JC interview on science communications

by Judith Curry

A new series on Climate Change Communications: Taking the Temperature.

Kirk Engelhardt has started a new series at scilogs.com on Climate Change Communications: Taking the Temperature.  Yours truly is the inaugural interviewee.  My interview is Part 1 of what promises to be a series of 10+ interviews with climate researchers.

Here are excerpts from my interview (I didn’t include some material that is repetitive from my recent posts):

How do you view your role in communicating science?

Climate science has become hotly politicized, with many scientists playing an advocacy role. I regard my role as to speak up for the integrity of climate research, including reminding others that climate change is a very complex, wicked problem associated with deep uncertainties. My blog Climate Etc. provides a fair and open space for debate on the science, the impacts, proposed solutions and the politics.

In your view, how has your role in communicating science changed in the past 10 years?

I first became active in communicating science in 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, when I coauthored a paper on hurricanes and climate change that was published in Science two weeks after Katrina made landfall.

While global warming was mentioned only obliquely in the paper, the press focused on the global warming angle and a media furor followed. Our 15 minutes stretched into days, weeks and months. Academic guerrilla warfare broke out between our team and scientists that were skeptical of our research, all of which played out in the glare of the mainstream media. I took a step back and tried to understand all this craziness and learn from it. I even wrote a journal article on this, “Mixing Politics and Science in Testing the Hypothesis that Greenhouse Warming is Causing a Global Increase in Hurricane Intensity.” Following the publication of this article, I spent a fair amount of time commenting on blogs that were discussing this paper, and landed on some skeptical blogs where I became a fairly regular commenter.

When the Climategate emails struck in November 19, 2009, I was interacting closely with the skeptical blogosphere where the story was breaking. I tried to calm the waters, and posted 3 essays in the blogosphere.

My engagement in the blogosphere stepped up considerably following Climategate. In August 2010, I decided to start my own blog so that I could discuss topics of my choosing, and not merely respond to queries from journalists or questions being posed from the blogosphere. Major themes on my blog include uncertainty in climate science, decision making under deep uncertainty, and the sociology of climate science.

Do you think it’s important for scientists and other researchers to be directly involved in outreach activities? If so, why?

I personally think that academics need to grow their impact outside of a small community of scholars in the ivory tower. There is growing concern about the fundamental value proposition of the large amount of public funding invested in research universities. Too often, scientists focus only on their peer academics, and ignore the potential public interest in their research – e.g. from industry, policy makers, students and life-long learners. Outreach activities from academic researchers are important to support economic competitiveness, public health and safety, and sound decision-making. Unfortunately, academic researchers aren’t rewarded from their universities for outreach activities, and there has been little support from universities in guiding faculty members to be effective in outreach.

Have your outreach activities had an impact on your scientific research? Are there any examples of positive or negative impacts you’ve experienced personally?

Commenters on my blog have provided me with countless links to publications that I otherwise would be unaware of. My blog posts have resulted in 5 invited papers related to the philosophy of climate science (a new area of research for me). I have also found two new research collaborators through my blog. Most importantly, my blog stimulates me to think about big picture issues, which is the opposite of the more reductionist mind set with which I had been approaching research problems. Engaging in social media has helped develop my writing/communication skills and abilities to synthesize, integrate, and provide context.

With regards to the ‘negatives’, there are certain global warming ideologues that are influential members of the scientific community that regard me as the anti-christ, or at least as a heretic. This makes getting fair reviews of my papers a bit of a challenge (but I have been able to work effectively with editors to counter this). By speaking out and challenging the consensus, I have almost certainly eliminated myself from further professional recognition (e.g. awards) and future administration positions.

What do you consider to be the most effective and ineffective ways to disagree about scientific topics?

If you have done a really careful job of assessing uncertainties, you substantially narrow the scope for disagreement. Acknowledge the disagreement, put forward the arguments from both sides, and state why you find one side more convincing. An ineffective way to disagree is through arguing that there is a consensus on your ‘side’. The most ineffective, and offensive, way to disagree is to call your opponents ‘deniers’, ‘anti-science’, etc.

The more insidious way for a majority group to marginalize dissenting scientific arguments is through the gatekeeping associated with the peer review process. This is a particular concern of mine since professional societies have been writing issue advocacy statements that ‘legitimizes’ the gatekeeping.

Public trust in science is critical. What role do you believe both consensus and disagreement play in building or eroding that trust?

Credibility is a combination of expertise and trust. Without trust, scientists lose their privileged position in public debates. First and foremost, scientists need to be honest, and this means not hiding uncertainties or exaggerating impacts. Attempting to manufacture a consensus by marginalizing anyone who disagrees with you will lead to loss of public trust.

If scientists are careful about assessing uncertainties, then the space for disagreement is vastly reduced. Philosophers and social scientists are beginning to pay attention to these issues. For scientific progress, it is important to challenge the consensus. However, for urgent social problems, some consensus is needed on how to proceed. The challenge is for tension among scientific plurality, dissent, and consensus making to work productively to advance the science and support decision making.

What lessons have you learned from your outreach activities, and what advice do you have for other researchers who want to do more outreach?

Listen – you need to understand and respect the people you are trying to connect with. Be honest, and don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know.’

Focus on engagement – the two way street – rather than unidirectional communication.

If you have become an issue advocate on a topic related to your research expertise, make sure you understand the line between communication and propaganda.The use of ‘science’ to serve propaganda has a negative impact on the public perception of science and its trustworthiness. Scientist/advocates irresponsibly involving themselves in propaganda damage the public trust in science. Don’t sacrifice your professional integrity for the sake of issue advocacy or 5 minutes of fame.

And finally, communication with the public can be contentious, so be prepared to be attacked by people whose preconceived notions and favored policies seem threatened by your communication efforts. Honesty and integrity is strong armor, so don’t be intimidated!

JC reflections

I thought Englehardt asked a series of very good questions, I look forward to seeing how others respond to them.  I’m also very pleased to get exposure through this to the broader science communications community.  I look forward to speaking more with the proprietor of scilogs.com, Paige Brown Jarreau.

I will post collections of future interviews in this series, should be interesting.



208 responses to “JC interview on science communications

  1. ‘almost certainly eliminated myself’. There’ll be regrets, but you won’t have them.

  2. Your answer to the “…effective and ineffective ways to disagree…” question made me think about the Federalist Papers and how the authors carefully laid out both sides of each issue, gave credit to the opposing view, and then clearly articulated why they thought their view was more convincing. I think you are right on. Those were extremely important and effective communications. Perhaps we can learn from history?

  3. “Public trust in science is critical.”

    This is only true from a Statist point of view. Or a Scientism point of view.


    • Public distrust, Skepticism, is really critical.
      The public is the Jury. The Jury must decide.

    • Sorry, but that’s not true. Trust in science is critical to defeating statists when it comes to GMO and nuclear power, for example, where the left rejects science for political reasons. It’s also going to be critical as it becomes ever more obvious that AGW alarmism is overblown.

      • Jeffn,

        I think the use of the word ‘science’ is what may be the issue here. The statist use of it means ‘the information we provide” and to regular folk its closer to “what actually works”.


      • There also are sizable differences in the public’s views of using animals and human embryos in research.

        62% of Republicans, 51% of independents (51%) and less than half of Democrats (48%) favour the use of animal experiments, whereas 71% of Democrats but only 38% of Republicans favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

        I personally find this astonishing.

      • We are only becoming.

      • Agreed that it’s semantics, but it’s important. I refuse the silly notion that the left has any respect at all for science. If a man in a white lab coat can end discussion, they are all for it.
        Scientists will have to decide if they want to be relevant (honest) or tools.

  4. Schrodinger's Cat

    I always think the best bit about your blog is the reflections part at the end. Having just read your answer to the last question of the interview, I now know the reasons.

  5. Oh My!

    Tracking down the origin of the cartoon, I find #15) SPEED: What the world of science communication needs from The Benshi, Feb 22, 2010:

    In 2006 Newsweek published an article about the frustrations the U.S. military was encountering in Iraq with a decades-old tradition — the “Tuesday Press Briefing.” Since the Vietnam War, the release of information by the military to the press would take place mostly at the once-a-week press conference, but it was a concept that had evolved in a world without the internet, Youtube, social networks, and now even Twitter. The problem with the Iraq war was that things had changed. By the time the general stood up to the podium to tell the press what’s up each Tuesday, pretty much everything he had to say had already been blogged and Youtubed about and thus was old news. The media environment had changed, the military needed to adapt to the new environment. The same is true for the world of science. It’s what I was saying in my movie, “Flock of Dodos” — that the media environment has changed, but the science world is dangerously slow to respond. Now I’m saying it even more loudly with the train wreck that has been Climategate.


    This figure shows several things. First, you can see how quickly the spinning up from the right wing media took place (Television news is in capitals). Second, you can see that Andy Revkin of the NY Times (who in my opinion is the closest thing to a neutral party in the climate wars) was on top of the story immediately. Third, you see that the major television network news organizations for some strange reason held off saying much of anything for over a week (Why is this? Perhaps Marc Morano will have some thoughts next week when I interview him). And lastly, where was the official voice of “the science world” in trying to attempt any sort of “damage control” or even guidance with this incident?


