Improved communication between experts and the public key in winning battle to curb climate change, claims expert

Professor Chris Rapley believes scientists should rely less on scientific fact and more on narrative techniques to make their points

Environment Editor

A A A

Scientists need to become more humble and to completely re-think the way they communicate if the battle to curb climate change is to be won, one of the world's leading climate experts has warned.

Lamenting what he calls a “mismatch” between the state of climate science and the needs of society, Professor Chris Rapley called on his colleagues across the world to throw off the shackles of tradition and engage in a radically different approach to their discipline.

Climate scientists need to be more critical about their own research, more open to the work and views of other people and to communicate much more clearly with the public, said Professor Rapley, of the University College London.

At the same time, they need to defend their work more robustly against climate sceptics and, in a recommendation many may find surprising, rely less on scientific fact and more on narrative techniques such as personal anecdotes, emotion and rhetoric to make their points, he added.

Professor Rapley led a big research project into climate science communication with his UCL colleagues and a number of other universities, including Oxford and King's College, London, which published its findings today.

“My experiences have convinced me that our training and development has left us insufficiently prepared to contribute as effectively as we should both to public policy, and to communicating our results and conclusions to society more generally,” Professor Rapley said.

“We are especially ill-equipped to deal with controversy in the media and to respond to public attacks on our motivations and behaviours,” he added, advocating the creation of a professional body for climate scientists that, among other things, would train scientists to engage more effectively with climate sceptics.

Professor Rapley admitted that he was also guilty of biased thinking, as he urged scientists to be more critical of their own work and to be less willing to dismiss research that contradicted their thinking.

“As a scientist I have not previously invested appropriate effort into evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of my primary research instrument - my mind,” he said.

He said the research project had given him “a heightened recognition of the need constantly and with determination to scrutinise my own emotions and thought processes - to step outside and 'see myself see'”.

This is necessary “to minimise the possibility of unwitting bias and faulty reasoning. The same need applies to everyone involved in the climate science discourse,” he said.

The report, entitled Time for Change, concluded that to communicate much more “powerfully” with the public, scientists need to personalise their story, drawing on emotions and expressing their opinions - an approach it concedes is “contrary to long-standing tradition” but which, with mainstream audiences, is more effective than piling on ever-more facts to make a point.

“Dialogue rather than debate offers the means to identify common purpose and foster constructive evidence-based discourse. Climate scientists can gain much by working with and learning from those expert in public discourse, including the arts, museum sector and media,” the report recommends.

The report, which also included contributions from leading scientists at the universities of Surrey, Cardiff and Bristol, said there was also a pressing need to re-examine the role of scientists in decision-making and policy making.

Other recommendations include setting up a forum for the general public and climate scientists to engage in dialogue about climate change, helping to create a coherent 'meta-narrative' that conveys the big picture and provides the context for discussion of the results, their uncertainties and their implications. The authentic and personalised voice of climate scientists in the formation and delivery of this 'meta-narrative' will be crucial and will rely on successful use of and engagement with the media and the internet, the report found.

But above all, every party needs to take the concerns of others seriously, however strongly they may disagree, the report concluded.

“Active critical self-reflection and humility should become the evident and habitual cultural norm on the part of all participants in the climate discourse,” the report said.

Other contributors to the report include the European Academies Science Advisory Council, the University of the West of England, the Smithsonian Institution, US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Royal Society of Arts and the Institute of Pyschoanalysis.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?