Thanks for this posting. I hope people recommend it to journalists, especially at the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (including http://www.opinionjournal.com, that editorial page’s online adjunct, with its “Best of the Web” by James Taranto, whose standard response to climate science is sarcasm). Like the conservative George F. Will, who claims to be serious about science, the WSJ’s editors apparently consider Michael Crichton’s views scientific — but some important decision-makers nevertheless read commentaries on those pages.
Comment by Steven T. Corneliussen — 18 Nov 2005 @ 11:25 AM
Let me offer my daily alternative view;-) You characterize these stories as “politically-controversial scientific issues.” To use a term from your post yesterday, this is a “misframing.” They are not scientific issues of any sort, they are political issues for which people cherry pick information, stretch and break facts, and generally frame issues in the light that makes their favored political position look as favorable as possible.
Don’t look to the media, with the rare exception of people who cover science for science sake (e.g., parts of Science Times, front of Science magazine etc.), for coverage of scientifc issues. Science is rarely newsworthy but for its role as a tool of politics.
The balance issue is not about science. It is about politics. And politics typically has two sides. Continued efforts to turn political debates into scientific debates have the effect of politicizing the science. The way out of this trap, if indeed you wish to be relevant to decision makers is not to engage in a futile attempt to enforce some degree of scientific accuracy as you see it (good luck with that), but instead to weigh in on the political questions — OK, Saunders has her science wrong, so what? Who cares? Why does this matter to society or policy?
I’d ask the same question of Bill Gray, Michael Crichton and Steve McIntyre. So what?
[Response: Sorry Roger, I have to weigh in here. The article that Mike’s post cites was about a citizens iniative to roll back a recent gas tax increase in Washington State. The Seattle newspapers decided that since the facts were so clear (rolling back the gas tax would bankrupt the state government, at least in the short term, something that even the Republicans didn’t argue with), they had a responsibility to push their view that the voters should vote NO. In short, the newspapers got involved in th politics on the basis of their understanding of the facts. RealClimate exists to try to help people get the facts straight. If they (or we) wish to get involved in the politics on that basis, all power too them. But going ahead with the politics, sans the facts, is a recipe for disaster, however popular it may be in federal politics these days.– eric]
Comment by Roger Pielke Jr. — 18 Nov 2005 @ 11:59 AM
This is an important post. I really appreciate it as a trained journalist with a scientific background. At J-schools this is discussed often but not employed enough on the job. It’s known as the “He said She said” view from nowhere syndrome. As far as I know this is attributed to Prof. Jay Rosen of NYU.
“Balanced” coverage should not mean giving *equal* weight to those far outside the mainstream. Yes they should mention the opposing views, but not 50-60% of the same air time for only 3% of dissenters. Unless, of course, you’re FOX News and the 3% of dissenting voices are paid for by industry operatives, oil, automotive, coal, etc.
Let me just postulate that the RC folks have the science right. What is this “contrary” business?
Comment by Roger Pielke Jr. — 18 Nov 2005 @ 12:34 PM
Re: #2, “The balance issue is not about science. It is about politics. And politics typically has two sides. Continued efforts to turn political debates into scientific debates have the effect of politicizing the science. The way out of this trap, if indeed you wish to be relevant to decision makers is not to engage in a futile attempt to enforce some degree of scientific accuracy as you see it (good luck with that), but instead to weigh in on the political questions — OK, Saunders has her science wrong, so what? Who cares? Why does this matter to society or policy?”
The balance issue IS about science, but it is skeptics who believe it is about politics. The media believes it is injecting “balance” in their SCIENTIFIC coverage, but what that does is inject increased uncertainty and questionability into the “debate,” which makes policymakers indecisive, since they are not about taking risks which may cost them votes in the next election.
Scientists like Drs. Mann, Bradley, Hughes, Trenberth, Emanuel, etc. are keeping science separate from politics. Skeptics like Michaels, McIntyre, Idso, Lindzen, Singer, etc. are politicising science so they can continue to get work. If the science was permanently severed from the politics, these skeptics would be out of work.
And, if Saunders has her science wrong, then why is she even published? I thought scientific discourse was about finding the truth, rather than to engage in disinformation and obfuscation. Those who engage in these tactics have no business doing what they are doing and should find something more productive, rather than destructive, to do. This disinformation and obfuscation campaign is only leading politicians to do little to try and combat climate change.
“The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.”
And ‘The False Objectivity of “Balance”‘ deals with the following scientific topics……
[Response: Hmmm. It never occured to us it might be necessary to explicitly point out the difference between “the politicization of the science”, which is obviously something we talk about quite frequently here at RC, and the “political implications of the science” (i.e., whether or not the Kyoto Accord should be ratified), which is something we obviously don’t. If that distinction somehow hasn’t become crystal clear, we indeed apologize to any readers who might been under some sort of misapprehension. – Mike]
If I recall right, the challenge for RealClimate, according to Nature’s editors in their “Welcome climate bloggers” editorial of 23/30 December 2004, is “to change the media coverage of their discipline.” I wonder what Roger Pielke Jr. (comment 2) has to say about Nature’s assertion, but I especially wonder what Tom Cole (comment 9) — and the many who in the past have agreed with him — have to say about it. How can the RC scientists try to change the media coverage if they can’t even engage it? Thanks.
Comment by Steven T. Corneliussen — 18 Nov 2005 @ 1:41 PM
Not only politics has two sides. Science always had many facets and always will have different opinions. And honestly, it doesn’t matter how many scientists believe in a consensus, as long as the science is done rightly. Albert Einstein also had to fight for his view, although parts of it were widely ignored and believed to be wrong. (Today, it was the other way round, some of Einsteins ideas are reconsidered to get research further). I just remember an incident with Stephen Hawking, where he published his opinion of the way of the universe (as an expanding universe) and he recently pulled back some of his argument, although many scientists believed him right. The only reason why this wasn’t a problem or a public storm is due to the political insignificance of his findings.
I think that politics should leave science alone and just go on whatever useful they are doing.
Since Bill Gray’s name came up again here, it might be worth mentioning I finally called him yesterday to offer a bet over his prediction that temperatures will decrease in 5-8 years. He declined to bet.
I also emailed Debra Saunders yesterday, told her about Gray, and offered to bet her if she considers herself a skeptic. No response so far.
If the media will cover the few skeptics out there, it should be worth mentioning that the skeptics won’t put their money where their mouths are.
Mike, from my viewpoint, your essay falls more into the philosophical realm than political, so I don’t fault your post as being overtly political. However, it certainly doesn’t fall under any scientific discipline that I am aware of and I was at a loss as to how the ensuing discussion could ever be “restricted to scientific topics”. I just don’t see how a proper discussion of the points you have raised would not have to inevitably devolve into a political discussion at some point if your post was to be properly explored.
I have always thought that the best way to influence media coverage of a scientific issue is to allow the full light of day to shine on the issue rather than suggest how reporting of scientific issues should be conducted, and I have been involved in some highly politicized issues over the course of my career.
I don’t know. Maybe I have an anachronistic view in light of the scientific discipline of today and how it fits into this new blogging world, which I have yet to come to grips with. I certainly realize that I am well on my way to becoming one of those “old dogs” that I used to complain about so much when I was in graduate school.
However, I will pose this question to you. Should scientists be involved in the business of telling journalists the best way to go about conducting their business? Sure seems like a slippery slope to me.
1. The RC post we are discussing critiques an op-ed, which by defintiion is a political commentary. It is not reporting. The purpose of many (not all) editorial pages is to publish a diversity of political perspectives. hence we see both David Brooks and Paul Krugman in the NYT. A critique of an op-ed is a political act.
2. As far as working for a “change in media coverage,” what is the point of such a change if not to influence public opinion or policy maker action? The op-ed favorably cited by Mike Mann says this explcitly, “That means we need to clearly say there is no scientific debate about climate change — and instead shift the conversation to next steps… Those of us who write opinion need to press for public-policy action, steps that move us as a planet forward. We need to make the case that the United States must be a part of a global solution.” I agree strongly with these statements, hence my repeated calls for the explicit engagement of scientists with issues of policy. Hence, my utter confusion when Mike also writes (response to comment #10) that RC doesn’t talk about the “political impications of science.” Of course they do so, just in the guise of talking about science. Taking on a Debra Sanders (or Michael Crichton, or James Inhofe, or George Will) is an overt politcial act.
[Response:Roger, Take a hypothetical example; two people with opposite political aims incorrectly cite what a scientist has said in support of their different agendas. Scientist criticises both of them. You would have it that this is an overt political act, because the original statements were quite clearly political. However, in criticising both, the scientist is quite clearly policy neutral – the very essence of the ‘honest broker’ (to quote a phrase). It is not political to correct people who misquote or distort scientific results. A bad argument is simply a bad argument and people with similar or diametrically opposed policy standpoints can point that out without being taking a political stand. Michael Crichton (to pick an example) is often absolutely (and knowingly) incorrect in his statements on this issue. To point this out is not to take a stand on his opinion about what should or should not be done. Since we have hacked over this ground before, I won’t belabour the point, but it would be nice if you could at least acknowledge that sensible people can disagree with your bald assertion (though none apparently in the sci-pol academic community who have already decided that we must either be naive or mendacious ;) ). – gavin]
[Response II: I just thought of something else: if a scientist criticising a politician is political, then the sci-pol guy who criticises the scientist (who he assumes to be acting politically), must also be acting politically, and by the same logic, must support the original policy aims of the politician in question. Therefore, either there is ‘non-political’ space to criticise anyone, or there isn’t such space for anyone (including yourself). -gavin]
Comment by Roger Pielke Jr. — 18 Nov 2005 @ 2:58 PM
This is a little like saying there shouldn’t be so much sensationalistic journalism–of course there shouldn’t, but that’s what sells the papers. Journalism is both a public service and a free-market enterprise, so I’m never surprised, or really disappointed, when they fail to follow the protocols of other disciplines. They’re just looking for a story that everyone will buy.
