Public communication by climate scientists: what, with whom and why?

  • Marta EntradasEmail author
  • Joana Marcelino
  • Martin W Bauer
  • Bruce Lewenstein


Public communication of science has increasingly been recognised as a responsibility of scientists (Leshner, Science p. 977, 2003). Climate scientists are often reminded of their responsibility to participate in the public climate debate and to engage the public in meaningful conversations that contribute to policy-making (Fischhoff 2013). However, our understanding about climate scientists’ interactions with the public and the factors that drive or inhibit them is at best limited. In a new study, we show that it is the most published and not necessarily the most senior, which often talk in public, and it is primarily intrinsic motivation (as opposed to extrinsic reward), which drive them to engage in public communication. Political orientations, academic productivity and awareness of controversy, the topic raises in the public domain, were also important determinants of a climate’s scientist public activity. Future research should explore what is required to protect the intrinsic motivation of scientists.


Science communication Surveys of scientists Public engagement Climate change 



This study was conducted under the first author’s Fulbright Fellowship at Cornell University, USA.

Authors’ contributions

ME designed the study and wrote the paper; MB provided inputs and feedback into the paper and conceptual advice. BL supported data collection in the US and provided feedback into the paper. ME and JM conducted the data analysis and JM compiled the presentation of the data.

Supplementary material

10584_2019_2414_MOESM1_ESM.docx (266 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 265 kb)