    • “the scientists keep marching into “debates” with the anti-scientists”

      Lines like this undermine the objectivity/credibility of your article.


      • Where and when have there been scientists “marching” into debates with anyone?

        And “anti-scientists”… who is that?


      • If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

        To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.

        Sun Tsu

      • For instance: #344) The ABT Way of Thinking. Talks about the threefold structure, essentially Hegel’s thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis.

        The ABT is not a “tip” or a “tool” to add to “your communications tool box.” It is an ENTIRELY different way to approach communication at all levels.

        It’s just three words, but they really are that powerful. AND … they are an actual mechanism to take you into the telling of a story. And THIS I am coming to realize is a huge, huge, huge problem across the land.

        Everywhere I go now I’m hearing from groups who have had some previous speaker or communications consultant who had implored them to, “Tell stories!” But I’m not hearing of anyone out there who is presenting the mechanics or a model that take you into story mode. I’m really interested in hearing about it if anyone knows of a competing model to our WSP Model.

        And in the meanwhile, people from our workshops are indeed reporting back to us how the ABT changes their entire approach to communication. Which is exactly what is needed to fight the boredom!

      • Or #331) Tweeting ABT’s: Is Twitter Maladapted to Narrative Structure?.

        For the first 3 groups who used our Storymaker app last fall, their ABT’s averaged over 300 characters. Twitter only lets you use 140 characters. Which suggests that squashing your idea down by more than half might lose the entire narrative core.

        […] Friedhelm Hillebrand counted the average number of characters in sentences he was typing and decided 160 was good for the initial conception of SMS (which became texting). Subsequent committees considered it further and, based on the length of text in postcards and telexes, concurred.

        Twitter then modified the 160 down to 140, and presto — the whole world now communicates through a length that was conceived with zero discussion of whether the thoughts that would be transmitted would have narrative form or strength.

        Is it the right length? This becomes an exercise in adaptationism and “Just So” stories. I’m sure most people would want to believe 160 characters has proven to be perfect because no one has felt the need to change it. But lots of things in our society are poorly designed yet will not be redesigned because the momentum against it is just too great. [my bold]

        The bottom line is that it’s clear the technology is driving the narrative dynamics with Twitter, and not vice versa.

      • I did go to the 9th International Conference on Climate Change, in Las Vegas, in July. There were many scientists there from all over the world.

        The Consensus anti-scientists did not accept their invitations. Mostly, they do not debate.

      • Anti-Scientists are people who are not Skeptical.
        After you lock your Theory in Stone, it can never improve.

      • If it takes more than
        Just seventeen syllables,
        You need to think again.

      • Kim, that’s 18.

      • I think better than I count, but I was negligent there. Didn’t take off my left shoe.

  6. Acknowledge the disagreement, put forward the arguments from both sides, and state why you find one side more convincing.

    By definition, the consensus side is one side. On the other side, there are many Theories, including “CO2 has caused warming, but future warming will be less than consensus forecasts”.
    The sun is fully responsible. Orbit Cycles are Responsible.
    I put Polar Ice Cycles on top of the list. Ice Extent is an important feedback in almost all theories. That is because there is always excellent correlation between Ice Extent and Temperature.


    The Polar Ice Cycles could regulate Earth’s temperature with no other feedback. No other Theory could do that. No other Theory works without the Polar Ice Cycles. I find this convincing.

    Temperature Regulation evolved as the Polar Ice Cycles Evolved.

  7. Are virologists advocating if they recommend on-the-ground treatment protocols for Ebola?

    Were chemists advocating when they recommended action be taken to stop destruction of atmospheric ozone?

    Were computer scientists advocating when they recommended steps be taken to avoid the Y2K problem?

    Or should all of these scientists just study the science, and leave all real world recommendations to others?

    • It’s a reasonable question. Here’s my personal take on it: If the virologists had some expertise in the processes involved in on-the-ground treatment for Ebola, then I (who have no expertise) would be anxious to hear their opinions. Same with the other cases. If, on the other hand, all they know is that temperatures will go up somewhere from 2 to 6 degrees, but have no understanding of what that would cost, or what the alternates to mitigate it would cost, I don’t see why I should welcome their advocacy on mitigation policies. There is, after all, pretty good consensus on temperature rise, much less consensus on how much the temperature will rise, still less consensus on the impacts, and no consensus at all on the economics or the politics. This is really very different from fairly straightforward discussions of disease control or limiting a very limited pollutant. Fossil energy is the main energy source for the whole world.

      • Mike,
        Here is another one:

        Are geologists advocating when they suggest that we wean ourselves off of crude oil since it is a finite and non-renewable resource?

      • “Are geologists advocating when they suggest that we wean ourselves off of crude oil…” Sounds like a reasonable suggestion. Obviously it will depend on what the weaning costs, what the alternates are, etc. If they acknowledge that they don’t have what to say on that subject, I’d appreciate it.
        I don’t understand why AGW supporters can’t admit that asking the world to give up its main energy source is somehow _different_ from giving up Ebola or Freon.

      • Yes, Webby, that is advocacy by geologists, as opposed to communication of facts without advocating a preferred response.

    • Excellent list

      Here is another one:

      Were toxicologists advocating when they suggested removing lead from gasoline and house paint?

      • There is a difference between:
        1) proposing a policy option
        2) advocating for the option at the expense of competing options
        3) using the methods of propaganda for the advocacy (e.g. ad hominem, appeal to authority, demonizing their opponents)

      • And by stating what you just stated, you have just become an advocate for telling people what they can or can not do.

        Should I go to college?

        I can’t say, that would be advocating. All I can say is that your options are to (a) attend college and (b) not attend college.

        Should I study science?

        That would best be answered by a life coach, as I do not know all the options.

        Are you appealing to authority by suggesting a life coach?

        One of the most frequent requests at concerts is to “Shut up and sing !”

        But of course there is a difference in the three bullet points … they are each composed of a different set of words. That is not advocating — that is the mealy-mouth truth !

        And that is how the rhetorical trick-box works.

      • Paul Pukite

        You miss the point.

        Should I go to college? (as an example)

        The answer is not yes or no as it would be different for different individuals and may change for a specific individual over time. Getting to the answer should involve a process of examination of the individual’s skills and desires. The answer may well involve future points of examination of progress to date to determine if the initial set of assumptions are holding true or require revision.

        It is not advocacy that is the problem. The problem is advocacy that inaccurately asserts that only a certain course or result must be true.

      • Roy Orbison warbles ‘In Dreams’.

      • Currently warbling and harp-playing in the clouds, according to some beliefs.

      • Were doctors advocating when they advocated ignoring advice to wash their hands after contact with patients?

        Were scientists advocating when they opined that Weggener’s theory of plate tectonics was absurd? (Not just that there was no visible mechanism, but that it was absurd.)

        Sadly, there are too many more examples to list in a comment. Scientific consensus does not have an unblemished track record. The cured ulcer I have, which may have been caused by the bile of the climate debate, serves as further evidence.

      • Tom

        I reckon your ulcer was caused by Mosh. I would sue him if I were you


      • I agree with Judy. In your toxicologist example regarding lead I think you have created a strawman – I think mostly because of your use of the word “suggested.” And please forgive me if I read too much into your short post, but it got me thinking. Strawman arguments and false comparisons seemingly run rampant in the discussion on the theory of CAGW.

        Toxicologists, medical doctors, chemists and biologists identified the dangers of lead poisoning and communicated those dangers via scientific articles, studies and journals. Over time that information bubbled through the popular discourse and led to action. I think that is what the public should expect, especially from publicly funded research; do sound analysis and conduct rigorous studies, then communicate the results. It is, and should be, up to others to craft policy solutions in response to scientific discovery in order to avoid corrupting pressures and conflicts of interest. Those same scientists who discovered the dangers of lead poisoning may be called upon by the policy makers to answer a number of questions including acceptable (safe) levels of human exposure to lead, development of alternative chemicals to replace the removed lead from consumer products, and so on. That level of engagement in policy does not contain the same risks to unbiased research as does direct advocacy.

        If, on the other hand, toxicologists began making hysterical, unsupportable claims about the dangers of lead and/or if their scientific analyses became corrupted (or potentially corrupted) by a virtually unlimited grant supply fueling a “Lead Crisis” industry bolstered by a United Nations committee, that would cross the line into politics, advocacy and propaganda. It would also be damaging to science generally if those scientists shunned or punished peers who were busy exploring the benefits of lead as a radiation shielding material or some other potentially beneficial use.

        That isn’t to suggest that scientists should never offer opinion. I believe we should, and even have an obligation to do so. And when we do, we should make it clear we are offering opinion, not fact, hopefully supported by sound deductive reasoning. We should welcome thoughtful criticism of both our opinions AND our facts. A debate that follows those guidelines can hone the subject matter and may bring us closer to the natural truth, whatever it may be and wherever it leads. It is messy and slow, but it leads to progress, discovery, and knowledge.

