Yale Study: Climate Science Communication and the Measurement Problem

Climate Science Literacy Unrelated to Public Acceptance of Human-Caused Global Warming

A new study finds no link between climate science literacy and public divisions on climate change. Interestingly, those with the highest climate-science literacy are the most politically polarized on whether human activity affects global temperatures.

New research from Yale University shows that climate science literacy is unrelated to public acceptance of human-caused global warming.

Deep public divisions over climate change are unrelated to differences in how well ordinary citizens understand scientific evidence on global warming, according to a new study published by Professor Dan Kahan.

In fact, members of the public who score the highest on a climate-science literacy test are the most politically polarized on whether human activity is causing global temperatures to rise.

These were the principal findings of a Yale-led study published recently in the journal Advances in Political Psychology. In the study, a nationally representative sample of 2,000 U.S. adults completed a test measuring their knowledge of prevailing scientific consensus on the causes and consequences of climate change. They also indicated whether they believed that human activity is responsible for global temperature increases in recent decades.

Consistent with national opinion surveys generally, the study found that the American public is split on the existence of human-caused climate change.

“The study participants were deeply divided along partisan lines, with about 50% saying they do believe in human-caused climate change and 50% saying they don’t,” said Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School and the lead researcher on the study.

Disagreement did not diminish, however, as the study subjects’ climate-literacy test scores increased. On the contrary, “those with the highest scores were even more politically polarized,” Kahan said.

The climate-science literacy test consisted of questions derived from reports issued by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“Generally speaking,” said Kahan, “both those who accept human-caused climate change and those who don’t displayed very poor comprehension of climate science.” For example, he said, most participants recognized that carbon dioxide increases global temperatures, yet mistakenly indicated that rising levels of atmospheric CO2 are expected to “reduce photosynthesis in plants.”

“If you know carbon dioxide is a ‘greenhouse gas’ but think it kills the things that live in greenhouses, then it’s safe to say you don’t know much about climate science,” said Kahan.

Regardless of whether participants said they accepted that human activity caused climate change, most recognized that scientists expect climate change to create serious environmental dangers, including increased coastal flooding. However, the vast majority of study participants also associated global warming with risks wholly contrary to scientific evidence, such as an increase in the incidence of skin cancer.

Study participants who scored highest on a general-science-literacy test did the best on the study’s climate-literacy test. But contrary to the researchers’ expectations, those participants were not more likely to agree on whether human activity is causing climate change, according to the study.

“Despite consistently giving the correct answers to climate-literacy questions,” Kahan noted, “the most science literate study participants were even more politically polarized.”

Previous studies, Kahan said, have found the more science-literate members of the public are more polarized. “Nevertheless, one might reasonably have supposed that those individuals must at least differ in their levels of climate-science literacy, maybe because of biased interpretations of the evidence. But apparently, that’s not what’s going on,” said Kahan.

Kahan dismissed as “ridiculous” the suggestion that the study implies there is no value in climate education. “We need even more research on how to communicate climate science effectively, so people can make informed individual and collective decisions,” he said.

Nevertheless, Kahan said the results justify reassessing at least some popular common science-communication strategies. “One conclusion is that it’s misguided to fixate on what percentage of the respondents in an opinion survey say they ‘believe in’ climate change,” said Kahan. “What people say they believe about global warming is not a measure of how much they know, or even how worried they are about it; it is an expression of their cultural identities.”

According to Kahan, the study also casts doubt on the value of social-marketing campaigns that feature the message that “97% of climate scientists” accept human-caused climate change.

“Republicans and Democrats alike already understand that climate scientists have shown we face huge risks from global warming,” said Kahan. “Just telling people that over and over — something advocacy groups have been spending millions of dollars doing for over a decade — misses the point: Positions on climate change have become symbols of whose side you are on in a cultural conflict divorced from science.”

“That’s what has to change if as a society we are going to make use of all we know about the dangers we face and how to abate them,” he added.

Kahan pointed to the success of local political leaders in southeast Florida in depoliticizing discussions of climate science, an example that is discussed at length in the study.

The study was sponsored jointly by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School, the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

Reference: “Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem” by Dan M. Kahan, 20 February 2015, Advances in Political Psychology.
DOI: 10.1111/pops.12244

23 Comments on "Yale Study: Climate Science Communication and the Measurement Problem"

  1. “Republicans and Democrats alike already understand that climate scientists have shown we face huge risks from global warming,”

    Climate scientists have SHOWN nothing of the sort. They have offered scenarios of what the future might look like based on models. The question is how accurate are those models. And, to that point, the models have been SHOWN, through empirical data, to be flawed, exaggerating the effect of CO2. As such, the risks we face are not well understood. And to make such a blanket statement shows both the bias and illiteracy of the study creators.

    • So just for the moment, I will agree that we might be wrong. Do you really want to simply dismiss the possibility and take the risk? It is akin to going ahead and starting a nuclear war on the bet that somehow mankind will survive. The consequences of being wrong are too horrible to contemplate. Thus is the chance that man-made global warming could wipe out humanity.

      • Yes. The likely hood of man’s 1% contribution to the current rise in CO2 being special and causing global warming is at best questionable. Man’s contribution is special because why. Men made a mathematical model and put just the right amount of CO2 in different layers of the atmosphere with just the right amount of H2O with just the right physical properties to show that this could happen. The models were peer reviewed to say that they do indeed show this. Its amazing to me how man’s magical CO2 instantaneously spreads around the world but only gets into certain layers of the atmosphere in specific quantities with the H2O associated with it. By the way, without the water the model doesn’t show anything happens. We’ve been doing this for the past 19 years haven’t we but the average temperature hasn’t risen in about 19 years and may not change for another 2 decades. So what’s so special about mans 1% contribution to the atmosphere. CO2 is a greenhouse gas because it make plants grow. Plants are growing at a very fast rate when its warm. Science needs to come with plants that grow when its cold instead of making them glow in the dark. One thing measured data shows for sure when its cold CO2 levels rise. Makes me wonder if the average temperature or the planet has dropped. to me the believers are simply that. The only reason there is a crisis is because some people believe and they are in denial.

    • Word up!

    • Exactly. The fact that climate scientists didn’t expect the current “pause” in “global warming” demonstrates the simple fact that the Earth is too complex and self-regulating to be reduced to a few computer models which take into account less than 200 years’ worth of climate activity. It wasn’t too long ago that a hole in the ozone led to some scientists predicting (probably with the same kind of computer models) that the hole would grow and eventually life on the surface would be impossible. We had a whole genre of sci-fi dedicated to that pronouncement of doom. Apparently the hole “healed” itself, but I can’t remember any of those same scientists coming out and saying “You know, we were wrong. Guess we don’t know as much about Planet Earth as we thought we did.” And a couple of decades down the road, when it becomes obvious that the whole Man Made Global Warming scenario just isn’t happening, we won’t hear anything from them about that, either. They’ll just go on to the next Chicken Little crisis they can use to reel in more of those government grants.

    • Agreed,
      What many do not know is that in the inner circles of the climate science modeling community it is known that the models were never even designed to make predictions, let alone mimic / portray an Earth / Climate system. Here’s the truth:
      Kevin Trenberth – IPCC Lead Author, of AR2, AR3, AR4, and GCM developer says:
      “None of the models used by IPCC are initialized to the observed state and none of the climate states in the models correspond even remotely to the current observed climate…There are a number of assumptions that go into these emissions scenarios. They are intended to cover a range of possible self-consistent “story lines” that then provide decision makers with information about which paths might be more desirable. But they do not consider many things like the recovery of the ozone layer, for instance, or observed trends in forcing agents. There is no estimate, even probabilistically, as to the likelihood of any emissions scenario and no best guess.”

  2. What I have never been able to understand is how a large segment of humanity can clearly see the amount of physical junk that we dump on the planet and think that is ok. Everything men touch we damage or destroy. Except for our own benefit, we contribute absolutely nothing that improves the Earth that God gave to us.
    We excavate, drill, mine, grow crops and kill living species for our own use and when we are done with the products of those activities, we simply dump what is left and do it all over again. How can anyone morally justify what we do unless we simply ignore it because it is profitable.
    For any group to deny that these things are harmful is delusional at best and should be criminal for all of our sakes.

