A new climate of public reason: impact and trust in science communication

Lead Supervisor: Dr Warren Pearce, Sociological Studies
Co-Supervisor(s): Tom Stafford, Psychology

Project Description
Sustainability scientists face an increasingly acute problem: how to maximise the impact of their research while maintaining scientific norms such as disinterestedness and universalism? Some argue that the urgency of issues such as climate change requires scientists to adopt more normative roles in political debates; as well as describing ‘what is’, advocating ‘what ought to be’. The idea that political change can be affected through increasing flows of scientific information – the communication ‘deficit model’ – is widely discredited. Instead, this PhD builds on scholarship in both science and technology studies (STS) and psychology emphasising the dynamics of public reasoning: how to maintain trust, communicate uncertainty and foster conversations with diverse groups in a world of informational abundance. We ask: what can climate scientists contribute to public reasoning about climate change, how can they do it, and what support do they need?

We invite applicants interested in these themes to apply for this PhD. There will be opportunities to shape the focus of thesis, but the ideas of public reasoning and climate change must be core. More detailed research questions may include:What do publics expect climate scientists to contribute to public reasoning?

The PhD is inherently interdisciplinary; you will be based in the Department of Sociological Studies with co-supervisors in Political Science and Psychology.

The PhD includes a 3-month placement with Climate Outreach at their Oxford offices in the first year of the PhD. The student will gain practical experience of climate communication with a range of different audiences/stakeholders. They will also gain invaluable experience of working in a boundary organisation, unique in the field of climate communication, that operates at the interface between research and practice, and navigating exactly the tensions interrogated in the proposed research. The timing of the placement will ensure that the PhD project will conform to good principles of ‘co-production’; benefiting from early, sustained knowledge exchange with communication practitioners that will help shape the direction and scope of the research.

Keywords: Climate change, science communication, public reasoning, research impact
Subject Areas: Political Science & International Studies; Psychology; Sociology; Climatology and Climate Change

Funding notes
This four-year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. Support for travel and consumables (RTSG) will also be made available at standard rate of £2,627 per annum, with an additional one-off allowance of £1,000 for a computer in the first year.  Students will receive an annual stipend of £17,336.  Applications should be received and complete by Monday 26th March 2018.

What to include in the application
Your application for this studentship should be accompanied by a CV and a 200 word supporting statement. Your statement should outline your aspirations and motivation for studying in the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures. You should also outline any relevant experience and interests that you have in sustainability issues.

Please select ‘Standard PhD’ and the department of this project’s lead supervisor. Fill in the title of your desired project and the name(s) of the supervisors. The starting date of the PhD will be the start of the next academic year – 1 Oct 2018. The ‘Funding stage’ on the form will be ‘project studentship’.