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Number 642 • March 27, 2015 | Past Issues













Seeing Red (or Blue): Bias Doesn't Recognize Boundaries Between Science and Politics

Most people believe that while politics are rife with partisanship, science is something less open to interpretation. That’s not necessarily so, though, recent research has found. In fact, when it comes to polarized issues—be they political or scientific—people use a similar process to determine what they believe to be true.

Past studies have shown people don’t digest political information impartially, even though they often think they do. Subconsciously, people—in search of convenient truths—tend to actively discount ideas that challenge their political beliefs while rewarding those that support their preconceptions.

This was graphically demonstrated in 2005 when scientists from the University of California scanned the brains of ten Republicans and ten Democrats using a functional MRI procedure.

The test measured brain activity while participants looked at political advertisements and images of then-presidential candidates George Bush and John Kerry. Patterns of activity suggested both groups mentally fought their attraction to images that represented the opposing ideology, essentially convincing themselves that their initial impulses were wrong.

By focusing on flaws associated with the opposition, any instinct toward allegiance was quickly replaced by a sense of dislike. The whole process happens nearly instantaneously, so only the final impression of dislike is noticed.

The end result is that political partisans trick themselves into feeling alienated from each other. And according to study author Joshua Freedman, this psychological behavior is not driven by a deep commitment to issues.

“We are not fighting over the future of the country; we are fighting for our team, like Red Sox and Yankee fans arguing which club has the better catcher,” Freedman explained in a The New York Times article. “Both in an election and in baseball, all that really matters is who wears the team uniform.”
A recent study by Ohio State University researchers showed that this psychological process also occurs when people process scientific information that does not align with their political views. Both liberals and conservatives interviewed for the study expressed less trust in science when they were presented with facts that challenged specific politicized issues.

The authors recruited 1,518 participants from across the country, telling them they would be evaluating a new educational Web site about science. What the researchers were trying to learn, however, was how participants reacted to science issues that previous studies had determined were partisan—climate change and evolution, in the case of conservatives and hydraulic fracturing and nuclear power for liberals.

Participants were asked to agree or disagree with various claims in order to assess the accuracy of their beliefs. For example, statements such as “greenhouse gas emissions in the United States have decreased substantially in recent years, in part due to the growth of fracking of natural gas” (true) or “there is a great deal of disagreement among scientists about whether or not climate change is primarily caused by human activities” (false). Next the participants were asked to explore the educational Web site that included all the information needed to inform themselves.

The study found that when participants, liberals and conservatives alike, encountered findings that challenged their views, they were more likely to rate a web page negatively, resist the implications of the information they read, and express distrust of the scientific community in general.

While conservatives are often perceived to be the most dismissive of science, study author Eric Nisbet said both sides are susceptible to bias.

“Liberals are also capable of processing scientific information in a biased manner,”Nisbet, an associate professor of communication and political science at the Ohio State University, said in a news release.

Nisbet is concerned about the public’s diminishing trust in science and blamed the media for politicizing science issues, stoking controversy, and of misrepresenting scientific findings.

What Nisbet seemed to overlook, though was the role scientists themselves play in the politicization of science. As early as 2006, Roger Pielke, of the Center for Science and Technology Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, recognized that scientific debate and political debate had become indistinguishable in the minds of the public and policymakers.

“In many instances, science—particularly environmental science—has become little more than a mechanism of marketing competing political agendas, and scientists have become leading members of the advertising campaigns,” he wrote in Regulation.

When scientists put on the team uniform, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they are considered as part of the team—and when that happens most people, unable to cheer for the opposition, have to convince themselves that the opposing findings are wrong.

Still, that doesn’t mean scientists should shy away from presenting their findings. A 2015 Pew survey showed American scientists believe that they should take an active role in public policy debates about issues related to science and technology. Furthermore, they believe that their careers can be advanced by media coverage of their work and social media use. So how can scientists be both impartial communicators and advocates of their work? The answer might be making sure the public knows there are no solid answers.

Pielke—who has had his own travails with communicating science—has famously said that scientists should serve as “honest brokers” of information to restore trust and remove politics from science. They should provide a range of options for policymakers rather than claiming there is just one policy response to a given issue.

