Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mooney on science issue cycles and tipping points ...

Chris Mooney wrote about science issue cycles in the Huffington Post today, and about the reasons for global warming finally hitting mainstream media in a way that systematically captured public attention:
"2005 saw several key developments, including a focus on global warming at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles, a record temperature year globally, and most of all, Hurricane Katrina. The latter sparked unprecedented levels of discussion of the relationship between global warming and hurricanes in particular. ...

There can be little doubt, then, that rising levels of media coverage of global warming over the past several years have helped the issue reach an apparent tipping point. Yet we can't simply point to the total volume of attention -- we must also consider the content of press coverage over time. Several seeming shifts in the narratives that journalists have been telling may have further contributed to progress on the issue

(Click here for the full article.)

The idea of issue cycles, of course, is directly relevant to the debates surrounding nanotech. Why and when will nano go mainstream? And why does it matter? The answer, of course, is much more complex than the naive speculations among some scientists about "Prey" and its potential impact on the public. And the simplistic comparisons between a potential movie version of "Prey" and "An Inconvenient Truth" make little sense, based on what we know from decades of media effects research.

As Mooney outlines nicely, "An Inconvenient Truth" was just one of a myriad of interrelated factors that helped put global warming on the public agenda. And its impact was largely indirect and contingent on the media coverage triggered by pseudo events, such as the Oscar the film won and its unlikely commercial success at the box office. Matt Nisbet also discussed some of the parallel dynamics for nanotech over at Framing Science last week.

The Huffington Post piece, of course, is also part of the events surrounding the release of Mooney's new book Storm World. I haven't had a chance to look at the book yet, but I know Mooney's previous work, and if anything he is an excellent journalist. I am sure Storm Wars will just provide more evidence of that. I will keep you posted.