Improving climate change communication

June 9, 2015, University of Nottingham
Improving climate change communication

A new report from The University of Nottingham looks at whether climate scientists threaten their own scientific credibility when trying to make their research accessible to members of the public.

In the last 25 years scientists have become increasingly certain that humans are responsible for changes to the climate. However, for many politicians and members of the public, climate change is still not a particularly pressing concern.

In a new report - 'Tension between scientific certainty and meaning complicates communication of IPCC reports' published on Nature Climate Change's website, Dr Gregory Hollin and Dr Warren Pearce from the University's School of Sociology and Social Policy, look at a press conference held by the IPCC in 2013 in order to better understand the ways in which climate scientists attempt to engage the public through the media.

Public credibility

Dr Pearce says: "Climate science draws on evidence over hundreds of years, way outside of our everyday experience. During the press conference, scientists attempted to supplement this rather abstract knowledge by emphasising a short-term example: that the decade from 2001 onwards was the warmest that had ever been seen. On the surface, this appeared a reasonable communications strategy.

"Unfortunately, a switch to shorter periods of time made it harder to dismiss media questions about short-term uncertainties in climate science, such as the so-called 'pause' in the rate of increase in global mean surface temperature since the late 1990s. The fact that scientists go on to dismiss the journalists' concerns about the pause – when they themselves drew upon a similar short-term example – made their position inconsistent and led to confusion within the press conference."

Accepting tensions

Dr Hollin says: "Climate change communication is anything but straightforward. When trying to engage the public about , communicators need to be aware that there is a tension between expressing scientific certainty and making climate change meaningful. Acknowledging this tension should help to avoid in the future the kind of confusion caused at the press conference."

Beyond certainty

Climate change is an area where consistent attempts are made to communicate the certainty of the science. As a result, a spotlight on scientific uncertainties may be seen as unwelcome. However, Dr Hollin and Dr Pearce argue that a discussion of uncertainty may be an unavoidable by-product of attempts to make climate change meaningful.

Dr Pearce adds: "In the run-up to the United Nations climate summit in Paris, making climate change meaningful remains a key challenge. Our analysis of the press conference demonstrates that this cannot be achieved by relying on scientific certainty alone. A broader, more inclusive dialogue will include crucial scientific details that we are far less certain about. These need to be embraced and acknowledged in order to make meaningful."

There is a blog post by the authors explaining the article on The University of Nottingham's Making Science Public blog.

Explore further: A difficult climate: New study examines the media's response to the IPCC

More information: "Tension between scientific certainty and meaning complicates communication of IPCC reports." Nature Climate Change (2015) DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2672

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16 comments

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mememine69
1 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2015
We never even came close to achieving the climate action targets science said we "could" need to save the planet 25 YEARS ago and now only 34 MORE YEARS of climate action failure and global disbelief is certain and unstoppable.
Is science also not allowed to say they are more than 97% certain the planet isn't flat?
Deniers demand "proof" science isn't "allowed" to say; "proven" before condemning billions of children to the greenhouse gas ovens.
Who's the fear mongering neocon?
Wanting this misery to have been real was not "progressive".
gkam
3.7 / 5 (9) Jun 09, 2015
It is difficult to change an opinion when it is based not on rationality, but ignorance and political prejudice which will not allow the pathetic subject to see of accept the facts.
cls1
5 / 5 (5) Jun 09, 2015

"condemning billions of children to the greenhouse gas ovens."
"Who's the fear mongering neocon?"

Obviously, it's you, Paul.
richard_f_cronin
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 10, 2015
When you don't have a coherent story to tell; bluster, appeal to your omniscent "authority", belittle your critic, rely on "statistics", hold a sympathy vote (the 97 % of cherry-picked weathermen, a la Dr. Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman), then re-brand the package ---- "Global Warming" , "Climate Change", "Climate Disruption" (Ban Ki-Moon, Sectry General of UN). What's next ? "Strange Weather" ?

With a little more CO2 and a little bit more heat (both coming from within the earth), the growing season is longer and everybody does better than freezing yer butts off.

The polar bears are enjoying the record numbers of harp seals.
antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (7) Jun 10, 2015
However, for many politicians and members of the public, climate change is still not a particularly pressing concern.

Not surprising. Most members of the public (and especially politicians) cannot look further than their next paycheck. If the majority of people are in debt (i.e. cannot handle their immediate finances) why would we expect them to understand/care about issues that will impact them only in a gradually increasing way over the years?