  1. Alley, R. B. et al. (2007) A report of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Summary for Policymakers, IPCC Climate Change. Cambridge University Press. Available at: Accessed 22 June 2018.
  2. Anderegg WRL et al (2010) Expert credibility in climate change. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. National Academy of Sciences 107(27):12107–12109. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bentley P, Kyvik S (2011) Academic staff and public communication: a survey of popular science publishing across 13 countries. Public Underst Sci 20(1):48–63 Available at: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Besley JC, Dudo A, and Storksdieck M (2015) Scientists’ views about communication training. J Res Sci Teach 52(2):199–220.
  5. Besley JC, Oh SH, Nisbet M (2013) Predicting scientists’ participation in public life. Public Underst of Sci. SAGE PublicationsSage UK: London, England 22(8):971–987. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boykoff MT (2007) Flogging a dead norm? Newspaper coverage of anthropogenic climate change in the United States and United Kingdom from 2003 to 2006. Area 392(2):0–0 Available at: Accessed 27 June 2018Google Scholar
  7. Boykoff M (2011) Who speaks for the climate?: making sense of media reporting on climate change. Available at: Accessed: 26 June 2018
  8. Bray D, von Storch H (2016) The Bray and von Storch 5th International Survey of Climate Scientists 2015/2016. Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Geesthacht, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  9. Crettaz von Roten F (2011) Gender differences in scientists’ public outreach and engagement activities. Sci Commun SAGE PublicationsSage CA: Los Angeles, CA 33(1):52–75. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Deci E, Ryan R (1985) Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. Springer Science & Business Media, Berlin Available at:,+Ryan+RM+(1985)+Intrinsic+motivation+and+self-determination+in+human+behavior.+New+York:+Plenum.&ots=3eHMo2v725&sig=zcJgiJH7tcRngpSLtN4-Rtg-rRo. (Accessed: 25 June 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dudo A, Besley JC (2016) Scientists’ prioritization of communication objectives for public engagement. PLoS One 11(2):e0148867. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dudo A et al (2014) An analysis of nanoscientists as public communicators. Nat Nanotechnol 9(10):841–844. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dunwoody S, Ryan M (1985) Scientific barriers to the popularization of science in the mass media. J Commun Wiley/Blackwell (10.1111) 35(1):26–42. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dunwoody S, Scott BT (1982) Scientists as mass media sources. J Mass Commun Q 59(1):52–59. Google Scholar
  15. Dunwoody S, Brossard D, Dudo A (2009) Socialization or rewards? Predicting U.S. scientist-media interactions. J Mass Commun Q. SAGE PublicationsSage CA: Los Angeles, CA 86(2):299–314. Google Scholar
  16. Entradas M (2016) What is the public’s role in “space” policymaking? Images of the public by practitioners of “space” communication in the United Kingdom. Public Underst Sci 25(5):603–611. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Entradas M, Bauer MM (2017) Mobilisation for public engagement: benchmarking the practices of research institutes. Public Underst Sci SAGE PublicationsSage UK: London 26(7):771–788. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Entradas M, Bauer MW (2018) Bustling public communication by astronomers around the world driven by personal and contextual factors. Nat Astron 3(2):183Google Scholar
  19. Farnsworth SJ, Lichter SR (2012) The structure of scientific opinion on climate change*. Int J Public Opin Res Oxford University Press 24(1):93–103. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fischhoff B (2013) The sciences of science communication. Proc Natl Acad Sci National Academy of Sciences 110(Supplement_3):14033–14039. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ivanova A et al (2013) Is there a medialization of climate science? Results from a survey of German climate scientists. Sci Commun SAGE PublicationsSage CA: Los Angeles, CA 35(5):626–653. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jensen P (2011) A statistical picture of popularization activities and their evolutions in France. Public Underst Sci 20(1):26–36. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnson DR, Ecklund EH, Lincoln AE (2014) Narratives of science outreach in elite contexts of academic science. Sci Commun. SAGE PublicationsSage CA: Los Angeles, CA 36(1):81–105. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kahan D (2012) Why we are poles apart on climate change. Nature 488(7411):255–255. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kahan DM et al (2012) The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks’, Nature Climate Change. Nat Publ Group 2(10):732–735. Google Scholar
  26. Kreimer, P., Levin, L. and Jensen, P. (2011) ‘Popularization by argentine researchers: the activities and motivations of CONICET scientists’, Public Understanding of Science. Edited by M. W. Bauer and P. Jensen. SAGE PublicationsSage UK: London, England, 20(1), pp. 37–47. doi: Google Scholar
  27. Lehmkuhl M (2012) Journalismus und Klimaforschung: Ausschnitte einer span-nungsreichen Beziehung. Forschungsjournal Soziale Bewegungen 25(2):63–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Leshner AI (2003) Public engagement with science. Science 14(February):977. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lewin K (1936) Principles of topological psychology. McGraw-Hill, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lewin K (1951) Behavior and development as a function of the total situation (1946) In Lewin, K. Field theory in social science, selected theoretical papers (edited by Dorwin Cartwright). Harper Torchbooks, New York, pp 238–303Google Scholar
  31. Marcinkowski F, Kohring M, Furst S. and Friedrichsmeier A (2014) Organizational influence on scientists’ efforts to go public: an empirical investigation. Sci Commun 36(1):56–80Google Scholar
  32. Martín-Sempere MJ, Garzón-García B, Rey-Rocha J (2008) Scientists’ motivation to communicate science and technology to the public: surveying participants at the Madrid Science Fair. Public Underst Sci. SAGE PublicationsSage UK: London, England 17(3):349–367. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McCright AM, Dunlap RE (2011a) The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American Public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010. Sociol Q 52(2):155–194. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McCright AM, Dunlap RE (2011b) Cool dudes: the denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Glob Environ Chang Pergamon 21(4):1163–1172. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mead GH, Morris CW, Charles W (1967) Mind, self & society from the stand-point of a social. University of Chicago Press, BehavioristCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Moser SC (2010) Communicating climate change: history, challenges, process and future directions. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang. Wiley-Blackwell 1(1):31–53. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nisbet M (2009) Communicating climate change: why frames matter for public engagement. Environment Heldref 51(2):12–25. Google Scholar
  38. Nisbet, M. C. and Markowitz, E. M. (2015) ‘Expertise in an age of polarization: evaluating scientists’ political awareness and communication behaviors’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Edited by E. Suhay and J. N. Druckman. SAGE PublicationsSage CA: Los Angeles, CA, 658(1), pp. 136–154. doi: Google Scholar
  39. Peters HP et al (2008) Science communication: interactions with the mass media. Science 321(5886):204–205. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pidgeon N (2012) Public understanding of, and attitudes to, climate change: UK and international perspectives and policy. Clim Pol Routledge 12(sup01):S85–S106. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Poliakoff E, Webb TL (2007) What factors predict scientists’ intentions to participate in public engagement of science activities? Sci Commun 29(2):242–263. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Post S (2016) Communicating science in public controversies: strategic considerations of the German climate scientists. Public Underst Sci SAGE PublicationsSage UK: London, England 25(1):61–70. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Prokopy LS et al (2015) Extension′s role in disseminating information about climate change to agricultural stakeholders in the United States. Clim Chang 130(2):261–272. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Roser-Renouf C et al (2016) Global warming’s six Americas and the election. Yale Progr, New Haven, CTGoogle Scholar
  45. Royal Society (2006) Survey of factors affecting science communication by scientists and engineers excellence in science. London. Available at: Accessed 7 June 2018
  46. Schäfer MS (2012) Online communication on climate change and climate politics: a literature review. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang Wiley-Blackwell 3(6):527–543. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schäfer MS, Schlichting I (2014) ‘Environmental communication media representations of climate change: a meta-analysis of the research field’.
  48. Schützenmeister F, Bußmann M (2009) Online-Befragungen in der Wissenschaftsforschung [Online-Surveys in Science Research]. In: Jackob N, Schoen H, Zerback T (eds) Sozialforschung im Internet. Methodologie und Praxis der Online-Befragung. Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, Germany, pp 245–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sharman A, Howarth C (2017) Climate stories: why do climate scientists and sceptical voices participate in the climate debate? Public Underst Sci SAGE PublicationsSage UK: London 26(7):826–842. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Shepherd RG (1981) Selectivity of sources: reporting the marijuana controversy. J Commun Wiley/Blackwell (10.1111) 31(2):129–137. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. The Politics of Climate (2016) Washington. DC.Google Scholar
  52. Tøsse SE (2013) Aiming for social or political robustness? Media strategies among climate scientists. Sci Commun 35:32–55Google Scholar
  53. Vosoughi S, Roy D, Aral S (2018) The spread of true and false news online. Science 359(6380):1146–1151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Weber EU, Stern PC (2011) Public understanding of climate change in the United States. Am Psychol 66(4):315–328. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wilke AK, Morton LW (2015) Climatologists’ patterns of conveying climate science to the agricultural community. Agric Hum Values 32(1):99–110. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Behavioural ScienceLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK
  2. 2.ISCTE-IULUniversity Institute of LisbonLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.Centre for Applied Ecology Prof. Baeta Neves/InBIO Associate Laboratory, Instituto Superior de AgronomiaUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.Department of CommunicationCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations