It's Easter time, and it's time to chill out. This is what the communication researcher Matthew C. Nisbet also recommends in his article 'Chill out. Climate scientists are getting a little too angry for their own good'. http://www.slate.com/id/2248236/ He argues that continuing the 'war' against skeptics leads into 'a dangerous trap, fueling further political disagreement while risking public trust in science'.
Even though the article is written from an anti-skeptics (and very American) perspective, there are some general lessons to learn from it. The 'bunker mentality' is not exclusively an 'alarmist' problem, and skeptics also contribute considerably to risking public trust in science.
Nisbet makes the interesting argument that climategate and related recent scandals do NOT necessarily contribute to a general drop in the belief in global warming (the drop was just 5%, by the way, from 80% to 75% between 2008 to Nov 2009, according to a survey). In any case, it seems to be difficult to single out 'the causal influence of last year's hacked emails'. According to another survey, only 17% of all Americans had heard 'a lot' about the email scandal. At the same time, attention of the public was focused for example on Afghanistan, health care reform (and basketball, I might add) - and our attention span is limited, as we know.
Instead of continuing the science war, Nisbet recommends to engage in new ways with the public and policymakers. 'The new direction is not to become more political and confrontational on the national stage, but to seek opportunities for greater public interaction, dialogue, and partnerships in communities across the country'.
This not only educates the public, but it educates the scientist, too. But I want to recommend one additional precondition to Nisbet's well-intended suggestion: the dialog with the public should not be top down and one-sided (alarmist or skeptic, no difference); instead, the scientist should come as a honest broker. How do you recognize a honest broker? She is able to admit uncertainty, independent of her general skeptical or alarmist attitude. How will climate affect our coastline, our agrarian production, tourism? What do we possibly have to expect? What are the possible consequences of our political decisions? Admitting not to be sure about future climates is a real honest start for a dialog with the public. Furthermore, it makes clear that the scientist and the public share a common problem - both together, that is, WE have to manage the effects of climate change. This is a common task of the public and climate science, both engaged in the very same global experiment. To be a honest broker is a difficult task, I guess; it is more than calculating correctly, it is a change in perspective.
In case you are fluent in German, chill out and read this fine report of a such an interaction between climate science and the public: