Katharine Hayhoe has an article in Science about facts not being enough. It’s basically about how to effectively communicate to an audience that might have a tendency to reject the need to do something about climate change. As a result, there’s been a rather lengthy Twitter discussion, initiated by Oliver Geden, who seemed to suggest that it was an example of why climate scientists shouldn’t talk about solutions, because they aren’t experts in this aspect of the topic.
I don’t think that scientists should necessarily be the ones to talk about solutions, but I also don’t think that there are topics that some should avoid simply because they don’t have directly relevant expertise. Ideally people should be informed, but there’s no reason why someone can’t publicly discuss a topic just because they aren’t an expert.
However, this seems to be another example of what I think I will now call the #scicomm merry-go-round. It seems that this communication landscape is composed of people (many of whom are scientists) who are trying to engage/communicate with the public, and another group who focus primarily on telling them what they shouldn’t be doing. Sometimes they even provide advice as to what should be done. However, if you then follow that advice, someone else will then pop up to explain why you shouldn’t do that.
If you focus on the science, you get accused of deficit model thinking; simply filling some knowledge deficit will not convince people to accept something. Consensus messaging, on the other hand, is regarded as polarising and tribalistic. If you try to present some kind of positive message by illustrating how some of the solutions could have benefits, you get told that you’re not an expert at solutions. If you follow that advice and go back to talking only about science, you’re back to being accused of deficit model thinking.My own view is that this is a very difficult, and complex, communication environment. I don’t think there is a single strategy that should be used, and I don’t think anyone really knows what’s best. If people actually want to make constructive comments about how to communicate publicly about this topic, maybe they should at least ponder the illustration on the right. Also, if their goal is to convince scientists that there are better communication strategies, maybe they should try to do so in way that doesn’t ultimately annoy their audience. That would seem, to me at least, to be rather ironic.