Commonwealth National Podcast

Science As A Contact Sport

Duration: 
1:00:32

Science As A Contact Sport

Ben Santer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Noah Diffenbaugh, Professor, Environmental Earth System Science, Stanford Uninversity
Greg Dalton, Climate One - Moderator

Confronted with overwhelming evidence of a warming planet, scientists have a duty to leave the laboratory and engage the public, say two leading climatologists. This Climate One program, titled “Science as a Contact Sport,” is a tribute to the late Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider, whose last work was a book of the same name. Ben Santer, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Noah Diffenbaugh, Professor, Environmental Earth System Science, Stanford University, comment on Schneider’s legacy: cutting-edge research complemented by unmatched communications skills. Despite the need, Santer and Diffenbaugh say, Ph.D.s are not likely to receive communications training during their formal studies. Santer says he learned on the job; Diffenbaugh says he was trained only to communicate with other scientists. The omission is particularly worrisome with attacks against climate science, and its practitioners, ascendant. The attacks leave scientists no choice but to defend the integrity of their work and reputations, say Santer and Diffenbaugh. “We’re in a challenging position as climate scientists,” Diffenbaugh says, “in that there’s a very charged political atmosphere out in the real world. In some ways, it’s the path of least resistance to dump the information on the world, and then do it again for the next paper.” Santer and Diffenbaugh both describe a moral duty to speak out, as publishing alone hasn’t persuaded policymakers to act or silenced skeptics. “When I started off as a climate scientist,” Santer says, “I believed that if you did the best possible science, it would be good enough. Ultimately, people would do the right thing if the science was credible, if it was compelling, if the physical evidence was consistent, coherent. But it’s not.” As a result, he says, “part of our job, too, is to demystify, to speak truth to power when people try to demonize climate science and climate scientists. You can’t just be a bystander.”

This program was recorded in front of a live audience at The Commonwealth Club on November 3, 2010

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