        I have no doubt there are scientists out there who believe sincerely that fossil fuel burning and its release of CO2 will irreversibly damage the planet. They may, as a result, feel absolutely compelled to raise the alarm. Others may go further, inventing horribles, believing the ends justifies the means. Scientists in a number of fields have gone through similar episodes in the recent and distant past. But few scientific debates ever reach the mainstream as emotionally as CAGW has.

        I think part of the problem is that CAGW theory has been obviously coopted by the Green Movement and its Environmentalist cousins as they seek to push a more communist or socialist agenda on the world along with a system of global governance, and that effort has polarized the debate far beyond what occurred with any of the comparisons offered by David Appell above (ozone, Y2K, etc.). A sidebar on that – raising the alarm is one thing, providing thoughtful and vetted ameliorative efforts is something else entirely. Banks, when discussing the Y2K problem, for example, immediately engaged a cost-benefit analysis and hunted for affordable and workable fixes. It wasn’t left to computer scientists to shape the policy response to the pending disaster. I digress.

        I think socialism and communism are wrong-headed due to a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature, but I don’t fault others for pursuing or discussing those ideologies. I do fault them for hiding their intentions behind a stated motive to save the planet from runaway warming. That deceptive strategy stifles intelligent discussion and emotional rhetoric fills the void. Lines are drawn in the sand, sides are taken, Democrats vs. Republicans (in the US), scientist vs. anti-science, believer vs. denier, and etc. The debate has attracted a motley group of characters pushing often contradictory agendas. Scientists, in my opinion, now have an obligation to be even more vigilant in their discussion of uncertainties, probabilities, knowables, and unknowables. If the discussion can gravitate back to the elemental facts and physics, we may reclaim some of the trust scientists need to continue to spend public funds in search of truth. Thankfully, Mother Nature is forcing skepticism back into the discussion. I think most good scientists will tell you directly that nothing is certain. Advocacy forces a scientist to suspend that simple truism and will make him or her blind to facts that don’t fit the theory being advocated. I am at a loss as to why that is so difficult for so many climate scientists to comprehend.

    • Imo, advocacy by a scientist is not a problem, but the scientist must be careful to state the relative uncertainty of their positions. This has frequently not been the case when it comes to climate science and the impact of CO2.

      Dr. Betts recently wrote:
      “Everyone* agrees that the greenhouse effect is real, and that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Everyone* agrees that CO2 rise is anthropogenic Everyone** agrees that we can’t predict the long-term response of the climate to ongoing CO2 rise with great accuracy. It could be large, it could be small. We don’t know. The old-style energy balance models got us this far. We can’t be certain of large changes in future, but can’t rule them out either. So climate mitigation policy is a political judgement based on what policymakers think carries the greater risk in the future – decarbonising or not decarbonising.”

      Betts recent communication was different from what was communicated only a few years ago. It isn’t advocacy itself by scientists that is the issue. The issue is communicating accurately and many climate scientists have not accurately stated that their long term forecasts of great harms coming to humanity because of human released CO2 may well be completely wrong. They have frequently tried to communicate exactly the opposite perspective- “we have very high confidence that we know what will happen if you don’t do what we say should be done”

    • JustinWonder

      You are using the technique of “priming” to win an argument. Nice try, but no cigar.


      • JustinWonder

        My comment was intended as a reply to Mr. Appell and his “Are virologists advocating…” post.

    • Matthew R Marler

      David Appell: Are virologists advocating if they recommend on-the-ground treatment protocols for Ebola?

      Were chemists advocating when they recommended action be taken to stop destruction of atmospheric ozone?

      Were computer scientists advocating when they recommended steps be taken to avoid the Y2K problem?

      Or should all of these scientists just study the science, and leave all real world recommendations to others?

      yes, yes, yes and no.

      Prof Curry: The challenge is for tension among scientific plurality, dissent, and consensus making to work productively to advance the science and support decision making.

      With multiple tensions there may be no balance, so we must be prepared for oscillation and chaos. But no one has advocated abandoning either advocacy or science.

      • Matthew R Marler

        But no one has advocated abandoning either advocacy or science.

        On second thought, maybe someone has so advocated, but that is not in the head post.

    • Appell –

      Great example there with the Y2K problem. Now there was a catastrophe we were lucky to be warned about.

      • I did the experiment – did nothing and nothing happened.

      • But Rob, something did happen. Your money stayed in your wallet.

      • @David Appell (@davidappell)…

        Were computer scientists advocating when they recommended steps be taken to avoid the Y2K problem?

        Were computer scientists even ” recommend[ing] steps be taken to avoid the Y2K problem?” According to this site:

        A handful were more foresighted. Among them was Robert Bemer, an IBM wizard … During the 50s, Bremer also developed a feature that permitted COBOL programmers to use either two- or four-digit year dates. A passionate proponent of the latter, in 1960 Bremer joined with 47 other industry and government specialists to come up with universally accepted computer standards. The wrangling, however, stretched out for years — too many years for the White House, which, in 1967, ordered the National Bureau of Standards to settle the matter. In so doing, the bureau was to gather input from various federal agencies, some of which were using two-digit years, others four. As a practical matter, the only opinion that counted was that of the Department of Defense, the largest computer operator on earth. For bigger-bang-for-the-buck reasons, it was unshakable on the subject of year dates: no 19s. “They wouldn’t listen to anything else,” says Harry White, a D.O.D. computer-code specialist and Bemer ally. “They were more occupied with … Vietnam.”

        This fits my recollection that the primary alarm was sounded by engineers and other business programmers (along with a bunch of amateurs). Academics were johny-come-lately’s jumping on the bandwagon.

        @Rob Ellison…

        I did the experiment – did nothing and nothing happened.

        I was involved in my employer’s Y2K project. We ran thousands of “experiments”. Often, after a full analysis of the code, followed by correction and unit test, full stream system testing would identify other things that had been missed. Without that project, and similar ones for most of the financial infrastructure of the civilized world, Y2K would have been a disaster.

      • Not necessarily. The primary alarm was from 2 places (1) the new telecoms engineers. “Oops,” they went “the chips these days are so clever that developers have been using dates in their timers instead caculating it properly!” and (2) mainframe commercial software which still had 1960s code in it. Unfortunately, lots of “Know-it-all”s that know-nothing” hyped it up by adding in nuclear power stations, aircraft control systems etc which had been regulated and used 4-digit dates since 1970s.

    • If they were honest and trustworthy, and if their science was accessible and open to argument, and if major holes hadn’t been found in their arguments, then yes. My own sense is that these conditions all held for the three examples given.

      But if any of these three groups had tried to prevent publications of articles, had tried to marginalize critics, had created something like a “hockey stick” out of nothing, then their recommendations would and should have been less likely to attract followers.

      Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the ozone hole had stopped growing for 16 years prior to the Montreal Protocol, despite continuing increased CFCs — would it have been appropriate, in this hypothetical case, to follow their recommendations of 16 years before?

    • David Appell (@davidappell) | August 27, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Reply
      “Are virologists advocating if they recommend on-the-ground treatment protocols for Ebola?
      Were chemists advocating when they recommended action be taken to stop destruction of atmospheric ozone?
      Were computer scientists advocating when they recommended steps be taken to avoid the Y2K problem?
      Or should all of these scientists just study the science, and leave all real world recommendations to others?”

      Unlike some I don’t believe this is a “reasonable question” or “excellent list.”
      In the context of the discussion, things we know are a serious problem (e.g. Ebola) are conflated with things that have not been proven to be real (e.g. CAGW). And I think many (if not most) people would agree that Y2K was indeed used as a marketing tool by many “computer scientists” to increase visibility and sales.
      And yes many are “advocating” CAGW issues for personal gain.

    • David Appell: Are virologists advocating if they recommend on-the-ground treatment protocols for Ebola?

      I think yes. But they should avoid manipulation and hockey stickery. Also, virologists may not be fully equipped to choose the better options. The better option in some cases could be napalm. That’s a incredibly difficult decision a virologist is unlikely to have the tools to make.

      When I consider the entrenched bureaucracies at the UN, the IPCC, the EU in Brussels, and others I see a lot of incompetence and inability to make decisions when it comes to the global warming problem. Climate scientists who try to cause hysteria and panic aren’t getting anything useful accomplished.

    • “Are virologists advocating if they recommend on-the-ground treatment protocols for Ebola?”

      Are they recommending taxing Ebola to death?

      “Were chemists advocating when they recommended action be taken to stop destruction of atmospheric ozone?”

      Did they demand solar and wind powered refrigeration?

      Were computer scientists advocating when they recommended steps be taken to avoid the Y2K problem?

      Why didn’t GISS heed their warning?

      • I’m always amused when physician/climatologist parallels are drawn. As if the climatologists even understood how the body regulates temperature even.