In the end I think the debate about uncertainties in science isn't all bad. Scienec can be wrong, but one needs to get a feel for probabilities to decide where its likely wrong and where it isn't

But the focus should not be on short term changes but on actual costs if nothing is done (tax raises to mitigate droughts, associated rising food prices, flood/storm damages, increased insurance premiums). Argue about the danger to their wallets. That is the only thing most people will listen to.
antigoracle
3 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2015
Their lies and fear mongering have failed.
Oh, what is the AGW Cult to do?
gkam
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 10, 2015
Some anonymous character with a moniker leaving no question of intent or prejudice bleats superficial nonsense.

What to do?

Back on Ignore.
jeffensley
1 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2015
It is difficult to change an opinion when it is based not on rationality, but ignorance and political prejudice which will not allow the pathetic subject to see of accept the facts.


Agreed. Since extremists on both sides of the issue are guilty of this, what's a reasonable way for them to meet in the middle?
gkam
3 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2015
Ask the middle.

It is within the 97%.
jeffensley
1 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2015
Climate change is an area where consistent attempts are made to communicate the certainty of the science. As a result, a spotlight on scientific uncertainties may be seen as unwelcome. However, Dr Hollin and Dr Pearce argue that a discussion of uncertainty may be an unavoidable by-product of attempts to make climate change meaningful.


Here we go.... an acknowledgement of the UNcertainty is a great starting point. And setting goals based on principle and not unrealistic/unachievable results (like controlling the Earth's temperature anomaly) would probably be the most important step to take if action and not being "right" are the intended results.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (3) Jun 10, 2015
what's a reasonable way for them to meet in the middle?
@Jeff
that one is actually easy:

Start by using logic and always substantiate your claims

then -instead of accepting emotional argument from personal opinion and allowing bias and fear to lead :
accept only data supported by empirical evidence, repeated experimentation and validated by sources that are not under the control or pay of the first person who posted or published the data

Those sources MUST have a strict methodology that also allows for peer's with knowledge to review the publication/argument so that mistakes can be alleviated or removed entirely.

Then we must establish that those who violate said review, publish blatantly false data, or who succumb to emotion, bias or money, be rejected by their peers and refused as legitimate - they must be ostracized & penalized

IOW - use the scientific method- listen to the facts
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2015
Here we go.... an acknowledgement of the UNcertainty is a great starting point
@jeff
ok, so... historically i've posted studies from reputable peer reviewed journals which support AGW

where are your studies which directly refute those linked studies?
(not your personal musings, mind you, but links to peer reviewed reputable journals which impact the subject - linking a personal site is equivalent to linking a meme or a blog: it's validity is no better than speculation)

if it aint peer reviewed, and it aint possible to validate the link or show it from a peer reviewed source which has a vested interest in publishing actual good science, then it is simply pseudoscience

See JVK for more details on THAT....
he regularly acknowledges and promotes creationist dogma, linking his personal sites as justification as though it were actual science
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Jun 10, 2015
Why is it that not a single one of the 97% would debate the remaining 3%?
casualjoe
5 / 5 (1) Jun 10, 2015
How do you think the 97% became the 97%??
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Jun 10, 2015
It is difficult to change an opinion when it is based not on rationality, but ignorance and political prejudice which will not allow the pathetic subject to see of accept the facts.
This from someone who made up a factoid stating that dried manure, which he mistakenly calls 'volatile solids' is a MAJOR cause of 'high atmosphere' pollution.

I posted the list. 'Animal products' is 3rd from the bottom.

Where is the 'high atmosphere' george? What makes you think that claiming some spurious pedigree gives you the right to make up such outrageous BULLSHIT?

Anybody who encourages this wetbrain to post this crap should be ashamed of themselves.
Water_Prophet
1 / 5 (3) Jun 14, 2015
Well, folks, not to rain on your parade, but the rich, illuminati, whatever you want to call them, have voted to end global warming.

The war is over. The Earth won, for now.

We never had a vote, but perhaps we did open the eyes of the idiots who own us.

Now we have to pay the electric companies for what will be free power, wind, solar, etc.. Never suspecting.

The world will change, another prediction of the Water_Prophet, and you shills, you'll need to start looking for another job. No one will care about the lies you defend, very soon.

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