THE ROLE OF SCIENTISTS
Physical and natural scientists were identified as a group that tends to focus on the cognitive goals of climate change education. Mahoney explained that scientists see their role in climate change education as “developing information on climate change, testing the validity of that information, and then making sure that this information, which is so important to the public and to nature overall, is conveyed as broadly as possible.” Scientists, he remarked, are most comfortable sharing knowledge and information developed through measurements, interpretations, and model projections. However, most scientists do not share their findings directly with the public but instead disseminate information about climate change in peer-reviewed journals or science media; the role of scientists is to be honest brokers or neutral arbiters of information, he said. William Solecki stressed that scientists should not overstep these roles or they risk losing their considerable legitimacy and trust. He further noted that there is, in fact, a tendency for scientists to hesitate when asked to speak directly about their research in ways that relate to the concerns or values of specific audiences, or to discuss the actions that can be taken to address their scientific findings. Left to interpret the science themselves, the media, with its increasingly fewer resources may therefore report on scientists’ results in a gee-whiz manner that simplifies the claims, ignores the remaining uncertainty, and fails to describe the collective validation processes in scientific communities.
Mahoney went on to explain that scientists are rightfully concerned with going beyond the knowledge of the “what” and “why” of climate change, because they don’t want to be viewed as advocating for certain types of actions that are not supported by (their) evidence and thus lose their status as objective researchers. He also suggested that the scientific community needs to keep doing the basic science, keep communicating, and develop better connections with the education community so that their work can be leveraged by education efforts.
Martin Storksdieck (Board on Science Education) raised the issue of the frames in which climate change education takes place, expressing concern that educators could lose track of the very idea of educating about the climate for the sake of connecting to audiences. He noted that many excellent suggestions to avoid resistance by skeptical audiences were posed, such as framing the issues as a matter of energy independence and security. Yet he cautioned that this raises a question about whether climate change education is a frame for discussing related issues, or whether the issues of energy independence, national security, and so forth are