The public communication of climate science in the platform era

This Seed funded project seeks to create a set of resources to support innovative inter-faculty collaborations around a central theme: public communication about climate science in today’s increasingly platform-oriented media landscape.

More than ever before, scientists working on the issue of climate change and sustainable futures are using media to communicate with the public about their knowledge.  On the one hand, social media platforms promote the kind of two-way interaction that is an ideal in contemporary science communication (see Davies and Hara, 2017), fostering the uptake of climate science by science podcasters, environmental activist-influencers, and within other platform-specific genres of communication and imaginative media use. On the other hand, however, platform logics contribute to the subordination of information with greater truth value to information with greater commercial value due to its popularity, virality, and shareability (van Dijck and Poell, 2013). This information value system can blur the boundaries between scientific knowledge communication, democratic contestation, and mis-/disinformation (Mahl, Schäfer, and Zeng, 2022).

The paradoxes of the changing media environment for communication about the urgent issue of climate change call for dedicated, collaborative consideration by scholars and stakeholders across disciplines and sectors. This project will bring together media scholars, science communication researchers, climate scientists, history of science scholars, policymakers (from the Dutch Ministries of Environmental Affairs & Climate and Infrastructure & Water Management), and platform media producers (e.g. from podcasts like Greenpeace “Verhit” and Klimaat van Vandaag, blogs like Klimaatveranda, climate activists and journalists active on social media like Jelmer Mommers and “Scientists’ Rebellion” members, and artists who use social media to creatively communicate knowledge) to contribute to the creation of a set of academic and practical resources.

This project aims to achieve the following outcomes:

  1. Develop an interfaculty thematic network on climate communication. Through a series of meetings, the network will establish the key literatures, topics, problems, and players in the field. This resource will feed into joint and/or individual grant applications that benefit from interdisciplinary networking, as well as feeding into the Interactive Field Guide (see below).
  2. Organise a workshop with the title: “The Public Communication of Climate Science in the Platform Era.” This event will invite academics and societal stakeholders (see Scope, above) to think about a key problem: how is the rise of social media platforms transforming the way scientific knowledge about climate change is communicated with the public? The outcomes will feed into designing potential science outreach initiatives involving the participating stakeholders as societal partners.
  3. Develop an interactive field guide for science communication. This will function as a checklist-cum-manual for academics already engaging, or looking to engage, publicly about their knowledge. Presented as an accessible, online resource, it is informed by the outcomes of the network’s activities and developed in collaboration with the UU’s Public Engagement and Science Communication Team.
  4. Create a course module that brings together knowledge from media studies and science communication education. There are already tentative plans for such a module (comprised of short syllabus and recorded “kennis clip”) to help students gain basic experience with media analytical approaches and “dos and don’ts” of navigating the media landscape for the purpose of science communication. The focus is on the courses, “Science in Society” (elective) and “Communicating Science with the Public” (compulsory) within the Master in Science Education & Communication.