Last week’s FOSEP discussion group: “Climate Change and Implications for the Pacific NW: Experiences in Communication and Engagement”

Wednesday’s FOSEP seminar with Dr. Nick Bond was a packed house with 30+ attendees filling the Genome Sciences conference room. Dr. Bond began his presentation with a request- he wanted feedback and input on the slides he was going to present. And so began an interactive and lively discussion focused on the “do’s” and “don’ts” of communicating climate science to public audiences. As Dr. Bond presented his work, as well as the work of several other collaborators, the audience was told to keep the following questions in mind in terms of how to present scientific data:

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FOSEP discussion group with Dr. Nick Bond (Washington State Climatologist)

(1) How much scientific detail should be included in a talk?

(2) Is it okay to tell stories?

(3) Should a presentation be tailored towards the skeptic or the converted?

(4) How much advocacy should be included in a scientific talk (if any)?

(5) What is the protocol for soliciting potential customers (from the perspective of the WA State Climate offices)?

Dr. Bond had previously given a longer version of his FOSEP presentation in Kane Hall; the slides were filled with graphs, maps, cartoons and a few extremely clever analogies. My personal favorite: a pixelated image of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Bond asked us to tell him which President was represented in the photo- the answer was clear. He then likened our interpretation of the pixelated photo to climate models; climate models are not perfect, but what they tell us is quite clear, even if minor details are missing. This really hit home.

Following his 20 minute presentation, the audience (composed of law students, oceanographers, biologists, and atmospheric scientists- to name a few), kicked in with comments. There was a lot of discussion and suggestions for Dr. Bond on how to connect his presentation to a personal experience and to connect with the audience’s emotions. Interestingly, several attendees shared personal experiences of growing up on farms (farmers-turned-scientists!), and suggested that Dr. Bond connect his climate change research to the economic implications for (e.g.) Washington farmers. Or more broadly, they suggested that Dr. Bond tailor his presentation to his audience by providing a direct connection between livelihoods and a warming climate.

As the discussion continued on, questions ranged from “Is it okay to show a graph in a presentation?” to “Is it okay to instill guilt in audience members to motivate them to take action?” Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the afternoon was that the FOSEP group had diverse opinions on the subject-matter, and it was evident that everyone had a different perspective to contribute not only to the climate change discussion, but also to the issue of communicating climate science. And admittedly, it was very refreshing to hear so many new ideas and to know that so many other UW community members are concerned and excited about effectively communicating science, too.

After one and a half hours of chatting, it was time to free up the room for the next group, but not without a final plug from the FOSEP leaders to attend the upcoming “1,000 Word Challenge” on Friday, March 15th at the Burke Museum. What better way to put our ideas into practice than during a “communicating science” happy hour. Hope to see you there.

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Climate models are like a pixelated image of President … ??

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