    • Indeed, adding 80 billion tons of CO2 and other pollutants to the atmosphere can’t ve good. Most of us are used to ‘using’ things unthinkingky, a planned obsolescence/ throwaway kind of thinking and living. Throw it in the ocean. Turn the skies dark with toxic fumes. Pour it into rhe river. If the effects were rapid, immediate, perhaps it would be obvious. Perhaps. Meanwhile, denial of even the possibility of human activity possibly maybe contributing…total denial. They appeal to volcanoes and antiquated disproven beliefs, even to The Divine not able to harm ‘His’ children, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Denial. Scary.

      • CO2 is not the problem and Climate Alarmist are not speaking of “other pollutants”. CO2 is a red herring used to scare the mindless minions. There are other factors, that if man has effected the climate, are more specific and caused by fewer people. CO2 lumps all people in group and provides a “scarier” narrative.

    • Obviously you don’t know the history nor lived long enough to see how we stopped most of the polluting of years past. While more needs to be done, using AGW is mindless dribble used for revenue enhancement and control.

      • What’s “Scarier” is your presumption that having dumped all this garbage into the ocean/land/air hasn’t had an effect worth mentioning.
        How do you know AGW is “mindless dribble”?
        Admit it, you don’t because it’s not what you do for a living.

  3. Evidence uncovered by a Boston-based research firm, Unit Economics, says that government departments and their scientists, together and independently, have been manipulating data (and caught red handed!) The February 28, 2014 research paper on global cooling goes into pages of detail on how some of the most important—and allegedly impartial—raw climate data has been regularly altered by private and government sectors members of the scientific community. And that’s really too bad, because people working on questions around global temperature have very few datasets to choose from.
    One is the temperature anomaly dataset developed by NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), which started developing its temperature database in the early 1990s. It was revised once in 1997, and then three times between mid-2011 and the end of 2012. NOAA says the revisions dealt with new observations methods, corrected coding errors, and removed unnatural influences from things like changes in how instruments were stationed. Sure. In short: Lots of revisions, little specific explanation. Not surprisingly, people started accusing NOAA of faking it (Google NOAA data tampering). And when Unit Economics compared the 2008 NOAA dataset with the most recent version, they were significantly different. Overall, the man-made adjustments created an additional 2.48°F temperature change over the past 100 years – more than the 1.85°F of total warming the NOAA says has taken place since 1913!
    When future generations look back on the global-warming scare of the past 30 years, nothing will shock them more than the extent to which the official temperature records – on which the entire panic ultimately rested – were systematically “adjusted” to show the Earth as having warmed much more than the actual data justified. Paul Homewood, who, on his Notalotofpeopleknowthat blog, had checked the published temperature graphs for three weather stations in Paraguay against the temperatures that had originally been recorded. In each instance, the actual trend of 60 years of data had been dramatically reversed, so that a cooling trend was changed to one that showed a marked warming. This was only the latest of many examples of a practice long recognized by expert observers around the world – one that raises an ever larger question mark over the entire official surface-temperature record. .
    Homewood checked a swathe of other South American weather stations around the original three. In each case he found the same suspicious one-way “adjustments”. First these were made by the US government’s Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN). They were then amplified by two of the main official surface records, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss) and the National Climate Data Center (NCDC), which use the warming trends to estimate temperatures across the vast regions of the Earth where no measurements are taken. Yet these are the very records on which scientists and politicians rely for their belief in “global warming”.
    Homewood has now turned his attention to the weather stations across much of the Arctic, between Canada (51 degrees W) and the heart of Siberia (87 degrees E). Again, in nearly every case, the same one-way adjustments have been made, to show warming up to 1 degree C or more higher than was indicated by the data that was actually recorded. This has surprised no one more than Traust Jonsson, who was long in charge of climate research for the Iceland met office (and with whom Homewood has been in touch). Jonsson was amazed to see how the new version completely “disappears” Iceland’s “sea ice years” around 1970, when a period of extreme cooling almost devastated his country’s economy.
    One of the first examples of these “adjustments” was exposed in 2007 by the statistician Steve McIntyre, when he discovered a paper published in 1987 by James Hansen, the scientist (later turned fanatical climate activist and very wealthy public speaker) who for many years ran Giss. Hansen’s original graph showed temperatures in the Arctic as having been much higher around 1940 than at any time since. But as Homewood reveals in his blog post, “Temperature adjustments transform Arctic history”, Giss has turned this upside down. Arctic temperatures from that time have been lowered so much that that they are now dwarfed by those of the past 20 years.
    Homewood’s interest in the Arctic is partly because the “vanishing” of its polar ice (and the polar bears) has become such a poster-child for those trying to persuade us that we are threatened by runaway warming. But he chose that particular stretch of the Arctic because it is where ice is affected by warmer water brought in by cyclical shifts in a major Atlantic current – this last peaked at just the time 75 years ago when Arctic ice retreated even further than it has done recently. The ice-melt is not caused by rising global temperatures at all.
    Of much more serious significance, however, is the way this wholesale manipulation of the official temperature record – for reasons GHCN and Giss have never plausibly explained – has become the real elephant in the room of the greatest and most costly scare the world has known. This really does begin to look like one of the greatest scientific scandals of all time.

  4. Raymond Borland | February 24, 2015 at 2:06 pm | Reply

    If you ask people if climate change occurs almost 100% will say Yes. it is too all inclusive a term to have any meaning anymore and is deliberately abused to make the uneducated public believe 97% of climate scientists agree with all the statements being issued in the name of climate change. Human CO2 may ne only causing 5%, 10% , 25% or 50% of the atmospheric warming seen between 1980 and 1998. We just don’t know for sure. The fact that there has been an 18 year pause in atmospheric warming (this means there has been NO STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT INCREASE in the trend line for 18 years) is totally inexplicable and climate models have repeatedly failed to predict past, present or future climate changes accurately, all 117 or more models! It is no wonder the uneducated perspn can’t understand the reports about climate change. he has never done scientific reasearch, leaarned how to gather data approxiately so it is not biased, nor learned how to statistically analyze data. When the UN IPCC says that 2014 is hotter than 2014 and its is only 0.01 degrees warmer and this is NOT statistically significant the UN IPCC has sdeliberately falsified the presentation of the data. 2014 is not different than 2013 because it did not reach a level of probability greater than random chance. We were conned by the media and the UN IPCC, pure and simple.

    This survey is terrably flawed. Don’t ask vague questions like,”Do you agree that climate changes?” or “Do you think humans are altering climate/” Ask a question that defines the magnitude of the effect? Like do you think human CO2 is causing 50% of the atmospheric warming between 1970 and 1998? Or Do you believe humans are causing less than 25% or less than 10%?

    IOther questions I doubt any climate scientists would agree with: Do you think polar bears have been endangered by global temperatures senn in hte last 130 years? The answer should be No, since there are 3 times as many Arctic polar bears now than in the 19th century.

  5. We should simply pay attention to what the scientists who study climate, oceanography, glaciology have to say about the problem. You might also want to include people who study plants and animals, as those disciplines have also started seeing changes in the migration of the species they study. Some animals and some plants are migrating in a direction towards the poles.

    In the past cultures used to have high priests and whatever the high priests used to say, that was the law. Now we take advantage of scientific knowledge, but when it comes to heeding the advice of certain areas of science, we simply disregard them. And may I add, “To our own peril”

  6. One volcano will outshine anything man could do!

  7. Hacked emails shows that we are being lied to by the global warming community via doctored temp readings

  8. I would tend to agree with Adam, that at best the models do not agree with the observed data. So what is causing that discrepancy between the observed data and the model. Until the reason/reasons for the discrepancy are known any predictions by the climate models must be suspect.

    I am all for reducing CO2 emissions in the US, by nuclear(most efficient way that works that I can see) or any other technology that actually works(when wind and solar are backed by efficient batteries that will be the day those technologies actually work).

    I would not and will not support a carbon tax, as that tax would just hurt the economy here in the US, for little benefit, and would do little to change CO2 emissions.

  9. The Ice Core data from Greenland & Antarctica have proven that climate change exist (120,000+year cycle) and it is warming for the last 12,000+years. The last 3 warm cycles obtained temperature 2+C higher than current temps, without mankind’s help and their temp increases occurred much faster. Multiple sites & multiple ice core data-sets confirm this…

    For the last 15+years CO2 has increased by 6%, the Global temps have trended flat line (GISS & HadCRUT). This indicates that the AGW projections are flawed…

    Global sea surface temps have been directly collected by ARGOS buoys for almost 15+years, sub surface temps for about a decade. Prior to this surface temps were impacted by many things; cloud cover, waves, etc (satellite data) and prior to this they were mainly local along trading lanes. Sub surface temp data bases were almost non-existent and very local, prior to ARGOS. Accurate Global data-sets did not exist…

    The earth is covered almost 74.6% with water, the remainder is land. According to GRUMP data-sets and satellites; mankind has urbanized about 2% and uses another 10.5% for agriculture. 95% of the world’s population lives on 2.4% of the earth’s surface…

    Mankind can effect his local conditions, just ask China. People should decrease their energy consumption and their environmental foot-print. It is all about energy conservation and using the energy sources that impact the environment the least. But every location has it’s own, most viable energy source, ie geo-thermal, wind, hydro, bio-generated, etc…

    Saying 97% means very little. 600+years ago mankind thought the Earth was flat. 400+years ago Galileo was trying to convince other scientist and the Church that the earth rotated around the sun. This was while he was under house arrest, for “vehemently suspect of heresy”…

  10. There are far too many variables to accurately predict a model on climate change. Space weather and our sun throws all of this out of the window. It is my opinion that climate change is real, but not human caused, but is exacerbated. It has been found that Mars and Venus are also undergoing climate change and our solar systems Helios-sphere has decreased in the past 30+ years. I Am also of the opinion that most people who do NOT understand climate change are either;
    1. Science illiterate.
    2. Are the ones who are in a position to lose money.
    3. Care too much on government taxes.

    Not to suggest I am right or anything but this is how it seems too me ?

  11. What possible measurements will be required to show that the availability of fresh water resources has been dwindling since the end of the ice age? Glacial recession and growing inland aridity are not deniable, and have been the trend in global climate for thousands of years. The seas are too cold to push significant amounts of vapor far enough inland to maintain glaciers or arable lands. Even if you cooled the land and air to increase the energy disparity and increase the exchange of energy in the form of water vapor as kinetic energy from thermal by way of evaporation, the resulting cooling of the seas will result in a more severe aridity when the cooling ends, as happened in the little ice age and immediately thereafter.
    There isn’t enough energy in the seas to force vapor inland even in the tropics in the summer, which is why we have tropical storms, with the major portion of the vapor returning to its source waters and causing coastal flooding in the few inland areas into which is can be forced. The observed warming is more in line with a loss of heat sink and evaporative cooling effect losses than with any atmospheric greenhouse effect. You have to ignore any heat sink and evaporative cooling losses to even arrive at any warming attributable to greenhouse effect to begin with.
    If there was enough energy to maintain more than a 5% atmospheric water vapor content and reach inland far enough to maintain arable lands, its greenhouse effect would make CO2 greenhouse effects meaningless. The greatest danger from greenhouse gasses is that the land will suffer less damage from aridity while the seas are warming up enough to replenish inland fresh water resources.

  12. The prevailing scientific consensus means absolutely nothing because a consensus has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a hypothesis is correct and the stated 97% consensus is extremely misleading!

    For example,the ‘97% of scientists’ so erroneously referenced in the 2009 Peter Doran EoS Survey was actually derived from an MSc thesis entitled “The Consensus on the Consensus” by a Maggie Kendall Zimmermann who was Peter Doran’s graduate student at the University of Illinois (and the EoS paper’s co-author) where a survey of 10,256 with 3146 respondents was whittled down to 75 out of 77 self-proclaimed expert researchers to arrive at the 97% figure or the Australian Global Warming Lunatic John Cook, founder of the misleadingly named blog site Skeptical Science who published a paper with several other Global Warming Lunatics claiming they reviewed nearly 12,000 “abstracts” of studies published in peer-reviewed climate literature. Cook reported that he and his colleagues found that 97 percent of the papers that expressed a position on Anthropogenic Global Warming “endorsed the consensus position that humans are responsible for Global Warming.”

