Communicating Climate Change and Arctic Science


– Thanks for being here today. My name is Lauren Culler
and I am research faculty of environmental studies and also at the Institute of Arctic Studies, and I have the honor of
introducing our guest, Kendra Pierre-Louis, who
is here with us today and for a short time tomorrow from the The New York Times climate desk. So I also wanna say that I’m one of the principal
investigators here at Dartmouth on a grant from the
National Science Foundation called Partnerships for
Polar Science Education and Outreach in Greenland and Antarctica. And this program is set up
to engage graduate students from across campus in learning
how to communicate science and do good outreach. So Kendra’s visit is part of that program, and she’s here to meet with faculty and also graduate students
to help them think about how they communicate their science. So Kendra as I mentioned comes to us from The New York Times climate team where she’s been since 2017. I actually first met Kendra
in Greenland in 2015, she was there covering a
variety of interesting things that were going on that summer. And fortunately for us she
covered some of our work, our well-known work on Arctic mosquitoes, so it was great to spend a
day in the field with her. And since meeting Kendra in 2015 we’ve really enjoyed following her work. She completed a master’s
degree in science writing from Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, and since then has
worked at Popular Science as a staff writer, and
then as I mentioned, she’s been at The New York Times. Prior to getting her
degree in science writing she also has a background
in sustainable development, a master’s from SIT Graduate Institute just down the road in Brattleboro, and she also has a bachelor’s
in economics from Cornell. So Kendra, we’re so lucky to have you here and we really look forward
to hearing your talk, so please join me in welcoming Kendra. (audience clapping) – So I think I should turn this off so I don’t get feedback. Is it off? Okay cool, thanks for
having me, sorry about that. The first thing that I wanna tell you is I am a text reporter primarily, so people do not pay me to
talk well, or talk good, so you’ve been warned. So a little bit about me is, okay good, as Lauren said I’m a
reporter on the climate desk of The New York Times. The climate desk, we’re in our third year, and I’ve been with them
about a year and a half. We have about 15 dedicated reporters, most in New York and a bunch in DC, all reporting on climate change. As Lauren mentioned, we met for the first time in Greenland and she actually snapped
that picture of me. And it’s awesome because everyone thinks that’s what my job actually is, but my job is usually behind a desk. But we can pretend I’m that hardcore. As she mentioned I was
reporting on her mosquito work, and this is the story that came out of it, “Why Giant Mosquitoes Are
Suddenly Swarming Greenland”. One thing to always remember, reporters don’t write the headlines, so. (audience laughing) If you hate it or you love it,
it’s probably not my fault. So about this presentation, so the presentation you can kind of think of it in two halves. A lot of you are from Dartmouth, and I know you guys know
what climate change is, but some of you maybe are not
as well-versed in the science, so I’m gonna kinda work
through that kind of quickly as sort of the backdrop of what
this conversation is about. And then the second half it’s sort of thinking through, I’m sorry rewind. So for those of you who
already know climate change, when you’re looking at the
stuff that I’m presenting, a, please don’t point out
my mistakes, I’m kidding, and b, think through sort
of how I’m presenting. So for the scientists in the audience who are very well-versed in the science, this could kind of be
an interesting exercise in terms of how I do it
versus how you might do it. And then the other half of
the presentation is sort of what goes through my head
and how I think about reporting on climate
change and what it means to report on climate
change when I’m focusing primarily on science which is my focus. So a few quick facts about climate change. The greenhouse effect is why our planet is habitable, right, yes? I like some feedback, yes, cool. And fossil fuels are our greenhouse, and so they’re naturally
occurring in most cases. Did my mic die? – [Man] No you’re good. – Okay sorry, sorry. They’re naturally occurring in most cases but when we burn fossil
fuels and burn coal and when we burn natural gas, we release more into the atmosphere and it traps even more of the
heat in our planet, right, that’s the bottom line of
the greenhouse effect yes? And these are some of the
big ones like nitrous oxide, and that’s sort of the breakdown of where the nitrous oxide
in our atmosphere goes. Carbon dioxide which is the one that we talk about all the time. Methane, or natural gas, I feel like I was like 20 when I realized they were the same thing, that I was like cooking with this thing that was literally cooking our atmosphere. And when you put it all together, this is sort of what the
greenhouse effect looks like, right so there are these
gases that trap heat in the atmosphere just like
in a natural greenhouse, or just like a plant greenhouse. When we release more of these
gases into the atmosphere they hold onto more of the heat right, so the more of these gases you
were to put in a greenhouse, the warmer it would get, that’s sort of what’s
happening to our planet right? So climate change is an
existential threat to humanity. It’s effects are already being felt, ooh sorry I’m ahead of you guys. And is a topic most people
would rather ignore. This is fine, right? So the question that I sort of engage with and think about a lot is, even if I’m dealing with an audience that accepts the science
of climate change, and we’ll talk about
that more in a minute, most people don’t wanna hear it because they feel like it’s depressing which brings us sort of
back to the title slide, which is, “Is Gloom My Beat?” So my Twitter handle is Kendra “Gloom is My Beat” Pierre-Louis, and it came about because
at my last job at PopSci, I covered climate change and my co-worker who sat on the other side
of the cubicle from me covered a lot of like, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and those sorts of things. And so our editor called
us doom and gloom, I was gloom, she was doom. And it stuck, and
oftentimes when I talk about reporting on climate change
or going to the world, people often ask me, how do I get through it
without being depressed? And so I know that a lot of people generally don’t wanna click on a story that is going to bum them
out before they read it, and which they feel is not going to have a hopeful end at the bottom of it. And so the question I’m
constantly asking myself is, how do I get people to read a story and to listen to a message
that they don’t wanna hear. Even if they accept the science, even if they have the
