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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 254-ii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
science and technology Committee
climate: public understanding and policy implications
Wednesday 26 June 2013
Professor nick pidgeon, professor chris rapley and dr alex burch
professor john womersley, professor tim palmer, professor rowan sutton and professor john pethica
Evidence heard in Public Questions 33 – 76
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Wednesday 26 June 2013
Andrew Miller (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Nick Pidgeon, Understanding Risk Research Group, Cardiff University, Professor Chris Rapley, Communicating Climate Science Policy Commission, UCL, and Dr Alex Burch, Director of Learning, Science Museum Group, gave evidence.
Q33 Chair: May I welcome everyone here to this morning’s session? I think this is a first-the Select Committee coming to take evidence in the Science Museum, which is a place that is incredibly appropriate for our particular inquiry. We are working right in the centre of the Science Museum’s whole reason for existence-how to communicate good science to the public-and we recognise how good the work is that is done here. Can we particularly put on record our thanks to Mailinh Tuong and Lizzie Quill, who made the arrangements here? Welcome, everyone, including the members of the public sitting behind our witnesses. Let us go straight on, because I realise people have very busy lives and we have quite a tight schedule to maintain, and we want to get through this session pretty smartly. Could I, for the record, invite the three witnesses to introduce themselves?
Professor Pidgeon: Good morning. I am Professor Nick Pidgeon from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology. Just to say, I have about 10 years of research on British attitudes to climate change. I was also the author of the "Public Understanding of and Attitudes Towards Climate Change" report, as part of the International Dimensions of Climate Change foresight study.
Professor Burch: I am Dr Alex Burch. I am Director of Learning for the Science Museum Group, and I was also Project Leader for the Atmosphere Gallery that we are sitting in. Prior to that, I spent eight years at the museum studying audiences’ reactions to science, and how we can engage them better.
Professor Rapley: Good morning. I am Professor Chris Rapley from University College London, where I am a Professor of Climate Science. I started my research career as a space scientist, working on satellites to study the Earth, working with the European Space Agency and NASA. I then ran one of the big international global change research programmes and was Director of the British Antarctic Survey for 10 years, and then was Director of the Science Museum here for four years, during which time we put together, amongst other things, this Atmosphere Gallery, for which I was the Head of Content. I am currently at UCL, working on the psychology of climate opinion, and also I am Chair of the London Climate Change Partnership, which seeks to climateproof London.
Q34 Chair: Thank you very much. All three of you have had to actively engage on the subject of climate change, how it is communicated to people, and people’s attitude to it. Is climate a more difficult area than other science disciplines to engage with the public on?
Professor Rapley: Yes, I believe so. If one is presenting the narrative of the Higgs boson or the origins of the cosmos, it is essentially emotionally neutral, or indeed it taps into something that pretty much all humans have, which is a sense of curiosity about the world around them. One taps into a very positive feeling. However, the narrative of climate change tends to raise anxieties, fears, guilts and feelings of helplessness, and the human response to that is different from something that is emotionally neutral, and that needs to be taken carefully into account when one delivers the narrative.
Professor Pidgeon: Might I add to that? I agree entirely with that. It is also a complex subject, unlike many other things we study, like GM food or nuclear power, which is a single object that you can have an attitude towards. Climate change has a temporal aspect into the future, and a geographical aspect in other countries. It has a set of complex systems, so it is not a single object that you can have a simple attitude towards, as well.
Professor Burch: I would agree with that. From our own research, for our visitors this is a subject that is complex, has an emotional element and can sometimes be overwhelming, and there is a certain degree of confusion, as there is a lot of information, and it can be very difficult to tap that information into an underlying framework of understanding of the science.
Q35 Chair: So it is difficult. What new methods and approaches are you using to solve this?
Professor Burch: One of the ways we have been looking at it at the Science Museum is to take our visitors through a narrative. This gallery is structured around a fivepoint science narrative. We provide access to the science, to the scientists and to the real objects; we know that that is important. We provide space-an area for visitors to share and converse around the subject-and equally what we are looking to do is populate the Museum and use the multiple communication routes that we have to engage our audiences. We have an online educational game. We know that online gaming is very good as a science learning tool. We use artists to bring in new perspectives, and we use our historical galleries to tell different parts of this very rich and complex story.
Professor Rapley: Perhaps I would just add to that, now with my exScience Museum hat on, rather than my current hat. The structure of the gallery, as Alex says, is first of all to be engaging. This very atmospheric experience is something that is unique, and that draws in people who would not necessarily be interested in climate science. The whole idea was not to attract, if you like, the converted, but to attract everybody, so that is why it is different, unusual and immersive. It mixes objects and interactives so that the different learning styles that people have are accommodated.
Particularly we know that experience helps. When people are exploring information, they tend to get more engaged and feel ownership of it. What is more, the gallery was designed to engage, to inform, and then to let people make up their own minds, so we are very careful to construct the narrative in a way that we felt would be helpful in providing a scaffolding for the bits and pieces of information that people already have.
We start by saying that the climate has always changed, and talking about how the climate has changed, why it has changed in the past, we talk about the Earth’s energy balance, and we talk about the carbon cycle and the way human activities have disrupted it, none of which is controversial. We also look to future ways that the world might be made a better place through more efficient use of energy. We concentrate the narrative of the science that is more controversial, about what is happening and what will be happening, in that section over there. It is structured in a way that provides a scaffolding for people to make greater sense and indeed make up their own minds. It is not the job of the Museum to tell people what to think.
Professor Pidgeon: From the perspective of social science research on public understanding of risk and science and technology, what we do in the universities both here in the UK and elsewhere working on this problem is, in a sense, a number of things. The first thing is to try to understand where people are at currently, as a science issue-whether there are gaps in knowledge, what they currently understand that is correct, and where there may be misinterpretations. That helps with a programme of communication, then, obviously, but I think the second thing that is innovative in this area is that one also has to analyse what people need to know, and that question will be different for different sectors of the population, or different interventions. There are two fundamental things we are trying to do.
Q36 David Tredinnick: Good morning. You have explained the importance of the visual side of science, and this great museum is a good example of that, with a wonderful makeover, which I personally find very impressive. We still have massive confusion out there amongst the public, and that is a fact. What are the key concepts that the public need to understand, and how do you prioritise those? You have already touched on some of them, but what are the priorities? What should we really be focusing on-in order, please?
Professor Pidgeon: May I just say something about your question there? On the point about "massive confusion", I think I said in my evidence that the Committee should take an evidencebased approach to understand what is going on here. I certainly would not use that phrase. There are things that people do know, and other things that they do not. What we do know from the research is that people have a high level of concern in the UK. Awareness is very high of the term climate change. There is endorsement by many of an anthropogenic component. It is not necessarily the most important issue for people in life. That is very important for their engagement with it, and they want Government to take a lead.
What they do understand, and have understood for a long time, the research shows, is that fossil fuels are causing this problem-although they may not understand the scientific way in which that occurs-that they have impacts on weather certainly in this country, and the consequences will be both longterm and particularly severe in other countries. There is a well established set of data that will tell you that, so to say that the public are confused about climate change I think is not quite right. Also, there are different publics: if you look at education level, for instance, people who are more educated tend to know more about climate change, but interestingly, they are also more polarised. You get more people who believe it is not true, and more people who passionately believe it is a serious problem, as people become more educated, so it is a complicated question about who is confused and who is not.
Professor Rapley: It seems to me that one of the core concepts is risk, and it is unfortunate that the science community in its professional mode is very interested in uncertainty; after all, it is unravelling the mysteries of the universe that motivates most scientists, so they are constantly concerned about maintaining the esteem of their colleagues by being seen to be, and being, honest about the levels of uncertainty. There is a tendency always, in the public dialogue, to talk about uncertainty, but what is really at stake here, and what the reasonable person understands, is risk, and the metaphor of insurance.
Most people-pretty much everybody-have house insurance. It is very unlikely that their house will burn down, but they recognise that if it did so it would be disastrous, so they are prepared to make that investment. I think the idea is that there is a risk here and that there is uncertainty; we cannot be sure exactly what the impact on the climate system will be, precisely, and we cannot be sure exactly what the impact of that will be on humans, but we do see that food supplies, water supplies, infrastructure and so on are designed in this complex world to fit the climate system we inherited. There is a risk there, and getting that idea across is crucial.
Q37 David Tredinnick: Moving on from that, do you think it is necessary to focus on the science in any depth, or should we really be looking at policy implications to do with flooding or other acts of God?
Professor Rapley: I think the science community has an obligation to give a plausible account of the logic and evidence that it has gathered, which leads it to conclude what it has concluded, and indeed that is what this gallery seeks to do, but in the end most people do not have the time or need to understand all of the detail. There are certain key points, however. I will give you an example. One of the arguments that is used to say, "This is not a problem" is that the evidence from the ice cores-and we have one over there-is that in the natural variations of climate, it is temperature that has led carbon dioxide, and now the argument is that carbon dioxide is going to cause a temperature change.
There is an assumption that one thing kicks another, but this is a coupled system. We need to get the idea across of a coupled system, so it does not matter which one goes first; the other will follow. It is a deep concept. That is important.
Q38 David Tredinnick: You say that, but with respect, evidence from your own university, University College London, has referred to the problem of policy debate masquerading as science. Does that not, in your mind, prioritise the way forward? Finally-and I have no more questions after this-should we not be really focusing on enduser benefits, as all good marketing organisations do? We have to sell this as a way of improving your life.
Professor Rapley: Your question makes some assumptions about the role of a scientist, and there is a book written by Roger Pielke Jr. in the States that identifies four general roles for the scientist. One is to do the science, to the best of their ability and as impartially as possible; the second is to explain the science; the third is to identify issues that society might wish to address; and then the fourth is to sit down with others and try to address those issues. The role of the scientist in that fourth role is to provide all necessary information that the science can offer, to allow a sensible decision to be made. I think this is where that comment in the UCL evidence was suggesting there has been quite a lot of muddle, and unfortunate muddle, in the past, with scientists straying too far into the policy implications and their views on them, when in fact that is not their role.
Q39 Stephen Metcalfe: Good morning. In your answers to the Chairman at the start of this session, you were explaining how your approach in this gallery is to inform and let people make up their own minds. We can see it is a fantastic facility. The problem is that it is probably not getting to enough people to educate them in enough numbers. That is not your problem, it is just a fact. Therefore, the majority of people, presumably, are relying on some form of media to understand what the issues are and what the challenges that we all face are. Do you think the Government should be worried about that-that the media, and particularly television, is the main source of information on climate change?
Professor Burch: One of the things it is important to highlight is that museums and science centres are trusted sources of information, and we can play a really important role, then, within the public. We are trusted both by the public and by scientists, so what we can do extremely well is to bring those two groups together to facilitate dialogue, to ask questions, and to explore the science around this. Science museums and science centres have a key role in helping to inform around this area.
Professor Pidgeon: May I add to that? I guess this is about the question of scaling up, which is that we could do a small dialogue with a small group of the public in this room, and they would go away and think more about it, and that might change their lives, but how does one change the population, or in some sense engage the population? I think it goes wider than just the science community. All health promotion campaigns, if you go back to where behavioural change initiatives have been very successful, are multicomponent, they take place over long periods of time, and they involve communication and removal of barriers.
In all of this, the role of Government is very important, but not just in a simple way. In the evidence session last week, there was a lot of discussion about Government scientists, and I absolutely endorse the point that the Chief Scientist, who has a very independent role and can speak, has an important role in this, and will have credentials and will be believed by both the public and media. However, it is equally important that prominent politicians speak out about this issue, because that is how you get media coverage. I made the point in my evidence about Margaret Thatcher’s speech in the late 1980s, which brought this to the public notice. There is also Government body language; it is how Government acts. You can say one thing, but then if you decide to have Heathrow have a new runway or some less sustainable development, then the public are not silly and they will spot that as well.
The final thing, which was not discussed last week, is friendly opponents. What we need to persuade people is for Jeremy Clarkson to come out and say, "I really think this is a serious problem." I will give you the analogy with nuclear energy. What has happened over the last 10 years is a change in public attitude towards nuclear energy, and part of that has been due to a very longrunning change in discourse at the policy level, but it has also partly been induced by some environmentalists who have come out and, whether you agree with nuclear or not, they have said, "We believe it is a low-carbon source and therefore we are now more prepared to support it." The old adage is that your best supporter is actually your enemy, because people believe, "They had a stake in the other argument, but now they have been convinced, so I must look at that."
Professor Rapley: The question was about the role of the media, and you asked whether the Government should be worried about the media. I think you can draw your own conclusions from the Leveson inquiry about whether we should worry about the media. After all, the job of the media is not to educate people or to define policy; it basically is to sell newspapers, and one needs to bear that in mind, although it is clear that a number of newspapers follow a very political line, and this is where climate change has got drawn into the political debate about energy policy and those sort of issues about the future wellbeing of people in the world.
It seems to me that an issue about the media is the question of debate versus dialogue. A standard format that newspapers and the television media often go for, because it is deeply in our psyche, is to place one person against another, and so there is an issue about false balance. I am not saying there is false balance, but there is an issue about false balance. If one person is representing the conclusions of a science community and the other is representing opinion, this is often not clear to the audience. The media are very sensitive to that and are trying to deal with it in various ways, but, more generally, debate tends to force people apart. People who form differing conclusions or opinions are driven apart, because it is a combative exercise, whereas a dialogue tends to draw people together. A good example of that at best practice is in the Science Museum’s Dana Centre, where dialogue events do draw people together, and one sees quite considerable shifts of opinion throughout the evening as the dialogue progresses. The problem then is how to scale that up. It is very energy and staffintensive to run those events.
Q40 Stephen Metcalfe: Recognising the crucial role that the media do play in communicating climate change, firstly, do you think, in the main, they do it in a responsible enough fashion? Secondly, do you think that scientists themselves adapt their message to make it more accessible to the media? Are they good at discussing what is a fairly complex issue with people who want snappy headlines?
Professor Rapley: There are some obvious examples. I will not name names, but there are some obvious examples where climate science evidence is presented in ways that do not conform with the way that the climate science community would represent them. For example, simply taking the last 15 years of surface temperature data and making them your front page is, at best, disingenuous, it seems to me, when you do not explain what the previous part of the curve looked like.
There is evidence that the data are not presented in ways that the climate science community would be comfortable with, but equally, climate scientists are human beings and they suffer from assimilation bias just like everybody else does. They are also used to, in their professional lives, presenting information to each other in an informationdeficit mode. You simply pass information across, and leave it to the audience to figure out the implications. It is not well understood by the climate science community, and the science community more generally, how to deal with people who are not used to receiving information in that way and who have an emotional response to it, as we discussed earlier. This is an area that we are particularly interested in.
If I might say so, we started a novel piece of work that we are doing at UCL by asking ourselves how we could help climate scientists become more effective communicators. The more we have thought about it, the more we have looked at the situation. We have asked ourselves how human beings form opinions. When they have formed opinions, how do they cope with evidence that challenges those opinions? In particular, how do they rationalise the fact that, over there, there are other perfectly reasonable and sensible people who disagree, and vice versa? What you see is that there is a tendency to stereotype or patronise those as sad, mad or bad. "If only they understood science a bit better," or they are just "swiveleyed loons". That is the technical term that has been used recently, or they are bad. They are either, from the scientist’s point of view, paid for by the coal companies or those who disagree are just out to increase their influence, research grants and power. You excuse their existence by finding some mischievous meaning and explanation. The work that we are doing is to take some climate scientists through an experience, expose them to their degree of irrationality and emotional reaction to opinion-forming, and see if that gives them a deeper insight into how to convey their messages in future.
Q41 Stephen Metcalfe: Recognising the challenges in the fact that this complex message has to go through a filter of the media, are there opportunities to utilise new technologies-phones, social network sites-to get scientists communicating directly with the public? First, do you think it would improve the situation and improve the communications? Secondly, how would you go about actually doing that?
Professor Burch: There are some really great opportunities around that. Certainly, from our own work, and some of the work Nick has been involved in as well, there is a desire to connect directly with scientists. Actually, that is a very powerful experience. There are some examples of where this is beginning to happen through new media, one of which is a Wellcome Trustsponsored project called "I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here!" It is extremely good. You can log into a live chat with different scientists. You can text and use various social media ways of communicating. I do not think it is one answer. What we are looking for are multiple routes for multiple audiences in order to communicate and engage around this issue.
Professor Rapley: Social networking is particularly important for-if I call them "the younger generation," I am really talking about anybody under about 3035. If I give the example of the museum, it has suffered over many years a big notch in its demograph from about the age of 18 to 30. It has set up its monthly Lates, which have been hugely successful, and it did that entirely through the social networking system. It used no formal advertising at all. There was a review recently where, out of goodness knows how many young people, none had bought a newspaper in the last 10 years.
This leads on to two other very important issues. One is trust, and the other is the way the world has changed and the way the science community is still reeling under the impact, because out there there are many, many people who are passionately interested in climate science and who are investigating the evidence in ways that have not been possible before, because they have access to it through the internet. They are challenging the professionalism and the quality of work that the science community does. What we have seen is that the science community has found it hard to come to terms with that. The whole Climategate issue points to some of the problems here: that, in many ways, the professionals have not taken too kindly to having their work looked at. On the other hand, you can turn that on its head, in terms of regaining trust. By being completely open and transparent, and showing your working, so to speak, through the internet, you can build up trust in a vast hinterland of people who are taking an active interest in the subject. It is a very underused opportunity.
Q42 Sarah Newton: Let us stick with that idea of trust, because it seems from all the evidence we have received that there is plenty of actual evidence and science there, but it comes down to who the trusted voices are.
Professor Pidgeon: I should possibly start this. We have studied this for about 10 years. Following the House of Lords’ "Science and Society" report, which was very pathbreaking, in that they argued that to regain trust after the BSE crisis, as you will remember, scientists and the science policy process must be as open as possible. That is part of that.
Two things are particularly associated with trust in institutions or parties. The first is that people will ask, "Do you have expertise and do you have some kind of agenda that would bias you in one way or another?" That is the reason why independent scientists tend to be highly trusted by the public, because they actually have two of those qualities. That then relates to the question of whether they should step into the policy domain. What is their responsibility there, because you then might lose that second one, which is the independence question.
There is a caveat to this, though. When we did work on trust in science across a range of issues, we said, "Who do you trust?" and we got the normal ranking-independent scientists with environmental issues, environmental scientists and then, in the middle somewhere, Government scientists. Down the bottom, we have politicians, the media, industry, etc. We asked the followup question, which was, "Who should be involved in the decisions about climate change?" Immediately, particularly with Government and Government scientists, they then rose up the rankings. Just because somebody does not trust a party does not mean they believe they should not be involved in the decision making, if they have a legitimate voice. There is a small caveat on that trust question. It is very, very important, but it is not the only thing that people think about when they think about dealing with complex environmental and social problems, as we have here.
Professor Burch: Just to add to what Nick was saying, one of the things that is interesting about trust is it is shaped by a number of things. There is a perception of expertise, and there is the question around what is the agenda. For us, what we were also finding was, "Are you going to practise what you preach?" If this is a gallery about climate science and climate change, actually, what was also important was that we ourselves were taking action. The other question that often comes out of this around trust and communication is, "Who will profit from this?" This leads back to what Nick was saying: that openness around communication and sources is really important.
Professor Rapley: Trust is absolutely crucial. I looked through the written evidence that you have received, and there was this lady, Caroline Peacock, who is trying to assist a parish council decide about wind farms, and has put a lot of due diligence into trying to understand the complex science of climate change, who is right, who is wrong and who has the right opinion. I thought it was interesting that, in her evidence, she said, "I got to the point when, in the end, I could not really make up my mind from the technical stuff". Why should she? She is not an expert. It is hard enough for the experts. So she said, "I looked at people’s motives, and tried to decide based on that".
I think you see that all the time. When we were developing this gallery, if you raised the issue of climate change with focus groups, their first reaction was to feel guilty. "Wait a minute. I think you are going to ask me to turn my lights off or not fly to Ibiza this year." That raises anxiety, a little bit of anger and an instant hunt for a way out. They would look at the lighting in the museum and say, "That does not look very low-energy." In here it is actually, but where they were they would say, "That does not look very low-energy. Therefore, you are being hypocritical. You do not really believe this because, if you did, you would have done something about it. Therefore, I do not have to accept your premise." It does seem to me that you have to work at trust. You cannot assume it. Just because scientists have been trusted in the past, it does not mean that, on this issue, they can assume that they can draw on a reservoir of trust from the past, so they have to work at it by being open, transparent and by answering those challenges: "You were just suffering from groupthink"; they have to demonstrate that they are not, and so on. I fear that the community has not quite grasped that yet.
Q43 Sarah Newton: On this issue amongst scientists, do you think trust is improving or declining? What is the trend in the trust of scientists in this particular area, by the public?
Professor Pidgeon: There is some tracking data going back to about 2005, initially from Department for Transport studies, but in subsequent years myself and a number of other people have put these opinion polls we have done or surveys we have done. Actually, trust in all institutions to tell the truth about climate change has declined a little over that period. It is not just scientists. Independent scientists still remain at the top, as most trusted. About 50% of the population will say they trust them to tell the truth about climate change.
The one thing that we have picked up from this surveying, and it is quite mixed evidence, but it seems that after the e-mail affair, sometimes called Climategate, there may have been a dip in trust in climate scientists, in particular. The very latest evidence I have seen and that we have collected shows that that may now be recovering to the levels it was before. My conclusion about that is that there were a lot of other background things going on post the peak of concern in 200607, around about the time of the Stern report and IPCC 4, which were declining public interest in climate change, and then the e-mails and the Copenhagen affair all came at the same time. There was a big spike in media coverage and questions, which put trust down a little bit, but not by a huge amount. It shows how resilient this question of expertise and independence is, when you ask people about independent scientists.
Professor Rapley: If I could just respond, I read through the written evidence that you have received, and of the 17 or so pieces of written submitted evidence from individuals who passionately disagree that climate change is real or hazardous-you know the various arguments-although some technical evidence was presented, that "It’s all a natural cycle," or "We’ve seen this before," a common theme through all of those was distrust of the science community. Either the peer review system is corrupt or ineffective, or this is simply a power and finance grab by opportunists, or what-have-you. For those who have formed an opinion that they do not accept the premise, lack of trust in the science community is a key rationalising factor.
Professor Pidgeon: I would just add to that. It is interesting that, if you are passionately against something, then it probably makes you distrust the people who are advocating it. There is a counterintuitive reverse causality going on here. We have found this in research in a very large survey we did in Wales, but it would be generalisable to the UK. People who are sceptical about climate change-there are about 15% you could define currently amongst the UK population-said three things. They said the point about, "You couldn’t trust the scientists." The second group said, "No, it’s all natural cycles," and actually there is a sense in which that is not entirely untrue, because climate change is a combination of natural and anthropogenic forcings. The third thing was, "Actually, this is a getup job because the Government wants to tax us more." There are three narratives out there.
Chair: We need to pick up the pace a little, so if you find yourself slightly cut off, please feel free to add any additional information to us in writing, because this is an important theme we are developing here. We are desperately short of time, unfortunately.
Q44 Graham Stringer: You are extraordinarily diligent witnesses, having read everybody else’s evidence to this Committee. Just having listened to what was said, I do not think your description of those people who are not enthusiastic, shall we say, about anthropogenic climate change being catastrophic would apply to Professor Anthony Trewavas, would it? He is a fellow of the Royal Society and gives pretty sound scientific reasons why one should be sceptical about the points that you are making.
Professor Rapley: If I gave the impression that everybody-I withdraw that. I agree. Of course, there is a range of opinion. It is a free country, and science is a fundamentally sceptical activity, and so there will always be people who interpret the data in different ways, and jolly good. They are grit in the oyster that causes the process of science to be honest. I think Karl Popper said that it is not crucial that the scientists themselves are unbiased; what is essential is that the scientific process should be unbiased. We have a good example there of somebody challenging the accepted view.
Q45 Graham Stringer: And using Karl Popper in his arguments. Is part of the confusion caused, do you think, because over the last 10 or 15 years we have moved away from the term "global warming", which is an understood scientific term, to a more ambiguous term about "climate change"? Where there is a consensus on the physical processes of the greenhouse effect, there is much less of a consensus about what that will lead to. Do you think there is a problem about the use of the word "consensus" in that sense? Would we not be better to use something more easily measurable like "global warming"?
Professor Rapley: I will respond quickly to that one. The use of words to frame an issue is an absolutely crucial matter and, if we look at the origins of this, the climate scientists who, originally, 20 or 30 years ago, were interested in this subject, although they saw the societal relevance, I do not think for a moment they sat down and thought, "How can we craft the best way to express this?" They just used terms that they understood and, in some cases, in retrospect, were unfortunate and a bit careless. You could argue that a better term would be "global energy imbalance". That is why this display here calls out the Earth’s energy balance, because that is the fundamental physical process that is the response of the climate system to increased greenhouse gases.
It is not just the terminology. By overdosing on the surface temperature dataset and issues like climate sensitivity, if we take climate sensitivity, if half the Earth warmed by 10 degrees and half of it cooled by 10 degrees, it would have a hugely disruptive impact on the climate system, but the climate sensitivity would be zero. Climate scientists know that, and so they are using these terms as shorthand in their professional roles, but they have let them spill out into the public presentation of this, and essentially have brought ourselves a number of problems. Again, if you read in some of these submissions and more generally, the shift from "global warming" to "climate change" is seen as mischievous, malicious or to have some bad motive behind it. Personally, I use the term "climate disruption", because it is more descriptive of what this energy imbalance threatens to cause. It is just unfortunate that certain terms have become common currency and they do not tell the whole story. It is complicated to explain why.
Q46 Graham Stringer: That is really a very interesting answer, is it not? The logic of that position, to increase the public’s understanding of the science, is that scientists have to be much more precise about what they mean. Professor Jones’s group at the University of East Anglia were telling us not long ago that there would be no snow after 2010. Professor Pidgeon earlier on said that, if you build new runways, you will increase carbon dioxide. I would argue the opposite in a constrained system, but scientists have to be very careful. Should that be one of our conclusions: that scientists should be very precise and stick to exactly their science, rather than entering into the political arena?
Professor Pidgeon: I would agree with that, but there is no simple neutral framing. That is not an easy message to pass back to you. To get back to what we said right at the start, this is a complicated problem and has multiple facets. Climate scientists recognise that and you see around you an attempt to grapple with this. It is not straightforward to generate a neutral way of discussing this issue, particularly given all the policy issues that then become attached to the question, quite rightly, and are debated in society.
Professor Rapley: I would put it slightly differently. I agree with what you say. I think it is true that scientists in general have to think very, very carefully about the narrative they are delivering and the way they are delivering it, but it seems to me that part of the problem is that everything has become onedimensionalised, because there has not been sufficient engagement between the community and people who are interested, to explain the very point that we have just been discussing. That is why I go back to dialogue and trust. If it is clear that, in a dialogue, a misunderstanding has developed because of slipshod or unfortunate use of terminology, then in the dialogue that can be teased out and sorted out. It is because, in some cases, the sides have become so separated, they are not engaged in that dialogue. That dialogue would be really helpful.
Q47 Stephen Mosley: Following on from that last question, the one thing that does cause me some confusion is manmade climate change is happening, natural climate change is happening, but what should be the intention of Government policy? Should it be to attempt to freeze the climate in the current situation, or should it be to remove the manmade impact and only allow natural climate change to happen? After all, some 22,000 years ago we were probably on the edge of a massive ice sheet where we are sat today.