“Because scientific results always have some degree of uncertainty and a range of means is typically available to achieve particular objectives, the task of political advocacy necessarily involves considerations that go well beyond science,” Pielke wrote. “Science never compels just one political outcome. The world is not that simple.”

—Elke Weesjes

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The Ups and Downs of Cali Quake Risk

There’s good news and bad news on the California earthquake front. The good news is the U.S. Geological Survey recently adjusted the chance of having a moderate magnitude quake down by about 30 percent. The bad news is that reduction comes from a change in modeling that also increased the risk of an 8.0 or larger magnitude event to nearly seven percent.

“The new likelihoods are due to the inclusion of possible multi-fault ruptures, where earthquakes are no longer confined to separate, individual faults, but can occasionally rupture multiple faults simultaneously,” USGS scientist Ned Field said in a statement.

“This is a significant advancement in terms of representing a broader range of earthquakes throughout California’s complex fault system.”

The USGS and its partners released the Third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast last week. The report updates the previous 2007 forecast with calculations that took into account an additional 240,000 fault-based earthquakes and included an additional 100 faults, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

“The message to the average citizen hasn’t changed. You live in earthquake country, and you should live every day like it’s the day a Big One could hit,” Field is quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times.

That message isn’t necessarily heard by most Californians, though. The Insurance Journal, reports less than 10 percent of the state has coverage for quakes. That number compares with less-often struck states such as Oregon at 20 percent covered and Washington at 12 percent.

It remains to be seen whether or not a bleaker forecast for large-scale quakes will ramp up individual insurance sales. The City of Los Angeles, meanwhile, began taking a more aggressive stance on earthquake preparedness in recent years, joining cities like San Francisco that see the writing on the earthquake wall. L.A.’s mayor’s office released its Resilience by Design, a laundry list of actions the City must take to be safer, in December. The report was presented to the public last month by the mayor’s seismic Safety advisor Lucy Jones, who pointed out every action is a step toward safer homes and infrastructure.

"Even if we only get to part of this, it's the biggest step forward that we've ever seen," said Jones. "This earthquake is absolutely inevitable. Let's get ready for it."

—Jolie Breeden

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Hey, Students! Put Your Hazards and Disasters Papers to Work for You

Your research paper could net you $100 and free entry into this summer’s Natural Hazards Workshop if chosen as one of the two winners of our annual Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition.

Papers may present current research, literature reviews, theoretical arguments, or case studies on social or behavioral aspects of hazards or disasters. The competition is open to graduate or undergraduate students enrolled for at least one term of the 2014-2015 academic year.

Papers must be submitted by April 28, 2015. For more information and application instructions, visit the competition page on the Natural Hazards Center Web site.

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The March Natural Hazard Observer Is Here

The March Natural Hazards Observer is now available online. This month, you'll find a range of diverse topics that emphasize the human element in disaster—how we help cause them, how we memorialize them, and most of all our indomitable spirit in recovering from them. Content includes:

Eighty Years of Dust—The Dustbowl Revisited. A photo essay by Tiffany Hagler-Geard

New Orleans' Jazz Musicians a Decade after Hurricane Katrina. By Bruce Boyd Raeburn

A Tornado, a Town, and a Team—Football as a Catalyst for Disaster Recovery. By Jack L. Rozdilsky and Nick Swope

Outside the Walls—Flood Vulnerability and the Paradox of Protection at the Edges of New Orleans. By Zachary Lamb

Explore your copy of the March 2015 Natural Hazards Observer now.

We're sure you'll be impressed with the new look of the Observer online, but you should see it in print! A year's subscription to the print edition is $30. Those interested in subscribing can sign up on our subscription page using a credit card, or be invoiced later.

Call Outs: Calls for Papers, Abstracts, Proposals, and More

Call for Applications
Nick Winter Memorial Scholarship Fund
The Association of State Floodplain Managers
Deadline: April 1, 2015

The Association of State Floodplain Managers is currently accepting applications for the $2,500 Nick Winter Memorial Scholarship. Eligible applicants must be U.S. citizens and enrolled in an undergraduate or a graduate program related to floodplain or stormwater management. Preference will be given to applicants with a history of civic or volunteer service, as well as a financial need. For more information on requirements and qualifications, visit the ASFPM Web site.


