July 6, 2011

5) Science communication and climate change

A topic that frequently comes up between me and my colleagues at Michigan State University this summer is of science communication. At the Science and Democracy Network meeting that I attended last week, one of the most contentious topics was over climate change science and communication, and what is our role as scholars to clarify (or "complexify," as is usually the case) the discourse.

So I thought I'd put together a resource list of blogs and papers on the subject of science communication, from an STS perspective (and particularly about climate change). First, Alice Rose Bell has a great blog on science communication, and even already has a helpful resource list! My other favorite climate change communication blogs are Dot Earth by Andy Revkin, Age of Engagement by Matthew Nisbet, Open the Echo Chamber by Edward Carr, and The Intersection by Chris Mooney. While I don't always agree with the partisan positions of many of these bloggers, I find myself enraptured by their interesting reflections on the latest research and controversies in climate change science and communication.

One of the contributions of STS research to science communication studies is of reshaping the "deficit model" of science communication into more nuanced views of public understanding of and participation in science. The deficit model is similar to both the "loading dock" and "linear model" of science and policy, in that it upholds scientists as disconnected experts, and that the public is an "empty vessel" to fill with objective knowledge. Some great papers on new models of science communication are "Do Scientists Understand the Public?" by Mooney (2010) and "What's next for science communication?" by Nisbet and Scheufele (2010).

So why did I open this post with a political picture? Because there is solid evidence that despite levels of scientific knowledge, political affiliation is the biggest determinant of whether U.S. citizens believe in climate change (summary here, full article by McCright and Dunlap (2011) here). I was lucky to take a class with Aaron McCright during my undergrad at MSU, and this really sparked my interest in the science politics of climate change. Since I took that class two years ago, I've been following the climate change communication literature. To start off, a classic article you need to read is "Making climate hot" by Susanne Moser and Lisa Dilling (2004). Communicating climate change is inherently difficult because of the high-level science as well as framing of risks and uncertainties, but Pidgeon and Fischhoff (2011) have some advice on framing climate uncertainty here.

And if you're interested in the whole "climate skeptics" debate, you need to read Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway's book, Merchants of Doubt. Also, my new favorite blog resource is "Skeptical Science," which does a really good job at clearly communicating the science behind climate change, and addressing skeptical claims. Finally, Chris Mooney once again comes through with some commentary and a list of resources. Interestingly, even in the case of climate skeptics, the deficit model proves false. More scientific knowledge does not automatically make people "believe" in climate change. People's political orientations have a strong impact on what information we will use to support our own values. And overwhelmingly, even in the face of "Climategate" and uncertainty, the majority of Americans trust scientists and believe in climate change and support energy policy.

I want to conclude by saying that none of this is simple. Sometimes when I'm telling people about my research, I avoid the topic of climate change because I don't want to get into a debate. But while working at MSU this summer and last, we've noticed that when you sit with people face to face, and don't impose your own views but rather ask about their own thoughts and experiences, it leads to a more productive conversation. And having worked in a lab during my undergrad, I know how hard it is to "get out there" and communicate science- but there are a few easy ways, from working with student groups of all ages, to writing an effective op-ed, to learning how to present your research in a way that's accessible to non-scientists. An insightful comment on Alice Rose Bell's blog states, "if you want to reach young audiences, stop thinking of them as audiences and don’t merely involve them: work out what’s central about your project and invite them to do that."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.