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Study: scientists should stress known facts about climate change to public

Posted by Alison Hawkes on April 13, 2011
Category : Climate Science and Scientists

Why is it that as the science gets stronger around climate change, public belief gets weaker?

It’s not just Americans who are becoming more and more unsure about whether scientists believe climate change is real. In mainland Europe and Britain, people are expressing more uncertainty in polls, according to a paper published in late March in the online journal Nature Climate Change.

The public faith in science is still strong, as demonstrated by the way climate skeptics use science-like language to reject the conclusions of specific scientists, the study says. So what’s the problem?

Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University and Varuch Fischhoff of Carnegie Mellon University believe that scientists have difficulty explaining complicated physical processes in the face of countering efforts to box their statements into definitive claims. Take simulation modeling, which is getting more and more complex as new data is added to the model. The more complicated the model gets, often times the more uncertainties are produced in the results. That risks confusing the public, unless seemingly paradoxical results are communicated effectively, they say.

Scientists also tend to talk about uncertainties, which are no doubt more interesting and useful when exchanged with each other. But they don’t tend to repeat facts that are widely accepted, giving the public “an exaggerated sense of scientific uncertainty and controversy.”

There are other ways of framing climate change that may be more effective. A U.S. National Academies study in 2009 argues that stressing the risks and uncertainties of different options shifts the debate from whether anthropogenic warming is happening to what gambles we should take with our world. No longer do you have to prove whether climate change exists before taking action, rather the focus centers on the costs and benefits of the choices we have.

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One Response to “Study: scientists should stress known facts about climate change to public”

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