values underpinning it, but that they just sort
of reject on its face because they don’t want to watch something or hear something that will bum them out. So the first thing
that’s important to know is that there are actually six Americas. We often talk about climate
change in the United States as people either accept the science or they don’t accept the science, but Yale Climate Communication, actually there’s a big spectrum. From the alarmed, so these are the people that accept the science
and are pretty freaked out, they’re probably attending marches, they’ve likely changed
how they functionally live in this world, to the dismissive and
they’re the ones that say, you know it’s not happening
or if it’s happening it doesn’t matter. So I guess the first question
I have for you guys is like what do you think that range is, like how many people do
you think are dismissive? 10%, 20%, 30%? – [Man] 30%. – 30%, okay. Nine. (audience laughing) Way lower than you thought
it was, wasn’t it right? The problem is, is that most
people actually don’t spend a lot of time talking
about climate change. It’s not what you bring up
at the cookout generally, and so when your annoying uncle who spends way too much time on Reddit reading conspiracy theories goes off, you just let him rattle for 15 minutes and then you change the topic right? So when you’re in that environment, there’s a disproportionate belief that more people support
their views than actually do. In the United States, there are only two counties in America where the acceptance rate is below 50%, so everywhere in America
you’re in the majority. Pat yourself on the back, I’m assuming you guys accept the science ’cause you wouldn’t be
listening to me talk. Yeah and every state is above 50%. So does that change sort of
what you thought was happening? And so for me, like I
don’t spend a lot of time thinking about trying to convince people one, because that’s not
my job as a reporter, and two, because I don’t
need to do the convincing, people are already convinced. One more. So as a climate change reporter, my responsibility is to
give people an accurate understanding of the scientific data so they can better understand
the world around them, right, that’s just basic science communication. Correct misperceptions around the science, and there are misperceptions
around climate change, even among people who
accept it a lot of people confuse it with ozone depletions, so I get a lot of emails
telling me about how like climate change is giving
them really bad sunburns. And these are like it’s just confusion. And then correlate it to their daily life because climate change is
not as slow as it used to be, but it’s relatively invisible. We can see the effects of climate change, but we can’t actually see
climate changing directly, right? I mean if you can that’d
be awesome, you know. And then interrogate policies, but I don’t do that, I
don’t do number four, not morally or anything, it’s just the beat that I
cover is primarily science, we have two and a half
political reporters in DC who really cover it from the politics and the policies perspective. So understanding the science. These are often study stories, so a researcher comes out with a study. There’s a whole format of
how I find out about them. Sometimes they give me a
heads-up like Lauren did, sometimes they’re
pre-releases and so I get them a couple of days to a couple
weeks before they come out. And so I’m just calling
scientists from my desk. These are desk-reported
and the more warning that a researcher gives me
within reason, the better. If you call me at noon and tell me that a story’s going live at 2:00 p.m. I’m probably not going to cover it. I don’t write that fast and I
can’t find an outside expert to vet the study that fast. So a good example of this kind of understanding science is this story that we did a year ago, sorry I’ve been traveling a lot so my sense of time is compressed and I have no idea what
year we’re in currently, which is about sea level, the sea ice in the Arctic disappearing, and there’ve been a lot
of stories about the fact that every spring in general
what happens with the sea ice is it grows in winter and
it shrinks in summer, right, because it’s cold in winter
and hot in summer right, we’re talking about the
Arctic not the Antarctic. So every year for the past 20 years there have been these new
reports coming out saying there’s less sea ice this time of year, that the sea ice didn’t grow this much. And so this is kind of a new perspective on that same story which is essentially that the sea ice is getting younger. And what that means is younger
sea ice is thinner sea ice, and that has real implications, and so I wanna show you what
this actually looks like live. I’m so gonna get this wrong. Oh I just have to go back one. And so what’s cool is
it’s actually, sorry, it’s actually an interactive
or it moves yeah. So you can see over time how
that sea ice extent has changed and also there’s a graph further down that talks about the youth of it, right. So that’s another way of
getting at what’s essentially an old story, right,
like we’ve been hearing this narrative for a while right? But this resonates with people. So this is one way of
helping people understand what’s going on in our world. So I just wanna, I’m not
completely bad at this, cool. So another one that we
did that is Arctic-based is Antarctica’s melting faster
than it was a decade ago and so for that we use these
really beautiful visuals. Sometimes I’m very lucky
to work for a place like The New York Times, sometimes we send people
to places like Antarctica or the Arctic, my colleague
is going to Greenland in a couple of weeks. Sometimes there’s stock footage, but it’s really trying to get people to sort of see what’s happening
in the world around them. So these are like
understanding the science, so just trying to get people to understand the process by which science is done. So there are a few sort
of benchmarks if you will for which studies we’ll report
on and which ones we won’t. So is it a reputable journal? Does someone who did not
take part in the study but is an expert in that field vet that study for me to make sure that it’s like a decent study, and that I’m not talking out of turn? I was gonna say something naughty, journalists have potty mouths. And then the other is, well we’re news, so generally it has to be
novel unless it’s shocking or has it been replicated right? So I try not to do studies that are new, like are using a
completely new methodology and arriving at a
completely extreme result, different from a bunch of other studies. If they’re using the same or similar traditional methodologies and arriving at an extreme result, or if they’re using a new
methodology and they’re arriving at an existing result that
kind of back checks it, that’s kind of a different thing. The other thing that
I have to do sometimes is correct misperceptions. If it’s cold how can
