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How One Researcher Used Social Media to Determine Why Climate Change Denial Exists

How One Researcher Used Social Media to Determine Why Climate Change Denial Exists

If you’re a science teacher, you’re probably aware of the challenges that come with teaching about the science behind climate change. Though the scientific community agrees that climate change is happening and that humans bear a responsibility in mitigating its effects, political discord has created a polarizing debate; teachers have a hard time teaching even just straight facts.

The National Center for Science Education is one organization that is committed to doing away with climate change denial one step at a time to ensure that students around the country receive the best science education they possibly can.

In one of NCSE’s more recent blog posts, Yayla Sezginer, an NCSE intern, spoke with Peter J. Jacques, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Florida and Co-Director of the Florida Climate Institute at UCF.

Jacques and Claire Connolly Knox teamed up to research why climate change denial exists, and did so using one of the modern world’s most well-known tools for communicating: Twitter.

"Twitter has become one of the more important sources of social science data simply because of its volume and availability, in addition to the fact that we are able to empirically study how people rationalize something without interfering with them (as we would with a survey for example),” Jacques said in an interview with Sezginer.

Social media channels like Twitter, he said, are one of the most efficient ways to gauge public opinion without interfering with it.

Of his findings, Jacques says communications concerning climate change denial reveal a divided shared sense of reality that has distorted the truth of the matter.

"Community is the source of common sense, but if there is not agreement on the nature of reality we lose our common sense—our sense of the world is no longer common. That is a pretty dangerous path, particularly for complex problems that require expertise.”

This same concept is related to why the news media feels compelled to “report both sides,” Jacques says, even though one side is not rooted in scientific fact and lacks what should be considered mandatory support.

"Most people believe climate change is real and that we should do something about it. Evidence accumulates daily that we are in imminent danger, as is the rest of the living world, and our ability to solve this complex problem will rest significantly on our ability to have an informed dialogue, and that includes intelligently assessing the science and taking responsibility for our actions.”

Earlier in the year, a NCSE survey found that three out of five science teachers are misinformed about the science behind climate change.

Just last month, Portland, Oregon became the latest target of climate change skepticism when its school board voted to ban all textbooks from its school districts that include climate change denial.

Opponents argued that such a measure is censorship, though the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) determined that providing students access to both sides of an issue is not applicable to issues rooted in science.

Read the full interview with Jacques here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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