        Maybe a little more time dissecting. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

      • The Dreaded Doctor Analogy won’t die.

        We should call it the Dreaded Zombie Doctor Analogy now. :P


      • Special Note for Warmers*

        Nothing any person acting as a Doctor has ever done has ever had any relevance in determining if AGW is true or false.

        Now back to the show.


      • This way for the eagers.

      • kim, medicine works pretty well despite not knowing all the details of how the human body works, nor the details of some diseases and how some drugs work. Doctors can make recommendations, nevertheless, and the should be listened to, because there are certain things you can do even based on incomplete knowledge.

    • You missed the scientist warning about the dangers and the actions required for the possible epidemic of Swine Flu in the USA in 1973, of new variant CJD as a consequence of the BSE epidemic in British cattle in the 90’s and the killing vs vaccination of badgers as a means of stopping bovine TB at the moment.

      The first was a public health disaster, the second was financially damaging, destroying many blood based medical companies in the UK and starving funding in other neurological research areas and the cull of badgers is bad for the largest predator in Britain.

      • The Tb cull was notbad for Badgers as you claim. Badgers are a protected species in the UK, without a larger predator like wolves or lynx controlling numbers the population soared, leaving only disease as a control mechanism for population control, hence the TB in badgers. Effective culling of badgers merely replicates the activity of higher predators. This problem is now being seen in deer populations as well. The mass culling of cattle for BSE was a panic response by politicians, who were informed anywhere from 5000 to 1 million people would die by Dr Hugh Pennington who forsaw it jumping species.
        Panic response from politicians gulled by plausible scientists – sounds familiar.

    • RE:
      Are virologists advocating if they recommend on-the-ground treatment protocols for Ebola? – I’d call that advisement.

      Were chemists advocating when they recommended action be taken to stop destruction of atmospheric ozone? In a word, yes. Since it is appearing that they were wrong as to what was actually happening.

      Were computer scientists advocating when they recommended steps be taken to avoid the Y2K problem? Perhaps not advocating, but they were certainly overhyping the threat. (Not a good example David when you are trying to tie these back to climate science.)

      Or should all of these scientists just study the science, and leave all real world recommendations to others?

    • David Appell – The answer to all your questions is provided by Judith Curry:

      If you have done a really careful job of assessing uncertainties, you substantially narrow the scope for disagreement. Acknowledge the disagreement, put forward the arguments from both sides, and state why you find one side more convincing.

    • Dr Appell,
      A nice counter example concerning science and dietary fat is shown on Dr. Currys twitter feed (upper right hand corner). The parallels between that and climate science is uncanny.

  8. David L. Hagen

    Thanks civil comments on issues that critically need to be addressed.
    Thanks for highlighting uncertainties:

    If you have done a really careful job of assessing uncertainties, . . .
    this means not hiding uncertainties or exaggerating impacts. . .
    If scientists are careful about assessing uncertainties, . . .
    climate change is a very complex, wicked problem associated with deep uncertainties.

    You earlier posted:

    However, an analysis of the full suite of CMIP5 historical simulations (augmented for the period 2006–2012 by RCP4.5 simulations, Section 9.3.2) reveals that 111 out of 114 realisations show a GMST trend over 1998–2012 that is higher than the entire HadCRUT4 trend ensemble (Box 9.2 Figure 1a; CMIP5 ensemble-mean trend is 0.21 ºC per decade).

    When the IPCC itself recognizes that 111 of 114 climate model projections exceeded actual temperatures, that indicates that the actual uncertainties are far greater than has been recognized. – and that the IPCC’s 95% confidence in majority anthropogenic warming is a political statement without scientific basis!

    • Judith says, ‘Climate Science is a wicked problem associated with
      deep uncertainties.’

      Doesn’t Climate Science therefore require the skeptic and the
      heretic? Heck, isn’t that what science per se requires, the skeptic
      and the heretic?

    • climate change is a very complex, wicked problem associated with deep uncertainties.

      Look at the temperature in my house. House get hot, thermostat turns the Air Conditioning System On. House gets cold, thermostat turns the Air Conditioning System Off. Sun always supplies Heat.

      Look at the temperature of Earth. Earth gets hot. Polar Oceans Thaw and turn on Clouds and Snowfall. Earth gets cold, Polar Oceans Freeze and turn Clouds and Snowfall Off.

      This is not very complex, not very wicked and there are few uncertainties. It works exactly like this every time. Look at the data for the past ten thousand years.

      I do not make friends with Climate People when I explain this is really simple, but many Engineers and Regular People do understand.
      Many Weather People, who are not Climate Scientists, do understand this.

      Occam’s Razor says a simple answer is the most likely right answer.

      This is simple. It snows more when oceans are warm and thawed. It snows less when oceans are cold and frozen. This fell into place on Earth as the Polar Ice Cycles started and matured.

      Many people understand the principles of “Lake Effect Snow”
      Ocean Effect Snow follows the same principles. It snows when the water is warm and not frozen. It does not snow when the water is cold and covered by ice.

      it was warm in the Roman and Medieval Warm periods so it snowed and got cold. It was cold in the Little Ice Age so it did not snow and it got warm. The regulation and limit of the upper and lower bound is really this simple.

      • Sure, sure, ‘really simple,’ –e.g., we’re learning what goes up also goes down. Jan-Erik Solheima, et al., are predicting, an average temperature decrease of at least 1.0°C from solar cycle 23 to solar cycle 24 (The long sunspot cycle 23 predicts a significant temperature decrease in cycle 24). We’re also learning that academia’s modeling skills have been embarrassingly juvenile and woefully incomplete when it comes to taking account of the solar energy and ocean-atmosphere mechanisms that working together drive changes in the climate, as follows:

        Formation of NADW [North Atlantic deep water] represents transfer of upper level water to large depths. The water is transported and spread throughout the Atlantic and exported to the Indian and Pacific oceans before updwelling in Antarctic waters. The return flow of warm water from the Pacific through the Indian ocean and the Caribbean to the North Atlantic, a distance of 40,000 km, takes from 13 to 130 years… There appears to be solar “fingerprints” that can be detected in climate time series in other parts of the world with each series having a unique time lag between the solar signal and the hydro-climatic response… with various lags from 0 years (Indian Ocean) to 34 years (Mississippi river flow) and 70 years (Labrador Sea ice)… [and] the top-down stratospheric response of ozone to fluctuations of shortwave solar forcing and the bottom-up coupled ocean–atmospheric surface response, acting together, can amplify a solar cyclical pulse with a factor 4 or more. (Solheima, et al., supra)

    • Did they also look at 1984-1998 because that period showed the opposite, or was this period cherry-picked?

  9. Assuming the cartoon prints below…

    What would be my fair use excuse to copyright infringement, parody or satire?

  10. Here’s the prob for me: How do I distinguish this garden-variety extended warming from all the others in the last ten thousand years, which look just like it? Putting aside the blatant confection known as Hockeystick, exactly when did temps EVER flatline?

    Except for the details, how do I philosophically distinguish Katrina from Labor Day or Okeechobee or 1821 or The Great Colonial or Galveston? How can Katrina or Wilma indicate anything “philosophically” except that severe Atlantic hurricanes are still happening, in between the odd slack season?

    How do I distinguish this latest dribble of sea level rise (since the 1700s) from the sea level fluctuations which have never stopped occurring, which MUST occur, just like the fluctuations of sea ice?

    What is the decade or era which is normal or “stable”, and to which I am supposed to return?

    It would be a pity – would it not? – to spend trillions on being “resilient” or “adaptive” or take-pick-of-buzzword without trying to answer those questions.

    The problem is NOT communication. The problem is having nothing to communicate. When there is something to communicate, one simply says what one has to say. Not hard.

    To paraphrase Lauren Bacall, you just purse your lips then…make the sound.

    • Mosomoso

      Flatlining temperatures? I can.t see any period when the climate remained the same for an extended period.. You may remember this from my article last year

      Personally I would like to go back to the temperatures of the previous decade to this one but which is the baseline temperature which is considered ‘normal’?


      • I liked the stormy 1970s, would have hated most of Australia’s drier decades between 1895 and the end of WW2.

        But you didn’t get to pick and choose before, did you? They gave out the 1970s and early 1950s here for free. Gratis. No taxes. It just rained for free. Now we pay…Oh, how we pay!

    • Mosomoso: Physics does indicate the greenhouse effect increases energy retention. One can argue the details, for example the feedbacks have not been pinned down that accurately.. It’s also possible the energy does get sequestered (in a cyclic fashion) away from the surface. The basic principle involved does seem to be sound.

      It’s also clear there are cycles and cycles, and the models need a lot of work. But I’d say the greenhouse effect is indeed driving temperatures up. And given how the system works if the surface temperature flatlined for 30 years that won’t make future increases go away.

      What’s left to find out is exactly how much it will go up for a given scenario? What’s a reasonable emissions scenario? How much harm does a temperature increase really cause? And what the hell are we supposed to do about it without ruining the world economy and starving several billion people?

