Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Science journalism and me, a climate scientist

On 3 November 2015, the European Congress for Science Journalists took place in Budapest, in the impressive building of the Hungarian Academy of Science. One session was on climate change, and I was invited to speak about my own experiences when meeting the press. This was a nice challenge, and forced me to think a bit more about this issue.

The results is available at

Needless to say that this piece is not a scientific piece but a mere description of my personal views.

A summary is this:

Overview and key assertions

What do climate scientists expect from media?

Climate scientists hold the truth, and know the needed treatment. Journalists are supposed to explain the facts and consequences in an understandable way to public and policymakers.

My experiences with media – as a consumer and as informant

Reporting is less conditioned by the severity of the issue but depends more on the public excitement and on the utility in pursuing societal agendas.

I ask for authorization of direct quotes; so far hardly any bad experiences of attempted instrumentalization or inaccurate reporting about my views.


Post-normality prevails, when issues are uncertain, stakes high, decisions urgent and values in dispute. Then, borders between science, policymaking and reporting begin to blur, and “good science” is less related to rigor of methodology but more to political utility of results. Post-normality makes attractive story-telling by media.


Günter Heß said...


"Climate scientists hold the truth, and know the needed treatment"

Good to know. I thought it was the catholic church that holds the truth.
Of course other religions might disagree.

S.Hader said...

Dear Günter Heß, the catholic church is a community of faith, not of truth. Why do you think, the church holds the truth?

Soeren Hader, atheist, but interested in philosophy and history of religion

Günter Heß said...

Dear Mr. Hader,
this is an atheist view point.
You should read Joseph Ratzinger:
"Christianity is "religio vera"."
I guess he means the catholic church and its believe system:

"Love and rationality are the fundaments of reality.
The true rationality is love, and love is the true rationality. In its unity they are the true factors and the goal of real life."
"Every explanation of real life has to be insufficient, which does not explain ethos as well."

S.Hader said...

"this is an atheist view point."

I would say, nope. :) Yes, this is my point of view, but ask people with strong spirituality. Love, believe and rationality are not contradiction. But okay, the topic is not the church, it's science journalism and climate science.

Günter Heß said...

That is my point.
There are many believe systems, religions or sects that claim to hold the truth.
I was surprised that climate scientists claim to hold the truth individually according to Mr. von Storchs sentence.
If I take the sentence of HvS literally then each journalist needs to treat each climate scientist as if he holds the truth. I do think this is utterly wrong.
Reading HvS paper I think he meant it differently, so I thought a clarification might be in order.

Werner Krauss said...

The portrait of Stefan Rahmstorf in the "Stuttgarter Zeitung" reminded me of this discussion here about climate scientists and the media. Rahmstorf is portrayed in a personal way as an "consistent admonisher" (ein konsequenter Mahner), and I think this fits him very well. In a recent post here, we shortly discussed the emergence of the label "Klimarealist" (Climate realist) for Hans von Storch. Like "inconsistent admonisher", "Klimarealist" is a co-production of a journalist and the respective climate scientist. Both labels have become part of the image of the climate scientists, and they willingly accept these labels. The same is true for other prominent climate scientists.

These examples give a different picture of the relation between science and the media. In my experience, prominent climate scientists handle carefully their relations with journalists vice versa. There is a great difference between routinely stating that science and media are separate and both independent of one another, and the actual practice. In reality, it is a kind of co-production of climate knowledge, and labels like "inconvenient admonisher" or "Klimarealist" help to mediate this knowledge. The separation is done afterwards, it is not set from the beginning.
(Rahmstorf portrait here:

Werner Krauss said...

oh, the second time I wrote "inconsistent admonisher" - sorry, of course I mean again "consistent"!