A recent exchange in The Washington Post reminds us all that in sometimes in PR, as in life, the best defence is a good offence.
About a month ago, the controversial U.S. climate scientist Michael Mann wrote in The Washington Post attacking the politicians who are making threatening noises towards him and his colleagues. Mann argues that senior U.S. politicians are playing politics with what should be objective science. Congressman Joe Barton has written a response completely ignoring this argument and framing the discussion instead in terms freedom of speech and freedom to challenge scientists.
Rarely is it more clear that public debates are won and lost not with different answers to the same question, but by arguing over the nature of the question. Mann has pushing the debate towards greater scrutiny of the right-wing attack dogs that threaten climate science. By pointing to this undue politicisation, the debate is dragged away from bickering over scientific detail and from the community of climate scientists constantly fending off attacks that steadily chip away at their credibility.
Climate scientists, like many scientists, are often too happy to bury themselves in their work and ignore the arguments going on around them. The climategate fiasco of last December was largely a result of inaction by the scientists under fire failing to open up and get their message out quickly enough, a classic case of surrendering control of the conversation.
James Hoggan, the CEO of the communications firm Hoggan & Associates and the man behind an award winning climate change blog puts it, good PR involves three stages:
- Do the right thing
- Be seen to be doing the right thing
- Don’t get #1 and #2 mixed up
With the climate science community we are so often left to wonder what happened to number 2. (See here for Hoggan’s blog’s take on the Washington post exchange).
On a similar note, after existing for more than twenty years the high profile Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have announced in their most recent press release, which is about as quotable as most tax returns, that they are going to put together a communication strategy.
It’s about time.
There is a longer version of this blog here.