Emily Shuckburgh, who was much discussed here a year or so ago, has written a report about communication of climate science to the public - how well it has gone so far and what can be done to make it better.
The study shows that while a substantial majority of the UK public believe the world’s climate is changing, many feel relatively uninformed about, or uninterested in, the findings of climate science, and a sizable minority do not trust climate scientists to tell the truth about climate change.
This seems fair enough to me. I wonder though if the report might have been better to say "some climate scientists", since even rabid sceptics like me do not think all climatologists are dishonest.
The difficulties of reporting uncertainty are given a good going over, since the public seem to prefer facts and certainty to worth expressions of doubt:
Participants in each of the focus groups appeared very sensitive to the use of descriptions of uncertainty and were particularly drawn to words such as ‘could’, ‘may’ and ‘suggest’. These were generally used in news reports to signify scientific uncertainty, but were often interpreted by the participants more as expressions of ignorance (i.e. total lack of knowledge)...These terms of uncertainty were picked out and commented upon as the scientists “sitting on the fence”, the news report not being “conclusive” and “lacking facts”. This led to much frustration among the participants who wanted definitive statements.
One focus group participant referred to the use of the term "the finger of suspicion" apparently concluding that the scientists knew nothing. The report's authors are concerned about this attitude, but it seems eminently reasonable to me. If knowledge is a continuum from ignorance to certainty, then fingers of suspicion are to be found very near the ignorance end of the scale. Reasonable people may decide that if we only have a suspicion, then our state of knowledge is insufficiently advanced to justify any policy reaction.
In some ways then the report seems to say as much about climatologists and the report's authors as it does about the members of the public they are studying. Professor Curry noted yesterday that climate scientists seem to have a problem in admitting their ignorance and taking it into account in their assessments of science. It is good that many members of the public see through this.