Some science has a bad relationship with the public: in particular, climate science and many life sciences. Whether due to misinformation or misunderstanding, controversy or contested results, politicisation or fear - or all of these - such scientific "hot potatoes" are dangerous because non-experts must engage with, trust, and understand scientific results to make well-informed decisions about themselves and society. They can also damage the reputation of science in terms of its impartiality or aim to improve human understanding and quality of life.
In the past couple of years a new wave of predominately UK climate scientists and sceptics have found a way to "take the heat out of climate change". We have open lines of civil and respectful dialogue - "tea with the enemy" - and believe we have made tangible achievements in improving public trust in climate scientists and evidence. In contrast, climate conversations in countries such as the USA and Australia continue to either be polarised, with aggressive name-calling and defensive entrenchment of views, or else pointless from the point of view of the above, by preaching only to the converted.
I'd like to share my positive experiences in engaging with climate sceptics and talk about the extent to which we can, or already do, apply this approach to other areas - both geographically and scientifically. Where is the common ground, and where are the difficulties? Is it just too late to try and erase some battlelines? Are there substantial cultural or societal differences between European and USA/Australian scientists + public that explain or limit these approaches, and how about the rest of the world? Some scientists disagree with our approach - what are the pitfalls? Can we learn lessons across different sciences or is, for example, personal medical risk just too different to global environmental risk? I'd love to hear your views.
These are interesting questions. As I noted in my post the other day, I wonder if the militants in the UK have been put on the back foot by the Climategate revelations. That there are militants who have poisoned the debate and wrought havoc on the careers of dissenting scientists is not in doubt. But it is important to note that there are honest scientists and that they are operating in the same milieu as the militants. It is therefore necessary to make nice and to realise that demanding that the good guys condemn every transgression by the bad guys is not going to get anywhere.
I agree with Tamsin's observation that trust in climate science has been improved by these efforts - we have moved on from "all climatologists are crooks" to "some climatologists are crooks". But the corollary of my observations in the last paragraph is that the honest scientists need to realise that their profession isn't going to completely emerge from the quagmire until bad science and bad scientists are called out. We simply cannot go on pretending that the Hockey Sticks - either Mann's or Marcott's - have any place in the scientific literature; we cannot allow the Empty Statement on climate change to pass as a consensus on anything. I'm sure readers can suggest others.
Nevertheless, progress has been made, and that is to be welcomed.