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How can climate scientists engage in policy advocacy and preserve their scientific credibility and independence?

Messling, L. (2020) How can climate scientists engage in policy advocacy and preserve their scientific credibility and independence? PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00096012


Scientists are often wary of engaging in policy advocacy as they fear it may result in the perception of bias in their science or abuse of their position. Whilst advocacy need not always result in biased science or an abuse of position, the mere suspicion that it might can be enough to deter a scientist from engaging in it. For climate scientists, this tension is well known, especially given how politically polarising action on climate change can be. This thesis identifies how, both in theory and practice, climate scientists can engage in policy advocacy in a way that is acceptable to them and their scientific community. By providing a new way of defining advocacy and the roles that scientists can engage in when communicating, I create an advocacy spectrum that maps different communication roles for scientists. Position on this spectrum is influenced by ‘contextual factors’ which determine how a scientist’s communication may be perceived. Depending on which contextual factors are at play, even silence may be interpreted as advocacy. The advocacy spectrum is informed by semi-structured interviews with 47 climate scientists in the UK and USA. In the interviews, I explore their concerns about advocacy and the practical methods they use for managing the tensions they experience when communicating. Analysis of this data helps to further develop arguments in the theoretical literature about science communication, the role of values in science, and the conceptions about scientists as citizens in society. As a result, I identify what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable forms of policy advocacy as perceived by scientists and the scientific community. Combining the experience of climate scientists with the understanding from the theory, I then establish eight methods scientists can use that allow scientists qua scientists to engage in policy advocacy whilst also preserving their scientific credibility and independence.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:McKinnon, C. and von Billerbeck, S.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Politics and International Relations
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:96012


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