Role of scientists in communicating climate science

by Judith Curry

Communicating climate science to the public is a substantial challenge, owing to the complexity of the subject, its potential socioeconomic consequences, and the politicization of the issue.

The communication challenge is further complicated by the broad range of scientific backgrounds among the people to which the communications are directed, ranging from people who pay little attention to science and pick up what they know from talk radio to technically educated and scientifically literate people that regularly keep up with scientific developments.

When I first mentioned the issue of climate science needing more effective communications strategies in my building trust essay, I received a lot of pushback on this at WUWT;  they don’t want a better way to spin, frame, package the same (seemingly dubious) information, which wasn’t the point I was trying to make but that is how it got interpreted.

Several months ago, I participated in a group interview/discussion on communicating climate science that was sponsored by the Nature Conservancy (Part I, Part II).  Among the participants was Randy Olson, proprietor of The Benshi blog, and author of the book Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style (I haven’t read the book).  While we disagreed on many things in the interview,  he did make one point that I have been pondering:

Scientists carry the big stick in mass communications. They speak with a voice of authority, and if they can be properly used and coached, they are the voice that the public will respond to    . . . we need the right scientists as spokespersons.

Al Gore is a very effective communicator,  but as a politician he has become a polarizing figure on the subject of climate change.  A number of scientists associated with advocacy groups or think tanks have very good communications skills and are adept as pundits in the sound bite environment of TV news (e.g. Joe Romm and Pat Michaels), but there are concerns about their objectivity.  But Randy Olson’s argument has definitely made me ponder the importance of the role of scientists that are actively conducting research on this topic.

A current post at Collide-a-Scape discusses communicating climate science to the public. In addition to framing and messaging, the importance of narrative is discussed, including roles for villains, victims and heroes.  Whoa.  Just when I was being convinced by Randy Olson’s argument, now it seems that scientists should get involved in a narrative that includes villains and heroes.   Well the episode with CRU emails certainly speaks to the public interest in the villains, victims and heroes narrative.  Exactly who are the heroes, victims and villains in this episode is still being debated, although Steve McIntyre seems to be in ascendance as the hero.  Climate science and scientists don’t need any more hero and villain narratives, in my opinion.

So, what should the role of scientists be in the public communication of climate science? How can a scientist be most effective in this arena without jeopardy to their scientific reputation?

I’m convinced that scientists have an important role to play in the public communication of science, in venues ranging from congressional testimony and discussions with policy makers to public lectures to interviews to appearances in science videos and television. And I’m not talking about blogs or print journalism here, but communication that includes actual physical presence (or the image thereof).

Public communication of the general IPCC consensus by scientists has recently lost two key figures: Steve Schneider (owing to his untimely passing) and Jim Hansen (becoming an activist and landing in jail doesn’t help your credibility with the public).

In my Mixing Scientists and Politics article, I wrote:

For a scientist whose reputation is largely invested in peer-reviewed publications and the citations thereof, there is little professional payoff for getting involved in debates that mix science and politics. Scientists becoming involved in policy debates and with the media may put their scientific reputations at risk in this process. Many scientists would rather remain above the fray and not get involved in this process.

Steve Schneider has made an eloquent case for active involvement of scientists in his essay on Mediarology. Two research scientists have made career changes to focus on public communication: Randy Olson and Heidi Cullen (video), both of whom are excellent communicators.  However, this doesn’t fill the need for active research scientists to engage with the public.

So given a small population of scientists that are actually willing to engage in this arena, what are the qualities that characterize an effective communicator on this topic? Probably a combination of the following (I would be interested in Randy Olson’s take on this):  strong scientific credentials and employed at a leading university or government laboratory, gravitas combined with a congenial personality, strong verbal communication skills, and mastery of the broad range of issues associated with climate change.  Sort of a Walter Cronkite persona, with deep knowledge and expertise on the subject of climate change.

Well the IPCC critics/skeptics have their Walter Cronkite equivalent in Richard Lindzen (video).  Some prominent research scientists that support the IPCC consensus view that been engaging in public communication include:

And that’s the way it is. Different personalities and styles; who do you find effective? Personally I prefer to have a number of different voices with a spectrum of perspectives. Encouraging more climate researchers to improve their speaking and rhetorical skills would be beneficial not only in public communication, but would arguably improve classroom teaching effectiveness also.

A further advantage to the individual scientist is that engaging with the public is like continually taking a pop quiz on a diverse range of topics in climate change.  Such an environment requires scientists to be broadly conversant with the whole range of topics surrounding climate change and to keep up-to-date with the latest research and news in these areas, which is generally a good thing also.  Blogging REALLY forces a scientist to be knowledgable and conversant in this way.

One disadvantage is the time that public outreach and communication takes from research.  But if your employer is a university or government funded institution, public outreach and communication is probably part of your job.  The stigma associated with public communication of science (i.e. the Carl Sagan effect) is probably no longer an issue, at least in the climate field.  The biggest concern is potential damage to a scientist’s reputation associated with misstatements or statements that the scientist subsequently regrets, and such incidents are most likely to occur in a live radio or television interview environment.  I steer clear of such interviews, after learning the hard way that I am just not very effective in this medium.

I think that blogging is a great way for researchers to test the waters of communicating with the public; I hope that some will choose to test the waters at Climate Etc.

I’m interested in hearing to what extent you think the actual physical presence and speech by climate researchers is important in public communication (as opposed to articles and books that scientists write) and whether communication by scientists involved with advocacy groups is a useful substitute here (they tend to have better communication skills than research scientists).  Also, for those of you that are research scientists, what is your take on the pros and cons of engaging in public outreach?

Note: on this thread, focus your comments on the actual communication process.  The next thread is on the content of what is actually being communicated and how it is framed, which I will argue is a much greater challenge than the persona of the communicator.   I hope to have this second thread up Friday morning, with the first climate modeling post on Monday.

164 responses to “Role of scientists in communicating climate science

  1. Academics have three roles in the media.

    First, there is the jester — the nutty professor who says crazy things in incomprehensible language — or better still, two nutty professors who call each other difficult names.

    Second, there is the apologist — the expert provides cover for a politically difficult decision.

    Third, there is the academic. Academics pursue knowledge. If knowledge is incomplete or the issue is complex, then effective communication of academic knowledge demands that the nuances are clearly explained — plain language, no jargon, no references, but no compromises on the content either. If not, the academic degenerates into an apologist or a jester.

  2. Joe Romm’s Climate Progress, delted my comments defending Richard Black BBC, following Climate Progress ‘criticising’ Richard for not being as much as an advicate as they desired. An article about artic ice..

    He has no intellectual hobesty, I’m very critical of the BBC, and Richard Black, who I see as an CAGW activist not, an impartial BBC reporter… YET I was defending Richad Black at Climate Progress, and they would not allow my comment, whilst of course allowing many more, rhat were positively vitriolic.

    Ok, so a nobody like me get deleted, my point was the BBC allows all comments, and a diversity of voices. Romm a former member of the climton administration, would prefer that my comments doid not exits..

    Trust? Good faith?

    Also, surely it is about who has the facts, rather than who has the best style…..

  3. sorry, lot’s of typos’. I’m used to an edit function of the blog I mainly comment on….

  4. Communicatiojns is 2 way, or do we just have to expect more PR, from climate science. (1 way)

    It is hard to communicate, if you are deleted..

    Joe Romm, wrote an article about the BBC, and Richard Black.
    I posted a comment onto Climate Progress, defending Richard and the BBC (who I normally criticise, a LOT) and Climate Progress just deleted it. Whilst allowing vitriolic comment from all other contributors..

    Intellectual Honsety, Good Faith, is required from communicator’s..
    Allowing criticism, both ways..

    Not a PR machine.

  5. The scientist /researcher/academic who has discovered or revealed something that could have wide ranging consequences has a resonsibility to ensure that

    1) The information is being interpreted properly as per what it is they discovered.
    2) Making sure that the information is understandable to the general public.

    By understandable I do not mean reducing quantum mechanics down to what the average person can understand. They should be able to comminunicate their ideas ina way that does not cause eyes to glaze over and policy makers to “leave all that science stuff to the eggheads”. One of the problems we have at the moment is the climate science field is in its infancy, the hockey stick appeared and it was imediatly jumped on by advocacy groups as useful. If the basic ideas and science behind the concept had been communicated in a useful way the idiocy that has resulted and compiled over the years would have been reduced.

    The ability to communicate is essential and to communicate with everybody is required.

  6. Well, can I be the first to say that the way you are doing it is great. I would much rather read and then comment on your blog than watch a video praising Susan Solomon. As far as I am aware you are the only climate scientist allowing and encouraging debate from all sides on these important questions.

    PS. It would be interesting to hear your view on today’s Royal Society document.

  7. I’ve always thought that to be a good communicator of science or technology, you had to be able to phrase such that the broad concepts are understood by the layman. If you can’t put a proposition in your own words, the audience won’t believe you.

    In addition, you have to be careful with metaphors and analogies such that the audience does not get an exagerated view of your hypotheses/theory. The same goes for thowing out huge numbers as a marketing tool; I’m not really impressed that the number of plastic bottles used in a year can go around the world seven times.

    Visual aids may not be as effective as you think; my wife is a teacher and the mainstream students have trouble interpreting even simple graphs; I think a scattergram would drive them insane, as would logarithmic graphs. And if you edit your photos and images, tell the audience that they have been altered to empahsize a point. (No more polar bears stranded on ice floes).

    Avoid sermonizing; science is not good or evil, science just is. While every good scientist has a passion for their work, it has to be seen as a passion for the science, not the politics.

    Avoid labels. All it does is polarize people.

    Finally, if someone asks a question you can’t answer, don’t get defensive. Admit that you can’t answer but commit to investigating the issue.

  8. Perhaps the first question to be answered is: “For whom does the interviewee or the speaker, speak?”

    Most of us are not famous personalities who are invited to speak on TV or radio or whathaveyou because we are sooooo interesting and the audience just adores us to pieces. Most, in fact nearly all, are invited to speak as an expert, as a representative of our speciality, on the ‘latest’ interesting stuff in that speciality; or to address some ongoing ‘controversey’ that is in the public sector and for which more information is being sought.

    When an MD is on Good Morning America speaking about “X”, X is usually a problem, and he’s being asked to give his professional thoughts on that problem, not about what he/she thinks personally about “Y” or “Z” (two very interesting areas that are totally out of the scope of the matter at hand, for which this person thinks so and so or such and such are the way we ought go and spend a lot of money on, OR merely thinks these things are the Cat’s Meow in his personal opinion).

    When a scientist is ‘selling’ his book, so to speak, it should be very apparent.

    When a scientist is representing his science and addressing the public about a matter of current interest in the news, etc., etc., etc., he should answer as a ‘representative’ of his science and not insert or mix in his own, latest, controversial, personal theory and what THE UN MUST DO WITHIN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS OR ALL HELL IS GOING TO BREAK LOSE…, etc.

    When a Climate Scientist is faced with the question of how he should ‘respond’ or address the issue at hand, he might well ask, “What would a physician say?”

  9. Judith, Schneider’s “Mediarology” essay has been disappeared from the Stanford page.

    This one is still (for now) working:

  10. I think that scientists, the public, and especially journalists need to recognize that scientists can speak in two different ways: 1) They can speak the way scientists usually speak to other scientists – where making making misleading statements based on only part of what is known is considered unethical. The credibility of science with the public depends on this type of ethics. 2) Scientists can speak as extremely knowledgeable advocates for a particular position. As Steve Schneider has pointed out, the rules in the “advocacy game” are very different from the rules of everyday science. I think it is time for scientists speaking to the public to be forced – by peer pressure, by journalists, or by politicians – to disclose the rules they are following. If I could question any climate scientist testifying before Congress, I would first read him the Schneider quote and ask: Are you testifying here as a scientist or an advocate? Journalists need to know whether scientists are speaking as scientists or advocates because their ethics demand that they present information from advocates on both sides of an issue. Scientists should care about whether other scientists disclose whether they are speaking as advocates or scientists because the actions of other scientists effect the credibility of our profession.

    Schneider quote: “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.”

    • Well said!

    • Journalists Monbiot, Harrabin and Black certainly seem to be smarting, having failed to distinguish the scientist from the advocate over a considerable period of time. For these journalists, I think this is the most significant aspect of the “Climategate” event and enquiries. Black, perhaps, more so than most because implicit in the emails is that the CRU scientists regarded him as a malleable “useful idiot”.

    • Frank,

      Let me also offer a “Well said!” Perhaps the distinction between speaking as a scientist and an advocate should be controlled by a code of professional ethics with sanctions for those that violate the code. For example, when speaking as an advocate, scientists might be ethically required to preface their comments with the following warning label:

      “I am speaking as an advocate. Although a scientist, any data and conclusions cited in my remarks are not necessarily based on the scientific method. Also, my remarks do not necessarily include all of the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, the buts of current scientific thought nor should my remarks be considered to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. My remarks may contain simplifications, scary scenarios, dramatic statements and make little mention of the doubts scientists, including myself, might have”

      Warning labels work for cigarettes, why not science?

    • Judith: In my comment above, I forgot to ask the question: Do you think there would be an value in asking/expecting scientists to disclose whether they are speaking as advocates or scientist when addressing the public? In particular, do you think Schneider’s unintentional definition of the difference between science and advocacy could be used to constrain the advocacy that appears in the IPCC’s SPM’s.

