#soSEA 3: Conversations About Our Changing Planet

For the last ScienceOnlineSeattle before our summer hiatus, we leapt at the opportunity to partner with the Seattle Science Festival’s event, “Conversations About Our Changing Planet.”

Tonight’s program will feature three high profile scientists talking about planetary change – climate change, ocean acidification, and sea level rise. While climate change is the familiar subject of vicious arguments all over the country, many people have never heard or thought about the ocean issues. Our panelists will be giving TED-style talks and I hope they’ll be covering lots of ground, tackling common questions about these changes like how much? how fast? how do we know? how do we adapt? We’re excited to be able to livestream this, livetweet it, and mingle with people here in Seattle who want to know these answers.

However, this is ScienceONLINE, we wanted to expand the conversation further. We live in a rapidly changing world – not just physically, but when it comes to communication technology as well. It’s thrilling to observe and participate in this new and rapidly changing information ecosystem, but it’s not enough to just explore the “how is this world changing” question. I want to know how the online community and conversation fits into and find answers to “and what do we do about this?”

So to kick off our discussions tonight, we reached to our friends and colleagues, asking (cheekily) “Can the online conversation save the real world?”

Some said no:

No, because conversations, in and of themselves, don’t save anyone. The real measure of a conversation, online or otherwise, is what action it inspires.  Though the internet allows for more conversation, do these discussions inspire more action? Based off of the comments section on any given website, I’d be scared about what action online conversation engenders. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what medium positive, productive conversations take place in so long as the words become tangible, physical deeds. – Jerry

Many said yes:

Online science is just starting to flex its muscles, but examples of George DeutchTripoli 6, PRISM etc show that dedicated community can force change. - Bora

Online convos have global participation & reach, include diverse voices, & cultivate collaborations that would not occur any other way.  – Karyn

From the research side of things, the complexity of linking ecological change to environmental change (via correlation much less causation) increasingly requires linking among research labs/centers and sharing enormous datasets online.  Simply put, the questions are just too hard to answer without doing science online. - Heather

And most of all, they focused why researchers need to engage now more than ever, and what they stand to gain from doing so:

I could care less about where you live. But when you care to share what’s happening on the ground and in the air and under the water around you, we all learn about our shared planet. Share more online so we can live better off. - Anton

Our world is full of complex challenges and thorny issues that need careful navigation.  Often, relevant science can greatly inform and point towards solutions – but it needs to be given the space to do so, and needs to be connected to the right audience.  In the policy arena, science and scientists have an essential role to play – ranging from natural resource use to human health issues, and everything in between – that will empower decision-makers to make informed choices that maximize both near and long term benefits.  But this can only happen if scientists plug in and share their work with the wider world. - John

Online activities benefit researchers and the scientific communities by helping them manage the fire hose of information that now represents scientific progress. Research fields are developing faster than the traditional techniques for documenting research findings (publishing in a peer-review journals) and disseminating research activities (conference talks) can capture. Putting science online creates a faster conduit for understanding what questions are being worked on by others and what research topics represent the new frontier; this allows researchers to increase opportunities for collaboration and reduce redundancy of efforts. An added benefit of putting science online is that it opens laboratories up to the outside world, giving the interested public a window into the research world and the opportunity to comment on or shape it through their own activities. – Shallin

“Composing your life’s work into a tweet is good practice for disseminating your work to the media and the public. Clarity of thought implies clarity of science.” – Trevor

Most of us aren’t sure of the answer. We know only that we have more questions and how urgent it is to pursue them.

In the late 1990s climate researchers worried about impacts on their grandchildren. By early this century they were worried about effects on their kids. Now it seems likely that there will be important changes that many of us alive today will experience. Given the massive connectivity we’ve come to accept in our society in recent years as de rigueur, we must ask: Can online conersations really connect and furthermore engage citizens to make change for the better?  – Robert

We look forward to tackling this question with you tonight, at the afterparty, and always!



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