      • Fernando, what I’m saying is that this warming and all its concomitants are so ordinary and so reflective of past warmings that there is little space left for the anthropogenic. If CO2 caused temps to increase through retention in Arrhenius’ experiments, that’s a compelling reason not to live inside glass receptacles. But alleged AGW looks so much like plain old GW it’s embarrassing.

        Our warming is dead common. One wave has followed another, each a bit different to the others. Till the Hockeystick and the rise of the klimatariat, few ever doubted this.

        As I said before, the climate is old and doing much the same things in its untidy, unstable rhythm. It’s the Hockeystick which is new and anthropogenic.

      • It’s almost like this ole’ earth was organized to do exactly what its doing.

    • Flaunting temperatures,
      Pouting lips;
      Flouting science,
      The record rips.

  11. I would add only one thing to Judith’s excellent interview.

    It isn’t just scientists who are affected by “ineffective” ways of communicating. When scientists are publicly involved in marginalizaing skeptics, whether by calling people deniers or saying there is a concensus and we need to move on — these attitudes filter down to people who are opinion leaders in their community or social group; or to political types, whether they run for offices or work in the trenches; or to media types. So individuals who might want to recognize uncertainties or discuss studies coming to different conclusions also get marginalized at the local level, get shunned by friends in some cases. Not as bad as the McCarthyism my mother lived through, but of the same ilk — I’d rather not socialize with you any more, if you believe THAT.

    So these anti-scientific attitudes by mainstream science and government types is part of what now divides us, prevents us from talking about things quietly, from agreeing (genially and genuinely) to agree to disagree.

  12. Judith Curry,

    “Honesty and integrity is strong armor, so don’t be intimidated!”

    That you have to mention “Honesty” & “Integrity” in a discussion of science, to me at least, reveal the problem. There is an absence of honesty and integrity that needs addressing.

    I accept that you are the blogosphere standard barer for H & I. Who else in the science realm is doing this? Whom do you see as having a public persona besides yourself? M & M have been focused on ferreting out errors of omission and commission and not yet household names.

    The barriers to honesty and integrity lie in the plethora of places inside academia and Government, back in the McCarthy days were called “fellow travelers.” These people, with an without formal green credentials, yet green in an activist way in academia and Government, populate positions which influence discussions, gatekeeping, never swaying from keeping on message. The academic Consensus mouthpieces giving credence and cover for such behavior as altering data, mischaracterizing certainty, blending official positions with advocacy positions, denigrating others as oppose to their arguments, public name calling.

    So “Honesty” & “Integrity” remain the cornerstone of science in your mind. I’m just wondering, who else takes this attitude?

  13. Matthew R Marler

    Prof Curry: For scientific progress, it is important to challenge the consensus. However, for urgent social problems, some consensus is needed on how to proceed. The challenge is for tension among scientific plurality, dissent, and consensus making to work productively to advance the science and support decision making.

    That is well said.

    You might like to read or re-read Thomas Kuhn’s essay “The Essential Tension”, in which he addresses the tension between supporting and expanding “consensus science” (he does not use the phrase “consensus science”, but names the process “normal science”), and making revolutionary (“paradigm shifting”) discoveries. The essay is included in a book called “The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change”.

    • I have a new post forthcoming (probably next week) on consensus

      • I re analyzed Verheggen et al’s data and concluded 23 % of climate scientists have reached a full consensus with my position. I feel like Prince Fernando of Aragon just before he married Princess Isabel of Castille. In a few years I could have more scientific princes swing behind me and I’ll take over half the climate.

      • ‘We sail in the confident expectation of a miracle’.

        H/t, some Spanish confidant of a papish emissary, in 1588, of the English better vessels, sailing, and cannons, not to mention home court advantage.

      • Oh, please, kim’ ‘papal’. Whatsamatta wid U?

      • Kim, instead of the invasion fleet I would have secretly financed Scottish separatists, encouraged the English to start a war with France and at the same distributed pamphlets touting climate change to encourage the crown to colonize Greenland.

      • Heh, well Dutch flyboats cut off Parma’s pitiful display of driving through the lane, but I like your idea of sending an invincible force of climate communicators. That’ll teach ’em.

  14. Advocacy has no place in government financed science. We are paying for impartial objective science.

    Advocates should be ineligible for grants or for any part in the grant process (particularly at NSF and EPA).

    On the government side of things: reading through EPA and NSF request for grant proposals shows many have “loaded” language that indicates the result sought by the study. The government officials that wrote these RFPs should be fired.

    On the science side of things: data manipulation, peer review board loading, outright career discrimination and other techniques that, regardless of the underlying data, produce only studies that support a single viewpoint, are contemptible and unethical. Scientists who are informed by their politics not by the data should be strongly encouraged to change careers.

  15. In the linked article, reporters on ‘TheHill’ say, [Obama’s] administration is in talks at the United Nations about a deal that would seek to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by ‘naming and shaming’ governments that fail to take significant action,” and “that the plan is to come up with a treaty that would not require Senate confirmation…”

    Is Obama’s version of the democrat party’s New Deal a domestic program to help continue the hiatus in polar bear death and sea level rise or the hiatus in job and economic recovery?

    • It’s quite blatant the need for the tactic to dodge around the sixty-seven votes needed.

      The founders made declaring war the role of the legislative and making war the role of the executive because getting into a war is a Hell of a lot easier than getting out of one.

      • Heh, Great Leader takes himself into this one, and then takes himself into the rough. Decisions, decisions.

      • Obama? Is he still around? He hasn’t been seen on the world stage for a couple of years now.

      • For as long as he is the executive he will do everything in is power to support the goals of EU and as he sees it that means blaming US oil companies for causing global warming, printing money to buy votes and blaming the productive for working.

      • Adds new meaning to ‘redlining’.

      • Does golfing cause brain damage?

      • All the world’s a green, and all the men and women merely peasants.

      • In the link to ‘The Hill,’ where it says, “Climate plan spooks Dems,” I wonder if, e.g., “cows the Dems” may be more accurate (as in ‘having a cow over it), or perhaps, e.g., “bulldozes the Dems,” since they seem to be running from global warming as elections near, as opposed to connoting something that simply scares, unnerves or alarms Dems — although, for those in close races, the plan seems to “panic the Dems.” When it comes to deniers, such a plan is not even ‘shocking,’ coming from the Left, as it’s obvious this is the sort of thing you do to be awarded a Nobel.

    • Article II, Section 2, Clause 2:”He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur”.

      Sole-executive agreements are valid – but only for agreements that may be dropped at will by either party. Since, at present, there is no way for congress to pass a law with sufficient majority to override a presidential veto, any agreement would be in place until saner executive leadership is elected.

      • TonyB:

        Knowing something of Iraq I can say the invasion was hopelessly misconceived as it didn’t look to what was happening AFTER sadaam was removed.

        I know this is way off topic, but I think the issue is basically you can’t use a militarized presence to keep the peace and maintain a positive relationship with the group of people you supposedly freed from oppression. Ferguson and the militarization of US police is a a good reference point to what the Iraqis must have thought, having foreigners in their country with guns pointed at them:

        Anyway, I don’t see that there is any way forward from an invasion, other than returning control very quickly to the population.

    • US foreign policy has been very ineffective for 22 years. I don’t see any improvement within the next 50 years.

      • US foreign policy in Iraq was very effective (in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and deposed the Ba’athist government of Saddam Hussein. ~wiki): 3 weeks. It would have been about 2 weeks if not for Turkey. It was humanitarian policy afterward that was ineffective –e.g., even American women could care less about the liberation of Arab women and children from oppression and the American Left sees only America as being evil.

      • Wagathon, invading a weak country isn’t good foreign policy. This is more so when it costs $1 trillion dollars and 40 thousand casualties. A big reason why the USA can’t have an effective foreign policy is the confusion over what the term means.

        I wouldn’t bring this up here, but it does relate to the country’s climate warming policy. It’s ineffective, naive, disjointed, and won’t achieve much. Just like Iraq.

      • Fernandez

        Knowing something of Iraq I can say the invasion was hopelessly misconceived as it didn’t look to what was happening AFTER sadaam was removed. He was a strong man who favoured the west and kept his country together . No matter how unpleasant he was he was better than what has replaced him.


      • The Iraqis who got a taste of freedom after the second gulf war might disagree that it was a terrible policy. The tens of thousands currently being raped, tortured and slaughtered by ISIS might disagree that the abandonment of that policy was such a good idea as well.

        This latest abandonment of US Allies by progressive American politicians, ala Viet Nam and Cambodia, was the most foreseeable catastrophe of the many precipitated by this feckless administration.

      • TonyB,

        I don’t disagree with you on much, but Saddam stopped favoring the west long before the US invaded Iraq. There was a time when it was better to support him than suffer a vacuum. But he was on the verge of causing the collapse of sanctions with the help of the Russians and French. And his ambitions and delusions were not something the west could afford to ignore. I will agree that neo-con naivete’ in their democracy project was doomed to failure. But that was not the real justification for that war. Nor was the threat of the imminent use of WMD the primary basis. (That emphasis came from the former progressive darlings of the Bush Administration – Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice.)

