Doug McNeall recently gave a talk about surviving the climate communication environment, which he discusses in this post. A lightly edited version of the slides are available here. The slides, of course, don’t tell you precisely what was said in the talk, but I find little to disagree with. The environment can be difficult and challenging; we should try to say interesting things but also be careful of what we say; it should be relevant but not too complex; we should know the audience, and we should repeat the message.
One thing I will say is that Doug’s slides illustrate the apparent conflict between the deficit model and the cultural congnition model. I think such a conflict does exist, but I’ve never been sure why it needs to exist. It seems that there are some who are pre-disposed to reject certain information and that it’s extremely difficult to communicate effectively with such people if they don’t identify with you in some way. Therefore, some people (Katherine Hayhoe, for example) can be more effective communicators in some situations, and we should – in my opinion – encourage and support those who are capable of reaching people who might preferentially reject the information that’s being presented. However, this doesn’t mean that there is no place for those who simply see themselves as presenting information, rather then explicitly trying to reach certain groups. I don’t see a good reason why the deficit model and cultural congnition couldn’t be seen as complementary, rather than in conflict.
However, Doug’s post highlighted that some (mainly female scientists) are choosing to no longer engage on social media because of the harassment that they receive. This isn’t simply it being unpleasant, but is a level of harassment that is genuinely disturbing and that noone should be expected to endure. Doug asks what can be done about this, and I don’t have any good answers; it’s something that really shouldn’t happen, but clearly does. I also find it difficult to comment on something I’ve never experienced, and almost certainly will never experience.
All I can think of suggesting is based partly on a series of tweets from Jacquelyn Gill. Maybe we should try to continually remind ourselves that science communication can be difficult, that we can all do better, but that we should also try to support those who are engaging publicly and – when appropriate – promote what they’re doing. This doesn’t mean not correcting people when they make a mistake, or not suggesting ways in which they could do better; we just need to try and be constructive, and positive, when we do so (and, similarly, responding positively when people provide constructive criticism).
I really don’t have any suggestions as to how to deal with the harassment that some experience, but maybe we do need to try and remember how isolating social media can be and try to be more supportive of those who are engaging publicly. It won’t somehow negate the appalling harassment that some experience, but at least it shouldn’t make it worse. I know it’s not enough, and maybe it’s not even really a start, but it’s all that I can think of and it’s all that I think I can do. Maybe others, however, have better suggestions.