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  1. Well, that’s fair, as per What to do about bad science reporting.

    Reporters are likely normally (or maybe lognormally) distributed with regard to knowledge, experience and skill. If you find one who’s far out at the positive tail, be glad, else the best you can do is adjust to the level, help them out as possible, and hope for the best.

    I used to talk to press quite often about technology. One time I was being intervieweed by a reporter and was rapidly scaling down the level of discourse, and finally asked when she’d started doing technology columns:
    A: 2 weeks ago.
    Q: (hoping to calibrate usable examples): what were you doing before?
    A: the food columns, and I wanted a change.

    So, if you get a really-good one (and here I put in a plug for Dan Vergano at USA Today), be very, very glad.

    Comment by John Mashey — 12 Jan 2011 @ 4:43 PM

  2. Professor: I can’t.
    Reporter: Why not?
    Professor: I have already been slowed down for ten years by the research. Call me back in twenty years.
    Reporter: Why?
    Professor: By then you may have caught up with my research.

    Comment by Joseph Sobry — 12 Jan 2011 @ 5:13 PM

  3. Well, there it is, yes? The great divide between the general public and the scientific community. I teach at the college level, and am still stunned by the naivete and ignorance of my 18 to 30-year-old students. They aren’t malicious, just incurious, and addicted to their hand-held electronic devices. Perhaps invading Facebook, Tweets, and Youtube might bypass the Koch brothers and enlighten our younger peers. Worth a thought.

    Comment by Steve Missal — 12 Jan 2011 @ 6:16 PM

  4. At least the reporter wanted to understand the issue. That certainly beats a lot of them. Would that we had more of those when it comes to climate change.

    Comment by David Miller — 12 Jan 2011 @ 6:25 PM

  5. That right there is why it’s so incredibly important that a concise, clear and understandable basic explanation is available for whatever new developments have come about. Even the average intelligent college graduate doesn’t have remotely enough time to understand even all of those scientific or political topics that she’s interested in, let alone all of those that are important and affect us all.

    Comment by Cam Adams — 12 Jan 2011 @ 6:33 PM

  6. Professor: “Really… I don’t have time to talk to uninformed reporters”[even though my NSF grant essentially requires public outreach]. “Go away.”

    Reporter calls new number found via Google, a scientist with a lot of time and training (at a think tank fighting restrictions on CO2, or at, say, WWF). “Happy to talk. What do you need?”

    Alternate scenario:
    Professor: “Let me send you a link to some background on and Have a look and we can talk a bit later, OK?”

    Reporter: “Fair enough.”

    Professor: “When we’re done I may ask what you’re taking away from our chat, to avoid misapprehension. OK?

    Reporter: “Kind of like a test…. Ha ha. Like being back in college.”

    Professor: “Kind of like that.”

    [Response: Andy, thanks for the plug for RC. Of course, in reality lots of scientists do exactly as you are suggesting. To the credit of many reporters I’ve talked to, this has worked very well in my experience, and the resulting reports are done very well. So yes, I take this quote as less of a dig at journalists than at scientists who don’t/won’t/can’t explain their work very well.–eric]

    Comment by Andy Revkin — 12 Jan 2011 @ 6:57 PM

  7. My first reaction was to smile at the joke, sympathising with the reporter in her efforts to get the professor to talk in terms ordinary people could understand. I see in the comments that others might taken it as a joke on the reporter being uninformed rather than a joke on the professor being unintelligible.

    Either way, maybe that’s why it’s hard to communicate ideas to the general public.

    Comment by Sou — 12 Jan 2011 @ 7:21 PM

  8. As a journalist, I can tell you that the toughest part of the job is writing a story that portrays the science accurately and also speaks clearly and compellingly to readers, many of whom don’t know the difference between an atom and a molecule, have no math knowledge above arithmetic, and tend to make snap judgments about research based on how well it accords with gut feelings based on “naive physics.”

    [Response: You guys are translators. Excellent depiction of the challenge you’re up against.–Jim]

    Comment by Joe Rojas-Burke — 12 Jan 2011 @ 7:26 PM

  9. The reason it’s hard to communicate science is not that scientists are any worse communicators than any other group. It is that science isn’t always easily reductable into sound-bites. I go looking for the information myself and I find a lot of excellent material (here and elsewhere) that I can understand up to a point – further understanding requiring a lot of reading, without the benefit of a readily available expert tutor – but to then distill this information further so that it makes sense in a thirty second spot on the evening news, who will then spend another thirty seconds quoting Mr. Monckton or his local equivalent? Might as well just point a camera at Brisbane and say “global warming did this”.

    Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 12 Jan 2011 @ 7:34 PM

  10. The problem is that the media is always trying to reduce everything to a “sound bite.” Consequently, they often misrepresent the facts, or talk to one person, and assume he/she represents the entire scientific community. Then again, they may have a pre-conceived view, and interview people until they find one to support it.

    Comment by Dan H. — 12 Jan 2011 @ 7:50 PM

  11. Sounds like we need to teach climate change science at an earlier age…like k-12. Getting a mandate like this through congress would educate the public. Failure is just not an option.

    Comment by Karen Stabenow — 12 Jan 2011 @ 7:55 PM

  12. The answer to this problem, which is a real one, since many reporters are newbies or don’t know the science they are reporting on and are just looking for a few good quotes to bolster their reportagel, is this: scientists who understand the issue of global warming and climate change need to write more oped commentaries for major newspapers like the NY Times and the LA Times and the Guardian, with their names attached as author, and get the truth out that way. Oped commentaries are the best way to communicate directly, under your own name, with the public. Do it.

    Comment by Danny Bloom — 12 Jan 2011 @ 8:05 PM

  13. 8 (Joe Rojas-Burke),

    You have only one recourse.

    1) Build a time machine.
    2) Build a cultural-influence-ray.
    3) Go back in time with your cultural-influence ray.
    4) Sweep it over the entire population, to convince them to show respect rather than disdain for those in school who are intelligent and work hard on their studies.
    5) Sweep it over the entire population, to convince them to pay attention themselves as best they can to basic math and science when they are in school, so they understand this stuff at the level which almost all human beings are capable of achieving, rather than the pitiful few who bother to try in our society (because it’s simply not cool to actually learn).
    6) Wait several hundred years (because, as anyone knows, time machines let you go backwards, but never forwards)
    7) Your job is then easier, because you will have a literate and educated readership.
    [Can you tell that I have a very intelligent daughter in high school who is torn between using the intellect that she enjoys, and being perceived as an uncool nerd because she has that ability?]

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 12 Jan 2011 @ 8:10 PM

  14. Bloke @9. Its more that science usually boils down to a few nice equation bites. Perfectly understandable in 30seconds to those few with the requiste training, and just gobbledegook to everyone else.

    Comment by Thomas — 12 Jan 2011 @ 9:17 PM

  15. Kudos to Andy Revkin at #6 for the “test” suggestion (“Professor: “When we’re done I may ask what you’re taking away from our chat, to avoid misapprehension. OK?”)
    Is this typically done?

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 12 Jan 2011 @ 9:20 PM

  16. Once climate science has matured enough to make regional forecasts of climate with a sustainably high degree of reliability it will find its own voice. As climate science is included in the work of hydrologists, geologists and others with ties to policy makers and land use entrepenuers the language of climate will become embedded in everyday life. Until then, we are just another ology clambering for attention.

    Comment by Lloyd Smith — 12 Jan 2011 @ 9:40 PM

  17. Karen writes:

    “Sounds like we need to teach climate change science at an earlier age…like k-12.”

    Climate change is taught in science classes in schools. It is in the texts. The posters from the government agencies are on the walls.

    Comment by Snapple — 12 Jan 2011 @ 9:42 PM

  18. In my time I’ve had to translate messages from a range of professionals into language that non-spe-ialists can understand. Non-spe-ialists comprised different audiences including Government ministers, central government policy and budget agencies, senior management, the media and the general public. We used different vehicles for different audiences and tailored the language to suit. It’s always been important to get the message across properly.

    Economists and statisticians can be as incomprehensible as research scientists. All professionals use jargon to make it easier to talk with each other. (Eg in economics, a decreasing acceleration of the uptrend means rising still, but not as quickly) Many if not most are rarely in the position where they need to try to explain things directly to the public – mostly they talk with their colleagues, and others take on the role of getting the messages out more broadly.

    The message to be conveyed from most scientific research can be communicated to lay persons. It’s just a matter of getting to the nub of the matter and leaving out the non-essential stuff.

    In regard to climate science, there are a lot of people who deliberately set out to confuse by bringing up irrelevant and inconsequential and wrong information. This is less the case in other professions, so climate scientists and communicators need to have a strategy to deal with that. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying ‘that’s wrong’ and repeating the basic message without unnecessary qualifiers (which only confuse and encourage the deniers).

    Science communicators (ie translators, science journalists etc) play a very important role.

    PS – could you please fix or relax the spam filter.

    Comment by Sou — 12 Jan 2011 @ 9:58 PM

  19. This invites the redefinition of ‘ Framing’ as: How many martinis the reporter had for lunch.

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 12 Jan 2011 @ 10:58 PM

  20. Well,,, If we all had math co-processors installed in our brains.. like the Borg… it would help a lot. Something like Mathematica would have to be included. I would also take the language module and whatever else was available. K-12 education would mostly involve learning to use the co-processors.

    When my daughter was 8 years old, she tossed 10 pennies 100 times and made a histogram. Then the public schools taught her to not be good at math.

    What we need to do most is reverse George W’s “No child Allowed Ahead” policy. The public schools and even private universities are really good at destroying the very smartest students. It isn’t good enough to just be able to learn online. It has to be possible to get degrees on line at zero cost and without regard to time or age.

    Example: A classmate of mine [class of 1968 Carnegie-Mellon U.] invented Boolean Algebra by himself when he was in 7th grade. He arrived at college at the usual age. He didn’t go to class or do homework. He read the book the night before the final exam and aced the final in all of his courses. He should have been able to graduate in 1 semester. Instead, he dropped out and took 2 computer programming jobs because he was bored.

    The problem: None of his teachers or professors were able to recognize super-genius. He was forced to remain in lockstep. He should have entered college rather than 7th grade. He should have had his PhD by the age of 18. We lost a truly great mathematician because of the teachers. The fault lies in the system, not in the student. There has to be a means of sorting out students and allowing the maximum possible learning rate. Lockstep must end.

    All students, and therefore all teachers, should learn more math. The reporters can’t speak math, and that is the root of the communications problem.

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 12 Jan 2011 @ 11:04 PM

  21. Reporters have access to the top scientists in the field. All they need to do is to visit the Climate Science Rapid Response Team.

    Comment by Scott Mandia — 12 Jan 2011 @ 11:41 PM

  22. > please slow down

    “‘Not so fast’ says Pat Michaels … with the Cato Institute”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Jan 2011 @ 12:53 AM

  23. This is precisely the problem. Reporters known absolutely no science. The media, especially TV, places no priority whatsoever on science and journalistic requirements do not encourage the parsing of science on scientific terms. My response to this is that if a reporter is assigned to a story and has no background in science, it is no different that insisting on interviewing someone in another language without the reporter having any understanding of that particular language. The requirement of the “fill the news hole mentality” can only be fed if scientists acquiesce and make allowances for these serious shortcomings. You know that the story has a great likelihood of being misinterpreted, trivialized and skewed by the reporter. And once it is out there likely no way a correction will ever appear. Scientists have a responsibility to present science as accurately as possible and by and large do. It seems that journalists and producers and broadcasters do not share in in the responsibility. Scientists have to realize this and sanction the BS media reporters and broadcasters

    Comment by Richard Zurawski — 13 Jan 2011 @ 4:19 AM

  24. Thanks, Hank … Pat Michaels:

    Not so fast, says Pat Michaels, a climatologist with the Cato Institute in Washington. “If you draw a trend line from the data, it’s pretty flat from the 1990s. We don’t see much of a warming trend over the past 12 years.

    So “no warming since 1998, therefore climate science is a fraud” has become “not much warming since 1998, therefore climate science is a fraud”?

    Comment by dhogaza — 13 Jan 2011 @ 5:15 AM

  25. Pat Michaels appeared on the Kremlin-financed channel Russia Today (RT) after Climategate, but the party line on global warming seems to be changing in Russia. I wonder if Pat Michaels will be invited back?

    Even Russia’s Institute for Economic Analysis (IEA) is discussing how Russia has sold “quotas” to Japan. I think that means carbon credits. The IEA didn’t quote the Cato’s Russian “expert,” the head of the IEA, Andrei Illarionov.

    The Russians had those fires and the media is telling people about how their cities could flood. They are letting their scientists explain it a bit.

    It will be interesting to see if the talk leads to actions. It took the Kremlin a few days to tell people that Hitler had invaded Russia, but they finally did. They never want to tell bad news until they are able to say how they plan to deal with it.

    Sometimes I wonder if the Kremlin was fooled by our denialists and their own energy companies, who own a lot of the media in Russia.

    Comment by Snapple — 13 Jan 2011 @ 7:16 AM

  26. For Joe Rojas-Burke, re # 8 above:

    As a generalist, I’m writing an introductory book on sea level rise. Any advice on how to explain climate change to the educated general reader?

    Comment by Hunt Janin — 13 Jan 2011 @ 7:22 AM

  27. Learning climate science, even a little of it, is difficult — even if you have extensive knowledge of math and a solid background in physics, with a keen interest in the subject. I’ve been at it for years, and my ignorance is still impressive. So let’s not berate journalists or the general public for ignorance when they lack either the background or the motivation that we possess.

    Instead, let’s strive to explain things Asimov-style: with wit, charm, and crystal clarity.

    And when it comes to the public “debate,” let’s talk less about lapse rates and more about the lapses of honesty by the denialists. Joe the Plumber doesn’t need to understand a zero-dimensional energy balance model, to see how mistaken and how dishonest are those who oppose action on the global warming issue. That’s the denialists’ weakness, and since we’re in a fight for the survival of human civilization we should go on the offensive, and hit ’em where it hurts ’em the most.

    Comment by tamino — 13 Jan 2011 @ 7:31 AM

  28. At the risk of seeming flippant, I can’t help but remember how this was covered in Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks!”, with Sarah Jessica Parker (the fashion reporter?) interviewing Pierce Brosnan (the government scientist). Most illuminating …

    Comment by Nick O. — 13 Jan 2011 @ 7:56 AM

  29. I don’t think science is not reductible to soundbites, as mentioned above. Of course it is. I did quite well in an amateur lecture explaining the greenhouse effect with a blanket analogy.

    The problem is to overcome the more ellaborate BS spread by denialists. Then you need a lot of time and knowledge – and even if you have it, the average audiece is usually very short on both.

    Comment by Alexandre — 13 Jan 2011 @ 8:19 AM

  30. There seems to be a consensus that the biggest problem with climate change is communication.

    [Response: Nonsense. The primary consensus with regard to the “biggest problem with climate change” is the effects it will have on the biogeosphere.–Jim]

    This is apparent from this discussion and sessions at the recent AGS meeting and upcoming AMS meetings. The first thing required when communicating is a clear message.

    A clear message from sceptics is that the effect of CO2 and other global warming gases has been greatly exaggerated and it does not make economic sense to solve the problem by reducing emissions.

    How do you credibly counter that message?

    [Response: Um, with credibility maybe?–Jim]

    Comment by Ulick Stafford — 13 Jan 2011 @ 8:55 AM

  31. “Reducible” isn’t an absolute. Alexandre’s analogy may have done very well in its context, while omitting aspects of the question that would have been important in other contexts.

    The whole point of the anecdote at the head of this post isn’t, IMO, that the scientist OR the journalist were “wrong” in some way; the point is the difficulty of finding a meaningful intersection between very different contexts. Doing that takes effort and time, and I think Andy Revkin’s comment is very much to that point–understanding comes from dialog, and dialog requires active listening and the solicitation of feedback.

    Not easy under time pressure, of course, but you deal with the reality you have, not the reality you wish you had–ideally, that is. . .

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 13 Jan 2011 @ 8:59 AM

  32. “…the root of the communications problem.”

    In my world, the essence of communication is connecting to the given audience at the level of its interest and expertise. Without contradicting the wishes for greater scientific literacy, I wonder whether enough has been done to reach both press and public with reference to their everyday lives.

    Specifically, has anyone here framed the issue in terms of, “changing the composition of a substance changes its properties” — and then related that to activities ranging from cooking, to metallurgy, to biotechnology, to the atmospheric effect of taking lead out of gasoline?

    It seems to me that this type of framing might not only speak directly to the public’s daily experience, but also appeal to reporters’ professional skepticism: When has changing a substance’s composition NOT changed its properties?

    Further, in this castle I’m building, such an approach could be a good jumping off point to address melting ice, ocean acidification and the many extreme weather events seen recently.

    I apologize if this has already been tried and failed.

    Comment by Walter Pearce — 13 Jan 2011 @ 9:06 AM

  33. You know, the problem I have is not with reporters failing to understand scientific results. Rather it is the ignorance of scientific method and lack of interest that I find difficult to grasp.

    When you see an absolutely beautiful result with groundbreaking implications and the reporter devotes a single short paragraph to it, absolutely no space to its context within the field and then spends two paragraphs giving the viewpoints of anti-science twits, anti-vaxxers and other cranks for “balance”…that’s when I want to break the reporter’s fingers so he can’t type any more.

    I talk about science to nonscientists all the time–housewives, truckdrivers, people standing in the grocery checkout line. I can usually find a way to make it interesting for them, and I am by no means a great scientific communicator. The real problem I see in so much science reporting is that the reporters don’t seem to like science.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 13 Jan 2011 @ 9:35 AM

  34. #30:

    When one has questions, one seeks those that have the expertise and or the biggest financial stake in the issue. Here is what you say:

    Humans are changing the climate and there are serious risks associated with this change that are going to cause hardship for many and increase living costs for all.

    So who is concerned? Every international academy of sciences, many military and intelligence officials, many health experts, and most international insurance companies. Shouldn’t you be also?

    You can make a difference. Be more energy efficient and demand that your lawmakers respect the experts and make dealing with climate change a top priority.

    Then end it with: You know, China is eating our lunch in the solar and wind technologies so even they know what is coming. However, until the US gets off its coal and oil addiction, China will continue to build new coal plants which are the worst emitters of heat-trapping gases and other pollutants. The world is waiting for its leader, the US, to do the right thing and to lead by example but it can only do so when its citizenry demands it.

    Comment by Scott Mandia — 13 Jan 2011 @ 9:38 AM

  35. From my point of view as a mathematician on the fringe of the atmospheric sciences community, the battle is being won, and mostly by an overwhelming popular surge of interest in environmental issues. As with all complex systems, the basic ideas that govern the majority of the variability are easy to explain. It’s prediction on regional scales and with definite quantities and uncertainties that is tough. But I think that the distrust of climate scientists is exaggerated by the mass media. The public is coming around. We’re winning this fight.

    Comment by Sean — 13 Jan 2011 @ 10:58 AM

  36. Scott in #34

    Can that be reduced to a simple credible message?

    [Response: You are badly mistaken in your underlying premises and assumptions. Simplicity of message does not trump accuracy of message. You can simplify all you want–and that’s what deniers do in spades– but when you are flat out wrong with your message, as you are, it doesn’t matter one whit. Scientists have the primary responsibility of getting the story right, a burden that deniers such as yourself do not carry. You have the luxury of saying whatever you want without having to do the work of defending it. We don’t.–Jim]

    Comment by Ulick Stafford — 13 Jan 2011 @ 10:59 AM

  37. Kneejerk whacking if the press may be satisfying, but accomplishes nothing.
    The original post is obviously ambiguous.

    1) The reporter may in fact know nothing whatsoever about the general topic.

    2) The reporter may in fact be quite knowledgable in the general topic, but simply us new to this one. It might be a complex paper in Science that they have just seen. The reporter could be ready to ask some detailed questions trying to understand how some new result compares .

    Given the information, those are plausible extrema of the distribution of skills, and quite possibly It is skewed, with 2 being less likely.

    But posters who assumed 1 might want to think about whether that us a productive assumption.

    It is far better to calibrate the listener, rather than just assuming.
    Emulate Steve Schneider, who was awesomely good at this on his feet. I never once heard him talk down to anyone, even in the face of poor questions.

    Comment by John Mashey — 13 Jan 2011 @ 11:33 AM

  38. Ulick Stafford @ 30

    A clear message from sceptics is that the effect of CO2 and other global warming gases has been greatly exaggerated and it does not make economic sense to solve the problem by reducing emissions.

    How do you credibly counter that message?

    Those memes are entrenched. You’ll probably have to speak to the deniers’ intended audience and go after the dishonesty. Relentlessly. I might add that it isn’t pointed out often enough that the science (read IPCC) presents a range of scenarios as decision support to policy, not a single outcome. This should be simple enough to repeat, but detail oriented scientists are often led into the weeds chasing irritating pettifoggers.

    The alarmist warnings of reactionary, economic doomists (who failed to predict the current down turn by the way) have no scientific basis.

    Agree absolutely with tamino @27, hit ’em in the wingnuts.

    Comment by Radge Havers — 13 Jan 2011 @ 11:38 AM

  39. Speaking as a reporter who has some science background, let me offer this:

    Many of us who cover science in the first place do have an interest, but not always the expertise. I have some understanding because I went through a couple of years of it. But the guy who works for me has a hell of a time. It isn’t that he is stupid or uninterested, he just doesn’t have the mental tools. (In a similar vein, how many of us understand jet engine repair? Brain surgery?) Specialization in college (and even in high school) means that I know science people who can’t write a grammatical sentence or spell, or are woefully ignorant of basic civics. (Though I think people in the sciences do have a greater ability to switch from one field to the other).

    It’s also important for scientists to engage the public in a jargon-free way. Carl Sagan said it well: there is no reason to expect public support if you don’t engage. But too often many of the hypotheses that make science work are also a bit on the esoteric side. That is, they are great and beautiful hypothesis and questions, but they might not connect with many people. I know when I try to writ about it a gigantic challenge is relating it to something people care about.

    I also find it is often easier for me to understand what a scientist is saying when I repeat things back, or ask even the wrong questions (assuming someone tells me why it’s wrong). But even better is when I ask how they got into whatever field. Many of you scientists give better answers when I ask that. I am not sure why that is.

    I should also say that most of the time as a reporter you have to do things on the fly. This isn’t only true of science. When I used to cover crime, for instance, I basically had to piece together an entire sequence of events, get out 500 words and ensure accuracy — in two hours. The same often happens with science stories. If you can get an expert grasp of any science in that amount of time, you are a smarter person than I am by far.

    Do things get oversimplified? Yes. But that is sometimes better than nothing.

    Sometimes I find scientists still couch their words with the language of hypotheses, probability and such. In many cases, it’s better not to. If you say “Evolution is probably true” that means something much different to a scientist than to a journalist whose last science class was in high school.

    Or another example: telling people they are x percent more likely to get cancer from smoking is much different than saying “smoke enough and your lungs rot.”

    Both are accurate. The latter is far more effective.

    Comment by Jesse — 13 Jan 2011 @ 11:44 AM

  40. One Anonymous Bloke wrote: “Might as well just point a camera at Brisbane and say ‘global warming did this’.”

    That’s exactly what we should be doing.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 13 Jan 2011 @ 12:27 PM

  41. Much more on topic this time (apologies for previous post)…

    Ben Miller – now a comedian/comic actor but formerly a physics PhD student at Cambridge – did a ‘Horizon’ programme on the BBC on Monday, covering the general theme ‘What is one degree of temperature?’ Part of the problem was to explain why we as a species ought to be concerned with predicted rises in mean temperature which appear to be rather small, maybe only one or two degrees. The whole programme is available for viewing over BBC’s i-player, but look particularly at the bit between 48 mins 28s and c. 51 mins 20, and especially between 50:00 and 51:20, when the stats prof. explains – very neatly and clearly in my view – why such a small rise in mean temps is actually rather bad news. The i-player link can be found on:

    I think this sort of explanation, in just under a minute and a half, can really hit home very effectively, even though the overall programme had a more humorous and self-depracating air about it. Worth a look.

    Also re #33, Ray Ladbury’s first point: ‘You know, the problem I have is not with reporters failing to understand scientific results. Rather it is the ignorance of scientific method and lack of interest that I find difficult to grasp. ‘ I couldn’t agree more, Ray, although I think the problem is much worse and more widespread than this. To my mind, we are more and more reliant every year on achievements in science and engineering, which in turn are reliant on detailed knowledge of physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics. Yet many children at school end up being called ‘nerds’ or worse for being gifted in or devoted to these subjects. The peer pressure is v. much to do other things, it seems to me. We also seem to be a society that respects gifts in argument and rhetoric much more than substance of fact and weight of evidence, witness recent political ‘arguments’, legalistic arguments within an increasingly litigious culture, etc. etc. Legalistic and political type argument and rhetoric are therefore dominant in nearly all discourse. In this atmosphere (no pun intended), more general truth can get v. easily lost in points of detail. The worse part of it is that since so many people are not trained even at a rudimentary level in how science works i.e. the method and philosophy of it, they don’t have a confident enough background to take the legalistic type approach to argument apart. I would feel an awful lot happier if as many students were studying ‘philosophy, science and engineering’ as degree courses as there are studying ‘philosophy, economics and politics’. The methods are different, and the knowledge claims are even more different. So what do we do about the rhetoric?

    Comment by Nick O. — 13 Jan 2011 @ 1:22 PM

  42. Surely we have more important science to discuss on this site, rather than re-hatching all this old stuff !…please

    Comment by Bill — 13 Jan 2011 @ 1:38 PM

  43. Like Alexandre (#29), I lecture often on climate change and use the blanket analogy for greenhouse gases. Furthermore, I ask high school and middle school students to remember a few years back when they kicked off the excess blankets, then tell them that the planet cannot kick off all the blankets we humans are piling on it. So far, I think they are getting that part. The main problem I see is that many of the present day students are like present day adults, very reluctant to admit there is a problem because then they might have to do something about it. Better to just deny.

    “Denial” is pervasive in present day US society. Not only does it stop action in moving to a more sustainable society but toward a more moral society as well. As a friend of mine in Maine says, “In present day America, to solve any problem we only reach into the closet far enough to get a bottle of ‘Denial’.” My guess is that will change soon and then the “blame stage” will begin. Civil society will be sore tested.

    Comment by Mike Tabony — 13 Jan 2011 @ 1:49 PM

  44. I notice that Pierrehumbert has published an excellent article about the greenhouse effect in Physics Today. Although I think it is beyond the scope of the average journalist, it is written at a palatable level suitable for many engineers, teachers etc.

    I posted something about it on my site.

    This week the BBC broadcast a good Horizon programme about temperature that was presented by comedian/actor Ben Miller who has a physics phd from Cambridge.
    Apparently the idea for the show was triggered by a discussion about climate change that Ben had at a dinner.

    It’s good that more accessible material is being produced, it may take some time, but it is well worth it. I suspect it is going to be a never ending task though!

    Comment by Warmcast — 13 Jan 2011 @ 2:03 PM

  45. “Nick O. says:
    13 Jan 2011 at 1:22 PM

    Much more on topic this time (apologies for previous post)…

    Ben Miller – now a comedian/comic actor but formerly a physics PhD student at Cambridge – did a ‘Horizon’ programme on the BBC on Monday, covering the general theme ‘What is one degree of temperature?’ Part of the problem was to explain why we as a species ought to be concerned with predicted rises in mean temperature which appear to be rather small, maybe only one or two degrees. The whole programme is available for viewing over BBC’s i-player, but look particularly at the bit between 48 mins 28s and c. 51 mins 20, and especially between 50:00 and 51:20, when the stats prof. explains – very neatly and clearly in my view – why such a small rise in mean temps is actually rather bad news. The i-player link can be found on:

    I think this sort of explanation, in just under a minute and a half, can really hit home very effectively, even though the overall programme had a more humorous and self-depracating air about it. Worth a look.”

    Is there a YouTube link or similar to this? iPlayer content from the Beeb cannot be accessed in the US.

    Comment by William Clark — 13 Jan 2011 @ 2:12 PM

  46. Re. #44, William Clark. Oh, sorry William, I didn’t know about this problem (that you can’t do BBC iplayer in the US). I also don’t know how to put a bit up on a Youtube link, but maybe someone else reading in the UK does, and could help re. accessing iplayer in the US somehow …

    Comment by Nick O. — 13 Jan 2011 @ 2:43 PM

  47. RE: #15 and #6 – The “test question” — yes, indeed it is done. And a good reporter will often ask — “Is there something I should have asked but didn’t?” or “Let me review to ensure I understood what we spoke about.” I’m a public affairs officer at NOAA and was a daily newspaper reporter for 13 years earlier in my career. As a reporter, I always welcomed a scientist (or other expert whom I was interviewing) who spent some extra time to make sure I got it right — it was to both of our benefits. In my current job, I continue to be grateful for scientists who take extra time to ensure reporters, as well as I, understand their work.

    Comment by jana goldman — 13 Jan 2011 @ 2:43 PM

  48. In my experience, reporters are usually trying hard to write a good summary but are often red-pencilled by editors who have to assemble a page of conflicting column-inch requirements.
    Compression of non-simple statements by the use of adjectives and adverbs can be mutilated to nonsense by editing.

    Comment by David Beach — 13 Jan 2011 @ 2:56 PM

  49. SecularAnimist #40 I couldn’t help noticing in the first sentence: “…scientists said…” :) Salient points I can take away from this article and bring into discussions:

    1. 4% more moisture in the air since 30 years ago.
    2. “Climate trains the boxer but weather throws the punches”
    3. It’s happening everywhere – South Africa, Brazil, the Philippines…

    I have a question. I think it’s increasingly likely that the weather will soon (how soon?) degrade our energy infrastructure and or basic utilities to the extent that CO2 emissions will plummet. Is there any data/research out there that explores this hypothesis? I had a look at IPCCAR4 but it merely talks about the need to strengthen infrastructure. A massive clean-up effort probably emits a lot of CO2, but if that boxer hits you again while you’re still reeling from the last blow…?

    Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 13 Jan 2011 @ 3:03 PM

  50. Re #46: Please! It sounds very interesting.

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 13 Jan 2011 @ 3:12 PM

  51. Re #6: It should be noted that Andy Revkin still indulges in “balancing” quotes from the likes of Michaels/Christy/Lindzen, and seems to think that Anthony Watts has some value.

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 13 Jan 2011 @ 3:19 PM

  52. BBC Horizon…..Please ! Cant we find something better to talk about ?

    Comment by Bill — 13 Jan 2011 @ 3:32 PM

  53. and for Brisbane ,Australia, look back at the flood records in the 1800’s and dont just look at 30 years to compare with!

    Comment by Bill — 13 Jan 2011 @ 5:18 PM

  54. The problem is that Climate Change is not a normal technology problem. The weight of evidence is clear, it is a problem that in a few years will be irreversible. The Media cannot hope they get it right, it must be right.
    this is not an issue for ‘balanced’ reporting. JDF

    Comment by Joel D. Fedder — 13 Jan 2011 @ 5:27 PM

  55. > anti-vaxers
    It would be most interesting to look back at the many stories about vaccines and autism over the past decade that featured “balance” using people who’d fallen for the falsified research and insisted they believed it so it must be true. What were those reporters thinking, by not paying attention to the long history that had established it was bad fake science?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Jan 2011 @ 5:53 PM

  56. Scott @34
    You are wrong. China is not building more coal plants. They are retiring their old plants, and planning on building 200+ total nuclear
    power plants by 2050. (they currently have 13, with 25 in construction)

    Comment by harvey — 13 Jan 2011 @ 7:56 PM

  57. scott @34

    Wrong, China is in the process of building 200+ nuclear plants by 2050, and retiring all old coal plants.

    The U.S. is being left behind…

    Comment by harvey — 13 Jan 2011 @ 8:02 PM

  58. harvey #57 not according to this book review.
    According to this, they are increasing their energy generation capacity across the board, including fossil fuels as well as renewables. It also paints a grim picture of China’s environment.
    However, the review is long on anecdote and short on data.
    I’m not saying this is a more reliable source of information, but I’m not sure the Chinese govt. is either.

    Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 13 Jan 2011 @ 8:17 PM

  59. #57 China is in the process of building 200+ nuclear plants by 2050, and retiring all old coal plant
    The U.S. is being left behind…

    [edit] China will build about 100 new plants – and generate about 15% of their electricity with nuclear power – same as the current share in the USA. Their wind and solar capacity will be even greater than nuclear – but they will STILL generate about 50% of their electricity from coal.


    Comment by JiminMpls — 13 Jan 2011 @ 8:27 PM

  60. China is ramping up coal plant production. Coal will dominate China’s energy future.

    According to The BBC, China is building two new power plants a week.

    From your own link:

    The US Energy Information Administration predicts that China’s share in global coal-related emissions will grow by 2.7% per year, from 4.9 billion tonnes in 2006 to 9.3 billion tonnes in 2030, some 52% of the projected world total. Total carbon dioxide emissions in China are projected to grow by 2.8% per year from 6.2 billion tonnes in 2006 to 11.7 billion tonnes in 2030 (or 28% of world total). In comparison, total US carbon dioxide emissions are projected to grow by 0.3% per year, from 5.9 billion tonnes in 2006 to 7.7 billion tonnes in 2030.

    Comment by Scott Mandia — 13 Jan 2011 @ 8:30 PM

  61. Re #53 (bill): “and for Brisbane ,Australia, look back at the flood records in the 1800′s and dont just look at 30 years to compare with!”

    Don’t you realize that the catchment was reconfigured (dams etc.) in response to such events? That’s why comparing floods based on e.g. maximum water depth doesn’t work. A number of factors have to be taken into account in making such comparisons. This flood was clearly worse.

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 14 Jan 2011 @ 12:49 AM

  62. On Channel 7 news in Australia (a commercial tv network broadcasting nationally), we’ve just seen an interview with a scientist from the Climate Change Department at (I think) ANU. He was asked about the link between climate change and the current Australian floods and what can be done to adapt.

    He stuck to the topic and made it quite clear that we’ll continue to see rain events with more intense precipitation, and that the evidence is in that this is happening around the world. He spoke only of the impact of climate change on flooding, and the issue of how best to adapt to floods. He did not touch upon the worsening droughts, nor the need to reduce CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, or maybe because if this, I believe this interview would have resonated with a lot of Channel 7 viewers.

    BTW Channel 7 did not have a denier for ‘balance’. When asked what he would say to deniers who say this is part of a natural cycle, he cited evidence of global climate change and said the deniers are wrong!

    Comment by Sou — 14 Jan 2011 @ 12:57 AM

  63. Re: 40 Secular animist. I dont think you still get it. Climate science is a terribly complex have a complex web of interactions in motion between gasses, pressures, temperatures, oceans, solar irradiation, CO2 producing lifeforms etc etc. So if you understand that we do indeed have Climate Change or AGW you will know that that affects “everything” to greater or lesseer degrees. So Yes! the Brisbane and Australian flooding is to a degree caused by CC.. Yes! The floods in Brazil is caused by CC to a degree…Yes! the Massive flooding in Sri Lanka is caused to a degree by CC…Yes the record snowfall in New York is caused by CC to a degree. What scientists are working on is to get a better handle on the quantity of the degree that CC has caused or is contributing to any natural disaster. I dunno..I find this concept pretty easy to get my head around!

    Comment by Lawrence Coleman — 14 Jan 2011 @ 5:37 AM

  64. #38 Radge Havers “The alarmist warnings of reactionary, economic doomists (who failed to predict the current down turn by the way) have no scientific basis.”
    Similarly, the optimism that “the market and new technology” can solve the problem has no scientific basis.
    The practice of neo-classical economics, which is disconnected from biophysical reality, is the cause of the problem of which climate disruption is the most dramatic symptom.
    Except for climate disruption what’s happening now was predicted by the Club of Rome’s “business as usual” model in their Limits to Growth (1972). has the best suss on the situation, in my opinion.

    Comment by Hugh Laue — 14 Jan 2011 @ 5:58 AM

  65. Warmcast #44: Thanks for the pointer. Raypierre has been good enough to put the article on his home site. A nice piece of work that I will read alongside his book, which I bought for summer (now post Brisbane flood clean-up) reading. I’ve been looking for some time for a compact, reasonably comprehensible exposition of the IR greenhouse effect.

    On news reporting: to me one of the starkest facts about climate change is that something like 90% of the extra energy in the system goes into the oceans. How can anyone with even a scant understanding of climate know that and not accept that even a modest 0.8°C warming can have significant effects on the climate – even if the state of the science is not quite there yet to demonstrate an AGW signature for specific events or even patterns of events?

    Perhaps we need to start collecting together relatively simple facts like this to counter denialist memes.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 14 Jan 2011 @ 6:03 AM

  66. Bill #53 when you hear about once in hundred year events on an annual basis, even on a weekly basis, you have to wonder. Here’s a hint: global warming increases the intensity of the hydrological cycle.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 14 Jan 2011 @ 6:09 AM

  67. The Russians are writing what Western scientists say about global warming. It seems the party line has changed. This basic article is all over the place. RIA Novosti is Russia’s official press agency. This article appeared in the Russian language:

    MOSCOW, January 10 – RIA Novosti. Increased global warming will not stop for at least the next thousand years, even if a total ban on greenhouse gas emissions since 2100, and this will lead to melting of glaciers in western Antarctica to the year 3000. This was reported in an article published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Sunday.

    Here is “global warming” in Russian–use the google translation and search “news.”

    глобальное потепление

    I was pretty sure the line would change because the Kremlin does have to deal with floods and fires. People expect to be protected. Russian people were furious about the poor protection from the fires.

    The Russians used to call our scientists liars, but now they are quoting them as well as their own scientists and officials on global warming. Medvedev now says it is happening, and in 2009 he claimed it was a “trick.”

    The Russians claimed the AIDS virus was made by “crafty” Pentagon scientists, but they finally gave that up, too. The KGB even admitted they spread that lie (and told another lie as an excuse for what they did.)

    Comment by Snapple — 14 Jan 2011 @ 6:46 AM

  68. What was true 5 years ago may not be true now.

    It takes time to plan, design and build any sort of energy infrastructure. Plants coming online this year represent the work of the last decade or more.

    According to one of the sources listed above, China’s new coal capacity peaked in 2006. It has come down rapidly since. When I see another source blindly extrapolating the 2006 figure to come up with ludicrous projections for 2030, that’s when I call bullsh*t.

    The situation in China possibly highlights the importance of starting work on slow to build technology such as nuclear power as soon as possible.

    And that’s just what I take away after reading all the sources, instead of picking the one I like best.

    Comment by Didactylos — 14 Jan 2011 @ 7:01 AM

  69. #68–Yes, I think that although coal obviously remains a big part of the Chinese energy mix, and will for longer than any of us here would like, we’re seeing a shift happening.

    The US EIA says:

    . . . coal will continue to dominate the fuel feedstock for the power capacity and generation even as other cleaner fuels increase market share. Coal consists of roughly 80 percent of the power generation feedstock, and the EIA forecasts the fuel will decline to 74 percent in market share by 2035.

    As that’s a growing market, presumably that means a larger absolute number–though the new coal plants will be cleaner in terms of emissions other than carbon:

    [For] the period 2011-2015, China anticipates the country increasing the share of natural gas and other cleaner technologies in the country’s energy mix and close several smaller coal-fired plants that were less efficient and heavy polluters. The NEA announced that the government had met its annual target to remove 10 GW of coal-fired generation from small capacity generators in 2010 and that over 70 GW had been retired overall from 2006 to 2010. In following this trend, the NEA forecasts another 8 GW of coal generation will be removed in 2011.

    As to renewables, the Chinese government has a plan:

    China has a goal to generate at least 15 percent of total energy output by 2020 using renewable energy sources as the government aims to shift to a less-resource intense economy. According to the consultancy EC Harris, in 2010, China is the world’s top investor in renewable energy projects, having invested around $120 billion to $160 billion between 2007 and 2010.

    Not chicken feed. A lot of focus has been on the controversial Three Gorges project; it should be fully online sometime this year, with 22.5 GW capacity.

    Wind is important, too:

    China is the world’s fifth largest wind producer, generating 25 Bkwh in 2009, growing 100 percent from 2008. China’s installed capacity by 2010 was 16 GW according to FACTS Global Energy, and has roughly doubled capacity each year since 2005. However, the lack of transmission infrastructure in this sector has left a significant amount of capacity inoperable. The NDRC aims to increase wind capacity to 100 GW by 2020.


    China’s government forecasts that over 70 GW will be added by 2020. EIA forecasts that China will increase its nuclear generation to about 598 Bkwh by 2035, growing at an annual rate of 8.4 percent and increasing its share of total power generation from 2 percent in 2009 to 6 percent in 2035.
    As of mid-2010, China has 11 operating reactors, 8 new nuclear power plants under construction and another 8 in the planning stage, the biggest of which is a 4.4-GW nuclear complex at Haiyang in Shandong province, set to begin commercial operation in 2014.

    So is the glass half-full, half-empty, or some other proportion altogether? I don’t know. But what’s clear is that China is at least making substantive, purposeful moves to shift their energy economy in the direction of greater sustainability. Some other nations should be doing that, too. . . like the one of which I’m a citizen (Canada.)

    EIA report:

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 14 Jan 2011 @ 8:53 AM

  70. I think the majority of the population, including reporters, is not scientifically astute enough to have a good grasp of why our converting of carbon in fossil fuels to CO2 in the biosphere causes changes in the thermodynamic properties of the earth. Or, how these relatively minor changes in heat content and ocean pH can and will have dramatic impacts on the environment on which we depend. IMHO, the majority never will be.

    It’s a bit like nuclear fission. The physics is simply beyond the average person’s capabilities. If we had never actually set off a bomb, there would probably still be people today arguing about whether or not it was even possible. If BAU continues, things will eventually get bad enough that it becomes just as obvious as a mushroom cloud. (I suspect there is a minority who already see the cloud.)

    In democratic societies, it becomes necessary to convince 51% of the population that there is a serious problem before policy changes will be made. (China doesn’t have this problem, but they are wrestling with the conflict of mitigating climate change and not leaving their population in poverty relative US and European standards.) The best that sites like this can hope for is to push the percentages so that we get to 51% a little sooner than we would have otherwise, and hope that is before we hit an irreversible tipping point.

    Comment by Chris G — 14 Jan 2011 @ 11:54 AM

  71. 68, Didactylos: China’s new coal capacity peaked in 2006. It has come down rapidly since

    Are you saying that the rate of new installation peaked in 2006, and new installation continues at a lower rate? That’s consistent with my reading. Actual coal consumption will continue to increase for decades before it begins an actual decline.

    Comment by Septic Matthew — 14 Jan 2011 @ 2:27 PM

  72. 64, Hugh Laue: Except for climate disruption what’s happening now was predicted by the Club of Rome’s “business as usual” model in their Limits to Growth (1972).

    AND except for all of the other growth that has occurred since 1972, viz. the economic growth of China.

    Comment by Septic Matthew — 14 Jan 2011 @ 2:33 PM

  73. Last night I took a quick look at CEJournal (Tom Yulsman) and among a lot of good stuff was a cite of Keith Kloor’s supposedly excellent article on the constant stream of attacks in comments from both sides with citations of comments from WattsUpWithThat and ClimateProgress. While I’d agree that the comments were similarly offensive, it made me sick.

    One of the WUWT commenters, for example, claiming that CP readers and writers about mainstream climate science don’t know physics … While Joe Romm tends to take the gloves off and has offended a lot of people, it seems to me he has excellent scientific qualifications, while AFAIK Anthony Watts is a former weather presenter. One is a scientist, that is, while the other is an advocate. One reports real data and developments, while the other take these data and developments and digests them until they seem to support the fake skeptic POV.

    While it is poor tactics to resort to insult, I found the cherrypicked comments once again reinforce the idea that the argument is roughly equal, which is simply not true.

    But my real complaint is that this supposed “honest broker” spent real time finding these comments. So if time is a problem, what’s up with that?!!!

    Continuing to promote the argument may be easy and get reader eyeballs, but it is preventing real people from doing real work. It is also preventing readers from getting a grip on the most urgent issue of our time.

    While the infrastructure implodes and people die and lose their homes and livelihoods from stuff that looks remarkably like the consequences of climate change already in hand (Queensland, Sri Lanka, Brazil, extradinary snow in US), Keith Kloor, for whatever reason, is promoting the online argument and giving people an excuse for inaction.

    Comment by Susan Anderson — 14 Jan 2011 @ 2:42 PM

  74. 57, Harvey: China is in the process of building 200+ nuclear plants by 2050, and retiring all old coal plants.

    China is retiring OLD coal plants and building NEW coal plants that are more efficient and less polluting. China is building more of everything: nuclear reactors, commercial aircraft, autos, combat aircraft, hydropower, flood control dams, railways, bridges, roads, solar power, wind power, biofuels, gas and oil pipelines from Central Asia, refineries, computers of all sizes, naval forces, army weaponry.

    The idea that any reduction in coal consumption is underway lacks any empirical verification.

    Comment by Septic Matthew — 14 Jan 2011 @ 2:47 PM

  75. @Septic Matthew:
    The idea that any reduction in coal consumption is underway lacks any empirical verification.

    Comment by Adam R. — 14 Jan 2011 @ 3:16 PM

  76. for reference:

    That’s a summary. The full volume is available if you want to buy it.

    It isn’t the only review of international energy trends (and alternative trends), but all that I have read predict coal consumption in China to increase for decades.

    Comment by Septic Matthew — 14 Jan 2011 @ 3:35 PM

  77. re coal consumption, I found this interesting. Very little discussion about the consequences of going down the long road to extracting every last ounce of fossil fuel, or encouraging alternatives. This attitude is decades old and devastatingly out of kilter. God forbid we should stop subsidizing wealthy interests and their bosses and get on with long-term survival (they should get real – their money will only protect them as climate change ramps up, not when it reaches its accelerating heights)!

    Comment by Susan Anderson — 14 Jan 2011 @ 3:56 PM

  78. re coal consumption, I found this interesting. Very little discussion about the consequences of going down the long road to extracting every last ounce of fossil fuel, or encouraging alternatives. This attitude is decades old and devastatingly out of kilter. God forbid we should stop subsidizing wealthy interests and their bosses and get on with long-term survival (they should get real – their money will only protect them as climate change ramps up, not when it reaches its accelerating heights)!
    (apologies if this comes up a duplicate, missed recaptcha but sometimes it goes in anyway)

    Comment by Susan Anderson — 14 Jan 2011 @ 3:58 PM

  79. The Russian papers are reassuring people that the earth is not headed into an ice age; instead, the Russian papers report that the climate is warming, and the seas are rising.

    The Irkutsk edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda (1-11-11), Russia’s largest-circulation paper, is reporting that the glaciers are melting and that the sea is rising. KP is owned by a company that is run by a guy with Gazprom connections. It reflects the Kremlin line, which seems to have changed (google translation):

    “The most daunting problem with the consequences of global warming – is melting glaciers, which can lead to flooding of coastal settlements. How will this affect the millions of people? Geophysics Valentine Radik and Regina Hock of the University of Alaska decided to calculate the possible options on a computer model, drawing from observation of 300 glaciers from 1961 to 2004. As a basis they have asserted that in the 21 st century because of greenhouse gases the average temperature will increase by 2.8 degrees Celsius. The model is then applied to 19 regions. And here are the results got scientists.

    Until the year 2100 will melt three quarters of alpine glaciers and the water level in the sea will rise by 4 meters by the year 3000 because of melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Moreover, until 2100, the volume of glaciers and ice caps shrink by 15-27 percent, according to infoniac….

    A professor Sean Marshall from the Canadian University of Calgary received the second scenario of future disasters. According to his calculations, the warming will continue for 1000 years. His research focuses on the inertial effects of global warming. Carbon molecules that are expelled by the use of fossil fuels and resulting deforestation can be centuries in the atmosphere before the impact on temperature. Even if humanity can stop this selection until the year 2100, warming will continue. This study is based on the likelihood of increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and as a result, a temperature increase of 3.4 degrees Celsius.

    Comment by Snapple — 14 Jan 2011 @ 5:54 PM

  80. Snapple, you see conspiracy theories, I see incompetence, lazy journalism, and editors building up stories so they can demolish them later. It has been five years since the papers could trumpet “record high year”, so the flip-flop isn’t just temptation, it’s business as usual.

    A week is a long time in journalism. Think how long five years must be.

    Comment by Didactylos — 14 Jan 2011 @ 7:04 PM

  81. An example of a journalist avoiding fake balance when reporting a public announcement known to be untrue:

    “…. This statement is striking for a number of reasons, and …. So I’ve spent the last week trying to figure out why I was so sure I did not believe it the instant I read it.

    So let’s take it apart, shall we? ….”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 15 Jan 2011 @ 4:10 AM

  82. Didactilos–

    I guess you need to be more specific. What conspiracy theory you are talking about?


    That was a conspiracy, and even some UN officials said it might involve Russians.
    It sure looks to me like a classic “kompromat” operation.

    The KGB’s Operation Infektion?

    KGB chief Primakov admitted that the KGB spread the lie in the world’s media that Pentagon scientists made AIDS to genocide blacks. Primakov’s admission was published in Izvestia in 1992. Primakov made this admission at a KGB recruiting lecture at a university.

    During Climategate, the Russian media accused the climate scientists of conspiracies. They were very fast on that story and the theme of corrupt Western scientists was the same as during the AIDS campaign. Russian campaigns against scientists tend to be updated versions of anti-Semitic campaigns: the scientists are depicted as greedy plotters who are trying to rob or kill people. Stalin’s “Doctors’ Plot is a good example. The Communist Party denounced that campaign very quickly when Stalin died.

    Now, the Russian media are reporting on new research in climate science. I leave it to the scientists to say if they got it right. The information is appearing in large-circulation media and in Russia’s official press agency: RIA Novosti.

    In his EPA suit, Attorney General Cuccinelli cited RIA Novosti’s English-language adaptation of a Kommersant article as “proof” that British scientist were not recording Russian weather stations accurately. RIA Novosti is the Russian government’s official press agency. Now the government line has changed, and Cuccinelli has been thown under the bus.

    In 2009, when he visited Tomsk, President Medvedev call global warming a “trick” of some commercial interests; and now he says global warming is happening. Russian and Western scientists are now quoted in the Russian media about global warming.

    The big Russian media are not independent entities, so this seems to be a new political line—but this could move back and forth as they argue about policies. The media are often owned by Gazprom-affiliated people with close ties to the Kremlin. But the Kremlin owns a controlling interest in Gazprom. That’s just how it works.

    When the Kremlin-friendly Kommersant, which is owned by the notorious Gazprom mogul Alisher Usmanov, trashes climate scientists for fudging data and cites Andrei Illarionov’s IEA, that is not just some reporter. That is the official policy of the Russian government. Plus, Illarionov was a Putin adviser and worked for Chernomyrdin–the bureaucrat who turned the Soviet Gas Ministry into Gazprom. Usmanov has an eucation and career that suggest an affiliation with the KGB.

    Russia has a ruling party called United Russia, and Prime Minister Putin is the head of the Party.

    The BBC has a short article that tells who owns what media.

    Comment by Snapple — 15 Jan 2011 @ 5:55 AM

  83. El nino and la nina most likely to blame but surely a climate change fingerprint can be discerned now in the weather of 2010/2011. Indeed if it can then maybe RealClimate can comment accordingly.

    Everyone seems to be going a little bit mad about all the recent weather events in the southern hemisphere.

    Comment by pete best — 15 Jan 2011 @ 6:19 AM

  84. > Snapple
    Has anyone started a ClimateConspiracies blog yet? There are so many.

    As a reader, my suggestion: get it together and put it somewhere.

    Conspirators create many fake stories in which their real one disappears. Scattering claims widely is part of that tactic of confusion.

    Rule One of Database Management: one list, many pointers. I suggest you create your full list somewhere (elsewhere) once rather than repeating bits of it many places, if you want people to distinguish it from the noise.

    Not commenting on your claims, commenting on your placement. Put them on your blog where they can be dissected and documented at length, it’d help a lot.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 15 Jan 2011 @ 11:40 AM

  85. I don’t quite understand what you are saying, but I often have posts on my blog about climate change denialism. As for database management, I can barely get messages off my cell phone.

    As for conspiracies, some conspiracists say that greedy climate scientists FABRICATED global warming to get government grants. Andrei Areshev, a Russian academic associated with a Foreign Ministry think tank that ofteh floats a new political line, claimed that US scientists are CAUSING global warming by beaming “secret climate weapons” at certain countries. After he said that, Medvedev observed that the Foreign Ministry was “insufficiently analytical.”

    Today I write about a clown named Kent Clizbe. He is offering a bounty for any scholar who will rat-out Dr. Michael Mann for his alleged frauds. This was reported on DeSmogblog and also in a Canadian paper that always has conspiracy theories (John O’Sullivan of the Canada Free Press.)

    Clizbe claims he used to be in the CIA in order to have credibility, but he really doesn’t speak for the CIA view at all because the CIA and climate scientists have been working together on climate change in an environmental task force called MEDEA (Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis). This goes back to the mid-90s, and there was just an interesting article about the history of this collaboration in The Vancouver Sun titled “Why the CIA is spying on a changing climate.”

    Scroll to the bottom of my post to get the link to the Vancouver Sun article and other articles about the collaboration between the CIA and scientists.

    I know that the CIA’s MEDEA program even worked with the Russian intelligence–the Director of the CIA John Deutch said that in a 1996 speech. I know the Russian scientists know there is global warming, and now their media is talking about this instead of trashing climate scientists.

    The Vancouver Sun article was written by journalism students at Medill. These young journalism students have written an excellent article about climate change.

    Maybe people should notice this article instead of only noticing ignorant articles.

    Comment by Snapple — 15 Jan 2011 @ 2:26 PM

  86. I’m really disappointed in a lot of the responses from the more “scientific” crowd.

    First, reporters report on more than just “science”. And even if they only report on “science”, there is a LOT of science to report on that isn’t “climate change”.

    Second, not everyone wants to be a scientist. And even if everyone wanted to be a scientist, not everyone wants to be a climate scientist.

    The amount of arrogance on both sides is absolutely unbelievable. This could be a byproduct of how society seems to have become increasingly polarized, but my guess is that it is closer to being a cause of the problem than the effect of something else.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 16 Jan 2011 @ 7:18 AM

  87. The problem, FCH, is that when journalists report on science, what they write is unrecognizable to the folks who are doing the science wrong. There is no understanding or attempt to convey scientific method, and there is no attempt to place the results in the context of previous work or within the theoretical framework.

    I do not think it is arrogance to expect reporting on science to be recognizable to the scientists.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 16 Jan 2011 @ 9:15 AM

  88. #86 – FurryCatHerder. I’m sorry you think there is a lot of arrogance in all this, particularly if you have detected it on the “scientific crowd’s” side. More likely what you are seeing or reading is a deep sense of exasperation on the part of many scientists. On the one hand, we are required continually to strip complex scientific theories and arguments into a few sound bites, maybe just a couple of minutes of interview or air time. That means an enormous amount of simplification and loss of detail. The sceptics then come up with points of detail which we say we have glossed over, or ignored, or underplayed, or misrepresented in some way, so we are forced back into trying to put across a much fuller picture. And then the editors/journalists tell us that’s too long for their news slot, and can we reduce it back to a few main points …? So it’s back to square one, and we seem just to go round and round, getting nowhere, hence at least some of the exasperation. The matter is not helped by the cultural difference in the ways of rhetoric between, say, science and engineering on the one side, and politics and social science on the other, something which I tried to cover in an earlier post. Thus, I would hope that most of the “scientific crowd” try to use argument and rhetoric to present and support matters of fact or observation or well derived theory etc., and respect and progress in the field is achieved, over time, in recognition of how well those observations, theories etc. stand up to scrutiny. In this way, argument is there to serve a deeper purpose, namely to try to discover and explain how the universe works. By contrast, it seems to me anyway that in politics and the media etc., respect and progress are accorded to people who, over time, are good at having arguments and doing well in arguments, even if the factual basis over which they are arguing is actually quite minor or insignificant in the general scheme of things. The skill in this way is not so much how this reflects on any underlying truth, but rather how good is this or that person at being argumentative, or contentious, or at giving an interviewee – a scientist, maybe? – are really hard time in the studio over some point he glossed over trying to turn complex theory and observation into a 40 second sound bite. So much of this different way of working gets taken to the extreme (to sell papers? to provide ‘shock’ stories and headlines?) and looks like argument for argument’s sake, or contestation and contention for the mere purpose of unsettling things rather than clarifying things. V. difficult for scientists to make progress is that sort of environment …

    Comment by Nick O — 16 Jan 2011 @ 9:28 AM

  89. Ray @ 87:

    Uh, the “general public” wouldn’t know a “scientific method” if it bit them in the butt, why are journalists supposed to write in a style, or within a framework, that isn’t going to sell papers?

    Journalists aren’t altruistic people who write news stories for the fun of it, they are typically either employees of a news organization or free lancers who are hoping to sell the story.

    That may be a large part of the problem — most of the Climate Scientists here aren’t producing a product that has to be sold in the marketplace. Maybe that’s what’s needed — an Isaac Asimov or Stephen Hawking style mainstream book that explains Climate Change in a way that isn’t raw numbers and Stephan-Boltzmann equations. While I understood that “Stratospheric Cooling” proved that the lower atmosphere is retaining more heat, it wasn’t something that was presented the first time I saw it in a way that explained =why= it was proof. And remember — studied lots of science on the way to concluding that Engineering is boring!

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 16 Jan 2011 @ 11:40 AM

  90. Here is a really mendacious article on global warming.

    The alleged ex-CIA employee Kent Clizbe is being accorded credibility by a lawyer/writer named John O’Sullivan of the Canada Free Press.

    John O’Sullivan keeps stressing the intelligence/CIA background of Kent Clizbe so that gullible people will believe Clizbe’s claims of fraud against Dr. Michael Mann.

    If O’Sullivan, who is supposedly a lawyer, wants to know the CIA view on global warming, why doesn’t he read what the CIA says right on the CIA website instead of bragging about Kent Clizbe’s apocryphal intelligence credentials.

    Here is what the CIA says about its program called “Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis.” (MEDEA):

    Some climate scientists even have security clearances from the CIA. Clizbe only has Raybans, a vivid fantasy life, and a blog. The climate scientists study the CIA’s satellite pictures of the Arctic thawing and other changes in the earth.

    I think the climate scientists are the real patriots who are trying to help our people and the whole world.

    Comment by Snapple — 16 Jan 2011 @ 12:04 PM

  91. Furry Cat Herder, You seem to assume people don’t want to learn anything. That is not my experience–particularly those people who read science articles to begin with. I think you have to start with a realization that the intersection of the crowd who watches American Idol with that which reads Scientific American is pretty much the empty set to begin with.

    The fact of the matter is that 1)science is interesting, 2)science is powerful, 3)the continued prosperity of our society is predicated on continued advance of science, and 4)it is in the interests of society for people to understand the scientific method even more than it is in its interest to understand scientific facts.

    Asimov and Hawking–and especially Carl Sagan–didn’t popularize science by ignoring the scientific method, but rather by teaching it. After all, it was Asimov who said, “The most exciting words to a scientist are nut “Eureka,” but rather “Huh, that’s weird.”

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 16 Jan 2011 @ 12:15 PM

  92. I caught the 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still the other night. I was stuck by Professor Barnhardt’s statement to Klaatu (the alien who is threatening to simply exterminate the human race if they don’t get their act together and stop threatening to nuke anything and everything they can get get a bead on):

    It is not enough to have men of science. We scientists are too easily ignored — or misunderstood. We must get important men from every field. Educators — philosophers — church leaders — men of vision and imagination — the finest minds in the world.

    Even then, people instinctively knew that when the world was faced with real danger… the scientists would have a hard time getting people to listen.

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 16 Jan 2011 @ 1:10 PM

  93. Re: # (Ray Ladbury)

    I have a nit to pick with your comment. You said:

    I think you have to start with a realization that the intersection of the crowd who watches American Idol with that which reads Scientific American is pretty much the empty set to begin with.

    There’s at least one member of that set.

    Comment by tamino — 16 Jan 2011 @ 1:51 PM

  94. Make that two!

    Comment by Rattus Norvegicus — 16 Jan 2011 @ 2:34 PM

  95. Tamino, OK, present company excepted. You have to realize, in our house we don’t even have a TV that receives digital–and it wasn’t even worth getting a nearly free converter box.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 16 Jan 2011 @ 2:37 PM

  96. 93, tamino,

    I will be expecting an upcoming post on your site on the statistical significance of a panel of three judges selecting the next American Idol, and whether or not we can truly declare, with any degree of confidence, that the winner is, in fact, an “Idol.”

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 16 Jan 2011 @ 2:45 PM

  97. Ray @ 91:

    It doesn’t matter for a single second what the minority of the population who cares about science and wants to do anything about science does or doesn’t do. They are a fraction of the population.

    Until the average person understands that “going green” isn’t a conspiracy, will save them big bucks in the long run, and they have to do it anyway — ain’t gonna happen! And it HAS to happen. So … figure out how to explain this stuff in a way that is understandable and convincing.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 16 Jan 2011 @ 7:11 PM

  98. Back to science reporting, if I may…

    1) Yes, it would be nice if the general population – or, more pertinently, the news reporter’s target audience, understood scientific method. But they don’t. That’s what the denialist lobbyists rely on. They work like advocates in court. They don’t have to be right. Their job is to convice the jury: and they do that with things the jury *do* understand, with the tools most use to take decisions in their daily lives: in short, narrative driven by motivation, reputation and blame.

    2) Sorry, scientists talking to the media need to put a little work into understanding the system they’re perturbing.

    3) The journalist you talk to does not produce the story you see in the end. The journalist has to deal with the sub-editors (copy-editors, in the USA).

    The sub-editors’ job is not just to fix the (frequently appalling) grammar and spelling. The important part is to put themselves in the shoes of the “model reader/viewer” – who must, realistically, be assumed not to know about the particular science in advance. (Even Scientific American and New Scientist have to publish astronomy for zoologists and vice versa!)

    The skill of sub-editing therefore consists in knowing enough about everything to smell a rat anywhere, but being able to pretend to know nothing about anything in order to be sure the story’s readable by the target audience.

    4) The stories that get plaudits from scientists are those in which the journalist tricked the sub-editors into including some accurate statements of the issue, by phrasing them in ways that looked like normal English and avoided tripping the “this will puzzle the reader!” switch.

    5) My advice for talking to journalists, therefore, is to conspire with them to see how much of the story you can get past the subs, working together. *Negotiate* simplifications in plain English that, while not precise, are accurate.

    Comment by feedback — 16 Jan 2011 @ 7:20 PM

  99. What’s most important is not how much information is imparted, but the readers mindset.

    Comment by flxible — 16 Jan 2011 @ 7:40 PM

  100. Re: #80, #87. It’s painful to see see people so brilliant in one discipline discard the analytical approach necessary to succeed in another.

    Consider what’s described in item #1 in Feedback’s post at #98. This same method is available to good guys such as yourselves, if you will discard your wishful thinking about the way the world works or ought to.

    As Feedback states, “Understand the system you are perturbing.”

    Comment by Walter Pearce — 16 Jan 2011 @ 8:09 PM

  101. Walter Pearce and Feedback,
    What you are ignoring is that I have done science journalism–albeit for a technical audience. I’d just like to know
    1)How hard is it to interview 3 mainstream scientists who are experts in the field on which they are reporting?
    2)How hard is it to ask them how the work fits into the context of the field in general?
    3)How hard is it to send the story to the principals you interveiewd to give them the chance to save you embarrassing yourself?

    If I had failed to do any of the above, I’d have been fired. Really, it’s gotten to the point where I just don’t read popularized accounts of science in the press. Their information content is usually less than zero. It was not always so. I used to be able to read popular accounts of science without danger of giving myself a concussion from a facepalm.

    The fact of the matter is that if you think you can get by in a democratic society without understanding scientific method, you are simply an ignorant fool.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 16 Jan 2011 @ 8:28 PM

  102. Furry Cat Herder,
    You cannot explain science to someone who doesn’t have at least a psssing acquaintance with the scientific method, because the scientific method is what differentiates scientific beliefs from religious, political or merely “common sense” beliefs.

    Without understanding the scientific method and why it works, you wind up with the sort of post-modernist crap that looks on science as merely “another way of knowing.”

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 16 Jan 2011 @ 8:35 PM

  103. Flxible #99. So for lefties, frame the message in terms of the need to protect the planet, and for righties, frame it in terms of the investment opportunities.

    Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 16 Jan 2011 @ 9:00 PM

  104. Walter, don’t confuse what ‘feedback’ describes in para. 1 above:
    “… work like advocates in court. They don’t have to be right. Their job is to convice ….” (quite true, at least in the USA)
    with the advice that feedback gives further down — working with the interviewer to get the language in shape to pass those mythical beings, the fact checker, copy editor, and editor.

    The latter is good advice.

    More often though, in reality the person you’re trying to get the story past is the layout person whose job is to fit news into the space on the page that remains after the advertising has been sold and laid out.

    Same approach though — work with the writer, get the words as clear and simple as possible.

    Remember the US literacy level — half the readers read below 7th grade level, and that’s not the 7th grade you were in. It’s today’s 7th grade level. Abysmal.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 16 Jan 2011 @ 9:44 PM

  105. For those unfamiliar with the scientific method, possibly
    is a suitable starting point.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 16 Jan 2011 @ 11:03 PM

  106. On 1-13-11, the VERY DAY that the ridiculous article about “former CIA operative” Kent Klizbe’s pursuit of Dr. Michael Mann appeared in the Canada Free Press, The CIA’s Larry Kobayashi gave a briefing to the Pew Project on National Security, Energy & Climate in Washington D.C.

    Mr. Kobayashi is the director of the CIA’s Center on Climate Change and National Security.

    This speech was only for the media. So far, I haven’t seen any stories about this briefing, and the speech is not posted on their site yet.

    But the Canada Free Press (malignant denialist Tim Ball is one of their editors) was ready and ran with John O’Sullivan’s mendacious story about how “former CIA operative” Kent Clizbe is telling people they can get a financial bounty for denouncing Dr. Mann for fraud.

    It is all fake patriotism, when the real patriot is Dr. Mann.

    I don’t know how these press briefings work, but it seems to me that the CIA and the Pew Center should have posted the CIA official’s written text. They should have anticipated that the denialists would be ready with their own (per)version of the CIA line on global warming.

    This blogger-moron Clizbe beat them out of the gate.

    Maybe Real Climate could get permission to post Larry Kobayashi’s speech. I ALREADY asked permission, and if you don’t hurry, I may scoop you!!

    Clizbe will fool people who trust the CIA because they will believe that the CIA does not accept global warming. Clizbe will anger people who accept global warming because they will think the CIA is against global warming.

    Comment by Snapple — 17 Jan 2011 @ 6:19 AM

  107. Here is more about the John O’Sullivan who wrote the nauseating article for the Canada Free Press.

    This was posted on

    but the author’s site is

    Sunday, January 3rd 2010, 4:43 PM EST Co2sceptic (Site Admin) Hi,

    I work for, a campaign website staffed by dedicated volunteers. We are looking to garner support from you and other like-minded sites in any way you see fit. We seek publicity or other such assistance that you and your readers may be able to give freely to support our latest initiative. We are offering a multi-million dollar legal and financial package as an incentive to whistleblowers from Penn State Uni. who are willing to come forward and give evidence to assist a prosecution of climatologist, Michael Mann.

    Please read our story for more details, it is already being run in the British national press (Climategate: Michael Mann’s very unhappy New Year by James Delingpole)

    Many thanks,

    John O’Sullivan

    Comment by Snapple — 17 Jan 2011 @ 6:50 AM

  108. Ray @ 102:

    Thanks for giving me my spaces :) I really should just sign my posts “Julie” so people aren’t wondering what my name is!

    The problem here is that this isn’t some kind of “technology” where only the “technically” savvy have to get on the band wagon. This is a global problem where even the people who don’t care about the science, and may even lack the intellectual skills to comprehend =anything= about the science are going to have to make life-changes.

