Climate scientists need media skills to shake off closed society tag

Peter Makwanya

THE discourse of climate scientists and their communities of practice is fundamental in their technological and socio-economic development, hence it is measured by the nature of research they come up with. As such, for scientists to shake off the tag of a closely-guarded community, they need to network with the media.

For climate scientists to be able to relate their findings and innovations to the public and lay-persons at large, they need to demonstrate understanding of media relations, including reporting and presentation skills. This is significant in establishing a social listening and networking relationship.

In this regard, a reciprocal media-scientific outreach is necessary for public awareness, education and engagement. Media literacy for scientists is significant for them to be able to communicate their findings in innovative ways.

As they present their findings, climate scientists need to know that there is an audience, which they should not only pay allegiance to, but which they have to engage as well.

Scientists’ findings are not only personal and context-specific, but also for the wider communities and the heterogeneous audiences out there. By so doing, their scientific findings would not only be able to communicate technical information, but also tell their stories in a sustainable way.

The public is not interested in articulating the environmental or climatic problems and all the rigours of scientific discourse, they just want to understand the solutions and outcomes. These are the outcomes which affect them and inform their way of survival and livelihoods, as well as their environmental stewardship and eco-conscious solutions.

Media relations training will not only enable scientists to communicate their findings to the global audiences, but also being able to be part of a wide community of practice.
This is not designed to attack or discredit scientists as people who cannot communicate, but will enable them to be viewed as an approachable stable that also has social listening skills.

Furthermore, all these endeavours would indeed help a large cross-section of journalists around the world to be able to communicate information and interpret scientific data when interrogating climate change impact.

This is not to say that the media personnel would be literally training scientists, but it would be reciprocal in nature, where they will be sharing notes and closely networking with them.

While scientists require communication literacy, journalists also need to be able to interpret and communicate complex scientific technical data to the public. In other words, journalists need to know how to simplify the language of science.

Scientists are also required to have access to the comprehensive communication tools and resources which enable them to understand the public better.

On the other hand, the journalists need to gain the knowledge of the scientific community so that they would not continue seeing scientists as gate-keepers of information or knowledge monsters, which they are not.

As the situation stands, there appears to be some imagined barriers inherent between scientists and journalists. By reaching out to each other, scientists will be appealing to a broad and wide cross-section of the audience while at the same time demystifying their profession in the process. The overall aim and emphasis would be on engagement, making simple their field of practice and gain understanding from the journalists.

In other words, scientists need communication support in as much as the journalists need to be re-oriented into the scientific communities of practice. Even at universities, there are some departments that view communication skills as a waste of time.

This against the background that, the communication component is quite versatile and paramount for life-long learning and useful in the economy.

 Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his capacity and can be contacted on:


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