Background: Public discourse on climate change in Australia changed markedly between the late 1980s and 2001 –from a clear media and public understanding of the science messages (as measured by media reports and opinion polls) plus strong and positive policy response – to denial and uncertainty by the end of the 1990s. While the basic science messages did not change significantly during this period, framing of those messages in public communication did change. The study dissects science communication and historical evidence, to learn how and by what methods the framing changed – to inform ongoing and future science communication. Methods: Between 2007 and 2008 several hundred newspaper articles, more than 100 government documents, backed by interview data from 50 respondents , were analysed and compared for four time periods from 1988 to 2001. The discourse has been analysed quantitatively and qualitatively for key elements. Results indicate that communication changed significantly between 1988 and 2001: from scientists themselves, and from the political and policy leadership, which, together with the political and science media, set the agenda for the public discourse . Conclusions: Framing of scientific information by technical experts, political leaders and the media have been crucial to public understanding of ‘the greenhouse effect’/ climate change and to government responses. The results indicate that to be effective, communicators must engage with the realities of the dominant narrative set by politics/economics and its related rhetoric further amplified by the media; be aware of the flow of institutional power in the nation e.g. the singular influence of leadership in all sectors; be aware of the realities of modern media practices; and, understand the effects of science’s own language of uncertainty.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Framing climate change
20 years in Australia

Maria Taylor   Australian National University

Background: Public discourse on climate change in Australia changed markedly between the late 1980s and 2001 –from a clear media and public understanding of the science messages (as measured by media reports and opinion polls) plus strong and positive policy response – to denial and uncertainty by the end of the 1990s. While the basic science messages did not change significantly during this period, framing of those messages in public communication did change. The study dissects science communication and historical evidence, to learn how and by what methods the framing changed – to inform ongoing and future science communication. Methods: Between 2007 and 2008 several hundred newspaper articles, more than 100 government documents, backed by interview data from 50 respondents , were analysed and compared for four time periods from 1988 to 2001. The discourse has been analysed quantitatively and qualitatively for key elements. Results indicate that communication changed significantly between 1988 and 2001: from scientists themselves, and from the political and policy leadership, which, together with the political and science media, set the agenda for the public discourse . Conclusions: Framing of scientific information by technical experts, political leaders and the media have been crucial to public understanding of ‘the greenhouse effect’/ climate change and to government responses. The results indicate that to be effective, communicators must engage with the realities of the dominant narrative set by politics/economics and its related rhetoric further amplified by the media; be aware of the flow of institutional power in the nation e.g. the singular influence of leadership in all sectors; be aware of the realities of modern media practices; and, understand the effects of science’s own language of uncertainty.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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