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
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

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

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week