To Engage or Not to Engage?

by Jenn Richler
Nature Climate Change, volume 9, page 88 (2019)

Although scientists have valuable knowledge relevant to tackling important issues, many resist calls to engage the public for fear that being labelled as an advocate will undermine their scientific credibility. Ambivalence over advocacy may be especially problematic for climate science, which is highly politicized in the United States and thus presents more risks associated with becoming a public voice. But everyday discussions of climate science are needed to raise public understanding and awareness.

Maxwell Boykoff and David Oonk from University of Colorado Boulder surveyed US-based academic researchers and scholars drawn from societies that support natural and social scientists, such as the American Geophysical Union. Respondents generally agreed that advocacy for evidence-based climate science should not be criticized, but social scientists were more likely to take this position than natural scientists. However, social scientists were also less likely to agree that academic researchers should advocate for specific policies. Younger respondents and social scientists were more likely to agree that those with smaller known carbon footprints are more persuasive advocates. A failure to distinguish between promoting evidence-based science versus promoting a particular policy may explain differing views on the acceptability of climate advocacy.

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