there be climate change? If somebody asks me that one more time I’m moving to Antarctica. (audience laughing) So we actually, this originally started actually from a Trump tweet, and then it became such a, I’ve only been at the Times for basically two winters at this point, and we just redid it this
year and made it evergreen so that I never have to do it again. Because it’s kind of
a frustrating question and also represents sort of like the idea that climate change is
just it getting hotter, as opposed to my perhaps
more accurate phrase which is like, global weirding. So this one is one that I did before I was at The New York Times, I did this at Popular Science, and it’s what really going
on with sea level rise. And around that time there was a, I don’t know if it’s a meme
but among certain corners of the internet there was this narrative, I guess is a better way of phrasing it, that NASA had evidence that sea level rise wasn’t actually happening
anymore and it was going down. And so what they were
doing is they were taking this graph which is an old map but 2017 this is NASA’s graph
of sea level rise over time, and anyone who’s taken math knows that graphs like this
there’s like a trend, right, so we can all agree that over time sea level rise is rising. In a given year it may go up
it may go down a little bit but the overall trend is upwards right? We’re in agreement with that right? So they were taking this graph, and they were cherry-picking
it to look something like that. So they were zooming really in, and the areas are the same
points in time on both graphs. And so that’s what they were
doing to convince people that NASA was just sitting
and covering up this evidence that sea level rise
was no longer happening and it was on the decline. And so, so I knew this was happening and it was becoming a big enough topic that people like to email me things to prove that I am just in it
for the climate change money. (audience laughing) So I felt like we needed to address it. And so the first thing
we did is if you look is we didn’t put climate
change in the story, right, like if you were reading
that would you know it was a climate change story? (audience laughing) Well oh wrong audience, sea level rise, but for like a normal person
it doesn’t say climate change, it just says sea level rise. And even the best data can be presented in misleading ways, right, so it kind of reads more about… Or I guess maybe you would know
it was about climate change but you wouldn’t necessarily know where it was coming at, right? You wouldn’t know if it was saying I was into what NASA was saying, or I was against NASA right? Like I really believed
this conspiracy theory about sea level rise, right, you would have to kind of
click through to get the data. And so the first paragraph in the story, and I promise I won’t be
reading to you all day, but it begins like this: In 1995, McArthur Wheeler
robbed two Pittsburgh banks without so much as a mask, writes William Poundstone in his book, “Head in the Cloud: Why
Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up”. Wheeler, you see, believed
that a coating of lemon juice he’d rubbed onto his face
would make him invisible to the banks’ security cameras. Shockingly it didn’t. A local television show
broadcast the footage, a tip came in, and cops
appeared at Wheeler’s door. “But I wore the juice,” he said. So that was actually the beginning of it, I didn’t talk about climate change, I didn’t talk about sea level rise. From there I transitioned to how we all sort of have our biases, we all have our hidden perceptions, and how cherry-picked data can
fit into those perceptions. And I included that graph, but between you and me I don’t look at graphs most of the time. So even though I included it,
in the text I described it. And I described it this way: Try to think of it the way
you’d think about weight gain. If you hopped on the scale after putting on 40 pounds in a year and noticed you were three pounds lighter than the month before, you’d be foolish to conclude that your weight was on the decline. You need to see sustained weight loss over time to make that judgment. After all, the human body
can lose three pounds after a good poop. (audience laughing) And so about a month after I
wrote this story on Twitter, someone reached out to
me and they were like, “Hey, I shared you story “with a climate-denying family member, “and they now accept that
sea level rise is happening, “and that climate change is real.” And they were like, “It was the poop analogy that did it.” (audience laughing) And I’ve never been prouder. (audience laughing) And so the other thing that I try to do and I think about a lot
is how do I connect it to someone’s daily life
not using poop emojis. So how many of you in this
room were born after 1976? Congratulations, you’ve never experienced a normal temperature year. (audience laughing) And so a lot of you in this
room probably know that, but most people don’t
and it freaks people it. And so this one guy emailed me, I tweeted this out and he was
like even the Pinatubo year? The big year of the volcano, and I was like yeah
even the Pinatubo year. You can look at it in the graph, but it went down that year but not as much as it had been before. So that’s just one way
of sort of reframing and reshaping how people
are taking in that data. This one is the world’s best art director. She commissioned this art. It’s a study that says that essentially we kind of get accustomed to
warmer than usual temperatures. So if we have a number of
warmer than usual temperatures we mentally adjust and we
now create that as normal. Why does California
have so many wildfires? I did this last year at the tail end of the big Woolsey and Camp fires. And it was like, on the climate beat we kind
of hate natural disasters because you don’t leave your desk, or natural hazards, you
don’t leave your desk, because this is the one time where people are actually paying attention, and where you can start
talking about the linkages between extreme weather events broadly. So we’re always really careful to not say that climate change caused this fire, but we do say, and this is accurate, that climate change is creating conditions that make fires like the ones that happened last year more likely. And that’s just one way of doing it because people are
actually paying attention. This is the same thing, like if you live out west
like this matters to you. And then one more, we did a
video during hurricane season which I won’t show you because I don’t like looking at myself, but it was it, it was the same thing, it was like a lot of people right now are paying attention to hurricanes, this is a good opportunity
to talk about climate change. I have a lot of these. More floods, more droughts, it’s happening again right
now in the Midwest right? We’re not making those connections and it’s really important as a reporter these are the opportunities
where I can leverage because people are paying attention to make those connections. And sometimes, I’m actually working on a hurricane story