    • The problem is that once the scientist has proclaimed they are speaking as an advocate (even in just one instance), they are often forever labeled as an advocate.

      It goes back to the “no consensus on consensus” post. If someone comes out as an advocate of something, then they are for the most part labeled as someone in a particular camp.

      If a scientist remains academic, they have a better chance of being seen as independant of the political bickering. A trusted source of facts and not opinion.

      • So is the solution to conceal advocacy by presenting it as fact when it is really opinion, maintaining the illusion of trustworthiness?

        Or is the solution for the scientist to recognise (as “the enemy”) his/her own fallibility as a result of their advocacy and strive to remain scientifically dispassionate, thus reducing the risk of imparting opinion in place of fact?

    • While we do need to separate advocacy from science, this is unlikely to be done for us by the advocates admitting to being advocates, as advocacy works best precisely when it is seen and presented as science. Separating the two is a job we each have to just keep doing for ourselves.

      The louder people say they are being a scientists rather than advocates, the less likely it is true, imo.

  11. Not a comment, just a possible addition to make your list less US centric: Myles Allen.

  12. It is difficult to discuss communications without discussing trust, which has been discussed. But gaining trust is the first hurdle to clear in order to communicate effectively. The prominent climate scientists who run blogs need to stop censoring layman’s and skeptical scientists. They also need to voluntarily make public all data, meta-data, unused data, computer code, and any and all materials used or rejected related to a published paper. This material needs to be fully accessible by anyone on the Internet, not just other scientists. Once they stop acting as if there is something to hide, trust will follow and that will enable effective communication. Also, people like Al Gore should be told to stand down. He is not effective due to his perceived financial interests, political motives, and the fact he isn’t a scientist in any way imaginable.

  13. “So, what should the role of scientists be in the public communication of climate science?”

    Judith .. once again you seem insistent on deep philosophical questions …. its almost like you are perpetually trying to make the world a much more complicated place than it really is. Regarding this question, how about their role being that of doing research they are paid to do and publishing results in the scientific journals that represent their specific discipline ? As usual.

    If you are going to ‘communicate’ with the public you will become an advocate because you are taking a position. Science is not good or bad, it doesn’t have a right or wrong.. it just has results. Future generations will look back on this period as the corruption of science for the simple reason that scientists became advocates, moralists and communicators.

    Stick to the journals.

    • If it were only so easy, would we be here? Simple is as simple does. Life is not so simple. Judith is doing an outstanding job of taking it piece by piece. We are all benefiting from what we’re about.

    • I thought that was the point – not all researchers have to be the communicators, but there has to be someone to publicize the results of your work.

    • ImranCan, is it worth being a little more granular with regard to the communications forum and purpose of engagement? I’m actually specifically thinking of Judith’s blog, which is itself a redefinition of scientists entering into “public engagement”.

      What Judith is not engaging in is what I would describe as “preaching”, and I suspect that it is the last ~20 years of “preaching” that you have in mind in what you say.

      Judith’s approach is different, and I think it’s probably important to distinguish. I’m not sure how you’d describe it in relation to “preaching”. I’m hesitant to use the term “bible study”! ;)

  14. I’m not sure if my comment goes to the premise of your article, which is the assumption that scientists should talk to the public at all, or to the question: how should scientists communicate.

    Most science is, by definition, uncertain in that there are very, very few definitive experiments. Only after significant tests and re-tests, in which all possible alternative explanations have been ruled out based on logic or uncontrovertable knowledge of how reality works, can science pass on to become “knowledge” (i.e., if something happens, we know what the result will be to within our ability to measure).

    Outside of simple physical systems (e.g., elementary particles) and rather limited aspects of chemistry, reality is so complex (biology, weather, climate, phsyics of stars), that knowledge emerges slowly over many years, although frequently there are significant mis-understandings, even decades, that are thought to be knowledge but turn out not to be.

    Because of that, I would say scientists should communicate very little to the public other than to say, “Here’s what I did, here’s what I found, but who knows whether it means what I think it might mean in regards to the relationships I investigated.” And all the data and methods used to create the results being communicated must be completely public for anyone to review.

    One would think that last point goes without saying if we are talking about science, but some sciences — notably climatology — seems not to understand that requirement is fundamental to being believed. I seem to remember that alchemists — who claimed they were scientists — were notoriously secretive in their methods. Hmmmm.

    Here’s where climate science is so far off the rails as to be unintelligible as science and it is exactly because of the ethos of scientists like Schneider, Hansen, Jones, and Mann that climate science does not deserve to be listened to. When you read the sweeping implications and possibilities that find their way into the conclusions of some climate science papers of what are obviously narrow and uncertain specific findings, one shakes one’s head at having to listen to the press release.

    If (climate) scientists would be completely forthcoming with their data and methods. If (climate) scientists were to point out all the possible ways they could be wrong (and there are many in any given study). Then, maybe, just maybe, they would have the right to speak to the public and the public would have reason to listen.

    Reading the results of the recent van Storch survey of climate scientist’s opinions is jaw-dropping. On average, climate scientists are more doubtful about the adequacy of their data and theories than of their models. Huh? And, despite what can be reasonably described as fairly serious doubts about the adequacy of their data and theories, 67% (if I remember correctly) are quite confident that AGW is a real phenomena. And this is a group you would listen to?

    Sadly, it certainly seems climate science has attracted many people into its ranks who have a fundamental predisposition to believing mankind is “messing up the planet,” and see their science as a calling and cause that pre-judges the nature of the reality their scientific work is supposed to investigate.

    Until I can be convinced that (climate) scientists, as individuals and as a group, have little to gain or lose by whatever they find (i.e., AGW is real or not), I am not likely to listen to their public pronouncements. They are not credible.

    So, how should scientists communicate? With deep humility in acknowledging that what their research shows is very limited and uncertain; with clear statements that “implications” are a flight of someone else’s fancy, which they reject; and by refusing to become involved in the politicization of their work. Thus, all climate scientists should quit organizations such as the IPCC because such organizations cannot avoid causing inherent distortions of what those scientists “know.”

    Scientists should speak individually and for themsleves. They should speak narrowly. They should aggressively speak out against the interpretation and use of their research in ways that are clearly unjustified given its uncertainty. The scientific community should have howled-down Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth.”

    Hansen’s testimony before Congress in 1988 was a travesty for science. And that travesty has only grown in the past 20+ years.

  15. Leonard Weinstein

    It is a fact that on any issue, there will be a range of positions. There are extreme and uninformed people on both sides of issues (including those who are well educated, but who take a position on little specific knowledge) that contaminate the true discussions. Picking responses from those types is a red herring or straw man tactic used by both sides, and should be rejected out of hand. Having said that, I am a well informed scientist on the issue, even though I am not a climatologist (I am an aerospace engineer with an additional degree in physics, with 48 years experience). I came into the global warming issue assuming there was in fact a problem. I wanted to see if I could find a useful method to help solve the problems resulting from that human caused issue. The news media and government positions were 99% beating the drum of the human cause (and still do, possibly now at 95%). Skeptics were vilified as monsters. I was curious why some good scientists had strong contrary views if the case was so clear. I studied the technical literature in great depth (which I am better qualified to do than almost all of the supporters of AGW), and concluded that the skeptics had it right, and a terrible mistake was being made. I wrote a short summary of my analysis and had it posted on the Air Vent. See: (Limitations on AGW) (Disproving AGW Problem)
    These are not “proof” of anything, just arguments that the AGW has no reasonable case. When you equate the pro AGW discussions with the “reasonable” skeptics, you do a disservice. The bias is clearly one sided for the CAGW position. The “reasonable” skeptics have the high ground, but are still vilified. I am pleased you personally are trying to be more balanced and fair, but you still have a way to go. Picking up on a few stupid comments in WUWT is unfair. Please read the pro AGW comments more to get some balance.

  16. Let me try and look at this in a different way, with the question “Why do we need to communicate with the public on climate change?” No-one seems to be interested in communicating with the public on the possible coming solar grand magnetic minimum, Livingston and Penn all that.

    I suspect that the reason why people want to tell the public about climate change, is that the public votes for their different governments in democratic societies. And it is democratic societies which are most concerned with AGW. These governments control the money that can be used to respond to the possible effects of AGW. So I see the chain as scientist to the public to governments to money.

    However, what is now clear is that the chances of there being any sort of international agreement on curbing CO2 emissions is just about zero for at least a decade. The US mid-term elections seem to be taking this nation away from doing anything at all about AGW. There is also more and more evidence that embracing current technologies to try and replace energy that produces CO2, is economically disasterous.

    So it would appear that governments are unlikely to do very much to curb GHG emissions in the immediate future. Why does it matter how scientists communicate with the people about climate change?

    • For that matter, it isn’t clear that unilateral action by developed nations will mitigate the hypothesized warming. (Sorry, off topic – so many things are interrelated.)

    • You’re not begging the question are you? You’re not saying, “It doesn’t matter.”? You ask, “Why do we need to communicate with the public on climate change?” It would seem that the ‘need’ is to correct –where/if possible– and take steps to prevent in future, repeating similar mistakes of such proportions.

  17. Scientists with special expertise in a subject matter are of value only if that expertise is exploited. In particular, Scientists are not needed as communicators to read from a teleprompter–anyone with an engaging personality, “the look”, and a plummy voice will do. However, in forums that feature free-wheeling debate (the best use of scientists as communicators), participants should have all the skills noted in Dr. Curry’s introductory comments, but also an ability to think on one’s feet, frame issues on the fly with jargon-free clarity, and to keep one’s “cool” and provide a role model for dignified, rational, respectful, intense exchanges of differences of opinion. The last will separate scientists from the propagandists and their nasty little narratives.

  18. I am, at this time, working through Prof. Loehle’s ” becoming a Successful Scientist” with the aim of understanding how to define a Scientific mind and follow the logic path. It should not be surprising , though it might be to some who consider scientists to be “different”, that at least 80% of Loehles’ observations and deductions are equally applicable to most disciplines and professions. In particular, his comments on integrity, ethics, problem finding, analysis, and solutions will strike chords across all disciplines which use the human brain as the primary tool. I especially like the section on thinking time.

    All my working life I had battles with colleagues who wouldn’t make room for thinking time. With maturity, I believe that they preferred being Busy, Busy. Busy, as displacement activity due to a lack of confidence in their own ability to fix problems. When a boss insists on “Busy, Busy, Busy” He, She or It is both mistrustful of their subordinates and quite possibly of themselves in dealing with innovation, which I would suggest is a scientist’s primary task. Most of the last paragraph will find a resonance in Incompetence Theory, a working knowledge of which I believe is essential for any middle manager or at a more senior level. A colleague of mine contracted MS. He had to go before his line manager and tell him the problem. His manager’s reaction was”I’ll have to let you go and find someone who can do the job”. Several interviews later, with HR and the VP concerned, the line manager had recieved the appropriate counseling and dealt with the situation under guidance from HR. This is a classic case for incompetence theory. An otherwise caring, generous and competent person was overcome by events. I hope Imrancan that you now see the world is a more complicated place that you at present believe.

    There are plenty of common citizens who have enough training and experience of strategic thinking to make sense of the scientific variant as explained by Prof Loehle. They will warm to the honest scientist and ignore the dishonest or presumptuous scientist, especially scientists obviously involved with a political movement, because politicians are not to be trusted. Anywhere. In any nation. If scientific integrity is to be re-established, disassociation from political cabals would be a good start. It might even produce a higher standard of Science.

  19. For most people, it comes down to trust.
    We look at what the message is, who it comes from, the strength of the evidence it is based upon, but particularly, any vested interests of those pushing the message.

    People underestimate how cynical society has become. We are wary of anyone who tries to force their views on us, because it invariably involves an ulterior motive. Recent events in both scientific and political arenas have taken the level of trust to an all time low.

    When an issue is based as much on ideology as science, you will always have opposing views. The key question of course is, what message do you want to communicate (which you mention is the subject of your next post).

    As to how to communicate, you have two options as I see it.
    1. You can be honest, open, frank and comprehensive in your message.
    2. You can deploy psychological tactics, appealing to the emotional mind to exploit ego, compassion or fear.

    Unfortunately, the second option is the favored choice. Many believe the current crisis is the result of failing to apply the psychological message with sufficient cunning and venom.
    Scientists need to stick to the first option, rigorously, and scream loudly when they see the second being used.
    Character and communication skill obviously plays a significant role, but manipulators like Blair have ensured that by themselves, these qualities are no longer enough.

  20. Dr. Curry,

    I believe you are certainly correct making the following statement:

    “The communication challenge is further complicated by the broad range of scientific backgrounds among the people to which the communications are directed, ranging from people who pay little attention to science and pick up what they know from talk radio to technically educated and scientifically literate people that regularly keep up with scientific developments.”

    However, I feel that the issue of “technically educated and scientifically literate” people having competence in subjects within the field of climate science is greatly underestimated in the academic community. That has apparently led to climate scientists discounting comments and ignoring questions put to them by very qualfied people.

    As an example, when subjects such as tree ring and ice core temperature reconstructions are discussed, claims of accuracy of a degree or two seems preposterous to those of us who have worked with commercial instrumentation installations and computer analysis of real time processes. Using platinum RTDs with a tenth of a degree or better accuracy and high quality electronics, we would claim no better accuracy than a degree or two for the actual measured processes. RTD location, laminar versus turbulent flow, and a host of other issues are important. For accurate measurements, RTD calibration is check both before and after a test run. Trees and Ice are not in the same accuracy league as platinum RTDs. As you might imagine, engineers and technicians familiar with instrumentation will question even peer reviewed scientific papers that claim high accuracy over long periods of time from trees and ice.

    Next, the focus on “Peer Reviewed” publications is misplaced. To most of us outside the academic community, peer review means that people in the same or related fields have checked the math and basic science in a paper. The actual worth of the paper is not determined until after it is published and wide distribution has occurred. Publication in peer reviewed periodicals is a critical component in an academic career. Outside the academic world, those papers are simply considered tools. If an article or paper provides information that suggests a solution to a problem, it is considered useful, nothing else. How many times it may be referenced in other papers is a meaningless number.

    Not understanding that a climate scientist is considered just another kind of specialist to those outside the field is a serious mistake. Specialists typically have narrow fields of expertise. Claiming overarching authority in all fields that are the components of climate science rings very hollow to technically oriented people. Simply becoming better communicators will not overcome that handicap.

  21. Judith. I hesitate to say this. However I do think that it is important. My impression is that the income of many climate scientists depends on their maintaining a certain stance on CAGW. The undeniable fact is that ‘offering up scary scenarios’ does (and has) influenced public opinion. The media and politicians are very poll driven these days. Scare the public, and governments will throw money at the problem.

    It is clear that many billions of dollars have, and are, being thrown in the direction of climate scientists. I dare say that many climate scientists would not have the jobs they do, nor the income, if the scary stories had not been published.

    On the other hand, it would seem that sceptics challenging the CAGW pronouncements face difficulties accessing grant funding and/or continued employment. That is one reason that there seem to be fewer sceptics – telling the truth can jeopardise income. It seems that many declared sceptics are retired folk, essentially funding their own work – Steve McIntyre is one such example.

    It may be that what I am saying here is incorrect. However, when a lay person observes the one-sided advocacy, censorship and refusal to address ‘inconvenient’ questions common on leading CAGW advocacy sites, it is not surprising that trust in those CAGW advocates is, lets say, sparse. A lay person observing the sceptic sites will see a much more open environment, where it is clear that the drivers are to find the truth of the matter. That is why the sceptic sites are generally much more tolerant of those asking questions, stating different positions etc.

    So, what can the climate scientists do to better communicate their message? One answer is to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. And as much as it might rankle, I seriously think that any climate scientist seeking to make public pronouncements should be prepared to answer questions as to where his/her salary comes from, and in particular, are tax-payer funded grants a source.

    • ‘sceptic websites’, ‘much open environment’?

      I do not think so. Sites like WUWT and Joanne Nova’s are filled with contrarians who double as conspiracy theorists. They do not believe in PAGW, one day they claim the climate is warming, another day the climate is becoming colder.

      I skimmed through their older discussions and found people claiming that smoking is not that bad, evolution is just a ‘theory’, our planet is 6000 years old (or was that a compliment?).

      There is no definite position of what the contrarians believe. You start debating with them, and they switch to some other theory. The Wegman Report has been discredited beyond repair and you keep having contrarians that vouch for it.

      • PAGW?! I don’t want to seem “uncool” but I’ve never heard of that one. Help me out, please.

      • PAGW

        Primarily?? A bit less blatant than Catastrophic.

      • Everything has an element of “noise” about it. I don’t understand what you seem to be saying here. Is it that WUWT and Nova are to be avoided because they have some strange people commenting? Doesn’t every site? And your use of the term “contrarians”, is this the same group making so much noise, or the entire site –such as WUWT and Nova?

      • What do you maintain is wrong with the Wegman report?

  22. I watched the video of Steve Schneider talking to 50 or so contrarians in Australia for the ABC channel (is there a public URL for the video?).

    What I say was that Steve was being hit with some questions that were so mind-boggling that he could not find a quick way to explain. It was like Borat or Ali G asking mind-boggling questions in their recent films, and politicians, scientists had to think hard how to answer.

    Here is an example: “CO2 should not be a problem with the troposphere because it is heavier than oxygen”. Looks silly, stupid question, but how do you answer this to someone like Borat?

    Or the other one, “CO2 is only 380ppm in the atmosphere, that’s 380 in a MILLION! It’s too little.” They look silly questions, but you need to be quick to give an answer that a person might understand. For example, “Right, and how thick is the troposphere?”.

    Even this one, “Humans put only 3% of CO2 per year in the atmosphere, the rest is natural”. Steve Schneider could not figure out what was not possible to understand with these figures. He tried the bath tab example to explain that when you have a balanced state and you keep adding little by little to one side, you mess up the bathroom floor. But the person asking the question was not taking any of this.

    • Janet,

      You have a point, but I’ve seen the corresponding thing happen on the other side, too. Fact is, it’s quite possible that the majority on both sides don’t really understand even the very basics whereof they speak.

      That said, we’re all likely to be affected by this issue in one way or another, whether on the one hand that’s deemed to be by being swindled because of a non-existent problem, or on the other, by facing catastrophe. So not unnaturally, we all have an opinion. And I think that’s fair enough. You can’t exclude the ill-informed on an issue that’s important to everyone. More to the point, everyone, ill-informed or no, has the right to vote.

    • This issue with the ‘ill-informed’ is that they were not born as such.

      They follow certain contrarian websites such as that of Joanne Nova which spews these silly arguments. Joanne Nova was funded to write a climate denial document (got money from Heartland Institute), and in this document she writes all these crazy things that the ‘ill-informed’ start repeating.

      If you are a real scientist, you learn to be precise and responsible with what you say, which means uninteresting caveats.

      When Monckton testified at Congress, he was spewing simplifications such as ‘CO2 is plant food’, which were actually misleading.

      Scientists have a difficult role to explain science when many people reject evolution, or how the universe was created. With websites such as WUWT, Joanne Nova and CA, we end up meddling into the work of the scientists, making it much more difficult.

      • bitter much?
        How do your credentials measure up to Nova’s?
        Who funds RC?
        Is it OK for Skeptical Science to be run by a non-climate scientist?

      • The heart of the problem, we each decide who we trust if issues becomes too complex or time consuming to evaluate in great depth.
        FWIW, you can’t go far wrong with Steve McIntyre, Roy Spencer, or on a different level, Andrew Montford. (not forgetting JC of course;)

      • But,…CO2 i plant food.

        Why do you think that the consequences of the radiative physics of CO2 is such a fundamental property that everyone should simply accept it without questions, but yet ,

        see a need to relentlessly qualify a simple statement such a “CO2 is plant food”?

    • As a responsible skeptic, I have developed a (possibly original) response to the “ONLY 380 ppm of CO2” argument that might be of some value. One way of making the atmosphere more tangible is to visualize what one would see if the atmosphere were temporarily condensed to a liquid. For simplicity, assume the density of that liquid is 1 g/cm^3 (10^3 kg/m^3). Simply arithmetic shows that the 14.7 pounds per square inch (10^5 N/m^2 or 10^4 kg.m^3) of air means our atmosphere liquifies to a lake 10 m (33 ft) deep everywhere on the surface of the earth. If the atmosphere were then separated into layers, the CO2 layer will be 4 mm (1/6 inch) thick. This is slightly thicker than the glass on a car. Most people are experienced what happens when visible light goes through the windows of a car, gets absorbed, and the heat can’t escape as infrared radiation. The same thing obviously can occur in our atmosphere, except that the 4 mm of liquid CO2 is a gas scattered through tens of kilometers of atmosphere. Almost everyone is also familiar with the fact that a far thinner layer of sun screen can absorb >90% of UV light and prevent sunburn.

  23. In the UK, we have a guy named Brian Cox. He’s a particle physicist at the University of Manchester, and a frequent and very telegenic (In 2009, according to Wikipedia, he appeared in People Magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive”) presenter of science programmes on TV and radio. He’s a marvellous communicator, and obviously knows his stuff inside out, so he can speak with great authority about cosmology, quantum theory, and so forth.

    Trouble is, some of what he talks about, particularly the stuff that’s right at the forefront of modern cosmology, seems to me to be barking mad. So here we have a very smart guy who undoubtedly knows the accepted maths and physics, and is a great communicator, but whom I often can’t bear to listen to, not because he’s an ignoramus, or unethical (quite the contrary), but because consensus in the areas he often comments on is, in my opinion, based on an essentially metaphysical rather than truly scientific view of the universe.

    Now; you might argue that I am in error, and that currently widely accepted cosmological theory is true, and you could be right. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make; rather, it’s that it makes no difference that Brian Cox is, as we say in the UK, the absolute dog’s bollocks in science communication, IF one happens to be someone who disagrees with the basis for much of modern cosmology.

    In other words, the communicator and his or her audience are co-creators of the product of communication. The communicator doesn’t just send out a message which is received by exclusively passive, opinion-free listeners who somehow soak it all in and thereby become “informed”.

    Sure, some people might not know much about cosmology and simply accept what an expert like Cox says about it, but I think that wrt AGW, few do not already hold an opinion, and all incoming messages have to pass through that filter. So essentially, the act of communication has largely become an exercise in futility.

    I have my doubts whether that can be changed. I think many have simply dug in their heels and that any change may only come through the empirical evidence of what happens in the future. If we enter a marked cooling period, then maybe consensualists will begin to change their minds. If not, then the effects of warming need to be correspondingly obvious to the sceptics.

    Maybe in the final analysis, this is how it should be.

  24. Judith:
    selecting a spokesperson is a tough marketing job. Just ask hertz.
    with that said:

    strong scientific credentials and employed at a leading university or government laboratory, gravitas combined with a congenial personality, strong verbal communication skills, and mastery of the broad range of issues associated with climate change. ”

    you might want to consider the fact that ‘active’ involvement in research is potentially a hazard. Step away from the beaker if you are a spokesperson ,lest
    someday you
    A. mix the wrong stuff and blow yourself up, taking a whole science (unfairly)
    with you.
    B. mix some really good stuff and get loaded. ( have personal issues that unfairly
    reflect on the whole science )

    C. get accused of doing it only for the money.

    Managing and supervising other scientists ( herding cats) is probably “involvement” enough to qualify someone, or somebody who has moved from the lab to classroom.

  25. Tomas Milanovic


    So, what should the role of scientists be in the public communication of climate science? How can a scientist be most effective in this arena without jeopardy to their scientific reputation?

    Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
    Lubos Motl has summed it up in one of his posts – the necessary but not sufficient condition to communicate a scientific result is many years of very hard work.
    Admittedly he had in mind string theory but I would submit that the climate system is not (much) less complex than string theory.

    If the people you are talking to had not done the “many years of very hard work” then it is guaranteed that they will misunderstand, misinterpret and otherwise deform anything you can say.
    What they take out of the discourse is an extremely small fraction of the content which is consistent with their personal knowledge structure which may be and generally is extremely limited.

    It is not the manner that counts and it doesn’t matter if you are jovial, friendly or smiling.
    As soon as you mention f.ex “uncertainty”, the typical member of the public that has often already problems to add fractions, will think “But what is this egg head babbling about? Either he knows or he doesn’t. Apparently he doesn’t.”
    And from this point on he will stop registering what you say and come out of the meeting with only one but a firm idea (which he will give farther to his family and friends for whom he became a real expert!) “Those people don’t know what they are talking about, I know it because a real egg head XY told me so”.

    I am well aware that this doesn’t exactly answer your question I quoted.
    It is because the best and most efficient way to communicate about science to the public has been invented more than 2000 years ago – it is called school.

    In the modern world where mass media rule, I wouldn’t communicate about climate science in mass media at all.
    I have heard a former french Prime Minister who has been charged with a mission to chair a group of climate “experts” to enlighten policy decisions, say on TV that:
    “The green house effect is a kind of shield. And our emissions liberate CO2 which is destroying this shield. It will take only a few generations and we will be boiled. This is a horrible idea.”
    And the “experts” (2 of whom are famous IPCC members) were sitting there with self satisfied smiles while the journalist was eagerly drinking his words.
    I am not joking, this is what happens when you communicate in the mass media and the simple fact that a President of an “expert” commission was allowed to say a thing like that is damning in itself.

    However in order to prevent finishing like Wittgenstein who concluded on impossibility to communicate, I’d say that probably the best way to communicate to the interested public is the blogosphere.
    What to do then with Mass Media is quite another question and one where I have no idea unless that their power grew to giant proportions that cannot be accepted.
    Too much power in hands of incompetent and often outright stupid people is never a good thing.

  26. Steve Fitzpatrick

    It appears the underlying premise of this post is that having climate scientists communicate with the public will bring the public to support policy changes to drastically reduce the burning of fossil fuels. Based upon the quality of public communication I have seen so far from climate scientists (which is almost always dreadful), I doubt that it will, and may in fact make those policies less likely.

    I looked at each of the video’s Judith linked to, and I found none of the videos terribly effective, mainly because each is explicit advocacy. Bill Chameides is probably the most polished speaker. But anybody who looks past the video clip quickly finds that Dr. Chameides worked for three years as Chief Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, a political advocacy group. Political advocacy is not helpful for a scientist. Gavin Schmidt’s presentation is just terrible; he talks down to his audience as if he thinks they have intellectual capacity of a group of 6 year-olds. (Gavin reminds me a lot of the old line about Al Gore versus George Bush: George Bush speaks in public like English is his second language, but Al Gore speaks in public like he thinks English is our second language.)

