TO: Participants, Joint JPL-USC Meeting, July 13, 2012
FROM: JPL-USC Steering Committee for Cooperation
RE: Reflections on the Meeting – Where Do We Go Next?
[The views expressed in this memo are those of members of the Annenberg School’s Earth Sciences Communication Initiative. It is written for those who attended the July 13 event at our school and those who may be concerned about climate change.]
“How can we increase the articulation and the understanding of the world that we live in and the problems and opportunities of communication? When we think about communication, we are looking at the everyday and transforming it and making it more accessible. We have the potential to bring into birth the separate discourses that we share to create something that is open to the future.”
– G. Thomas Goodnight; Professor, Director of Doctoral Studies (USC Annenberg)
On July 13, 2012, a group of scientists, academics, students, staff members and communication specialists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and from various USC schools and programs, as well as from outside organizations, such as the Aquarium of the Pacific, met to discuss climate issues and the status of science communication. (Please see Appendix A for details of the meeting, participants and their affiliations.) The goals of this meeting, entitled “Communicating Science: Spanning the Widening Gulf,” were three-fold:
- To get acquainted with colleagues who are interested in Earth Science communication;
- To explore specific issues in climate communication;
- To discuss projects and initiatives with a potential to improve science communication in the public sphere.
Some shared views that surfaced during the day:
Many institutions now focus on science communication, and we have a unique opportunity to contribute to this discourse by combining resources at USC and by joining forces with JPL; we can create a collaborative space to complement the efforts of others and define science communication in new, more relevant ways.
Participants agreed that a new paradigm regarding communicating Earth Science is necessary to reach a public that has grown distrustful of experts. Such an approach might present climate change as narratives and place science in a context of lived experience. Scientists need to engage in the narratives of life, integrating concepts of risk and temporality in a manner that is familiar and comfortable to the American public.
A retelling of the story of science, its triumphs and contributions to modern prosperity, would offer the public opportunities to “fall in love with science again.” JPL’s stunning success in space exploration and in translating satellite perspectives has, over the years, generated public support for science in ways unique among institutions. However, given the phenomenon of global warming and what is at stake, socially and economically, the need for trust in science has never been greater. The debate over the human role in nature has steadily regressed this century from rational argument to dominance of an ideology that elevates private gains and nationalist ambitions above global survival.
Participants discussed possible new paths to dismantle Cold War science narratives and replace them with understandable timescales and plausible scientific projections. Today’s communication technologies offer powerful ways to depict and comprehend time and space; they create aesthetic, ethical and spiritual dimensions of storytelling that, if fully employed, can empower scientists to engage with the public on a common ground of reality. Some of the most promising developments include:
Earth-orbiting satellites that give the public a unique global perspective of the Earth from space, combined with gateway technologies that use software to join previously incompatible systems, enabling them to interoperate and connect human networks.
Rich data collection and algorithms that make it possible to generate coherent visions of the biosphere, including computer models and digital images of complex physical associations that allow us to understand what is happening to the climate and why.
Empirical observations, such as ice core analysis and ecological field studies, now yield data that can be assimilated with model grid points to create breathtaking depictions of past, present and projected climates. The public can experience realistic, immersive scenarios that depict consequences of actions.
The development of such tools renders the previously invisible world visible. The limitations of time and space fall away, basic concepts of Earth Science become understandable, and both risks and temporality become narrative based. Scientists can use imagery to help the public comprehend probabilities and causation; the immense impact of visualizations through art and entertainment can change public attitudes and behaviors.
The combination of JPL’s resources with the wide variety of scholars and practitioners at USC provide a unique and complementary space for research and development of projects that can focus on the singular characteristics of the U.S. Southwest. Thanks to the increasing strength of climate models, research can highlight the region’s particular vulnerability to drought and sea level change, as well as threats to its food production, public health and complex ecological systems.
