"Garbage information" cripples climate change knowledge

25 October 2010

Academia needs to get out of its ivory tower and communicate with society if it is to have any impact on climate change.

This was the message from Professor Alistair Woodward at a seminar hosted by the Faculty of Health Sciences as part of its Global Health Initiative, under the auspices of the Vice-Chancellor's African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), on 6 October.

Woodward, head of the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland in Australia, delivered a talk titled Climatic Change and Health in the SADC Region: Review of the current state of knowledge, in which he discussed the problems with disseminating information in a useful way.

Woodward noted that information is often not being interpreted correctly, citing the "garbage information" widely available on the internet.

"We need to enable users to develop a robust message - in other words, a message that people are willing to put money behind," said Woodward.

This lack of public knowledge about global warming, Woodward suggests, might well be reflected in the fact that 48 out of the 49 Republican senators currently standing for election in the US have said on record that climate change is either irrelevant or a hoax.

"There has never before in the history of science been such a level of multidisciplinary activity, such magnitude of international collaboration, such an urgent demand from society for information," said Woodward.

"Academia has to get out of its ivory tower and into society in a way that it never has before - and that's hard, because it's not what we're trained to do. We don't know how to communicate.

"The ACDI has a key role in developing a new generation of people who know how to talk from the tower into society."

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