How to communicate the scientific consensus on climate change: plain facts, pie charts or metaphors?
- 4.1k Downloads
Previous research has identified public perceptions of the scientific consensus on climate change as an important gateway belief. Yet, little research to date has examined how to effectively communicate the scientific consensus on climate change. In this study, we conducted an online experiment using a national quota sample to compare three approaches to communicating the scientific consensus, namely: (a) descriptive text, (b) a pie chart and (c) metaphorical representations. Results indicate that while all three approaches can significantly increase public understanding of the degree of scientific consensus, the pie chart and simple text have superior recall and are most effective across political party lines. We conclude that the scientific consensus on climate change is most effectively communicated as a short, simple message that is easy to comprehend and remember. Representing the consensus visually in the form of a pie chart appears to be particularly useful.
KeywordsMetaphor Descriptive Text Climate Scientist Scientific Consensus Public Opinion Poll
This research was funded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) as well as by Lawrence Linden, Robert Litterman and Henry Paulson.
All authors contributed to the conceptualization of the study and research questions. S.L.V., A.A.L., and G.D.F. designed and conducted the survey. S.L.V performed the data analysis and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. A.A.L., G.D.F., and E.W.M wrote, commented on and revised parts of the manuscript.
Competing financial interests
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
- Bonate P (2000) Analysis of Pretest-Posttest Designs. Chapman & Hall/CRC.Google Scholar
- Consensus Project (2013) http://theconsensusproject.com/. Accessed 10 January 2014
- IPCC (2013) Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
- Lakoff G (1993) The contemporary theory of metaphor. In: Ortony A (ed) Metaphor and thought, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 203–251Google Scholar
- Lakoff G, Johnson M (1980) Metaphors We live by. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
- Leiserowitz A, Maibach E, Roser-Renouf C, Feinberg G, Rosenthal S, Marlon J (2014) Climate Change in the American Mind: American’s Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in November 2013. Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, New Haven, CT. http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/files/Climate-Beliefs-November-2013.pdf
- Moser SC, Dilling L (2011) Communicating climate change: closing the science-action gap. In: Dryzek JS, Norgaard RB, Schlosberg D (eds) The oxford handbook of climate change and society. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 161–174Google Scholar
- National Research Council (2011) America’s climate choices. The National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
- Oreskes N (2004) Beyond the ivory tower: the scientific consensus on climate change. Science 306:1686Google Scholar
- Tverksy B (2001) Spatial schemas in depiction. In: Gattis M (ed) Spatial schemas and abstract thought. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 79–111Google Scholar
- World Public Opinion Poll (2009) Public attitudes toward climate change: Findings from a multi-country poll. http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/dec09