For some time, JPL and USC have cooperated at many levels through various departments and schools, much of it due to JPL’s Strategic University Research Partnership Program, which collaborates with universities to provide accelerated innovation and discover new science and technology opportunities. This process could be extended to science communication. Furthermore, the diversity of the group at the July 13 meeting indicated possibilities for multidisciplinary research and combined education projects, including formation of undergraduate minors and supplementary programs. Another opportunity for cooperation would be through joint participation in public events and the possibility that such events themselves could become experiments in science communication.
It was agreed that since climate topics overlap so many disciplines, they deserve a focal point within the university, either within one school, within the Provost’s office or as a “floater,” a unit that would coordinate grants for multidisciplinary projects and act as a hub for activities at USC that deal with climate change.
More information on strengthening cooperation at USC on climate topics and establishing closer ties between USC and JPL can be found in the appendices below.
-Larry Pryor, Associate Professor, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
APPENDIX A: Details of the July 13 Meeting
The July 13 meeting started at 11 a.m. in Room 240 at the Annenberg School. A total of 30 persons took part. Participants sat at or near joined tables that squared the room, which allowed for lively face-to-face discussion. The morning session concluded with a summary of speakers’ remarks by Tom Goodnight. (Please see his comments in Appendix D.) We broke for lunch at 1 p.m. but participants brought food back to the table at 1:30 and continued to talk until 3:30.
The meeting was documented on a Tumblr site created for the occasion. The site, which has more information about JPL-USC cooperation, can be found at http://communicatingscience.tumblr.com/
The meeting notice and agenda asked the participants to address these topics:
- How could we at USC coordinate at the university level to explore ways to reverse the growing disconnect between science and the public;
- How could we pool our resources in such realms as education, public policy, psychology, politics, media, arts and entertainment, to name only a few, to make a difference?
- How could JPL help to enrich USC’s curriculum, as well as aid our work to improve science communication? In turn, how could USC contribute to JPL’s many programs that seek to raise public awareness of Earth Sciences?
- Opening Remarks / Logistics and Rules: Larry Pryor, Annenberg
- Tumblr Moderator: Charisse L’Pree, Psychology
- Welcome: G. Thomas Goodnight, Annenberg
- Welcome: Laura Faye Tenenbaum, JPL
- Introductory Remarks by Speakers (4 minutes each)
- Summary of Speakers’ Remarks: Tom Goodnight
- Buffet Lunch: 20 Minute Break. (Participants return to ASC 240 with food and drink)
- Round Table Discussion by Speakers [Aspen Rules] Moderator: Jeremy Rosenberg, Annenberg
- Open Discussion by All Participants
- Small-Group Breakouts (Optional)
Meeting participants said ways should be found to span the physical distance between JPL’s campus near Pasadena and USC’s downtown Los Angeles campus. Some agreed-on possible next steps to strengthen cooperation are:
Holding a joint JPL-USC event in mid-January in the Annenberg School’s East Lobby and Auditorium. This would be a student-oriented event, with a participatory, visual theme and exhibits from JPL. The event is tentatively termed ClimatePalooza. (This could serve as a template for a more substantive, but still vibrant and offbeat Visions & Voices offering in 2013-14.)
Encourage USC students to take advantage of internships at JPL and Post Doc opportunities now funded at JPL.
Explore opportunities for JPL scientists and communication specialists to participate with USC faculty by means of guest lectureships, adjunct instruction, team teaching and joint research projects. Further steps could include developing an online certificate program to be aimed at teachers in K-12 classes and development of a co-branded USC-JPL undergraduate minor in climate communication. Opportunities for co-publishing might also grow from active collaboration.
Other projects discussed include setting up media training events for scientists, such as one-day crash courses taught by media specialists at Annenberg that would involve, in part, critiques of taped interviews and a mock press conference conducted by journalism students and faculty. This activity could also be expanded to include services to professional journalists to help them negotiate the changes in technique and sourcing that are required to cover complex climate topics.
Beyond these steps, the hope is that if we begin engagement, more possibilities will open up. We need time to find out what we want.