    Either the people with the expertise figure out a way for everyone to understand why this is important or else we’re in serious trouble.

    — Julie.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 17 Jan 2011 @ 6:55 AM

  109. Re: #104. I don’t think I’m confused…Feedback can speak for him/herself, but what I took away from points 1 and 2 is don’t brink a knife to a gunfight — understand the nature of the arena you’re in and craft your communication accordingly.

    And, after 30 years in publishing and marketing, your “7th grade” rule is deeply ingrained in my head!

    Re: #101, Ray Ladbury, I share your frustration but why have the denialists have managed to make such progress — they face the same press we do, yes? As good propagandists, they cultivate journalists and understand the audiences they want to reach, while you only have the facts on your side. It’s not enough.

    For a hopeful sign and perhaps some lessons on how to start winning arguments, consider California voters’ November defeat of Proposition 23. Rather than curse voters’ ignorance, opponents got their messaging right and raised the money required to deliver it. That’s the world we live in.

    Comment by Walter Pearce — 17 Jan 2011 @ 8:28 AM

  110. How about this:

    Reporter: OK, why are you calling me about ‘climate science’, do have anything to report?

    Climate scientist: Well, we have some statistics regarding the albedo effect. It could be that increased albedo in the Northern Hemisphere…

    Reporter: Sshhh, professor. This sounds very vague and not like something that is going to sell our tabloids. We’ll call the people working at CERN instead. Bye.

    Climate scientist: WAIT!!!! WAIT!!!

    Reporter: What now?

    Climate scientist: What if I told you to quote me on the following: “the sky is falling!”.

    Reporter: Now we’re talking. Care to give a precise estimate on exactly when this happens?

    Climate scientist: Let me just press ‘run’ on the model. I can make it happen as soon as 2050.

    Reporter: Niiiice round figure. You got yourself a first page, professor!

    Comment by Magnus — 17 Jan 2011 @ 8:54 AM

  111. What’s the usual symbol for CO2 climate sensitivity in an academic paper? I know it’s not β or λ, but I’ll be darned if I can remember what it is.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 17 Jan 2011 @ 10:26 AM

  112. Walter Pearce @ 109:

    I think there are several factors:

    1). CO2 is a trace gas and people say things like “there’s more water vapor in the atmosphere!”, forgetting that it only takes a small percentage increase to be a large amount of energy totalled.

    2). There are people who have religious beliefs that cause them to think we’re not capable of damaging the environment and that the only thing capable of such destruction is their favorite deity.

    3). The climate really =was= much warmer at times in the past, and the CO2 levels =were= much higher. It’s just that we didn’t live then and human beings never lived then.

    4). Despite protests in this forum to the contrary, there really was a “global cooling” scare in the 1970s. See “The Boy Who Cried ‘Wolf'” for how that worked out.

    And that seems to be it — “Even if that’s correct, it doesn’t matter because …”

    — Julie.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 17 Jan 2011 @ 10:28 AM

  113. > there really was a “global cooling” scare
    Well, no, there were a few people talking about the possibility.
    I was there. Trust me, we had plenty to be scared of in that decade.
    That was barely a blip.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Jan 2011 @ 12:32 PM

  114. Walter Pearce,
    Here’s irony for you. I think that one reason why the denialists have been effective in cultivating journalists is precisely because there are so few of them. Since most journalists seem to subscribe to the “middle-way” model of truth, they feel they must talk to a denialist any time they report on progress in climate science. That’s a pretty small rolodex. And when they try to broaden out, they add names like Monckton or “Micro”Watts, who wouldn’t know science if it were biting vital parts of their anatomy off.

    Part of the problem is that they have the wrong model of “balance” in climate science. It is not a matter of whether or not climate change is being driven by humans but of how bad it will be. Talking to Monckton is like finding a flat Earther every time there’s an advance in Geodesy.

    Julie (aka F C H), I agree that scientists need to become better communicators of science. That is always the case. However, there are plenty of good communicators of science if the public would just wise up and meet us half way. There isn’t much basis for discussion if the public views science as just “another opinion”.

    BTW, on the “global cooling” canard. There was never a consensus on that. The folks who thought CO2 sensitivity was low, were worried about aerosol induced cooling. Indeed, that is one of the factors believed to be responsible for the hiatus in warming from 1945-75. The fact that things did not cool more is actually one piece of evidence now in favor of a higher sensitivity for CO2.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 17 Jan 2011 @ 1:09 PM

  115. And, I should add, in the mid’70s I first thought about buying property for the long term.

    I looked up the last ocean high stand and didn’t consider anything below about 400′ elevation.

    I wasn’t scared of cooling, I knew warming was happening by the mid’70s. I An ordinary kid with a little science in me.

    If you were “scared” of “global cooling” I can only suspect you got your science from something like, oh, Newsweek. Bad mistake that.

    Oh, what did I buy? Trees, still standing, turning CO2 into wildlife. Still trying to get good numbers, but I’ve been close to carbon neutral.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Jan 2011 @ 1:22 PM

  116. > multi-million dollar legal and financial package

    Someone should get their exact language in contract form they can’t wiggle away from and publish it. Could well be illegal to make such an offer.

    This is probably meant to sound like a well-financed harassment program (unless paying only on a final conviction after appeal, of course).

    The annoyance is likely what they want to fund, whether it “succeeds” in the legal sense or just uses the legal system to waste time and attention.

    More likely, it’s someone’s attempt to pretend they have money to spend as a threat.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Jan 2011 @ 2:01 PM

  117. #109 – Walter Pearce, your question to Ray Ladbury: “… why have the denialists … managed to make such progress — they face the same press we do, yes?”

    Without wishing to pre-empt Ray’s reply, I would say that for the two groups (scientists and denialists) the main purposes for engaging with the press are different, and the modes of rhetoric to which they appeal or on which they wish to draw are also different. I think this then leads to something approaching a double standard when assessing the impact of the two groups.

    The scientist or engineer wants to get across a fact, or at least our best estimate of the truth. That requires a type of argument that admits to uncertainties but also tries to put across as best as possible a complete overall view, with as much detail as is permitted in the time available. If time is allowed to discuss all the details, including any possibly contrary instances or phenomena conflicting with theory and how these should be considered given our best knowledge, so much the better, as this serves to form the most complete picture. The general aim is for clarity and openness.

    On the other hand, the ‘denialist’ – this is not a term I like to use, I must say, but there it is – is not after ‘the truth’, but rather any point of detail, no matter how minor, that can be used as an excuse to say that the scientist’s whole argument is not only wrong, but a pack of lies or misrepresentations. If he can go further and convince people that there is a conspiracy, so much the better, as conspiracies make such good news stories. On a broader note, however, his general aim is to confuse rather than to clarify, to unsettle rather than to synthesise, and to sow argument rather than to harvest facts. Moreover, since the media generally (but not in toto) comprise people who are rewarded for arguing, and who are encouraged to get other people to argue always and to have a damned good row whenever possible, this puts the scientist at a big disadvantage, on almost every occasion. It also isn’t helped if the scientist is given lots of air time to put across her/his argument more fully, as the cry then is that she/he has been given far more coverage than deserved, and an equally long programme needs to be aired by those holding a contrary view ‘for reasons of balance’, no matter how little serious evidence supports that view, and no matter how much cherry picking goes on to try to back it up. The aim here, then, is to be confusing rather than clear, and to be partial rather than open. Once the denialist has done that, she/he has achieved much: as the saying goes “Mud sticks …”.

    Something like the above, anyway.

    Comment by Nick O. — 17 Jan 2011 @ 2:11 PM

  118. On February 3rd, WWF and Ecofys will release The Energy Report. A report that will show that a planet run completely on renewable energy is something that could happen within the lifetime of many of us:

    Comment by Kees van der Leun — 17 Jan 2011 @ 2:25 PM

  119. Oh, cr@p, such a lawsuit could count as an investment suitable for those who benefit from delay whether they “win” or “lose” on the facts:

    “… The business of lending to plaintiffs arose over the last decade, part of a trend in which banks, hedge funds and private investors are putting money into other people’s lawsuits. But the industry, which now lends plaintiffs more than $100 million a year, remains unregulated in most states ….”

    I guess it’s akin to suing to delay marketing a lucrative product until the patent protection period ticks away.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Jan 2011 @ 2:31 PM

  120. In my area I was always taught:

    Never over estimate what knowledge a reported brings with him, but never underestimate what knowledge a reporter will take away with him.

    Comment by Urban Leprechaun — 17 Jan 2011 @ 6:26 PM

  121. Hunt Janin

    “As a generalist, I’m writing an introductory book on sea level rise. Any advice on how to explain climate change to the educated general reader?”.

    I’m a Londoner. Sea level rise really meant nothing to me until I read a quite complicated (for me)description of sea level rise in relation to the Thames Estuary and the Thames Barrier. I know these places, and throughout the year, and over years. At the back of my mind I know the Barrier is raised occasionally. This is my home territory. Tell me about sea level rise in New York, and I am lost – for I have never seen the water there. I just can’t connect.

    Now you can’t write a book that covers every location in the world, but can you write a book where, if you go down to your local shore line or river bank, that the reader can then be guided to look at the things in their local area in light of sea level rise.

    (One thing I did read was why coastal people should fear a rise of say 150mm. That’s nothing! Until it was pointed out to me that cliffs are stabilised at the present maximum worst condition sea level – so then 150mm is important.)

    Comment by Urban Leprechaun — 17 Jan 2011 @ 6:46 PM

  122. Reporters are always looking for the short story, you can’t print 10 years of research in one interview.

    Comment by Motoare Electrice — 18 Jan 2011 @ 8:22 AM

  123. “We are offering a multi-million dollar legal and financial package as an incentive to whistleblowers from Penn State Uni. who are willing to come forward and give evidence to assist a prosecution of climatologist, Michael Mann.” – Snapple

    I think that should read:

    “We are offering a multi-million dollar bribe as an incentive to liars from Penn State Uni. who are willing to come forward and perjure themselves to assist a prosecution of climatologist, Michael Mann.”

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 18 Jan 2011 @ 8:41 AM

  124. #122–Nothing like plain English, Nick. I should think you’ve nailed it.

    Brings back a good old Shakespearian term to my mind: “bought and sold.” But perhaps there will be a shortage of sellers.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 18 Jan 2011 @ 9:11 AM

  125. It is hard for ordinary people to sort out the authorities from the confidence men when they watch or read the news. I am smarter than the average bear, but it took me a while.

    We have to contend with fake “scientific” organizations that attempt to discredit the science of global warming and climate change. They are financed by the fossil-fuel industry.

    We even have fake “religious” organizations that try to discredit the science of global warming and climate change. They are appendages of the fake science organizations.

    And now, we have “former CIA operative” Kent Klizbe, who is trying to discredit the science of global warming and climate change. All these confidence men exploit our trust in science, religion, and government analysts to trick us, although Kent Clizbe really sucks at it.

    In their promotion of “former CIA operative” Kent Clizbe, The Canada Free Press (Ed. Tim Ball) manages to overlook the fact that many climate scientists work with the CIA to address the problem of climate change. In 1996, DCI John Deutch described a CIA program called MEDEA, which stands for “Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis.”

    Not surprisingly, nothing is mentioned in the DCI’s 1996 speech about passing out butterfly nets and capturing Nobel-winning climate scientists; instead, the CIA had passed out security clearances to climate scientists so they could study information retrieved from national reconnaissance systems that might be relevant to climate change.

    As far as I can determine, Canada Free Press blogger John O’Sullivan’s bounty-hunting sidekick, Kent Clizbe, only has Raybans, a rich fantasy life, a butterfly net, and a blog.

    Unless some secret technology is wired into his Raybans (a distinct impossibility), Kooky Kent Clizbe lacks access to information from the national reconnissance systems that scientists with security clearances have access to.

    Comment by Snapple — 18 Jan 2011 @ 9:20 AM

  126. re multi-million dollar legal and financial package as an incentive to whistleblowers

    Presumably, the financial package in addition to the legal help means one gets some pocket money. What will it mean if no one comes forward?

    Comment by Bibasir — 18 Jan 2011 @ 1:10 PM

  127. I know! I know! Let me tell!

    Ex-CIA operative Kent Clizbe will announce in the Canada Free Press blog that the evil Dr. Mann targeted those heroic whistleblowers with “secret climate weapons” and the TRUTH about the HOAX of global warming, the biggest scientific HOAX of the CENTURY went up in a puff of smoke.

    After all, the Russian government’s Novosti Press Agency—famously cited by Attorney General Cuccinelli in his EPA suit as proof that scientists are lying—also published an article by Andrei Areshev, Ph.D., who claimed that those cunning climate scientists were CAUSING global warming by targeting certain countries with “secret climate weapons.”

    Duh! Don’t you know ANYTHING?!

    Comment by Snapple — 18 Jan 2011 @ 1:32 PM

  128. Re: #117. Nick O., I think you’re spot on regarding the objectives and methods for each group.

    However…How are those meticulous explanations working? Seeing a lot of hearts and minds getting changed in the right direction?

    All I’m saying is, if scientists need to carry a bigger portion of the job (and it’s clear the big failure here is on the part of politicians and other civic leaders in this effort), then scientists need to tailor the messages better, not rely on “good” journalism.

    Comment by Walter Pearce — 18 Jan 2011 @ 3:57 PM

  129. In Re, Global Cooling —

    And here is where “Was not!” / “Was too!” works against getting people to change —

    The more people trivialize what was written in the popular press, the more it sounds like someone is trying to hide something.

    I spent a lot of time in the early 80’s debunking real environmentalist extremists and “was not!” / “was too!” arguments don’t work on me. More to the point, some of the things that were leading to concerns about “global cooling” were =bad= things (particulate matter and aerosols) that needed to be gotten rid of. As the atmosphere has become cleaner, the underlying “warmer forcings” have been able to take hold — and I hope people here can agree with that.

    So rather than “Was not!”, I think an approach that says “Yes, there were factors at work that caused some amount of concern. Those factors needed to be corrected for XYZ reasons, and now we need to correct the things that are driving the climate to a more energetic state.”

    It’s a PR problem, not a science problem. And I think that is what is being missed, especially in the “Was not!” kinds of claims.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 18 Jan 2011 @ 4:19 PM

  130. Julie (FCH), What was written in the “popular press” is irrelevant to the science. Newsweek (or Newsweak, as I call them) is in the business of selling magazines. They’ve never been known for their science reporting. It is simply not correct to say the scientific community “cried wolf”.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 18 Jan 2011 @ 5:46 PM

  131. I am inclined to view comments on how scientists should better inform journalists, help them get the key issues, etc. as rather kind. Does a business reporter expect to be told how the markets work? Would a crime reporter expect a briefing from organised crime on their jargon? The fact that there is a very obvious anti-science campaign is not hard to fathom. I picked up the very obvious similarities between the anti climate science campaign and other science denial campaigns I’ve fought including tobacco and AIDS denial, long before I read Monbiot’s Heat or Oreskes’s Merchants of Doubt, both of which contain hard evidence linking anti-science campaigns.

    Recognising the denial campaign as a Gish Gallop doesn’t require deep understanding of the science.

    The real PR problem is exposing the lazy incompetence of our mainstream media, even “quality” outlets, who have been suckered into false balance, giving cranks equal time or more. Scientists directly involved in the field can’t easily take that on, but the rest of us can.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 18 Jan 2011 @ 5:58 PM

  132. Snapple you don’t have to go over to WUTWT and comment you can do it right here.

    [Response: Yeah, if you keep posting enough, you can probably sneak one through for a few minutes. Nice try. RC is not a forum for denialist stupidity and lies… that’s what Watts’ blog is for.–Jim]

    Comment by bob — 18 Jan 2011 @ 6:03 PM

  133. As an example of how a denialist agenda can be snuck through the journalist/editorial process, look no further than the Australian’s “Imre Salusinszky”, with this gem, titled: Global Warming is dead, let’s move on.

    Imre may claim to be a satirist, humourist, whatever, but he is also a journalist. His piece is highly irritating for its use of fictoids (factoids sans fact) to convey the improbable message of the title. Opinion pieces, including satire, are the way in which the Australian pushs a barrage of one way view of the world, and any notions on how people are part of modern global warming is always to be diminished, contradicted, smothered, lampooned.

    I find some level of sympathy for journalists who have yet to find their feet on a new domain for them – science, and climate science in particular, must be hard slog to get on top of. As the blog joke makes clear. On the other hand, there have been some very good journalists–and still are some very good journalists—who can make a decent effort at conveying scientific ideas with flair, imagination, but above all, accuracy. Imagination comes into it at the point, for example, where a technical term needs general public explanation, and the professor’s attempts just won’t do. Analogy with clear writing still has to get past the editorial process, so whatever trick works must be compelling. News media owe it to themselves and their readership to ensure that newbies have the means necessary for becoming such good journalists in scientific areas.

    Finally, I only just stumbled across this, although it is no doubt already old to the regulars here…as a South Australian living a few hundred metres from the Murray River, I am wondering just how big that big end of the funnel is, and just how narrow the tube (that being the part of river downstream from the floods) is. This whole weather event is reminiscent of the meteorological/climate system explanations of the 1956 floods in South Australia, but with a possibly larger deluge upstream. I wonder if a (preferably South Australian) journalist is interested in getting to the bottom of that…?

    Comment by Donald Oats — 18 Jan 2011 @ 6:54 PM

  134. Oh, Bottom. My previous post missed the link. Should have been:
    “Finally, I only just stumbled across this, although…”

    Comment by Donald Oats — 18 Jan 2011 @ 7:00 PM

  135. If you google Cuccinelli Mann under “news” there are quite a few stories about some politicians who are trying to limit Cuccinelli’s fishing expedition.

    These politicians are lawyers, and they have had enough of him. They said Thomas Jefferson is rolling over in his grave.

    You all might want to add in your opionions because the article says Cuccinelli criticizes Mann’s statistics. I believe that Cuccinelli is using the tainted Wegman Report to make this point. This WP reporter does a good job of explaining what is going on. She follows this story all the time.

    Comment by Snapple — 18 Jan 2011 @ 7:30 PM

  136. re: #131
    Robert Ferguson is a ~one-man show with a website, maybe with a little clerical help, a little funding, most likely from ExxonMobil or Monckton, and the usual cast of “advisors.”
    It’s not even clear that he has a real office.

    But if Bob wants to quote him as President of an Institute…

    See SPPI mentions in CCC, there are plenty.

    Personal opinion: quotes of Ferguson –> Bore Hole.

    [Response: Well it’s interesting in that regard that this “bob” has sent in comments from at least 7 different addresses over the last couple weeks. Update: make that 8.–Jim]

    Comment by John Mashey — 18 Jan 2011 @ 9:37 PM

  137. I went over to see Robert/Bobby/Bob Ferguson’s SPPI in Virginia. It’s nothing but a mailbox in a parcel post at a strip mall.

    Usually science institutes are not housed in mailboxes. The strip mall had a delicious Chinese reasturant and a cute gift store; so, the trip was not a total waste.

    I believe that the Washington “office” of the notorious Robert/Bobby/Bob Thompson— the Florida man who is accused of using a fake Navy charity to steal money from patriotic people and give it to Cuccinelli—is also housed in a mailbox in a parcel post store.

    I will post anywhere I want to. You never know when someone hears something that makes him question his assumptions and realize that he has been lied to.

    I have a degree in Soviet Studies. I appreciate how difficult it is for people to sort out the BIG LIE from the facts.

    The Canada Free Press (ed. denialist Tim Ball) is promoting the alleged former CIA operations officer Kent Clizbe because he knows that many people will assume that the CIA doesn’t accept the evidence of global warming. This is what happens when you read blogs instead of the NYT, Washington Post, and government websites.

    At the same time, this sort of propaganda enrages people who are suspicious of the CIA.

    This newspaper claims to be pro-American, but they are about as pro-American as 5th columnists.

    The denialists must be pretty desperate if all they can come up with is a fake science “institute” housed in an itsy-bitsy mailbox, fake “Evangelical” organizations where the minister claims to have a degree in physics, and a lunatic who announces he is a CIA case officer on the Internet.

    I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. This guy is either a total fake or he was not exactly CIA case officer material.
    Anyone can say he is CIA because the CIA doesn’t usually comment on such things.

    If people want to know what the CIA thinks about global warming, they can read the CIA site and the NYT. The CIA and Pentagon study how to prepare for climate change.

    The head of that CIA guy who heads the office that studies how to deal with global warming is named Larry Kobayashi, not Kent Clizbe. Mr. Kobayashi just gave a briefing to the media at the Pew Charitable Trusts (which is not housed in a mailbox).

    Somehow Kooky Kent Clizbe missed the memo about the CIA and global warming, or he is dishonestly exploits the CIA cache’ to fool people into believing that Dr. Mann should be stalked by CIA operatives.

    In fact, many climate scientists have CIA clearances and study data the CIA records from our national reconnissance means.

    The denialists are so desperate that they posted their goofy story about Kooky Kent on Canada Free Press the very day that an authoritative CIA expert on global warming–Larry Kobayashi–was speaking in D.C.

    Sounds to me like the denialists are scared, and the only “secret climate weapon” at their disposal was was Kooky Kent.

    The CIA briefing was for the policy community and journalists. How come the Canada Free Press “journalists” didn’t attend and report what the CIA said? How come all they have is Kooky Kent?

    Comment by Snapple — 19 Jan 2011 @ 8:03 AM

  138. For the benefit of those who rubbish the idea that there was a “Global Cooling” scare in the 70’s: I still have on my bookshelf “The Weather Machine”, a glossy BBC book based on a “Horizon” special program. The subtitle of the book was “The Threat of Ice” and I can tell you that it was pretty scary stuff, and a lot of scientifically literate people swallowed it!

    This “Global Cooling” meme may have been a minority view amongst the people working in the field at that time, but it was very strongly presented, quite convincing, and for perhaps as much as a decade the idea that we were heading into a new Ice Age was almost taken for granted.

    Comment by Brian Carter — 19 Jan 2011 @ 12:18 PM

  139. I happened across an example of bad communication of good science on CNN

    A woman asks “My neighbor used to eat tofu at least three times a week before she got breast cancer. Is there a link between soy and breast cancer? Is there a potential that I will get breast cancer because I used to eat edamame?”

    The good Dr. Otis Brawley rambles on about the scientific background for 5 paragraphs before finally answering “is there a link” (in the LAST sentence), with a qualified “The Asian diet is high in soy and this is one of the theories as to why the Asian population has low rates of breast, endometrial, and prostate cancer.”

    After three more paragraphs, he finally gets around to a third person passive “It is very reasonable for a person at average risk of breast cancer to eat a moderate amount of soy products, such as tofu, soy butter, soy nuts, and soy burgers, as part of an overall well-rounded healthy diet.”

    I would have answered her starting with the last and likely most important question first –

    “No, you won’t get breast cancer because you used to eat edamame, or because you consume soy and other plant products that contain phytoestrogens. In fact, studies show that Asians, who eat diets high in soy products have lower rates of breast cancer, and lower rates of endometrial and prostate cancer as well. Eating a well rounded, healthy diet which includes a moderate amount of soy products, such as tofu, soy butter, soy nuts, and soy burgers, will not increase your risk, and may help you control your weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for breast cancer, and unlike genetic factors, is something you can control. If you do have other risk factors, keep in mind that most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease – see”

    Then go on to the more detailed explanations of what phytoestrogens do, where they occur in the diet, and why her neighbor’s intake of them was reduced.

    Comment by Brian Dodge — 19 Jan 2011 @ 12:34 PM

  140. searching for SPPI products:,5&hl=en

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Jan 2011 @ 12:37 PM

  141. BPL #111,

    don’t they usually use something like \Delta T_{2 \times CO_2}?

    Comment by CM — 19 Jan 2011 @ 12:51 PM

  142. This “Global Cooling” meme may have been a minority view amongst the people working in the field at that time, but it was very strongly presented, quite convincing, and for perhaps as much as a decade the idea that we were heading into a new Ice Age was almost taken for granted.

    Since it’s used in attempts to discredit science, obviously only the view of those working in the field at the time matters.

    But having been in university at the time, I don’t concede your point. I certainly don’t remember it “being taken for granted”. Not even close.

    Comment by dhogaza — 19 Jan 2011 @ 12:57 PM

  143. finds that mentioned in “The myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus” (TC Peterson, WM Connolley):

    “… landsberg (1976) also took Calder’s book, The Weather Machine, to task, stating that ‘he quotes his favorite scientists at length, and then covers himself by a sentence at the end that there are others with diverging opinions’ ….”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Jan 2011 @ 12:59 PM

  144. Brian Carter,
    Was it peer reviewed?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 19 Jan 2011 @ 1:13 PM

  145. Then there’s this:
    “Calder’s Updates …. He checks predictions of the past half-century, to see how they worked out. And his hand is on the brow of frenzied climatology, as a co-author of The Chilling Stars: A Cosmic View of Climate Change.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Jan 2011 @ 1:15 PM

  146. I’m suprised the more science-literate here don’t pointed out the basics about ice ages and global glaciation when folks get scared of the “threat of ice”. Particularly wrt the geologic time scales involved.

    Why would “scientifically literate people” get excited about the possibility that we’re on the downhill side of a cycle that may take thousands of years to cause problems for human civilization, but not over the [as/more likely] possibility we might not yet have reached the “peak” of interglacial warmth?

    My [illiterate] understanding is we are always in an “ice age”, currently the Holocene interglacial period or [probably] a glacial near-minimum, which will be followed by another period of glaciation [sans AGW permenently perturbing the cycle!], which is not expected for maybe 50 thousand years. I’d think even the remote possibility that we might get a whole lot warmer in just a hundred years or so would be much scarier.

    Comment by flxible — 19 Jan 2011 @ 1:41 PM

  147. #138–

    “. . .those who rubbish the idea that there was a “Global Cooling” scare in the 70′s. . .”

    I don’t think the existence of something you could call a “scare” is in question; rather, it’s the nature of the scare. Yes, some media jumped on it; yes, there was some traction for the scientifically literate layman. (Speaking for myself, I recall thinking “Oh, so maybe the warming Aldous Huxley wrote about in the 50s is off, then.”)

    What is incorrect is the idea of a consensus of climate researchers that a new glaciation was imminent. Some like to promote this idea in order to suggest that all is faddish (and, of course, erroneous) inconstancy in climate science; others (including many here) resent the unjustified slur!

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 19 Jan 2011 @ 1:59 PM

  148. > Why would “scientifically literate people” get excited
    > about the possibility that we’re on the downhill side of a cycle …

    That wasn’t the concern. In those decades, anthropogenic cooling — caused, it turned out, by sulfates from burning fossil fuels — was surprisingly fast.

    Remedy: Clean Air Act: low-sulfur coal and oil; scrubbers on coal plants; catalytic converters on vehicles.

    July 1978: “Popular Mechanics – Vol. 150, No. 1 “… Also proven unfounded was the fear that catalytic converters were filling the air with sulfate and sulfuric acid…. ”

    Hartman, Cummins, Given – 1992 – Technology & Engineering “… catalytic converters…. 5 to 90% of the fuel sulfur is oxidized to sulfate ….”

    Did anyone calculate a climate sensitivity to a given change in sulfate aerosols? That should be doable from volcano events as well as from burning sulfur as a side effect of burning fossil fuel, right?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Jan 2011 @ 2:55 PM

  149. Oh, to be very clear — the reason for controlling sulfates was acid rain, which had become widespread far downwind as collateral damage from the first attempt to make the problem go away by raising the height and ejection speed of smokestacks.

