April 19, 2013 by Dr. G
All good things must come to an end, which includes my participation in the first-ever combined Penrose/Chapman Conference.
The focus of Day 5 was to come up with some sort of statement that captures the talks and discussions from throughout the week. Ultimately, this statement is to be used by coastal geologists when speaking with policy makers, the general public, etc., about coastal environments and their challenges. The conference leader also plans on having a summary with a scientific focus of the conference published in AGU’s publication EOS and GSA’s publication GSA Today, and hopefully see follow-up workshops and meetings to continue these conversations.
The session started with give bullet points that were broad in scope but addressed the overarching message of concern about what is happening in coastal environments. The group as a whole went through each statement, almost word-by-word, making sure the bullet points address: (1) who cares, and why should we care? and (2) strike a balance of the seriousness of the problem but also communicate what can be done – not just “doom and gloom” but that there is hope. It was fascinating for me to see this process of tearing apart phrases such as “rate is unprecedented” and “many regions.” The group (all scientists, mind you) also struggled to define the phrase “the best available science.
In the end, we all agreed that we need to emphasize to policy makers that decisions have to be made with existing uncertainty. We also agreed that we as scientists need to get involved with policy by serving on boards/committees and communicate more with the public. One point I very much appreciated someone bringing up is a friendly warning that if we go out alone to speak, a single scientist could be “hurt” by the community, other faculty, etc. (examples given included what has happened and continues to happen to climate scientist Michael Mann).
Personally, I’m not sure if writing up a statement to share with others is the best outcome and was the best use of our time today. Yes, this is important, but when I put my pedagogical hat on, I think we could have engaged in an “assignment,” where as teams we were asked to write up our own research for different target audiences (policy makers, general public, our universities, etc.), and gain some ground in coming up with our elevator pitch and ability to communicate the importance of our work to a non-science audience. We are trained as scientists, but not as effective communicators beyond peer-reviewed scientific journal articles. For example, I was fortunate to sit at the same table during lunch one day with Melanie Fitzpatrick from the Union of Concerned Scientists and Paul Kemp from the National Audubon Society. I learned so much from them in one lunch hour about what “materials” and statements I should always be ready with – I wish both of them had a chance to speak specifically about how to communicate! So, that means I need to step it up and follow up with communications to some of these amazing people I’ve met this week to keep the conversations going and to help myself become a better communicator and advocate for planet Earth.
I always joke with my students that I am a student, that even though I have a Ph.D., I am never done learning – and here is an excellent example of how I can still learn from others!