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The Sciences

On Communication, Does the IPCC Still Not Get It?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJune 1, 2011 12:36 AM


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Andrew Revkin has a good article in the current Bulletin of the World Meteorological Organization about science communication, climate science communication, and the expanding array of options for scientists to use in engaging with the public. Much of it sounds like what we teach at the NSF trainings--you've got to be on the web, you've got to learn video, and so on. And you've got to be creative and tell a story--your story. All of this is right, uncontestably. But I noticed this in particular from Revkin's piece:

Diving into this arena requires time, some level of culture change and even courage, particularly given how the Web can be an amplifier for unfounded attacks and disinformation as much as knowledge. But hunkering down, as some institutions – including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – tried to do after recent controversies, is probably not a sustainable approach in the long haul. As the IPCC prepares its Fifth Assessment Report, it does so with what, to my eye, appears to be an utterly inadequate budget for communicating its findings and responding in an agile way to nonstop public scrutiny facilitated by the Internet. I would love to think that the countries that created the climate panel could also contribute to boosting the panel’s capacity for transparency, responsiveness and outreach. I made this point recently in an e-mail exchange with three leaders of the climate panel’s next assessment – the chairman, Rajendra K. Pachauri, and Thomas Stocker and Christopher Field, scientists respectively co-leading the reports on climate science and impacts. They all agreed that more resources and a clear communications strategy are badly needed. “Despite several years of highlighting the need for effective communications and outreach, we have really made very little headway, and I know that we cannot delay action in this area much longer,” Dr Pachauri wrote. “If we do, it would be at our own peril.”

Well, at least Pachauri is right to be worried. But why on Earth is nothing happening? After all the pseudo-scandals of the past few years and all the attacks on climate research, what more prodding do you need?

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