Outreach and communication with the public have substantial value in polar research, in which studies often find changes of global importance that are happening far out of sight from the majority of people living at lower latitudes. Seeking evidence on the effectiveness of outreach programs, the U.S. National Science Foundation sponsored large-scale survey assessments before and after the International Polar Year in 2007/2008. Polar-knowledge questions have subsequently been tested and refined through other nationwide and regional surveys. More than a decade of such work has established that basic but fairly specific knowledge questions, with all answer choices sounding plausible but one being uniquely correct, can yield highly replicable results. Those results, however, paint a mixed picture of knowledge. Some factual questions seem to be interpreted by many respondents as if they had been asked for their personal beliefs about climate change, so their responses reflect sociopolitical identity rather than physical-world knowledge. Other factual questions, by design, do not link in obvious ways to climate-change beliefs—so responses have simpler interpretations in terms of knowledge gaps, and education needs.



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Journal of Geoscience Education


Taylor & Francis

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This is the Author's Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Geoscience Education in 2020, available online: