by Judith Curry
Some interesting discussion this past week on the topic of public engagement and communicating climate uncertainty.
Tamsin Edwards has a post entitled Nine Lessons and Carols in Communicating Climate Uncertainty, comprising notes form the All Parliamentary Party Climate Change Group meeting on Communicating Risk and Uncertainty Around Climate Change. The nine lessons:
- 1. People have a finite pool of worry
- 2. People interpret uncertainty as ignorance
- 3. People are uncomfortable with uncertainty
- 4. People do accept the existence of risk
- 5. Scientists have little training in public communication
- 6. Journalists have little (statistical) training
- 7. “Newspaper editors are extremely shallow, generally”
- 8. There are many types of climate sceptic
- 9. Trust is important
This is a good article, read the whole thing.
There is one thing that I would add, and it is a counterpoint to #2: Scientists too often confuse ignorance and uncertainty, effectively ignoring ignorance or at least being overconfident that they have a statistical understanding of the true uncertainty. This overconfidence (and apparent unawareness of ignorance) gives rise to the public interpreting uncertainty as ignorance, skepticism, and lost of trust.
In the comments, Barry Woods provides a link to a very interesting article by Roland Jackson: 12 things policy makers and scientists should know about the public. Excerpts:
- 1. There is no such thing as ‘the public’
- 2. People are perfectly capable of understanding complex issues and technologies
- 3. People want to be able to participate in decisions around policy involving science and technology
- 4. People are not ‘anti-science’ or ‘anti-technology’
- 5. People can be experts too.
- 6. People may ask questions which do not occur to experts
- 7. People are not necessarily interested in science and technology per se, but when it gets to policy it is the issues that count
- 8. People know that policy-makers and scientists are human
- 9. It is important for policy-makers and scientists to be clear about when they are telling and when they are listening
- 10. Public deliberation can help reduce that risks that proposed policy will fail
- 11. Public deliberation can also give confidence to policy makers
- 12. There are many different and valid ways of engaging people.
I would say that 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10 pretty much comprise the motivations for my efforts at Climate Etc. As a scientist, I am finding 5, 6 to be very valuable.
Now all of this sort of seems to be common sense, no? Approach the issue of communicating climate science to the public in context of uncertainty and risk, with honesty and a dose of humility, and all will be well, no?
So why is there such a perception of a ‘communication problem’ surrounding climate science among climate scientists and scientific organizations? It is because they expect their science to be translated into the ‘obvious’ policy prescriptions that they believe obviously follows from their science. This unfortunate linear thinking, motivated and institutionalized by the UNFCCC/IPCC, has led climate communication efforts in the direction of propaganda, which gives rise to public skepticism and loss of trust.
p.s. Read the comments at Tamsin’s blog, superb discussion