Call for Entries
Ideation Prize Competion
U.S. Science and Technology Directorate
Deadline: April 2, 2015

The First Responders Group of the U.S. Science and Technology Directorate is hosting a competition seeking innovative solutions for tracking first responders inside structures in real time. Proposed solutions should be personalized, modular, low cost, and preform well in a variety of indoor environments. The winning design will receive $20,000, with a second place prize of $5,000. For more information on requirements and eligibility, see the notice in the Federal Register.


Call for Papers  
World Congress of Clinical Safety
International Association of Risk Management in Medicine
Deadline: May 15, 2015
The International Association of Risk Management in Medicine is accepting abstracts for presentation at their Fourth Annual World Congress of Clinical Safety. Abstract submissions should be focused on safety related to risk and crisis management. For more information on possible abstract topics and guidelines, visit the call for abstracts on the conference Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

This blog features short thought pieces on how innovation and technology are revolutionizing the power of the individual by increasing self-sufficiency, self-determination, independence, survival, and resilience. Masterminded by Patrick Meier, it covers a wealth of topics such as big data, drones, humanitarian technology, disaster resilience, and crisis mapping.


United Nations Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction
The fourth edition of the United Nations Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction is now available online. The report is a resource for understanding and analyzing global disaster risk and explores large potential losses from disasters that many countries face. Among its conclusions is that Disaster Risk Management should be integrated with development to better raise awareness that managing risk is less costly than managing disasters.


Youth Creating Disaster Recovery & Resilience
Youth experience disaster differently than adults and this Web site has collected a myriad of examples of the realities of that dynamic. Using art, video, and story telling, young people affected by disasters such as the Calgary Flood, the Joplin Tornado, and the Slave Lake Wildfire identify what they need for recovery, challenges they have faced, and ways in which they can contribute to recover from disasters.


The Guardian Climate Crisis Series

While the debate about human contribution to climate change still rages, The Guardian is planning a series of articles to explore how humanity can solve it. The first installment is an excerpt from Naomi Klien’s This Changes Everything. In it, Klein argues that if climate change is treated as the crisis it is, society can be improved in the process, and disasters averted in the process.


Changing the Atmosphere: Anthropology and Climate Change

This report from the American Anthropological Association’s Global Climate Change Task Force represents several years of wrangling with questions of how anthropological contributions can inform issues related to global climate change. The report articulates new research directions and suggests actions and recommendations to help promote anthropological investigation of these issues. Themes such as the human causes of climate change, lessons learned about human adaption, and the importance of local and community engagement are addressed. 


Bracing for Impact
This reader-funded journalism project will focus on various aspects of climate change, including how race, class, and ethnic differences influence recovery from extreme weather; food security strategies; what makes species resilient; and how communities are preparing for emerging diseases.

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Conferences and Events

[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at]

April 9-10, 2015
Ready at a Moment’s Notice Conference
Van Horne Institute
Calgary, Canada
Cost and Registration: $425, open until filled

This conference will focus on emergency preparedness planning for businesses and organizations. Topics include disaster response preparedness planning, logistics of emergency response, community and volunteer communication, organizational resiliency, and an analysis of the Bow River Basin floods.


April 14-15, 2015
World Uranium Symposium
Nature Québec, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, and others
Quebec, Canada
Cost and Registration: $245, open until filled

This conference will address issues associated with the nuclear fuel chain and mining uranium. Topics include health concerns and effects, uranium waste disposal regulations, community responses to uranium, environmental issues associated with nuclear power, the long-term health impacts of nuclear weapons, and case studies of Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Miles Island.


April 27-28, 2015
Resilience Canada
The Conference Board Canada
Calgary, Canada
Cost and Registration: $1,230, open until filled

This conference will focus on ways in which cities can better adapt and recover from increasingly damaging natural disasters. Topics include international perspectives of resilience, collaborations that build resilience, lessons from Calgary’s past disaster recoveries, resilient power supplies, and sustainable urban planning.


May 10-15, 2015
Governor’s Hurricane Conference
Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference
Orlando, Florida
Cost and Registration: $265, open until filled

This conference will examine how collaborations and partnerships can address the challenges of building resilience to hurricanes. Topics include maximizing budget strategies, developing community action plans, monitoring debris and field operations, using social media for emergency management, practicing effective mass care, planning for public health and health care recovery, and creating a framework for Florida disaster recovery.


