How to talk about climate change with a denier

While ranting and complaining about climate change deniers and denialism is perhaps cathartic, it may not be the most effective way to bring about change. Luckily, Science Friday and NPR have a fantastic piece about how to talk about climate change with a denier (and here is a link to the full podcast):

Many of us have debated the threat of climate change with our friends, family, and strangers on the internet. But not everyone believes that anthropogenic climate change exists or views it as a problem relevant to their everyday lives. And, as we’ve seen lately in the political world, facts aren’t always enough.

Luckily, we recently invited a panel of climate scientists, a psychologist, and a couple callers to join us on Science Friday and share advice on how to have a conversation about climate change that could change a skeptic’s mind. Here are their tips:

For thermal sciences professor John Abraham, climate change’s relevance to the average person doesn’t come down to cute and cuddly animals from far-off places. It comes down to the real changes that are happening in people’s backyards.

“I will talk about wildfires in Tennessee that are affecting Americans’ lives this winter. I will talk about the drought in California, which is the worst in 1,200 years. I’ll talk about the changes to habitat for hunters, fishermen, and farmers. These people’s lives are being affected by climate change. And when you can bring the impacts to their lives, it’s a much more compelling case to be made.”

“The fact of the matter is, solar and wind production costs have dropped incredibly over the past three decades,” said Abraham. “And they’re still dropping. And they’re now almost on par with coal.

“So if we can have energy that is clean at the same price as the dirty energy, well, it’s just a no-brainer: Throw the climate change and the polar bears out the window. You just make the decision based on economics.”

“My argument that I used with my family was spinning the morals that they put on me as a child against them,” said Amber, who called in during the show. She told them: “You always told me to take care of stuff and to leave something better than what I was presented with. So if I’m presented with the earth, then I need to leave it better than as you gave it to me. And it’s my earth, so I need to take care of it.

“And if you want to throw in religion, you could also say because God created Earth. So when I presented it that way, all of a sudden, there wasn’t much of an argument.

“We take care of our earth. End of discussion.”

Barriers For Women Today May Be Less Visible, But Not Less Real

YES, THIS IS STILL AN ISSUE. We discuss frequently the inequalities for women in science (most recently, here, here, here and here). This isn’t a thing of the past, but very much a reality. Read the entire NPR article:

Last month, I wrote a review of Eileen Pollack’s The Only Woman in the Room, a memoir about Pollack’s experiences as a physics major at Yale in the 1970s.

It’s no secret that women are still underrepresented in science and engineering, and my own piece cited a statistic from 2015: that women make up fewer than 25 percent of physics majors today.

So I was surprised by a theme that emerged in comments to the article, both on Facebook and on 13.7.

“Outdated story,” claimed the first comment on NPR’s Facebook page. “Those poor women being held back by……..NOTHING…..” wrote a reader on the blog. Some readers seemed to dismiss women’s underrepresentation as a thing of the past, or an issue of women’s own making. (Though one astute reader pointed out: “Funny, but none of the comments saying that this isn’t an actual issue and nothing’s holding women in physics back were written by women in physics.”)

In fact, women do continue to be underrepresented in a variety of fields, including many in science and engineering. And the barriers they face are (still) very real. How, then, could anyone believe otherwise?

It’s difficult to identify the sources of people’s beliefs and, in this case, they’re likely to be variable and complex. But here are a few reasons why the challenges faced by women today may be less apparent, if no less pervasive, than they were in the past.

First, much of today’s bias is implicit, not explicit. Women are much less likely to betold that they don’t belong in the lab, and people may be less likely to believe that they don’t. But both men and women are influenced by implicit biases — stereotypes and associations that can subtly and unconsciously influence their decisions and evaluations regarding others and themselves. For instance, one recent study found that both male and female participants were twice as likely to select a man over a woman to complete a mathematical task, even when they had no evidence that the man would perform the task better.

Another study, published earlier this year, found that both male and female undergraduates were more likely to explain a woman’s science-related setback than a man’s by appeal to factors about that person (e.g., “Lisa was ‘let go’ from her research assistant job because she messed up an experiment”). The reverse pattern was true for men’s setbacks — the undergraduates were more likely to explain them by appeal to factors about the situation (e.g., “Steve was ‘let go’ from his research assistant job because there were budget cuts”).

These examples of implicit bias may seem inconsequential, but they’re only two among dozens, and they add up over the course of an individual’s education and career.

A second reason contemporary challenges for women may go unnoticed is because they’re often not a consequence of sex or gender identity per se, but instead an interaction between caregiving responsibilities and the structure of the workplace. Women with children, in particular, suffer from what some have dubbed a “motherhood penalty,” with negative effects on income, career advancement, and perceived competence relative to both fathers and women without children. Caregiving responsibilities can lead women to favor jobs with greater flexibility (which typically come with lower pay and fewer opportunities for career advancement), to forego professionally valuable travel, and to pass up opportunities that could involve relocation when it doesn’t work well for their families. These systematic costs for women are a function of gender-based caregiving norms and aspects of the workplace that should arguably change, but they don’t necessarily reflect discrimination againstwomen.