Professor Rapley: I was born in Birmingham, and 20,000 years ago it was under a kilometre of ice. A lot of people would think that was a good thing, but anyway. There are a couple of points here. First, we have spent 100 years investing trillions of units of currency and all of that effort and a huge amount of fossil fuel to build a modern world. The modern world is tuned to the climate system we inherited, which has been unusually stable for the last 10,000 years. Look at the paleorecord. The climate system has the capacity to be much more unstable than it has been for the last 10,000 years. We have tuned the modern world to it.
Those who are concerned about international security see climate change as a force multiplier. It stresses an already stressed highly interconnected modern world. As you say, there is natural variability in the climate system, so we always have to cope with the impacts of climate variability. It is sensible to make ourselves as robust to climate variability as we can, whatever its source is. That is an adaptive strategy, if you like.
What the paleodata show us is that the climate system is quite sensitive to small driving forces. A volcano somewhere has a significant impact on the planet’s climate for a couple of years, and very small changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun can drive ice ages and interglacials. People talk about the mediaeval warming and the little ice age. You look at the impact that had on human wellbeing, and you see human wellbeing is very coupled with these tiny drivers and their consequences. If we know that we are provoking change in the climate system by emitting greenhouse gases, changing land use cover and all the other things we do, it just seems prudent to look at how we might reduce that driving force, because we are simply going to make things worse.
Q48 Stephen Mosley: We are politicians at this end of the room. How effective do you think Government is at communicating about climate change and engaging with people to get support for the policies that it needs to introduce?
Professor Pidgeon: I have noted in my evidence that I think there is a capacity problem, which is not really Government’s fault at all. It has happened over a number of years, partly to do with institutional things. Two things that we do not have the capacity to do are to bring the academic research and the scientists together, with the policy problems, in one place, to think through these things. It is above and beyond what is done at the Hadley Centre communications group to actually apply the research evidence on communicating climate change to the particular policy problems. Government has not yet grasped this nettle. There is a need to put in place some kind of capacity in risk communication more generically.
I should also make a little point that a lot of people in the science community feel that it was a mistake to abolish the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, because they served a very good function in raising some very critical science issues and trying to think through some of the thorny questions. There is a sense in which they were one of the trusted parties that scientists contributed to over a very long period of time. Again, there is a capacity problem there. I think more needs to be done.
Professor Burch: I would just quickly add that, when we were talking to our visitors around this project, one of the things that they are really interested in hearing about is what is being done at Government level. It was also one of the things that they were very unaware of the action around. In a way, for them to take actions or to engage in this, they need to see and there needs to be communication around Government level.
Professor Rapley: This goes back to the issue of trust. It is well known that politicians, not just in this country but elsewhere, have a relatively low trust rating but, on the other hand, have a huge influence on what people think are the important issues of contemporary life. There is evidence from the States, and Nick will know more about this than I do, but what I am aware of is that, because this concept of climate change and what we should or should not do about it is not top of the political agenda or high on the political agenda, evidently then radiated through the media, people discount it. They say, "Well, if the Prime Minister is not talking about it, it cannot really be important."
The obverse of that is that I was asked to brief another House of Commons Committee a year or so ago. At the end of it, the Members of Parliament present said, "One thing you should understand, Chris, is that in the last year we have not had a single e-mail or letter from our constituents about climate change. We have had a lot about the economy and the National Health Service, and a few about wind farms, although not connecting them with the climate change issue. As long as that is true, do not expect it to be a political priority." There is a chickenandegg issue here. The word "leadership" springs to mind. Having read a few of Churchill’s speeches recently, one pines for the day when topranked politicians talked to people about what they saw as the big issues of the day. That is why, in our evidence, we made the point that what people think is very important in a democracy, clearly, and how they form their opinions and what they conclude is critical, but there are opinionformers in society, and talking to them is crucial too.
Q49 Roger Williams: I think there is a consensus on the panel that, in terms of communication and engagement, the deficit model of communication and the traditional debate are not the best ways forward. Could you give the Committee an opinion as to whether scientists, still believing that the best way forward is through dialogue, actually put a lot of effort into dialogue or do they revert to the other two systems that we have thought are not particularly good?
Professor Pidgeon: I absolutely agree with your point about the deficit model, but a scientifically literate public is still a desirable thing to have. Scientists have to engage at that level with key critical issues like this. You have to recognise that that will not change people’s behaviour overnight. There are all sorts of other barriers that prevent that.
The other point I will make, which is less about scientists, but more about the responsibility of politicians and others, is that we often think about the appeal to environmentalism, which is a fairly catastrophic, hairshirt type of way of thinking about climate change. What we actually need is to appeal to a set of values, which pretty well everybody would agree with. There has been very interesting research just done by my colleague Adam Corner, and he has been working with some of the centre–right groups just to see, even if somebody was a climate sceptic, what values would bring agreement with the way forward on some of the tricky policy issues. He argued localism, energy security, business greenness and wellbeing of communities are, in a sense, values that are endorsed across the political spectrum actually. Rather than appealing to a simple environmentalist catastrophic message, we should be thinking more widely about communicating the science, but also then saying, "Let’s look at the solutions within a value set that everybody can agree with".
Q50 Roger Williams: Could I just move on to another subject? I think every Government would like to see their citizens engaged, for instance, in mitigating the effect of climate change. How do you rate the Government’s work in that sphere of encouraging their citizens to be more proactive?
Professor Rapley: I am going to cop out on this one and say that, as a scientist, I do not have a view, other than to note that, overall, worldwide carbon emissions continue to increase, so something is not right if the objective is to reduce them. In the UK, there have been modest inroads into achieving our goals.
I think, as a citizen, that the Climate Change Act was a rather brilliant concept to deal with one of the problems of shorttermism in democracy. What we see around the world is that other nations-Spain, for example, and others-admire what the UK achieved there and are considering following suit. Of course, there is now some questioning in the UK as to whether that was the best way to go forward.
In terms of energy policy, as a citizen I am very disappointed by the Government’s grip on energy policy, just from the point of view of keeping the lights on, let alone the impacts on climate change. We would all feel a lot happier if we felt there was more directed leadership, if you like, on that issue.
Q51 Pamela Nash: In preparation for this morning, I was looking at the Climate Outreach and Information Network’s publication this month. It is called "A new conversation with the centreright about climate change". Do you think this approach of an adapted specific message for groups that already have their existing priorities is a good way forward? Do you know of any other examples of this?
Professor Pidgeon: I agree with your question. I think yes. It comes back to what I said earlier, that there is a danger that we get into a narrative that is not helpful, even though it was the narrative that initially alerted the world about climate change. The environmental movement was on to this question very early on, but that does not resonate with everybody. We know there are different sectors in society-and there are segmentation studies to show this-with different levels of engagement with the environment.
The one caveat on this is that there is a lot of evidence that if you just appeal to people’s pockets-money-they become very internally motivated, and they are not motivated for the wider good. It has to go wider, which is why Climate Outreach’s "New Conversation" document is really interesting, because they are trying to define a set of values with which pretty well all of us could agree, whether you are in the slightly more sceptic camp or you are very comfortable with the science. That is something that Government and politicians-it is not so much a thing for scientists-have to think through very carefully, in terms of your communication with the public in the future.
Professor Rapley: There have been quite a lot of publications over the last decade really, which are essentially giving the message, "Understand your audience and connect with them; make it relevant to them." I read that work on the centreright. I feel very nervous about it, because people are very sensitive to feeling that you may be trying to manipulate them. You can be too clever by half. Also, some of that advice is very unhelpful, because there was a value modes diagnosis done a few years ago that segmented people into settlers and pioneers and so on. You needed to appeal to this in the settler and that in the pioneer, but in your audience they do not wear labels, so you can say, "To the settlers over here, I’ll tell you this".
You have to do what Nick just said. In the end, there are some deeprooted, fundamental, often emotional issues, values and ideas that people have in common. After all, we all share this planet and many of us have children and want to see a better future for them. It is just being honest to your science, and then finding ways to connect to people, so that they feel you are a trustworthy individual, and they can honestly make an appraisal of how to work out what to do next.
Professor Pidgeon: May I just add to that as well? We have just completed, independent of Adam Corner’s work, a major project for the UK Energy Research Centre. The conclusion from that is that people across the spectrum are enthusiastic about the prospect of change in the energy system. They basically say, "We need to move away from fossil fuels, which we know are polluting, to a more renewable system, however you define that. It need not necessarily be all wind farms in the longer term. If we are going to change the energy system for environmental and energy security reasons, we ought to get it right." That is the overwhelming message we have had from that research, and that fits very nicely with the value system work as well.
Q52 Pamela Nash: Thank you, gentlemen. That is extremely helpful. Just on what you were saying, Professor Rapley, about getting the message correct, I would say there are three groups of people. We have those who are very interested from both sides of the debate, those who accept climate change and those who remain sceptical. Also, the huge majority still have confusion about the subject and therefore are turned off by it. Do you think we have the balance right in engaging each of those three groups of people?
Professor Rapley: It goes back to a question earlier about whether scientists engage enough. Many scientists will give a public lecture, which is information deficit mode, and then go into a questionandanswer session, which is engagement mode or dialogue mode. Quite often in a public discussion, somebody will stand up and be passionately negative about the message from the scientist. I had this experience myself. The question to ask is, "What could I tell you that would change your mind?" In some cases, the answer is, "Absolutely nothing. I really did not come here to have my mind changed. I am angry with you and I wanted to show you up."
