Reflecting on media coverage of Ice Flows

Ice Flows got a bit of media coverage after its launch last week, which really helped to raise awareness of the game, such that the website has had hits from all parts of the globe.  On the whole it has been good, with some very positive reviews, but there have been a few things that I have been reflecting on.

The aim of creating the game was to help people understand how ice sheets work, and how they respond to changes in the environment.  As I said in the Times Higher Education article, iceberg calving events are a good example of something that is often misinterpreted and misrepresented in the media and people’s understanding.  The “case of the 150 000 dead penguins” was also a good illustration of how a scientific study can end up being misreported.  I use this as an example on the “Science vs Fiction” section of the website, in fact, it is partly what drove me to develop that page.

I was therefore, amazed when I scrolled down the article to find that they had signed off the article with two references to Antarctic related stories, one of which was the first Guardian article about the 150 000 dead penguins.   The other was about a NASA study indicating that Antarctica was in fact gaining mass, not losing it, a study that is viewed as an outlier and to have some problems with the analysis.  Many people would have read this article about the game (great), but would have been presented with two widely questioned statements about Antarctica, almost as “fact” (not so great).

Another reason for creating the Science vs Fiction page relates to when I showed an early prototype version to a colleague; I was concerned by his tongue-in-cheek response that “oh, so what you’re saying is climate change is good for penguins because they can get to the fish under the ice shelf”?  So, I made dragon-penguins and dinosaur-penguins to help indicate that the biology in the game is not accurately represented.  Still, an article is headlined: “Game shows how things could play out for Antarctica’s penguins“.

Lastly, to my amusement, the Times Higher article miscopied from the press release at the end, talking about the project funding the work, converting the text “modelling of ice flow”, to “modelling of ice floes”…  Maybe my clever title wasn’t so clever.

Without the media coverage, the game would not have reached anywhere near as many people as it has, and like I say above, on the whole the coverage has been very positive.  The motivation for the game was to increase people’s understanding of a complex system, that we as scientists are also still working to understand, so they are able to see past headlines and assess the story for themselves – including the complexity and uncertainty behind the story.  Science is rarely black and white, unlike headlines…

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