    Any climate scientist who wants to convince a skeptical public of the need for action to reduce fossil fuel use needs to:

    1. Avoid advocacy at all costs. Do not EVER say that certain actions are needed, required, or worse, ‘demanded by the science’. If you are an advocate, then only those who agree with you politically will believe what you say.
    2. Never tell scare stories; stay away from descriptions of extreme (and extremely low probability) consequences.
    3. Always include an explicit discussion of uncertainty in any evaluation, and be honest about the uncertainty.
    4. Do not treat your audience like they are stupid (a la Gavin); too much technical content from a scientist is far more effective than too little. Do not ever say (or imply) it is just too difficult for someone outside of climate science to understand what is happening. The “you’re too dumb” argument will make most in the audience dislike you and look for a reason to not believe you. Technically trained people in the audience with simply loathe you, and with good cause.
    5. Do not EVER imply that those who disagree with your analysis are stupid, corrupt, immoral, liars, disingenuous, selfish, shills for oil companies, etc. There is no faster way to bring your own motives into question than to question the motives of those who disagree with you. When you resort to questioning peoples motives you have already lost the audience.
    (Aside: If you truly believe that those who disagree with your analysis are stupid, corrupt, immoral, liars, disingenuous, selfish, shills for oil companies, etc., then you are unlikely to ever be effective, even if you try to hide this belief from your audience.)
    6. Acknowledge explicitly that public policy actions, while they may be informed by science, are purely political questions, and that the political opinions of climate scientists carry no more weight in policy questions than the opinions of anybody else.
    7. Be the opposite of most politicians: be (truly) humble. Admit that you have been wrong about some things in the past and (like everyone) you will likely be wrong again in the future. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is powerful because at its foundation is Lincoln’s humility.
    8. Take lots of questions, and answer them in a meaningful and respectful way. If a question is too complicated to fairly address in detail, then answer as best you can and tell the questioner that you will be happy to provide more information later…. and then do it.
    9. Make sure that you tell your audience that you offer only imperfect knowledge, not perfect truth.

  27. Dr. Curry and others.

    It is critical to remember that communicating information IS NOT the purpose of the media. Newspapers, television news, Scientific American and even this blog exist to sell soap. That is, they are mediums for carrying advertising. A story that doesn’t attract eyes to ads will not be published. A story that makes a large part of your demographic look silly will definitely not get published. Hence the quiet over climategate.

    True story: My Father in Law was a chemistry professor at a small Canadian university. He was called by the CBC to comment on a PCB spill on the Trans Canada Highway. His immediate comment was “PCB’s aren’t particularly dangerous”. The interviewer stopped the interview right then and hung up. No attempt at clarification, nothing. They apparently kept calling until they found someone who said the sky was falling, put on your space suits, hide the kids. See here for a bit on the health effects.

    • I think the journalist did a good job to hang up.

      The website you mention makes a mention about PCBs that might not have a discernible effect if their are consumed in traces.

      Your father-in-law, who was not quick-thinking, did not consider that the ‘traces of PCBs’ is totally irrelevant to the big PCB spill on the highway.

      Your father-in-law simply messed up with this. I believe it was a fast-paced situation which led to the mix up. But don’t blame the journalist.

      • Janet, since the reporter sought out Mr. Eggert’s father-in-law for his expertise, shouldn’t the reporter have heard him out? Or this a right answer/wrong answer situation? Right Answer: Tell me more. Wrong Answer: Click. You actually approve of this sort of conduct by a journalist? Surely not.

      • Janet, you’re beginning to properly fill in your “character map” now. Thank you.

      • You do realize that you are now being creepy, don’t you?

        JC: this kind of comment doesn’t help the argument, and calling someone creepy is in violation of blog policy

      • Andrew Dodds

        JC – I find your comment astonishing.

        Simon Hopkinson is doing at best a blatant ad hom attack on Janet, at worst insinuating a more personal attack than that. And yet you have a go at Janet for calling SH on it.

      • Simon points out that Janet has a consistent alarmist stance. Is that ad hom?

      • What is your definition of “character”, Punksta?

      • Actually, I didn’t say anything about Janet, positive or negative. I merely thanked her for filling in her “character map” further. When someone fills in their character map, they share more of themselves, their feelings on subjects, clues about, or even specific details of, their personal ideologies, etc. My comment wasn’t negative, and any negative connotations are entirely the manufacture – whether conscious, subconscious or even unconscious – of others reading my comment.

        For the record, I enjoy interacting more with people who are less guarded about their views, even if I don’t share them. I find much that is endearing in a person who wears their heart on their sleeve. Candour is refreshing, particularly in an area of discussion where posturing is too often the dominant modus operandi.

      • Actually, I did not say that your ad hom was negative, Simon. I was merely pointing out the fact that it was an ad hom, since you invoke her character. Punksta seemed to want to know if it was one, so I told him so.

        Somehow, Janet took it the wrong way. Should we wonder why?

      • willard, I was aiming my post at Andrew, who accused me of an “ad hominem attack”. Not just “ad hominem”, which is just Latin.

      • SimonH,

        Sorry for the confusion. Your comment comes out as a reply to Punksta, not Andrew, unless Punksta is Andrew, which I doubt. Now, am I talking to SimonH or Simon Hopkinson?

        These indented threads easily become tough to follow. Thank God Who invented the feed readers.

      • I’m both! :D.. and Sam/Sammy/SamH/SamZ in places too!

      • Well in general, the basic or general nature of something. As used above by Simon (to which I referred), it seems to refer to the general tenor of her posts. I was thinking of the content thereof. Rereading, perhaps he was thinking of the (tetchy/arrogant) style.

      • Thank you, Punksta. Now, do you consider that telling that someone is tetchy or arrogant a way to describe one aspect of the character of a person? If you think so, you might then conclude that it is indeed an ad hom.

      • There was no mix up. PCB’s are not particularly dangerous. By your definition walking down the street on a sunny day is dangerous (I’m pretty sure that repeated sun exposure is a known carcinogen, as opposed to PCB’s being a potential carcinogen at high and repeated doses). A big spill does not necessarily lead to big exposure and when cleaned, it doesn’t lead to repeated trace exposure. Cleaning up a big spill is a straight forward and simple exercise. The reporter was looking for and found someone to say ‘everyone who travels over that highway will get cancer’. Probably with just enough weasel words of “if might and may” to cover their butts. The reporter was looking for the angle that would grab the listener, not the facts of the situation. The upshot was many people avoided traveling on the route for many years. A stupid outcome because of a stupid decision to go for the spectacular and highly deceptive story.

      • The PCBs are quite dangerous. Have a look at the Wikipedia page for PCBs. It has a list of accidents, and cases where PCBs leaked in the environment, polluting for a long time whole areas. Animals which eat polluted feed end up dying.
        When you mention that PCBs are not so bad, you are making a communication mistake. For PCB discussion, I think you should generally start your conversation by discussing what are the health effects of PCBs that you accept. If you say that there are effectively no bad ill effects, then it’s a tough story to sell.

      • Last comment as this thread is getting off topic.
        Nothing that you have said changes anything in my original post. PCB’s are not particularly dangerous. Wikipedia (hmm Health Canada / Wikipedia whom to believe) mentions many effects. All with the comment “High Doses”. Dose makes the poison. Vitamin A is toxic. Oxygen is toxic. They can both have bad ill effects. What you are pointing out is that you are not fully conversant in toxicology. That’s ok. I think your point of view is an excellent example of the product of media bias in reporting.

      • Janet, google the MSDS for beach sand. It’s listed as a carcinogen. Beaches in Cali are probably required to be labeled as such :) .

  28. Three little words: between intimates: “I love you”; between peers: ” I believe that…”; for general public consumption: “I don’t know.” Journalists by and large have a mission: to tell a story that they have already written in their heads. They need you to flesh out the details and give it authority. So much for investigative journalism. Stand-up lecturers are there to mostly look good and entertain. Vary the approach, humor, seriousness, sound bite talking points, etc. If you really want to communicate science, or the science of something, then it is all one-to-one. You are no longer in lecture mode, the person to whom you are speaking is reacting and giving you immediate feedback either by saying something but mostly by body language. One adjusts to the circumstance of the individual with whom you are having this conversation. You don’t have to assume levels of education, interest, whatever. If they walk away from you in mid-sentence, then you get the feedback right away. What better way to advance understanding, whatever it may be other than by one-on-one.

  29. There hardly seems to be a communication problem. Everybody I know has heard of climate change and is familiar with the scary stories. Most people I know have seen Al Gore’s movie. Most people I know have heard of cap&tax or cap&trade and know it’s motivation. AGW is one of the most talked about science topics. I can’t think of one more often in the public eye – stories regularly appear in newspaper/websites/magazines and popular media. There may be more blogs devoted to climate issues than to NFL football (OK, maybe that’s a stretch).

    We (in the US) have done very little to address CO2 emissions, and that’s a good thing.

    What exactly is the problem?

    • Out of sheer curiosity, what are your views regarding

      1. smoking is not that bad
      2. it’s creationism, not evolution
      3. conservatives should govern
      4. the universe and earth are 6000 years old

      • I believe Janet has contributed to the conversation about communications by giving us a great example of how NOT to do it.

      • This is a vast improvement over your previous questions in a prior post. But you need to tighten up the last question. I mean, no one believes that the earth is 6000 years old. I, for example, believe that a flat earth was created over a 6 day period in 4,004 B. C. by a crotchety old guy with a long white beard who hurls thunder bolts at you if you try to eat a ham sandwich or a Maine lobster. So that’s a 6,006 year old earth, not a 6,000 year old earth. Inattention to detail can deprive you questions of their fullest impact, Janet.

      • Janet, someon tried a much longer silly survey than that, over at Deltoid and even there there was quite a lot of derision…

        You mentioned, how some people asked dumb questions to climate scientists…..

        I was fortuanate to hear on Radio 5 Live in the UK.

        A member of the public ask a politician, Ed, a ‘sensible’ co2 question..

        Which was.
        You do know how much CO2 is released by man ?

        Ed, talks about the consensus, etc,etc..

        The caller, say, yes, eyes, but you must discuss this, how much CO2 in the atmosphere is down to man…

        Ed, talks a bit more,failing to answer the question…

        The caller, getting annoyed, HOW much of the CO2 in the atmosphere is down to man.. you must discuss it… as you have put into place a climate Change bill – costed at £18,000,000,000 a year to solve the AGW problem

        Ed, seeing he’s got to answer, said ALL OF IT..

        I nearly crashed my car laughing….

        Then, the realisation that this was a bit more serious..

        Because Ed Milliband, was the then Minister of State, for Energy and CLIMATE CHANGE.

        I lost shall we say, any confidence I did not all ready have, in his mastery of his brief…….

        Just before Copenhagen, Ed and Gordon, Minister of State, and the UK Prime Minsiter, were calling CAGW sceptical people like me, Deniars, Flat Earther, anti science, and climate sabatouers’ and we had 50 Days to Svae the PLanet (-300 now)

        Ed and Gordon lost in the election…
        Ed has just been voted the Leader of the Labour party…
        So he is now the voice of the Offical Opposition in the UK

        But don’t worry, David ‘call me green’ Cameron the new Prime Minister, has exactly the same degree as Ed.
        Politics, Philosophy and Economics… (less than 5% MP’s with a hard science qualification)

        I wonder if anyone has told either of them yet, that the Royal Societ, are now slightly less certain, than all those MP’s voted for the Climate Change Bill, that will cost the voters billions?

        To the point….

        if you study tree rings and temperature constructions, as an example… Why shoulsd any person, take the voice of this climate scientists’ talking about sea levels of hurricanes due to AGW, or anything outside of their own particular field….

        Newton was a brilliant scientists, but given the chance he could bend your ears, discussing alchemy…..

        With his voice of authority…..!

        More seriously, frequently ‘climate scientists’ speak out, outside there area of expertise, think glaciers, or Trenberth and Landsea on hurricanes due to AGW.

        Good PR is not the solution to a sceptical public.

      • Love the logic : because smoking-health scepticism was ill-founded, so is CAGW scpeticism. Also the brute sincerity of “sheer curiosity”.

    • Interesting that you call this article, and the actions it explains, “relatively sane.” I would beg to disagree. Here’s why:

      I do not want any government doing most of what the article suggests. But, more to the point, the article presumes that however much the climate is changing, or irrespective of the cause, that climate change is of a degree and nature that we must have widespread and expensive adaptation activities that, of course, require government involvement.

      I hope you do understand that “government” is nothing but another word for “police” in that need for “police” in society is why we create government: it is a body we create to force some in society to do what others think they must do or suffer serious, societally-sanctioned consequences.

      To me, our society is sufficiently smart and vibrant that if scientific research (not advocacy) shows there is a serious climate problem, that we, the populace, will figure that out and take the actions we need to deal with it. If the police-power of government is needed because economies of scale or externalities make private action impractical (i.e., that’s why we ask our government to maintain an army for us) in regards to “dealing with” climate change, then the call to action will come from a widespread consensus, not from small advocacy groups (e.g., Sierra Club, WWF, IPCC, etc.). You do understand that most of the public, reasonably, does not believe we have a “climate problem,” man-made or otherwise?

      See, that’s part of the problem I don’t think you understand: that your sense of what scientists “should do” and what government “is for” and how those two should interact is so far removed from what many deeply thoughtful (and some less thoughtful) people believe. So, you get confused as to why those kinds of people seem to mis-understand you. We don’t misunderstand you: we simply do not agree with your sense of science’s role or government’s role in society.

      That’s why you point to things you think should be “obviously reasonable to all” and a starting point for discussion (e.g., UCAR/ Holdren) and, frankly, such points are not even close to being a possible starting point.

      I could be wrong about your self-awareness of where your views of “science/ government/ society” stand in regards to the audience you want to connect with, but, anyone — scientist or otherwise — who has a fundamental view that “government should do it….” makes me wonder about their ontology if not their epoistemology.

      • ..climate change is of a degree and nature that we must have widespread and expensive adaptation activities that, of course, require government involvement.
        And who is saying this? Why, government-funded scientists.

    • Dr. Curry:

      With all due respect, this is not sanity. I’ve looked at that first sentence for a while now and will leave it in. I’ll accept the risk of being off putting.

      Take my current situation. I must design a tailings (waste product from processing mined ore) facility. The facility must be stable during operation and upon closure, we must provide a ‘walk away’ or ‘back to nature’ situation. Climate plays a huge role in many design decisions. I have nice charts I’ve generated myself of mean monthly temperature, Maximum cold, maximum hot, maximum expected precipitation, etc. The current climate here is (for want of a simpler word) boreal. Should I plan for: The same precipitation, more precipitation, less precipitation. More means more freeboard and a greater footprint for the facility. If more doesn’t come, there will be increased dust pollution (among other consequences). Less means we must change the initial vegetative cover and potentially apply for permitting to obtain water and if less doesn’t come, possible overtopping of the facility, failure to successfully re-vegetate and again, pollution. Similar problems with temperature, weather events (big storms, long dry spells, etc.). Sure I need to adapt. Which way? Dryer? Wetter? Hotter? Colder? At this time, the least risky option is to assume constant climate. The wrong guess the opposite way to some particular change requires more money and effort to fix than the assumption of constancy. If the change isn’t absolutely going to be warming, then it is not predictable and it can’t be designed for. Thus there are no rational steps that can be taken other than assume NO climate change. This is the only rational step, unless it really is global warming. That we can design for. Climate change, but don’t know which way or climate disruption, but don’t know where or how much is random. You can’t design for random. From an engineering point of view, in terms of what and how we build, if we are not looking at warming, but some unpredictable “change” (or disruption or whatever it is this week), then the ONLY ethical design decision is to assume NO CHANGE.

      Sorry. . . I’m getting frustrated these days as these are real questions with real and immediate consequences. “must adapt” is no answer.

      • John, sanity is relative. Regardless of what the average climate does, we will still have extreme events: heat waves and cold waves, floods and drought, hurricanes, wildfires. With better water resource management practices and infrastructure, both floods and droughts can be managed better. etc. You should plan for greater extremes, or even to be able to meet the extreme events encountered in a given location say over the past 3 decades. This is what adaptation is about.

      • You missed the point of my argument, though mayhap I was not explicit. Extremes are accounted for by safety measures, such as spillways to shed the 100 year storm or cut backs to protect against wild fires. However. If I design for an average that is increasing, then I do one thing. If I design for an average that is decreasing I do another. If I don’t know if the average is increasing or decreasing, I design for today’s average.

        That is . . . given that we are no longer talking about warming, the only ethical design choice is assume constancy. The ethical reductio ad adsurdum of moving from global warming to global climate disruption is that the only ethical design choice is assume constant climate.

        As a comment about the past 3 decades.
        The minimum standard for engineering is the 100 year event, which is, by accepted practice, whatever bad happened somewhere within 500 to 1,000 miles or so in the last 100 years or more. So, for instance, in Northern Ontario, the design rainfall event is the Timmins storm of 6 inches of rain in 24 hours. Though this event occurred in and is most likely to be repeated in July, one is required to assume that it occurs sometime in spring with the maximum snow pack of the last 100 years and frozen ground. Extremes are already accounted for in a good design.

        Speaking of mining, if you get a chance, look into a thing called NI43-101. It is the law Canadian mining geologists must follow in terms of data transparency. (hmm can I think of a Canadian mining geologist who is active in the climate community and complains about data transparency?)

        Thanks for your answer. I read your blog every day and am thoroughly enjoying that. One needs to step out of one’s echo chamber on a regular basis.


      • My point is that we need to widen the margin for safety measures. We will get to robust decision making strategies under uncertainty in a few weeks.

      • Gilbert K. Arnold

        John: Since this is a topic about “scientists” communicating with the public. I note that you have perpetuated the “100-year flood” myth. A one hundred year flood is not something “… bad happened somewhere within 500 to 1,000 miles or so in the last 100 years or more.” A 100-year flood is defined as flood of such magnitude that the probability that it will occur in any given year is: one-percent. Note this means that it is possible to have more than one 100-year flood in a year, And that percentage is the same for each and every year.

        This is slightly off-topic, but it illustrates the difficulty of communicating even such a simple concept such as the 100-year flood to the public who seem to think that such a flood can only happen once in a hundred years.

      • Both in the US and here in the UK there isn’t even the will to properly maintain systems already in place to protect against expected events (until after a devastating one). Your recent post on Pakistan highlights contributory factors that will never be addressed due to a lack of finance and accountability.

        The UCAR article you link to advocates more bureaucracy, discussion and debate but seems out of touch with reality. A runaway gravy train recommending more carriages. Far too much ineffectual talk, no real action. We should address mistakes already made and rectify them where possible. Stop building on flood plains would be a start.

        I don’t mean to seem rude but the language used in the report indicates to me a mindset evolved from too much time in higher education/soft jobs, to little real world experience. Something I’m sure the authors would vehemently dispute. (I know, I must be old).

      • I guess you meant to say:

        “You should plan for greater extremes, or even to be able to meet the extreme events encountered in a given location say over the NEXT 3 decades. “

    • It is certainly OK for scientists to study climate change. But let the states decide what, if anything, they want to do in order to mitigate or adapt to it. Not every nail takes a Federal hammer, and not every problem is even a nail.

  30. After some thought on the issue I have to agree that Climate Science should pointedly and vehemently reject the use of the narrative. I might change my mind, and this is poorly thought out, but this is chain of thought I am following.

    What is needed is exposition, first last and always. Climate Science should not be about telling a story, it should be about presenting the facts. Yes narrative is “easier” and works better at shaping opinions, the purpose of science is not to shape opinions but to present the facts. How you present a narrative of Climate Science is meaningless in terms of what the facts are, if human CO2 emissions are changing the climate of the Earth they are going to do it regardless of how many people believe it or disbelieve it.

    The difference between science and engineering is that science is passive and concerned with examining the universe as it is while engineering is active and deals with changing the universe. Climate Science is the examination of how the climate works, Social Engineering is the practice of changing public opinions. When a climate scientist is attempting to change public opinion they are not functioning as a climate scientist they are functioning as a social engineer.

    It gets confused because no matter how good a scientist you are, if you do not to some extent engage in social engineering no one will know how good a scientist you are, but you will still be just as good a scientist despite a lack of acknowledgment. If only one climate scientist in the world to realized that the antarctic is cooling but could not convince anyone else of this while every other climate scientist says the antarctic is warming, they would be written off as a crank and a bad scientist – that does not mean that the antarctic is not cooling and that the one climate scientist is not a better scientist than the rest, only that they would not be recognized. The objective facts remain the same regardless of the subective perception of them.

  31. Apologies for recent craziness in the blog template, I’ve settled on this one, which enables you to link on sidebar to the most recent comments. I’ve also improved the tree structure. (numbering the comments remains elusive).

  32. Judith

    I think that climate researchers/scientists are like politicians in that they greatly overestimate their appeal and the degree of trust others have in them.

    So who are we supposed to respect and trust and want to communicate wth us?

    James Hansen? Who has just been arrested- again…(probably to distract attention from his 20 year old forecast that the road outside his office would be flooded in 20 years).

    Phil Jones? Exposed for not being as open as he should be and playing with figures and in any case a person with no presence.
    Michael Mann? Whose hockey stick is an affront to climate historians as well as statisticians and with a tendancy to bluster.

    Al Gore? An advocate of the first order and seen as a great communicator only by those who have already bought in to his message.

    Julia Slingo? Who said she welcomed alternative views but showed what she really thought of us with her exclusion of virtually every alternative view from the recent Exeter climate conference. A terible and wooden communicator.

    Climate scientists seem to have great specialism on a very narrow aspect of the subject and it is left to IPCC- a politically motivated body- to assemble the jigsaw. So ‘they’ need to be the great comunicators to the public and media, but not with Panchauri at the top of it-yet another advocate.

    So scientists are probably the worst possible at reaching out to the public-not surprising as academics live in a different world to most of the population. Ive heard some really terrible radio interviews from ‘top’ names at the Met Office, Royal Society, Reional promoters of AGW funded by the UK Govt (we have hundreds of these in the UK)and all sorts of organisations in between.

    So probably using scientists to communicate is not a great idea unless they pass some sort of test based on all the things a politican might need to have, ranging from credibility and knowledge to assurance and calm. They must also be able to speak to their audience without talking down to them or sounding arrogant. I do not want an advocate whatever side they’re from

    Dare I say it that they must also be photogenic, or well spoken, or have the ability to write well, depending on what media they are to be unleashed on. Lord Mockton for example is terrific on the radio or at an event, but would be a disaster on a five minute TV slot out of context as he’s certainly not phoptogenic and comes across as bombastic.

    Dare I ask if you can point us to one of your own videos so we can screen test you :) Have you got ‘physical presence?’


    • My best video interview is here. A more typical performance is here. I’m clearly no Walter Cronkite. I’ve abandoned the “physical presence” thing in favor of the mighty pen (or the e-equivalent); the blogosphere is my medium of choice and where I think I can be effective.

      • Steve Fitzpatrick

        Both your videos seem to me quite good. You come across as forthright and open. Do you have any examples where you are interacting with either an audience or with someone who is skeptical of the magnitude of AGW?

    • Ref – “I think that climate researchers/scientists are like politicians in that they greatly overestimate their appeal and the degree of trust others have in them.”

      You appear to throw the whole field into the toilet, was that your intent?

  33. Climate science seems to have much in common with economic science, both are disciplines with tremendous impact on public policy and both have demonstrated painful performance inadequacy.
    Much as none of the leading economists saw the current crisis coming, none of the climate science establishment raised objection to the weak data and the alarmist projections embodied in the rather discredited IPCC reports.
    The political leadership is just starting to react to the failure of economic science.
    My guess is that it will be quicker to reappraise climate science.
    The problem now is that these failures have cost all science dearly in terms of sharply reduced credibility and it is dangerous to nourish the illusion that a more convincing persona can redress the balance.
    At this point, the most credible protagonist in the climate debate is probably Mr McIntyre of Climate Audit fame, merely because he has not been willing to step beyond either the data or civil discourse, even when provoked. That kind of credibility is hard won and cannot simply be bestowed.
    For the climate science community, the road to credibility must start with openness. Forget about restricted data sets and murky quality control adjustments.
    Let the data be open and free. Until that is achieved, no climate scientist will have a credible platform from which to communicate.

  34. I wonder if any scientists were consulted in this short film…….
    10:10 Campaign – No Pressure……

    Communicating about what other people will do to you, for not reducing your carbon footprint…

    Bear, with it until 1min 10 seconds, and the red button..
    (a school setting, of course, with children, then watch the rest, in fascinated horror)

    To be shown in cinemas.. Richard Curtis (4 weddings and a funeral short film ) watch out for Gillian Anderson at the end…

    This is a serious point about communication….
    ie, the dirty CAGW PR is actually getting worse, more vile…

    If you don’t agree, your choice, press a red button and you will explode into a bloody pulp……

    Quote from the Guardain:
    Had a look?
    Well, I’m certain you’ll agree that detonating school kids, footballers and movie stars into gory pulp for ignoring their carbon footprints is attention-grabbing. It’s also got a decent sprinkling of stardust – Peter Crouch, Gillian Anderson, Radiohead and others.

  35. Climate Scientists need to be honest about how undeveloped their own subject is.

    If we score the development of medicine as 60, mechanical engineering at 80, electronics at 90. Where is climate science ? Have they actually discovered any laws yet ? Any correct predictions ?

  36. For scientific issues that (may) have important consequences for society, it is paramount that the science is properly communicated to the public.

    Whether this is best done by working scientists themselves or by those who understand the science enough to do so, but are more engaged in communication than in doing science, is an interesting question though. By and large, scientists aren’t great communicators.

    Randy Olson has some very good things to say about how to communicate these complex issues. I commented on some of his writing eg

    I don’t agree that Jim Hansen is lost from public communication. First and foremost he is still a scientist (and a great one at that). He also stands for what he believes are the ethical consequences of his understanding of the science. As long as you can be confident that he argues in the proper direction (i.e. the science influencing his political stance rather than the other way around) then there shouldn’t be a problem.

    It’s always a catch 22 when as a scientist you enter the public debate. (

    Another great science communicator is Richard Alley ( Tim Lambert is a good example of someone with a good grasp of the science, though himself not being a climate scientist, who appeared very good at presenting and debating the scientific case.

    • I wouldn’t be so hard on scientists being in a position to communicate their work effectively to the public. The ability to communicate their work in a easy to understand way for the average person is not something they have been trained for.

      Some universities provide courses for scientists on how to interact with the media, but apart from that it is on the personal discretion of the scientist to learn to present their work.

      I believe it is not that of a big issue for scientists to communicate their work. Due to the vested interests in some businesses regarding climate change, the debate has become very tense and scientists are just being attacked.

      If I want to learn about the universe and the planets, I can simply watch the documentary on the Discovery Channel (How the Universe Works), which is very easy to follow. For climate science, some oil/coal companies want to keep polluting so their goal is to kill the debate.

      • I think you’ll find that those wanting to kill the climate debate are part of the alarmist “consensus”. And that this science behind this alleged consensus is based on funding that utterly dwarfs the the funding of climate science by oil companies etc – by a factor of perhaps 10000.

  37. Dr. Curry,
    The article you mention having ‘relative sanity’ on climate policy was interesting, but it does beg a question: it mentions taking steps to minimze negative impacts of climate change, but it doesn’t say WHICH WAY the climate might be changing. A colder climate (forecast by some based on solar activity) would require different actions than a warmer climate (forecast by others based on CO2).

    I agree with the general idea, but discussing both seems right. Yet because of John Holdren, who I see as cleary a ‘warmist’, I suspect they will only be looking at the ‘warmer’ climate scenario. That is unfortunate.

    • Well regardless of the warm/cold issue, they will undoubtedly be looking at both floods and droughts, which is a very big part of the challenge.

    • Apparently, overall the planet will become warmer.
      However, this does not preclude that some areas will exhibit worse winters.
      My unscientific guess is that increased wind energy (due to heating of the planet) will bring cold polar winds further away from the poles.
      China had a freak winter two years ago. If such freak winters really happen again soon, then it’s an indication towards this direction.

      • Don’t you mean – ‘Global Climate Disruption’

        See, my comment and video link, for why I am no longer a man made climate sceptic, but a man made climate cynic…

        10:10 Campaign – No Pressure (short film out soon)

  38. Judith

    I thought you were quite good in the first interview, once you’d warmed up. There was good interaction with the interviewer and you came scross as trustworthy .

    The second one is quite a false format which I felt uncomfortable with and don’t think really worked without the spark of an interviewer.

    Steve made a good point in asking if you have any examples where you are interacting with either an audience or with someone who is skeptical of the magnitude of AGW?

    In this context it would be very useful to have a gallery of links to interviews by different scientists in different situations to see who and what worked the best in a variety of circumstances.

    There are horses for courses, for example Abrahams (?) (the guy who put up a critique of Monckton) to me came over well in his video assuming he had been putting over a lecture to his class, however he would have bored me rigid if he’d been performing at a public debate I’d paid to go to see (monckton would have wiped the floor with him in this latter scenario)

    The Richard Alley link didn’t work so I can’t comment on his performance. Can you repost?


    • I just watched this sick excuse of a video. The people who made it and acted in it are despicable. I will make it a point not to watch anything they ever do again. What a crock!

  39. Skeptics are “deniers”, “anti-science” and ”flat earthers” because “the science is settled” with “a consensus of 2500 climate scientists”
    The media campaign to change perceptions in favor of CAGW will be studied for years due to its effectiveness //sarc off

  40. Ed – look at the video – 10:10 campaign…

    that is what the general public get, in the UK.
    Who need sceintists to communicate, when they’ve got Richard Curtis!

    Quote from the Guardian comments section: (link above)

    “The one thing that I did notice was that it was [b]heavily weighted in favour of people in positions of authority ‘killing off’ any sort of dissent[/b], which if the film is about getting people to discuss and act upon 10:10 was something of an own goal and will be utterly counterproductive to what Richard Curtis et al intended with this film.”

  41. Barry Woods,
    You beat me to the post.
    I see the video as just another logical step in the AGW social movement.
    I wonder if any scientists helped put 10:10 together?

  42. IMO, there are varying degrees of disagreement among climate scientists on many of the central issues related to climate change. In the context of Judith’s post, the important questions then becomes 1) Is there a high degree of “consensus” on a specific topic and, if so, 2) who could speak with authority on the specific topic?
    David Bray and Hans van Storch (BS10) published recently the results of their 2008 world-wide survey of climate scientists
    CliSci2008: A Survey of the Perspectives of Climate Scientists Concerning Climate Science and Climate Change

    The results:

    1. On the average, 364 climate scientists responded to the survey
    2. Respondees were asked to answer 100 questions using a Likert 1 – 7 scale (LS)
    3. The mean LS score and standard deviation for each question is listed in the BS10 article along with a graphical display of the frequency distribution of the LS scores.
    4. The frequency distribution graph of the LS scores provides a sense of the degree of consensus among the respondees to a specific question.

    I found the results quite interesting. Here are some examples:
    1. Q56 – How convinced are you that most of recent or near future climate change is, or will be, a result of anthropogenic causes? (not at all 1 2 3 4 5 2 3 4 5 6 7 very much) has both have a very high LS score (LS mean = 6.443) and a very high degree of consensus (STDEV = 0.978).
    2. Q87 – 41. The IPCC reports tend to under estimate, accurately reflect (a value of 4) or over estimate the magnitude of future changes to temperature (under estimate 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 over estimate) has both have a near-average LS score (LS mean = 4.006) and a very high degree of consensus (STDEV = 0.901).

    I think that it would be interesting to ask the climate scientists who responded to the BS10 survey to present evidence that supports their response to these two question. Perhaps this would identify those climate scientists who have the appropriate skills to address and communicate the key aspects of these two issues.

    BTW, I favor a higher resolution methodology to evaluate the degree of consensus (unanimity) than provided by the graphical displays in BS10. In my preferred methodology, I 1) normalized the STDEV of the responses to the questions and then 2) rank-ordered the results. The average of the STDEVs is 1.346 and the STDEV about that average is 0.167. Thus, I considered the following ranges of normalized deviation wrt 1.346 to be reasonable for classifying the degree of consensus (DC):

    • Very low: greater than 1.5
    • Low: 0.5 to 1.5
    • Medium: 0.5 to -0.5
    • High: -0.5 to -1.5
    • Very high: Less than -1.5

    Applying the same line of reasoning to the LS average scores for the ~ 100 questions yields an average score of 4.184 and a STDEV of 0.956. Since most of the LS scores measure the agreement wrt a specific question, I would consider the following ranges of normalized deviation wrt 0.956 to be reasonable for classifying the degree of agreement (DA):

    • Very low: less than – 1.5
    • Low: -1.5 to-0.5
    • Medium: -0.5 to 0.5
    • High: 0.5 to 1.5
    • Very high: Greater than 1.5

    Based on this classification scheme, only 13 of the 100 questions have a high or very high degree of agreement and a high or very high degree of consensus. Only Q56 How convinced are you that most of recent or near future climate change is, or will be, a result of anthropogenic causes? (Not at all 1 2 3 4 5 2 3 4 5 6 7 very much) has both have a very high degree of agreement (DA = 2.365) and a very high degree of consensus (DC = -2.204).

    Interestingly, 6 of the 9 questions in the Adaptation and Mitigation section have high degrees of agreement and consensus:

    Q70 in making policy decisions about adaptation to climate change, priority should be given to opinions of industry and commerce 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 scientific expertise. (DA = 1.199, DC = -1.551)

    Q71 in making policy decisions about adaptation to climate change, priority should be given to political opinion 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 scientific expertise. (DA = 1.410, DC = -1.204)

    Q72 In making policy decisions about adaptation to climate change, priority should be given to
    Public opinion 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 scientific expertise. (DA = 1.335, DC = -1.019)

    Q73 In making policy decisions about mitigation to climate change, priority should be given to
    Opinions of industry and commerce 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 scientific expertise. (DA = 1.324, DC = -0.981)

    Q74 In making policy decisions about mitigation to climate change, priority should be given to
    Political opinion 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 scientific expertise. (DA = 1.398, DC = -0.865)

    Q75 In making policy decisions about mitigation to climate change, priority should be given to
    Public opinion 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 scientific expertise. (DA = 1.436, DC = -1.122)

    Clearly, most of the respondees believe that scientific expertise should trump opinions of industry and commerce, political and public opinions when it comes to policy decisions about mitigation and adaptation to climate change. My, my …

    For the remaining 6 of 13 questions having a high or very high degree of agreement and a high or very high degree of consensus.

    Q 32: DA = 0.794 and DC = -0.609
    Q 59: DA = 1.128 and DC = -0.659
    Q 91: DA = 1.029 and DC = -0.565
    Q 107: DA = 1.470 and DC = -1.066
    Q 109: DA = 1.265 and DC = -1.465
    Q122: DA = 1.537 and DC = -0.713

    • An interesting analysis, but I would raise several points.

      First, and most importantly, in many of the questions, agreement with the IPCC reports, and hence the purported consensus, is indicated by a value of 4, or for some questions 1. Consequently your DA measure is ill defined and understates the degree of agreement with the IPCC. This is further complicated in that a significant number of the questions only allow of three or even two possible answers. Presumably you did not included those questions in your treatment, in which case your analysis reflects only part of the survey.

      Second, you incorrectly state the question which garnered the most agreement with the tightest consensus. That was, in fact, question 20 (How convinced are you that climate change, whether natural or anthropogenic, is
      occurring now?) with a mean of 6.444744 and a Standard Deviation of .9776105. Question 21, which you incorrectly describe as question 56, had a mean of 5.678378 and a Standard Deviation of 1.433935. Also of interest is question 22 (How convinced are you that climate change poses a very serious and dangerous threat to humanity?) with a mean of 5.572973 and a standard deviation of 1.523555. For a further breakdown, just over 10% disagree (responces 1,2,and 3) with this statement, just under 11% are ambivalent, while 16.49% agree (5), 27.84% strongly agree (6), and 34.59% very strongly agree (7). The IPCC position on this is closer to (6) than to (7), being more qualified. That more responded with (7) than any other responces suggests that a significant portion of climate scientists view the statement as understating the risk.

      Third, the lack of confidence by scientists in industrial, political, and public opinion is readily explained by the very obvious disconnect between industrial, political and public opinion on the level of certainty of climate change, and the risks involved, and those of the scientists. Coherent and effective policy can only be developed by people who are informed on the issues. Transparently, a significant portion of industry, politicians, and the public are misinformed, and in a state of denial.

      For those who want to read the results for themselves, which I recomend, they can be found here:

      • Tom Curtis
        Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

        As regards your first set of comments:

        1. My earlier comment pertained to only the 100 questions in BS10 that were scored using a LS 1 -7 scale.
        2. I agree that my DA measure is ill-defined because the LS 1 – 7 scoring scheme methodology in RS10 was used to measure several (13) different factors. Actually, as I defined DA, it measures the difference between the mean LS score for a specific question and the average of mean LS’s (4.184) for the set of 100-question, in s.d. units (1 s.d. = 0.956). I probably should have referred to the normalized LS score deviation, i.e., NLSD. (No pun intended.) The ranges for classifying NLSD are the same as I listed in my earlier comment.

        As regards your second set of comments:

        I’m puzzled by your references to questions 20, 21 and Q22. As I read BS10,
        Q20 How well do you think atmospheric models can deal with the influence of clouds? (Very
        Inadequate 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 very adequate) (LS mean = 2.747253; STDEV = 1.16035)

        You said: “…question 20 (How convinced are you that climate change, whether natural or anthropogenic, is
        occurring now?) with a mean of 6.444744 and a Standard Deviation of .9776105.” I believe that you have listed Q56. Did you, pperhaps, misinterpret the paragraph number 20 to be Q20? If you look five lines lower in the data listing, you will see “Q56 | 371 6.444744 .9776105 1 7.”

        You also said: “Question 21, which you incorrectly describe as question 56, had a mean of 5.678378 and a Standard Deviation of 1.433935.” Did you, pperhaps, also misinterpret the paragraph number 21 to be Q21? If you look five lines lower in the data listing, you will see “Q57 | 370 5.678378 1.433935 1 7.”

        You also spoke about “…question 22 (How convinced are you that climate change poses a very serious and dangerous threat to humanity?) with a mean of 5.572973 and a standard deviation of 1.523555”. Did you, perhaps, also misinterpret the paragraph number 22 to mean Q22? If you look five lines lower in the data listing, you will see “Q58 | 370 5.572973 1. 523555 1 7.”

        Thanks for adding the hyperlink to BS10. Apparently my hyperlink was lost during the transcription.

      • With regards to the second set of comments, it appears we are using different numbering systems for the comments. I am using that used by Bray and van Storch 2008. Several of their questions have multiple parts, so that one question (15 for example) may require multiple distinct reponces (15a, 15b, …, 15c). Presumably your numbering also only included the 100 questions which allow seven distinct responces. If those questions are available on the web with your numbering, would you please provide a link for ease of refference.

      • Tom,

        I, too, used Bray and van Storch’s numbering system. In your example, their outline item 15 “The current state of scientific knowledge is developed well enough to allow reasonable assessment of the effects of:” doesn’t for a complete question statement. It becomes a complete question when the term “turbulence” is added in 15a. The data related to the response to 15a are listed five lines later and identified as Q27. Likewise, 15b, 15c, 15d and 15e become complete questions when the terms, “surface albedo”, “land surface processes”, “surface ice” and “green-house gases emitted from anthropogenic sources” are added, respectively. The data related to the response to 15b, 15c, 15d and 15c are listed five lines after each question and identified as Q28, Q29, Q30 and Q31, respectively.