right now that I held. The studies came out in the fall and I was like it’s not worth doing it now because no one’s paying attention. Hurricane season is over. So I actually held them
back to do them June 1, to release them when the
next hurricane happens because we know they’re going to happen. And this is also connecting it to people but there was that really
wonky 1.5 degree UN study that unless you’re really
a climate scientist you were never going to read, and it’s not going to be comprehensible to your average person,
so we do things like this, where we convert it into things, it’s the same data but it’s just in a way that makes sense to regular people. And oftentimes we’ll strip
out some of that nuance because we have to, that
nuance is really important to scientists and it’s
really important to research, but it’s not necessarily that
important to a regular person who’s reading about climate change in between picking up their kid at school and buying groceries. On the same trend. So now we’re bringing it to like, okay, so this is what I do the
question is how do I do it? I cry a lot. No, so I communicate
scientific information which is the what. Like what is it and then
I also try to find a hook, so why does it matter? And then I try to connect it to people. So this is my favorite example, mostly because I had been wanting to write about dirt
for a really long time, and I like writing about things that a lot of people think are boring, and so I’m always trying to find ways to make them more interesting. And so this study came out, “Current and historical land use influence soil-based ecosystem services
in an urban landscape.” Now because this is
perhaps the nerdiest room I’ve ever talked to, you
guys maybe know this study. And you also understand what it means but what I turned it into was this: a superpower in your own backyard. And because it was the year
Black Panther came out, we opened it up with a reference
to Wakanda and vibranium. I have really, really lovely editors who are very tolerant of me. So communicating scientific information, I don’t write anthropogenic
climate change. The first time actually
a professor wrote that on my paper he wrote ACC, I was like I don’t know
what you’re talking about. And he was a science writer! He should have known better. I used human caused global warming, or human caused climate change. Anthropogenic is a really wonky word. In terms of finding a hook. So that earlier piece it was Wakanda, and in this piece which is about the fact that because of climate change
the Arctic is getting warmer, beavers are moving to the Arctic. So remember what I said, we
don’t write the headlines. I know some of you guys
are pretty pro-beaver, I’ve gotten some beaver
hate mail for that title. (audience laughing) Because they were just
reforming their image and people were starting
to realize how vital beavers are to the
ecosystem and they think that I’m slandering them and
bringing the rhetoric back. But again, didn’t write the title. And so the issue with this story is it’s that essentially
because the climate is getting warmer, the
tree line is moving up, so where trees can be
is moving further north. And beavers are moving further north too, and there is anecdotal
evidence that other animals are moving further north as well, this is like North America
Arctic, so like US, Canada. But not a lot of people live in the Arctic and so it’s really hard
to get conclusive evidence that they’re actually doing this, right? But beavers are special
because beavers make dams, and dams you can see from space. So this guy used satellite footage and high-res high altitude footage, to look for beaver dams over time. And the other problem
with beaver dams though is they trap warm water
on the land, right, so when they do that
they thaw the permafrost, and so that’s the real problem with them heading into the Arctic, is they’re hastening the
speed of permafrost thaw. And so that’s super-wonky
and I had to figure out, I think this piece was seven
or eight hundred words, so I had to figure out
how to say all of that in that amount of words, like convey that, and all the nuances of the study and so what I said was
that the problem isn’t just that they’re moving
into a new environment, it’s that they’re gentrifying it. (audience laughing) Which is what they’re doing right? So finding a hook is really important and this was one that I came up with, but I love it when researchers, you can come up with this too. You can come up with these
really cool analogies, and then it’s an analogy
that you’ve approved, right. So you won’t have to worry lots about a slightly off-kilter climate reporter coming up with a wacky one. Ones that researchers have given me: Sugar maples are something
of a Goldilocks tree. There are more pieces
of plastic in the ocean than stars in the Milky Way, which apparently I
don’t know how to spell. (audience laughing) The other thing with finding a hook is sometimes it can be a story about how the science came about. So I did this story that’s
not in this presentation, but I did a story also on the Arctic about how wildlands are getting noisier. So basically we’re putting
up more like just stuff, airplanes and just things
in places that were quieter. And I talked to the main
researcher on this study, and then I was interviewing
this outside expert, it was this guy up in Cornell, and he told me this amazing story of going up into the Arctic, and like asking an Inupiaq elder for whale ears because they
do traditional whale hunting. This was in the 1970s,
he wanted the whale ears for a colleague who was studying how whales navigate their
environment with sound. And so he’d have this
like massive recorder and he brought it up into the Arctic, and he played it for this whaling captain to like have him understand the work that he was trying to do and
the whaling captain was like, sure you can have the whale ears. And they went out of his like camping hut to part ways like he was
going back on his boat to go back to the lower 48 and this Inuit captain
was going, I guess home. And the captain like beckoned
him over and he said, he didn’t actually say anything,
he didn’t speak English. Well first he checked his,
sorry, his kayak paddle, and he put one half in a
hole in the ice in the water, and put it to his jawbone, and then he beckoned this researcher over and he told him essentially,
like he mimicked, like you do the same. So he was like, okay. And he did it and he
could hear the whale song. And that ended up being
the opening of this story, because it was such a compelling story. Another one that I did this
year, it was this year, was just about the sea
star wasting disease that has hit like the west
coast of the United States. The researcher on that she told me this really delightful, so the wasting disease sort
of took everyone by surprise. And so there was this
mass die-off of sea stars, but nobody had any money to actually study this mass die-off. And so this researcher told this story about how she’d been sounding the alarm and telling people that this is happening and it’s a problem, and she’d gotten I guess
