Scientists (and the professoriate) as bullies?

The White House has this past week released a report on the impending consequences of global climate change, consequences which are largely being observed already throughout the country.  Severe droughts in the Southwest and Pacific coast, intense hurricanes and tropical storms (think Sandy), and more frequent/intense wildfires are only a few of the many impacts directly affecting human lives and the sustainability of our food supplies.  As an environmentalist, it’s a relief to finally see the President begin making these issues a headline for conversation, which has previously taken a back seat to other domestic affairs.

Bringing this issue to the forefront of media coverage, however, invites other unsavory topics.  One of the most prominent is the public divide in opinion on whether climate change is truly an artifact of human activity.  This obviously underscores the ineffectiveness of scientific communication about the threats and realities associated with climate change, but also highlights differences in political party associations and even religious affiliations.

Even more distressing than these apparent lapses in communication between science and the public, however, are recent accusation of scientific bullying.  A recent CNN interview really brought this to the media forefront.  Whether this accusation is a real sentiment among Americans, or just the most recent ploy of the conservative party to paint scientists (and their “liberal allies”) as untrustworthy, remains to be seen.

The GPP 2014 subtopic I’ve chosen is “Professors as Public Intellectuals.”  I think the topics of 1) professorial communication to the public and 2) perception of the professoriate /scientists(potentially as “bullies”) both may serve as areas for further conversation.  I look forward to having these discussions as our time to meeting our Swiss counterparts approaches!

Kevin

Comments

  1. Good point Kevin, I too am glad to see climate change taking a front seat for once, but am increasingly frustrated by the constant mud slinging between political parties that makes it really hard to discern what true public opinion is. My PhD research deals with climate change, I don’t know if it’s really ineffectiveness of scientific communication that’s the problem. I think it’s just incredibly difficult to communicate a process that is so complicated and intricately tied to many other factors and that is not instantaneous. I think as long as these extreme droughts and storms keep happening, the public will think climate change is an important issue, but the minute there is a “normal” weather year, talk will die down. This is frustrating for me but I also think it’s human nature to put immediate threats first over larger looming threats that are not always right there in front of your eyes (although dealing with this climate change stuff every day I would argue it IS right in front of our eyes but watch my house get robbed or some other catastrophe that immediately affects me and I’ll forget all about climate change for a few months!).

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