In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Communicating Ecology

  • Introduction
  • Books
  • Journals
  • What Climate Change Denial Can Teach Ecological Communication

Ecology Communicating Ecology
Paul Ganderton
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0238


Communication is perhaps the most important, but least formally discussed, aspect of current ecological research and teaching. The last twenty years has demonstrated that this is no longer a viable approach and the rise of climate change research, and its concomitant denial, has brought disagreement and outright refusal to accept facts to the research community and the wider world. This has, in turn, produced a vigorous research community aimed specifically at challenging false ideas and getting accurate science fully embedded into the public sphere. What is less common is an exploration of the parameters surrounding communication and the outputs of discourse. Ecology suffers from exactly the same problems as climate science but without the mass of research exploring the issues and potential solutions. The aim of this article is to propose a model of communication and outline the key factors involved as well as point toward some solutions. As far as can be ascertained, there is no model of ecological communication extant. Some research has put forward some elements but it is far from comprehensive. It became obvious that using a systems model would provide the base needed. Research starts with gathering data (input), working on that data (processing), and producing an end product that people can see/use (output). At this stage, the model can be left as it is because it follows the usual route of current research (as exemplified by academia, for example). However, it was proposed, early on, to broaden this remit. The original goal was to explore how information can be distorted between production and (often multiple chains of) users and how such distortion might be ameliorated. This started in climate science but has recently moved to ecology. Thus, the final iteration of the proposed model consists of four parts. The first is the creation of a product—usually research project and associated data. This aspect is subject to a range of political and logistical biases thus ensuring that the aim of studying all aspects of ecology is unlikely to be achieved. From here, data go into the process of being prepared for publication. Again, a series of forces control and constrain what is able to be later communicated. This ranges from philosophical and ideological limitations through to political and sociological filters. Cognition plays a key part not only in interpreting data but also introducing bias (deliberate or otherwise) into the results. From there, the move is to publish. Consumers take material from a range of media who may, or may not, have allowed publication. It is also the place where research output gets a wider airing and where further misinterpretation can be found. Normally, this would feed back into initial product stage but here the aim is to create a fourth division, a precursor, that argues that by studying issues in ecological communication, adaptations can be made to make it more effective and less prone to mis/disinformation. The aim here is to provide a practical element to assist improvement of ecological communication.


As with so much of the work in this area, there are no texts that focus exclusively on communication in ecology. However, there are many great texts looking at specific areas of communication in ecology or at the wider theme of, say, science communication. The issue then becomes one of selecting those which seem to make the greatest contribution to the debate. There is, very approximately, a divide between those that focus on the theoretical side and those of a more practical perspective. In the latter case, Yu and Northcut 2018, the KSJ Science Editing Handbook, and Annenberg School for Communication 2017 all concentrate on how to communicate more effectively either by direct example or creating effective courses on communication. Another line of analysis comes from Brüggemann and Rödder 2021 and Büscher 2020. These works focus on the practical transmission of ideas and how crucial it is to get the right focus or framing. Sagarin and Pauchard 2012 suggests that our focus should be on how we deal with the subject rather than its communication; in this case, increasing observational aspects. Allied to this, Johnson and Mappin 2005 argues that we need to pivot less to the basics of science and more toward advocacy. In terms of a more theoretical perspective, two key texts would be Nisbet 2021 and Jamieson, et al. 2017. Both these texts explore in great detail all facets of science communication making them excellent overviews of the field. Hertwig and Engel 2020 explores a crucial and expanding area of communication in terms of those deliberately refusing to become knowledgeable. Although it might seem counterintuitive, its finding might be crucial in countering mis/disinformation. Gay 2013 is one of the few texts exploring the impact of homophily which, in this context, is the control of that which is allowed to be researched and communicated. Finally, Benkler, et al. 2018 takes a far broader look at media and how it has changed arguing that to counter it we need to know what we are facing.

  • Annenberg School for Communication. 2017. Understanding and addressing the disinformation ecosystem. Annenberg School for Communication.

