C+S Alum Colin Kelley’s Syria Research Named a Top 10 Climate Paper For Media Coverage

C+S alum Colin Kelley (’08) garnered some media coverage for his research into the role of drought in the current Syrian conflict when his study on the topic came out earlier this year. A new analysis shows just how much coverage he got. Turns out it was a lot.

Enough, in fact, to land his paper on a list of the top 10 most-cited climate studies in the news and on social media compiled by the U.K. journalism group Carbon Brief.

Infographic of top 10 papers for news and social media attention. Data from Altmetric. Credit: Rosamund Pearce/Carbon Brief

Infographic of top 10 climate papers for news and social media attention. Data from Altmetric. Click here to view a larger version. Credit: Rosamund Pearce/Carbon Brief

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March this year. Kelley, who completed his PhD at Columbia last year and is now working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, led a group of researchers including C+S founder Mark Cane who looked at the role of climate change in creating severe drought conditions that preceded the Syrian Revolution and subsequent civil war and rise of ISIS.

The paper garnered attention from several C+S alum working in the media and hit major outlets including the New York Times, Huffington Post and Guardian.

All that coverage was enough to put Kelley’s paper at number four on the list of top 10 papers covered by the media. The analysis considers papers published since July 2011. The paper in the top spot was research by John Cook, founder of the website Skeptical Science, on the scientific consensus around climate change. Kelley’s paper beat out another familiar name in climate science and current director of Columbia’s Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Center: James Hansen who has papers holding down the fifth and seventh spots.

Carbon Brief has an idea for why Kelley’s paper cracked the top 10:

Fourth is “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought”, by lead author Dr Colin Kelley from the University of California, Santa Barbara. This paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America – more snappily known as ‘PNAS’. It suggests a severe drought that began in 2006 was a catalyst for the Syrian conflict, and that climate change has made such droughts in the region more than twice as likely. The link between climate change and conflict is widely debated, which is perhaps why it received so much media attention.


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