Of course, journalistic ethics mandates that journalists make at least some effort to report accurately, so I agree that it needs to be emphasized that the consensus among scientists is, there is a warming trend, it appears to be anomalous, and it appears to be caused in part by human factors. (You would really then need to go on to explain that consensus does tend to determine correct scientific practice, but explaining the principles of scientific reasoning and research to the public at large would make science articles about 10 times as long as they currently are.) I don’t see anything wrong with reporting that there are challenges to the consensus, so long as it isn’t presented as an equally supported challenge.
Balance may be problematic scientifically, but perhaps it serves a purpose rhetorically. It seems plausible that if the paper had *not* provided an opposing op-ed, many readers (who are skeptical about climate change but not beyond persuasion) might have dismissed the first op-ed outright. The debate format may have reached them. People in our society, understandably wary of ideological bias, have learned to say: “Give me both sides and let *me* make the call. Otherwise you must be trying to hide something from me.” (Of course, there are plenty of others who merely want to be reaffirmed in their beliefs, but an op-ed is presumably directed at those who are persuadable.)
We would have to survey readers to see whether this approach works, but I suggest we entertain the possibility.
There’s a fallacy in your premise. Debra Saunders is a Chronicle columnist. Publishing her column was not some misguided attempt at providing “balance” to the previous piece by Tolan and Harte. It was publishing a column by the newspaper’s own columnist. That’s what columnists do – weigh in with weighty opinions about whatever happens to be on their desk that morning. In this case, it happened to be Tolan, Harte and Crichton. It is worth calling Saunders out on the bad science in her piece (just as it is worth calling out Crichton). But it’s wrong to make this part of a discussion about the “false balance” problem.
In comment 10 I questioned comments 2 (Roger Pielke Jr., who has since added comment 14) and 9 (Tom Cole, who has since added comment 13).
In 13, Cole asks whether “scientists should be involved in the business of telling journalists the best way to go about conducting their business.” My (nonscientist’s) answer: Yes. Absolutely. More crucially now than ever. Nature’s editors were right: RC should seek to “change the media coverage of their discipline.” So should scientists. So should citizens.
When George F. Will in an op-ed cites bogus science from Michael Crichton as fact, he should be told a better way to go about his business.
When the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto recycles his statistically bogus sarcasm hinging on the supposed irony of Vice President Gore’s preaching about global warming on a day with an outlier of a cold temperature, he should be told a better way to go about his business.
Journalists writing about science no more deserve immunity to criticism from scientists than does a science graduate student in a seminar displaying a viewgraph that’s simply wrong. It continues to baffle me that some scientists apparently think political discussion, even about science, is for others, but not for them. As I’ve said in this forum before, as much as I admire the RC scientists, it seems to me that they themselves mix it up with commentary writers too seldom, not too often.
Which leads me to Roger Pielke, who surely can’t believe that because an op-ed is not classified as a news report it can’t contain reporting, or more importantly, misreporting. In my experience the best op-eds are actually full of reporting. But as I say, that can easily mean misreporting; note, please, the Will and Taranto examples earlier in the present comment. Bad reporting within opinion pieces.
I agree with Pielke that to criticize an op-ed is obviously a political act. I disagree with scientists who believe scientists should refrain from such political acts, and I gather that Pielke does too.
Pielke’s main point — and I apologize if I have this wrong — seems to be that since we _know_ that humans are changing the climate, serious-minded people in possession of the facts should stop dithering with people who still question the facts, and just start getting things done — at high levels, apparently — in the political and policy realms.
Maybe he’s right. But it seems to me that he’s assuming that in America, at least, policy about this can simply be set a bit more like the Soviets would have set it, via authoritarian measures taken by the few, and a bit less like what seems to me to be the only option for progress: the hard slog of civic debate, inherently involving the citizenry, even in cases when most citizens already agree on the basic facts.
And the hard slog of civic debate, it seems to me, includes, crucially, the correcting of bad reporting, _especially_ when that reporting appears in an op-ed commentary. Bravo, RC, for slogging.
Comment by Steven T. Corneliussen — 18 Nov 2005 @ 5:33 PM
RE # 12
I am new to the science blogosphere and have not fully digested the proper way to conduct science in this realm, but it seems to me that the choice to decline a “bet” as to who is correct in a scientific discussion of a certain topic is hardly relevant as to the efficacy of a given argument one way or the other.
Okay. Suppose I buy your stance – it is permissable for a given discipline to dictate to journalists how their field should be covered. Then, which disciplines are not allowed to dictate to journalists how their fields should be covered, or are all disciplines allowed to have equal say so in how their field is journalistically covered, writing the rules so to speak, including economics and politics?
I apologize profusely for bringing up the e and p words, but it couldn’t be helped, as noted in my original post.
First, there is nothing wrong with being political. It is how we get the business of society done. My objection with RC is not that you guys act politically, but that you act politically but claim not to be. This mismatch is what I have argued is a factor that contributes to the politicization of science.
Second, reasonable people can (and should) disagree of course. That is the point for our exchanging ideas and arguments. Just like in science, policy thinking is improved through interaction of people with different perspectives.
Finally, yes, I have a strong political perspective on the climate issue. It just doesn’t map well onto the skeptic-mainstream debate. Sometimes there are more than two perspectives on a political issue.
Thanks, and have a nice holiday ;-)
Comment by Roger Pielke Jr. — 18 Nov 2005 @ 7:16 PM
I wonder if people writing or speaking blatant lies about global warming science in the factual media can be sued for libel. Especially if it’s done intentionally to mislead people into dismissing GW (and is not an honest mistake). People shouldn’t be allowed to go around telling lies that hurt people, without some repercussions, and in my books such writers and spokespersons are hurting practically the whole of humanity, at least those who are & will be victims of GW – and we’ll all suffer in some way, economically at the least. A good editor would censored such lies.
And if it goes to court, all you scientists need to do in a civil case is produce a proponderance of evidence (a >50% chance GW is happening), and we reached that level long ago. A lot easier than achieving .05 p.
Maybe it could be like a medical malpractice suit. Doctors who tell a patient he or she is fine, when the patient has a serious illness (and the patient doesn’t get treatment & worsens) can be sued.
Now, Crichton’s book was fiction, so he’s off limits.
On the other hand, I’m not against debating what we should do about GW – ignore it and throw a big GHG party, adapt to it, or mitigate it; go with solar or wind power; move closer to the husband’s workplace or the wife’s workplace, etc…
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 18 Nov 2005 @ 7:27 PM
Be careful of what you wish for. The sword can cut both ways.
Personally, I think it has value in demonstrating whether people actually believe the scientific propositions that they’re announcing, and the extent of their certainty.
Re #21: not much chance of a libel suit in the US, unless a skeptic made knowingly false statements about the work of particular scientists who supported AGW. Fraud allegations against businesses opposing mitigation strategies is a better approach, but would be very difficult (until we get some of those secret insider documents fed to us).
Libel might have a slightly better shot outside of the US.
RE 20: Roger,
Some of this seems semantic. By your definition RC is clearly engaged in politics. By Gavin’s it is not.
I don’t think the argument over whether RC is is engaged in politics is particularly interesting. On your blog, you have made several criticisms and suggestions for improving their site. Which I basically agree with, but they do a very good job of trying to honestly explain the science. Of course they have have their perspectives and biases which lead them to emphasis certain issues and ignore others, as do you. Most readers will recognize that.
You all could do a better job of it, but given that this is volunteer work, you all do a very good job as it is. And it is highly educational.
RC is fundamentally different from someone like Deborah Sanders, who seems like a partisan hack who doesn’t care about facts. Not to single her out there are many others. I wish editors demanded a little bit more veracity on the op-ed page.
SF Bay Area folks on this list will be aware that Deborah Saunders was hired to be the local right-wing “balance” on the Chronicle’s opinion page, and as such is being paid to take the “skeptical” view on global warming. Nobody who doesn’t already agree with her pays any attention to the substance of her views, although I think a lot of people read her just to build up a head of steam about what a jerk she is (and of course to follow what the right wing is thinking). She gets a lot of hate mail.
“but that you act politically but claim not to be.”
This is a canned right-wing poitical talking point used on newspapers (MSM) And the same one my detractors used on both me and RC. Could it be that RC has the correct science and are only arguing that point? Because that’s what I see. Others don’t like the truth. I understand that. The truth has to win. It just has to.
