recorded video of the scientist discussing his findings

2. “A conversation” uses a slideshow with a voiceover of the scientist discussing his findings

3. “A whiteboard talk” is a professionally shot video of the scientist in front of whiteboard discussing his findings

Here is the comment I submitted: the challenges WRI face are common and widely shared. And I do have some experience covering climate and other complex science and environmental stories across Asia for the visual and print media.

First, thanks for asking — and for exploring best public engagement method, which most technical experts and their organisations don’t bother to do.

Second, Andy Dessler comes across as an eager expert — not all scientists are! Some are visibly condescending and disdainful in doing ‘public’ talks that they immediately put off non-technical audiences.

Third, the options you’ve presented above are NOT mutually exclusive. For best results, you can mix them.

Webcam method is helpful, but people don’t want to see any talking head for more than a few seconds at a time. They want to see WHO is talking, and also WHAT is being talked about. The images in Conversation method come in here.

I realise webcams are usually set up inside buildings, but visually speaking the more interesting backdrops are in the open. In this case, if Andy Dessler were to record his remarks outdoors, on a clear and sunny day with some clouds in the far background sky, that would have been great!

I’m personally less convinced about Whiteboard Talk: many in your audience probably don’t want to be lectured to, or be reminded of college days. I would avoid that.

More about my work at http://www.tveap.org/

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