15 June 2016
Communicating weather is not easy, but when you add in climate change, the difficulty increases by an order of magnitude! I spent the day with a superb group of fellow synoptic meteorologists and climate scientists, and I learned a great deal about how to better communicate the more technical geeky stuff to the public. I met two people who I have long wanted to talk with:
1.Dr. John Nielsen Gammon (Texas State Climatologist), who has made some amazingly useful graphics, that I frequently share.
2. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, of Texas Tech in Lubbock, who has rapidly gained fame for her expertise in communicating a subject that some based on religion/politics do not want to hear about. The general gist of her talk was that the facts are not enough for people who fear the results of those facts, and her way of presenting this information is unique. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, “It’s nearly impossible to convince someone of anything, if they think their paycheck depends on it being otherwise,” and this is where almost all of the public skepticism of climate change comes from. Scientists care about the facts, and while the consequences may matter, they are a totally separate issue to the science. Not so to non-scientists though, because here cognitive bias rules. People refuse to accept things that conflict with their worldview and they will do so to the point where they will deny the sky is blue if need be.
Understanding this and revising the way we communicate with this in mind is important and Dr. Hayhoe is IMHO the expert on how to do this. She recently did a Tedx talk, and you can get a great idea of her talk today by watching it below.
My Friend Ed Maibach at George Mason University informs me that explaining scientific method and how are minds fail us in critical thinking will not do much good, and he is rarely wrong about things like this, so we must just get smarter when it comes to communicating this subject. Fortunately, Ed’s research shows that only about 13% of the population is immune to this communication, and he tells me that more people are accepting the reality we face due to rising greenhouse gases. Most of those in attendance at today’s seminar have long since learned to not waste our time with this 13%, and to instead focus on accurately answering the questions of the other 87%.
Ed tells me that the data is clear that an increasing number of people are now accepting the science. That said, there is still an incredibly high percentage of people in America who have no idea about the nearly unanimous consensus in the Earth science community. The increase, by the way, is actually coming from conservative Republicans, so maybe we are getting better. No matter what, after today I’m better prepared to communicate the science.