By Jess

Could there be anything more frustrating to a climate scientist than an educated, seemingly reasonable person declare they don’t believe in climate change?

To me it feels a bit like this:cartoon

The science is now overwhelmingly clear on climate change; it is happening and humans are responsible. Yet, in 2013 60% of Australians thought that ‘there are too many conflicting opinions for the public to be sure about climate change’ (The Climate Institute, 2013).

It seems like we are back to the good old science communication problem.

We live in a world where the majority of people are informed about global warming through newspapers, magazines or TV. These reach huge audiences, and have a massively greater influence on the general population than scientific publications.

However, unlike scientific publications, media articles are not peer-reviewed.

Putting aside that only science that is exciting enough will make it into the news in the first place, what is then keeping journalists from twisting the facts? Not much, in fact if it makes a better story, or there are other interests at stake, there will likely be encouragement to do so.

Which explains why the media is flooded with contradicting stories about climate change, regardless of the existing evidence.

How can we blame people for believing that the science behind global warming is still uncertain when the only reports they are exposed to are so mixed? How can people know what to trust?

The latest ANU Climate Café introduced me to a project which is trying to tackle this issue: Climate Feedback.

Climate Feedback utilises a pool of scientists to rate and comment on the scientific accuracy of climate change articles in the media. In their own words, they are ‘a voice for science in climate change media coverage’.

The output is clear, succinct reviews of articles in terms of their scientific content:

climate feedbacks
Recent Climate Feedback reviews (climatefeedback.org/feedbacks/)

Great! A quick and reliable quality assurance for climate articles appearing in the media.

But unfortunately, to see the Climate Feedback reviews of these articles you need to look at their website; it doesn’t (as I naively initially thought) pop up automatically when you are reading the article online. At this stage, to be on the Climate Feedback website in the first place you are most likely aware of possible misrepresentation of science in the media; a large audience which would greatly benefit from these reviews is being missed.

However, this project is only a year old and still developing, hopefully with time it will take firm root. One potential step forward discussed at the Climate Café is to provide ratings on newspapers/journalists so you can get a feel for how trustworthy specific sources are in their scientific reporting. This might eventually lead to increased pressure on the media to accurately report science. Some journalists have already approached Climate Feedback to seek approval on articles they have written, which is encouraging.

While a lot of challenges remain in further developing Climate Feedback, it is a great initiative, and one which will hopefully help pave the way for improvements in the climate science communication.