Why its personal for climate change scientists

Published: 9 July 2014 at 15:47

Anglia Ruskin researcher examines the credibility challenge facing the sector

The credibility of academics involved in climate change research depends as much on their personal and public-facing behaviour as their professional behaviour.

That’s the view of a new article co-authored by Chris Foulds of Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, along with academics from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and published by the journal Climatic Change.

Credibility is of particular consequence in climate change research, which is increasingly polarised and politicised in public. 

Unlike many other academic disciplines where an academic’s professional behaviour plays the prominent role in shaping credibility, personal and public behaviour are hugely important. 

Foulds, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin, said:

“Wider social expectations of how to travel from A to B or how to go about being a good parent, friend, work colleague or environmental activist, can contribute to disagreement over the credibility of a researcher and their research.
“But these already blurred lines between researchers’ ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ selves are increasingly being blurred even further, with many calls for researchers to ‘practice what they preach’.
“It is for this reason that we advocate a deeper discussion of the challenges in achieving a green lifestyle and, perhaps most importantly, what individuals within each of the professional, public, and personal domains expect of science and its researchers.”

As the paper highlights:

“This requires a shift in values and practices within the research community, recognising that the divide between professional credibility and public or personal action is false and that personal actions can affect public views of scientific credibility.
“Within academia, discussions of personal activities, such as flying abroad for conferences, should be welcomed, not hushed.  Only by acknowledging these tensions can the sector learn to balance them.  
“However, each individual researcher must decide the role that they will play.  Having a PhD in a climate change subject should not force adoption of a green lifestyle.”