by Judith Curry
It’s getting worse.
About 5 years ago, I wrote two blog posts on climate scientists’ pre-traumatic stress syndrome:
- Pre-traumatic stress syndrome: climate trauma survival trips
- Pre-traumatic stress syndrome: climate scientists speak out
Mother Jones has a new article on the same topic It’s the end of the world as they know it: The distinct burden of being a climate scientist. The following scientists were interviewed: Kim Cobb, Priya Shukla, Peter Kalmus, Sarah Myhre, Jacquelyn Gill, Katharine Wilkinson, Eric Holthaus, David Grinspoon, Ken Caldeira.
Lots of ‘trauma,’ read the article to get a flavor. This sentence pretty much sums things up:
“There’s deep grief and anxiety for what’s being lost, followed by rage at continued political inaction, and finally hope that we can indeed solve this challenge. There are definitely tears and trembling voices.”
End of civilization?
The title of the article is: “It’s the end of the world as they know it.” Some selected quotes:
“I’m tired of processing this incredible and immense decline”
” . . . knows of a looming catastrophe but must struggle to function in a world that does not comprehend what is coming and, worse, largely ignores the warnings of those who do.”
“it’s deep grief—having eyes wide open to what is playing out in our world”
“I lose sleep over climate change almost every single night”
“Climate change is its own unique trauma. It has to do with human existence.”
“I have no child and I have one dog, and thank god he’ll be dead in 10 years.”
Soooo . . . have any of these scientists read the IPCC Reports? I’m not seeing this level of ‘alarm’ anywhere in the IPCC Reports? Where the heck does this ‘end of civilization’ stuff come from?
In a tweet about the article, Lucas Bergkamp asked:
“How can these scientists produce any reliable, objective data?”
Gotta wonder. Sarah Myhre states:
“I have anxiety exacerbated by the constant background of doom and gloom of science. It’s not stopping me from doing my work, but it’s an impediment.”
Apart from ‘impediments’, what about flat-out bias in research introduced by this extreme world view?
Not all climate scientists are similarly ‘afflicted.’ My previous blog post included statements from Suki Manabe and Gavin Schmidt, who were not afflicted in this way. The Mother Jones article includes statements from David Grinspoon, Ken Caldeira and Michael Mann, who also do not seem to be so ‘afflicted.’
“Caldeira offers a blunt comparison: “I had a girlfriend once who was a social worker who had to deal with abused children. She had to deal with real shit every day. Climate scientists have it easy.” And Kate Marvel, a climate scientist and science writer, went even further in a tweet in January: “In a world where people have to deal with racism, inequality, and resurgent fascism, the notion that climate science is uniquely depressing is…weird.”
In my earlier blog post, i discussed the concept of psychological hardiness, excerpts provided below:
And also inform yourself about psychological hardiness (something I learned from days at U. Chicago and hanging out with grad students in Salvatore Maddi’s group). Excerpt from Wikipedia:
The coping style most commonly associated with hardiness is that of transformational coping, an optimistic style of coping that transforms stressful events into less stressful ones. At the cognitive level this involves setting the event into a broader perspective in which they do not seem so terrible after all. At the level of action, individuals high in hardiness are believed to react to stressful events by increasing their interaction with them, trying to turn them into an advantage and opportunity for growth, and in the process achieve some greater understanding.
The ‘pre-traumatic stress’ thing clicked a link in my mind to my old U. of Chicago pal Colonel Paul Bartone, a military psychologist and a member of the hardiness group. The following paper seems relevant: A Model for Soldier Psychological Adaptation in Peacekeeping Operations. I think these concepts are relevant for what is going on with Parmesan et al. Seems like skeptics are more hardy?
The psychology of all this is probably pretty interesting, and worthy of more investigation. But Jeff Kiehl is right – whining scientists aren’t going to help either the science or their ’cause.’
Mann seems peculiarly hardy in this sense: “But Mann, who has had to contend with death threats and campaigns to have him fired from Penn State, derives motivation from being in battle.”
This ‘affliction’ of climate scientists seems rather trendy in some sort of ‘woke’ sense. If you do not aspire to such trendiness, what might you do to overcome this affliction?
“Professionally coping with grief is part of the job training for doctors, caregivers, and those working in humanitarian or crisis situations. But for scientists?”
To figure out how these afflicted climate scientists can become more hardy, it is useful to speculate on the reasons for their ‘affliction.’
Ignorance may play an important role. Few of the scientists interviewed are experts on attribution. They seem to blame everything on manmade climate change, and are extrapolating future consequences that are much more dire and with higher confidence than than those from the IPCC. Clearly an issue for Greta, but one would hope that actual climate scientists would dig deeper and be more curious and objective.
JC antidote: Apart from blaming anything negative on manmade climate change, take a step back and assess how the planet and the human race are actually doing. Take a look at humanprogress.org, or follow them on twitter @HumanProgress. Global life expectancy is increasing, global poverty is way down, global agricultural productivity is way up, global child mortality is way down, the planet is greening, etc.
A lot of this affliction seems to be about ‘ego’:
“I had to face the fact that there was a veritable tidal wave of people who don’t care about climate change and who put personal interest above the body of scientific information that I had contributed to.”
“his anger was driven by the fact that his expertise—his foresight—was not broadly recognized.”
JC antidote: Try reading some literature on history, philosophy and sociology of science – you will become more humble as a scientist and less likely to believe your own hype. Read Richard Feynman. Hang out at Climate Etc. Listen seriously to a serious skeptic.
Having your ego wrapped up in having your research influence policy (frustrated policy advocates), keeping ‘score’ in a personal war against skeptics, seeking fame, generating book sales and lecture fees and political influence, etc. can all come into play in influencing how a scientist reacts to the ‘threats’ of climate change. Scientists might get ‘upset’ if they don’t think they are sufficiently successful at the above. This is something else — not pre-traumatic stress syndrome.
Roger Pielke Jr tweets:
“The whole phenomena of climate scientists identifying evil enemies who have obstructed revolution, transformation, restructuring is not reality-based, but a reflection of power fantasies & a complete lack of understanding of how political and societal change actually happens.”
JC antidote: focus more on being a scientist than being a politician. You might know what you are doing as a scientist. You are very unlikely to be effective as a politician, and your political activism will contribute to the appearance bias in your scientific research.