What matters under those circumstances is what other people make of that discourse. As you say, most people are not passionately one way or the other, but they are trying to make up their mind in what is a very technical, confusing and polarised discussion. Again, it is the job of the scientist to simply be reasonable, come over as reasonable and explain why they have concluded what they have, and help people where there are technical and other questions that they have raised. It is always a question of dialogue.
Professor Pidgeon: May I add one final thing on that? You are right: you have the committed camp, the slightly more sceptical camp and then lots of people in the middle. A multipronged approach, without in any way trying to persuade people unduly, would look at the ways in which issues of climate change connect with everyday life. The question of wellbeing is about infrastructure, cycling and doing more exercise. The question of localism-we have evidence that with some of the flooding that has occurred in the UK, although there is an issue about how you attribute flooding to climate change, it is nevertheless the case that increased risk of flooding will occur in the UK as a result of warming temperatures. An awareness of flooding raises people’s concerns about climate change, so there is a conversation that should be had at a local level, whether it is in north Wales and west Wales, where it happened last year, or elsewhere in the country.
There will be all sorts of opportunities, not just for central Government. It was interesting to see Obama’s speech yesterday, but there is a sense in which we have always complained about America lagging behind on climate change policy, but at the local level, at the state level, for many, many years lots of things have gone on, particularly in California and elsewhere. We must not forget that there are people intervening, discussing and thinking about this issue all the time at a local level, and there are opportunities to connect with people’s everyday lives. That is how you connect with that group in the middle who are not having this vigorous debate about the question.
Professor Rapley: There are many good news stories out there. At the city level, and here I am thinking with my London Climate Change Partnership hat on, city mayors around the world have introduced many measures, not just because of the environmental consequences but simply to make life better in the city, to reduce air pollution, to improve public transport and so on.
The point about this fifth part of the exhibit here is that one of the problems that people have with the climate change narrative is that it makes them feel powerless, that they have no efficacy, that "We are all stuck in this highcarbon web, and what can I do about it? If I emasculate myself or if the UK emasculates itself, it will not make a jot of difference in the future." When you show people that there are ways forward, which if they will not completely solve the problem nevertheless move in the right direction, then they get very enthusiastic and engaged. If you do not offer that, then they will find ways to shut down or reject, because what else would they do? You are making them feel very unhappy, uncomfortable, anxious and guilty, when there are ways-through their personal lives, professional lives, public lives and through technology-that we can move to a better world. They go, "Oh okay, I can understand that. Now let’s engage in the conversation."
Chair: I thank the panel very much for their contribution. It has been a particularly interesting session. I know, Professor Rapley, you have a tight timetable to make. Thank you very much to all three of you for your attendance.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor John Womersley, Chief Executive, Science and Technology Facilities Council, and Champion for RCUK Public Engagement with Research, Professor Tim Palmer, Vice President, Royal Meteorological Society, Professor Rowan Sutton, Director of Climate Research, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, and Professor John Pethica, Physical Secretary and Vice-President, Royal Society, gave evidence.
Q53 Chair: May I say to the second panel, because there is rather a lot happening in the House today, one or two of our colleagues are having to slip off early for various events? There is a certain statement being made this afternoon that I know some of you will be particularly interested in as well. May I move straight on and invite the four of you to introduce yourselves?
Professor Womersley: My name is John Womersley. I am the Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, and I am here representing Research Councils UK as their Champion for Public Engagement with Research.
Professor Palmer: My name is Tim Palmer. I am a Royal Society research professor in climate physics at Oxford University. I am the previous President and now Vice President of the Royal Meteorological Society.
Professor Sutton: My name is Rowan Sutton. I am the Director of Climate Research for the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, which is a research centre with core funding from the Natural Environment Research Council. We are embedded in universities, and I am personally based at the University of Reading.
Professor Pethica: I am John Pethica, the VicePresident and Secretary for Physical Sciences at the Royal Society.
Q54 Chair: Thank you very much. You have been listening to the previous session, and we touched on scientists’ capacity to engage and communicate with the public. Twice yesterday I pleaded with science audiences to engage with us: once to the Parliamentary Links Day-there was a very big audience there-and the second was the 100th anniversary bash for the British Ecological Society, which was great to be at, especially as the report they launched yesterday was really touching on some of the issues that we are addressing. The public’s view still is that scientists are inherently bad communicators. What can we do about it?
Professor Palmer: Scientists are like everybody: some are good; some are not so good. The ones who are good have a duty to go out and try to explain the science as best they can. I wanted to say on this particular point, however, that one of the vehicles for outreach that a large number of the climate community engages in is through the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This produces major reports every few years about the state of climate science. Even the scientists who may not be good on their feet speaking to the public feel very deeply that they have a duty to contribute to these reports. This is one area that is reasonably unique in science, where a rather definitive outreach document, which is the product of many hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists is produced. Even for those who are not, let us say, gifted at communication, this is a vehicle and an important vehicle for the communication of science research to the public at large and to policymakers in general.
Professor Womersley: If I could follow up on that, the research councils have a clear expectation that the scientists who we fund should engage with the public about their research. There is a concordat, which has been led by RCUK, which is part of our grant. The expectation is when we grantfund researchers in universities that they should have an institutional strategic commitment to research. The scientist should be recognised and valued for their involvement in public engagement, in promotion activities within the university, for example-things like that. They should be enabled to participate.
None of that is enough, of course. We need to provide training and help and resources, so the research councils, along with the funding councils and the Wellcome Trust, have supported a number of initiatives about best practice in public engagement: the Beacons for Public Engagement; we are now supporting eight catalyst universities; there is a National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement. One of the key messages that we are trying to get across is to move scientists away from the deficit model that was discussed earlier to the value of engagement, especially engagement around the public policy implications of the research, which is clearly where a lot of the discussion in the last hour was leading.
Q55 Chair: You and I were at the fantastic event where we participated in the worldwide round of applause at the announcement of the Higgs results last year. In answer to a question from me, you really put down a marker that your scientists ought to be getting out there and engaging with the public. I took it to mean that the research councils ought to be taking a lead to participate in things beyond their historic role, and reach out more rigorously to the public and to the next generation.
Professor Womersley: The short answer is that yes, of course I agree with you. As surveys have shown and previous witnesses have testified, there is a lot of trust for individual scientists. We want to use individual scientists. We want to encourage and help individual scientists to get out there. That is not to say that every individual scientist is best placed to do so, but we should provide them with the tools and the support to do that. NERC, for example, runs regular training sessions for environmental researchers, in fairly small groups, many times per year, in order to familiarise them with the issues and the communication challenges around that.
As you noted, and as some of the previous witnesses noted, it is sometimes easier, both for the speaker and the audience, to communicate things about the joy of discovery in the universe, than it is where individual people’s behaviour may be required to change. Climate change is not the only example of that. I always feel guilty when I go and see my doctor, because he invariably tells me that I am overweight, that I am at risk for all sorts of bad things to happen and I should change my behaviour. That does not mean he should not communicate it, but it does illustrate that the challenges are not unique to this area.
Professor Pethica: In the longterm context, of course, the structure of science effectively includes the Baconian imperative for the relief of man’s estate, so there is a duty to actually participate in this process. Over time, the nature of that debate and the way in which you participate with it changes quite a bit, and we are seeing that with media at the moment.
Q56 Chair: Do you think, therefore, that scientists need and should receive better training on engaging with the media, for example?
Professor Sutton: Yes, absolutely, and as we have heard, it is happening. This is a slow process of cultural change, though. I think we should acknowledge that. The history was that scientists frequently saw their job as being in the laboratory and not engaging with the public, as a core part of the role. There has been a lot of progress and we need to continue that. We are moving in the right direction, but cultural change is slow, I would say.
Q57 Stephen Metcalfe: I want to return to the role of the media in communicating climate science. Do you think scientists understand the importance of the media in communicating climate science, and are they experienced and good at communicating those complex messages to the media, so that they can then pass them on in a more palatable fashion?
Professor Sutton: I might just go on briefly on that. I think it is a fairly mixed picture. There is an understanding of the importance of the media, but there is not an adequate understanding across the board about how to communicate effectively. We heard in the previous session about the need for statements to be very precise in some cases, and there is not always the awareness of which sorts of statements could be misinterpreted, and sometimes will be misinterpreted, for a variety of reasons. There is clearly room for progress there, but it is a mixed picture.
Professor Palmer: I find this a really difficult area as a climate scientist. The reason is, and it was touched on in the previous session, that the media are looking for stories. As somebody said, the bottom line is that they have to sell newspapers. I ran up against this, for example, during the Climategate issue, when I tried to say, "Well, okay, you’ve published these multipage spreads claiming that climate science has been undermined by the e-mail leak. I would like to write a corresponding piece saying, actually, that climate science has not been undermined." The overwhelming response I got from the media was, "That is fine, if you want to write it on our online blog or something, but this is not news. ‘Climate scientist says nothing undermined by the e-mail leak’ is not news." I find this one of the most difficult issues in engagement with the media. Research is a very longterm thing. You do it day in, day out, year in, year out. Packaging it into a story that the media view as news is one of the biggest challenges.
