2:15 PM

Leitzell on Sharing Data with the Public

I had the pleasure of working with some CU grad students last fall in a class on Science, Technology, and Society (commonly known as STS).  One of those students, Katherine Leitzell, has written a piece for Science Progress (a publication of the progressive think tank Center for American Progress) that directly relates to some of the discussions we've been having in class about how and when to provide the public access to scientific data.

In the piece "Take the Data to the People," Leitzell profiles a website created by the National Snow and Ice Data Center called the Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis website.  Leitzell writes,

"The site, now partially funded by a NASA grant, includes daily updates of sea ice data, along with monthly to weekly posts written by scientists in collaboration with science writers.  The posts provide context for the data....   We also address questions brought up by readers.  Making data available to the public is a popular idea, but simply providing access to data is not enough.  Most NSIDC data were publicly available before we started the Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis website--they were just difficult for a nonscientists to find and interpret.  Scientific terms such as bias, statistical significance, and error can be easily misinterpreted and need explanation."

This is fascinating, isn't it?  The site is providing an opportunity for scientists to work with professional communicators (which must be a learning opportunity for both groups) to present their work to the public in a way that will make sense to laypeople AND other scientists, and which also provides raw data to citizens.

This sort of communicative endeavor doesn't happen without risks, of course.  Leitzell also writes that the site "receives a surprising amount of criticism," mostly from those who think climate change is bunk. But teachers and others value the site.

This makes me think about our own blogging.  How often do we just provide data or present science or technological concepts without doing some sort of interpretation of that data?  This goes back to our old discussions about the deficit model, I suppose.  But it does suggest that we need to do more than just present the data, or say "isn't this cool"--we have to do the hard work of explaining what it could mean and how it might be interpreted.  And, as is the case with the NSIDC website, that might invite some harsh criticism.  But to do otherwise is probably not communicating at all.

Comment (1)

Interpreting data is like walking a tight rope. We have talked in class about how scientists are supposed to be objective and in my opinion this objectivity is tested most in the interpretation of the data. A scientist that is "pro" global warming has to be careful that he/she is not trying to see what he/she wants to see, but instead is just looking at the raw data with no filters, and be able to admit and interpret as such things that are against their beliefs.