some kind of media attention. And one day she opens up her mail and there’s a check in it for $400. A group of schoolchildren in Arkansas had heard about the sea stars dying and they couldn’t tolerate
it and so they’d launched a fundraiser to raise the money to help her researching the sea stars. It makes you wanna cry right? Like so simply how you
came about your science to me as a reporter is just as important as the science itself because it’s one way of
getting that story across, it’s one way of getting people to care. This one is polar bears, some researchers put a video camera on a polar bear. And people love polar bears
so this was like really easy. I should have pulled that one up, ’cause the video is really delightful. But that’s just kind of an easy sell. This one is sort of a similar thing, this one was not a study story, it was a little bit more detailed. Because it’s getting warmer
bears aren’t hibernating the way they’re supposed
to and they’re getting into more conflicts with humans, it’s like a really big
problem, especially out west. And my, again, best art director, it’s just to look like you don’t feel like you’re about to read this
really depressing story and it kind of is like in it I talk about like finding a bear with 100s of ketchup packets in its stomach
and that’s what killed it. It’s not all whimsy but
that at least sets you up for some hope that there will be some joy and some levity in this story. And I really really try whenever possible like that beaver story, to make it funny if people
aren’t dying, right, because like it’s not
funny when people die. Another one is this Olympics
story did really well and I’m going to actually pull it up ’cause it’s an interactive. I don’t wanna out myself, I don’t really care about the Olympics. But a lot of people do and what this one toggles back and forth is it’s saying, and we did it in time
for the Winter Olympics so it was timed with the
pre-Olympics last year, and it was essentially
saying that like many of the Olympic locations are
increasingly becoming too warm to actually hold Winter
Olympics in the future. And that just kinda gets
you in the gut, right? Especially if you love
the Winter Olympics, and a lot of the Winter Olympics sports can’t be brought indoors. And so that picture at the top is from Sochi which was
an iffy location anyway, but that’s cross-country skiing. You can’t really bring
cross-country skiing inside. And so as a companion piece of
that we actually interviewed an American cross-country
skier, Jessie Diggins, who is also a climate activist, and she talks pretty openly about how like the fact that cross-country skiing has traditionally been
a relatively cheap sport for people to get into and it’s something she grew up doing and she ended
up being really good at it. And so like how she now has
the money and the resources to travel to snow but that
the next generation of skiers, you can’t travel to Italy to
go skiing when you’re nine. I mean maybe you can
but most people can’t. And so that’s her really big concern, and that did really, really well because it’s personifying this
thing that a lot of people actually care about. And then like a month
after I talked to her she became the first
American to win a gold medal in cross-country skiing, which I think is completely because of me. (audience laughing) But that’s another way of
connecting with people. I don’t care about cross-country skiing or the Winter Olympics but people do, and so I’m going to write about it. Sorry not too much longer. And then a couple more. So last year there was a tornado, and there had been a few in New York and in Massachusetts. And I was like, is this climate change? And what I discovered is, nobody knows. And so like actually being
honest about the uncertainty I think makes it more truthful and also humanizes
scientists and reinforces the fact that science is a process. And the fact that I was
allowed to write a story about the reasons why we don’t know if these tornadoes are actually in keeping with climate change
because of the limitations of the tornado data that we actually have, again I think contributes to that idea of science as a process. It’s also okay to be a little weird. I did a story on how California’s urchins are being eaten by the
cockroaches of the sea. I had done research on
it for like 10 months. I kept calling it my kelp story, everyone at work was sick of
hearing about my kelp story. And I was fairly certain that
it was only going to be me and my best friends who I
harassed into reading it who were going to read this kelp story, and it wasn’t me, it did bananas, it did really good traffic,
a lot of people read it, it really resonated with
people because kelp forests for a lot of people are an ecosystem they didn’t know existed, and kelp forests are
pretty much everywhere except for Antarctica, and so a lot of people recognize that that ecosystem is like in their backyard, and that they were at risk of losing it. But if you remember only
one thing from my talk it’s the power of a poop emoji. (audience laughing) Thank you. (audience clapping) – [Lauren] Thank you so much,
so we have time for questions, and we ask anyone asking a question to please use a microphone. – Thanks Kendra. I was curious where you see any trends in like the acceptance of
talking about uncertainty in scientific research in
your reporting in general? – So as Lauren mentioned
I actually haven’t been a full-time journalist for that long, so only like three years. And I think that’s too
young for me to know if there are trends. I try as hard as I can, and
sometimes I have fights over it, because I think people really
like certainty more than, you know science is a process, and this isn’t like a Times
issue or a media issue, but I think in general when
people are pushed against, right so like there’s been this tension in this country for quite some time about whether climate change is real. And I think when people
are like so frustrated, they feel pushed into this corner where they have to be absolutists, and I think just because of
the nature and the timing of when I came up and also the first place I ever worked for like as
a fully working journalist was Inside Climate News, and they formed in like I think 2007 and their opinion was
climate change is real, we accept the science and
we’re just gonna operate from that assumption and that’s
kind of how I’ve operated my entire career, as short as it has been, that I haven’t really seen it. I also do feel like that
uncertainty tends to get stripped because if you’re not someone who reads a lot of scientific journals, or hang out a lot with scientists, you don’t understand the
importance of that uncertainty, and there’s a tension around, as I hinted, around word count and length. And so that, like hedge words
and things, often feel like that’s something that can get stripped. – Hi Kendra. – Hi.
