Relationship-building between climate scientists and publics as an alternative to information transfer

Brian R. Cook, Jonathan T. Overpeck

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


This review is written for climate experts dissatisfied with current approaches for contributing to societal responses to climate change via their interactions with publics. We review the origins and contemporary manifestations of the deficit model, showing that it is the underlying basis for how experts imagine and conduct their interactions with publics. Rather than simply raising awareness among experts concerning their role(s) in perpetuating the deficit model, we use experts and their assumptions to organize our synthesis. Our review will challenge climate experts by demonstrating that educative approaches are inadequate if their goal is to influence behavior by publics. We demonstrate that experts' prevailing means of contributing to socioscientific controversies are crippled, not by public indifference or ignorance, but by experts' allegiance to the assumption that information transfer can prompt behavior change. The transfer of climate experts' knowledge by itself has little chance of changing publics' behaviors. It may be that such approaches work with people already disposed to the information or who defer to experts, but it is unlikely to affect publics who are doubtful, those whose livelihoods are precarious, or those who do not want to consider the terrifying implications of climate change. We propose relationship building as an alternative that can avoid resuscitating the deficit model and its inherent problems. We argue that, to have the impacts that they are seeking, experts will need to negotiate their ends honestly, admit the values driving those ends, and coproduce the means that can accomplish the collaboratively chosen ends. This article is categorized under: Perceptions, Behavior, and Communication of Climate Change > Communication Social Status of Climate Change Knowledge > Sociology/Anthropology of Climate Knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere570
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • deficit
  • expert
  • knowledge
  • participation
  • public

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Atmospheric Science


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