Doug McNeall had a bit of a tweet-storm yesterday about some personal thoughts on communicating climate science, which he titled So, they’re coming for climate scientists (hence, my title). It caused some discussion on Twitter, and on another blog, to which I won’t bother linking. I think Doug makes some very good points and if I’d read this a few years ago, I would probably have agreed completely. The only reason I don’t quite now is not because I really have any better ideas, but because I don’t really know what is best.
My one issue with what Doug presents is his use of skeptic to refer to those who are mostly dismissive of mainstream science. I can’t necessarily think of a better term, that people wouldn’t also complain about, but skeptic – in my view – gives too much credit to those who are, at best, dubious. I agree completely, however, that we should understand the tactics and should stay ahead of the “skeptic” messaging. We should be aiming to communicate in a manner that is very difficult to misinterpret, or misrepresent, and should be aware of typical “skeptic” tactics; such as no warming since …, as is already starting.
The only thing that I can really think of adding is that science communication is difficult and what would probably help is if there was more of a tendency to be supportive. I think many have the same general goal; improving the general public’s understanding of science and the scientific process. However, I don’t think that we know what works best and we should probably realise that there are many ways in which we can communicate science. It might be possible to objectively criticise the content of what someone presents (i.e., they’re getting the science wrong) but criticising their style is almost always subjective, and this should – in my opinion – be recognised. If anything, there are probably many complementary styles, and it would to good to openly acknowledge this.
My one frustration is probably with those who seem to see their place as critiquing science communication. There can be a tendency to be rather dismissive of what is being done. However, in my view, this is often because those doing so don’t recognise what scientists regard as the goal of science communication; it is more to do with understanding, than accepting. Many scientists recognise that there are some who are pre-disposed to reject certain scientific views. It is, however, not the role of scientists to convince such people, nor is it their role to decide that they should be convinced. Their role is simply to provide information; what people do with that information is up to them. Criticising people for not achieving what was never really their goal, is – in my view – rather counter-productive.
That’s really all I have to say. One reason I posted this was to see what others might think. We’re potentially heading for interesting times, and I would certainly be in favour of finding better ways to communicate science. I don’t really have any particular goals for this blog; it’s mainly a site where I can simply write whatever I happen to feel like writing at that time. I also don’t have any great desire to take it more seriously, or any desire for it be taken any more seriously. However, I am more than happy to listen to suggestions as to how better to communicate science, especially given how contentious this particular topic can be. If anyone has any, feel free to make them in comments, or – if you would prefer – privately.
- I wrote a post about the the deficit vs the asset model that might be relevant.
- Michael Tobis’s post Swim in your own lane: How the public understanding of science community fails the climate is also well worth reading.