There haven’t been enough (climate) science around here for a while now. We’ll have to do something about that…
Communication have been something that really caught my interest when I started working for Commute Greener!. I have argued for better scientific communication several times here on the blog, as well as at Gothenburg University (where I still study). Since communication is much about giving easy access and making information understandable it is something really important, yet seems to be forgotten by the scientific community. Or at least by many of the participants in the community, there are of course outliers. There always are.
Science is guided by very strict rules. “Climate gate” was a kick in the groin for the trust of scientists. The risk increase that nobody believed in them anymore. Lots of deniers still roam around websites, posting links to various denial papers, mine papers for quotes to use and so on. But believe it or not, scientists like to play by the very strict rules set up for them. That is really good.
Let’s take an example. I don’t know if you read lots of scientific papers in whole. Let’s assume you haven’t. What you will see first is that the language is the same in almost every paper you pick up. Academic English may have overly complicated sentences everywhere. Unless you are very familiar with the field this may feel odd and is part of a dilemma for specific science and broader audiences. Not only does a text have a specific audience, there may be pictures that don’t mean squat to you but that others can read like a full length novel. The next thing is that it follows a pattern; intro/background, method, results, discussion, conclusion. Thanks to this pattern you know what you will find. Once you are into the style and lingo, it is quite easy to know what to search for. For conclusions, go to that part. Interested in how the experiment was done? Go to method etc. Nice and easy. For those who know this.
But when it comes to communicating these findings, everything seems to stop. Few are those who seem to be willing to take chances with the ways to communicate more widely. Pamphlets, maybe an article in a popular science paper or even a newspaper if the finding is big enough. Review articles and student literature. Sometimes even a 3 minutes report on TV. This should in my opinion be the most important part of science, communicating it to the masses. I get that it is difficult, but it should be doable.
I am by no means an expert at environmental communication, but I think part of the problem is the fact that reporting science without “dumbing it down” for the masses takes time to learn. Time “better spent” on more research. I think it is a matter off saying “let’s skip the numbers, what have we really found out”. Humans are emotional beings. Why not use that? Show us how this is relevant to us. This is part of the reason I like Commute Greener! as a tool. It takes the complexities of everyday transportation into a movement that make lots of people actually change behaviors by setting a target, seeing the progress and sharing experiences. Instead of getting stuck and thereby risking that people see everything as too difficult or even totally missing the problem it is possible to encourage positive actions. Part of this is to share communication in a a number of ways. You see your emissions, and how you can affect them. It gives CO2 a face in fuel cost savings, a Health Index, a tree saving effect etc. Something that most of us can relate too. Suddenly something difficult become more simple. Do you really need all the knowledge of light spectra’s, wave lengths of the atoms, the complex wind and sea models and all the juicy science stuff to see how this relate to you and how you can affect it?
The point I am trying to make is that maybe it is worth taking the time to share the science through broader communication, make it emotional, simplify and even forget the statistics for a while. To simply focus on HOW the data should be presented as much as what it means. Randy Olson, a marine biologist turned film maker summarized what I am trying to say at his blog last week.
I think we’ll leave it at that. Have a nice easter everyone, and remember to Commute Greener!
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