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  • I'm a meteorologist by degree,

  • I have a bachelor's, master's and PhD in physical meteorology,

  • so I'm a meteorologist, card carrying.

  • And so with that comes four questions, always.

  • This is one prediction I will always get right.

  • (Laughter)

  • And those questions are,

  • "Marshall, what channel are you on?"

  • (Laughter)

  • "Dr. Shepherd, what's the weather going to be tomorrow?"

  • (Laughter)

  • And oh, I love this one:

  • "My daughter is getting married next September, it's an outdoor wedding.

  • Is it going to rain?"

  • (Laughter)

  • Not kidding, I get those, and I don't know the answer to that,

  • the science isn't there.

  • But the one I get a lot these days is,

  • "Dr. Shepherd, do you believe in climate change?"

  • "Do you believe in global warming?"

  • Now, I have to gather myself every time I get that question.

  • Because it's an ill-posed question --

  • science isn't a belief system.

  • My son, he's 10 -- he believes in the tooth fairy.

  • And he needs to get over that, because I'm losing dollars, fast.

  • (Laughter)

  • But he believes in the tooth fairy.

  • But consider this.

  • Bank of America building, there, in Atlanta.

  • You never hear anyone say,

  • "Do you believe, if you go to the top of that building

  • and throw a ball off, it's going to fall?"

  • You never hear that, because gravity is a thing.

  • So why don't we hear the question,

  • "Do you believe in gravity?"

  • But of course, we hear the question,

  • "Do you believe in global warming?"

  • Well, consider these facts.

  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS,

  • one of the leading organizations in science,

  • queried scientists and the public on different science topics.

  • Here are some of them:

  • genetically modified food, animal research, human evolution.

  • And look at what the scientists say about those,

  • the people that actually study those topics, in red,

  • versus the gray, what the public thinks.

  • How did we get there?

  • How did we get there?

  • That scientists and the public are so far apart on these science issues.

  • Well, I'll come a little bit closer to home for me,

  • climate change.

  • Eighty-seven percent of scientists

  • believe that humans are contributing to climate change.

  • But only 50 percent of the public?

  • How did we get there?

  • So it begs the question,

  • what shapes perceptions about science?

  • It's an interesting question

  • and one that I've been thinking about quite a bit.

  • I think that one thing that shapes perceptions in the public, about science,

  • is belief systems and biases.

  • Belief systems and biases.

  • Go with me for a moment.

  • Because I want to talk about three elements of that:

  • confirmation bias, Dunning-Kruger effect

  • and cognitive dissonance.

  • Now, these sound like big, fancy, academic terms, and they are.

  • But when I describe them, you're going to be like, "Oh!

  • I recognize that; I even know somebody that does that."

  • Confirmation bias.

  • Finding evidence that supports what we already believe.

  • Now, we're probably all a little bit guilty of that at times.

  • Take a look at this.

  • I'm on Twitter.

  • And often, when it snows,

  • I'll get this tweet back to me.

  • (Laughter)

  • "Hey, Dr. Shepherd, I have 20 inches of global warming in my yard,

  • what are you guys talking about, climate change?"

  • I get that tweet a lot, actually.

  • It's a cute tweet, it makes me chuckle as well.

  • But it's oh, so fundamentally scientifically flawed.

  • Because it illustrates

  • that the person tweeting doesn't understand

  • the difference between weather and climate.

  • I often say, weather is your mood

  • and climate is your personality.

  • Think about that.

  • Weather is your mood, climate is your personality.

  • Your mood today doesn't necessarily tell me anything about your personality,

  • nor does a cold day tell me anything about climate change,

  • or a hot day, for that matter.

  • Dunning-Kruger.

  • Two scholars from Cornell came up with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  • If you go look up the peer-reviewed paper for this,

  • you will see all kinds of fancy terminology:

  • it's an illusory superiority complex, thinking we know things.

  • In other words, people think they know more than they do.

  • Or they underestimate what they don't know.

  • And then, there's cognitive dissonance.

  • Cognitive dissonance is interesting.

  • We just recently had Groundhog Day, right?

  • Now, there's no better definition of cognitive dissonance

  • than intelligent people asking me if a rodent's forecast is accurate.

  • (Laughter)

  • But I get that, all of the time.

  • (Laughter)

  • But I also hear about the Farmer's Almanac.

  • We grew up on the Farmer's Almanac, people are familiar with it.

  • The problem is, it's only about 37 percent accurate,

  • according to studies at Penn State University.

  • But we're in an era of science

  • where we actually can forecast the weather.

  • And believe it or not, and I know some of you are like, "Yeah, right,"

  • we're about 90 percent accurate, or more, with weather forecast.

  • You just tend to remember the occasional miss, you do.

  • (Laughter)

  • So confirmation bias, Dunning-Kruger and cognitive dissonance.

  • I think those shape biases and perceptions that people have about science.

  • But then, there's literacy and misinformation

  • that keep us boxed in, as well.

