I have tried to post this comment on Stoat, in reply to this post, but the server is playing up and not letting me through. I’ll try again later. In the meantime, here is one possible line of argument:

No, it’s okay; it’s now on there three times. Sorry, William.

Does scientific opinion on climate change matter, beyond the PR value? Of course it does. Not so much within science itself, perhaps, though there are those who would argue this too, as it might help liberate the ‘voices’ of individuals who could be intimidated by the prospect of opprobrium and thus prevented from voicing their true opinion.

Where the value in understanding scientific opinion lies mostly is in the critically important interface between scientific results and public attitudes. If the survey of public responses to CC cited today on the radio is correct, 90% of the public are aware that they should be doing something about climate change, but only 10% actually do it. At least one plausible explanation for why people aren’t changing their habits (and this applies to governments, too) is that there is no clearly established and trusted ‘authority’ to act as a guide. It is a given that a rational person would want reason to be the guide, and in CC, this means climate scientists. Whether the expectation of a definitive, clear message is misplaced or not doesn’t bear: the public perception is that the science is still ‘uncertain’ (a loaded, multi-meaning term).

If the public or policy makers are in a position to see that climate scientists can speak with ‘one voice’, even on a relatively straightforward matter, this offers a reassurance and a motive for ending apathy. Perhaps this shouldn’t be how things work, but it is (at least in part), how it seems to pan out in the real world. In brief: we want to be told, without prevarication, ‘the truth’.

As to how you establish what that opinion is: there is a lot of value in reviewing the findings of a collection of papers (and the embedded research) on a regular basis, and keeping the public up-to-date with the ever-progressing understanding of what is going on and how the body of evidence is developing. OTOH, if you want to know what someone thinks, surely the easiest way is to ask them.

Polls and reviews alike need careful construction and considerable thought for any meaningful and valid conclusions to come from them. They also need to be robust to criticism and open to discussion and revision. This may be a difficult task, but it is not beyond the competence of a dedicated team of researchers to achieve.

For the benefit of scientists and the public alike, I suggest then that having a clear notion of what scientists think is one of a number of desirable, if not necessary ways of getting the message across in a way which will improve the prospects of CC action being timely and potent.

Regards,

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