Finally, people may assume that the number of women entering the science “pipeline” is an indication of the future; that women are underrepresented at higher ranks due to past — not present — barriers. For instance, the American Institute of Physics reportsthat in 2010, the percentage of physics faculty members who were women was 22 percent at the assistant professor level, 15 percent at the associate professor level, and only 8 percent at the full professor level. This could reflect an effect of age: The full professors (on average) entered physics at a time when women faced more serious discrimination than that faced by women a few years later, when the associate professors were entering the field, and so on. By this logic, achieving gender parity at the undergraduate level solves the problem.

Unfortunately, this idea isn’t backed by the data. While there are indeed “cohort effects” — with women in more senior positions more likely to have experienced factors that were more prevalent in the past — there has also historically been a leaky pipeline, with women dropping out of science degrees and careers more often than men at every stage, as well as a glass ceiling, with genuine barriers to advancement, recognition, and power at the top.

So to the commentator who wrote “outdated story,” I say: I wish that were so. Unfortunately, women continue to be underrepresented in a variety of important and prestigious fields, and they continue to face serious barriers. Many of today’s barriers may be less visible than those of the past, but this comes with a new kind of challenge: that people will fail to acknowledge they’re there.


Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes about psychology, cognitive science and philosophy, with occasional forays into parenting and veganism. You can keep up with more of what she is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

Plutos moons are like a “wobbly duck” #bizarre #coolscience

Summarized on NPR:

Pluto’s Moons Are ‘Tumbling In Absolute Chaos,’ NASA Says

JUNE 04, 2015 7:46 AM ET
Computer modeling illustrations of Pluto's moon Nix demonstrate that its orientation changes unpredictably as it orbits the "double planet" of Pluto and Charon.

Computer modeling illustrations of Pluto’s moon Nix demonstrate that its orientation changes unpredictably as it orbits the “double planet” of Pluto and Charon.

M. Showalter (SETI)/G. Bacon (STScI)/NASA/ESA

In the NFL, something that behaves like Pluto’s football-shaped moons might be called a wobbly duck. NASA simply calls them astonishing.

Instead of steadily rotating through their orbits, two of Pluto’s moons “wobble unpredictably,” the space agency says, citing new analysis of data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The two moons, Hydra and Nix, are the largest of the four moons that move around Pluto and Charon — the “double planet” that is the destination of next month’s visit by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.

New Horizons is expected to provide new details of Pluto, which has never been photographed in crisp detail. For now, scientists are going over the new Hubble analysis.

“Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The moons’ wobbling comes from the shifting gravitational field generated by Pluto and Charon, which together have been compared to a barbell, for the way they roll through space together.

“Their variable gravitational field sends the smaller moons tumbling erratically,” NASA says. “The effect is strengthened by the football-like, rather than spherical, shape of the moons.”

NASA released images of Nix, which can be seen above. If you stare at the oddly shaped, gnarled moon, with its craters and swirls, you’ll be forgiven for thinking it looks not just like a football but like a potato. Which raises the question: Would a nickname for these moons be pronounced plutayto — or plutahto?

Sexist comments from astronomer sparks #GirlsWithToys

In response to sexist comments from a male astronomer calling scientists “boys with toys”, twitter has ERUPTED  with #GirlsWithToys.  This is not the first time male scientists have been sexist, and it probably won’t be the last.  Shrinivas Kulkarni, astronomer from California Institute of Technology, recently said in an NPR interview:

“Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call ‘boys with toys,’ ” he says. “I really like playing around with telescopes. It’s just not fashionable to admit it.”

What Kulkarni fails to realize is that many scientists are also ‘GIRLS with toys’.  Don’t worry, the internet has provided ample response.  Check out #GirlsWithToys and some of these highlights:

[tweet https://twitter.com/elakdawalla/status/600355431580569601] [tweet https://twitter.com/NobelPrize/status/600320507418902528] [tweet https://twitter.com/paulcoxon/status/599968112935567360] [tweet https://twitter.com/Astroguyz/status/599948201693716482] [tweet https://twitter.com/pinar_gurel/status/600508075230023680]

The results are in: Science Celebrities!

Thanks to those that filled out the Science Friday Survey on science celebrities.  The results are in! Check them out and listen to the story! Some results from twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 2.16.33 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 2.16.41 PM

Shocking to see that 50% of the respondents didn’t believe that scientists have an obligation to be public figures – especially now since science denialism is a huge issue.  It will be interesting to find out what the reasoning is behind that answer!

How could new technology lead to new crimes?

Participate in Science Friday’s twitter brainstorm #CrimeHeadlinesFrom2025:

Some examples: