Despite a large majority of scientists with intimate knowledge of the planet’s climate agreeing that climate change is real and human-induced, the public still persists in distrusting the majority at the hands of a few wayward sceptics.
This is not surprising, but a new study conducted by Caren Cooper, a research associate who works on citizen science projects at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, sheds some light on just why the public insist on letting the minority influence their opinions on this matter.
Cooper’s research shows that media literacy education would help the public be in a position to critique the various messages being funnelled through the media, and better assess the truth behind them.
“To be climate change literate, the public must first be media literate,” since print, TV and radio reports and opinion pieces are the main ways that the public gets its information about climate change science, Cooper says.
The Old Ways Don’t Work Anymore
Previous research into the subject of scientific understanding amongst the general populace has found that most informal science education in the US has not emphasised critical thinking, and treats the layperson like an empty container, simply filling him or her with information.
Running parallel with this are the actions of the climate change deniers — who Cooper has found are often linked to corporations and the fossil fuel industry — who exploit the above-mentioned method by encouraging partisanship, framing climate change as only an insignificant problem, and providing the public with educational but scientifically inaccurate messages.
All Things Aren’t Equal
Another issue that Cooper stumbled across is the belief that all scientific beliefs are equally valid, which leads the layperson to give too much credence to the minority viewpoint of the climate change deniers.
Stemming from this is the generally held position that global warming is scientifically controversial, when in fact it is only politically controversial, given the overwhelming number of scientists who support action to address climate change compared to the researchers who oppose such action.
Better Use of Media
Another issue at play here is that climate sceptics have been better at using multiple streams of media, disseminating information via print press, television punditry, talk radio, magazines, journals, blogs, and columns that create doubt and a disparity between mainstream science and public policy.
This obviously opens up a clear avenue for scientists to act, engaging the public through the same media that the climate deniers have been using, ensuring that the public are involved in activities and dialogues that interpret scientific knowledge. One such example is citizen science, where the public are prompted to collect scientific data.
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