    Critiques of the Cook study indicate that Cook’s data was seriously flawed. Out of the nearly 12,000 scientific papers Cook’s entourage of Global Warming Lunatics purportedly evaluated, only 65 endorsed Cook’s alarmist position. That’s less than one percent, not 97 percent.

    The ridiculous hypothesis that the complicated and ever changing climate of this planet rests upon the hysterical indictment of a single parameter of 4/100th of 1% of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, which the Global Warming Proponents would have everyone believe precipitates Climate Change is not only absurdly implausible it is absolutely ludicrous!

    The fallacy that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) being emitted by humans burning fossil fuel is responsible for global warming which in turn is alleged to precipitate climate change is not supported by either historical records, geological records or scientific fact.

    The only data that supports Global Warming are the manipulated temperature data from ever diminishing, unreliable and questionable Surface Temperature Stations, unreliable data constructed from a series of satellites measuring radiances in various wavelength bands and the reliance upon the assumptions and flawed hypotheses of long dead scientists like Fourier, Pouillet, Tryndall and Arrhenious that have been intentionally manipulated by NOAA/NCDC, NASA/GISS, UEA/CRU and/or the UN/IPCC through their Computer Generated Climate Models ignoring the Laws of Convection and Thermodynamics in order to provide an outcome that otherwise would not support their global warming claims!

    When one considers all of this along with the IPCC/UEA “CLIMATEGATE” scandals and puts that in perspective or context with statements made by UEA/CRU programmer Ian Harris, that their (CRU) database has no uniform data integrity, or Phil Jones Director of the UEA/CRU, who stated in a BBC interview that “his surface temperature station data are in such disarray that they probably cannot be verified or replicated and then consider that most of the data in their CRU archive is the same as in the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) archive which is relied upon by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center” (NCDC) and that NASA uses the GHCN as a data source for their NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) data then a rational and intelligent individual must not only question the validity of these Institutions and their data but also the integrity of the scientists who not only knowingly continue to rely on the flawed data but continue to insist their flawed data is correct!

    This might all be considered as nothing more than a coincidence; however, there is no such thing as a coincidence when governments are involved, especially when those governments are in dire need of generating additional revenues through an iniquitous “CARBON TAX” by falsely indicting Carbon Dioxide (CO2) as the reason for nonexistent Global Warming aided and abetted by the same institutions and scientists for whom they provide funding.

    If the phenomenon of Global Warming were in fact real then there would be absolutely no need for these institutions and supposedly men of science to manipulate or conceal their data in order to prove a nonexistent phenomenon and there would be no need to continually disparage those who legitimately question those results unless the data was in fact flawed or knowingly being manipulated!

  13. These comments depressingly illustrate the point. You have people writing long-winded explanations for why science has got this wrong (i.e., it’s a nefarious conspiracy), using just enough knowledge about the political debate to come across as somewhat valid. Climate science deniers do know how to read and how to acquire information. It’s just that the most important thing to them is not understanding the facts of the world, it’s their tribe. So they spend their energy reading anti-science propaganda instead of actual reporting on the science. I for one find it completely incomprehensible how willfully ignorant these people can be. Is the Wikipedia article on global warming part of the conspiracy? Is NASA? You have to really tie your brain in knots to believe this stuff!

  14. When you say “people who are educated about climate change,” what do you mean? Do you mean people who have read “Report From Iron Mountain”? Do you mean people who know the motives and influence of the Club of Rome/Committee of 300? Do you mean people who are aware of United Nations Agenda 21? What about people who know that the “97% consensus” slogan was a lie invented by John Cook, an amateur cartoonist (and the owner of skepticalscience.com). Or maybe you mean the people who have read the thousands of papers by scientists refuting AGW (found by Googling “popular technology peer reviewed”).
    Oh, hang on. I bet you don’t mean any of those people. I bet you mean the people who’ve been “educated” with the mounds of manure you and the rest of the Media and brainwashing academia pile on the public day in and day out.
    News flash: Being educated means knowing the facts. Not your pack of lies.

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