Drifting word clouds may change perceptions of climate science

November 07, 2012

Professor Alexander Bentley and colleagues found that words commonly used by scientists when discussing climate science - such as 'biodiversity', 'global', and 'isotopes' - follow fashion cycles in public usage as the usage of such words by scientists diffuses into use by non-scientists. According to the authors, this effect may contribute to the impact of climate research on societal perceptions.

The researchers used Google's 'Ngram' database, which at present scans through over five million books published in seven languages since the 1500s, to represent public discourse (not scientific discourse) concerning climate science. Since the database was only unveiled a couple years ago, this research is among the very first studies of its kind.

They found that, while there is a continual output of climate science, there are pronounced fashion waves in public usage of the main keywords associated with this science. These waves vary in length, but the median duration is about a human generation (2-3 decades).

These fashion waves can be modelled in a very straightforward manner, so they ought to be predictable in some sense. Thus, a simple model of word-usage trends could be used to inform efforts for better communication, the researchers argue. Recognizing which words are spread by diffusion, along with the ideas they represent, could help campaigns improve social learning, rather than simply expecting an audience to adopt a message because it is scientifically sound.

Professor Bentley said: "Since the impact of climate science is so inherently linked to public acceptance - or denial - of the evidence for climate change, we suggest that our study provides a crucial first step toward gauging public response over the long term.

"Ideally, the methods we present - applied to new sources of 'big data' like Google Ngrams - can be used to prepare for changes in public opinion over the generations on matters of global importance."
-end-
Paper

'Word diffusion and climate science' by R. Alexander Bentley, Philip Garnett, Michael J. O'Brien and William A. Brock in PLoS ONE.

University of Bristol

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.