From the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- Joshua Fisher
- Michael Greene
- Mike Gunson
- Neil Murphy
- Bill Patzert
- David Seidel
- Laura Faye Tenenbaum
From Across USC
- Regula and Douglas Campbell (Architecture)
- Sarah Feakins (Earth Sciences)
- Edward Finegan (School of Law, Center for Excellence in Teaching)
- Anna Gordon (Biology Lab Summer Intern)
- Phyllis Grifman (Sea Grant Program)
- Patricia Harcourt (Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies)
- Charisse L’Pree (Psychology)
- Andrew Lakoff (Sociology)
- Myrna Jacobson Meyers (Biology)
- Suzanne Wu (University Communications)
From the Aquarium of the Pacific:
- Jim Fawcett
- Emily Yam
- Lori Perkins
From the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism:
- Sandra de Castro Buffington (Norman Lear Center)
- G. Thomas Goodnight (Communications)
- Stephen O’Leary (Communications)
- Michael Parks (Journalism)
- Larry Pryor (Journalism)
- Flemming Rhoda (Communications)
- Matthew Rose (Norman Lear Center)
- Jeremy Rosenberg (Dean’s Office)
From the Annenberg School for Communication – University of Pennsylvania:
- John Christensen
APPENDIX B: JPL-Annenberg Steering Committee Meeting Notes 5/14/12
The following are excerpts from notes that came out of a JPL-USC meeting held on May 14 that led to the July 13 meeting. The references to what JPL and USC might offer each other through cooperation provide context for the subsequent July meeting.
Roles: We discussed the organizational strengths that JPL and USC have to contribute to our affiliation. Both institutions have strong brands and public support for their missions.
What JPL offers: Sound science, communications expertise, potential USC faculty members, extensive experience in data visualization and imagery, satellite perspectives and rich data. NASA and JPL support internships and graduate/post-doctorate positions, as well as K-12 educational development programs and public outreach. JPL has long been a world leader in Earth Science and space exploration.
What USC/Annenberg offers: A focus on the public sphere and public deliberation, ethics, values, and norms of public controversy, as well as expertise in new media and social networks. By combining research with practicum, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has become a leader in multimedia digital applications. The school’s strengths and opportunities include access to strategic public relations and public diplomacy specialists, as well as to the school’s many motivated students.
Academic possibilities: In talks, both informally starting last fall and now increasingly formal, JPL and Annenberg representatives have discussed adjunct-teaching and team-teaching opportunities for JPL personnel at Annenberg and elsewhere at USC. This would include their involvement at Annenberg in jointly produced and branded distance-learning projects aimed at K-12 teachers, undergraduate educators, and at scientists and journalists.
Cooperation on Websites: JPL already has a successful, award-winning Website devoted to climate change. The Annenberg Earth Science Communication Initiative will also host a Website. The two sites will be independent but interlinked and might co-publish appropriate content. The two sites are likely to have distinctive approaches to subject matter. JPL emphasizes science and science communication, as well as data visualization and imagery. Annenberg’s site will deal with risk analysis rhetoric, political economy, information technology and journalism ethics.
Narrative themes that could be shared by JPL and Annenberg include:
- Retelling the story of science (Commitment, accomplishment, contributions to humanity);
- Defining norms of public participation and rational information. (Civility, rhetoric, argumentation, empirical accuracy, data analysis, epistemology, ontology);
- The use of the arts, metaphor, entertainment platforms, fiction/science fiction and other cultural forums to reach diverse audiences.
APPENDIX C: A New Emphasis on Science Communication at the Annenberg School
The Earth Science Communication Initiative is an emerging, cross-USC group of scientists, social researchers, students and educators interested in the communication of science in the public sphere.
It will investigate the implications of basing science communication on narratives. This approach opens ethical, values-laden, epistemological, rhetorical and theological issues. It puts a focus on the link between rationality and nature. It also opens the way for analysis that takes into account values embedded in possible definitions of risk and moves beyond arbitrary cost-benefit analysis to highlight threats to ecosystems on which societies depend for their survival. By valuing non-measurable outcomes, such as social wellbeing and resilience, the public can engage in a debate based on reality, rather than false dichotomies.
