When Science Makes Sense: Our Book Signing with Cornelia Dean
Erica Golin is a native New Yorker with internship experience at GrowNYC, a local environmental nonprofit. Currently a student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, she is a candidate for her Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy. When she graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The City University of New York, College of Staten Island, she was awarded The Dolphin Award for Outstanding Service and Contribution to the College. Erica loves reading, yoga, and visiting new cities. This is part one of Erica's two part series on science communication.
By Erica Golin. When you’re a student of Environmental Science and Policy and also in a writing workshop, you can expect to hone the craft of communicating clearly about our planet. You can also expect to meet authors who can advise you on how to accomplish that goal.
Cornelia Dean, former editor of the Science Times of the New York Times, visited Sustainable Directions’ founder Savannah Miller’s and my writing workshop to discuss her recent book about science communication, Making Sense of Science: Separating Substance from Spin (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017). As concerned citizens of the United States, this book is important because the effects of climate change must be dealt with immediately.
Ms. Dean’s book has a lot to say about courtroom ethics, medical claims, creationism in public schools, and food industry profitability, but her most compelling and urgent argument is for the science of climate change. “There is no credible scientific challenge” to the evidence for climate change, she says.
Dealing with the effects of climate change largely involve communication strategies. It’s good news then, as Ms. Dean puts it, that “anything can be communicated.”
“Some things just take more time,” she adds.
But how much time do we have left to prevent the worst effects of a warming world? While Americans respect scientists and engineers more than any other profession, there are still outliers who deny the scientific consensus on climate change. Today’s fossil fuel lobbyists use the same denial-mongering tactics of the tobacco lobbyists of a few decades ago. In this way, climate denial is the new cigarette-cancer denial.
Change is possible by encouraging the understanding of science. Science is a rigorous method of observing the world and gathering evidence to support those observations. Nothing is “true” in science, there are just some theories with an enormous body of evidence behind them.
Science is provisional, meaning that what is currently accepted is likely to change when confronted with new information.
This change over time indicates that the process of science is doing its job. In the 1970s, the public was under the impression that the earth was cooling. However, today, we have substantial evidence and evolved climate models to establish that our earth is warming—and warming at an accelerated rate due to our activities.
Journalists and scientists must be on the same page to communicate clearly to the public. Similarly, our country would benefit by bringing science to public office.
Bill Foster, Representative of Illinois, is the only PhD in Congress at this time. Scientists and Engineers for America was a nonprofit on a mission to place—you guessed it—scientists and engineers in government. The new movement, following the shock waves of November’s presidential election, is 314 Action, a grassroots mission with the same purpose.
By using lay-language and making an effort to reach people from diverse backgrounds, journalists, scientists, and politicians can responsibly inform the public.
As Ms. Dean told our class, “people want to do the right thing.”
There are actions we can take today to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as retrofitting houses to become more energy efficient. To paraphrase Ms. Dean, all is not lost.
It all starts with communicating.