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Plugged In

Plugged In


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Well hello there.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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My name is Sheril. I’m new here, although I’ve been bouncing around the science blogosphere since 2006. Today I’m delighted to be joining the terrific energy team at Scientific American’s Plugged In!

I am primarily interested in the relationships between science, politics, and people. Real energy solutions require more than cutting-edge technologies and carefully crafted legislation. In reality, public opinion plays the most critical role in shaping our energy future.

In my role as Director of the University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll, I work to understand how Americans think about energy. Every six months we conduct a national survey exploring U.S. attitudes on big energy issues like efficiency, climate change, and hydraulic fracturing. Perceptions matter tremendously because decision-making at the local, regional, and federal level involves more than just “the facts.” Voters and elected officials are influenced by stories in the media, friends and family, politicians, and even comedians and religious leaders. Ultimately, popular opinion shapes where we go from here.

For those new to my writing, a bit of background: In graduate school I studied marine biology and policy. The following year I served as a legislative science fellow for Senator Bill Nelson covering oceans, energy, and environmental policy. Next at Duke, I worked at the intersection of science and policy. In 2010, I landed at The University of Texas at Austin with The Webber Energy Group before becoming director of the UT Energy Poll.

Somewhere along the way I started blogging, which eventually taught me a lot about writing. In 2009, Chris Mooney and I co-authored Unscientific America about the growing disconnect between science and the American public. The Science of Kissing came out in 2011, which explores a near universal behavior through a variety of lenses from anthropology to neuroscience. (For more information, you can read a full bio on my website).

I’m looking forward to contributing here at Plugged In with Melissa, David, Scott, and Robynne. The five of us certainly have a lot to discuss–and I encourage readers to dive into the conversation along the way…

Sheril Kirshenbaum About the Author: Sheril Kirshenbaum is Director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin where she works to enhance public understanding of energy issues and improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Follow on Twitter @Sheril_.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Melissa Lott 12:38 pm 08/19/2013

    Welcome to the blog, Sheril! We are excited to have you as a part of the Plugged In team! Looking forward to your posts and the conversations that they will help to start…

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  2. 2. jasongoldman 3:36 pm 08/19/2013

    Welcome to the network!

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  3. 3. davidwogan 5:14 pm 08/19/2013

    Huzzah! Excited to posting next to a rock star!

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  4. 4. Sheril Kirshenbaum 10:57 pm 08/19/2013

    Thanks Melissa, Jason, and David. Glad to be on board!

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  5. 5. Bora Zivkovic 11:31 pm 08/19/2013

    Welcome to the family!

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  6. 6. rkipling 11:57 am 08/20/2013

    Ms. Kirshenbaum,

    I hope you and your family have enjoyed the Lupinus texensis every spring. They can be spectacular.

    It is probably an unnecessary caution, but be prepared for … well, let’s call them strident comments from all sides on any give post you may offer. Some will make personal and derogatory comments based on their perception of a political agenda on your part. Try not to take it personally. As the saying goes, some commenters don’t just have issues, they have the full subscription. It won’t take you long to see what I mean.

    I think I understand where you are coming from about public opinion shaping the energy future. Although that absolutely plays a part, technological innovation will I believe ultimately drive how energy is produced and consumed. Most people will vote with their wallets on energy and will not understand the science behind its source. You can attempt education of the general public, but you shouldn’t be unrealistic about the results. The uninformed can quite easily hold mutually exclusive beliefs. Still I wish you well in your attempts.

    If you seek a balanced presentation of your subjects, look for people in related industry to interview. Not all of us in industry have fully turned to the dark side. Many of us hold core values probably not that different from your own. Credibly dealing with the science of your topic will be to your advantage (I’m not making an allegation here. I haven’t read anything you have written.) I’m sure you already do that as a matter of course.

    Here is a link to an example of what can happen when writers don’t fully vet a topic. I’ve learned a lot from reading these blogs, but some bloggers don’t spend sufficient time on research. Please make your own judgment.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=waste-co2-could-be-source-of-extra-power&posted=1&posted=1&posted=1#comments

    Good luck in your endeavors from a former young person. This is an exciting time for you. With the right perspective, all your future can be exciting.

    Link to this

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