Thursday, 19 March 2009

Are scientists confusing politicians about climate change?

An opinion piece written in New Scientist this week claims that the hundreds of scientists gathered at the recent climate change conference in Copenhagen failed to make clear exactly what policy changes needed to be made by governments.

Catherine Brahic writes that "some delegates worry the meeting has only created more confusion, leaving policy-makers even less clear about where to set their emissions targets." She describes how the conference "appeared to satisfy the needs of scientists but not the policy-makers present."

John Ashton, the UK government's special representative on climate change, says it's "wrong and dangerous" for scientists to confuse politicians and it "will make it harder to get the intensity and urgency of effort required".

The problem, says Martin Parry of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, is that such a large and short meeting was never going to deliver a consensus on climate change. "If you had put another group of scientists on the panel of the plenary sessions, you would have had a different picture," says Parry.

Parry believes that politicians should ignore the indecision of scientists at the meeting and stick to their targets. "Studies continue and there isn't time to take a careful evaluation of all these, let alone get government agreement so science is working back-to-back with policy," says Parry.

Within the scientific community there is little disagreement about the threats that climate change pose, but questions are being raised about the extent that scientists need to work even more closely with policy-makers and frame their research in terms that politicians can understand and use quickly and effectively.


  1. Scientists are not motivational communicators

  2. My most important job as a teacher of science is to serve as a "geek to English" translator. How can we blame the government for making bone-head policy if we refuse to educate them? The last step in the scientific method is to report or communicate our findings. This is the foundation of scientific theory. To say that it is not our job to explain climate change, or stem cell research, or (insert scientific topic here), then we are being disrespectful of our system of representative government, and tossing aside the goodwill of those who can most easily help up change and improve our world. And isn't that our real goal as scientists?