Professor Womersley: There are some interesting data from the Public Attitudes to Science survey, which is carried out regularly by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It found, as previous speakers have noted, that the public tend to trust scientists working in universities the most. 51% of the public think they see or hear too little information about science and are hungry to hear more. 70% of the sample think that the media sensationalises science. The public, in general, trust the scientists more than the media, but they have nowhere else to go for the information than the media, so I think there is an opportunity to do better in that area. We have heard a little earlier about social media and routes to reach the public that are not mediated by editors, so that may be something in the future we should all be thinking more about.
Q58 Stephen Metcalfe: Have any of you thought about that at the moment? Are any of you engaging in new media to try to communicate directly with the public?
Professor Womersley: I have tweeted about being here today, but I have not tried to change their mind on climate change.
Q59 Stephen Metcalfe: That is all very useful, but it is not a systematic approach, is it?
Professor Womersley: No, exactly. The research councils’ public engagement exercise is becoming more aware of that. We are currently going through a refresh of our public engagement strategy, looking at what has changed over the last three years. A lot of these things have become much more mainstream than they used to be.
We should also remember that the advent of newspaper websites and the BBC’s own website has changed the depth of reporting that they can go into on some of these issues. It is no longer so driven by, "Is it frontpage material and can I make the headline big enough?" Some of these things do get discussed on the web first, and then that convinces editors that there is sufficient interest in the story to promote it into a news article. The question that you were asked, "Is this news or not?" may apply to the print issue, but perhaps less so to the web. If we can generate enough interest around online, stories often stay there for longer and can generate comment streams, which show that the audience is interested. The clickthrough data show that the audience is interested. There are ways here to influence what the media think is newsworthy, as well as simply seeing them as a black box.
Professor Pethica: Again, just to recall the diversity of the media and the way it is rapidly changing, it is not as if these contentioustype issues have not existed before. I have a long list of them here: GMOs, vaccination, evolution. The list is long. Of course, the means of media by which someone engages with us is, in fact, changing fast. Climate science is in an interesting position compared to some of those earlier cases.
Professor Sutton: Within NCAS, we have experimented a bit with using social media. Twitter is interesting. I am not personally involved, but a number of my colleagues are. There has been quite a growth of communication by that mechanism, which has involved some real interaction between what you might call the climate sceptic side and the climate scientists. Some of my colleagues are quite positive about that interaction: that it has been a genuine dialogue that has led to some improvement of understanding on both sides. It is a fairly small community, of course.
Q60 Stephen Metcalfe: My final question is about how you widen that community to include those who are not already polarised into the two camps, to actually get the public more engaged with this.
Professor Sutton: That goes back to the earlier discussion about it not being one avenue; there are multiple avenues. There is no silver bullet.
Chair: We realise that this is a very complex area. In fact, Graham and I were discussing it on the train, in the context of the trashing last week of Owen Paterson’s views on GM foods as a good example. It was a dreadful piece of journalism. I would be interested to see that peerreviewed, but we will move on from there.
Q61 Graham Stringer: Some of you were at the Met Office discussion last week, which got huge media coverage, some of it very negative. Christopher Booker said the Met Office has no idea what it is doing. The Mail said the Met Office was predicting barbecue summers not long ago. Now it is predicting rain, and, if not pestilence, very damp summers. Why do you think there is so much interest, and why was so much of the coverage negative?
Professor Sutton: I think the reason there is so much interest is straightforward: the weather matters a lot in the UK. When we have a string of wet summers it affects a lot of people. It affects where people go on holiday, it affects farmers-this is straightforward.
The reporting that I saw was varied. Some of it was pretty good. The headlines, on the whole, were not very accurate, and that is often a problem and some of that relates to the problem of newspapers looking to sell newspapers.
Regarding the confusion issue, it is quite a good illustration of one of the issues in communication of climate science more generally, which is the difference-and this applies to other areas of science-between areas that are very well understood and areas that are at the frontiers of research. To put this in a climate change context, the effect of increasing levels of greenhouse gases on the climate system as a whole is an area of very well established science. What that means for the UK, which of course we would all like to know about, is absolutely at the frontiers of research, so there is a lot of uncertainty. Undoubtedly this causes confusion, because it is easy to say that people do not know what is going to happen to the weather in the next few years; therefore the science community does not know anything. It is quite a difficult thing to communicate. I would say that the scientists’ responsibility in terms of trying to put that message across to the media was fulfilled reasonably. There were an awful lot of interviews with an awful lot of media outlets; I was involved in some of them. Not all of them were models of clarity in scientific communication; some of them were very good.
Q62 Graham Stringer: Sorry; from the scientists or the journalists?
Professor Sutton: Some of the scientists did a very good job. Others did a less good job and you could certainly say that they should have been more precise and clearer. That is the world we live in. The scientists certainly need to get better in terms of communication, but as Tim made the point, it can be very difficult when newspapers are looking for headlines at the same time, so however carefully you make a statement, people will look for the bit that sounds most exciting and will make a good headline.
Professor Palmer: I think this particular meeting highlights a very specific issue in climate science. As I think we talked about in the last session, the British weather is variable. Some years are wet, and some years are dry; some years are warm, and some years are cold. It varies due to a process we call "chaotic dynamics"; it is understood. As scientists, when we try to ask the question, "What will be the effect of, say, the melting Arctic sea ice?" or "What is going to be the effect of variations in the solar output?" the way we phrase the answer to that question is in terms of changes in the probability of occurrence of wet summers, dry summers, hot summers or cold summers. We talk about shifts in probability distributions. The media look, on the other hand, for very clear, blackandwhite statements of causality: "We are going to get 10 more years of wet summers because of sea ice," or something like that. This is not the way the science is framed, so it is being able to communicate this issue about probability, risk and threat, and try to get away from this very naive causality, which of course the headline writers like because it is simple to state. It is one of the key challenges in climate science, and it is not just about natural variability; it is about longterm, manmade climate change as well.
Professor Womersley: I think there are other areas of scientific communication where the media and the public have understood those kinds of issues. If I eat more than two slices of bacon this week, there is an increased risk that I will have a heart attack. It does not mean I will die next week and I will not be upset with the medical research profession if I do not, but I understand that some things carry greater risk and I may be lucky enough to live for ever despite that. There is an understanding in some areas, like health, about risks and the likelihood of it being populationwide and not connected necessarily to a single individual.
Q63 Graham Stringer: It does take us back to the discussion we were having in the previous session about the understanding of probability, but do you not think the Met Office are not as clear as they could be about some of their longterm forecasting, both of climate and of seasonal variation, and that their computer programs have not got it right, and would it not be better to explain that and try to explain why there have been errors, rather than use simplistic phrases, which have got them into trouble with the media in the past?
Professor Palmer: This is a real debate. It is not only about seasonal forecasts; it is about ordinary weather forecasts. Predicting the weather three days from now can be uncertain-it can be very certain and it can be very uncertain. Many of us in the science community are trying to get an acknowledgment and a quantification of uncertainty expressed just on the daily weather forecast in a more routine way. This would help in the public’s understanding about uncertainty on the longer climate change time scale. On the other hand, there is a perception that ideas about uncertainty and probability are beyond the understanding of the average person. I personally do not believe this myself, but there is a strong feeling that one should try to simplify the message as much as possible-that one should try to avoid using quantitative expressions of uncertainty when engaging with the public. As a result of that, sometimes the message is overly simplified, but as I say, I think a good step forward could be to try to tease these things out a bit more explicitly in our daily weather forecasts.
Q64 Sarah Newton: Just to summarise, what I think you have said so far is that publicly funded science has a responsibility to communicate its findings, however controversial they are, and that the nature of being a scientist is changing rapidly and some scientists are more or less willing or able to respond to the significant challenges of communicating complex issues to the public, especially as we have quite a polarised, simplified media requirement. I can see that. But we also have in our country the BBC, which is another publicly funded body, and, through the Reithian principles, one of its aims at least is to inform the public. I would be very interested to know, in all the endeavours that you have described in reaching out to the public, what your particular effort is towards the BBC.
Professor Palmer: I have been personally involved in many BBC documentaries. I am very proud of one of the things that I put on my CV: that I was involved in a documentary that was nominated for a BAFTA, so I walked that red carpet at one time in my life.
One point I would like to make about public engagement, and this applies a little bit to the BBC, is that certainly in recent years there has been a tendency for the BBC to have an adversarial type of presentation about climate change. So if you get invited onto "Newsnight" or something, there will be somebody from the opposite camp discussing their view. We can talk about the need for scientists to be involved in media training, but one thing that I know a lot of my colleagues are uncomfortable with is the adversarial debating. Not only do they not have training in it, in many cases the way scientists think is not necessarily the right mode of thinking to engage successfully in debate. This is a tricky area, and I know a lot of my colleagues avoid situations where they feel they are going to be put into a debate with an adversary, but I would say on the whole my general experience of the BBC has been very positive, over the years.
Professor Womersley: The comment I have got from other colleagues elsewhere in Europe is that they see the BBC as a great asset in terms of science communication to the British public, partly because of the Reithian mission, but also because of a history of very good programme-making in this area. In many cases, they are jealous of the impact that the BBC can have, but that does not mean that BBC producers and journalists are free from the need to convince their editors that there is a story. It is still the same imperative. The media want to know, "What is the issue here? What does it mean? Why is this new? Why is it interesting?" They may have a slightly broader definition of a public service role, but there is still a need to convince people that there is a story here.
