People Ignore Climate Scientists Because They’re Not Enough Like the Kardashians?

by Greg Pollowitz

Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry thinks scientists need to get better at social media to make an impact on what the public thinks about global warming. Via You’ve also talked about the “Kardashian Factor” … Can you expand on this?

Judith Curry: The Kardashian Factor relates to a scientist’s impact in social media. There is a growing disconnect between scientists who impact within the ivory tower, as measured by publications and citations, versus those scientists that are tweeting and blogging. While some of the smartest people on the planet are university professors, most of them simply don’t matter in today’s great debates. The use of the term ‘Kardashian Factor’ is designed to marginalize social media impact as shallow popularity.

Social media is changing the world, and academia hasn’t quite figured out what to do about it. On issues relevant to public debate, social media is rivaling published academic research in its impact. Social media is leveling the playing field and democratizing science. The skills required to be successful in social media include good writing/communication skills and the abilities to synthesize, integrate, and provide context. Those who are most successful at social media also have a sense of humor and can connect to broader cultural issues – they also develop a trustworthy persona. These are non-trivial skills, and they are general traits of people that have impact.

So, why do I do spend a lot of my time engaging with the public via social media? I’m interested in exploring social media as a tool for engaging with the public, group learning, exploring the science-policy interface, and pondering the many dimensions of the wicked climate problem. I would like to contribute to the public debate and support policy deliberations, I would like to educate a broader and larger group of people, and finally I would like to learn from people outside the group of my academic peers (and social media is a great way to network). I am trying to provoke people to think outside the box of their own comfort zone on the complex subject of climate change.

The whole interview here.

The problem is scientists and climate activists are already active on social media. For Neil deGrasse Tyson has over 2 million followers on Twitter; Bill Nye has over 1.6 million. They even took the social-media equivalent of a peer-reviewed paper — a selfie — with the president:

But if Tyson and “The Science Guy” — the Kim and Kourtney of science Twitter accounts – can’t change the debate, Curry and her 2,700 followers on Twitter won’t do much. As for Curry’s claim that she is “engaging with the public via social media,” I don’t see much evidence of it. Here are here recent tweets, none of which show any engagement with her readers. You can love or hate the third Kardashian of science, Richard Dawkins, but you can’t say he doesn’t get into a dialog with followers, i.e., here’s Dawkins going back and forth with many, many people angered by his recent tweets on abortion. But Dawkins didn’t change anybody’s mind even with his high level of engagement.

Yes, social media is important, but it’s important because it’s a medium to deliver to people the content they want to read, not to deliver the content that you want them to read.