Penn State

Mann strives to be an effective communicator while remaining true to the science

Penn State professor Michael Mann is the recipient of the seventh annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communications. “There is this balance (in both) being effective as a communicator and being true to what the science has to say,” he said.
Penn State professor Michael Mann is the recipient of the seventh annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communications. “There is this balance (in both) being effective as a communicator and being true to what the science has to say,” he said. adrey@centredaily.com

Communicating science is like fighting two battles.

It’s challenging enough to explain it in language that’s accessible to the public in a neutral environment. But scientists are operating in an adverse environment, Michael Mann said.

Powerful interests try to “pollute” public discourse and confuse the public and policymakers, said Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State.

“There is this balance (in both) being effective as a communicator and being true to what the science has to say,” he said.

There is this balance (in both) being effective as a communicator and being true to what the science has to say.

Michael Mann

For his ability to do that, Mann is the recipient of the seventh annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communications. He’ll receive the award in December at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans.

The award, given by Climate One, was established in honor of Schneider, “one of the founding fathers of climatology” who died in 2010, according to Climate One’s website.

Mann is best known for the “hockey stick” — a chart that shows global temperature data over the past thousand years and concludes that human activity since the industrial age has raised carbon dioxide levels.

“Controversial as it’s been for some people, (it’s) probably the easiest way that we can imagine how climate has responded to fossil fuel burning and deforestation,” said Lee Kump, interim dean of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences who co-authored the book “Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change” with Mann.

With the hockey stick, Mann said he found himself at the center of a fractious climate change debate.

The hockey stick told a simple story. Anybody could look at that graph and see that something’s happening that’s not natural, he said. And that made it a threat.

Kump said it’s “remarkable” that Mann stayed the course despite the scrutiny, criticism and lampooning of himself and his work.

Part of the reason the Schneider award means so much to Mann, he said, is that Schneider helped him understand that when people attacked him, it meant that his work was important.

“I’ve developed a thick skin,” Mann said. “I’ve learned to understand that these attacks, as personal as they might seem, are not really aimed at me. They’re aimed at sort of discrediting the entire case for concern about climate change. It’s part of a much larger battle. We’re fighting a much larger disinformation effort.”

There’s an echo chamber of climate change denial that many honest, hardworking folks are victims of, Mann said. When he meets up with people who don’t believe in climate change, he tries to give them resources rather than just facts — pointing to websites like skepticalscience.com.

Environmental protection wasn’t always a political issue, he said, adding that some of the biggest heroes of the environmental movement were Republicans.

But now, the Trump administration is belittling the importance of dealing with climate change, Mann said. Scientists have seen adversity before, but this might be unprecedented.

The greater the adversity, the harder I fight. And so we’ve got a real challenge on our hands and that has inspired me, and I think many of my colleagues, to just fight all that much harder, if for nothing more than a fact-based policy discourse.

Michael Mann

“I’ve always been a fighter. …,” he said. “The greater the adversity, the harder I fight. And so we’ve got a real challenge on our hands and that has inspired me, and I think many of my colleagues, to just fight all that much harder, if for nothing more than a fact-based policy discourse.”

Though he joked that to deal with the Trump administration he might move to France, Mann said it’s only a temporary setback.

Looking at a progress on a global scale, it’s on the right path, he said. Other countries recognize that the economic revolution of this century is the clean energy revolution.

And Mann said the younger generation seems to get it, which gives him hope and optimism — and that’s key.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz

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