Professor Sutton: Just briefly, following up on Tim’s point, this is probably obvious but I think it is important to state. One of the reasons why the debate format is rarely helpful, certainly in terms of scientific communication, is that, at the end of the day, science is always a debate about evidence, and it can be very difficult to put across evidence in a debate format. It is the language of rhetoric and so forth, and therefore the weight of evidence is hidden, however effective a communicator one is. So the debate format is rarely useful in terms of scientific communication. The other thing to say is that we are obviously in an area where the science is relevant to policy, and what we heard this morning in the first session, and those of us here would also support very much, is that, as far as possible, we should try to keep genuine scientific debate separate from debate about policy. That is helpful in terms of the communication of these issues, and sometimes those two things can be blurred, understandably, in a media context, but that can be a source of confusion. Sometimes scientists can be drawn in to comment on things that, frankly, they should not comment on, because an interview goes in that direction.
Professor Pethica: Just very briefly, again there are complex issues and, of course, the debate format, as has been pointed out, is not always helpful. We have examples such as with MMR recently, which has now fully panned out, if you like. To amplify the point that was just made, the scientific evidence accumulates over a long period of time very often in these cases. The other thing to keep in mind is that when one is debating a particular scientific issue, there will often be other things related to it that are like the elephant in the room. The particularly obvious one in this case is energy policy, which has been described earlier on.
Q65 Sarah Newton: Given that you all seem to be very committed to try to better public understanding of climate change and to make the evidence more available, we know in September the IPCC will be producing its report. This is a golden opportunity for the science community to share their evidence and to use the publication of that report to raise public awareness and to tackle some of the issues that you very openly admit to as being problematic. Can you describe what each of your organisations that you represent is doing to make the most of that opportunity in September?
Professor Palmer: John and I are looking at each other because at the Royal Society we are organising a twoday meeting to coincide with the publication of the IPCC report and we have some of the real world experts talking about the latest developments in the IPCC science, very much to nonspecialists. You are extremely welcome to come if you are interested. That will be a major event in London. Publication of the IPCC report is a newsworthy story, so it will attract the David Shukmans, the Roger Harrabins, and so on, of the world to come and do stories, and I am sure we will all be highly engaged in discussing with them. This is what I am saying: it needs an IPCC to trigger this type of reporting. If I just phone up as Fred Bloggs, the reaction will be, "What is the story? What is new? What is news?"
Professor Pethica: May I add to that? There are several other things going on. This meeting is one. One of the things I think we mentioned in our evidence to the Committee is that we are also working with the US National Academy of Sciences on a new summary of the science or what is new in the science; you will be aware of the one we produced two and a half years ago. I think it is very important to emphasise that international aspect. As has been pointed out earlier on in the evidence, of course this is not just a global phenomenon, but the fact is the UK is a relatively small part of where the critical decisions will have to be made. That has a very strong effect on the public’s perception of the significance of this, so it is really important that we engage very closely with the major players-obviously the US and China-in this process, and we are heavily engaged in precisely that, in that context; it goes beyond just the question you raised.
Professor Sutton: Just briefly, obviously, the IPCC event is in September. It will not surprise you to learn that the IPCC is offering media training to anybody who wants it or who feels that they need some more. Perhaps that is partly learning lessons of the past, and that is a good thing. I and others will be in Stockholm and there will undoubtedly be an awful lot of dialogue, I hope, after that meeting. The Natural Environment Research Council is also discussing whether, in addition to the events that we have heard about, there may also be some further communication events.
Professor Womersley: The lead research council for this will be the Natural Environment Research Council. The best way to do this is to use the researchers and the institutes of NERC, but there is also a NERC magazine, which is distributed widely, to raise interest in this and there may be some RCUK communications around high-profile events like this as well.
Q66 Roger Williams: I think Professor Womersley said that publicly funded scientists have a responsibility or expectation to engage with the public about their work. Do you think there should be an expectation that scientists should get involved in the policy debate as well?
Professor Womersley: That is one where individual scientists need to make that decision. All of us believe that scientists, especially if they are in receipt of public funding, should explain the results of their research. The dissemination of the research is part of what we are supporting. When that goes into areas of public policy, there are certainly some areas where scientists feel they have a moral and ethical duty to explain what this might mean. Public health is an example. The first scientists who discovered that smoking caused lung cancer felt a very strong moral obligation to try to change public policy as a result. In other areas, social scientists and statisticians feel that they are observing a system and they should not be interfering with public policy. I know and respect environmental scientists who take both views here, but I think it is completely appropriate for scientists to become involved in the public policy debate, if they wish to, to make sure that that debate remains evidencebased, but it is not mandatory, in my opinion.
Professor Sutton: There is obviously a distinction. When you say, "get involved in the policy debate," there are two ways of doing that. One way, which scientists certainly should be involved in, is explaining, on the basis of the available evidence, the potential consequences of different policy choices. That is very different, of course, from advocating any particular policy.
Professor Palmer: I will just follow that up to say that, if you ask me, "Has global temperature been rising?" I will say, "Yes." If you ask me, "Is it due to mankind?" I will say, "In large measure, yes." If you ask me, "Is that due to greenhouse gas emissions?" I will say, "Yes." If you say, "If we continue to emit greenhouse gases, will temperatures continue to rise?" I will say, "Yes." If you then ask me, "Therefore, should we cut our greenhouse gas emissions?" I will say, "That is a policy decision, and it is not for me to say." It comes, in a way, to this issue about trust. If you can present the science in a disinterested way-if I can use that word-where you are not pushing a policy, you are just saying, "Here is a societally important problem. What can I, as a scientist, say about it that is independent of policy?" that can be important in winning the public’s trust about at least understanding the serious nature of the threat of climate change.
Q67 Roger Williams: I think we on this Committee are always very taken by the quality and expertise of scientific advisers to Government, both on a Departmental level and right across Government, but are they somehow a wasted resource and should they be more outward-looking and speaking to the public, as well as advising Government?
Professor Palmer: May I just say that I think the Committee on Climate Change has been extremely effective, not only in advising Government but being very prominent in the public eye, so in communicating climate change? That has been a very successful creation of Government, which really does serve two quite distinct functions and both quite successfully.
Professor Womersley: We have talked a little bit already about the importance of twoway communication and dialogues. One area is where dialogues are with relatively small targeted groups, so that you can have an indepth discussion, as sometimes takes place here in the museum. That is very important in the formulation of policy: for Government to understand what the public’s attitudes, concerns and issues may be around policy, what level of evidence is necessary and what level of understanding is already there. So when we talk about dialogue we are not just talking about dialogue with researchers. We are talking about dialogue around policymaking and understanding the implications of the evidence that has been presented by scientists.
Professor Pethica: To address your point very specifically about the Government science advisers, there are numerous reports, as you will be aware, from Select Committees on exactly this subject. Of course, there are the usual constraints of being involved in the civil service, totally independent and so forth. I just want to make a general remark. We are having some nice, if you like, simplifications here. Scientists come in neat little packets: this one is a civil servant; this one is publicly funded; this one is independent. Of course, the reality is they are all mixed up in various ways. Funding comes in from all sorts of sources to people in work, everything from their own private resources through to strictly public service. The important thing to recall is that the process of science itself should be the same for all of them, which is looking at the evidence-discussion and debate of the evidence.
Q68 Roger Williams: Do you think that Government scientific advisers should speak about their own research?
Professor Pethica: In the sense that they have a specific competence in that area, it would be sensible to do that. On the other hand, if one is dealing with a very broad subject of science, it is not possible for anybody to be an expert in more than a small number of those areas. That is the reality of science these days. What one should do, and what the scientific advisers do, is when you require some specialised evidence, or some specific experience, you can call upon that. That is the purpose of entities such as the Royal Society and other organisations here represented: to provide that expertise when required.
Q69 Roger Williams: Do you think, on climate change specifically, there should be a more coherent and concerted approach to delivering a message by the Government scientific advisers?
Professor Palmer: As I say, I think in climate science we are rather unique in having this IPCC framework, which really is a consensus of world scientists. It is not just the UK or the Royal Society; it is the whole world. This is the key evidence that Government scientists and others should draw on, because this really does represent the entire community.
Chair: We are in the Science Museum. It attracts a lot of young people, so the background noise might rise as we carry on, but we will try to make each other heard.
Q70 David Tredinnick: As far as communicating science is concerned, one of the most important points came up in the first panel, and that is that younger people are simply not buying newspapers. I think newsprint is in decline at a rate of 10% per annum, so they are going online and making their own stories and I think this works very much in favour of science. What do you think about the role of scientific societies generally in this debate? Should they be doing more to get people to focus on climate change? What are your views on that?
Professor Palmer: I can speak a little bit about both the Royal Society and the Royal Meteorological Society, of which I was President. In the Royal Meteorological Society, of course, climate is an absolutely central issue. We have many outreach events around the country, in different regional centres, where scientists would talk to both the public and amateur meteorologists about climate change. We recognise what you are saying, and we have just set up a new communications group about climate change, and all the issues about social media and other forms of communication are very much rising to the fore. As I say, the big issue, for me, is trying to package new outreach in terms of what is the new headline, what is the new story that you can link it to, to publicise it? That is always the challenge.
