December 7, 2019 | Published by | , ,

by Alvin Stone
As extreme conditions have set in over late spring with bushfires, drought and smoke haze becoming the headlines of the moment, CLEX researchers have played an important role in the public discussion. Our role has included everything from explaining the intricacies of drought and why it is hard to precisely detect the role of climate change through to explaining why the sun’s magnetic fields have very little to do with global warming. Thanks, Barnaby.

Through this same period, we were also presented with an example close to home showing how climate change deniers will seize on a slip of the tongue to promulgate misconceptions around climate change. A single missed word led an array of Sky commentators to declare that there was no relationship between drought and climate change. This myth persisted for at least one month despite responses on our website, through social media and, at its height, a program on ABC’s Media Watch. Eventually, as these things do, the noise passed. But, it was a good lesson that whenever we speak in a public space – even if it is not a media interview — we need to exercise some caution.

Prior to the extremes of late spring, we also saw our researchers Nerilie Abram, Nathan Bindoff and Jason Evans play an important role in the media around two special IPCC reports. Nerilie and Nathan led much of the media in Australia and even overseas for the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere. Jason was a prominent Australian voice around the Special Report on Climate Change and Land as the key author of the Desertification chapter.

It was also useful to see CLEX researchers Joelle Gergis and Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick engaging in public discussions around policy couched usefully in the science. While neither suggested actual policies both used the science to explain why the current policies weren’t achieving what they set out to do.

Meanwhile, our new Instagram team has been posting regularly and is slowly but surely building a following while attracting a new, younger audience. The selection of photographs and topics has been excellent and I expect to see consistent growth in 2020. Sadly, we still lack a team member from Monash and, as always, we would love to add someone from that node. As someone in their mid-50s, it was entirely inappropriate for me to be leading what is a young person’s medium, so I have been immensely impressed by how the team has coordinated itself and built a solid structure that sees regular posts but without overburdening any single person. I would, however, like to highlight the work of Amelie Meyer who has acted as the de facto leader and is the prime driver behind the social media structures used here. She has really helped this become a sharply focused and now self-driven team that will be able to maintain its momentum into the future regardless of who stays or goes.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention that our combined Centre of Excellence media and communication workshops continue to produce outstanding results. What started last year as a pilot program with one other Centre of Excellence has spread widely. In August, we had our most recent workshop, which attracted researchers from five Centres. Yet again the feedback was outstanding and yet again we had ready examples of people that attended those workshops using the techniques they had been taught. For me, the most enjoyable part of these workshops is the buzz that is generated when cutting-edge researchers from entirely different disciplines share their work. The level of engagement and joy in these sessions is the best I have seen and at the same time it sets up the science communicators of the future — something I feel very strongly about. In the coming year, we will be organising more of these workshops and hope in 2022 to hold them at the University of Tasmania and ANU. Keep an eye on the weekly updates for details.

I would just like to thank everyone before we go off on holidays for the way that so many of you are prepared to engage with the media. It is noticed and appreciated. Last week, at a workshop for new Centres of Excellence, the Australian Research Council acknowledged the outstanding and engaged media performance of our Centre. They particularly commented on how young researchers were being developed as communication leaders. This is entirely the result of the enthusiasm and interest of you all, so thank you. And on that cheery note, I wish you all a great holiday season and trust you come back charged for a new year. I look forward to working with you all again in 2020.