Sound bites on climate change science communication

By Grant Jacobs 24/06/2010

I don’t write about climate science myself,* I’m not a climate scientist. Communicating science I do write about. This ten-minute video presents a series of short takes (longer than sound bites, despite my title!) from a panel of speakers on communicating climate change science:

You will note much of their concern is not with ’presenting the facts’ but how to ’connect’ with their readership or audience. This is not the viewpoint of science or most scientists, who want to focus on the science itself. I personally feel there is a need for more than just this approach,** but having said that presenting only ’facts’ will likely limit your audience to those that already have sufficient interest to put some effort in.***

There is a large number of videos on YouTube presenting concerns about climate change science, such as the one below from the Climate Change Media Partnership, who promote efforts to communicate this in the ’developing world.’ It’s an interesting initiative and worth seeing for a different aspect on this that we rarely think about in a Western nation:

It reminds me, too, of a recent remark I saw on twitter that sponsorship of science communication by NGOs and the like may be a pattern of the future. Those that wish to get the message out for what they support will look to science communicators to assist them. (This does, of course, also raise ethical issues.)


* I would if I had time to explore it to a level I feel comfortable presenting the science.

** I’m wary when people suggest only one solution to these sorts of things, as different people have different needs. Different people respond to different approaches. The same goes for approaches to debating science on the ’web. To address some people’s concerns may require dealing with the political or ideological motivations underlying their viewpoint in ways that presenting ’only the science’ will not (easily) address or reveal to them. Conversely, there is a place for explaining the science itself too. Doing this in some depth is not ’wrong’. (An impression some viewers might get watching this video?)

*** A solution, of course, is to try ’fool’ people into getting (some of) the ’facts’ while reading something that interests them; when I write presenting only the facts, here I meant literally that, an article only about the science.

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0 Responses to “Sound bites on climate change science communication”

  • Grant, I think you make a very good point. Perhaps communicating science is all about getting the balance between style and substance right – substance without style can be boring, style without substance is just fluff.
    My personal view is that we live in a world that focuses too much on style to the deteriment of substance, and as scientists/science communicators we have to be aware of this.

  • Grant — I just found your excellent post. You are, of course, right on target re: soundbites. When I worked at NOAA, many scientists still believed that “the facts speak for themselves.” And they do. . . but only to other scientists!

    For everybody else, we need all the tools of effective communication — a personal connection, a compelling narrative, soundbites, stories, humor, graphics, etc. I.e. All the things that help make a message stick.

    Paring something to its core doesn’t have to mean “dumbing down;” it can mean capturing the essence.

    Check out “Do soundbites matter?” (in FAQ) and the growing collection of climate metaphors, quotes, quips andcome-backs at

    Got any favorites to add?