More scientists need to speak with the public, ANU climate researcher says

11 August 2017

Climate science is messy and complex, where the facts are uncertain, values are disputed and the stakes are high.

More scientists need to speak directly with the public and explain to people why their research matters, climate researcher Dr Sophie Lewis from The Australian National University (ANU) argues in her new book that was launched this week, as part of National Science Week.

In her new book A Changing Climate for Science, Dr Lewis argues that scientists have strict responsibilities to be transparent and engage the general public.

"Climate science is messy and complex, where the facts are uncertain, values are disputed and the stakes are high," said Dr Lewis from the Fenner School of Environment and Society and the Climate Change Institute at ANU.

"There are plenty of scientists who engage the public in the work they do, and many do it very well, but more scientists need to get out there to tell people what they do and why the public should care.

"In my book, I argue that there is a widening gulf between the way scientists talk about science and the way scientists practice science. Science is often talked about as a neat, linear process."

Dr Lewis said her experience of being a scientist did not match with this view or the approach to science she was taught as an undergraduate student.

"Often, instead of putting forward a hypothesis and testing it, I sometimes research by brute force. That means that I crunch through huge quantities of model data mining for interesting results," she said.

"Sometimes, scientific results don't come from experts but from citizen scientists."

Dr Lewis said climate scientists were expected to adapt their approaches to data sharing and publishing, to research questions that society wanted answered, and to make recommendations about policies.

"My book details my personal experiences of working as a climate scientist and my commitment to transparency, flexibility and discourse," she said.

National Science Week is Australia's annual celebration of science, with about 1,000 events already registered throughout Australia, including over 70 events in the ACT. Visit www.scienceweek.net.au for more details.