There has never been a more important time for scientists to speak out about the causes and consequences of climate change. As members of the Seattle chapter of the 500 Women Scientists organization, a global coalition of women scientists dedicated to the communication and advancement of science in the public, we share a vision of a just, equitable, and sustainable future. In light of the continued injection of confusion into the public conversation on climate change, it is necessary for scientists to actively counter disinformation.
The seriousness of the climate crisis calls for scientists to share our knowledge—our explorations, experiments, and observations—with the public. Public conversations about climate change can be manipulated by a loud fringe misrepresenting scientific consensus or scientific expertise. We believe that the communication of scientific consensus, with transparency and self-awareness, can reduce unnecessary public confusion about climate change.
Here, we present a set of principles to guide our communication with the public and to help the pubic evaluate the integrity of other scientific voices. Specifically, we maintain that transparent, effective, and honest scientific engagement should align with the following tenants...
Public communication should reflect the scientific consensus on climate change—we must lead with what we know. Consensus is not a trivial achievement, and it is not inconsistent with skepticism and rigor. Rather, scientific consensus around the drivers and consequences of climate change is built upon thousands of scientific studies. Communicating the strength of this consensus is imperative.
Scientific public communication should avoid false balance, where dismissive, uninformed, or dogmatic viewpoints are over-emphasized relative to the weight of scientific evidence.
Science is often powerfully communicated through anecdotes or stories. We must carefully choose exemplars that do not inject false uncertainty or unnecessary confusion into public discourse.
We should be transparent about our own expertise when communicating about climate change. We must not conflate our opinions as citizens, voters, or community members with the communication of science. Clarity is needed when we shift between making judgments as scientists to making judgements as citizens and community members.
We should respectfully engage with dissenting views and alter our positions in light of compelling new evidence.
Because climate science necessitates action, we support thoughtful, informed debate around diverse solutions to global warming and encourage participation from across the political spectrum. We refuse to accept inaction.
We should be inclusive in our communication and consider those who have not traditionally engaged—or whose voices have been ignored—in climate change conversations.
If we receive payment or other support for our science communication, we should disclose potential conflicts of interest and be transparent about how they may affect our public messaging.
Scientists are trusted stewards of knowledge. We hold expertise in the physical, ecological, economic, and social implications of climate change. But, we are first and foremost human beings. As women scientists, we are also friends, colleagues, partners, mothers, and citizens, with the same concerns as anyone else for the health, safety, and happiness of our friends and family. Just like everyone else, we have a stake in staving off the worst impacts of climate change. By being transparent about our shared humanity and values, we hope to build more trust with the public. And just like everyone else, we are not monolithic, and we believe that the diversity and dissent among our members is an asset for growth and rigor. Ultimately, we are striving for accountability as public servants, based on our shared values of scientific rigor, honesty, and transparency.
We acknowledge that science is first and foremost a human enterprise, rife with historical and systematic racism and inequality. We must look squarely at our responsibility to serve marginalized and vulnerable communities that have historically been excluded from conversations around science and climate change. This is our challenge: to attend to the brokenness within our nation, to heal our communities, to uphold our institutions, and to protect our planet. We will not shirk from the great responsibility of using our knowledge for public good. As scientists and as women, we can culturally and scientifically lead our nation in responding to climate change.