Sci Tech Comm report on climate communication

The Science and Technology Committee has issued a report (press release here with links to html and pdf versions of the report), following its long inquiry into Climate: Public understanding and policy implications.

The written submissions to the inquiry can be found here, and the transcripts of the oral evidence sessions here. It was soon clear, when the first people invited to speak were the Glasgow Media Group, a left-wing activist group with no mention of climate change on its website, that the inquiry was going to be a meaningless farce. There were twenty written submissions from sceptics, but only one sceptic, Andrew Montford, was invited to give evidence, among dozens of green and political activists and journalists.

The press release adopts a dictatorial, almost Stalinist tone: It is important that there is a “consistent message”,  and ministers “need to acquaint themselves with climate science and clearly and consistently reflect the Government approach in all their communications”, but ironically it ends with “Dogma on either side of the debate should be revealed as such”.

In the main report, the sceptic contributions are almost completely ignored, except for a mention from Philip Bratby of the use of internet resources, and Andrew Montford saying that people realise the main media sources are only telling one side of the story (para 56). The same two get a brief mention in paragraph 82, on lack of trust in scientists and the unremarkable fact that sceptics prefer to verify facts for themselves rather than trust everything they are told.

The Report is quite critical of the BBC, the Met Office and the Royal Society.  The criticism of the BBC is a bit muddled: what does “it lacked a clear understanding of the information needs of its audience with regards to climate science” mean? Regarding the Met Office, the criticisms are clearer: “we would have liked to have seen greater effort to communicate to the public on the publication of the IPCC AR5 report. It should have been more timely with information that should be far more accessible to the public at large.”  The report is equally blunt about the Royal Society: “The Royal Society is a publicly funded body with a responsibility to communicate about science. We encourage it to step up to that responsibility”. Apparently the RS was reluctant to contribute to the inquiry, but eventually did so in July, months after the official deadline.  “The written submission from the Royal Society was not as extensive as we expected” (it was just over 2 pages – shorter than my submission). The report goes on to tell the RS what it should spend its money on, as discussed by Bishop Hill.

The sheer stupidity of the report is summed up in its 13th and 14th conclusion/recommendations:

13. The Government’s hands-off approach to engaging with the public and the media, relying heavily on scientists as the most prominent voice, has a resulted in a vacuum that has allowed inaccurate arguments to flourish with little effective challenge.

14. If the Government is to demonstrate its climate policies are evidence based, it needs to be an authoritative and trusted voice which explains the current state of climate science. It is important that climate science is presented separately from any subsequent policy response. We recommend that the Government work with the learned societies and national academies to develop a source of information on climate science that is discrete from policy delivery, comprehensible to the general public and responsive to both current developments and uncertainties in the science.

Statement 13, with its talk of a ‘vacuum’ is utter nonsense, as shown by the fuss that was generated when Nigel Lawson was allowed to speak for three minutes on the Today programme back in February and is still going on.

Number 14, proposing a joint Government-academy source of information, shows their complete lack of understanding of the subject they have been studying for the last year. There are already dozens  (hundreds?) of websites supposedly giving the public the facts on climate change; what will one more achieve? Furthermore, the LWEC survey showed that the Government was one of  the least trusted of information sources.

By a strange coincidence, point 14 of my submission anticipated the stupidity of their point 14: “Any attempt to try to “correct” this, for example by some new Government initiative to improve public understanding of climate science, would be doomed to failure.”

There is a superb response from Peter Hitchens. I’m tempted to quote the best bits, but I won’t, so you have to go and read it.




One thought on “Sci Tech Comm report on climate communication

  1. The Government has issued a response to the Science and Technology Committee report on communicating climate science.

    It’s interesting that they join me in disagreeing with conclusion 13 of the report. There is also disagreement with the committee’s criticism of the Met Office and Royal Society.

    They say that “DECC is establishing a cross-government climate change communications group”. I wonder how successful that will be, given that they also acknowledge that “It is clear from studies of public attitudes to science that Government is not the most trusted voice on scientific issues”.

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