  • During the hurricane season of 2017,

  • media outlets had to actually assign reporters

  • to dismiss fake information about the weather forecast.

  • That's the era that we're in.

  • I deal with this all the time in social media.

  • Someone will tweet a forecast --

  • that's a forecast for Hurricane Irma, but here's the problem:

  • it didn't come from the Hurricane Center.

  • But people were tweeting and sharing this; it went viral.

  • It didn't come from the National Hurricane Center at all.

  • So I spent 12 years of my career at NASA

  • before coming to the University of Georgia,

  • and I chair their Earth Science Advisory Committee,

  • I was just up there last week in DC.

  • And I saw some really interesting things.

  • Here's a NASA model and science data from satellite

  • showing the 2017 hurricane season.

  • You see Hurricane Harvey there?

  • Look at all the dust coming off of Africa.

  • Look at the wildfires up in northwest US and in western Canada.

  • There comes Hurricane Irma.

  • This is fascinating to me.

  • But admittedly, I'm a weather geek.

  • But more importantly, it illustrates that we have the technology

  • to not only observe the weather and climate system,

  • but predict it.

  • There's scientific understanding,

  • so there's no need for some of those perceptions and biases

  • that we've been talking about.

  • We have knowledge.

  • But think about this ...

  • This is Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey.

  • Now, I write a contribution for "Forbes" magazine periodically,

  • and I wrote an article a week before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, saying,

  • "There's probably going to be 40 to 50 inches of rainfall."

  • I wrote that a week before it happened.

  • But yet, when you talk to people in Houston,

  • people are saying, "We had no idea it was going to be this bad."

  • I'm just...

  • (Sigh)

  • (Laughter)

  • A week before.

  • But --

  • I know, it's amusing, but the reality is,

  • we all struggle with perceiving something outside of our experience level.

  • People in Houston get rain all of the time,

  • they flood all of the time.

  • But they've never experienced that.

  • Houston gets about 34 inches of rainfall for the entire year.

  • They got 50 inches in three days.

  • That's an anomaly event, that's outside of the normal.

  • So belief systems and biases, literacy and misinformation.

  • How do we step out of the boxes that are cornering our perceptions?

  • Well we don't even have to go to Houston, we can come very close to home.

  • (Laughter)

  • Remember "Snowpocalypse?"

  • (Laughter)

  • Snowmageddon?

  • Snowzilla?

  • Whatever you want to call it.

  • All two inches of it.

  • (Laughter)

  • Two inches of snow shut the city of Atlanta down.

  • (Laughter)

  • But the reality is, we were in a winter storm watch,

  • we went to a winter weather advisory,

  • and a lot of people perceived that as being a downgrade,

  • "Oh, it's not going to be as bad."

  • When in fact, the perception was that it was not going to be as bad,

  • but it was actually an upgrade.

  • Things were getting worse as the models were coming in.

  • So that's an example of how we get boxed in by our perceptions.

  • So, the question becomes,

  • how do we expand our radius?

  • The area of a circle is "pi r squared".

  • We increase the radius, we increase the area.

  • How do we expand our radius of understanding about science?

  • Here are my thoughts.

  • You take inventory of your own biases.

  • And I'm challenging you all to do that.

  • Take an inventory of your own biases.

  • Where do they come from?

  • Your upbringing, your political perspective, your faith --

  • what shapes your own biases?

  • Then, evaluate your sources --

  • where do you get your information on science?

  • What do you read, what do you listen to,

  • to consume your information on science?

  • And then, it's important to speak out.

  • Talk about how you evaluated your biases and evaluated your sources.

  • I want you to listen to this little 40-second clip

  • from one of the top TV meteorologists in the US, Greg Fishel,

  • in the Raleigh, Durham area.

  • He's revered in that region.

  • But he was a climate skeptic.

  • But listen to what he says about speaking out.

  • Greg Fishel: The mistake I was making

  • and didn't realize until very recently,

  • was that I was only looking for information

  • to support what I already thought,

  • and was not interested in listening to anything contrary.

  • And so I woke up one morning,

  • and there was this question in my mind,

  • "Greg, are you engaging in confirmation bias?

  • Are you only looking for information to support what you already think?"

  • And if I was honest with myself, and I tried to be,

  • I admitted that was going on.

  • And so the more I talked to scientists

  • and read peer-reviewed literature

  • and tried to conduct myself the way I'd been taught to conduct myself

  • at Penn State when I was a student,

  • it became very difficult for me to make the argument

  • that we weren't at least having some effect.

  • Maybe there was still a doubt as to how much,

  • but to say "nothing" was not a responsible thing for me to do

  • as a scientist or a person.

  • JMS: Greg Fishel just talked about expanding his radius

  • of understanding of science.

  • And when we expand our radius,

  • it's not about making a better future,

  • but it's about preserving life as we know it.

  • So as we think about expanding our own radius in understanding science,

  • it's critical for Athens, Georgia, for Atlanta, Georgia,

  • for the state of Georgia, and for the world.

  • So expand your radius.