charts. Nicholson concurred, adding that even two scientists can draw different conclusions from the same data. She called it a confirmation bias—the tendency for a person to believe one scientist versus another based on that person’s preconceived ideas, adding: “I don’t know when climate change … became such a strong belief system on the level of religion and political beliefs, but it has.” By the end of the discussion, Moore said that he now understood that it is not whether people believe or not in global warming, it is whether they believe or not “in what we said” and thanked Lawler and Nicholson “because I learned something.”
Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson tied his grave concern about climate change to the question of how best to communicate about the human spaceflight program, which many of the participants cited as a particularly difficult sell. Robinson emphasized that one could not discuss human spaceflight without reference to the “planetary environmental emergency that we are now in without being escapist and doing more harm than good.” He asserted that talking about human space exploration could be “easily misinterpreted as escapist and elitist, involving only a small percentage of the human population,” and the focus should be on space and Earth science, especially the connection between the two, for example comparative planetology. He reacted to assertions by others that the public in general does not trust scientists by commenting that there should be posters reminding people that their doctors and the people who build and fly airplanes are scientists too. As for the climate issue, he argued that the climate science community, as a community, should “bite the bullet” and tell the public that “we are in a fight for the hearts and minds of our own population.”
Washington Post science reporter Marc Kaufman’s complaint about communicating with the public about the human spaceflight program, or exploration, was that he could not imagine a worse scenario than what has happened in the past 10 years. The 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedy was followed by President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and then go on to Mars. That idea was endorsed by Congress but not funded adequately, which tells people that we are not serious, he said. When the Obama administration determined there was not enough money to execute President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration and do many other things on NASA’s plate, it “understandably decided to blow up the whole process,” he asserted. In terms of communicating with the public about all of this, Joan Vernikos, former director of life sciences at NASA and an SSB member, emphasized that actions speak louder than words, and if they are disparate the result is “disastrous.” That was her assessment of the situation with the human spaceflight program today.
Kaufman thinks President Obama’s “commercial crew” concept of relying on the commercial sector to build and operate systems that will take government astronauts, as well as tourists, back and forth to low Earth orbit, and especially the International Space Station (ISS), will reinvigorate public interest in space. Former CNN science correspondent Miles O’Brien, who gave the keynote address, also finds commercial crew to be a “very exciting” story because “we’re taking free enterprise into orbit” and there are great storylines there. Linda Billings of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs strongly disagreed. A former journalist who covered commercial space companies for many years and worked in the industry later in her career, she said she firmly believes that space exploration will continue to be the domain of government agencies for the foreseeable future. The private sector’s interest is profit not the public interest, she insisted. However, she also is “deeply skeptical about prospects for the human future in space” today.
Robinson opined that only wealthy people could afford to go into space as tourists, referring to the practice as “bungee jumping for the ultra-rich,” and that having space as a “gated community” is a “misuse” of space because space exploration is more important than that. He emphasized that eventually humans would make the solar system their “neighborhood,” but now is not the time. Instead, this is the time to focus on the health of Earth, in his view.
Kaufman concluded that the public is more interested in space science than exploration in any case. He uses the number of times an electronic newspaper story is shared on Facebook as a measure of its popular appeal and said that stories about space exploration do not get the same number of Facebook shares as science stories: “Science trumps [human] exploration by orders of magnitude.” Using his metric of Facebook shares, Kaufman observed that looking at the websites of the Washington Post and