The way I see it, climate science is inherently ‘political’ in that an awareness that we are all facing an rapidly accelerating disaster implies that we should do something meaningful about it. And that we should do something which objectively has a chance to prevent the worst of the disaster, ie something that will stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or, at least in the short term, slow their build up. Is that any more political than a team of scientists finding out that a volcano is about to erupt near a large population centre and saying that those people should be evacuated quickly? Whereas the question of who does the evacuation, who pays for it, where and how should those people then be housed would go beyond the remit of the scientists (and they wouldn’t be any more qualified than you or I to comment on this). Is that a valid comparison?
After all we aren’t speaking about Mars, we are speaking about our planet, our lives and our families. And the political debate of mitigation or adaptation surely hinges on the science, eg on climate sensitivity. If climate sensitivity was much lower than most models predict then adaptation would be a logical political response. If it is not, and if we agree that there is (or eventually will be) a carbon cycle feedback, then it isn’t. Once people understand that sea-levels will continue to rise, will eventually make most major cities uninhabitable, and the glaciers which feed much or Asia’s agriculture will disappear, marine life will face an acid catastrophe, and nobody can see how a net food deficit can be avoided, we all know that the political option of ‘just adapt to it when it happens’ will melt away as fast as the glaciers.
I’ve been discussing climate change with lots of people at campaign stalls recently, and it has opened my eyes as to how far this ‘balanced’ climate sceptic reporting is shaping the thinking of even those people who are concerned and want to see some action (‘I am aware that flying might make climate change worse, but I’ll still do it because the warming may just be part of a natural cycle – I would stop if I was more certain'; ‘I am worried, but I have also heard that it is just water vapour which makes us warmer, so we just don’t kow if this CO2 thing is true, everybody seems to have a different agenda’ etc.). And maybe the warming comes from all the nuclear explosions in the 40s and 50s which might have put us into a different orbit round the sun (Heard it this week at a stall – that was a new one for me!). This balanced mis-reporting really is shaping ordinary people’s political and personal responses.
And I am really grateful for this website. Until I found it, I was as confused about the issues as a lot of other well-meaning people I speak to. Without the factual information this website gives, I don’t think I would have become confident enough to do any campaigning for action on climate change. Or even have made this a priority in my life.
Comment by Almuth Ernsting — 19 Nov 2005 @ 6:33 AM
***Scientists like Drs. Mann, Bradley, Hughes, Trenberth, Emanuel, etc. are keeping science separate from politics. Skeptics like Michaels, McIntyre, Idso, Lindzen, Singer, etc. are politicising science so they can continue to get work. If the science was permanently severed from the politics, these skeptics would be out of work.***
This preceding statement in itself is political. It infers that the second group mentioned does not do any science.
***And, if Saunders has her science wrong, then why is she even published? I thought scientific discourse was about finding the truth, rather than to engage in disinformation and obfuscation.***
Who decides if it is truth? believers or non-believers? You have to analyze the scientific study, then demonstrate the errors. You cannot just say someone “obfuscates”
RE #22, yes, I did consider legal action could cut both ways. In fact I would really love to hear that GW had been disproved beyond a shadow of doubt (and had satisfied my common-sense, “avoid the false negative” approach), or that I had awakened from some really bad nightmare. Then I could spend my life fighting the food industry re MSG instead — I get terrible migraines from it & it’s hidden under some 50 different names, new ones cropping up all the time. Or, maybe just have fun.
The point is GW is a dangerous & harmful thing for a lot of people & life forms around the world, and there should be some repercussions against people who blatantly work to stop the world from solving this problem.
The legal metaphor has some heuristic value. In a jury civil case, the jury lay persons would weigh the evidence & theories and arguments, and I think they are okay in general in figuring things out. They take their work seriously, and they are sometimes asked to decide highly techincal & scientific issues, and I think they would do okay. Isn’t that what science is trying to do here through RC, break through to the lay persons and explain GW at our level — give it to the lay people, so they can own it too. It’s not just an arcane science issue for scientists.
Which brings me to another point. GW is not a right-left political issue, it’s a whole world issue. We’re all on Spaceship Earth together very likely headed for very rough times (& already in them to some extent), and should be working together to solve this problem in the best ways (least harmful to our other interests) we can, and certainly not trying to block others from solving it. It’s not nice to use the fear of negative sanctions, but if enlightened self-interest or human compassion don’t work, maybe it’s necessary. Sometimes you have to get tough on kids who keep playing with matches. Sometimes societies have to create laws when crime or conflicts just keep happening. At the very least, the “you break it, you buy it” principle needs to be enforced.
GW contrarian propaganda (as distinguished from bonafide science skepticism) is not the same as other science falsifications – such as creationism and intelligent design. Believing in those does not lead to harm the way believing in contrarian arguments against GW does & will. Although I do think these falsifications in the face of the (Wow! & awesome) evolutionary processes God’s world reveals to the intelligent scientists God created may be a grave insult to the Creator, perhaps tantamount to creating graven images & false idols (God only knows & judges that). And these are harmful to the extent that they bleed over and harm the credibility of science in general, and GW science in particular.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 19 Nov 2005 @ 8:57 AM
Roger Pielke Jr asks (#2)
“OK, Saunders has her science wrong, so what? Who cares? Why does this matter to society or policy?”
Pielke Jr should care, because a misinformed public is a mortal danger to a democratic society. Our society depends on the wisdom of the public mind to guide wise public policy. A misinformed public is the greatest weapon of lobbyists and special interests.
Climate skeptic propaganda is polluting the public mind. This endangers the public welfare by allowing financial interests to exercise public policy without interference from an informed public.
Pielke Jr claims, “They are not scientific issues of any sort”. Yet the distortions promoted by the skeptics are misrepresentations are of fact, not merely differences of opinion. The public can’t be expected to turn to the scientific literature for an educated referee about such a technically complex issue as climate science. They will necessarily rely on science fiction novels and op-ed pages to form their opinions. This is why scientists like Pielke should care that Sanders got her facts wrong.
Pielke’s “so what?” message encourages the politization of science by promoting indifference towards the dissemination of propaganda disguised as honest opinion. His indifference to the harm done to the public mind by the AGW deniers is perhaps why so many skeptics find comfort in Pielke’s message, and why so many casual observers mistake him for a global warming skeptic.
You assert “a misinformed public is a mortal danger to a democratic society. Our society depends on the wisdom of the public mind to guide wise public policy. A misinformed public is the greatest weapon of lobbyists and special interests.” This view represents what has been called by political scientists a “textbook” version of democracy that bears no relation to how things actually work in the real world.
It is important to recognize that among political theorists there are different conceptions of the role of public opinion in democracy, which has implications for how we think about the role of science, the media and politics.. The version of democracy that you emphasize — that the public guide wise public policy — is not well supported by theory or evidence. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it is a complete myth (albeit with legs) that has been proven incorrect by people like Lippmann, Key, Schattschneider, Dahl and in the area of the public understanding of science by the work of Brian Wynne. These perspectives may be uncomfortable to some, but they can’t be easily dissmissed. (That’s of course what mindless skeptics/contrarians do;-)
But in all seriousness, the issue is complex and reasonable people do disagree. But understanding these agreements can help to understand why people hold different views about the role of public opinion in a democracy. For those who are interested, let me dip into a syllabus and recommend this short gem of an essay by political scientist E. E. Schattschneider:
[Response:Roger, in my view, all this theory is irrelevant. Although we are accused of being scientists “in order to get grants”, the fact is that most of us are in science because we believe that science serves the common good. Telling us that we can shirk what we consider our responsibility — informing the public through the best knowledge we can provide — falls on deaf ears. You might as well tell us not to be doing science. Doing science and informing people about it are one and the same. Indeed, one might ask, if you really believe that an informed public is irrelevant, then why do you teach at the University of Colorado? –eric]
Comment by Roger Pielke, Jr. — 19 Nov 2005 @ 10:39 AM
RE:#7 The argument is circular as the op-ed, skeptics, and Crichton have had their errors exposed to no avail.
“This view represents what has been called by political scientists a “textbook” version of democracy that bears no relation to how things actually work in the real world.”
And it is the view of poly sci’s that drives your interests. Over here it is about the science and there is no argument about that. Implying there is just clouds the picture. This is a PR problem, so claiming people don’t matter, when they vote for the reps who make policy supposedly based on the science is a dipsydoodle of epic proportion. Of course that is juxtaposed against powerful lobbying interests who don’t have the public interest in their sights.
You can’t balance scientific certainty against documented lies and expect to win out in the end by continuing to say well, people have different views and it’s complicated. That sir, would be an example of the overgeneralization fallacy.
I agree with you that a trail could be valuable. In my opinion the discovery process of a court case would be illuminating, because we would finally get to see all the data on both sides of the argument.
Democracy is a competitive political system in which competing leaders and organizations define the alternatives of public policy in such a way that the public can participate in the decision-making process.
Schattschneider’s argument contains quite a bit of truth. This argument implies also that for good policy choices in a democracy, the competing leaders and organizations have to do a good job of analyzing and presenting the alternatives. If anything, this implication only underscores the concerns about media “balance” raised in this post. If the basic facts are presented improperly, how can the public participate properly? Schattschneider’s argument implies also that leaders and organizations have to behave responsibly. This means recognizing scientific evidence for what it is, not introducing wilful distortions, and not engaging in misleading polemical campaigns. Before you can have a useful series of disagreements about policy, there has to be some common ground about the facts, but this is precisely what climate contrarians attempt to obstruct. The press’s behavior has inadvertantly abetted this process.
This will probably only be successful once the damages from global change become visible to everyone, whatever they may be. When the members of the jury themselves suffer from the consequences they will be immune to the legal circus. This is likely another reason, why the typical skeptics are old men. Anyone would hate to explain these paid lies to a grand jury, and only if you are in your 60s you can hope to keep your money for the rest of your life.
Thank you Michael Seward (#30), who wrote in response to Pielke’s repeated argument that getting the facts straight isn’t important that, “our society depends on the wisdom of the public mind to guide wise public policy.”
A very nice example of the importance of knowing what the best science has to tell us is reflected in an October 19 NY Times article by Scott Boregerson (United States Coast Guard Academy). He argues that ignoring the melting of Arctic ice could be a huge strategic mistake for the U.S., because what is happening in the Arctic is the opening up of new fishing and energy resources, and most importantly, new transportation routes. Countries that believe these changes will be permanent will take advantage of them. Goverments and peoples that don’t take these thiings seriously may miss some rather lucrative opportunities.
Response to #31, your statement “all this theory is irrelevant” is simply stunning. Questions of the role of expertise in politics date to Plato and before. There are legitimate questions here, just as there are in climate science. Perhaps you can now understand the mindset of those climate contrarians who say “all of this theory is irrelevant.”
#37 Be careful, I never said that science wasn’t important. It is critically important. It is critically important for policy making. I said that the policy utility of trying to change public opinion through the media was of questionable value.
You can be sure that the countries who are positioning themselves to take advantage of a melting Arctic are not doing so because of public opinion, but because of choices provided by experts, which includes scientists. The dynamics here are straight out of Schattschneider.
If you want to maximize the value of your science, it can’t hurt to understand some of the work done by people who study the role of science and experts in decision making.
[Response: Roger, I figured that would get your attention. As hopefully you have gathered, I actually have great respect for the work you do (and the kind or work you do). I don’t think it is irrelevant in general. But it is irrelevant in the context in which you are putting it, which is in a forum at RealClimate. You have accused us in the past of having an underlying “policy agenda”, which we reject. Now you are telling us that our goals of influencing policy are misguided. But we already rejected the premise (that we are trying to influence policy). As a democrat (that’s not “Democrat”), I certainly hope that public opinion matters, and it is certainly my hope that RealClimate has an positive influence on public knowledge. As to whether our efforts will influence policy, that is a philosophical and political science question, and this is a web site for scientific information.]
Comment by Roger Pielke Jr. — 19 Nov 2005 @ 5:38 PM
The Seattle PI has declared that the truth about GW has been discovered and that it will henceforth not publish anything that contradicts the theory of AGW. RC has won at least one adherent to its cause.
The problem is that the debate about the cause of global warming is not really so much about the science as it is about energy use. If global warming is only caused by burning of fossil fuels then it may be possible for humans to do something about global warming. That, however, brings up other problems. How much reduction of fossil fuel burning will it take to stop global warming? And that is where the whole thing becomes politicised because only the command and control of government can make businesses reduce their fossil fuel use. The solutions envisioned by the Kyoto Protocol were looked at by the developed countries and rejected because they would result in draconian cuts in energy production, which they judged would cripple their economies.So they decided to wait and study the situation further.
Anyone who spends even a few minutes thinking about this issue has to understand that for modernity to continue to progress energy production must continue to grow. And this is where the rubber meets the road. The following questions are asked: 1.If we undertake the sacrifices called for by Kyoto and cripple our economy, what happens when, fifty years later, we find out that AGW was not correct? 2.Is it even possible to slow fossil fuel use enough to slow/stop AGW? 3.If we are unable to slow fossil fuel use enough to slow/stop GW what are our options?
These are all political and economic questions that require engineers and scientists to provide the answers. The more credible the theory of AGW is the more likely is that politicians, engineers, and CEOs will start to spend lots of time and effort on the issue.
It is my opinion that the proponents of AGW would have a great deal more credence in the minds of decision makers and skeptics if they: 1. Were not seen as being allied with extreme environmental groups. 2. Were open to increasing energy production through the use of nuclear and hydro-electric power as well as the “green” power such as wind and solar. 3. Advocated that decreasing our use of fossil fuels made sense whether it affects GW or not. Because fossil fuel supplies are limited, they are more valuable for other uses (fertilizers, medicines, clothing, plastics, etc.). 4.And, possibly the most telling argument, decreasing fossil fuel use increases our national security.
It also wouldn’t hurt if they admitted to being a wee bit less than 100% sure that GHGs are the sole cause of GW.
Glad you put this post up because it really, IMHO, gets to the heart of the debate that needs to be held.
[Response:Thanks for a thoughtful and interesting comment. I agree with much of what you say. I would make one correction — you write that “If we undertake the sacrifices called for by Kyoto and cripple our economy, what happens when, fifty years later, we find out that AGW was not correct?” I am not a professional economist, but my reading of that literature suggests that there is very little basis to suggest that following Kyoto will cripple our economy. Indeed, there is a lot of research showing exactly the opposite. There is also a lot of research that has looked at how much of a difference Kyoto could make. The answer is: very little in the short term but a lot in the long term (i.e. not for us, but for our children and grandchildren). Finally: I don’t think you will find single professional arguing that “GHGs are the sole cause of GW” (though one might of course find this in newspapers and advocacy group’s literature). –eric]
Comment by Jim Glendenning — 20 Nov 2005 @ 1:40 AM
Brooks Hurd in #33 put his finger on the real place where balance matters. Unbalanced media coverage will not affect the final outcome of any debate once all the data is in clear view. The debates on tobacco, MMR and WMD were very unbalanced but a popular consensus has emerged that is as near unanimous as can be expected on any complex issue. In each case concealed data leaked out that discredited one side and one hears little from them on these issues now. The climate change debate is far more complex and we will not see the beginning of the end of it until people stop saying:
“We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”
This is not to prejudge whether the data will prove one side right or wrong but no one can claim to have proved anything so long as any part of what they assert as proof is opaque.
[Response:Err, um, I hope this isn’t a redredging of the “hockey stick” debate, because all of the data have always been available… — eric]
In 19 Tom Cole asked me: “Which disciplines are not allowed to dictate to journalists how their fields should be covered, or are all disciplines allowed to have equal say so in how their field is journalistically covered?”
It seems to me that any journalist worth her notepad allows no one to dictate to her, but that no citizens of any democracy (or republic) worth the paper its constitution is written on refrain in any topic area from criticizing — not dictating to, but criticizing — journalism. If a health physicist’s local newspaper runs a semi-hysterical series of reports and commentaries overstating the dangers of depleted uranium used in weapons, that scientist can’t dictate a thing to the newspaper, but she can certainly criticize the reports and the commentaries. My view is that scientists should contribute more, not less, to public discussion of science-related issues, because having better rather than worse information in citizens’ possession is inherently, intrinsically, fundamentally a good thing.
That’s why I’m with the other contributors above who seem to share my astonishment at Roger Pielke Jr.’s apparently extreme belief “that the policy utility of trying to change public opinion through the media [is] of questionable value,” that “the version of democracy [in which] the public guide wise public policy — is not well supported by theory or evidence,” and that he’d “go so far as to say that it is a complete myth.” Part of the problem here might be the specific phrasing about the public guiding wise policy; if Pielke is saying that in the end it’s only a comparatively few technocrats who decide, for example, how to regulate the introduction of mercury into the environment, I agree with him as far as that goes. But if he’s saying that there’s little or no value to enhancing public understanding of mercury’s dangers, or to trying to enhance public understanding of any science-related issues via efforts analogous to RC’s efforts, he loses me.
[Response:Yes! He loses me on this too! It seems self evident that the only changes in policy that have ever occurred in the area of “human and environmental well being” have been driven by public opinion / grassroots organizing. Greenpeace and the marine mammal protection act comes to mind…..-Eric]
Comment by Steven T. Corneliussen — 20 Nov 2005 @ 8:01 AM
Roger Pielke, Jr: (re:#31):
Schattschneider in his essay gives no comfort to those who would argue that an ignorant public is irrelevant to the outcome of a democratic society. He tells us exactly why it matters that the skeptics such as Saunders have their facts wrong, and why you should care.
Schattschneider says that polled opinions do not correlate to actual policy. That doesn’t mean that an ignorant public is irrelevant to the outcome of the political process. In fact, Schattschneider argues that the “don’t knows” have an unacknowledged influence on the democratic process. This is exactly why you should care that the skeptics have their science wrong.
Schattschneider says “Our survival depends on our ability to judge things by their results and our ability to establish relations of confidence and responsibility so we can take advantage of what other people know.” Citizens in a democratic society can’t be expected to be experts in every area of expertise. Citizens pass judgment on the most complex questions by acknowledging the authority of what qualified people know. Schattschneider says, “Democracy is – a form of collaboration (between) ignorant people and experts.” The skeptics are contaminating this collaboration by portraying an abusive distortion of the facts as the expertise of qualified skeptical climate authorities. This is not merely the healthy conflict of competing interests; it is the misuse of the democratic process by means of a fundamental dishonesty.
Government by informed citizens, exercised through elected representatives, is a grand ideal that you describe as a complete myth. So what? That is certainly a poor excuse for failing to acknowledge the great harm done to the public good by the efforts of Saunders and her kind to contaminate the public debate with distortions and discredited arguments disguised as expert authority.
Define democracy however you like; I find your refusal to acknowledge the harm done by the fundamental dishonesty of the global warming skeptics to be not only puzzling, but deeply troubling.
#39, I’m mainly interested the “anthropogenic” part of GW, that which IS under my control. Can’t do much to turn down the sun or unwobble the earth, or plug up volcanoes.
I can assure you that scientists are NOT allied with environmental extremists, or even regular environmentalists (though secretly they may be using compact fluorescent bulbs). In fact they’re probably closer to the contrarians, in that they require 95% (or some high) certainty before making GW claims, just a few points shy of the 99% certainty contrarians demand. Environmentalists, on the other hand, follow the medical model of seeking to avoid false negatives, and on serious problems like GW, just the theory (proposed in 19th c) without much evidence is an incentive to reduce GHGs.
I guess I’m one of your extremists, since I started reducing my GHGs in 1990, well before scientific certainty, and have now reduced more than 3/4 (with the help of my 100% wind powered electricity from Green Mountain Energy). How extreme can you get? I think Amory Lovins ( http://www.rmi.org & http://www.natcap.org) can even reduce 9/10 cost-effectively. And I’m extremely laughing all the way to the bank – saving $$hundred per year and even increasing my living standards. I know of businesses that are doing the same (business environmental extremists, you might call them).
So, if contrarians want to continue burning their money in their front yards along with their fall leaves, I don’t have any power to stop them….I just think they’re off mentally/emotionally.
Environmental Extremist & Proud of It
(question is, why aren’t you one? Come & join the greatest club on earth)
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 20 Nov 2005 @ 12:59 PM
If the policy utility of trying to change public opinion through the media was of questionable value why have the Marshall Institute, the American Enterprise Institution, CEI, etc. invested so much in it. Why do folk such as Fred Singer, Sallie Baliunas, Richard Lindzen, Pat Michaels, Bill Gray and others use their scientific credentials at every possible opportunity when they speak out against the reality of human caused climate change?
Unilateral disarmament is not exactly a recommended procedure when you are under attack.
I would also add ‘astroturf’ organizations, who recently appear to have morphed and we see their talking points in current #40 above. And this site would be, I argue, in response to Eli’s assertion in current #44.
Re: #46, “I am interested in what part of GW is anthropogenic and thus is under your, my, or anyone’s control? What would you estimate the portion to be?”
This “portion” does not need to be stated. (The portion of AGW is very high, however, which is evident in the Keeling Curve and other indices.)
What is needed is for people to stop asking these frivolous questions, to stop stalling the process of combatting human-induced climate change and actually engage in ACTION! If we are to stop this from escalating and reduce the danger on those who inhabit this planet (human, fauna, and flora), we all need to do our part and reduce our impact on the Earth.
Enough with the posturing and let’s get on with it!
I am not posturing. I was asking a legitimate question. How can a legitimate question be frivolous?
The Keeling curve plots Mona Loa CO2 data since 1958. There is no “evidence” of high AGW from this curve. Any relationship of the Keeling curve to AGW is an assumption. Lynn pointed out that there are other forcings besides CO2. This is clearly true from many studies.
I am not saying that man has not contributed to climate change. I was simply asking what Lynn believes to be the portion of GW which is AGW.
Skeptics like Michaels, McIntyre, Idso, Lindzen, Singer, etc. are politicising science so they can continue to get work. If the science was permanently severed from the politics, these skeptics would be out of work.
I’m sure that RC team knows full well that in addition to being a world-class scientist Lindzen holds a tenured position at MIT so he will not be out of work no matter what. I am amazed that the same people who would not let me post my opinion about certain Dr. S., allow such a low level personal attacks against a fellow scientist who contributed so extensively to our understanding of the atmosphere.
[Response: This is why Lindzen is so clever. Note that he doesn’t say that climate in 40 years time is as unpredictable as weather (since he knows that is not true), but he focusses on what people (in general) may or may not believe. Sneaky! – gavin]
[Response: I don’t think RC has a refutation of the weather/climate thing, probably because the idea is too stupid. But! I’m not above the stupid: see here. Also, NWP forecasts are useful out to 6-ish days, depending on exactly how you define “useful” and where you are – William]
The following quote is from a Planning Strategy for the South Coast of Western Australia. It’s indicative of state level policy and the real consequences of ‘objectivity’ –
“Under all the models run by the IPCC, global average temperatures and sea levels are expected to rise. However, the IPCC sea level analysis depends largely on data from a small area of Europe and has been criticised for omitting some conflicting data from other locations with a greater prospect of land level stability. Locally, good quality sea level records are of relatively short duration.
In the recent development of the new draft Statement of Planning Policy for coastal areas of the state, the potential for sea level rise has been included in the calculation for development setbacks for protection from physical processes. An allowance of 0.38 metres was selected as the most appropriate at this time. It is derived from the IPCC Third Assessment Report6 and is the average rise between between 2000 and 2100 of the averages of the Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation models (AOGCM’s) of the 35 IPCC emission scenarios.”
I know it’s a bit cheeky but I’d be interested in any comments – especially wrt the 0.38m figure in light of recent reports about Greenland etc. I’ve got to write a submission b4 25 Nov about this nonsense. (The above statement is the only reference to climate change in the whole planning document.
Re #52 (KG): I’m sure there are several someones busily working on results for Greenland based on all the recent information, but so far nothing has come out in public that I’ve seen. Maybe one of the RC authors knows something, but my suspicion is that whoever is working on it won’t want any preliminary information to leak out given the big splash it will make. But the main point is that the models didn’t account for this now-obvious mechanism for rapid ice sheet collapse, and so it seems inevitable that the TAR sea level rise figure will be revised substantially upward in the AR4.
To suggest that journalists (or their editors) should chose not to give air to an alternative scientific viewpoint means you are happy with journalists making judgements on behalf of science.
[Response: Two points. First, journalists make judgements all the time and there’s nothing wrong with that. Second, automatically including a nay-sayer everytime is the exact opposite of exercising judgement. Good journalists in the field ask a lot of people what they think before making their call, and all we would really like is for the true balance of views to be reflected in the articles. -gavin]
Response to comment #39: There is also a lot of research that has looked at how much of a difference Kyoto could make. The answer is: very little in the short term but a lot in the long term (i.e. not for us, but for our children and grandchildren).
Could you quantify what you mean by “a lot” at all? And could you point to any piece of research that says that Kyoto actually would make a lot of difference in any term?
Sometimes it can be difficult to separate climate science and the politics that surround it. In things like newspaper editorials it can be hard to separate the scientific and political signal (to adopt a climate science term).
Promoting science doesn’t mean you are promoting policies that use science. Someone who publicly promotes scientific findings could be considered a science activist, and someone who promotes policy choices a political activist. They are separate but can be so closely related that the political and scientific signals can be difficult to separate. RC does try to steer clear of policy discussions, but the political and scientific are so intertwined that this is difficult. IMO I think RC is doing a good job of this.
I try to avoid policy discussions on RC, except I do like the fact that climate change regulatory schemes would mean work for lawyers, no I mean more career opportunities for the kids in law school. For me its not about more work for me, its about the kids ;) I’ll will briefly note that the US has the most extensive and strictly enforced set of environmental laws in the world and has the strongest economy. Claims of economic catastrophe (# 39) have been brought up for many years by many people and have been wrong.
Public opinion does have an effect on policy decisions. I’m not sure exactly what RPjr’s position on this issue is, his articles are usually more nuanced then his confrontational blog comments. You can look at environmental laws and trace their origins as the result of law makers responding to public opinions. A quick example would be the Oil Pollution Act which was formulated and enacted after the Exxon Valdez spill.
For Lynn (#43) I think you are talking about individual environmentalists verses the environmental organizations. National groups have scientists on staff, like Bill Chameides a NAS member at Environmental Defense. When the national groups work (I have known some of their attorneys) they carefully consider what the scientific evidence is before making a decision. One of the reasons the contrarians attack the scientific community is when the scientific evidence is carefully examined it usually supports environmentalist group’s positions. Calling yourself an extremist is feeding into what is a myth propagated by contrarians. IMO enviros have unilaterally disarmed (to borrow Eli Rabett’s term) on the extremist label and allowed it to be pasted on them.
Finally to add to Eli Rabett’s excellent comment #44 if public opinion doesn’t matter why do major corporations like Exxon fund groups like CEI. They are investing their hard earned profits with the expectation that public opinion will be swayed. Like them or hate them the oil companies are very sophisticated and would not spend money if they weren’t getting something valuable in return.
Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 24 Nov 2005 @ 12:26 AM
The reason I asked the questions — unanswered — in comment #55 is that, in comment #9 the response asserted that “here at RC”, “the ‘political implications of the science’ (i.e., whether or not the Kyoto Accord should be ratified)” “is something we obviously don’t” talk about. It just seemed to me that, if you wanted to stay above the political fray in that sense, you wouldn’t want to be making unsubstantiated statements about what “a lot” of difference Kyoto is supposed to make in the long run. Would you?
[Response: “unsubstantiated allegations” is gratuitously impolite. And of course how much impact reducing CO2 emissions would have on the climate is a scientific (not political) question well within the remit of this site – William]
Joseph O’Sullivan (no. 56) said: “One of the reasons the contrarians attack the scientific community is when the scientific evidence is carefully examined it usually supports environmentalist group’s positions.”
I think that here, for ‘contrarians’, he is referring to those in industry who have tended to resist the change to greter environmental protection (due to the greater costs it initially appears to involve). On this site, the term ‘contrarian’ is regularly applied to those who question the certainty of AGW. In my mind, most of those alluded to ARE scientists. Yes, there are extremist and irrational sceptics, but there are also extremist and irrational AGW advocates. The sensible aspects of the debate are between scientists across the spectrum of conviction. The serious ‘contrarians’ do not attack the ‘scientific community’ or resort to petty personal attack or nicknames. They pose serious and legitimate questions to AGW science.
Reponse to #57: “unsubstantiated allegations” is gratuitously impolite. And of course how much impact reducing CO2 emissions would have on the climate is a scientific (not political) question well within the remit of this site – William
Humblest apology, William for any gratuitousness. Yes indeed, CO2 impact on climate is a “scientific (not political) question”. As is the speed of sound at sea level. But I simply wanted to know a single piece of scientific (or, for that matter, any other) evidence that purported to show that the Kyoto accord would ever make “a lot” of difference — I didn’t think that would be difficult since it was also asserted that there was “a lot” of research (scientific research, I’m assuming) showing exactly that, and I’m just asking for one instance. If you can’t produce one instance, then, fairness aside, don’t you think it would be in the interest of truth (the higher calling) to say so, and possibly retract the original assertion?
[Response: Kyoto itself is universally regarded as a first step towards reducing GHG emissions. As far as I know, just doing Kyoto and nothing else would not make a great difference (to CO2 levels over the century, and therefore to predicted temperature changes) – William]
Re: #58, “The serious ‘contrarians’ do not attack the ‘scientific community’ or resort to petty personal attack or nicknames. They pose serious and legitimate questions to AGW science.”
Really? Now, how come they keep repeating the same incorrect statements and are told they are wrong over and over again, yet to say the same thing again? Why do you say these questions are “serious and legitimate” if the answers are already out there?
It is a stalling tactic, that or an attempt to get these questions bouncing around inside the heads of the general public so they will think AGW is not happening or that the vast majority of scientists (such as those in the IPCC) are not doing their work correctly.
As well, I’ve seen several “serious” contrarians’ remarks that would be nearly libelous or slanderous. These “contrarians” have no footing left and are attempting to drag some of the most respected scientists (like Drs. Mann, Bradley, Hughes, Schneider, and Trenberth) down the hill with them. On the other hand, I have seen no comments by these respected scientists which attempt to attack the “contrarians” in such a libelous or slanderous manner.
[Response: This discussion is skating very close to the line. Please keep it civil. -gavin]
William, Your comment “Kyoto itself is UNIVERSALLY regarded as a first step towards reducing GHG emissions” (EMPHASIS added) is factually wrong. In peer-reviewed papers published in February 2005 by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA), economist William McKibbin outlined a number of reasons why he believed that “the Kyoto Protocol is so badly constructed that it has set back the search for sensible and effective policy response by at least a decade”, and political scientist Aynsley Kellow wrote that “The Kyoto Protocol is usually justified as a necessary ‘first step’, but it might well be a step in the wrong direction and one which could hinder rather than help future international cooperation” (“Uncertainty and Climate Change: The Challenge for Policy”, pps. 27, 61). Both scholars are co-authors of important books and other papers on Kyoto. The House of Lords Committee unanimously reported that “The Kyoto Protocol … attempts to punish short-term non-compliance … with an enforcement mechanism that is so weak it is likely to be counterproductive, i.e., it will encourage reduced participation in the future, not the widening participation that is required.” For many more examples, please see the full set of papers in “The Costs of the Kyoto Protocol” in the special issue of “The Energy Journal” (1999).
[Response: Hi Ian. Fair-ish point; you have chosen one interpretation of what I said; I meant another. I would have been more careful in a post. So: I’m fully aware that many people dislike Kyoto. But even they don’t think Kyoto is the end point: even they agree that more after is the intent. But we stray too far from the science – William]
[Response: Enough already. Whether Kyoto is or is not a first step/a panacea/useless is not going to be worked out here. -gavin]
Stephen Berg: Now, how come they [the serious ‘contrarians’] keep repeating the same incorrect statements and are told they are wrong over and over again, yet to say the same thing again? Why do you say these questions are “serious and legitimate” if the answers are already out there?
That’s actually why it’s called a “debate”, Stephen. It’s not sufficient to “tell” someone they’re wrong, even if you do it “over and over again” — you have to provide reason and evidence for your claim, they get to critique your reason and evidence, you get to critique theirs, and so on. In real science, unlike TV shows, the truth is rarely just “out there” — it emerges through a process of critical analysis, and needs to be able to withstand continual skeptical scrutiny.
#61, Fair enough, but repeating continuously the same thing is not engaging a debate, its more like preaching for a cause. As an example, a true debate would demand Lindzen disciples (short of Dr Lindzen himself), to explain his often repeated words in #50, by far the greatest AGW contrarian slogan disseminated to the masses. I am waiting to hear from those who stand by such controversial stance, and engage in a good exchange about it. I think many people will enjoy hearing a plausible defense, rather than a deafening but quite suggestive silence.
That too is fair enough. I think, unfortunately, that “preaching” in the media can be found on both sides — consider Stephen Schneider’s notorious “scary scenarios” remark, for example. Lindzen erred in using a comparison of weather and climate to make a point, I think, but the point — that it’s difficult and risky to try to extend a forecast of anything as complex as climate as far into the future as the models do — is at least plausible and arguable.
Re: #61, “That’s actually why it’s called a “debate”, Stephen. It’s not sufficient to “tell” someone they’re wrong, even if you do it “over and over again” — you have to provide reason and evidence for your claim, they get to critique your reason and evidence, you get to critique theirs, and so on. In real science, unlike TV shows, the truth is rarely just “out there” — it emerges through a process of critical analysis, and needs to be able to withstand continual skeptical scrutiny.”
It may be called by some a debate, but it sure isn’t constructive if the same rebuttals have to be continuously given. Nothing is gained by doing this. The process ends up going around in circles multiple times and little new information is brought out if old and failed arguments by contrarians are repeatedly brought forth. A little exposure to this site (i.e. RealClimate) by these contrarians will leave them with the rebuttals to most of their arguments.
As for withstanding the “continual skeptical scrutiny”, I believe this is called Peer-Review. Sure, the P-R process is not flawless, but it weeds out the vast majority of fatally-flawed studies, that is, studies with flaws that render the results incorrect.
The MBH “Hockey Stick” paper is probably one of the most scrutinised studies in scientific history. (At least it seems that way in how often the media and other groups cover it.) It has passed all the tests with flying colours. That is, upon review after review of the study, the results have remained consistent and verifiable and in no danger of being found fatally-flawed (as Pat Michaels would like you to believe). Small nit-picky fix-ups may have been identified, but they have not placed the results in danger of being found inaccurate.
Well, this is now a debate about the debate. Contrarians too no doubt feel exasperated that the other side repeats already “rebutted” arguments (e.g., the “hockey stick”), but that’s how debates always feel to partisans of one side or the other. What is wrong, however, and what I’m concerned about, are attempts to shut down the debate by the side that is currently dominant — the number of times in the history of science that minorities (sometimes of one) have eventually shown the way to the truth ought to be reason enough for everyone to work on both their patience and their open-mindedness.
Larry, that was not a mistake from the part of Dr Lindzen, it’s what he thinks:
“This brings one to what is probably the major point of disagreement: Can one trust computer climate models to correctly predict the response to increasing CO2? As the accompanying cartoon suggests, our experience with weather forecasts is not particularly encouraging though it may be argued that the prediction of gross climate changes is not as demanding as predicting the detailed weather. Even here, the situation is nuanced. ”
Richard S. Lindzen before the senate environment and public works committee. 2/May/2001
In the later CNN comment he removed the obtuse caveat of 2001, probably indicating his 2005 evolved thinking about the subject, but he is definitely not confident in Meteorologists/Climatologists ability to forecast past 3 days. Climate single numbers, like Global Temperature, is nowhere as difficult to predict as very demanding high resolution weather forecasts. Hansen et Al. and many others predicted in the 80’s the very warm temperature peak we are experiencing right now. This should alleviate some doubts as to whether scientists can’t see what is coming. I find Lindzen’s pessimism not refreshing, because he is not reflecting actual accomplishments in the field.. This may be due to his thinking about his colleagues:
“First, climate science, itself, has traditionally been a scientific backwater. There is little question that the best science students traditionally went into physics, math and, more recently, computer science.” Lindzen 2/May/2001
Stephen Schneider’s scary predictions interest me, I read his webpage and he doesn’t give any exaggerations, may be I missed the scary scenes, Dr Schneider does not denigrate his entire discipline though.
