NWF Scientist Responds to Mooney’s Call to Action

Chris Mooney, who writes at Discover Magazine’s The Intersection blog, wrote an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post titled “On issues like global warming and evolution, scientists need to speak up”:

Scientific training continues to turn out researchers who speak in careful nuances and with many caveats, in a language aimed at their peers, not at the media or the public. Many scientists can scarcely contemplate framing a simple media message for maximum impact; the very idea sounds unbecoming. […]

They no longer have that luxury. After all, global-warming skeptics suffer no such compunctions. What’s more, amid the current upheaval in the media industry, the traditional science journalists who have long sought to bridge the gap between scientists and the public are losing their jobs en masse. As New York Times science writer Natalie Angier recently observed, her profession is “basically going out of existence.” If scientists don’t take a central communications role, nobody else with the same expertise and credibility will do it for them.

Dr. Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, has been pushing back against the Swifthack stolen email story since polluter-backed outlets first began pushing it in November. Here’s her reaction to Chris’ article:

I thought the Mooney piece showed good insight into the long-standing problem of science communication and how the recent Swifthack situation brought the problem into stark relief. I completely agree that the climate science community was unprepared to respond in a quick manner to those attacks. I think it will serve as a wake-up call going forward.

My only quibble with the piece is that it skims over several important programs to improve science communication. While efforts to include communication formally in university curriculum are lagging, several efforts to train scientists on communication have been underway for many years. For example, nearly every year at the big professional meetings, there are sessions on science communication. The one I attended at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in December was standing room only. Another example is a full day training that the American Association for the Advancement of Science has been offering at universities around the country. I think these and other efforts are indicative of the fact that many in the scientific community recognize the problem and have been taking steps to address it.

For the most recent summary of the latest climate science, check out the Copenhagen Diagnosis.