Good reasons for trusting climate science communication

Posted on 14 July 12

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Goodwin, Jean, and Michael F. Dahlstrom. “Good Reasons for Trusting Climate Science Communication.” Paper presented at the American Meteorological Society conference, Seattle, January 2011.

Revised and extended by “Communication strategies for earning trust in climate change debates.”

Lay audiences cannot fully understand climate science without becoming scientists themselves; therefore, they have to trust what scientists say. Although there is no “crisis of trust” currently, there are reasons to be concerned that public trust may be fragile, unequally distributed, and variable. Studies of communication over the past fifty years have revealed characteristics like likeability or likeness which render speakers trustworthy. Unfortunately, these characteristics are unlikely to be effective in the context of climate controversies, where audiences are using their slow, “central processing”/critical reasoning capacities.  In fact, emphasizing such characteristics may backfire if it is seen as manipulative. Scientists instead need to earn trust by giving audiences good reasons to trust them. Most of these reasons require scientists to make themselves vulnerable–conspicuously open to sanctions of various kinds if what they say turns out not to be accurate.

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