– I actually met you in 2015 in Greenland as well, I was with Lauren and so
it’s nice to see you again and I’ve been following you on Twitter, and you are quite funny. – Oh thanks. – I guess one question I
have for you is there’s been a lot of conversation among
the scientific community about how do you study climate change and travel all the time
on airplanes, emitting, you know countless amounts of CO2, to go to conferences and study sites? Is there a conversation
like that also happening on kind of the journalism,
science communication side of like can you offset like
what you are contributing to climate change in the sake
of covering climate change? – So I can’t speak about
science communication generally, but I can talk about like
climate change at my desk, and we definitely have
those conversations a lot. We know about the limitations of offsets, and we also know that
airplane travel is like the hardest to de-carbonize. I was telling Lauren that there was like, I actually just got off a
bunch of travel recently, but I’d gone like from
November to like March without setting foot on a plane, and that felt like good really, I was like very proud of that stretch. One of the things that I think about a lot is the limits of individual actions, and so I kind of try to
separate what I do for work with what I do recreationally. And recreationally I’m trying
to fly less, if you will, and I’m not like hopping
on a plane for work for any reason, also just
’cause it’s exhausting, but like there are just
places that you have to go. And one of the biggest
criticisms of journalism, especially national journalism, is that we don’t even know the communities that we’re talking about. Like if I’m a reporter in a community and I haven’t even seen it, there’s a lot of extra
tension built into it. So like I just was in Duluth and I talked to all of these
people before I went, so it was a story about, Duluth
is a climate refuge city, and it wasn’t until I showed up that I knew that there was a
Native American reservation like literally next to
Duluth and I hadn’t talked to a single Native American,
and that’s a problem. And I wouldn’t have known that
if I hadn’t gone to Duluth. So yeah I don’t have a good answer except that we are having
that same conversation, which I don’t have a solution. But if anyone does? I didn’t fly here. (audience laughing) – I’m definitely not an
undergraduate as you can see here but maybe some of the students
here could be interested in how you had gotten into
your experience at Cornell, getting into the MIT science
writing program and so forth. Did you do a lot of writing in Cornell for example?
– No. I took three writing
courses, two were required, while I was at Cornell. I was an economics major and
I was an economics major. I probably shouldn’t
end with this but I do. I was an economics major because it had the fewest required courses. (audience laughing) And so it freed me up to take other things that I wanted to take. And so I graduated during
the first recession that nobody remembers because
of the 2007-8 recession. And then I was working a bunch of like, I don’t wanna call them odd jobs, but I had a bunch of like jobs, and I was working at one
and I wouldn’t shut up about environmental stuff
and my co-worker said, “You should maybe go do that.” And so I went and I got a graduate degree in sustainable development,
and then the economy crashed, and then I got a job doing,
eventually it took a while, I got jobs in sustainable development but I realized I was spending
a lot of time writing. I ended up writing a book
and I had no free time because I was doing all
of this freelance writing and finally I was like, hmm, if I actually just made writing my job I could have free time,
which is a lie, but, (audience laughing) at least now I only have one job. – Hello thank you for your thoughts. I’m an undergrad actually (audio distorts) so it’s my first year and– – The mic’s not on.
– Mic’s not on. – Oh. – Hello so again, I’m an
undergrad here at Dartmouth, and I am quite passionate of writing, and I’m actually thinking I might like to have something to do with journalism but I also like science a
lot so I came to your talk because I thought, wow,
this is someone I really would love to hear from. I’m just wondering what I can do to try this out somehow
without being required to you know be a reporter
for the New York Times, ’cause I cannot do that just yet. – Yeah I didn’t start, I graduated so I went to
MIT to study science writing and I graduated with the goal of, first time I graduated it
was at a recession, anyway, my goal was to just make
enough money to survive. Journalism isn’t exactly marketed as the most lucrative profession. To answer your question, National Association of Science Writers is a really good place to start. They have a student membership, and they have an annual
conference that’s really awesome, and then there’s a book called, “The Science Writers’ Handbook,” and those are kind of
the two best sort of like basic introductory resources
for you to check out. And then there’s also a website
called The Open Notebook, but that can get a little, yeah you should check it out either way and then you can decide
if that’s at the level that you’re at. – Hi thank you for your talk. I was wondering if you
could speak a little bit about how you reconcile sort of ambiguous, if not click-baity titles, you know, sort of the trade-off
of getting more traffic versus having people who
do sort of headline news getting the wrong takeaway. – So the second, third slide was, reporters don’t write their own headlines. That was especially true at PopSci, or that’s especially true
at the Times, at PopSci, I’m a terrible headline
writer so at PopSci I wrote headlines but
they always got changed. I like to think that we
at least try to avoid inaccuracies in our headlines, even if they go for like extrapolation, I’m not judged or
evaluated based on clicks. And I don’t even know like basically the way the
Times system works is I have at least an idea
when a story is doing well just because of a few things
that happen on the back end, like I get alerts but I
don’t know if the story, like that urchin story was
like, oh it did really well, like part of how I know it
does really well is like the number of retweets I get on Twitter when I tweet something or the
number of hate emails I get. But I couldn’t tell you if like doing well is a hundred thousand or a
million, like I have no idea. That is all above my pay
