Communicating climate science

Andrew Tait

I’m driven by the communication of science – how information is used – can it influence somebody? can it open people’s eyes to possibilities?

Dr Andrew Tait is a Principal Scientist in the climate team at NIWA. A geographer, he focusses on the application of climate information. We talk about his role and the challenges of communicating science.

Talking points:

Objectivity is needed rather than an emotional response

Denialism is beyond what a scientist can really handle. They’ve got a world view and if your information doesn’t fit that worldview the they’re just closed to it

Climate information is a part of the landscape of being able to do what you do sustainably

I’m impressed by the adoption of sustainable principles – as a nation we’re managing drought on a large scale – this has been a change in thinking

People appreciate the effort you make to try to connect with them, and saying if you want to be able to making the best decisions you possibly can then please take account of this information

The enormity of decision making such as sea level rise – boy oh boy – it evokes interesting and sometimes heated discussions with people concerned for the future value of their properties

Have to ask the question, would we be better off if we didn’t know, or didn’t attempt to know just because there may be significant implications?

There’s got to be a strategic push for people to actually start doing the work – seriously thinking about implications. We have a hesitancy to start doing that work because of perceived implications of what the results might show

I’m driven by the communication of science – how information is used – can it influence somebody? can it open people’s eyes to possibilities?

(Do you make a point of staying out of the political?) For sure. (safe is a politically charged term, should scientists use such terms?). To me is going beyond what a scientist should be doing, but there’s a frustration for a scientist who wants to provide the best information they possibly can for a decision-maker to use and seeing that the information isn’t being used well. There’s a big frustration there, and I can understand why others, particularly if they’ve got a global soapbox will, and have got into this debate – that of why isn’t more being done? From my perspective I’m not prepared to get into that area. I want to help as much as I possibly can. … We’re such a small community of scientists, that we do get involved in discussions with policy makers at all levels – and we can be at the personal level of talking to a minister, or a CEO. But they don’t want us to be telling them what to do. I don’t think anyone wants someone coming in from an ivory tower telling them what to do. But people appreciate the effort that we make to try to connect with them – to say, if you want to making the best decisions you possibly can, then please take account of this information and understand how it was derived and what its implications are. The scientist can do a lot to make that bridge.

The old model of scientist as the remote expert is gone, people are part of the system so they have to part of the research

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Author: Samuel Mann

An Associate Professor with a background in both IT and land management, Sam has developed applied IT for regional government, crown research institutes and large organisations. He has taught computing since 1994, at Otago Polytechnic Information Technology since 1997, including five years as Head of Department. Sam has published over 150 conference and journal papers in the fields of augmented experiences; sustainability; and computer education. Sam is responsible for the development of Education for Sustainability at Otago Polytechnic where we are committed to every graduate thinking and acting as a sustainable practitioner

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