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Finding your place on the science – advocacy continuum: an editorial essay


The late founder of this journal, Stephen Schneider, argued that climate scientists must find the right balance between being honest about the limits of our knowledge and being effective in communicating the risks that climate change poses to society. The worlds of science and communications have changed dramatically in the years since Schneider first described this “double ethical bind”. Yet for most scientists, the core challenge of public communication remains. How do we choose between what we perceive as science – being honest – and what we perceive as advocacy – being effective? This essay suggests that scientists should view science and advocacy as opposite ends of a continuum with many possible positions. Drawing upon findings from psychology, communications, and science and technology studies, I describe how scientists can use research and critical self-analysis to be “scientific” about public engagement and to choose a suitable place for themselves on the science-advocacy continuum.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    “Objective”, rather than “positive” (i.e., positivism), is used to describe scientific judgements in order to avoid confusion with other colloquial definitions of positive.


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The author would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments. This manuscript is based in part on talks and training sessions prepared for the University of British Columbia’s TerreWEB Program.

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Correspondence to Simon D. Donner.

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Donner, S.D. Finding your place on the science – advocacy continuum: an editorial essay. Climatic Change 124, 1–8 (2014).

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  • Policy Option
  • Public Engagement
  • Climate Scientist
  • Normative Judgement
  • Address Climate Change