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Home » Articles » How can climate scientists better communicate their work to the public? An Interview with Susan Hassol

How can climate scientists better communicate their work to the public? An Interview with Susan Hassol

Climate Change Communicator, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The following appears courtesy of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Center for Climate Sciences. This interview between Susan Hassol and NASA JPL’s Sharon Ray and was originally published in May 2011. Click here for the complete interview.

People don’t understand the process of science. They don’t understand that it’s self-correcting, that it’s not a matter of opinion, that it’s a matter of evidence and fact. People always ask, “Do you believe in global warming?” Well, it has nothing to do with belief. It’s not a question of belief or feeling; it’s a question of evidence and fact. I don’t think people fully grasp that.

So I do think there’s some teaching to be done here, but it’s really very difficult because the public doesn’t want a science lesson. They don’t want to be taught. This is one of the things they think about scientists, I think, is that they’re sort of arrogant and elitist. They don’t want to be taught about how science works. Instead, they look at what they hear from scientists as being similar to the opinions they hear from others, people who are not scientists, like political figures.

A good example of that is after we released the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment in 2004 and we came forward with a bunch of findings and conclusions from that study, there was a congressman from Alaska who said, “Well, I don’t believe that the warming we’re seeing is due to human activity. That’s my opinion and it’s as valid as any scientist’s.” That was very frustrating, because it showed that he does not understand that this is not about opinion, that this is based on evidence and fact, and that there are half a dozen lines of evidence that indicate that the warming that we’re seeing is due to human activity. It’s not a hunch or a guess; it’s based on evidence. So, yes, I think you’re right that that is definitely part of the problem.

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