Climate change denial: advice for skeptical projects

To round-out this quick series on the climate denial project, I thought I would reflect on some of the aspects of the project in the context of skeptical activism.  There are a wide range of these kinds of projects, and it is worthwhile attempting to share best practice when we can in order to make the most of limited (often volunteer-based) resources.  I know that the Eschaton2012 conference recently had a panel on skeptical activism which probably covered the same points, so I suggest you check that out as well.  Jeff Shallit has some interesting points for individuals, but this will consider what groups can accomplish.  Which leads me nicely into…

Tip 1: Form a group

The climate change project was carried out under the auspices of the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS).  This is a group of volunteers who meet by Skype once per month to discuss what skeptics can do to protect the general public from pseudoscience and help promote rational, scientific thinking.  Some individuals accomplish great things, but there is nothing quite like getting a group of four or five enthusiastic science geeks together to really hammer home a project.  Even better is if you can organise under an umbrella group.  CASS was founded as a wing of Centre for Inquiry Canada, who provide support for the group’s activities.

Tip 2: Tailor your approach to your audience

Avoid Twitter flame wars when the context is scientific, but avoid detailed, jargon-filled science if your main aim is public communication.  The climate project was a piece of scientific research designed to counter incorrect information spread in a university.  We went to great lengths to make sure that we had a good handle on the literature and that we were citing appropriate studies.  We were communicating with scientists and students, not the general public.

Tip 3: Network

We had a great deal of support from CASS, CFI, and from across the blogosphere when this went public.  It was intimidating to embark on such a project even with that support, but we were very glad to have had it there.  Try to think about what you might need: dissemination, legal advice, scientific review, fundraising, “grunt work”…  Don’t be afraid to ask for help and those links, once set up, can form lasting relationships that can help with future projects.

Tip 4: Be professional and polite

Make sure that whatever you produce doesn’t look like someone has scribbled some notes on a dirty napkin in crayon.  These things stick around, and the media and the general public will look more favourably on reports and presentations that are well-produced.  Try also to avoid descending into slanging matches – this is all to easy on Twitter these days…

More info:

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