On Climate Communication

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFeb 20, 2011 3:36 AM


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Everything you need to know about this AAAS session, called "Why Climate Communication Continues to be Colossal Botch," can be summed up by this famous 40 second clip:

Yes, I made that title up, too, but really, that's what it was about. Panelist Gavin Schmidt, echoing the sentiments expressed by Kerry Emmanuel in a session from the previous day, asserted that "media reports [of climate change research] are not generally accurate," because they are "sensationalized" and rife with "false balance." Speaking for himself, and perhaps many other climate scientists, he said:

You generally feel you are being rolled over by the media.

Naomi Oreskes, the second panelist, mostly talked about how to distinguish between "mules" and "mavericks" in the climate debate, but she also said it was time to stop focusing on the "deficit model"--a lack of adequate knowledge or facts-- for the failure to sway the hardcore bloc of climate skeptics. She said that cultural or ideological predisposition explains why "many highly eductated people do not accept the scientific evidence for climate change," rather than a lack of factual information. Thomas Lessl, the third panelist, who referred to himself as a cultural anthropologist of science, brought a scholarly perspective and stated that "the scientific community was collectively naive about communication." He suggested:

What the scientific community needs most is a fundamental reflection on the complexities of human communication.

In his closing remarks as a discussant, Dot Earth's Andrew Revkin said

One reason I left journalism is that the deficit model doesn't work.

He used to think:

If you just tell the story, just right, we'd get into gear, but that's not the case.

Whatever the case is, it seems clear to me that some climate scientists are insistent that journalism as a whole is not getting the climate story right, and that this is contributing to a big communication failure in the climate debate. What do you think?

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