Princeton Professor Michael Oppenheimer outlines the risks and benefits for climate scientists in public dialog, and full text is now available at AGU site.

Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer spells out the risks and benefits of scientists’ pursuing engagement in public discourse in an American Geophysical Union Eos front-page adaptation of his December 2010 lecture at AGU’s annual meeting last December.

Oppenheimer, who before joining the Princeton faculty had worked as lead climate scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, urged professional societies, universities, and research institutions to improve in two areas where “they are not currently doing very well at all”:

  • “Preparing young scientists and graduate students for the rough and tumble to which they will be exposed if they work in areas germane to policy;
  • and protecting our community and its members from frivolous, personal, and occasionally highly threatening attacks for merely doing their jobs.”

That latter point is generally viewed as an implicit reference to harassment of some climate scientists in the wake of the fall 2009 hacking of e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. A number of leading climate scientists have expressed concerns that their professional societies in effect let them down by not coming to the defense of the scientists and science under attack in the aftermath of that e-mail distribution.

Oppenheimer urged fellow scientists to carefully weigh their individual communications skills and interests and the needs of various audiences before entering the fray. But he cautioned that “We cannot simply drop our ears of wisdom and expect others to deconstruct them. When we emphasize or deemphasize a point, assign likelihood to an outcome or refrain from doing so, we are exercising expert judgment about what is important and what is not. We should be prepared to explain and justify those judgments.

AGU makes the full text of Oppenheimer’s lecture available online.