Professor Womersley: It is also important that we do not get overfocused on particular issues at particular times. We need to have a more scientifically literate public, because there are many interconnected issues that have big implications where we will be looking at the balance of evidence from various scientific studies. There is educating young people, for example, in what science is and how it reaches conclusions, what uncertainty is-we talked about that-and what risk is, before we get into a push on a particular issue. I think STEM skills in general, which will benefit the economy hugely, will also benefit an informed electorate that is able to make decisions on these kinds of issues.
Professor Pethica: The short answer to your question is that absolutely yes, we should be engaged with them. We should also go into it with open eyes, because again the rate of change, and the means by which those things are focused-this is not all Marshall McLuhan, although there is some of that in there too: "the medium is the message". We should be aware of the fact that that is a very highly dynamic system and it is not yet entirely clear how those networks will work out, but it is absolutely right that we should do so.
Q71 David Tredinnick: Professor Pethica, the Royal Society has had its own internal debates, some would say battles, about publishing information. Do you think that has been healthy, and what has been learnt from that?
Professor Pethica: Are you referring specifically to climate or more generally?
David Tredinnick: I am referring to both. I am referring to climate, but I just wonder how you feel about the internal debates that have been going on.
Professor Pethica: First of all, the fact that there is debate is not news. What one should be doing is looking at the weight of the views. Every subject that we have, there will always be somebody who does not like something. This is perfectly normal and so, as a result, what one should do is have a discussion and debate about that process.
I just want to address the general question you raise, which of course is part of our report on open data and open access and all the rest of it, as you will be aware, which is a recent thing. It is absolutely critical that all that is available to anybody who wishes to read it. Whether people will be able to assimilate all the information in that at the detailed technical level is another question, but at least it should be all open and available, and we very strongly adhere to that policy, as you will realise from our documentation.
Q72 David Tredinnick: Finally, do you feel that you have any obligations as you receive public funds?
Professor Pethica: Of course.
Q73 David Tredinnick: What are they?
Professor Pethica: The public funds, in our case, are used almost entirely to fund young researchers at the leading edge of their subjects and so the primary obligation is to make sure that they do absolutely the best work that is possible for the UK. That is the primary objective. The other work that we do is all about essentially the quality of what is done. It is the quality and calibre of science and that is the primary objective: the best use of that money.
Q74 Pamela Nash: In previous evidence we have heard that commentators, including politicians, because they have a higher profile, find it a lot easier to get their message across-because they get that media coverage-than the average scientist. Do you think it is possible for scientific societies to try to raise their profile, in order to make it easier for scientists to access the media?
Professor Pethica: I seem to be doing a lot of talking at the moment. Again, I would agree with you entirely that there is a need to better engage, and you are right that we should be making it easier for scientists. It could be that the new media, socalled, is the way in which that should be done, but we should also not forget the importance of past achievements, in the sense that there is a great deal of scientific information out there that has been accumulated at considerable expense over the years. It is very important that that is properly presented as well, not just in the deficit model, but in terms of people being able to look at what the evidence was, what it is, and what it is likely to be in the future. So I agree.
Professor Palmer: I had a slightly mischievous thought, which I was trying to decide about, but I think I will say it. If you are right-and I am sure you are-that politicians do have a natural affinity with the media and engage with the media more readily than scientists, I would be very happy to provide you with an application to join the Royal Meteorological Society. In that way, maybe we can, as a society, be more successful in engaging with the media, so please do contact me afterwards if you think you can contribute.
Professor Pethica: May I just add a reminder of our MPScientist Pairing Scheme, which is an excellent experience. I cannot comment from the politicians’ point of view-you are the experts-but certainly for the scientists it has been an excellent experience and we would love to expand it.
Q75 Pamela Nash: That is two interesting and unexpected invitations this morning; thank you very much. Turning that on its head, rather than the media contacting or scientists finding it difficult to get into the media, what concerns do scientists have that may prevent them from talking about climate, and does this mean that when media outlets are looking for scientists to discuss this, they may find it difficult?
Professor Sutton: To be blunt, the biggest concern is time. It is very timeconsuming, so opportunity is one thing, but of course we are all torn between doing our core business of the research and how much time we spend talking to the media, the public and so forth. That tension will not go away. There obviously are concerns about whether reports will be accurate, and that certainly puts some people off. Over time, that is an issue that can be addressed through training. It gives people greater confidence that they can say what they mean and there is at least a decent chance that what they mean will be reported. Beyond that, I do not think I have much more to add. I think there has been progress. Probably only five or so years ago, there was much more suspicion of the media within science generally, and perhaps particularly within climate science. That has lessened and that is definitely healthy. People have understood that it is part of our responsibility to meet the media on their terms somewhat more.
Professor Palmer: One thing I would just like to add, coming back to something I said earlier, is that the media often look for very simplistic messages. They might say, "Are we all going to fry? Are we all going to die 100 years from now? Is the planet going to be boiling?" The truth of the matter is that the science is uncertain, and what we can do is try to estimate risk or threat. We can say that the threat of major climate change is quite unequivocal, but saying that there is a threat is not the same as saying that it will happen. This is the nature of the dialogue: how big does that threat have to be before it is worth taking action? That is where the science and the policy interface.
Expressing this notion of uncertainty and the fact that one can only really make reliable predictions in a probabilistic way or a riskbased way is sometimes a message that a media person does not want to hear. They want to hear something very clear: "We are all going to die," or "It is going to be wet for the next 10 years," or whatever it is, whereas the science is not as simple as that. That is an area where scientists do still struggle in their engagement with the media: trying to be scientifically honest on the one hand, but giving enough of a story for it to be a story in the papers on the other hand.
Professor Pethica: It is perhaps inevitable that there is a tension there, because scientists, of course, are trained to look at physical science evidence and the data, and the questions you are asking are precisely ones about human behaviour and human decision making, which again politicians have a lot more experience in, and that is quite a different process. Science content alone, which people are trained to focus on, is not enough, and so it is good that there is an increasing experience of that, but it takes people outside their expertise.
Professor Sutton: Just to add one thing that is slightly off-topic, but it relates to something we were talking about before about the media process. A lot of us have experienced the difference between the discussion with the journalists and then the role of the editors. That is most obvious in terms of the writing of a headline, which may often bear little resemblance to the content of an article. There is an issue here partly about the education of editors maybe, although editors are basically there to sell papers. The link is back to the question earlier about the BBC. It does seem to me that there has been some significant progress in terms of educators better understanding the issues around the communication of science. I had some personal experience of that in discussion with an editor around what constituted balance in the context of a particular issue, so that is a good thing.
Professor Womersley: I would just like to add a mention of the role of the Science Media Centre here, which has demonstrated over the last few years a very good role in helping scientists access the media and helping the media access scientists, and dealing with some of these questions about who is a reputable voice to talk to, and so on. Again, that is something that has shown there is an appetite in the media to engage with science, so in some sense we are pushing at an open door as long as we can provide people who are trained and resourced to make use of that.
Q76 Chair: A final question, if I may, but before I ask it, I fully endorse Professor Pethica’s plea for more MPs to join the Royal Society Pairing Scheme. I was involved right from the outset, and I think it is a fantastic scheme. Maybe one of the things we could do to develop it is invite the scientists to ask us how we deal with the media. That is a little bit of feedback, because we do develop a certain amount of skill in this field, sometimes with great failing, but there you are.
A final question: we heard last week in our session that in 2012 there was some focus group work done on the public collective memory of Climategate, and it is not as strong as people think. Do you think the scientific community has forgotten it, and what have been the effects, positive and negative, of Climategate when it comes to how climate scientists engage with the media?
Professor Palmer: I think it lives long in scientists’ memory, for sure, and I have to say that we are probably slightly more careful with what we write in e-mails than we were previously. As I say, I think the frustrating thing about the socalled Climategate episode for most scientists is that none of it detracted from the basic science, and that was clearly found by the various inquiries. Equally, I think many of us found it frustrating, in our dealings with the media, that we were unable to put that message over. As I say, it comes back to the issue of what is and what is not a story. Climategate was a story. "Scientists say this does not undermine climate science" is not so much of a story. For me, one of the big messages, to which I still do not know the answer, is how to get that balance right in the media.
Professor Pethica: Again, it probably crystallised a number of things that have been happening not just in climate science. We should recall all the stuff about medical trials at the moment. I am sure you are all well aware of the discussion on how that is reported and so forth. What is essential in this is producing a balanced, traceable, trackable, open record of what is happening. In that sense, you could argue there is a positive element of it, but I would agree with Tim’s point that, in terms of the science that is done, it was rather something of a distraction.
Professor Sutton: Also briefly on the positive side, it has contributed to some debate about how to make climate science more open, and this is not easy. Obviously, the focus there was on climate data, but also one of the major tools that we all use are big computer models, computer simulations. These are incredibly complicated pieces of code. There is nothing hidden about them, but there is some debate now about how to try to make them more open so that other scientists could come and look at them, and so forth. That debate is not concluded, but it is a healthy debate to be having, so that is a good thing.
There certainly were lessons around the need for the climate science community to be more proactive in communications. The community was criticised at the time of this event for being just too silent, and I think some of that criticism was fair.
Chair: Thank you very much for a most interesting session. As you appreciate, we have to get back to Parliament for a fairly important afternoon, in terms of the national economy and, more particularly, reflecting our interests, to make sure that we do our best to protect the science budget as well. Thank you very much for your attendance.