Communicating Environmental Geoscience- Liverman presentation, Vienna 2007


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Communicating Environmental Geoscience- Liverman presentation, Vienna 2007

  1. 1. Communicating Environmental Geoscience - a challenge for the geoscientific community Dave Liverman* EGU, April 2007 *IUGS Commission Geoscience for Environmental management “Communicating Environmental Geoscience” working group leader
  2. 2. The Problem Hazard identified by scientists / disaster requiring response Scientific study, defines hazard Hazard maps, recommendations Policy developed - politicians, policy makers, public Response based on policy - mitigation, planning
  3. 3. Flooding; Badger 2002 - Stephenville 2005
  4. 4. Flood risk mapping <ul><li>Comprehensive flood risk mapping in 1980s and 1990s </li></ul><ul><li>Construction and development occurred after publication of flood risk maps </li></ul>
  5. 5. New Orleans 2005
  6. 6. Scientific American 2001 <ul><li>“ A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive re-engineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city” </li></ul>
  7. 7. The Problem <ul><li>Scientific work indicates direction in planning and policy, yet commonly ignored </li></ul><ul><li>Caused by many factors but in part failure in communication </li></ul>
  8. 8. GEM working group <ul><li>Sept 2005: IUGS Commission “Geoscience for Environmental Management” approved working group, “Communicating Environmental Geoscience” - CEG-GEM </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>2006 workshop in UK </li></ul><ul><li>Book in progress - Geology Society of London </li></ul><ul><li>Plans - international workshop, Australia 2008 (in conjunction with International Salinity forum); development of resources for geoscientists; documenting success stories; training and professional development programme </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>CEG-GEM - activities
  10. 10. Who should communicate science? <ul><li>Who do you trust to tell the truth? (poll in the UK, 2002) </li></ul><ul><li>Doctors - 91% </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers - 85% </li></ul><ul><li>Professors - 77% </li></ul><ul><li>Scientists - 64% </li></ul><ul><li>Civil servants - 45% </li></ul><ul><li>Politicians - 19% </li></ul><ul><li>Journalists - 13% </li></ul>
  11. 11. Communication of science - some problems <ul><li>Language </li></ul><ul><li>Medium </li></ul><ul><li>Audience </li></ul>
  12. 12. Environmental geoscience - specific challenges <ul><li>Conclusions often bear on health and well-being </li></ul><ul><li>Target audience differs from many areas of geoscience </li></ul><ul><li>Communication of risk and uncertainty critical </li></ul>
  13. 13. Targeting the audience <ul><li>Understanding how policy is developed and decisions are made allows audience to be targeted </li></ul><ul><li>Gaining access to policy makers can be difficult </li></ul><ul><li>Public opinion can sway policy </li></ul>
  14. 14. Targeting the audience <ul><li>Communication tailored for specific audience is more effective </li></ul><ul><li>Increasing need to engage in dialogue, community involvement in decision making </li></ul>
  15. 15. Medium <ul><li>Scientific results presented in </li></ul><ul><li>Government reports </li></ul><ul><li>Scientific journals </li></ul><ul><li>Scientific conferences </li></ul><ul><li>Politicians, public and planners learn about science from </li></ul><ul><li>Newspapers </li></ul><ul><li>TV and radio </li></ul><ul><li>Government/ internal reports </li></ul>
  16. 16. Media - challenges <ul><li>Media focus </li></ul><ul><li>- Novelty </li></ul><ul><li>- Drama </li></ul><ul><li>- Conflict </li></ul><ul><li>- Personality </li></ul><ul><li>- Pictures </li></ul><ul><li>- Telling a story </li></ul><ul><li>Can over-emphasise risk, danger, resulting unfounded concerns, “Inappropriate outcomes” </li></ul><ul><li>May not portray story or message in scientifically accurate fashion </li></ul>
  17. 17. Media - solutions <ul><li>Scientists can make media coverage effective by:- </li></ul><ul><li>Understanding media interest </li></ul><ul><li>Providing media releases/ items with appropriate language and content </li></ul><ul><li>Media coverage of science = public relations ≠education </li></ul><ul><li>Training in media relations </li></ul><ul><li>Developing relationships with media professionals </li></ul>
  18. 18. Risk and uncertainty <ul><li>Hazard maps often use probability of recurrence </li></ul><ul><li>1:20 year (designated floodway) and 1:100 year (floodway fringe) on Newfoundland maps </li></ul><ul><li>Internal communication, UK Department of Health </li></ul><ul><li>Public reaction to risk sometimes seem bizarre, at least when compared with scientific estimates..the suggestion that a hazard poses an annual risk of death of “one chance in x” may cause near-panic or virtual indifference . </li></ul>
  19. 19. Uncertainty <ul><li>Science Media Centre poll (2006); 71% - &quot;looked to scientists to give an ‘agreed view’ about science issues”; 61% expected science &quot;to provide 100% guarantees about the safety of medicines&quot;. </li></ul><ul><li>Bernkopf et al. (2006) </li></ul><ul><li>“ the uncertainty regarding the interpretation of the science inputs can influence the development and implementation of natural hazard management policies” </li></ul>
  20. 20. Uncertainty and risk <ul><li>Risk and probability hard to communicate </li></ul><ul><li>Public expects certainty that scientists are reluctant to provide </li></ul><ul><li>Can be used by policy makers as reason for not taking appropriate action </li></ul>
  21. 21. Solutions- risk <ul><li>Huge body of literature on communicating risk, mainly in health field; increasingly in natural hazards </li></ul><ul><li>Guidelines and recommendations should be provided for environmental geoscientists </li></ul>
  22. 22. <ul><li>Geoscientists must not just educate but debate, listen and learn </li></ul><ul><li>Scientists need to understand economic, political and societal reasons for decision making in order to communicate effectively </li></ul><ul><li>Research bodies need to reward and support efforts in communication </li></ul><ul><li>Geoscientists need access to training in communications at undergraduate, graduate and professional level </li></ul>Challenges; points for discussion
  23. 23. <ul><li>“ We are failing in a big way to have our voices heard …we have a lot to learn from our colleagues in the climate sciences. Their science is just as full of uncertainty as earthquake or tsunami scientists. They have, however, been more active in making sure that their concerns are voiced in the right places and at the right volume.” </li></ul><ul><li>John McCloskey, article on , April 2007 </li></ul>Newfoundland tsunami, 1929, 28 killed
  24. 24. <ul><li>Feedback welcome! </li></ul><ul><li>Join the working group ( </li></ul><ul><li>Thank you! </li></ul>