I struggled deciding to post this video on Communicating climate science to the public. But I opted to post it anyway to show that it is totally OK to criticize experts in your own field.
The video is not dated, despite that Columbia University hosted this event back in 2010. The issues discussed really are relevant today.
Three distinguished scientists walk you through the issues and challenges of communicating climate science to the public:
- Gavin Schmidt, climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, co-founder of the blog Real Climate.org, and co-author of a popular science book Climate Change: Picturing the Science.
- Ned Gardiner, Climate Visualization Project Manager at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Climate Program Office.
- Sabine Marx, Managing Director at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University.
The first panelist, Gavin Schmidt, who is utterly brilliant on RealClimate.org, is flat, rambling, and just plain boring. I learned nothing from him other than his contempt for politicians, which is both repulsive for a scientist and ironic to convey considering he’s advocating communicating with them.
Gardiner brings up the fact that most Americans are terrible at reading and understanding basic charts and graphs, for example, which makes communication really difficult for the scientist. Good point, but he doesn’t provide a solution.
And that’s basically how I felt throughout the entire hour+ while watching this - smart people discussing simplified themes with contempt for the public and the politicians they (we) voted to represent us.
True, the panelists are experts in their fields. They are revered, credentialed scientists with public personas. This brings much needed credibility to the conceptual problem of communicating science to the public. But they don’t do a great job of explaining the difficulties of communication, nor do they provide tested examples with any sort of stickiness. Gardiner dances around this issue of getting scientific concepts to stick, and he points to the media’s lack of scientific understanding. But he just misses his opportunity to nail his points home with any clarity.
My gut thinks this talk was rather generic and vague and overall does a disservice to the important concept of communicating science.
You might be asking: If Michael is so sour on this talk, why did he even post it? I think it’s to show that even experts in communications struggle with the issue of communicating science with the public. For example, their personal biases shade their overall points.On the one hand, they want their fellow scientists to make greater efforts to communicate with politicians. On the other, the panelists spent several minutes completely dismissing and condescending those very same politicians.
And maybe that’s my secondary point of posting this. That critical thinking is required when watching these talks. Just because someone is respected in their field doesn’t mean that they’re any good at advocating for change. In other words, it’s OK to be critical of the critics…
It’s Climate Science Communications Week at Climate Adaptation! For the entire week of Feb. 18 - 23, I’ll cover how climate change is discussed by the media, scientists, researchers, academics, and politicians. If you have sources or ideas on communicating climate change, send to: http://climateadaptation.tumblr.com/submit