I think Dr Lindzen and others like him should separate their political views, like MIT colleague Noam Chomsky, who makes no bones about his views while having outstanding Academic accomplishments, it is a matter of language, how to relate to the public without achieving, on purpose or not, confusion.
Of course there are contrarians who dismiss the entire scientific evidence, “CO2 rise is not man-made”, “there is no warming”, etc.
Most skeptics and warmer however, debate the magnitude of certain effects.
eg: projected economic growth, strength of aerosol cooling, strength of water vapour feedback. This is a genuine scientific debate. And both opponents dismiss evidence of the other party.
Wayne writes: I think Dr Lindzen and others like him should separate their political views….
I think everyone involved, Wayne, should do their best to separate their political/ideological/quasi-religious views from science — i.e., from dispassionate reason and evidence. In that context, let me quote a little more extensively from Stephen Schneider’s famous interview in Discover (you may not know it or remember it):
… like most people, we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that, we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.
This clearly transforms science into politics, and politics of the most manipulative, disreputable kind at that.
As for Lindzen, you may find his “pessimism not refreshing” and I may even agree with you — but that’s not a reason to suppress his views, which, as I say, are at the very least arguable.
[Response: Oh please… Selective mis-quotations of that interview have been contrarian fodder for years and are a complete distortion of what was said and what Schneider’s position is. The full quote and Schneider’s respsonse to the issue are easily available (here) and continued use of this ridiculous canard can only be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to mislead. Just to make it perfectly clear the full quote is:
On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.
Schneider also made it abundantly clear that this bind should be tackled directly by any scientist dealing with the media:
[Misquoters] also omit my solutions to the double ethical bind: (1) use metaphors that succinctly convey both urgency and uncertainty, and (2) produce an inventory of written products from editorials to articles to books, so that those who want to know more about an author’s views on both the caveats and the risks have a hierarchy of detailed written sources to which they can turn. What I was telling the Discover interviewer, of course, was my disdain for a soundbite-communications process that imposes the double ethical bind on all who venture into the popular media. To twist my openly stated and serious objections to the soundbite process into some kind of advocacy of exaggeration is a clear distortion. Moreover, not only do I disapprove of the “ends justify the means” philosophy of which I am accused, but, in fact have actively campaigned against it in myriad speeches and writings. Instead, I repeatedly advocate that scientists explicitly warn their audiences that “what to do” is a value choice as opposed to “what can happen” and “what are the odds,” which are scientific issues.
Hopefully forums like RealClimate make it easier to put sound-bites in context with all the caveats and problems. We are not here however just to be used for talking-point jousting. -gavin]
I believe ‘scientific judgement’ should be kept separate from ‘political judgement’.
As is well known: there are some (perhaps quite a few) who believe that if there are some valid doubts regarding AGW, we can not risk waiting to find out. Their view is that by continuing the debate, then enactment of Kyoto and any other efforts to reverse the process will be delayed. This may be a valid judgement, but it is a political one and not a scientific one.
My understanding of this site is that its purpose is scientific. It contains a lot of good science and good scientific debate, but I fear there are too often ‘opinions’ or ‘politcal views’ that get confused with science.
#70, That has become quite a problem, if I want to make a political statement it should be based on something, that something, in the case of AGW is provided by scientists. If some scientists mix their political views with their scientific theories, it is not a good view to rely on, yet that is exactly what some politicians are looking for, some scientist agreeing with their plans. Through sound bites from media interviews they find each other, and use their flawed rethoric to advance their mutual causes.
Unlike an institution, like the Roman Catholic Church, there is no one to discipline scientists mixing science with politics. What is left is for the media to recognize the scientist fusing disciplines together, they regularly fail to do that. The end result is instead of reading headlines like Scientists correctly forecasting present world wide warmer weather, we read things like GW science is flawed, not credible and too experimental. The media has to do a better job, pit ideas with ideas, especially publish accomplishments, what ever happened to that? But not good science against a sci-political theory.
Very interesting to read Saunders’ piece, which, if you read it carefully, contains only one item of any substance: that a hurricane expert doesn’t believe in global warming. (She doesn’t say anything about him having published a peer-reviewed paper to this effect, though.)
Her ideas on science are also interesting. I don’t think anyone advocates that scientists should think in lockstep. To use a form of argument as flawed as her own: Does she advocate that scientists stop using Newton’s laws because that would mean they had been brainwashed into believing them? If we did that for real most of the modern world would stop. Some things are widely believed simply because they happen to be true.
“We here at RC continue to be disappointed with the tendency for some journalistic outlets to favor so-called “balance” over accuracy in their treatment of politically-controversial scientific issues such as global climate change. While giving equal coverage to two opposing sides may seem appropriate in political discourse, it is manifestly inappropriate in discussions of science, where objective truths exist.”
A curious post. Perhaps you have gone just a smidge too far.
You complain that SOME journalistic outlets TEND TO give equal coverage to the two opposing views.
If we take this position seriously, you presumably believe that ALL journalistic outlets should favor your side of the argument.
Is this perhaps just a little bit over-reaching? Is there to be no room in the world for people who disagree with you, for people who even dare to sometimes put an opposing viewpoint on an equal footing with yours? Not one journalistic outlet should be allowed to favor presenting a viewpoint opposing yours as respectable? Is it really necessary to exterminate all opposition? Are you absolutely correct about everything? Should anyone ever be allowed to question anything you believe to be the truth?
As I say, perhaps you went a little too far in your wording. Surely there is room in this world for a little bit of dissent.
We all know that “a clear consensus exists among mainstream researchers that human influences on climate are already detectable, and that potentially far more substantial changes are likely to take place in the future if we continue to burn fossil fuels at current rates.” Or rather, all of us that read RealClimate know this to be true. Sections of the public, policymakers, and journalists like Ms. Saunders remain unconvinced. Should we fault the San Francisco Chronicle for printing this opposing (however ridiculous it may sound to us) viewpoint? OR Should we fault the scientific community for still being unable to effectively convince the public, despite its wealth of evidence? I believe the latter is more to blame. To borrow your analogy, we all know the earth is round. Are we so incompetent that we still haven’t proven this to the rest of the world?
[Moderator: Actually, that was Eric, not Mike]
in comment #2, “RealClimate exists to try to help people get the facts straight.” Obviously, not enough people are reading RC. Although a noble forum, this blog is a passive way of communicating the findings of the scientific community. More active communication on behalf of the scientific community needs to take place.
Stop waiting for more truth and less ‘balance’ in journalism. It will never happen. The only way ridiculous ideas like that of Ms. Saunders will cease to be printed is if they have been thoroughly discounted by overwhelming public opinion. The San Francisco Chronicle is less likely to print the words of what most people consider a wacko. Evidently, a forum still exists for articles like hers, which only points to the inability of the scientific community to effectively communicate its wealth of findings.
Re: #74, “Is this perhaps just a little bit over-reaching? Is there to be no room in the world for people who disagree with you, for people who even dare to sometimes put an opposing viewpoint on an equal footing with yours? Not one journalistic outlet should be allowed to favor presenting a viewpoint opposing yours as respectable? Is it really necessary to exterminate all opposition? Are you absolutely correct about everything? Should anyone ever be allowed to question anything you believe to be the truth?”
Read the following article to get the answer to your questions:
Journalistic Balance as Global Warming Bias
Creating controversy where science finds consensus
By Jules Boykoff and Maxwell Boykoff
A new study has found that when it comes to U.S. media coverage of global warming , superficial balanceâ??telling “both” sides of the storyâ??can actually be a form of informational bias. Despite the consistent assertions of the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that human activities have had a “discernible” influence on the global climate and that global warming is a serious problem that must be addressed immediately, “he said/she said” reporting has allowed a small group of global warming skeptics to have their views greatly amplified.’
The article was by F.A.I.R. How much do you trust F.A.I.R.? Do you think they are completely honest and reliable? Do you have any qualms at all about relying on them? Come on, surely we can agree that F.A.I.R. might not be the final authority on this.
It is interesting that the F.A.I.R. study looks at articles from *1988* through 2002 and many of the articles they cite are from the early 90s. Do you wonder a little bit about how relevant fifteen-year-old articles are to assessing the tenor of today’s press coverage? RealClimate regularly mentions how the evidence has grown much stronger recently. (The Mann papers didn’t even start until 1998.) Wouldn’t you expect accurate reporting to have given much more weight to the skeptics fifteen years ago when the evidence was much weaker? (A while back, the satellites were showing virtually no warming, shouldn’t that have carried some weight at the time?)
What I find telling is that the balancing opinions I see are often from people like Myron Ebell, with limited or no scientific credentials, who hail from organizations with limited scientific credentials and strong industry ties. If I were writing about biosciences, and found myself constantly turning to coal miners for balancing opinions, it would give me pause.
It’s not unreasonable to be skeptical of the FAIR report, since (to my knowledge) it’s not peer reviewed and there’s not a lot of detail on methods. However, it would be easy to spot-check results, e.g. to focus on recent articles to determine whether the effect persists. Let us know how it turns out?
Science is not a democratic process my friend. Your suggestion is off-target and dangerous. You would silence the voices of those who challenge the received wisdom of the majority. Science has a TERRIBLE record of accepting new or facts that challenged the received wisdom.
