Matthew Nisbet on the over-reaction of science & ways to move forward

Matthew Nisbet over at Framing Science has an excellent blog post on the potential over-reaction by climate scientists to the events of the last few months. The piece is written from a US perspective, but I think it applies equally here in the UK. He notes:

Multiple surveys show a decline in public concern with climate change and it”s clear that political momentum for policy action has stalled. But there are several likely causes, the direct efforts of the climate skeptic movement just one of them, and probably one of the more minor causes.

These other factors include the economy, confusion over colder weather and other perceptual biases, general distrust of government, climate policies such as cap and trade that are not easily sold as effective or in line with public values, the absence of strong Presidential leadership on the issue, institutional barriers in Congress and at the international level, and the continued belief by some scientists and advocates that public support and policy action will turn on science rather than on a calculation of values and trade-offs.

In light of these many complex factors, for some scientists to angrily and emotionally focus on climate skeptics as the primary source of societal inaction is a major distraction and it reflects their own perceptual biases. These biases are well understood and predicted by past research in communication. They include a tendency for individuals heavily involved on an issue to perceive almost all news coverage as hostile to their goals (even news coverage that favors their position); to presume much larger effects for a message on the public than the actual influence; and to apply a faulty quasi-statistical sense to where public opinion might actually stand on a subject, perceiving public opinion as hostile, no matter what the objective indicators might say.

When scientists and advocates, motivated by these biased perceptions, respond with tit- for-tat attacks on climate skeptics, it takes energy and effort away from offering a positive message and well-planned engagement campaign that builds public support for climate action and instead feeds a downward spiral of “war” and conflict rhetoric that appears as just more ideological rancor to the wider public.

He also suggests online casino ways to move past the “rancor” and into something more constructive:

Alternative positive messages and strategies include re-defining climate change away from just being an environmental problem, to being a national security, public health, and economic problem, with policies that would lead to societal benefits in these areas rather than just perceived economic sacrifice, hardship, and costs. This does not mean replacing a focus on environmental science and impacts with other frames of reference, but rather it means partnering scientists and science educators with opinion leaders from across sectors of society who can speak to complementary dimensions of the issue and who can communicate about the benefits that would occur from specific policies, both at the national and local level.

It means partnering scientists and science educators with opinion leaders from across sectors of society who can speak to complementary dimensions of the issue and who can communicate about the benefits that would occur from specific policies, both at the national and local level.

Go and read the whole thing.

UPDATE: For a striking example of exactly what Matthew Nisbet is criticising, go read Steve Easterbrook”s debate with George Monbiot.

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