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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Georgia State: Climate Scientists May Not be the Best Communicators of Climate Threats

The American public ranks scientists as some of the most trusted voices in the country. So it made sense for eminent climate scientists, such as Drs. James Hansen, Michael Mann, and Peter Kalmus, to sound the alarm about climate change.

“When climate scientists don’t speak out, we’re inadvertently sending a message that climate change isn’t urgent”, said Dr. Kalmus, a climate scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a 2017 essay addressed to other climate scientists.

But when these scientists do speak out, are they having an impact on the public conversation?

Few studies have examined how effective climate scientists are in influencing the public about climate change. However, other studies suggest that messages delivered by credible and trusted sources may be especially powerful. For example, one recent study found that when the Republican Party was connected to a state ballot measure on climate change, Republican support increased.

As scholars who study climate change and communication, we recently examined the effect of scientific information about climate change on public opinion to determine if messages attributed to climate scientists made a difference.

Our study shows that climate scientists have relatively little impact on people’s views. And it demonstrates how difficult it is to match the message and the messenger to an audience when the issues are complex and politically charged.

Who is a trusted source?

While science is inherently uncertain, the science of climate change – and the role of humans in making it worse – is clear.

Learn more.

By Dr. Risa Palm
Professor of Urban Studies and Public Health
Georgia State University

Dr. Toby W. Bolsen
Associate Professor
American Politics, Political Science
Georgia State University

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