      • “Wagathon, invading a weak country isn’t good foreign policy. ”
        And invading a strong country is good foreign policy???
        Invading a strong country has not been done, though it depends what one calls a strong country, Iraq had on paper a strong military force.
        Or one could say in comparison to Iraq, Europe on paper is defenseless.
        Of course Europe has a strong ally, so Russia invading Europe is generally a very stupid idea, particularly when one should know that wars tend to last longer than one might guess, and Obama will effectively leave office in the latter part of 2016.

        In terms of Iraq, one had crazy dictator leader with many tanks, which would work pretty good, if one isn’t fighting the World’s Superpower- in that case, they are essentially useless. Or generally if you can’t control the skies, then your tanks are greatly diminished in their effectiveness.

      • Kevin Lawson

        This seems to be off topic for climate discussion. The problem we have is politicians who engage in things like the Iraq war don’t realise that nation building takes at least 50 years, effectively the time to train a child in democratic principles and let him grow until he/she is old enough to take senior positions in government, the judiciary and army. Also a presidential system of government is useless in countries with tribal and religious divisions as the various tribes will fight for supremacy to gain the presidency. The British system of a bicameral parliament overseen by a constitutional monarchy makes more sense. The second chamber gives you somewhere tribal and religious leaders can sit to advise a democratically elected chamber. A constitutional monarch allows dynastic marriage whereby the various tribes can be married of with one another binding loyalty to the head of state who doesn’t go through repeated divisive elections

      • Tony: The US had a detailed plan for after the fall of Saddam but it didn’t go well. However, when a war/battle does not go well flexibility is needed. But flexibility was stalled in Iraq due the military leadership’s insistence of a small footprint. Progress was not made until most of the generals were replaced; having to replace ineffective generals during a war is not uncommon. You can also place blame on the Secretary of Defence (spelled in British as a courtesy), but his problem was poor advice from the generals.

      • Garym

        I actually met sadaam during a trade visit to iraq. He had just got back from France where he had bought several villas and a side trip to Switzerland to salt money away.

        He was secular and pro western. Why would he side with Russia when he had so much invested in the west?

        Removing the Ba’ath party removed several layers of administration and removing sadaam dissolved the glue that held together a melange of religions, tribes, ethic groups and regions that didn’t like each other.

        It takes two generations to build democracy and that never happened. It may have been well meant but the invasion removed a dictator without wmd’s and replaced him with the current horrible mess that may play out in the middle east and the west for decades.


  16. Svend Ferdinandsen

    That sentence is very actual now regarding J Marohasy. “Taking the Temperature”.
    Regarding communication as such, it is all about advocating and politizising, not science.
    I cant see why the climate community are so keen on the communication. They have had all the media all time in more that 20 year.
    It might just be that the science behind is a bit unconfounded.
    It is not concistent with anything, even when we are told so for every weatherevent.
    I would say, they have stressed the bow to the breaking point, and are now complaining we don’t get it because of communication!

  17. Michael Larkin

    Know why you’re successful in engaging with the public, Judith? Above all, I think it’s because you possess integrity and honesty. That’s the way to get people to listen. It took a while when you started your blog for me to allay my suspicions about your motives, but you won me over because you demonstrated the aforesaid qualities: and too many advocates lack them.

    We laypeople may not always be able to grok the science, but we usually have no difficulty judging whether communicators possess the two qualities. That has a crucial effect on whether or not we pay attention to them. This is such a simple point that it amazes me how much hand-wringing puzzlement there is amongst “communicators” who aren’t actually seeking to communicate, but to indoctrinate. They genuinely seem incapable of enough self-reflection to gauge how they appear to their audience, and how they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

    Good communicators aren’t sure about everything, know they aren’t sure, and aren’t afraid to openly say so. The more certainty they express, the more our BS detectors quiver. We may not be scientists, but most of us have learnt the hard way that certainty rarely exists, and a feeling of it has often been our downfall. So as we grow older, we tend to become more and more unsure: once upon a time that was thought of as increasing in wisdom, and was respected.

    • Thank you Michael!

    • “Know why you’re successful in engaging with the public, Judith? Above all, I think it’s because you possess integrity and honesty”

      Completely true. And this is why JC is not an advocate by the definition that I learned when I went to Law School in the mid 70s.

      From the English common law, a lawyer was required to be an advocate for his client. This meant to ONLY present the SUBSET of facts which shine the best light on the interests of his client. It was perfectly fine if the lawyer knowingly created a false understanding of the facts as long as he at no time actually lied in the process. It was up to the other side to counter his arguments. But this stylized behavior, called advocacy, was intended for use only inside a court of law, or perhaps also in formal debate.

      The problem is that somewhere along the way lawyers began to think that such advocacy was also perfectly acceptable outside of the courtroom. And now we have reached a point where it is almost disarming when someone is willing to step forward and honestly attempt to present both sides and act as a fair broker. Bravo to JC, but it is a sad reflection on our society that such behavior has become refreshingly rare.

  18. Alexander Biggs

    It has always been my view that scientists should be responsible for explaining their work to anyone who will listen
    , in the language of the recipient. That is, one can’t hide behind a barrier of scientific jargon. Of course this can be difficult and may require unusual skills of explanation. This is where communication media can make it all the more difficult because, in theory media can be read by anyone. but in practice is mostly academia. For example, how does one explain internal vibration in a molecule to some one who does not have any idea of the composition of matter? Yet this has to be considered important in climate science.

    • Alexander, when I was working, I found that a lot of economic modellers had difficulty in expressing their results in a way intelligible to the policy-maker audience. One of my skills was in extracting the critical findings of modelling and explaining their implications to non-cognescenti. The skills needed to be a successful modeller did not include those in successfully communicating results. It is likely that that will remain true of many scientists. What is needed is someone who can grasp the scientific findings and convey their implications to non-graspers, as I did in economics. Such an intermediary, in any field, needs to be reasonably conversant with the subject matter of the experts, but also conversant with the needs and capacities of the intended audience.

      In my case, I would always make clear the caveats and the implications of alternative responses. Judith does the first, and argues for others to do so. The skills with dealing with policy- and opinion-makers need to be developed by closely working with them, which many scientists will not be able to do.

      • Alexander Biggs

        Thank you Faustino for your comment, Although I was fully engaged at the time in writing the first ever full 3D model of a guided missile system for the British MOD; when our director suggested I try my hand at economic modelling. So I did for a while, but decided that Group psychology was a poor substitute for Physics. But we were able to predict something that happened in 1961, Can’t remember what it was.

        Most modelling is expensive as multidisciplinary teams are usually necessary. Model validation is essential and if that is not done properly no one will believe the model results. That is one of the failures of climate science.

      • That is one of the failures of climate science.

        No. That is one of the many failures of a failed “climate science” paradigm. But there’s more to a scientific field than the dominant paradigm. The models coming from the alternatives to that paradigm are very new, barely taking baby steps, but they are not failures.

        Hopefully, some of them will eventually turn out to be successes.

  19. Global warming, the new saturated fat:

    We only believe this to be true because nutrition policy was derailed over the past half-century by personal ambition, bad science, politics, and bias.

    • Mainly, it amounted to Keys’s own “Seven Countries Study”, which purported to show a link between the consumption of saturated fats and heart disease among 13,000 men surveyed in the US, Japan and Europe. Critics have pointed out that this study violated several basic scientific norms. For one, Keys did not choose his countries randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs – including Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy – while excluding countries with low rates of heart disease despite diets with a lot of fat – such as France, Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany.

      (See the linked article)

    • I’ve long been amused that margarine was touted as ‘made from poly-unsaturated fats’ and it’s solidified by saturating the fats.

      Gimme a little while and I’ll find the parallel with climate science.

    • The worst USDA atrocity of them all was the minimum internal temperature of pork. Generations missed out the succulent joy of medium rare medallions of pork tender loin. Too much internal heat, it was a travesty.

    • You might like to rethink simple answers. Are we instead a low fat, high fibre and acetate delivery system to the bug colony that we are a life support for?


  20. Dear Dr Curry,

    Having just past my first aniversary on Climate Etc., I’d like to say how much I appreciate this blog and the forum that allows me to see the many different takes on climate science with open and honest debate of the varying viewpoints. The turn that your career took may have put you in a situation where you didn’t reach some fulfillment but it did give some people like me to access to the critical thinking of this forum. I don’t envy those exposed strickly to the dogmatic, exclusionary track in the name of political expediency that consensus represents. I’m sure that, being of my age group, you won’t be terribly disappointed not getting some position. Remember though that often the pendulum swings and you may have opened up things for some in the next generation.

    As for awards, it is my distinct honor as the Wizard of the Ordovician epoch (emeritus non grata) and my fellow anthropods to bestow upon you the title of ‘Super Climate Science Gal’ with the brains, heart and courage to tell it like it is. This has been a pleasurable year of learning for me in this most open of forums that I believe is second to none. Thanks!

