The most accessible and widely read section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report-the Summary for Policymakers-continues to score poorly in terms of readability, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change. In contrast, scientific media and newspaper coverage of the reports has become increasingly readable.
The IPCC releases an Assessment Report every five years, with an accompanying Summary for Policymakers condensing the key details for a wider audience. In recent years, the IPCC has attempted to improve its communication strategies to overcome miscommunication of these high-profile reports.
Ralf Barkemeyer and colleagues conducted a linguistic analysis of the summaries of the five major IPCC reports. They applied readability metrics to the summaries and compared these to coverage of the reports in a sample of tabloid newspapers (Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun) and quality newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, The Independent and The Times), as well as in editorials and news articles in the science journals Nature and Science. They find that the IPCC Assessment Report Summary for Policymakers has become less readable over time, with scores declining steadily since the first report in 1990. In contrast, they find that the readability of scientific and news coverage of the reports has improved, although the tone of the media coverage is generally more pessimistic than the reports themselves.
The authors suggest that the IPCC needs to find ways to make its reports more readable-possibly by providing science communication training for key contributors-to ensure that the findings and significance of high-profile climate research are not distorted.