May 6, 2015
Search and Rescue Conference
Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, Australian Institute of Emergency Services, and others
Gold Coast, Australia
Cost and Registration: $500 before March 30, open until filled

This conference will discuss the challenges of preparing, deploying, and operating search and rescue missions. Topics include maritime search and rescue in the tropical pacific, night search techniques for missing persons, urban search and rescue dogs, leading multi-agency urban search and rescue, and using remotely piloted aircraft systems for police operations.


May 10-13, 2015
Public Health and Disasters Conference
The University of Utah
Park City, Utah
Cost and Registration: $589 before March 31, open until filled
This conference is a part of the Public Health Professional Education series and will focus on emergency public health preparedness. Topics include funding preparedness efforts, preparing for catastrophic events, rapid emergency alert communication, government response to disasters, and working as a first responder.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Associate Faculty Member
Royal Roads University
Victoria, British Columbia
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: April 13, 2015

This associate faculty position is responsible for teaching and developing courses in Conflict Analysis and Management, Disaster and Emergency Management, and Human Security and Peacebuilding programs. A PhD in disaster and emergency management, conflict analysis and management, or a related field, professional experience in a field related to course content, and graduate-level teaching experience are required.


Secretary General
The Global Earthquake Model Foundation
Pavia, Italy
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: April 15, 2015

This position is the Foundation’s organizational leader and chief executive. Duties include maintaining institutional partnerships, overseeing operations, strategic planning, and resolving competing resource demands across the organization. A PhD in geosciences, engineering, political science, economics or related field, at least 10 years of organizational leadership experience, and familiarity with disaster risk management programs are required.


Emergency Program Manager
Lutheran World Relief
Baltimore, Maryland
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled

This position will support program development and implementation in emergency situations in Latin America. Duties include providing leadership in emergencies, leading on-the-ground efforts to assess community needs, coordinating fundraising, ensuring the relevance of ongoing programs, and serving as the region’s main point of contact. A master’s degree in humanitarian action, disaster response, or related field and at least five years experience are required.


Manager of Volunteer and Community Partnerships
New York, New York
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled

This position support efforts to engage U.S. constituents with UNICEF programs around the world. Duties include managing web communications, developing volunteer recruitment efforts, coordinating engagement strategies for internal communication, producing media content for recruiting and education, and providing leadership for volunteers. A bachelor’s degree, five years experience with a like-minded organization, and demonstrated networking abilities are required.


Emergency Planning Manager
University of California Riverside
Riverside, California
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled

This position will educate students and faculty to improve understanding of emergency response plans and strategies. Duties include coordinating response and recovery plans, collaborating with campus police on matters of student welfare, maintaining the Emergency Operations Center, and ensuring program compliance with regulations and best practices. A bachelor’s degree in a related field, at least three years of experience, Incident Command Systems training, and knowledge of state codes and standards are required.

Director of Disaster Preparedness and Response
Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri
Springfield, Missouri
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled
This position is responsible for directing all disaster management, preparedness, response, and mitigation activities. Duties include developing a preparedness and response plan, evaluating emergency situations to assess needs, coordinating with government agencies, developing disaster response teams, creating funding opportunities for ongoing disaster assistance, and ensuring that all facilities comply with legal and regulatory codes. A bachelor’s degree in a related field and five years of experience are required.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

Online Course
Climate Change, International Law, and Human Security
April 8 to May 19, 2015
UN University for Peace
Cost and Registration: $500, open until filled

This online course is geared toward academics, practitioners, nongovernmental organizations, and others working in fields related to climate change, the environment, and humanitarian endeavors. Topics include principles of international climate change law, water and food security, human migration, and human rights-based approaches to climate change.  A certificate is awarded upon completion of the course. Academic credits are available for an additional fee.


The U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit
April 13, 2015, 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EST
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Integrated Drought Information System, and others
Cost and Registration: Free, register online before event
This webinar examines NOAA’s climate resilience toolkit, which provides resources and a framework for understanding climate issues. Topics include coastal flood risk, ecosystem vulnerability, food resilience, water resources, and increased risk of infectious disease.

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Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

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