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New Guidelines Aimed At Improving Understanding Of Scientific Data

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New Guidelines Aimed At Improving Understanding Of Scientific Data

New guidelines from researchers from University of East Anglia (UEA) have been set to improve the communication and understanding of scientific data – using knowledge of how the human brain processes visual and written information.

Drawing on cognitive and psychological sciences and using climate change data as an example, the team looked at how scientists and other communicators can increase the accessibility of graphics used to present information, while maintaining scientific accuracy and rigor.

Scientific information is one factor that can influence decision-making to achieve change, and visualisation of data through graphics – such as graphs, diagrams and thematic maps – plays an important role in the communication of climate change findings to both expert and non-specialist audiences.

However, graphics created for scientific assessments published by bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been criticised for being inaccessible to non-experts.

The researchers from UEA and Temple University provide guidelines to support climate scientists in developing more accessible graphics. They show how they can be applied in practice and provide recommendations on how the IPCC might use these guidelines in the development of future reports.

The project was conducted in response to the IPCC itself asking how graphics and reports can be made more user-friendly as it looks ahead to the Sixth Assessment Report, due to be released in 2020-2021.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers suggest that graphics should be tested during their development to understand viewers’ comprehension of them, for example by using eye tracking technology to measure visual attention.

Co-author Prof Kenny Coventry, an expert in the relationship between language and perception and head of UEA’s School of Psychology, said the cognitive and psychological sciences can provide valuable insights into how visualisations of data can be improved.

Graphics of climate data are integral to scientific assessments of climate change, but only support communication and decision-making if they are understood

“Graphics of climate data are integral to scientific assessments of climate change, but only support communication and decision-making if they are understood,” said Prof Coventry. “Testing graphics and applying insights from the science of human cognition to help overcome comprehension problems offers the potential to make climate science knowledge more accessible to decision-makers in society, while also retaining the integrity of the scientific data and evidence on which they are based.

“The ease of accessibility of graphics of climate science has implications for how society might make best use of scientific knowledge. Graphics of climate data that are accessible to all parties involved could support improved engagement, dialogue and decision-making between scientists, policy-makers, practitioners, communities and the public.

“While the science underpinning graphic comprehension is still developing, the guidelines we present provide a useful reference for climate scientists to apply psychological and cognitive insights when creating graphics of data.”

The researchers say that visual attention when viewing graphics can be limited and selective – visual information in a graphic may or may not be looked at and/or processed by viewers. An excess of visual information can also create visual clutter and impair comprehension, while the visual structure and layout of the data influences the conclusions drawn about it.

Animating a graphic may help or hinder comprehension, and the language used can influence thought about the graphic.

The team used the guidelines to re-design a figure from one of the IPCC’s Summaries for Policy Makers (SPMs), which are primarily aimed at experts working in government. This cognitively inspired version included larger font size to highlight key headings, emphasised important differences using contrast in colour, and reduced visual clutter. When tested with a sample of climate change researchers and non-experts, 80 per cent of them preferred the cognitively inspired version.

The guidelines include:

Direct viewers’ visual attention to visual features of the graphic that support inferences about the data;

Include only information for the intended purpose of the graphic; break down the graphic into visual ‘chunks’, each of which should contain enough information for the intended task or message;

Identify the most important relationships in the data that are to be communicated; consider different ways of structuring the data that enable the viewer to quickly identify these relationships;

Use text to help direct viewers’ understanding of the graphic, for example by providing key knowledge needed to interpret the graphic.

Jordan Harold, co-author and PhD researcher within UEA’s School of Psychology and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said: “Visually representing climate data to inform decision-making can be challenging due to the multi-dimensionality of data, a diversity in users’ needs across different stakeholder groups, and challenges and limitations in the use of software and tools to create graphics.

“As the IPCC prepares for its Sixth Assessment Report, there is an opportunity for it to open up the review process and ask the psychology and cognitive science communities, and those working in associated disciplines, for feedback on drafts of graphics. Similar collaborations have led to improved communication in related scientific fields.”

‘Cognitive and psychological science insights to improve climate change data visualisation’, authored by Jordan Harold, Irene Lorenzoni, Thomas Shipley and Kenny Coventry is published in Nature Climate Change.

Energy

Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?

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sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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Energy

7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees

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As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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