Authors: Amanda Dewey and Mary DeStefano
Kenney defines an indicator as “a regularly updated representation of status, rates of change, or trends of a phenomenon using measured data, modeled data, or an index to assess or advance scientific understanding, to communicate, to inform decision-making, and/or to denote progress in achieving management objectives”. Indicators such as GDP and Unemployment Indices are used to assess a country/state/county/etc.’s economic well-being; Kenney’s project explores if similar models of assessment could be used to better understand environmental well-being, and particularly global climate change.
Dr. Kenney’s project informs the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which was established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in 1990 in the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” Her project explores the effectiveness of scientific images, graphs, and charts at communicating the information being represented, by measuring understanding of indicators through online experiments. This work emphasizes the importance of empirically evaluating whether or not he general public is actually understanding the scientific communications they are receiving, and how by using these findings we can produce more useful and accessible publications and tools. The research team also wanted to examine how understanding of this scientific information might be correlated with beliefs about climate change but, interestingly, didn’t find a correlation. A report of the findings is available on the website of the National Climate Assessment & Development Advisory Committee.
This research raises interesting questions about the crucial balance between representing complex scientific information accurately while also clearly and simply communicating it to the general public.