How long did we live with the dogmatic beliefs enshrined by the likes of Freud and Skinner? I fear that the global warming crowd is a similar bunch of bullies who attack all those who question their assertions.
Journalism is a tool to bring the voice of those pushed aside by the tenure rank. The sad fact that the tenure-based science establishment creates entrenched dogma. Global warming perspective is an emerging dogma.
Yes, there are only a few scientist who have the courage to counter the dogma in a direct fashion. There are a large number who are quietly skeptical of the dogma but afraid to voice.
Shame on you for suggesting a bully technique to stymie scientific progress and understanding. The real issue is that science demands that facts accurately presented. Unfortunately this is not happening in the discussion around global warming. We have fallen victim to political science not climate science.
79: “Science has a TERRIBLE record of accepting new or facts that challenged the received wisdom. … How long did we live with the dogmatic beliefs enshrined by the likes of Freud and Skinner?”
Not all fields in what’s generally called “science” in English have the same track record. The hard sciences like maths, physics, etc have a completely different track record from “sciences” like psychology. When a completely unknown Swiss patent clerk published an article questioning the absoluteness of time and space his assertions were relatively quickly accepted, despite what he wrote overturning several centuries of scientific consensus. And really, could you imagine any assertions that would make anyone sound more like a complete nutcase than those for which Einstein is now famous?
But the point isn’t really whether science is democratic or whether dissenting opinion should be heard. The point is that dissenting opinion on climate science is only worth listening to if it is backed by scientific argument. Personally, I think journalists should be extremely wary of publishing opinions about climate research that are not either in accord with established consensus, or clearly backed by real scientific argument. Such opinions should either not be published, or be published in such a way that readers can tell what the basis for the opinion expressed is. And, really, that is just good journalism, whether the subject is science or not.
“We have fallen victim to political science not climate science.”
Yes, that is the real point. But how would you deal with it if not by improving the reporting on climate science?
I agree that popular reporting of science is a very difficult proposition. Virtually all reporters simply don’t have the technical skills to understand the issues — they are particularly bad at understanding statistical arguments.
Under the circumstances, it is not ridiculous for a reporter to simply get an opposing opinion and report both sides. This is particularly true when the opposing opinions are from people like Lindzen or Landsea with serious credentials that cannot be dismissed.
Asking reporters to decide which side is worth reporting and which is not is simply asking them to do something they are completely unqualified to do.
It is a difficult problem. I don’t see an easy solution.
The solution as to the current AGW debate is to report facts as based on unquestionable sources, to provide the dominant consensus view, may be presented from one or more scientists, and to balance an opposite opinion in the context of how well it is appreciated by peers. Whoever’s great credentials has no importance for the subject if the opinion is flawed, and especially if it is reported without challenge by peers. In the case of contrarians, their statements are often balanced against asymmetrical questions, offering mainstream views not as strongly and persuasive but especially without a chance for a rebuttal . What is needed is to treat the audience or reader, with the best possible evidence without over-emphasizing the views of the one against the hard earned agreed upon science of the many. It is common, especially on television news, that a single contrarian is quoted about the subject of climate change without ever offering the dominant view from any of a vast body of scientists, sort of like leaving the AGW majority view as coming from a vague body of marginalized scientists not as important as the gem of a contrarian carrying the interview. For instance , Dr Gray was quoted today by a CNN meteorologist issuing his latest forecast for the next hurricane season, Gray ‘s stastement emphasized as a stern conclusion that AGW has nothing to do with increased hurricane activity, yet the usually capable meteorologist didn’t say a word about the views of the majority. The lack of balance was again achieved to the detriment of the public, who by triumph of their intelligence and awareness (it is warmer everywhere out there) still believe that AGW exists.
I am actually qualified to write this because I have been a newspaper reporter and journalist since 1984. As a scientist long before I was a journalist, I have always applied scientific principles to my writing.
1. The first rule any journalist is taught is to follow the dollar. If somebody has money at stake in a story you are covering, expect that they will try to lie to you or at least shade the story a few compass points from the truth. In scientific stories, especially those involving environmental issues, this is ALWAYS the case. In any environmental science issue, somebody has money to gain or lose, and therefore will be tempted to attempt to sway your story and your reporting. Therefore, as a competent journalist, you follow the dollar because you would be stupid not to. Good journalists consider it a professional mark of shame to be duped or deceived by a source. Bad journalists don’t care as long as the paycheck clears.
2. The second rule journalists are taught is that people tell lies. Journalists witness the best and worst of human behavior. People lie to journalists when they have motivation to do so and do not believe they will be caught. It happens all the time. A good journalist does not want to print a lie as if it were truth. For this reason, like scientists, good journalists ask for corroborating evidence whenever a source tells them something that strains the facts. Just as for scientists, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
3. A good journalist, upon being assigned a story, first does basic research from published sources, identifies potential interviewees from these published sources, and begins making queries and seeking interviews. If the story, for example, involves mercury emissions from a coal burning power plant, the reporter should naturally assume the coal plant spokesperson will deny any harmful effects from its pollution. This is because the coal plant operator has a direct financial stake in making this assertion, even if scientific evidence shows it is not true. This is called following the dollar. By definition, the coal plant operator is not an unbiased source. A good journalist expects the coal plant operator to tell lies because it is a simple, scientific fact the coal plant emits lots of pollution and the coal plant makes lots of money by emitting this pollution.
4. Past history of environmental journalism since Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold shows that polluters will baldly tell reporters lies to cover up what they are doing. Journalists, like scientists, are responsible for deeply understanding the history of the subject they are working within. There is no excuse for ignorance of this history. A scientist dealing with radioactivity should know who Marie Curie or Enrico Fermi was. So should a journalist. Any competent journalist or scientist knows that the incidence of scientific fraud or prevarication among paid scientific consultants for potentially financially liable corporations are manifest in the historic record. In contrast, nobody paid off Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein. Competent journalists use this documented historic record as a compass.
This is the way responsible journalism is supposed to be practiced. It almost never is. Here’s why:
1. Most journalists are scientifically illiterate.
2. The bosses of reporters (ie. editors) are even more scientifically illiterate.
3. The publisher doesn’t care.
4. The concept of balance cited by news reporters for science stories would dictate that every time they mention the Holocaust they must call up a Holocaust denial group and get a quote from them denying the Holocaust to provide “balance.” Or that every time a story references the Apollo mission, the reporter must call up a person who denies humans ever landed on the moon. Since journalists do not do this when writing stories about these topics, this renders their own argument provably false.
5. Journalists are basically dumb, unmotivated human beings who have consistently failed to be able to hold a paid job in any other profession except journalism. While this sounds rather harsh, if you attempt to question a journalist in detail on why they wrote a story a certain way, they cannot defend themselves in an articulate and informed fashion. To do so would force them to admit they are illiterate and uninformed on the subject; they don’t care about the story or topic anyways; their editor told them to write it; they don’t understand why you, the scientist, cares so much about how your work is presented in the newspaper; they don’t have time to listen to you or read your papers and supporting evidence; and it’s almost 5 and time to leave their dreadfully boring job that they hate.
6. The obligation to “provide balance” is the last pathetic arrow in the journalist’s quiver. For example, scientific evidence over the past 200 years shows the Atlantic cod stocks off New England are today at perhaps 10 percent of their historic levels, and dropping every year due to overfishing. Every year, as scientific evidence shows cod stocks dropping even lower, the Boston Globe feels “compelled” to include a number of quotes from Gloucester, Mass. fishermen disputing the entire 200-year time series of data without providing any data of their own. This is done to provide “balance” to the story. The journalist queries the scientists extensively on the methodology of their studies, and how and why their studies indicate what the scientists say they indicate. The same journalist in the same story asks nothing similar of the fishermen who dispute the entire scientific record, but prints their quotes verbatim without any questions about the sources of their data. The reader, of course, is left with no useful information, since the reporter provides them with none. While the reporter acts as a hostile interrogator to the scientist, she acts as a pliant stenographer to the Gloucester Fishermens’ Wives Association and by doing so equates a 200 year data bank as being no more meaningful than a brief unsubstantiated quote from a person with a direct financial stake in fishing the New England cod until they go extinct. This is the Boston Globe.
IN RESPONSE TO THE ABOVE, the best and most intelligent response for a scientist in the presence of a reporter on deadline is to refuse to do an interview and ask the reporter to quote directly from the research paper in question. This forces the reporter to seek and read the actual research paper and understand it. Do not accede to their snivelling request for you to “explain it” over the phone. If they cannot understand the paper, they should not be reporting on it. Don’t let them.
As a newspaper reporter for 20 years, I know this. I was a scientist long before I became a journalist. Scientists are the true journalists. They report what they see. Once journalists do not see what they report, they lose function — just like scientists. All scientists by nature are amateurs. They cannot claim to know everything about what they study. They study what is not known. A cardinal rule among journalists is that you do not accept payment by a source for writing a story in a certain way. Scientists violate this ethic all the time by taking money in exchange for scientific opinions they know conflict with the evidentiary record. Scientists have poisoned their own well. Journalists have poisoned theirs as well.
Every scientist started out as a little kid wondering about a bug, a flower or a star in the universe.
How did the well become so tainted as we have grown older? How did we let it?