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Survey Says: Results of WRI’s Project on Communicating Climate Science by Video

We are happy to announce the results of the project that we launched in May to assess how recent climate science discoveries can be most effectively communicated via video. In just one month, we received more than 1,500 entries.

Next, we’ll be hosting a webinar on the project on Tuesday, June 19th. See more below. For this pilot project, supported by, we worked with three scientists to produce a series of climate science videos: Andy Dessler, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University; Brian Helmuth, professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina; and Paul Higgins, Associate Director of the American Meteorological Society’s Policy Program. For each scientist, we produced three different video types:

  • Web cam: in which the scientist described his findings in front of his own computer screen;
  • Conversation: which included a voice-over of the scientist and a slide show of images;
  • White board: in which the scientist illustrated and talked through his findings in front of a white board.

We then invited the public to view the videos and vote on their favorites.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote. And, now, here are the results:

  • The white board video was by far the most popular, with 68 percent of the votes: Some cited the interactive nature of the video as a major plus; it was entertaining and easy to follow. They said the structure and step-by-step explanation helped keep the story moving along. Many said that the drawings helped them grasp the technical points, and the need to draw charts by hand forced a simpler explanation of complex concepts. Some noted that the scientists seemed most comfortable in this setting and their placement in front of a white board made them more “professor-like” and “trustworthy.” Voters also stated that the information was delivered at the “right pace,” and that the images and words were well integrated. Some who did not like the white board format stated that it evoked a classroom setting, which was unappealing. Others found the images too small or too difficult to see.

  • The conversation followed, with 27 percent of the votes: Those who liked this video stated that the use of visuals and voice made the material easy to understand. Some said that they enjoyed seeing pictures of the experiment setting and equipment, and that it facilitated learning. A few noted that the images allowed them to focus on listening to, rather than watching, the scientist. Those who did not like this video type stated that it lacked a human element and was, therefore, impersonal. Others said that the photographs could be distracting, and that at times there was a disconnect between the images and the voice. A few respondents said that the “hidden voice” behind the images didn’t work well for them; it felt less authoritative because they didn’t see the scientist. Some suggested that this video type be transformed into a true “conversation” between an interviewer and scientist (rather than a monologue).

  • The web cam was by far the least popular, receiving only 5 percent of votes: Those who voted for the web cam said it was easy to listen to and was the most personal. They were able to focus better because they were looking straight at the scientist. Those who did not like this video cited the following problems: poor lighting and audio quality; lack of visual aids; and a temptation to get distracted by objects in the background. Many suggested that there was not enough variation of the image – as the scientist was just speaking in front of the camera the entire time – which led them to lose interest. Therefore, they didn’t feel as engaged as they did while watching the other videos. Some stated that it “felt too much like a lecture,” and the material could have simply been covered in a podcast rather than a video.

To be sure, it was not a perfectly designed study. As some viewers pointed out, had the video types been presented in a randomized order, we may have seen a different outcome. Additionally, many felt that they had been forced to vote for one video type over another, when what they really preferred was a combination of elements from several types.

For those who would like to learn more about the results, we hope you’ll join us for a webinar with two of the scientists on Tuesday, June 19, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. EDT.

During the webinar, I will provide more detail on the feedback received. In addition, WRI’s Dave Cooper will discuss the video production process, and Brian Helmuth and Paul Higgins, two of our featured scientists, will speak about their participation in the pilot project as well as science communication more broadly. We hope you will join us!

Information on Webinar

Please call the following number for audio:

  • For US Participants (Toll Free): 888-324-8102

  • For International Participants (Toll): 1-630-395-0368

  • Participant passcode: CLIMATE

Join the presentation by visiting this link, and use the above number for audio.

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