On Communication, Does the IPCC Still Not Get It?

By Chris Mooney | May 31, 2011 3:36 pm

Andrew Revkin has a good article in the current Bulletin of the World Meteorological Organization about science communication, climate science communication, and the expanding array of options for scientists to use in engaging with the public. Much of it sounds like what we teach at the NSF trainings–you’ve got to be on the web, you’ve got to learn video, and so on. And you’ve got to be creative and tell a story–your story.

All of this is right, uncontestably. But I noticed this in particular from Revkin’s piece:

Diving into this arena requires time, some level of culture change and even courage, particularly given how the Web can be an amplifier for unfounded attacks and disinformation as much as knowledge. But hunkering down, as some institutions – including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – tried to do after recent controversies, is probably not a sustainable approach in the long haul. As the IPCC prepares its Fifth Assessment Report, it does so with what, to my eye, appears to be an utterly inadequate budget for communicating its findings and responding in an agile way to nonstop public scrutiny facilitated by the Internet. I would love to think that the countries that created the climate panel could also contribute to boosting the panel’s capacity for transparency, responsiveness and outreach.

I made this point recently in an e-mail exchange with three leaders of the climate panel’s next assessment – the chairman, Rajendra K. Pachauri, and Thomas Stocker and Christopher Field, scientists respectively co-leading the reports on climate science and impacts.

They all agreed that more resources and a clear communications strategy are badly needed. “Despite several years of highlighting the need for effective communications and outreach, we have really made very little headway, and I know that we cannot delay action in this area much longer,” Dr Pachauri wrote. “If we do, it would be at our own peril.”

Well, at least Pachauri is right to be worried. But why on Earth is nothing happening? After all the pseudo-scandals of the past few years and all the attacks on climate research, what more prodding do you need?


Comments (4)

  1. TransientEddy

    Scientists who participate in the IPCC do so for free, without any direct compensation. It is a service activity that often takes away from basic research, teaching, writing grants, advising students, and the myriad of other activities required of scientists to keep their jobs.

    How many journalists and communicators, like you and Revkin, are stepping up to volunteer their services to the IPCC? Anyone?

  2. What TransientEddy said.
    The IPCC is a volunteer organization. Its about time all those pundits who do communication for a living stepped up to the plate. It’s not the IPCC that’s broken – it does it’s job (assess the science) brilliantly. Its everything after that that is broken. Is Revkin planning to get together an equivalent group of journalists and commentators to step into this role??
    No, thought not.

  3. Actually, there are many groups/people voluntarily helping the IPCC with communications. This does not replace the need for coordination and clear communications strategy.

  4. hi Chris,
    Do you have an explanation for the geographic distribution of google queries about global warming? A handy pic is the second to last figure here:
    Or you can play with the correlate tool (see Razib’s post) to generate your own figure.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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