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Climate change scientists face ‘credibility challenge’



Climate change scientists face a unique challenge regarding their research and how they live their own lives, especially as their projects face ever increasing pollicisation and criticism, according to a report.

The report, co-authored by Chris Foulds, of Anglia Ruskin University, and academics from the Tyndall Centre for climate change research, has investigated this challenge and has been published by the journal Climate Change.

The report concluded that climate scientists face a unique challenge in appropriating results from their research into their own lifestyle – otherwise they risk undermining their argument.

In comparison to other academic fields, climate change research that promotes green living and encourages the embracing of sustainability in everyday life is a crucial aspect to the research.

Other disciplines, however, enjoy a level of separation – most academics are only ever judged on their professional persona.

Foulds, a postdoctoral research fellow at Anglia Ruskin, said, “Wider social expectations of how to travel from A to B or how to go about being a good parent, friend, work colleague or environmental activist, can contribute to disagreement over the credibility of a researcher and their research.

“But these already blurred lines between researchers’ ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ selves are increasingly being blurred even further, with many calls for researchers to ‘practice what they preach’.”

He added, “It is for this reason that we advocate a deeper discussion of the challenges in achieving a green lifestyle and, perhaps most importantly, what individuals within each of the professional, public, and personal domains expect of science and its researchers.”

The paper highlights a particular lack of personal responsibility in the science field, which can affect scientific credibility – especially in the promotion of ethical changes.

Foulds adds, “Within academia, discussions of personal activities, such as flying abroad for conferences, should be welcomed, not hushed.  Only by acknowledging these tensions can the sector learn to balance them.

“However, each individual researcher must decide the role that they will play.  Having a PhD in a climate change subject should not force adoption of a green lifestyle.”

Recently, Greenpeace were forced to apologise for one of its senior employees using air travel to get to and from international conferences – damaging the credibility of a campaign group who advocate for less air travel due to its environmental implications.

Photo source: Saint Louis University Madrid Campus via flicker

Further Reading:

Greenpeace apologises for employee’s air travel arrangements

Sustainable transport: to fly, or not to fly?

The Guide to Climate Change 2013

The Guide to Sustainable Transport 2014


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