Communicating the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change
What’s the best way to communicate the fact that the overwhelming majority of scientists believe that climate change is real and human-caused? Is it metaphors that compare scientists’ beliefs on climate change to doctors’ beliefs about whether or not a child is sick? Or descriptive statements? Charts and graphics? New peer-reviewed research suggests that the most compelling ways to communicate the scientific consensus on climate change are pie charts and short, simple statements. In one study, participants who viewed a pie chart or read a short, simple statement increased their estimates of the percentage of scientists who think climate change is real and human-caused by close to 20 percent. Pie charts in particular were particularly effective in increasing Republicans’ understanding of the scientific consensus.
Yale Project on Climate Change Communication Staff
We are pleased to announce a newly published article: “How to Communicate the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: Plain Facts, Pie Charts or Metaphors?” by Sander van der Linden, Anthony Leiserowitz, Geoffrey Feinberg and Edward W. Maibach in the journal Climatic Change. The article is available for free download here: http://bit.ly/1kYTLUb
At present, only one in ten (12%) Americans understand that 90% or more climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. Recent research has found that this public misunderstanding about the degree of scientific consensus is highly consequential: public perceptions of the scientific consensus appear to influence public beliefs that global warming is happening, human-caused and a serious problem that requires public action and legislative support. Our new paper offers some practical recommendations on how to effectively communicate the scientific consensus.
As part of the study, we conducted an experiment testing three popular approaches to communicating the scientific consensus. In the first experimental condition, participants were shown a simple descriptive text message stating that: “97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening”. In the second condition, participants were shown a pie chart representing the consensus visually. We also tested a variety of different metaphors to describe the consensus (e.g., “If 97% of doctors concluded that your child is sick, would you believe them? 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening). Participants in the control group did not view any message. Respondents were asked to provide an estimate (0% to 100%) of the degree of scientific consensus on human-caused climate change before (pre) and after (post) viewing the messages.
Read the peer-reviewed article.
Image credit: actualcures.com