The Annenberg School has a unique capability to examine news events, policy formation and lawmaking as it relates to greenhouse gas mitigation and sustainability. The school combines communication research with journalism and strategic public relations practice, as well as public diplomacy. These strengths enable support within the school for an array of peer-reviewed journals, Websites and innovative student news outlets. The Earth Sciences Communication Initiative will expand its Tumblr site this fall into a Website with the capability to analyze and offer timely discussion of climate issues and science communication. It will provide fact-checking and evaluation of claims made by all sides of the climate debate. Blogs will critique energy advertising, non-peer reviewed studies and statements by public figures and blog authors. The goals will be to elevate norms of public argument and media accuracy, encourage rational discussion and dispel the myths, misinformation and conspiracy theories that now poison civility.
APPENDIX D: Summary Comments by Prof. G. Thomas Goodnight
The following is an edited transcript of Tom Goodnight’s summary of many of the points raised by speakers at the July 13 meeting.
G. Thomas Goodnight:
Science and communication should be mutually engaged. Our challenge is to find expression sufficient to address novel circumstances where the successes of industrial societies now undo or impair sustainable life on the planet. It is true that communication is a means to an end. Science is served well by effective journalistic and public relations practices; however, there is more. Communication is a capacity, too, that must be renewed to speak about environmental conditions that are unfamiliar but coming to fruition. In such times, science and communication may join in the search for grounding narratives that re-imagine and articulate generational changes necessary for the productive understanding, dissemination, and address of nature.
We need to combine the two fields and the shared problematics; once you find out what you want to do, you begin engagement and new concepts. This is more than the public understanding of science; although there are deliberate misunderstandings of science. … The question is how to increase the articulation and the understanding of the world that we live in and the problems and opportunities of communication.
For example, one problem with the oceans is how they are seen; how do you make visible the state of the ocean, both the particularities of the ocean (e.g., plastic, aquatic life) and the abstractions of data into meaningful spaces? Gaming has potential, but iterations of visibility are essential. How do you construct stories and how are they treated in series; how do you create new episodes, how do you think of communication as an ongoing set of interests and problems to be overcome?
Temporality is essential; how do you make human timescales appreciate the Pleistocene era? How do you create communication links that enable time travel in an experiential way? More than that, when you create these links, what role does fiction play in alternative futures or in the past; how do you work with fictions that are spectacular and variable and offer different kinds of experience?
Part of what we are working on is the aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual – the design, the habits of living. One of the things to think about is stories of society and what upcoming generations will write within those narratives. … So when we think about communication, we are looking at the every day and transforming it and making it more accessible.
We are looking to work on an imaginary vision of pasts and alternative futures by which we can transform the marvelous data – breathtaking – that is being gathered. How do we take these visual narratives and connect them to context and events? How do you use them to teach? Hundreds of people will be coming into science communication, and you will see that interest, but how do you translate interest into a collective enterprise that continues to foster interest?
In the public sphere, evidence involves a concern with methods and interpretative schemes to teach people what they are seeing. Political economy is the language we need to start thinking about, as well as the institutional location of narratives; what can we offer each other that essentially would help us participate in the political economy of science communication and education and changing human habits of design and occupation? We share a moment of global change that will continue to drive the study of communication, political economy and policy related to the environment and energy.
When we ask ourselves what a Southwest program on science communication might have to offer, we are looking at connections between local spaces and cities and moving that worldwide. National conferences and international organizations matter, but there is a local/regional response. A group, for example, that would share this location in LA with its desert and Mediterranean climates and the ocean would create a unique and complementary space. Think about what scene we occupy and the institutional interests that overlap.
With Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center, we can learn about taking the themes and problems into the world of fiction in ways that expand the narrative to create spaces for reconnection with nature. Consider comparative urban stories, how Tokyo architecture is connecting with nature, as do Shinto and alternative narratives. Look at Chicago city parks.
We have the potential to bring into birth the separate discourses that we share to create something that is open to the future.