Young scientists on the ground at Lindau share their thoughts on scientists’ place in the climate change debate
In the scientific community, the big question is not whether action on climate change is required, but what form it should take — and the part that scientists should play, says the recent Nature Outlook on Climate Change. Three early-career researchers share their thoughts on the current state on climate action worldwide and the place of science in society.
You can find the full Nature Outlook on Climate change here.
Graduate student, Pennsylvania State University, USA
It’s hard for scientists to make definitive statements about the ‘truth’. Just as we don’t believe exactly the same things as we did 50 years ago, we expect our understanding of the things we’re learning now will change over time.
It doesn’t mean our current understanding should be dismissed as incomplete, but it can be a challenge to communicate this concept to non-scientists. It’s become evident that my communication skills are something I have to invest time in. It’s too easy to forget that we have a broader responsibility to the public. In my experience, public engagement is not a routine part of academic training. Every scientist can start by talking with people they know in their everyday lives. That’s not hard.
Postdoctoral researcher, University of Cambridge, UK
I strongly agree that more people with scientific training should seek careers in policy, but we are failing to encourage them. People from academic backgrounds are made to feel as though they have failed as scientists when they choose to take their career in another direction.
I’m thinking about going into policy — not because my research isn’t good enough, but because it’s something I love as much as chemistry. It’s a difficult decision to make, made harder by the fact that I feel as though I will be judged as a failure for leaving my field. We have to make PhD students aware that working in a think tank or as a public official is a positive career choice through which they can be valuable — and not a negative step.
Assistant professor, University of Arizona, USA
There is a fracture between the scientific world and the political world, especially in the United States, and I think we have a duty as scientists to repair it. Getting more researchers into policymaking, even temporarily, could help. But when you’re facing people who have thought in a particular way for 40 or so years, it will be hard to change minds. What might be smarter is to focus on education and shaping young minds.
We should also remember that there are still many technical challenges surrounding climate change. Nitrous oxide, for instance, is a relatively neglected, yet extremely potent, greenhouse gas. We need to communicate better, but we also have many scientific problems left to solve.