grade so I don’t have to reconcile that ever
and I really appreciate the fact that I can sort of
exist blissfully ignorant of like story performance. – Hi. Just a quick question, do you ever find it
difficult maybe to balance incorporating like comedy
and humor into your pieces and maintaining scientific integrity, like is that ever something difficult, like attracting the readers
for like boring material? – Yeah sometimes I mean
so I try to be funny, I don’t know how successful I am, both because I think it’s
useful just for readers, but also because it’s useful for me, like it’s fun to be funny. But ultimately the science always is like nothing is worse than sending
a story to a scientist and having them be like you got it wrong. So I’m always going for
accuracy over like humor. I don’t write something
and then say, oh well, who cares if it’s inaccurate, it’s funny. I have a weird writing process anyway, I talk about it like
hearing voices in my head. Some of my stories you can tell what songs are stuck in my head
because like the cadence and the sentence structure (audience laughing) are actually sort of like song lyrics. I’m not always the most pleasant person to be around when I’m
writing, I get real strange. So yeah so like it’s hard, like what comes out, comes out, and then you go back and you edit. And if you’re like that
doesn’t get you stressed enough is that nothing I write is in
a vacuum, it’s always edited, and at the Times it’s
pretty heavily edited just because we’re an edit-heavy desk. Yeah I don’t know if that
answered your question, sorry that was kinda rambley. – Hello, it’s a very good, great talk. I’m just curious about how journalists or The New York Times as a whole decide which topic to follow, to report, because there are so many cool studies happening every day in
science technologies, but the space for the
newspaper is pretty limited so do journalists
actively hunt for stories, yeah how this work? – Yeah so some stories
are only on the web, some stories don’t make it into the print. Especially if it’s science stories because just the nature of science stories, there can be a gap between
when the study is released and it goes live on the web, and it gets printed in the paper, so like, a lot of science stories
get, I think Tuesday, I don’t know I don’t read the print paper. There’s like a day where a
lot of the science stories get published and so
if your study comes out outside of that day it’ll
still go live on the website but it’ll eventually end up in the paper. In terms of answering your question like how do we select? It’s a mixed bag, so
like if a study came out that was like, the world is
going to end in three days, obviously no brainer you’re
doing that story, right? Some of it’s just interest. So like I don’t particularly
love coral reef stories right now and so for me
to do a coral reef story, it would have to be a pretty high bar, it would have to be a pretty
fascinating coral reef story and I don’t like it
partly because I feel like we’ve done them a lot. I don’t like them because
a lot of people don’t live in the tropics and so it doesn’t resonate with a lot of readers. And I’m just like, I don’t know, my interests lie elsewhere right now. So there is like the
interests of the reporter. You can sort of see that thread, like if you start following reporters, metaphorically not literally, you sort of start seeing the things that kind of like they’re
really interested in, so like Henry Fountain at our desk, he’s really into earthquakes
in Alaska and geology, and so a lot of his stories
kind of reflect that. I’m still a little bit more of a gadfly and so I don’t quite have that data, but like yeah so it’s a mix of like, how important is this to society and what do the implications
mean to society, and then also the interests of the writer. And then sometimes it’s like, oh well our readers will
be really interested in this you know? So it’s a mixed bag but
like we don’t do a story just because people will click on it. – Hi I’m a graduate student
in the earth sciences and I just have a follow-up
question on something you said in response to an earlier question but in terms of meeting
some of the communities that you’re writing about
like outside the states, in the Arctic for example, do you send the stories to them or do you have follow-up
with the communities that you work with? – So I have never written about the Arctic since I’ve been at the Times,
that’s like Henry’s domain, but I did a story, one
of the stories that I did when I was in Greenland was
about Greenlandic kayaking, I went to the Greenlandic Kayak Festival, and there is internet in Greenland, so I just sent it to them, to the ones that speak English anyway and some people translated
it to like other people. I think it’s disrespectful
to write about people and not let them know that
they’ve been written about, so I always try and you know. I wrote one recently about Canada and I mailed them the story. – Hi, thanks for the talk
and I’m just wondering why it was so cold this winter. (audience and Kendra laughing) Have you noticed, given the
Times multimedia platform on movement towards videography,
radio, and television programs which the Times
seems to be developing into and will that help communicate the fields that you’re interested in? – So video is its own beast. We have a video team and
when I went to Duluth I worked with them on that, and they did that hurricane thing that I like didn’t wanna show you. So like we do work with them
and they’re really great. We have our own graphics editor so that Olympics story, those charts, I worked with a graphics person on that. But the one where it was
the Arctic, the sea ice one, that was with the actual graphics team, I think that was Jeremy. So like yeah I think
that’s really helpful. It’s hard to explain the Times. So the TV, like Coral who does our politics stuff, she’s been on The Daily a few times. And we have conversations
with them about stuff that’s going on and
whether it sort of fits in within the niche that they’re doing. It’s almost like a media
empire within itself, so like they are all independently, I don’t wanna say owned,
but like operated. And so it’s still the same idea of like you’re essentially
pitching your story to another desk, or another entity, to get them to work with
it for things like video and audio or podcasting. – Hi thanks for the great talk. So your title was, Is Doom Your Beat?
