GPS will die, sending airplanes crashing and sinking boats.  Cell phones will fail, stranding travelers and resulting in people in remote areas dying due to exposure.  Worse of all, our TV may go out for a few hours.

These are some of the doomsday scenarios prophecied in the current "Chicken Little" coverage of space weather, as the sun ramps up towards Solar Maximum during the same decade that our society has become perilously dependent on advanced technology.

So where's the science?  The science is standing behind Chicken Little, simultaneously crying "pay attention to us" and "stop overselling us, you media hacks!"

A real scientist (Hi Angelos!) speaks accurately about science.

Well, as a scientist and media hack, I'm going to cover the keynote from this week's "Space Weather Enterprise Forum" at the National Press Club.  And you will walk away thinking, "damn, space weather is another nuanced issue."

For an overview of the space weather issues from a science viewpoint, we can read  'As the Sun Awakens'  (NASA Keeps a Wary Eye on Space Weather):
"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we're getting together to discuss."
And we also find we are lagging in technology to keep informed, as /. notes in US Climate Satellite Capabilities in JeopardyThe United States is in danger of losing its ability to monitor key climate variables from satellites, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

But I want to get to the real meat of it.  People-- and the media.  Science is just a method and a body of knowledge.  It's politics and policy that-- whether based on science or not-- changes the world.

And Jay Reich was just the man to talk about it.  He's the Deputy Chief of Staff at the US Department of Commerce, and spoke to the mixed crowd of scientists and policy makers on the real challenge of science-- Communications.  Here's what he had to say.

For starters, "we want to be and are dependent on science.  [The] Problems with science:
  1. it's rigorous
  2. it's slow
  3. it's based on data
  4. it's based on challenging and peer review
  5. it changes as new information comes in.
[These are also its strengths.]  In political [situations] this is a problem.

"Is the sky falling?"

"if you do scare me, what can I do?"

"How many times can you warn me before I become inured?"

He emphasized communication skills are needed, especially from scientists to the public.

His personal take on missteps within the 'climate debate' is that "the scientists [thought they] could also be the translators, and move to policy advisors."  "Getting out of that science lane made them vunerable."

He closed with "This administration is committed to science... [but that's rather glib] But the science isn't always precise on when it can take us, or how to rally the support to get us from here to the future."

He also noted that, for disasters in general, "our technical capacities have outstripped our communications abilities", and "the scientific community is in denial about there being a communications challenge."

In short, it's not the message, it's the medium.


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