Academia’s institutional culture fails to reward the critical work of tailoring climate science to the people who most need to understand its implications, according to a fascinating new paper by Kristen Averyt, in press at the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
Averyt is deputy director of the Western Water Assessment, a University of Colorado-based group that walks the talk she’s talking about here, working with water managers around the West to provide policy-relevant information on climate and climate change. (Gregg Garfin and the folks at the University of Arizona’s CLIMAS project are another example of similar work here in the West.)
This is about the all-important question of adaptation to a changing climate. Given the climate change already in the pipeline, and the lack of progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, understanding the nature of a changing climate is a critical political and policy question.
Too often, Averyt argues in her BAMS paper, academic climate science rewards publication in technical journals at the expense of the sort of interdisciplinary work with the people and institutions that need the science being produced to support their decisions:
Unfortunately, there are two major hurdles preventing climate scientists from successfully building integrative research frameworks that include decision-makers in the scientific process. The culture of the academic climate science community fails to teach the younger generation of post-graduate students how to work with decision-makers in order to develop successful applied science strategies, and it fails to reward junior faculty members for focusing on multi-disciplinary, user-involved climate science.
One of the problems, Averyt argues, is an academic system that rewards publication in the peer-reviewed literature at the expense of other forms of policy-relevant scientific publication:
The science that informs climate adaptation planning decisions is not necessarily published in traditional, peer reviewed journals, but often in assessments and guidance documents categorized as “grey literature.” Despite the importance of grey literature in decision support, these scientific efforts are not held in the same esteem as peer-reviewed publications, and often do not carry the same weight in hiring, tenure, and job promotion decisions. Yet such “grey” literature can at times undergo even more rigorous reviews than the journal process (e.g. IPCC, CCSP Assessments).
Scientific education also generally fails to teach young scientists what Averyt describes, by way of metaphor, as a sort of “patient-centered” outreach to the consumers of the science they are producing:
As a first step, scientists must learn to hone their bedside manner. An imperative component of linking users with research is building stakeholder relationships, particularly with the regional and local entities that will likely make most of the decisions related to climate adaptation. Again, medicine can serve as a guide here for the climate sciences. During medical school and nursing classes, professors teach students about the importance of constructing professional trust when working with patients, as studies reveal better outcomes for patients who trust their medical caregivers. Similarly, scientists must learn to value and use the information coming from “patients.” This model needs to be applied to some aspects of climate science: the upcoming generation of climate researchers must have the opportunity to learn how to work with “patients” beginning in graduate school. Then, junior scientists should be encouraged to use integrated approaches to answer the novel research questions shaped by these relationships.