– Is gloom. – Is Gloom Your Beat? And in climate communication
we’re often warned against like presenting doomsday scenarios or a worst case scenario. And I’m just curious
if you think about that and like how you balance kind of like the worst case scenario and like this hopeful
scenario in your pieces? – Yeah so I get asked
the hope question a lot and I don’t think it’s my responsibility to give anyone hope and I also don’t think it’s my responsibility to have hope, which is maybe the gloomiest
thing I’ve ever said. (audience laughing) But like so this is just
my personal perspective which is there is like
doing the right thing or doing the thing that like
you know prevents humans from mass extinction I guess. And then there is not, right? But if we don’t at least
attempt to do the right thing we’re sort of guaranteed
to go down this other path. And so does that mean that
you don’t attempt to do it unless you’re certain of the outcome. Like you get into a weird like logic about like, oh I’m only going to do this if we’re definitely going to like prevent the worst effects of climate
change but we can’t know we’re going to prevent the
worst effects of climate change until we start doing things that allow us to mitigate the effects of climate change, so it’s like a chicken and egg situation. And so for me personally I
feel like the hope conversation is what some people want
or need to use as a driver. And that’s just not how I’m wired, so I don’t really think about it. – Thanks for coming. I was curious, since you really focus on reporting the science
and global climate change is global or global weirding,
I really like that phrase, what sort of challenges
you’ve run into geopolitically since it is global and a lot of countries have articulated a policy
or does the universality of science allow you to kind
of cross over geopolitics and avoid policies that governments are trying to apply to climate. – So I don’t, this is silos,
I actually don’t do a lot of international reporting. Our desk person, we
have someone on our desk who does a lot of international stuff and so she’d be a better
answerer to that question. I can say though that
like, or I can own it, so like in between grad
school and starting at PopSci I did a reporting trip
to India and Myanmar, and in India I found a really hard time talking to the scientists because the structure of Indian
media is very different and so they didn’t really
understand what I was asking for, and so I like found this study
that was really important and I emailed the lead
author and I was like, hey I’m gonna be in
Delhi, can I talk to you? And he like kicked it up the chain and kept kicking it up the chain, and then nobody was
really getting back to me so finally I ended up
in Delhi and I was like, hey I’m in Delhi can you talk to me now? (audience laughing) And I ended up at this
like government building with like tea in front
of me and like five men including like the head of their group, and they were all like we can
only talk about the science, we can’t talk about the
political implications, and I was like I don’t even know the political implications of India. So I’m not trying to get to like something about like some politics, I really just want to
know about the monsoon. So that was one and then
in Myanmar you couldn’t get a journalism visa, or, it’s really hard to get a journalism visa when you’re in Myanmar
and so I just didn’t. And then when people
asked me for my papers I just played dumb. So yeah there’s that. And then actually like six
months after I left Myanmar my fixer, so do you guys
know what a fixer is? So when you’re a journalist
and you go to a foreign country you don’t know the country, right, so you get a person,
often another journalist, a local journalist who acts as your fixer and they will either set you
up with people to talk to, or they will find you a translator, they sort of help you
navigate through the country closer to how a local does. Anyway my fixer got arrested so, and imprisoned for like six months for flying a drone over the capital. I don’t know if that’s actually
answering your question but yeah so I don’t do a lot
of the geopolitical stuff, but that like how do you
navigate as a journalist. So there is, I mean, different countries have different levels of
journalistic openness. When I went to India I
absolutely had to have a journalism visa because
they were arresting people for doing journalism, they had just arrested a Vice team. – Hi Kendra, thanks again for speaking. I was wondering what
volume of mail you reply to when you get like these big like hate or perhaps congratulatory emails, and perhaps if students send
you questions after lectures? (audience laughing) – I get a lot of email, like 100 to 150 email messages a day. I don’t respond to negative mail ever, but I save all of it
just for safety purposes. Well I save all of the electronic ones. The print ones I’ll sometimes
just take a snapshot and email myself them but I
don’t, we have small desks. The other mail, it really
depends, I just get so, and I’m really not on top
of my inbox right now. I get a lot so I try and find them and I try to be like a nice human but I am also human and
I like things like sleep and family and friends. Oh sorry that’s my alarm it’s telling me to leave work actually. (audience laughing) Sorry, and then I snooze
it and don’t leave for another 90 minutes. (cell phone alarm ringing) Yeah I guess it’s a sign of a problem where I have an alarm clock
set to tell me to go home. (audience laughing) – [Woman] Does anyone have questions? – So I’m interested in
this idea of the fixer and someone to kind of help you navigate the world of journalism
when you’re traveling, but just navigating the
world of science journalism, when you cover so many different stories and have to interact with so
many different scientists. What is your process for finding people and what are the ways
that we as scientists can make your job easier? – So, how do I find people? Twitter, that sounds like
a joke but there is a thing called Science Twitter and
I follow a lot of scientists so I definitely am aware. Like the scientists who
tweet out their work, or that tweet out not
just their work but like thematically and topic-wise, are definitely the ones that I’m aware of. And I’m also like a black woman so making sure that I’m
inclusive of voices of women, of people of color, is like a
really important thing for me and so I’m always thinking about like if I’m covering a story and
you know it’s a male lead, I’m really trying hard to find a woman as an outside expert. So especially if you’re a woman scientist, or even if you’re a man
scientist and I email you, or especially if you’re a woman
scientist and I email you, and I say hey can you
talk about this paper, if you can’t please just
recommend another woman. I then get like nine
new men when I was like I kind of really wanted a
woman, it’s pretty high, and if you’re a dude don’t
just recommend other dudes recommend other women or
recommend people of color, like that’s really important. I use Google Scholar a lot to
find the same thematic topic, I’ll look at, I don’t know
if other people do this, but like when a study comes
out I’ll look at the footnotes and see the literature
that they’re referencing and then see some of those studies and try and find those reporters. I’m really trying to find
subject-matter experts and I’m not just looking for like a name. So I think my source list is a lot bigger than a lot of people. And also people who answer their email or pick up their phone,
it’s like I know you guys are often not at your desks, which is why I often email you first but honestly like there are times when I’m on a four hour deadline
or a three hour deadline or like a zero hour deadline
where they’re just like this needs to get done and so it’s whoever answers their phone the fastest. – [Lauren] Well thank you so much. (audience clapping)