December 14, 2009

Help them discover it within themselves

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has released survey results that show that while 84% of the scientists surveyed (2500 US scientists) say human activities are causing our planet's atmosphere to warm, only 56% of the public thinks they do. These numbers are symptomatic of the inability of the scientific community to communicate to the public at large the robust results that emanate from their on-going research activities on climate change. While the press has been eager to dramatize stories and polarize the debate between the skeptics and the believers, scientists should welcome loudly a healthy scientific debate between experts. Peer review and vigorous discussions are part of the scientific process and can only strengthen the arguments by scrutinizing the data and the projection tools. Physicists who constantly improve the models that simulate the earth's climate, are constantly learning from current observations and improving their tools. They have ambitious goals but are in no way thinking they are building the perfect crystal ball that would enable society a fail-proof look into the future. The first goal of science is to understand processes, to test the limits of the application of physical laws, and understand the interactions between physical and biological systems. By improving the understanding of how human activities are affecting the radiative balance of the earth, scientists contribute to a more responsible society aware of the implications of its societal choices and political decisions. Reducing the process of continuous learning through observation, monitoring, and modeling change to a sensationalist controversy is doing disservice to progress. Fortunately, several groups around the world are now trying to bring to land managers and the general public the actual data that show how climate has been and will continue to affect our world. Galileo once said: We cannot teach people anything, we can only help them discover it within themselves. Citizen science has been promoting the discovery by individuals of the changes that have occurred during their own lifetime. Making scientific data easily accessible and documenting change will likely improve communication and shorten the gap between scientific community and the general public.

About the author:
Dominique Bachelet, Ph.D.
Senior Climate Change Scientist, Team Lead- Global Change
Dominique is a Senior Climate Change Scientist at CBI. She works extensively with a variety of climate scenarios to explore climate change impacts.
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Previous: Access to Nature; a right or a privilege?
by Kai Foster, M.A.
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by Dominique Bachelet, Ph.D.
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