    Philip Nord

  21. Judith’s view would make more sense if it was self-consistent. On the one had we have a wicked problem and there is no way to know climate sensitivity well enough to even know the response to doubling CO2, but on the other, the sensitivity is somewhere close to the vicinity of 50% of the consensus view. So firstly, it is said you can’t even guess well enough for a policy, but secondly let’s guess anyway and advocate against doing anything based on that guess. A consistent view would allow for the consensus to be at least as right as the 50% guess because of the deep uncertainty, but here it seems there is some certainty mixed into Judith’s uncertainty.

    • No human is totally consistent, and it wouldn’t make sense anyway. As new information is acquired, views will change – unless you’re a turnip or something.

    • ‘A young man who isn’t a socialist hasn’t got a heart; an old man who is a socialist hasn’t got a head.’
      David Lloyd George

      I will leave you to decide which one Jimbo is.
      The 50% refers to late century warming and it is clear that less than half was anthropogenic. The total rate of warming was some 0.07 degrees C/decade for a total of some 0.4 degrees C. It implies that climate is relatively insensitive to CO2 – but the future is utterly unpredictable.

      A wicked problem involves social, political and economic dimensions. Solutions involve 12 phenomenal ways to save the world.

      1. Achieve full and productive employment for all, reduce barriers to productive employment for all including women and young people.

      2. Reduce by 50% or more malnutrition in all its forms, notably stunting and wasting in children under five years of age.

      3. By 2030 end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases reverse the spread of, and significantly reduce deaths from tuberculosis and malaria.

      4. Achieve universal health coverage (UHC), including financial risk protection, with particular attention to the most marginalized, assuming a gradual increase in coverage over time, focusing first on diseases where interventions have high benefits-to-costs.

      5. Ensure universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health for all, including modern methods of family planning.

      6. By 2030 ensure universal access to access and complete quality pre-primary education

      7. By 2030 ensure equal access to education at all levels.

      8. By 2030 ensure increased access to sustainable modern energy services.

      9. By 2030 phase out fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption

      10. Build resilience and adaptive capacity to climate induced hazards in all vulnerable countries.

      11. Promote open, rules-based, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading and financial systems, including complying with the agricultural mandate of the WTO Doha Round.

      12 Improve market access for agricultural and industrial exports of developing countries, especially Least Developed Countries, and at least double the share of LDCs’ exports in global exports by 2020

      Only in the bleatings of the Borg alarmist collective does this equate to advocating doing nothing.

      • I’m 100% behind all this (as long as it isn’t done by government.)

      • Eschew the UN Do Good Global Industry, one fer you ‘n
        two fer me ‘n one fer you ‘n you and two fer me and, er,
        one fer me …

      • The UN is not so bad after all, is it?

      • Most developed countries have committed to 0.7% of GNI. The US refused to commit – and supplies some 0.03% of GNI as ODA. Still it amounts to some $50 billion per year. You should look after it better.

      • Although some of these relate to getting rid of industry protection and commodity subsidies. Surely nothing to object to for free marketeers,

      • Good luck with your new website Chief. I am sure that your manifesto covers everything that needs to be done and we each need to think of ways to influence decision-makers so that these goals can be gradually realised. I suspect, however, that changing the hearts and minds of the people in power will require hard work and persistence and that climate change will be the least of our problems.

      • The 12 ‘phenomenal’ goals are based on Copenhagen Consensus analyses of the post 2015 draft MDG goals.

        As far as aid is concerned – essentially ignore the UN catch all aspirations and focus on goals that have the biggest bang as determined by Nobel Laureate economists.

        The UN is utterly pointless.

      • Well here’s the US budget fer the UN, Chief and jim 2, not so much
        if yer say it quick.)

      • Rob, and none of that involves “dealing with CAGW as an over-riding imperative,” indeed, it is in no way dependent on whether or not climate changes. Priorities, priorities.

      • Jim D, I think that if the UN were ever useful and cost-effective, that time passed decades ago. Roosevelt sold out the Poles, whose invasion was the nominal ground for the Brits et al to go to war, in order that Stalin would support his desired memorial, the UN; and he betrayed Churchill in doing so. Not his finest hour.

      • Not merely no regrets – Michael – but greater than 15 to 1 return on investment.

      • Some people here don’t even like the UN Development Program and its goals.

      • The only thing the UN is really good at is transferring money from the pockets of western tax payers into the pockets of UN autocrats and third world kleptocrats.

        Oh, and their “peace keepers” have become almost as adept at raping and pillaging as their poverty fighters have at increasing poverty.

      • That’s because it is utter freakin’ nonsense designed to implement pet green-socialist projects with zilch value – if not actual significant cost – to recipients.

        More than time for a classic liberal overhaul.

      • Jim d thinks the UN Do Good Global Industry ain’t so bad.

        Well no, I daresay it ain’t, if yer favour annual spending of
        billions of $$$$$$$$$ from the pockets of the plebs. And
        I daresay it ain’t, if yer favour global guvuhnance by those
        unelected faceless men and women with an army of well
        paid scribes within the stone-walled hive, well glass-walled
        hive. And not if yer favour 3rd World Kleptocrat guvuhmints
        continuing ter support the privileged selectorates that prop
        them up. Hmm … ‘cui bono’ from those Millennium Goals ??

        A bemused serf.

  22. curryja wrote:

    “I have almost certainly eliminated myself from further professional recognition”

    That is a likely cost for doing what you believe is right. But isn’t much of formal professional recognition in academia and business “gold stars” for conformity and loyalty? Liberation ain’t a bad thing though ;O)

  23. Oh LIL 2, please come soon.

  24. LIA 2

    • Isn’t this the horrible irony? I lie in bed awake at night, calculating just the right amount of cooling to chill the fevered delusion, without causing a holocaust instead.

      Once the calculations have been completed, the necessary changes will be instituted.

  25. To recommend against advocacy by scientists is actually a form of advocacy.

    Welcome to the rhetorical trick-box, where few get out alive.

  26. ‘Partisan groups lobbying for preferred outcomes have a long history of the selective use of information to support predetermined conclusions. This is acceptable in politics, but not in science. The motivations for such advocacy science may be a sincere desire to improve the protection of ecosystems and frustration with decision-making processes that seem to give too little weight to longer term environmental considerations, or a cynical strategy to exploit the challenges that uncertainty poses to decision-making. Whatever the cause, making science advice itself partisan means it no longer deserves to be treated in any special way in the decision-making process. There is a serious risk that the long-term costs of merging advocacy with science advice would outweigh any short-term benefits of greater impact on a particular decision. If scientists do wish to increase the impact of science advice on decision-making, there are alternatives to advocacy in doing so. These approaches make the advice more amenable to decision-makers, while avoiding turning science advisors into partisan lobbyists.’ http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/content/68/10/2007.full.pdf

    Webbly has demonstrated yet again such a fragile hold on reality. The nastiness of a comment above somewhere is another matter entirely. Far from understanding the risk of science trading on it’s legitimacy to advocate for policy positions – we have a potage of ritual jibes intended to bolster his fantasy of belonging to a morally and intellectually superior grouping. Climate alarmists – or the Borg collective as we like to call them. We have the dear leader – they can’t decide whether it is Michael Mann, Al Gore or SpongeBob SquarePants. There are gatekeepers – many of them. Then we have the attack gerbils – blogospheric shock troops like webbly – and the space cadets – in popular parlance an eccentric person disconnected with reality. A space cadets spaces out and says things that are totally random. Someone who is not following what is going on because they are thinking about how to fit trick-boxes, own goals and Klimate Klowns into the conversation.

    Space cadet origins are unknown but there is a theory that their home planet was destroyed by incompetence and ineffectiveness. Following this disaster they came to Earth where they infiltrate and pollute the gene pool. ‘Space cadets are known for their poor skills in common sense areas such as coordination, food preparation, basic cleaning and processing simultaneous coherent thoughts.’

    Can we trust the future of the planet to these people? Hardly. For rational science – start with multiply coupled nonlinear thinking. For policy sanity start with the 12 phenomenal ways to save the world I listed above somewhere.

  27. If I can return to the topic of science communications, it seems pretty clear to me that those who know a lot about either of them don’t know diddly about the other.

  28. From reading +90% of blog comments, one would conclude that (1) Any layman’s attempt to try and understand the science of AGW is a waste of time as the impact of AGW (and its feedbacks) is so minor on Earth’s temperatures; (2) The only “pragmatic” purpose that a layman should come to CE is to be “intellectually informed” to fight the spread of “Liberal” World Socialism.

    +90% of blog comments reflect that “Tea Party Republicans basically “have it “right” — as shown in Pew Results where 41% say GW “just isn’t happening” and for those believing it is happening, only 9% say its from “human activity”:

    • Stephen, I think I should let you know that I am a regular commenter here, a liberal progressive and very open about being somewhat to the left of Karl Marx. And my opinions on climate policy are treated fairly by most here. So I’m not sure of the relevance of your observations.