        I transferred the 100 LS 1 – 7 questions and their associated data lines to EXCEL to do my analysis. Therefore, I retained the Q__ identifiers.

        I apologize for the confusion that I may have created.

      • And I apologise for the confusion I have created, you are entirely correct. The Questions themselves are listed under the paragraph, subparagraph format, but the responces are clearly tagged with the numbering system you have used, which I had failed to note.

  43. Many scientists communicate quite well but become accustomed to speaking to a particular audience level and perspective over time – especially teachers who no longer expect students to question their authority. When a scientist comes into the public domain he often misses the audience because he either speaks above their heads or insults their intelligence and compounds his error by his defensive posture. Or, he assumes that a particular perspective, the one he shares, is universally accepted and beyond the questioning of others especially skeptics. I have participated in numerous scientific debates where those involved take contrary positions, even those where participants clearly do not like each other, yet the debate proceeds toward the resolution of disputed points. Inevitably, from time to time, a point is reached where scientist differ and the debate can not go forward because attacks become personal and/or political and the question of authority or ego become more important than resolution of the differences. This is especially true when scientist begin to worry about the rice bowl effect, i.e., when one worries about whether his funding will continue should he concede a point or admit an error. Clearly, opinions regarding climate variations and potential long term adjustment/changes have become, in the public debate, little more than defense based narratives – this is especially true when considering the use of emotionally charged sound bites and pictures such as “tipping point, hockey stick and images” used by those who are now referred to as “warmists.” A good place to start in resolving these differences is to make public all data, how data was collected, assumptions about the data, adjustments of the data, equations, model details and funding sources (including biases of funding sources) and biases of the scientist themselves. Let’s start with the facts, state the theories, state how this particular study fits within the the general theory, how data was developed and why it was chosen, how data was checked and verified, relevance of statistical methods and why they were selected. Then and only then can we have a meaningful conversation about conclusions. Saying that the “science is settled” or that “there is scientific consensus” begs the question and leads to name calling not resolution of the problem.

  44. I think there is significant value to media-savvy scientists speaking out. There is nothing better than getting information directly from the source. But realistically, they will never achieve the impact of the many voices in the media and politics. There aren’t enough climate scientists to compete. Often times the media gets important aspects of the story wrong.

    And Judy, you are right to denigrate talk radio for passing along falsehoods. Yet politicians, activists, and the media continue to do much the same. For example, we are still being told that global warming has caused increases in hurricanes and floods, although that’s not consistent with peer reviewed science.

    A couple of years ago one of Al Gore’s organizations was blanketing the airwaves with the claim that the U.S. could replace all of our carbon based electricity generation with renewables within 10 years. Aside from the fact that it’s physically impossible in that time frame, if we got roughly 70% of our power from wind and solar, we’d never meet the demand when the sun wasn’t shining and the wind wasn’t blowing. The media didn’t say a word.

    Finally, the administration is telling us that green energy will boost the economy and create jobs. You don’t have to be an economist to know that switching from relatively cheap to relatively expensive energy can only harm the economy and lead to a net loss of jobs. Again, the media is largely silent.

    Since we will always depend on the media and politicians to do most of the communication, the question becomes how to assure it is accurate and honest. I think that scientists must serve as fact checkers. That may not sit well with most in the scientific community, but who else will serve in that role? There are too many falsehoods and omissions (e.g. uncertainty). Ultimately that will hurt the credibility of science (again) if this is allowed to continue.

  45. It is not scientists who are having trouble communicating.
    Those having trouble communicating are the promoters of CAGW. When a person decides to promote a cause like CAGW, they are no longer a scientist or academic, but are instead an evangelist/salesman/huckster pushing something onto the public and utilizing any resources they are able to claim.
    We have posters here, for example, using test questions about tobacco and religion in order to sell the idea that CO2 is causing a global crisis.
    There is an execrable film linked to here by an AGW promotion organization that threatens death to unbelievers. Any means to reach the end is now justified by those who have decided that controlling CO2 is the key to Earth’s safety.

  46. Communication is hard – scientists (eg. me) tend not to have communicative types of personality. Also it has gotten harder because it is now easy for anyone to check your data and interpretation. This is the trouble for climatologists, it is no longer effective to be authoritarian, since anyone can now get up the temperature record raw data and see for themselves.

    I agree that blogs are a rising as a communication tool, in part because they facilitate anaysis of the author’s interpretation and conclusions in a fairly non confrontational way.

    My suggestion is to adopt a formalised web journal approach which meshes blogs with the conventional journal article, with comments enabled. This model would use editorial review in place of peer review, to reduce the current tribalism which seems to infect the established journals.

    One of the good things of science blogs now is you can converse with the author of a post rapidly and in an open way. This would be valuable for the formal journal article publication process. It is also open to cross specialisation, which helps offset the siloing now. One of the interesting things about the climate story is that blogs have allowed scientists (like myself) from other fields with relevant skills to comment and to view the data.

  47. Science is such a vast area. The focus, even by you Judith, is extremely narrow and ongoing in only one area.
    Many people are totally turned off of “Scientists say…” with very little on who or how they came up with the next theory or scare tactic.

    Using jargon and speaking beyond peoples ability (except for other scientists). But then scientists feel they are beyond approach because of their education level and not admitting to mistakes unless humilated into it.

  48. a.) The Climategate scandal shows the need for scientists to do science right.
    b.) There was too much emphasis on packaging; too little on science.
    c.) More emphasis on communications is not the solution.

  49. Dr. Curry:

    I think your new blog is shaping up nicely, and your writing (and thinking) is getting better, sharper, and more focused. You made the right choice in starting up your own forum, I think. Very impressive.

    Do keep up the good work, though I wonder when you get *real* work done, or sleep?

    Best wishes,
    Peter D. Tillman

  50. It was obviously too much to hope the 10:10 video wouldn’t reach these pages, and it has, and I suppose it’s relevant to the discussion. It has provoked outrage amongst sceptics who seem immune to its, admittedly arid, irony, so may I attempt to pre-empt a similar eruption of sanctimony here by pointing out that it was made by Richard Curtis, co-creator of Blackadder and IMO the English-speaking World’s Wittiest Man. Blackadder is peppered with potshots at contemporary fads, and it strains credulity that Curtis, so robustly sceptical in his world view, should have a blind spot when it comes to CAGW twaddle. He seems to have gulled the 10:10 people (because they are not very clever) into letting him make for them a piece which he surely knows (because he is cleverer than a hatful of monkeys) is pure poison to their cause. A quick look at the Grauniad’s comments reveals the truth of this – the cheer-review squad think it’s great, but the serious warmies are horrified. I think it’s brilliant, but you do need to understand that it is the work of a very sophisticated, and English, parodist. That it was released by the very people he is parodying only adds spice.

    Of course I could be wrong, Curtis could be a fully paid-up CAGW-er. But if so, the effect of his work is just as damaging to the CAGW cause.

    What this all means for communication in science, I don’t know, but since the thing has gone viral, I thought I’d try to stop too much misguided harrumphing – on both sides.

    • As a skeptic and someone who has read a depressing amount of history, I see the film for exactly what it is: a dehumanization of skeptics into sacks of meat to be destroyed at will.
      Rationalize it any way you want. It was not funny. It was not designed to be funny. It was designed to further the weak minded mob of AGW true believers into taking the next step.

  51. TomFP
    10:10 may well be a parody, but I have seen others just as far over the top and not put together as parady.

    I had though Green Police was a parity also, but the company says no.
    I did find it very funny, if still a bit creppy.
    “Green Police: Audi Super Bowl Ad ”

    • Ed – I agree that the AGW crowd have all but put themselves beyond parody, but that rather begs the question, how WOULD you parody them, if not as Curtis (I think) has? Anyway the clip is out and viral, and the damage to CAGW done, whatever the intent of its creator.

  52. Judith

    You’ve no doubt seen the 10.10 video. A classic case of how not to communicate with your audience (unless your audience are a load of idiots).

    Other forum for communicating can also be self defeating, for example on the sceptics side the Heartland jamborees make me nervous and the SPPI documents will have no credibility outside of their circle of contacts (informative as some of them may be)

    I also cringe when I see or hear Nigel Lawson speak on climate matters.

    Communicating a message effectively is very difficult and the number of people who tick all the boxes to do it effectively by their physical presence is, I suspect, very small on either side.


  53. To communicate the truth effectively one’s verbal or written presentations must have the following characteristics:

    Clarity, relevance, logic, accuracy and brevity.

    To spin requires the exact opposite.

    So the kind of message to be communicated defines the characteristics the presenter should employ in the delivery.

  54. Judith,

    The more I read on this thread, the less sure I became! Since I have been for a long time a newspaper columnist, radio and television talking head, and writer of think-pieces, I have developed my own style, whose elements are (i) be conversational, (ii) don’t attack people personally, however wrong I think they are, (iii) avoid irony (I and my newspaper were once threatened with a law-suit by an aggrieved politician who argued that my ironic remarks were statements of fact), (iv) make as sure as I can that I have the facts right, and (v) admit error if I make one.

    I think that was my teaching style in university, too. Now, is this approach a possible one for scientists, and climate scientists? I would think so. But, I had the luxury of a weekly column, so I could correct an error next week. Those days have largely gone, and we are now dealing with 20-second TV grabs. And I was a commentator, not an academic speaking ex cathedra about what was happening in my own small domain.

    In Australia Bob Carter is an excellent anti-AGW teacher, cool and focussed on data, and no doubt his You-tube lectures are well known in North America, at least in this company. My own experience in talking about AGW is that the experts with whom I crossed swords would not answer the straightforward questions I posed (as others have pointed out above), or would patronise me by saying that they agreed with some of what I was saying, but not identify which bits, or show why I was wrong on the others. A lot of hand-waving went on, rather than close and detailed argument. That seems to be generally the case.

    I suppose that I wondered, finally, what sort of arena you have in mind where climate scientists, or scientists in general, should speak/write/engage. We none of us control those arenas, which puts us, as speakers/writers, at a considerable disadvantage.

    Incidentally, while it is true that in the area of climate the media are always after the negative, scary story, in medicine they most often go for the good news story — the interminable breakthroughs in this or that aspect of human medicine: new cures for cancer, MS, Parkinson’s, and so on. They never go back to see whether or not the breakthroughs (always announced by scientists!) actually had any virtuous outcomes.

    • Don, this is a good perspective. I used to think that scientists and other spokespersons were the best at handling controversial things, since that is pretty much their job and they are experienced communicators. but with advocacy groups on both sides, things really get polarized. And scientists tend not to be good communicators (some are good teachers, but not enough of us). Giving public lectures is something scientists are comfortable with, but not debate formats. Re television, I can deal with sitting at a table and talking to someone, but wired up in TV studio I feel like I’m in the electric chair. So right now I’m thinking that blogging could be a really effective environment for scientists to communicate. Having your own blog where you can frame the dialogue is much better than the drive by situation of stopping by other blogs (except climate etc of course!) and getting caught in some kind of mess. So there are no easy answers here. I like your idea of good news story.

      • I think you have probably hard-earned a ‘cross-party’ level of respect that is unique at this time in this debate by sticking your head above the parapet and risking sniper fire from ahead, but also from behind, so you should not hesitate to put it to advantage- in the cause of ethical honesty and integrity, needless to say. Josh’s Joan of Arc. Your video’s convey this latter attribute well- a gift. You’ve trod boards as a lecturer anyway. Go for it.

  55. It would seem to be reasonable to observe, as well, that “Climate Scientists” have lost control of their PR, and to an extent, their field. A claim that they never had control of either would not be too hard to debate.

  56. I’m actually starting to blame breakdown in communication on the easy access to the internet and the wide practice of allowing largely unmoderated comments on stories and news postings. It allows empty nonsense to be endlessly recycled and repeated in a very public way.

    Previously there was at least some *quantity* control in ranty letters-to-the-editor pages, and they were only read by the exceedingly masochistic.

    Now you go to a primary news source, and on any story covering AGW (whether simplistically pro- or anti- in slant) you will find 400 comments claiming fraud and advocating hanging for climate scientists. It doesn’t matter how wrong or unsubstantiated they are, they drown out pretty much any rational message. It is a massive self-congratulatory mob-mentality, co-opting and corrupting the language of science to the detriment of all. Statements of truth or fact or *especially* measured uncertainty have absolutely *no* chance of taking hold in that environment. You cannot educate those who refuse to listen (especially as recent evidence shows that correcting unreason with rational argument merely *strengthens* the original beliefs), and you cannot educate the genuinely undecided with a mob shouting you down.

    So, for example, in the IPCC, we have the largest, most unwieldy and most bureaucratically hobbled process science has ever seen, to assess state of the diverse evidence from a whole range of fields, all geared to practically ensure that severity will be underestimated – and this is casually dismissed as activism? And these catcalls are echoed and cheered from the sidelines ad nauseam? And mainstream media outlets take this as evidence of “growing public disconnect” from the scientific message, which of course is self-fulfilling and merely persuades more in that direction. While this continues the actual content of your message matters *not one iota*.

    A thought experiment – lets say for the sake of argument that tomorrow, you produce a paper to widespread acclaim and astonishment among climate scientists that establishes climate sensitivity as 3.5C per doubling of CO2 with 99% certainty. What would actually happen with that message? Do you honestly think that just publishing the paper and letting the evidence speak for itself would be enough? Do you think that explaining in terms the layman can understand to major media outlets would be enough? Would blogging here be enough? Would ensuring it is the cornerstone of the next IPCC report be enough? Would directly lobbying politicians with your new evidence be enough?

    • Ref thought experiment – Message torn to pieces, No, No, No, No, No.

      Einsteins who go out and ‘sell’ their science turn into gorey rotten smelly pumpkins in the middle of the Tonight Show. Their science if true will eventually sell itself; others who duplicate the results will publish and sell it for them; they must remain aloof and detached from the debate. Facts is facts, ya’ don’t sell science, especially your own. (That’s Rule #1 in the Selling Science Rule Book.)

      • PS: Rule #2 is You can’t save the World so don’t even try.

      • > others who duplicate the results will publish and sell it for them

        Extend my thought experiment. What if you reproduce Dr Curry’s amazing certainty in climate sensitivity? How does that change the scenario? What *exactly* do you do that lets people that can act on your information know that it even exists?

        > others who duplicate the results will publish and sell it for them […] ya’ don’t sell science, especially your own.

        You just contradicted yourself.

      • Curious to understand what you think my amazing certainty in climate sensitivity is? I am on record in many places stating a much greater level of uncertainty in climate sensitivity than is characterized in the IPCC.

      • Hi Judith,

        I was referring to a thought experiment a couple of comments up. Basically *if* you (or anybody) somehow managed to produce a paper that removed virtually all uncertainty from the question of climate sensitivity, how would you even communicate that? What steps would you take to get that message out there and would they even be effective?

        Pascvaks response came across as: talking about it is activism, you should just stay silent and hidden, and let the publication speak for itself trusting that the truth will out in time, which is an attitude I take issue with.

        Frankly, I don’t know how anybody is supposed to get a sensible scientific message out in the current climate, and this was my point. My opinion is that we would still be having this discussion even if your criticisms around uncertainty were met, or the uncertainty was somehow removed altogether.

      • Andrew Dodds

        Remind me to read the context first..

        JC: It’s a thought experiment. It is an important skill for a scientist to be able to consider hypotheticals without having to accept them.

        Dave H:

        Simple case study: Cigarettes and Smoking.

        Look at it this way: The danger from cigarettes was established at a very high level (as in your example) to the public, in the 1960s. Furthermore, action to reduce that danger would directly benefit in individuals involved health-wise, and save them money.

        Yet enough doubt was created to stop any sort of action until the last decade, over 20% of people still smoke, and you’ll still find the odd person denying a link. So even in a situation where (to paraphrase the unfortunate 10:10 video) those who ignore the problem actually do die a horrible death, a lot of people will ignore it.

        Now compare to climate change, where there are still significant uncertainties (especially about impacts), actions for individuals seem more about sacrifice than benefit to the individual, and the anti-science lobby is better funded, better organized and has learnt the lessons over tobacco. If you published a paper tomorrow with an utterly incontrovertible conclusion that our planet would ‘go Venus’ in 57 years (NOTE: THIS IS A HYPOTHETICAL) on our current path, you’d be luck to get a straightforward write up in the media, let alone action..

      • The main “anti-science lobby” is the IPCC and friends.

      • Andrew Dodds

        IIRC, the IPCC range is something like 1.5-4.5K for a doubling of CO2; you think even this range is too narrow?

        Bear in mind that you can arrive at this range without any computer models.

        If sensitivity is off the bottom end of that range then there is an awful lot of explaining to do (as in: why has climate ever changed at all?); past the top of that range and we should all be dead already.

      • My vote is for a larger range, this will be a topic of a future post. The reasons the range should be increased on the lower end is the combination of water vapor feedback that is possibly too large and relative neglect of multi-decadal ocean oscillations in attribution of previous warming.

      • Alex Heyworth

        A further issue is that an energy imbalance may not result in sensible heat; it may, for example, increase humidity, or increase the speed of ocean circulation.

  57. Brandon Shollenberger

    I’m not much for posting on blogs, but I wanted to make a request. Reading the comments in this thread has been both fascinating and baffling. It seems half of what I read has been on-topic, but the other half has been whatever random things people tossed out there. The most memorable diversion was a discussion of Young Earth Creationism.

    I know moderation isn’t easy, and off-topic conversations can be quite tempting. However, this blog would be better if focus could be maintained. While that one paper might kind of tie into the thread’s topic, there is no reason for readers to have to wade through thirteen pages of text discussing it. It’s a waste of time, and it distracts them from the main issues.

    With that in mind, I’d like to ask people to try to focus on the topic at hand. And hey, maybe some sort of “open thread” could be made for other subjects.

    • Brandon, thanks very much for this. I have been so busy preparing new material that I haven’t been enforcing moderation other than civility. I will make sure that at the end of each post I will put a specific note re topicality and will also create a new open thread.

      • Dr. Curry,

        My reaction to tangential and off-topic posts on this blog is somewhat different than that of Mr. Schollenberger, though I fully appreciate his view of the matter.

        In that regard, I have found many of the poster’s departures from the various threads’ stated topics to have been educational, entertaining, and engaging. Some departures from the topic, on the other hand, like the young earth riff (of which I was a part (though I didn’t start it, I might feebly offer in my defense)), have been too much off topic, I would agree.

        Therefore, I recommend a greater moderation of the posts for relevance, but a “moderate” moderation that allows for especially “good” tangential and even off-topic discussion to creep in as a sort of seasoning to the discussion. This blog seems to me to have become a unique, free-wheeling market place of ideas in the blogosphere with a colorful cast of contributors. Accordingly, I recommend that a “moderate” moderation for relevance will ensure the blog’s discussions retain their present lively and spontaneous flow while, at the same time, eliminate the distractions of off-topic excesses. Also, “moderate” moderation with ensure that the blog’s posts are not so relentlessly kept on topic that the discussion takes on an academically bland, decorous quality.

        Let me add that a diversion of a post to the open thread seems to me to currently have some of the quality of a post to the recycle bin. Perhaps the open thread would be more inviting if its posts were segregated by topic headings, alerting those with an interest in a particular subject to an active discussion in the open thread. For example, the film “No Pressure” seems to be a hot topic. Accordingly, diversion of comments on this topic to the open thread might be labeled: “Open thread: “No Pressure” 10:10 Controversy.”

        One can only imagine the time this blog is already costing you, Dr. Curry. I suspect you don’t need any great ideas for more work. But I offer you my thoughts for what they are worth and my gratitude for your extraordinary efforts to make this extraordinary blog available to us.

      • Mike, i am trying to strike the balance you suggest. There will be some technical threads that are highly moderated (forthcoming modeling post), the etc. posts like framing and communication are more widely ranging issues, and I would like to keep these almost unmoderated. I agree that many of the tangential posts add much value, but some are just flat of topic, and we are seeing some recurring themes like misconduct of mann and jones. Some of these tangential themes will grow into future threads.

  58. Brandon Shollenberger

    Two quick follow up points. First, despite how it sounds, my name does not have a “c” in it. Second, I don’t mind discussions going off topic. I just mind when off-topic discussions disrupt the main discussions.

    On the subject of this thread, I would like to add one thing. An important aspect of effective communication is errors need to be admitted. An unfortunate aspect of this is people on the same “side” have to be called out when they do something wrong. If one of the people educating the general population says something which is wrong, they should admit it. If they don’t, it is imperative the other educators do.

    People say bad science gets ignored so it doesn’t need to be refuted, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth in education.

    • Mr. Shollenberger,

      I agree that mistakes should be admitted and let me show my commitment to that view by acknowledging a mistake on my part. I was the one (I think the only one) to misspell your name–my sincerest apologies. Normally, I carefully check that I’ve spelled names correctly, but I can see I dropped the ball on this one. I promise my very best efforts not to repeat my error.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Eh, these sort of mistakes don’t really matter. I’ve had my name misspelled on government records by people holding my ID.

        Besides, it isn’t like you are trying to educate people about my name.

  59. Replying to :

    These indented threads easily become tough to follow.

    One approach is to
    – add your reply at the end of all the existing comments, rather than by clicking Reply to the comment in question
    – get the url of the post you are replying to, and paste it into the top of your reply

    You can get the url of a given comment from the link on its date.
    eg, in the case of this one of yours I’m responding to
    October 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm

  60. In response to Andrew Dodds, October 4th at 9.05 am

    Re smoking. The causal link between smoking and death is often dropped into the AGW debate as though it is a lay-down misere. But what exactly is the link? It is not that smokers will die of lung cancer or emphysema or some other nasty ailment. It is that the probability of their doing so is greatly increased. And what is the probability?

    Well, what follows comes from Wikipedia, but I looked up the reference and it is to a medical journal:

    ‘The risk of dying from lung cancer before age 85 is 22.1% for a male smoker and 11.9% for a female smoker, in the absence of competing causes of death. The corresponding estimates for lifelong nonsmokers are a 1.1% probability of dying from lung cancer before age 85 for a man of European descent, and a 0.8% probability for a woman.[86]’

    Now, I quit smoking at 26 and am now 73, and my cancer episode (a nasty one) was a melanoma, and that was 20 years ago. And I hate the smell that smokers carry round with them all the time, and I heartily approve of all the anti-smoking regulation that has gone on in my country, and indeed helped to assist a bit of it.

    But look at the data. There is a link, but most smokers will die of something else, won’t they?

    I do think that there is something analogous in the AGW discussion. What is the probability that the IPCC is right? Those who speak for it talk of 95 per cent certainty. But if you look at Table 2:11 of WG1, the ‘level of scientific understanding’ of a good deal of what is important ranges around the Low or Very Low level. How those concerned reconciled what they said with Table 2:11 continues to puzzle me. On the face of it, I would have put the probability as very much lower, wouldn’t you?

  61. Don, I looked at that page and the general statistics rather than just the lung cancer ones.
    “Mortality Male and female smokers lose an average of 13.2 and 14.5 years of life, respectively. … According to the results of a 50 year study of 34,439 male British doctors, at least half of all life-long smokers die earlier as a result of smoking. …
    Smokers are three times as likely to die before the age of 60 or 70 as non-smokers.”

    And I think this is very analogous to release of CO2 problem. Just as lung cancer is the headline act for smoking, temperature rise is the lead indicator for CO2. But the aggregate effects of smoking are more pervasive than just lung cancer. For CO2 we have ocean acidification, regional impacts which are almost as difficult to pin down as daily weather is compared to general climate, more droughts and more floods associated with higher temperatures and consequent effects on food production.

    Noone can predict when a smoker will die nor what they will die of nor whether they will have a good standard of health in the meantime. We do know that they’re running a known risk of poor health and early death. Same thing goes for the climate issues – we don’t know who or when or where or what particular effects will impact. But we do know that for many people in many places, it will be pretty bad.

    • For Adelady (I like the name!):

      As must have been clear from my post, I think that smoking is stupid, and that I was stupid when I started it as a teenager. But it didn’t take me long to give it up (because I wanted to be super-fit for sport). Of course smokers have worse health, all things considered, that non-smokers.

      Now to your analogy with AGW. What you say would be more powerful if the links were strongly there. But temperature has stabilised over the past, so that throws doubt on the link (there must be something else there) decade. And we don’t have ocean acidification — at all. We might have a tiny reduction in alkalinity in the sea, but even that is not clear. And there is simply no relationship between the frequency of nasty weather events and increasing temperature, when there has been increasing temperature (see Pielke’s statistical analysis). We do know that any nasty weather event will be adverse for some, but we are still unable to predict what will happen much more than a few days out, and it is not possible to show that any of these events is due to increasing CO2.

  62. Same thing goes for the climate issues – we don’t know who or when or where or what particular effects will impact. But we do know that for many people in many places, it will be pretty bad.
    Just assuming the models are correct.

  63. Chris Mooney has just posted Part III in his series on communicating climate change

  64. David M Brooks

    The assumption in the “communication” issue is that there is an objective “climate science” which is described in IPCC reports, and the role of the scientists is to enlighten an ignorant public so that they willingly repent of their climate sins.

    My view is that what is presented as “climate science” is the communication, that is it is advocacy that takes the form of scientific papers. The IPCC is a political agency set up and managed with political goals, to engineer a “consensus” which is used to advance a global governance, international wealth redistribution, social and economic control, and ideological goals such as anti-consumptionism. From this perspective Mann’s “hockystick” research, Hansen’s manipulation of surface temperature data to enhance recent warming, Jone’s research that denies the heat island effect, and scientists who knew that the Himalayan glaciers would not melt by 2035, but let that IPCC claim stand for years, is all about “communication” ie. advocacy.

  65. From this perspective [it] … is all about “communication” ie. advocacy.

    David M Brooks: That’s very much my problem with climate science communication too. It has slid too far and too easily not just into advocacy, but into activist-style campaigning, where one hammers on talking points, erects straw men, equivocates, and ridicules opponents. At that point whatever credibility the speaker may have had as a scientist has mostly been squandered.

    Dr. Curry includes Gavin Schmidt as a communicator for climate science, and he is indeed such a communicator, but IMO a truly terrible one. I don’t think the climate change movement understands how much damage Schmidt has done at the RealClimate website.

    Only a year ago I would defend climate change to my more skeptical friends, but after several interactions with Schmidt at RC in which he routinely distorted my points, censored my posts, and ridiculed me personally left me with the inescapable impression that Schmidt and the Climategate group might know their science very well, but they weren’t behaving in good faith as scientists. They had become political operatives promoting the cause of climate change.