The Struggle for Scientific Consensus: Communicating Climate Science around COP-15

Holliman, Rick (2012). The Struggle for Scientific Consensus: Communicating Climate Science around COP-15. In: Wagoner, Brady; Jensen, Eric and Oldmeadow, Julian A. eds. Culture and Social change: Transforming Society Through the Power of Ideas. Advances in Cultural Psychology: Constructing Human Development. Charlotte, N.C., USA: Information Age Publishing, pp. 185–207.



This chapter reviews the nature of scientific consensus and how it can be communicated in the digital age. Specifically, the role of professional and social media in representing anthropogenic climate change around the United Nations Copenhagen Summit (also known as COP-15), are explored. Two examples are analysed in detail: the publication of emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (also known as ‘climategate’); and the rate of decline of the Himalayan glaciers from the fourth assessment report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is argued that attempts to promote, maintain, destabilise and repair the scientific consensus of anthropogenic climate change may have profound implications for science communication. Digital media have extended the ways that scientific information can be circulated and discussed in the public sphere, making it easier for actors to challenge a scientific consensus. Communication around COP-15 may indirectly influence the ways that scientific knowledge is produced, verified and archived, and what information and data are required to be circulated in the public sphere when a peer reviewed paper is published. Within this wider context calls for social change in how we respond to a changing climate may be more effectively sought via the rhetoric of precaution.

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