Below is an extremely thoughtful comment relating to my 2d post on my experience in giving a presentation to a group of public-spirited citizen scientists at the North American Carbon Program a couple of weeks ago.
Just by way of context: I stressed that it is a mistake to think that the job of the scientist is to communicate as opposed to doing science -- not because scientists shouldn't communicate with the public (the ones who take that on that added demand are heroes in my book) but because a democratic society that expects or relies on its scientists to bear the responsibility for making what's known to science known to citizens necessarily doesn't get the central tenets of the science of science communication: (1) that there is distinction between "doing" and "communicating" valid science; and (2) that the latter demands its own science, its own professional training, and its own reliable implementing institutions and practices. Not getting (1) & (2) is the source of the persistent public conflict on climate science & risks squandering in general what is arguably our society's greatest asset -- the knowledge that science confers on how to secure collective health, safety, and prosperity.
But the one thing I am more confident is correct than this argument is that the surest means for remedying the deficit in our society's science-communication intelligence is through the process of conjecture and refutation that is the signature of science. Let's articulate as many experience-informed hypotheses as we can; and let's test them by doing and modeling them within our universities and within all the other settings in which science and science-informed policymaking are practiced.
So consider this inspired account of what's to be done. If it weren't an "n of 1," I myself would accept that it in itself refutes my claim that it's a mistake to think that we shouldn't conflate excellence in doing and communicating science.
from Paul Shepson:
Dan - you said in your revised post, that "Their job is not to communicate their science to non-experts or members of the public." This did strike me as a weird thing to say. When I am doing science, I try to do it in a scientifically defensible way. When I am communicating to the public about science, I try to do it in a way in which they learn something, and hopefully laugh a few times. But what my job is, that's for me and my employer to negotiate, and hopefully, for me to be creative about. My job is to feel good about what I do, and at the same time hopefully help people, and get to eat. But, as I said in my email to you, it is indeed our responsibility to do exactly this (communicate to members of the public), as I said, especially when the scientific results have large social, ethical, economic, human and ecosystem health impacts. And, it is the case that Federal agencies, e.g. NSF, that fund the scientific community REQUIRE that we communicate our science outside of the scientific community.
For me, doing this is an integral part of who I am as a scientist. I have learned, from a variety of personal experiences, like marriage counseling, and communicating about climate change to Rotarians, etc., that it is very important to "get into the heads of" the members of the audience. But, until your presentation at the NACP meeting, I didn't fully have the jargon about, and the better informed ideas about, the importance and impact of cultural cognition. This has helped me a great deal, and I am sure it will in future presentations; I am already implementing changes (in my head) as a result of your blogs and your presentation. But I don't typically expect scientists to communicate, as you have said, the "validity of valid science". Scientists more often are communicating about the process of science, which can be far more interesting and entertaining, than trying to hammer home the idea that some set of climate science-related conclusions are valid. For me, a quantitative scientist, to discuss the "validity" of my work requires the use of error analysis, and thus, for a general audience, might require them to use stimulants of some sort. People sometimes use the word valid or validate when referring to one of the most important tools of science, the model. But, models are almost never valid, they are a representation and most often simply a test of our understanding of a natural system, such as the Earth. It is hard for me to imagine an Earth System model as ever being valid. But what is fun to tell people about is the process of finding things out, to use a Feynman-ian-like term, since you have referred to Feynman in your blog. People will listen to stories about how hypotheses are developed, e.g. about warming in the Arctic, and then about how you went there to test it, and observed a similar warming, and a similar loss of sea ice, but how that loss of sea ice is occurring faster than the models predicted, and then how that comparison led you to think harder about what is wrong with a model. Models aren't ever valid, they are wrong, and it is learning about the wrongness that leads to scientific progress. The finding things out, and the wrongness is the excitement of science. People love to hear stories about what an Inupiat Eskimo taught you about ice that you never learned from other scientists, and how that helped you rethink your model. Science is a process, not a bunch of end results that are either valid, or not. Ah, but enough ranting.
Regarding making my University bear its share of the burden, I can't really make my University do much of anything. I have tried! But, I can motivate myself to try to inspire young people about the process of science, and to tweak peoples minds to think about things in a different way, and hopefully, in a positive, constructive way. So, when I asked you about taking a renewable energy engineer with me to the Rotary Club, I was suggesting that it might be effective for people who value individualism and a hierarchical world to see the unprecedented investment opportunities in renewable energy, which everyone on the planet will likely eventually need. Its a darn big market! And that pursuit of such investment opportunities might "symbolize human resourcefulness", in a way that is fully consistent with the values of the cultural group with which they identify. Shouldn't we try to take Warren Buffet with us to the Rotary Club? I think the climate science community should be communicating that everyone can win, and that includes the cultural groups with which they strongly identify, in the pursuit of the solutions to climate change.
While you might not think that I am, I will take the liberty of saying thank you for helping me to think more clearly.