UK Climate Science Communication Report

A commission chaired by Chris Rapley in the UK has reported that climate scientists have failed to communicate climate science adequately.

In a sense this is obvious, (people do not seem to understand what is going on) but in another sense it is absurd (when did journalism become yet another obligation of the academic?). So controversy duly ensues, but it seems to me perhaps more semantic than substantive.

Key points start with:

Climate science as currently practised finds itself mismatched
to societal needs.

Climate scientists need to reconsider their roles and expand
their knowledge and skills accordingly.

A change in the relationship between climate science and
society is required.

and move on to

Climate scientists should collectively fulfil five roles: ‘Pure
Scientist’, ‘Science Communicator’, ‘Science Arbiter’, ‘Issue
Advocate’ and ‘Honest Broker of Policy Alternatives’.

The use of the phrase “honest broker” appears to have dominated Eli’s judgment of the report, but I think this taxonomy is far more useful than the one proposed by Pielke Jr., in first popularizing the phrase in this context.

Steve doesn’t like it either.

I think that rather than seeing this as blame-the-scientist we should see it as identify-the-roles. Roger asks a good question. His answer is, I think, weak.

Perhaps this one is stronger – I have yet to read it. Perhaps not. Normally if Steve and Eli agree on something I am not likely to disagree, but in this case I may just do so.

It’s certainly true that we (society as a whole) do need to do something different in connecting science to decision-making, and I think it’s good at the least that somebody besides Roger tries to think about it.

Comments:

  1. When the reporting is not driven by ulterior motives, even mainstream journalists can get science substantially right, for example The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert and Justin Gillis of the New York Times. Not only did climate scientists communicate their science adequately to these journalists, but the journalists are sufficiently meta-literate in science to seek reliable sources.

    The Rapley report got this right, at least:

    Climate science as currently practised finds itself mismatched to societal needs.

    The problems IMO are that climate scientists are mismatched against the merchants of doubt, who are skilled at communicating disinformation on behalf of their clients; and that too many journalists can't see the man behind the curtain.

    • Mal Adapted: "The problems IMO are that climate scientists are mismatched against the merchants of doubt"

      Zacklee. Any science discipline would struggle to function effectively (and interact with policymakers effectively) under these insanely politicised conditions (as this cartoon rather nicely captures).


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