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The Trouble with Science Communications

science is way coolTrained in science in college, I appreciate true skepticism.  Good scientists are skeptics; it is how they’re trained.    The consensus in the science community that human activities are causing climate change comes only after running global warming through its paces  – modeling, measuring, analyzing, testing, evaluating.

Yet most scientists and professionals think that by marshaling enough data and information, we can change people’s minds. This is not what happens. People are persuaded by things they care about, which is rarely science. We seek information which is compatible with our prior attitudes   … and avoid exposing ourselves to that which is not compatible.

In a 2011 report Clean Air-Cool Planet examined ten “fundamental” assumptions that informed the organization’s community efforts on climate and energy action.  One assumption was that “neutral, science-based communication is critically important to driving change”.  An excerpt from Strategies to Accelerate Climate and Energy Action at the Local Level  – which details 10 case studies, responds to this assumption:

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The discussion concludes by saying that science itself is not a game-changer, but with the right audiences can be leveraged effectively: 

“The Hip-Boot Tour provided a good example of how sound science – delivered not to broad publics but to opinion leaders  – can be effective, especially when communication occurs in face-to-face discussions. This kind of science communication can help raise awareness among influential  opinion leaders, who in turn may serve as trusted messengers within their circles of influence. “

Good examples of scientists and lay people linking together  – to both understand local climate impacts and apply sound science – can be found through the NH Coastal Adaptation Workgroup (CAW).  Involving members of the community in sharing science and developing science experiments and projects threaded through the issues people in a community care about (water quality, air pollution, coastline protection), is effective, yet academics still struggle to do so.




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