Climate Feedback and Media Coverage

by Danielle Bermudez

Only 23% of people living in the United States say that they have enough information to make up their minds about climate change[1]. How does media coverage affect our understandings about climate change? And, what if scientists could provide their own feedback on climate media coverage?

These are some of the questions that led Emmanuel Vincent, Project Scientist for the Center for Climate Communication at the UC Merced, to create the website This online platform allows the scientific community to annotate and comment on climate media coverage, while giving the public access to this information.

Vincent’s talk was the first UC Merced Seminar in the Humanities of the academic year, launching the Center for the Humanities’ biennial research theme on “Water” for 2015-2017. In his presentation, Vincent reiterated that oftentimes climate media coverage can be confusing, and that the climate feedback website is intended to be a community resource both for scientists and the public alike. The process of the website includes (1) identifying a media piece on climate change, (2) matching scientists to evaluate the article, (3) having scientists annotate the article (includes highlighting, adding figures, charts, and images, commenting, etc.) and (4) assigning an overall rating on the media piece. Members of the public can then access these annotated articles on the climate feedback website and read the annotations and comments provided.

With contributing scientists from prominent research institutions all over the world (over 50+), the climate feedback website has led to media modifying their articles to reflect the comments provided by scientists. The website is intended to make an impact on journalists, concerned members of the public, and has garnered enthusiasm from scientific experts worldwide.

Ruth Mostern, Associate Professor of History at UC Merced, served as a respondent to Vincent’s talk, raising important questions of authority, power, and access. How do communities become permeable? Who can comment on these platforms? Whose voice becomes validated? Who is authorized to provide validation? And, what is the meaning of “expertise”?

Mostern discussed the creation of communities of practice, meaning, and discourse as exemplified through the climate feedback website and as a continuation of ancient practices of annotation and commentary on texts deemed worthy of attention. Mostern discussed both ancient and modern expressions of annotations and commentary, such as, open source and open code platforms, annotations on maps, and other social media websites. The climate feedback website has become a mechanism of community-building within and beyond the scientific community, as a form of public scholarship; as well as a form of publicly and socially engaged work, through the use of common domains and shared language and expertise.

[1] Leiserowitz et al (2011) Climate change in the American Mind. Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.