There is nothing nefarious about the tipsheet, but it’s interesting (if not somewhat comical) to see how the IPCC pigeonholes journalists: “college-educated, overworked, underpaid, inquisitive, skeptical, jaded, world-weary, generalists.” The concerning point is this: “Don’t say ‘no comment.’ This instantly raises a reporter’s hackles (and interest level). Instead, bring the conversation back to where YOU want it to be.” But every good reporter should expect that sources they interview are trying to control the conversation anyway.
What’s more troubling, in my opinion, is the way that the background-and-tipsheet underestimates reporters’ intelligence. The last page of the document advises researchers to “avoid scientific jargon.” This is an important pointer, and one that many journalists themselves have put forward for years—but there is a limit to its utility. While it is true that more reporters are generalists these days, that doesn’t mean they’re daft. I would agree that scientists should avoid subjective words like “exotic” and acronyms like “SST” (sea surface temperature); but other terms, such as “uncertainty” and “risk,” are common enough that scientists should be encouraged to explain what they mean and how they are measured.
Still, the real disappointment here is Pachauri’s letter, and, if nothing else, one hopes that it will at least get far enough under journalists’ skin to motivate more coverage of the ongoing IPCC review process being carried out by InterAcademy Council, an association of science academies from around the world, as well as preparations for the fifth assessment report.