By Adrian Ong
This cartoon depict a group of dinosaurs in “the congress before time”, with one of the dinosaur member of congress frantically trying to convince the rest that the risk of asteroids hitting earth and annihilating the entire dinosaur population is an alarmism.
Scientists have to do a lot, in order to be taken seriously by the public. In recent years, trying to convey concerns to the public has been an uphill battle, as there is erosion of public confidence in scientists, in light of news of unethical and/or rouge scientists making headlines.
In a 2014 study by the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, scientists are seen as competent but not trusted (under warmth) by Americans. Professor Susan Fiske highlighted that “this gap can be filled by showing concern for humanity and the environment. Rather than persuading, scientists may better serve citizens by discussing, teaching and sharing information to convey trustworthy intentions.”
I remember “Climategate” about 7 years back, when there were apparently evidences surfaced that alleged that climate change is a scientific conspiracy. Many scientists were quoted out of context, and it was highlighted that the questioning nature of Science which was evident in the communication between scientists working on climate change made it seem like there were scientists who do not agree that the climate is changing. I think one reason could be because the public expect the scientific method (and thus scientists) to be reliable and free from discrepancy. Then, the escalation of attacks on the Science of climate change and on scientists working in this field detracted from the severity of the phenomena that 255 scientists of the United States National Academy of Sciences felt the need to write a letter to defend climate change and the integrity of Science.
So perhaps, this is where Science Communicators have an important role to play. Rather than think of the general public as being ignorant of climate change and thus feel the need to share alarmists-type of information to gain attention, Science Communicators and even scientists need to work on conveying the trustworthiness and warmth, in order to obtain the stakeholder buy-in needed.
Well, the good news is that teachers can help too – considering that we are banded in the category of occupations with both trustworthiness and competence viewed highly by the general public.