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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

Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis

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Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/nivens

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long will my retirement savings last?”

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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Energy

What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?

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Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/sdecoret

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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