Parallel worlds

April 10, 2007 at 4:30 am | Posted in Climate science | Leave a comment

Dear Eli,

I enjoy your blog very much, though this is the first time I have responded to any of your posts.

Unfortunately, the only part of Nisbet/Mooney I can access as a non-subscriber to Science is this free summary of Framing Science:

“To engage diverse publics, scientists must focus on ways to make complex topics personally relevant.”

I shall have to purchase a copy of Science to read the complete article.

Strangely enough, this is part of the problem for members of the public such as myself: it is not easy to access scientific articles, worthy though they may be of digesting. By contrast, climate science untruths are made easily accessible to the masses through talk radio, blogs, YouTube clips that teens absorb, and infamous TV programmes such as The Great Global Warming Swindle.

I do believe there is a special role for scientists who are able to communicate effectively with the public. There is no dichotomy: communicating with the public and scientific understanding are not mutually exclusive talents. I wish we had someone in America who had earned the respect David Attenborough has in Britain.

If the rest of the Science article follows the Nisbet/Mooney one-liner, I would respectfully point out to those authors that scientists alone should not be expected “to make complex topics personally relevant” to diverse populations: science correspondents are paid to do this! Perhaps there’s a dearth of good science correspondents—then the media and the public need to increase their science-literacy, while scientists become more media-savvy.

Media exist in different forms to “translate” into the vernacular for their particular audiences. Scientists still need to practise working closely with members of the public to hone their communication skills, but we don’t have time for this approach in the case of the climate changes we have brought upon ourselves: the best thing is for advocates of action to collaborate and use their own communicative and persuasive talents as effectively as possible while encouraging more suitable supporters to do the same.

One day I shall divulge my own background, from which you’ll see why I feel comfortable writing on this topic. A tangential point I would like to draw attention to is the teaching of “persuasive essays” in schools today: very different from my own educational experience.

I often feel like I live in a parallel universe to the one climate contrarians inhabit. Perhaps it would make sense to frame two parallel worlds—a real planet and a virtual one—and ask people which planet’s future they would like to discuss? If they choose the virtual one, they do so knowing their points will be ignored in the real world, but they at least have a space where they can rant and rave as much as they like for therapeutic reasons ;-)

In other words, when you propose this, Eli:

“What is needed is to move the window AWAY from the Inhofe position, which means always pointing out how unacceptable it is on moral, religious, and scientific grounds, and how thin its real support is.”

… what I am suggesting is even more extreme:

“Don’t move the window away from Inhofe—let him have it as a means of enjoying his own virtual world which like-minded folk can share with him.

In parallel, frame a completely new window for climate action based on moral, religious and scientific grounds as understood and presented by world-class respected authorities. Through this real window frame these points:

  • adaptive action to prepare for climate change is necessary now (a primer on insurance policies and a backgrounder entitled Why? could be included to introduce novices to the reasoning behind this conclusion)
  • mitigative action to reduce the long-term impact of climate change is necessary now (an explanation of analogies in medicine, comparing preventive healthcare with last-minute surgery, could be enlightening here)
  • real world discussions now focus on action relevant to audiences’ questions on:
    • What?
    • When?
    • Where?
    • Who?
    • How?
  • P.S. to viewers: the virtual window you can see in the parallel world over there >>> merely exists for the pleasure of self-serving fringe elements~go there for entertainment, if that’s what takes your fancy, but expect no more than that.”

Here’s an idea from The Eden Project that caught my eye:

Natural landscape ~ living pictures at The Eden Project, Cornwall, UK

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