‘Global warming,’ is definitely a misnomer (or at least it’s an easy target for a straw man). Your reaction is exactly why lots of scientists have been advocating calling the phenomenon ‘climate change’ instead of ‘global warming’- although it looks like ‘global warming’ is more associated with ‘with greater public understanding, emotional engagement, and support for personal and national action’. So maybe if it’s exposure that scientists want, ‘global warming’ is the better term. Is any publicity, good publicity?

You bring up a good point though, who is responsible for ‘marketing’ science? Is a new vaccine ‘revolutionary’, or is it just ‘effective in certain cases’? On one hand, the whole issue is a bit ridiculous. New scientific results are not Honey Nut Cheerios. They don’t need a catchy jingle. On the other, there is so much widely available information now that it’s vital that we can weed out what’s true from what’s not.

I think the burden should not be on scientists’ shoulders – not in any typical research scenario anyways. Universities have official PR departments that need to be responsible here. You mention that there are hired ‘word consultants’ – maybe science-specific publicists should be more popular? If every actor can have a dedicated publicist, it seems that Universities should hire more. Or, what about, the idea that there should be publicly funded science ‘police’ that verify various claims in major publications? Sure, even typing out the term ‘science police’ feels contradictory, but if you can sue someone for defaming your own reputation, why can’t you sue them for defaming science?

One interesting aspect to analyze here is the way in which false information can spread. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, gave a famous lecture in the 80s presenting his theory about the mechanisms which are at play. He mentions two major ones:

1. Biased Assimilation
“If [a] statement is in agreement with the individual’s bias, the individual finds validation and holds the belief even more strongly. If the statement disagrees with what he or she already believes to be true, … the person will not change opinions, but rather will still find validation in his or her own belief, rejecting the statement as questionable for one rationalization or another.”

2. Informational Cascades
“..the process by which awareness of the aggregate opinions and beliefs of others can largely control an individual’s taste and belief formation. Through this process, he explained, “early adopters” can have an undue influence over the public’s general acceptance or rejection of a statement of fact.”

Can you think of any other ones?