The study shows that while a substantial majority of the UK public believe the world’s climate is changing, many feel relatively uninformed about, or uninterested in, the ﬁndings of climate science, and a sizable [sic] minority do not trust climate scientists to tell the truth about climate change:
Effective communication of climate science needs new ways of engaging with the public. Key ﬁndings from the focus groups and a review of the relevant literature on how communication of climate science through the news media might be improved are:
- Less than half the UK public say they know a ‘fair’ amount or more about climate change, and less than half like to read and think about it. Climate change is often conﬂated with other environmental issues and many people fail to identify unprompted the relevance of certain activities which contribute towards climate change such as everyday gas and electricity use.
- This apparent lack of knowledge or interest in climate science is tinged with a marked note of scepticism. While the majority of the UK public believe that the world’s climate is changing, their levels of concern have decreased over the past ﬁve years (as has their willingness to change behaviour to limit climate change) and the proportion who believe the seriousness of climate change has been exaggerated has increased to include almost half the population. Trust in ‘authority groups’ (e.g. scientists, government, business and industry, environmental groups and the media) to give an accurate portrayal of climate change has decreased in recent years. Moreover, one-third of the UK public do not trust climate scientists to tell the truth about climate change.
- Attitudes to climate change are correlated with the level of engagement the public has with climate change as a topic (in particular how much they like to read and think about it, but also self-assessed knowledge) and with their conﬁdence in climate science (i.e. whether they think most scientists agree on the human causes of climate change, whether they trust climate scientists to tell the truth about climate change and whether they think the seriousness of climate change has been exaggerated). However, the cause/effect cannot be determined from our survey data and it is important to recognise that an individual’s political beliefs, personal values and worldview are likely to contribute to their attitudes to climate change.
- Cultural factors inﬂuence the way the public assimilate and process information and these should be taken into account when designing a communications approach. Opportunities to do this include: encouraging a range of talented science communicators from different backgrounds; giving thought to how climate scientists might work with others to embed scientiﬁc statements in broader messages using diverse communications channels; and encouraging activities that encompass two-way engagement between scientists and the public.
- Communications could be designed to accommodate the different interests and scientiﬁc literacy of the audience and tested to ensure the information is presented in a manner that most aids understanding. Providing a clear and meaningful illustration of the key information and concepts might help build some intuition for unfamiliar topics. This could be a simple graphical description, a straightforward explanation of a mechanism, or an ‘indicator of change’ such as the decline in the number of bees. It may also be helpful to expose more scientists to the complexities of opinion formation by the public (e.g. through involvement in public engagement activities), allowing greater mutual understanding and a more deliberative model of communication.
- Other key factors that may help engage the audience include: personal relevance (e.g. a connection to the local area); novelty (e.g. a new angle to a piece of science information); clarity of language and style; the delivery of scientiﬁc evidence in a non-alarmist, non-manipulative but passionate manner; and the inclusion of information on how people might use the scientiﬁc results being presented (which may require scientists to work in collaboration with others to communicate a message and its implications).
- Careful attention should be paid to communicating around topics known to be susceptible to misinterpretation. A particular example is ‘uncertainty’, where scientiﬁc and public interpretations of the term can diverge. Scientists need to be aware that, by their choice of wording, they may unwittingly alter the way a statement is interpreted. Great care should be taken in constructing statements of scientiﬁc uncertainty and their framing, and messages should be tested to ensure they are not misconstrued. Rephrasing such statements using the everyday public language of risk might help alleviate the problem.
H/T Bishop Hill