One the one hand one can hardly deny that East Anglia shot itself in the groin when the story bubbled for so long without their input. But really, what did you expect would happen? We pay scientists to do science. Especially given the effort that it takes to talk intelligently about climate science*, we don’t pay them very much. I have worked on grants from NOAA, the agency that also funds climate research. The idea of our lab or our department retaining a worthwhile PR firm would certainly amuse the staff who scrambled every year to find money for cookies and coffee at our weekly seminars. The money for scientists to do anything that isn’t science just isn’t there. If you want professional PR to defend science then you have to fund it with something other than the grants that fund the science itself. Forcing researchers with a day job to act as the front line against Exxon’s army of professional denial firms, in the media, is ridiculous and sad. It’s like asking Sidney Crosby to defend Pittsburgh by way of competitive corndog eating.
A bit irritating, in that the above-quoted paragraph summarizes the main point of this blog better than this blog has ever managed. Still, credit where it’s due. Balloon-juice describes the whole predicament perfectly.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think scientists should even do much PR in the usual sense.
I do think we need to make our case, diligently and calmly. Let the attention-deficient press scurry hither and yon over this or that collision between a golfer and a fire hydrant or whatever captures the popular imagination or is force fed to it in any given week. Meanwhile, though, we need mechanisms to actually explain to people what is going on. Nobody, not the press nor the institutions of science as they are currently constructed nor any independent organizations have anything remotely suitable to the task of getting the message across.