      • Tom, I can’t avoid taking the bait. Go read “My Friend Lenin” by yours truly and leave me a comment. I left Venezuela after seeing another mess your buddies are causing, so if you want a dose of reality….

  29. Link to chart of Pew Poll Results (which didn’t show up in above post): http://www.treepower.org/blog/globalwarmingpew1.png

  30. Saw the interview, checked out your site. I am a scientist though not in climate.

    It seems like you want very badly to be seen as staking out a sensible middle ground, but then you post cartoons geared to piss people off. I have not seen much about climate science that suggests it is being done any better or worse than the fields that I practice (cell biology, biochemistry, pharmacology). If anything I highly doubt that most individual researchers would survive the kind of frantic and microscopic review that the average leading climate researcher gets.

    Hell, I made my beans proving a Nobel winner’s primary model was flawed in the same year he won his Nobel Prize. Not that it invalidated his Prize in any way – mostly other people had assumed that his models covered a wider range of receptors than they actually did – but it shows how science builds by adding one good but imperfect work to the next. Suggesting bad faith as often and stridently as you do strikes me as pretty offensive.

    • Bad faith? We have some emails for you to read.

      • And an artificially hot Senate Hearing Room.

        TIMOTHY WIRTH: What we did is that we went in the night before and opened all the windows, I will admit, right, so that the air conditioning wasn’t working inside the room. And so when the- when the hearing occurred, there was not only bliss, which is television cameras and double figures, but it was really hot.[Shot of witnesses at hearing]

        WIRTH: Dr. Hansen, if you’d start us off, we’d appreciate it. The wonderful Jim Hansen was wiping his brow at the table at the hearing, at the witness table, and giving this remarkable testimony.[nice shot of a sweaty Hansen]

        Bolding original.

      • Wirth’s a radiant fool. Underconfident in the message enough to rig the hearing room artificially, and overconfident enough in the message to brag about his chicanery.

    • I suggest groupthink and careerism (I understand this; I had to shift away from this myself circa 2009/2010).

      I look at a broad spectrum of arguments and research, and comment on the sociology of the dominant consensus enforcing group.

      I don’t know if that puts me in the ‘middle’, but I take potshots from both sides.

      Good cartoons make people think. There are a lot of reasons for defending the climate change consensus, that don’t have anything to do with science.

      As for bad faith, after being on the front lines of the AGW debate since 2005, I have no faith. I just try to keep digging and expose flaws in reasoning, uncertainty, and scientists participating in propaganda.

      • Don’t get me wrong. I totally understand groupthink. After the second time our groups published our crazy out of the blue model in a Nature journal (not Nature itself, more’s the pity) people started coming out of the woodwork to tell us that they already had our stuff (the inklings of it) in their old lab notebooks. They just never knew what to do with it, or they second guessed themselves and tried something else. One colleague told us that he repeated the most important test of our model and got the same results, but he still doesn’t believe it.

        Ramon y Cajal had to deal with the same thing and the doctor who started medical hygiene, by far the most important single advance in modern medicine, was driven to ruin by it. Our colleague the Nobel winner loves to start keynotes talking about the decades he spent fighting with the greybeards of his own youth. But of course so does the “time cube guy”, the cold fusioners and a whole lot more people who turn out to be wrong. Anti-vaxxers (spit). It can be tough to judge when consensus is dismissing flat earthers and when it is stepping on the feet of someone like Lynn Margulis.

        But throat cleared, I am not sure the cartoons make people think. Gary Larson, sainted be he, made people think. Accusing colleagues of bad faith usually just gets their back up and invites conflict.

      • Well the cartoon thing is a matter of taste, I like cartoons, and just started exploring their use in my posts a few weeks ago. A cartoon does not accuse anyone of bad faith (well, if the shoe fits . . .). I’ve written extensively about the institutionalization of group think and careerism that has infected climate science.

        The scientists that I gently poke fun at with cartoons call me a denier, anti-science and a serial climate misinformer. My cartoons are really very gentle salvos in the climate wars.

      • Ah, let’s be collegial, and wrong. Tim, the cartoons make me laugh.

        Years ago I hoped this whole mess would dissolve in humour and ridicule. My friend Peter Bocking warned me that too many people had died already. As time goes by, I’m finding him prescient.

      • ==> “Good cartoons make people think. ”

        Yes. I’m sure that many, many people have looked at that cartoon and thought: “Gee, maybe groupthink is a problem,” as compared to the # of already convinced “skeptics” going: “Yup, yup, climate scientists are cooking the books”

        Please. It’s Jell-O flinging, Judith. If that’s what you enjoy, just admit it and move on.

        ==> “I have no faith. ”

        Right. That’s why you post cartoons that align with the “AGW is a hoax” meme.Because you have not faith and are just digging to find pure science.

      • That’s not of matter of “taste” it’s an accusation of deliberate scientific fraud.

        Though, let’s be honest, it was nothing to do with making anyone think, just rallying the tribe and stirring tribal emotions.

        All the ‘climate science is a fr@ud’ mob, will be high-fiveing and ‘oh yeah’-ing.

        Go science. ):

      • Ah, it is a bidirectional thing. Sorry to hear that. I guess it becomes near impossible to avoid framing science with such incredibly broad potential impact in moral terms.

        Lucky are we who work in labs well away from the intersection of money, power, politics and the grand morality play of development vs. conservation.

      • It is gratifying that so many cartoonists are beginning to get it. Tim F, it only appears that the target of the cartoonists are the climate scientists. The real laugh is on all of us, something the cartoonists find very funny.

      • Yeah, Tim, I’m ready to forgive some of the climate scientists. They got trapped. Do you feel sorry enough for them to work at freeing them?

      • Well, he missed ‘The Capture of Three Physicists’, but it only works well in the context.

      • Heh, I stole from James Thurber this morning, calling Tim Wirth a ‘radiant fool’. Here’s his description upon observing a welder without benefit of his usual visual aids: ‘a radiant fool setting off a sky-rocket by day’.

      • “I look at a broad spectrum of arguments and research, and comment on the sociology of the dominant consensus enforcing group.”

        That group is certainly rooted long before 2005 and you seen to have “no comment” on what to many is their most defining shared sociology which is their easy to identify political orientation. In particular at the top of the most important opinion influencing bodies such as the IPCC.

        So the “enforcers” get a pass from you on their main cultural abuse.

      • Hey kim, ‘the capture of three physicists,’ and ‘the capture of
        three blonds.’ ) more on the war between men and women in
        me next Serf Under _ ground Journal coming to a secret outlet
        near you.

    • Tim F, you illustrate a particular pathology of the narrative. It is hard for scientists in other fields to believe how corrupt climate science has become.

      Years ago I spent too much time arguing with an academic philosopher who dismissed with a sneer the suggestion that peer review by the Team was different than that in other fields.

      Money, power, fame. It got focussed on climate science, and the science melted.

      • Clue1ess kim.

        Compared to some other fields, climate science is white-gloves-at-5-paces.

      • Money, yes, in other fields. Not so much the power and fame. From Blue to You.

      • Pretty funny seeing Michael characterize anybody as “clueless.”

        In the spirit of the post above, why not recapitulate her argument, then explain why it is wrong? Her view is widely expressed on the web, so can’t you explain the argument in general that she references, then explain why it is wrong?

        I would bet money that you can’t.

  31. And now the weather, featuring climate change blame

    The ultimate goal is for this to happen in real-time so that climate analysis can become part of the daily weather report.

  32. How would the communications problem change if astrology were thought to be the cause of natural variability?

    It would be a wicked problem, there would be many contributing cycles correlated at various levels of significance with temperature, and thousands of research grants could find more.

    Both merely look scientific, and both are not science.

    • You mean like what astronomy looked like when it was an article of faith that God only used perfect circles? It was always possible to explain stuff with that rule, but the explanations got more an more complicated.

      • A curious thing is that those epicycles are a sort of fourier series for the orbit, so not less valid really.

        A huge collapse in the independent parameter space is all that happened, with Kepler.

  33. The International Council for Science (ICSU) has a conference at present (chaired by Gluckman) of science advisers, as an intro into the open science conference.

    The uncertainty monster is taken to be a given in science.


  34. “If you have done a really careful job of assessing uncertainties, you substantially narrow the scope for disagreement. Acknowledge the disagreement, put forward the arguments from both sides, and state why you find one side more convincing.”

    There are some studies that show that liberals are all but incapable of doing this, while conservatives are pretty good at it. Jonathon Haidt, a liberal himself, has written about this. My favorite line from his describing liberal attempts at debate is “Reject first, ask rhetorical questions later!”

  35. When “communication” really means 45 years of accumulated propaganda;


    AGW (political motivated science fiction fantasy) more of a concern than terrorist threats (reality, go to the World Trade Center as a simple empirical proof), to leftists. Priorities, culture.

  36. Pingback: Trenberth’s science communication interview | Climate Etc.