07 March 2007

Cool response to global warming

You may have thought that the media went into overdrive on the recent IPCC report on climate change. Some observers beg to differ. Matthew Nisbet, Assistant Professor in the School of Communication at American University, reckons that "The inability of the IPCC report to break through to the public about the urgency of climate change is just more evidence that relying on traditional science communication strategies has increasingly limited returns."

He explains his stance in A “Two Step Flow of Popularization” for Climate Change. His line is that "other public engagement methods are sorely needed".

Why? Partly because of some fundamental errors. As he says, "the Friday scheduling of the report's release couldn't have been worse".

You can always argue about when best to launch something. I always suggested something that gave the weeklies – Nature, New Scientist, Science, The Economist etc – a chance to dive in with their usually deeper analysis. Governments certainly like Friday for bad news stories because readers' minds are on other things.

Then there is the report itself. By being "a technical backgrounder, a massive synthesis of the state of climate science" this means that, for journalists, "an authoritative distillation of past research [is] a tough story to make exciting. The there is the fact that "the main themes of the draft report had been predicted for a few months, eliminating any real surprises".

Lots of leads to similar assessment so the media coverage. Well worth reading. His view that those seeking to get the message across should look beyond the media makes sense. But then it is much harder to tell if the report has had any impact. Indeed, maybe the very methods that he advocates really happened. It just won't show up in the headlines. Which is where we came in.

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