Science communicators – key insights
The way climate scientists engage with the public should be based on the best available evidence. We support climate scientists and other technical experts to engage effectively and with confidence, putting the science of climate change communication into practice.
Climate science is filled with uncertainties, a notorious stumbling block for communicating with non-scientists. For some, the topic can seem abstract and intangible. For others, the abstract statistics that define the climate discourse can feel distant from their day-to-day experiences. In some nations, the issue is politically polarised; in others, the absence of a public and political discourse is the problem.
Nonetheless, the same social science literature that documents the challenges involved in engaging the public with climate change also provides robust guidance on how to communicate more effectively.
Key insights from our work
- The messenger is at least as important, if not more so, than the message itself. Polling consistently shows that scientists are trusted in society, and speaking authentically can help retain that position of trust and confidence in their expertise.
- The science of climate change communication is now well developed, and something that science communicators can be confident in. There are now decades’ worth of evidence from the social and behavioural sciences that can be drawn on – advice on communicating effectively needn’t be based on trust or anecdotes.
- While clear, simple explanations and visualisations of climate science knowledge matter, evidence shows that how people receive information and apply it to their own lives depends more on their worldviews, values and social norms.
- Navigating risk, uncertainty, the role of scientific expertise in society and how scientists want to be heard are all complex and nuanced subjects – but there is now a solid evidence base to learn from.
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- Many universities and research funders offer training and support for climate scientists, but it tends to be a one-off with little follow-up support tailored to the individual. It also often focuses on media skills, which teach participants to ‘perform’ for an event – often a high pressure one – rather than giving them the skills to adapt to different audiences.
- This perpetuates a lack of confidence among the expert community in terms of their participation in public and policy discussions, which means the pool of public-facing spokespeople who can give their specialist technical knowledge a wider social context is extremely narrow in terms of diversity. Broadening the range of voices who are willing and able to engage the public on climate science is vital.
Case studies from around the world of climate scientists engaging the public
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