    This text, the report of a workshop, is an attempt to look at the current disinformation scene and how to deal with it. Its key value to ecological communication is that it provides some sense of how broad the area of disinformation spread is, and what might need to be done to address it.

  • Benkler, Y., R. Farris, and Hal Roberts. 2018. Network propaganda: Manipulation, disinformation, and radicalization in American politics. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190923624.001.0001

    This text is an exploration of the way the US media scene has changed in recent years. It’s a study of the way in which social media has both driven and been driven by changes in society, politics, and democracy. As such it highlights the complex issues facing communication in these media.

  • Brüggemann, M., and S. Rödder, eds. 2021. Global warming in local discourses. Cambridge, UK Open Book.

    The authors explore the ways in which a global idea gets translated and made sense of in a local context. Global warming is presented as a “travelling idea” whose precise nature is lost in local translation. The central argument of the book is that to be effective, communication must take into account the way in which global ideas are mediated in the local context.

  • Büscher, B. 2020. The truth about nature: Environmentalism in the era of post-truth politics and platform capitalism. Oakland: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv1bjc3ts

    We cannot rely on ideas of the past to work in the future because the situation has changed radically. Büscher argues for a form of ecological communication that addresses current needs and offers a new perspective in the era of post-truth politics and social media reach.

  • Gay, H. 2013. The Silwood Circle: A history of ecology and the making of scientific careers in late twentieth-century Britain. London: Imperial College Press.

    DOI: 10.1142/p879

    This is a small-scale study looking at the impact of homophily. It’s a look at a cross-knit group of ecologists and the power circles created which dominated ecological research and communication for many years in the late twentieth century. As such it highlights the power contained in a few select networks to focus the work of wider groups

  • Hatch, J., and N. Jackson. n.d. KSJ Science Editing Handbook. MIT.

    The argument is made that journalists need to communicate more effectively (which would also apply to ecologists). This is a practical book aimed at helping journalists and others write better and more accurate science stories.

  • Hertwig, R., and C. Engel, eds. 2020. Deliberate Ignorance: Choosing not to know. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    A series of studies looking into the situations and reasons why people choose not to obtain information that could be of benefit to them. It expands on a relatively recent aspect of media ecology, especially in terms of climate change, where not knowing is a conscious move to protect personal worldview with concomitant implications for communication.

  • Jamieson, K. H., D. Kahan, and D. A. Scheufele, eds. 2017. Oxford handbook of the science of science communication. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Science communication has become a massive field in its own right. This text is an attempt to bring together the wide range of scholarship currently working in this area and demonstrate how it works, what problems it faces, and how it might be addressed. It covers a very wide range of practical issues surrounding the successful communication of science to a range of audiences.

  • Johnson, E. A., and M. J. Mappin, eds. 2005. Environmental education and advocacy. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Given the importance of ecological and environmental education, the way this is communicated in educational settings is crucial. The book explores issues around the nature of environmental education (in terms of learning) and advocacy (in terms of focusing on a specific perspective). The text argues that we need to separate education in terms of positive facts from advocacy, the pursuit of normative goals. It’s crucial, therefore, that communication especially in education, makes this clear.

  • Nisbet, M., ed. 2021. Oxford encyclopedia of climate change communication. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Part of a far wider project on climate science, this book looks specifically at the ways in which climate change has been communicated both across subjects and geographical areas. The value to ecological communication is that it sets out many of the same issues encountered in both areas of study.

  • Sagarin, R., and A. Pauchard. 2012. Observation and ecology: Broadening the scope of science to understand a complex world. Washington, DC: Island Press.

    DOI: 10.5822/978-1-61091-230-3

    The book argues that to be effective in modern times, ecology needs to go back to its roots in terms of being an observational science. This can draw more people into the enterprise. It’s part of the argument that communication needs something to communicate about and the central idea here is to look for it.

  • Yu, H., and K. Northcut. 2018. Scientific communication: Practices, theories, and pedagogies. New York: Routledge.

    A wide-ranging text looking at the issues in communicating science but also practical ways to better train the scientists of tomorrow. Topics range from theory through to practical courses that can teach communication and writing to scientists.

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