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.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk