Book on communicating climate science

Over at RealClimate, they are encouraging people to read a free book on communicating climate science: Communicating on Climate Change: An Essential Resource for Journalists, Scientists, and Educators. It was written by Bud Ward for the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting. It is available online as a PDF, and printed copies are available by mail for US$8.00.

Given how much public communication on climate change is of low quality, we should hope that good books on this topic get the attention of authors and editors.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

4 thoughts on “Book on communicating climate science”

  1. Another article on the same fallacy:

    Skating on Thin Ice
    Posted January 9, 2009

    The freeze got me on my skates, and brought the loonies out of their holes.

    “Faced with a choice between global temperature records covering more than a century, or three weeks of cooling in one small corner of the planet, Mr Warner chooses the second dataset to identify long-running global trends. Though he has evidently never read or never understood a peer-reviewed paper on this subject in his entire crabbed life, he then goes on to dismiss this whole canon of science as nonsense. Is there any other subject on which journalists can make such magnificent idiots of themselves and still keep their jobs?”

  2. The Executive Summary contains one section that does a good job of summing up the the argument about journalistic balance in relation to climate change:

    Former Washington Post and New York Times science reporter Boyce Rensberger, for instance, affirmed at the first workshop in November 2003 that accuracy trumps balance. While there may once have been a legitimate 50/50 split of viewpoints on some climate science questions, Rensberg­er argued, the preponderance of scientific evidence had since accumulated to a point where responsible reporters should give the scientific consensus on anthropogenic cli­mate change much greater weight than dis­senting claims challenging the mainstream scientific conclusions. The journalistic tenet of accuracy now demands that the estab­lished science be given total or near total prevalence in coverage of certain aspects of climate change science.

    Here are a few other related posts:

    Hopefully, journalists will eventually come around and start treating the most blatant deniers of climate change science in the manner they deserve: approximately that reserved for those who think the world is flat.

  3. It’s an admirable goal, but almost certainly destined to fail. This is because the way most scientists think about science communication—that just explaining the real science better will help—is plain wrong. In fact, it’s so wrong that it may have the opposite effect of what they’re trying to achieve.

    Before getting fired up to set the scientific record straight, scientists would do well to first consider the science of science communication. The theory many scientists seem to swear by is technically known as the deficit model, which states that people’s opinions differ from scientific consensus because they lack scientific knowledge. In 2010, Dan Kahan, a Yale psychologist, essentially proved this theory wrong. He surveyed over 1,500 Americans, classifying each person’s “cultural worldview” on a scale that roughly correlates with politically liberal or conservative. He then assessed each person’s scientific literacy with questions such as “True or False: Electrons are smaller than atoms.” Finally, he asked them about climate change. If the deficit model were correct, Kahan reasoned, then people with increased scientific literacy, regardless of worldview, should agree with scientists that climate change poses a serious risk to humanity.

    That’s not what he found. Instead, Kahan found that increased scientific literacy actually had a small negative effect: The conservative-leaning respondents who knew the most about science thought climate change posed the least risk. Scientific literacy, it seemed, increased polarization. In a later study, Kahan added a twist: He asked respondents what climate scientists believed. Respondents who knew more about science generally, regardless of political leaning, were better able to identify the scientific consensus—in other words, the polarization disappeared. Yet, when the same people were asked for their own opinions about climate change, the polarization returned. It showed that even when people understand the scientific consensus, they may not accept it.

    The takeaway is clear: Increasing science literacy alone won’t change minds. In fact, well-meaning attempts by scientists to inform the public might even backfire. Presenting facts that conflict with an individual’s worldview, it turns out, can cause people to dig in further. Psychologists, aptly, dubbed this the “backfire effect.”

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