Climate scientists trained to be on hot seat

Witnesses are questioned.
Jan Wiegard, a fictional scientist played by atmospheric scientist Christina Karamperidou of the University of Hawaii, fields questions during a mock legislative committee hearing at the Expert Witness Training Academy hosted by Mitchell Hamline School of Law on Monday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Testimony from scientists can be crucial to lawmakers, judges and juries. But explaining complex topics like climate can be a challenge.

A program at St. Paul's Mitchell Hamline School of Law is pairing scientists with lawyers to improve communication.

"We're training scientists to be lawyers ... getting them to understand how important it is to not tweet, not make jokes, not do things that would be discovered that would hurt the credibility of their research," said Mitchell Hamline professor John Sonsteng.

Some scientists have had to learn that the hard way, such as in 2009 when a group of climate scientists' emails were hacked and used against them by groups that reject the existence of climate change.

Jim Hilpert questions expert witnesses.
Associate Professor of Law Jim Hilbert poses a a question to an expert witness while acting as the chair of a mock senate committee.
Evan Frost | MPR News

How facts are presented matters, said Jim Hilbert, a Mitchell Hamline professor who co-directs the program.

"We recognize that in the coming future we're probably going to have a lot of legal disputes and policy scenarios that are going to be about the climate," he said. "If scientists are unable to communicate their science effectively, we end up with policy making decisions that are suboptimal."

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