    I don’t recall a connection being made at the time between sulfates and cooling.

    The fossil fuel companies objected to the Clean Air Act anyhow.

    Did anyone notice that the climate system was responding in a twitchy way to the increase in sulfate aerosols at the time?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Jan 2011 @ 2:58 PM

  150. Brian Carter #138 Who do we find as one of the authors of this dramatisation? Nigel Calder, professional Canutist. I’m looking for the whole thing, when I do, I expect to find the above excerpt was cherry-picked to omit opposing viewpoints, but given the author they may have ended up on the cutting room floor already. Still, as evidence of scientists trying to scare people that’s a big fail: Calder is a screenwriter.

    Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 19 Jan 2011 @ 3:14 PM

  151. #107, re: perjury package proposition to smear Mike Mann,

    If I were a self-respecting stone, I wouldn’t allow things like O’Sullivan, Clizbe or Delingpole to crawl out from under me.

    But maybe it’s just a front for something comparatively respectable, like a Nigerian scam. “Thank you for responding to our call for whistleblowers. Please supply your bank details so we can transfer your $12 million share of the recovered climatology grant funds…”

    Comment by CM — 19 Jan 2011 @ 3:39 PM

  152. I have a theory.

    Science is magic, and you can’t teach magic, or get people to accept what you know to be true (i.e. science), because there’s no such thing as magic. So you can’t teach science.

    Most people know Clarke’s Third law, that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    What people don’t realize (what you don’t realize) is that for modern man, living in a complex society which is dominated by technology and science, from kitchen appliances to cars and airplanes to x-ray machines to big flat screen TVs… for people, to any person, science is magic.

    This applies to all of you scientists and engineers out there saying “not me, it’s not magic to me!”

    Yes it is.

    When you go to the doctor or dentist, or the mechanic for your car, or the salesman for a flat screen TV or a computer… it’s magic. You don’t understand it. You don’t. You may understand bits of it, and you may recognize that, like the things you do understand, it is founded on layer after layer of accumulated knowledge, experience, procedures and practices.

    But it’s still magic. All of it.

    Even for Gavin and that computer he works on so feverishly to create/run GCM’s… magic.

    Even for Spencer and those satellites that he works with so feverishly to extract/compile the UAH temperature data… magic.

    Even for Barton and all of the myriad things that he knows and does with his brain… magic, magic, magic.

    And people have an ingrained, ancient, hereditary reaction to magic. They have a species-learned reaction to gods, magic, spiritual powers and everything beyond their control, be it weather, disease, voodoo, bad luck, medicine, science, or that damn pinging noise that the car keeps making and the stupid mechanic can’t hear but you can.

    That reaction is one of fear, frightened respect, grumbling acceptance when necessary, and an instinctive desire to scream at the very first opportunity “ah HA! I knew it! It’s not magic after all! It’s not real, so I can ignore it from now on… ha, ha ha, I knew it!”

    People have done this with religion, magic, superstition, and all of the various flavors of “science” (alchemy, geocentrism, Lamarckism, Darwinism, and more) throughout human history. From the first time people were able to scream at the sky that there was no embittered, angry sun god who had burned the crops dry that year, to the latest discouraging article on climate change, people have been able to resolutely say “I do not believe” because it’s magic, and people innately do not want to believe in magic.

    Certainly they show respect and trust to the priests, shamans, witch doctors, scientists, MDs, dentists, and car mechanics, because they have to. Or rather, they act like they respect and trust them, and then they drive home saying “damn it, that ping is still there! F*&#$#ing moron! He doesn’t know S(*&#$t.”

    If people were totally, truly and completely educated, this would not happen. If people actually knew everything about everything, magic would vanish. All you would have is science, and people would understand and accept and act with rational, intelligent behaviors in the their own best interests as well as those of society.

    But that’s not possible. It is not possible to educate people totally and completely. Not them, not yourself, not anyone.

    So you can try as hard as you want to teach people about climate science. You can try as hard as you want to explain it to the reporter, who will explain it to everyone else, who will read and learn and think… “magic.”

    You can’t destroy magic, because it doesn’t exist.

    Magic is eternal. All you can do is to convince people that they need to trust the priests, shamans, witch doctors, MDs, dentists, car mechanics, and climate scientists. All you can do is to hope that people continue to believe in magic, because the day that they don’t they instead sneer at the damn magician-shaman-scientists, and they shake their fists at the sun god they know doesn’t exist, while the very earth bakes beneath their feet, and their modern, technological, non-magical civilization vanishes from the earth.

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 19 Jan 2011 @ 4:30 PM

  153. BTW, Bob’s correlary to Clarke’s Third Law:

    Any sufficiently complex scientific theory is indistinguishable from statistics.

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 19 Jan 2011 @ 4:32 PM

  154. An ex-science editor of the Guardian has written a good article, based on the talk he’s giving tonight at Imperial College London:

    A manifesto for the simple scribe – my 25 commandments for journalists

    Comment by J Bowers — 19 Jan 2011 @ 6:38 PM

  155. Bob (Sphaerica), The differences between science and magic:

    1)Science does exist.
    2)Science is parcticed by honest men and women who will show you how it works if you listen
    3)Science works.
    4)Sceince is sometimes wrong, but corrects itself
    5)Science is cooler than magic because the more you learn, the more you can apply it to new areas you didn’t understand before.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 19 Jan 2011 @ 8:39 PM

  156. J Bowers #154: I heard the same form a journalism instructor in Chicago many years ago; the only difference was the names of the subway stops.

    Those points of advice summarize many of the key problems with journalism precisely. If the press follows that advice scrupulously, if it never goes beyond that level of detail, the public won’t. And if the public doesn’t, democracy becomes incompetent.

    One fascinating aspect of this sort of journalistic wisdom is that it doesn’t apply to sports reporting, where a tremendous amount of context is regularly assumed.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 19 Jan 2011 @ 9:37 PM

  157. Michael Tobis: “If the press follows that advice scrupulously, if it never goes beyond that level of detail, the public won’t.”

    This remark ignores the fact that for any issue there are publications that supply different levels of detail, and people who become interested then seek out the ‘higher resolution’ reporting. There are also multiple “ways in” for any topic. Take me, for example. I became interested in climatology because I noticed that some politicians were discussing science as though they knew what they were talking about. Now I’m trying to understand Hadley cells.

    Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 19 Jan 2011 @ 10:16 PM

  158. 155, Ray,

    All valid points… but to 99% of Americans, and 99.9999% of the people on the earth, what you consider science is to them magic, and they literally, on an emotional level, don’t understand the difference.

    If you doubt this, there’s this web site I know called… let me see, what was it… oh, yeah,

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 19 Jan 2011 @ 11:31 PM

  159. Bob (Sphaerica) you misunderestimate humanity ;) Seriously, the vast majority of individuals have at least one thing they’re really good at: pitch your science at that and you’ll have a rapt audience every time.

    Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 20 Jan 2011 @ 12:05 AM

  160. Whenever a bicycle part I am fixing finally works after the fourth try, I mutter “I hate magic”.

    Comment by don gisselbeck — 20 Jan 2011 @ 12:18 AM

  161. Bob(Sphaerica) has it right, the vast majority of humanity is almost solely concerned with putting food on the table, secondarily with trying to blank out the unpleasant realities of life, especially those over which they have no control, like living sans petro fuels [which the majority really do anyway]. In the “developed world” they’re otherwise busy dreaming of magically winning a lottery to get out from under their debt load so they can retire at 55. And regardless if they’re “believers” or “deniers”, they’re waiting for science to solve the problem . . . magically.
    CAPTCHA sez: Right Parabl so I had to agree ;)

    Comment by flxible — 20 Jan 2011 @ 1:39 AM

  162. Bob: You quietly dropped the “sufficiently advanced” part.

    People can cope with the basics, if it is explained well enough. Some people can understand a little or a lot more.

    Nobody that I know believes that thunder is made by clouds banging together, or by gods bashing anvils. Not any more.

    And I firmly believe that most people can cope quite happily with the concept of a metaphorical insulating blanket making the world get hotter.

    Comment by Didactylos — 20 Jan 2011 @ 3:10 AM

  163. CM: That’s it! Thanks!

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 20 Jan 2011 @ 5:24 AM

  164. Ray, One Anonymous Bloke,

    I’m not trying to be negative… quite to the contrary, I’m very confident that, despite the struggles and the Watts and the Novas of the world, we’re going to win this one (although it won’t be without some unnecessary cost).

    But I am trying to be realistic, and to choose a strategy that works. I do think that teaching the science is crucial, for whatever small segment of the population is willing and able to learn and understand. No opportunity should be missed to \get the science right\ and well communicated to anyone and everyone who can and will listen.

    But on the flip side, the fact is that WUWT gets millions of eager, ignorant hits a day, every day, week after mind-numbingly ignorant week. This tells me that there is a huge volume of people who will never be reached through science alone. There’s too much noise, and more importantly too much innate willingness to treat science like magic.

    I don’t think the worst denial arguments come from a lack of education and training and rigor of thought (strictly). They come from human nature, which is to over simplify a problem whenever necessary, and then to rather arrogantly assume that one has achieved complete understanding. In this way science becomes magic. There’s a point where one can say \that’s good enough, I like that, I understand it, so… it’s true.\

    [How many times have things been explained clearly to deniers like Rod B., only to have them, in the end, still stick to their original position? I rather think this was a result of evolution. A hundred thousand years ago the guy who over-thought the problem of how to escape the lion got eaten while he was working out the details. The guy who hastily just picked a half-assed way out and went for it lived to have more children.]

    Have you ever heard of Occam’s Eraser?

    Given two explanations for a problem, the one that you can most easily understand is the correct one.

    Or that famous quote from Sherlock Lohmes?

    When you have eliminated the confusing, no matter how probable, what is left must be believed to be the truth.

    This is what many, many people instinctively do. It may be human nature, or it may be a result of a (failed) educational system, but it is what the vast majority of people do.

    Given this, two strategies are needed. Teach when possible, but build trust and respect even more. People have to re-learn to trust science and scientists. With the very first \ah ha!\ moment that occurs in the coming years, and every such moment after, scientists need to be all over the press.

    \We told you the Arctic was going to melt.\

    \We told you that parts of the Amazon would convert to savanna.\

    \We told you there would be more and more severe droughts, hurricanes and floods.\

    \We told you that temperatures would continue to rise.\

    \You just didn’t trust us.\

    But as I said in the original comment… it’s only a theory.

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 20 Jan 2011 @ 7:39 AM

  165. Bob (Sphaerica), The thing is that your characterization of people doesn’t fit with my experience. I’ve found that most people are very interested in science, and will make a real effort to understand it if you can make it interesting for them.

    I once explained the second law of thermo to a massage therapist (no, not that kind!). She said afterwards that she felt like she understood it, but that it made her brain hurt. I’ve explained nacreous clouds to my mother–who has zero scientific background, and I have explained my day job to Ghanaan cab drivers. Now, granted, all these folks had above average intelligence, but I think you can explain science–and even the scientific method–to most people at some level. Many will not grasp the subtleties, but then I know a lot of scientists who don’t grasp some of the more subtle aspects of the scientific method.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 20 Jan 2011 @ 8:50 AM

  166. Bob, I don’t think the problem reduces to intelligence. There are actually smart people who read and even post at WUWT. The problem is that they have chosen to wear ideological blinkers. They refuse to look at the evidence, so it is pointless to try and explain the evidence to them.

    Likewise, I think the problem most journalists have is that it is difficult to wedge the scientific endeavor into the sorts of narrative they learn about in Journalism school without doing serious violence to the truth, and they aren’t willing to put in the effort to a)develop a narrative that works; or b)understand how to adapt the scientific process to an existing narrative.

    And then we have the tone trolls like Stephen@164, who can’t come up with any sort of substantive reply to the criticisms voiced here, so they reject it because we’re all a bunch of meanies and retire to their fainting couch clutching their pearls.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 20 Jan 2011 @ 9:04 AM

  167. Uh, Magnus, what makes you think that the conversations that take place on a blog on the intertubes have anything whatsoever to do with methodology in any field?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 20 Jan 2011 @ 9:33 AM

  168. Ray, you seem to have had some success in explaining it to folks … I’ve been able to with a couple of people, friends who know me and will take the time to listen. With random people, though, I don’t think I’ve ever had any real success. If I happen upon a conversation where people are going, “Oh, global warming, riiiiight,” and rolling their eyes, it seems like no matter what I say, they still end up rolling their eyes, and I end up tongue-tied.

    What do I *say*? How do you approach people that makes it interesting, instead of their eyes glazing over (the alternative to being rolled). Or worse, angry and defensive because you’ve had to tell them that something they believe to be true is a lie?

    Comment by Maya — 20 Jan 2011 @ 10:12 AM

  169. Ray,

    I’ve found that most people are very interested in science, and will make a real effort to understand it if you can make it interesting for them.

    Yes, absolutely, I agree… on a macroscopic, one by one level. But over all, with everything there is to understand, people get lost. They have to draw a line in the sand and say “I understand enough, I just don’t have the time… and it’s giving me a headache.”

    They ultimately trust that the car or TV or computer will do what it’s supposed to do, without totally understanding it. At that point, it becomes magic, and when the salesman tells them there’s no point to buying a $2000 high def TV without a $130 “Monster” cable, they believe them, because it’s all magic.

    (By the way, research and tests show that the dominant factor is by far cable length, and many expensive, shielded cables actually perform worse than cheaper cables. Don’t waste money on expensive HDMI cables, no matter what salesmen tell you.)

    I don’t think the problem reduces to intelligence,…

    Sorry if I gave this impression, but I don’t either. That’s a lot of the problem. It seems to be a habit, or ingrained in human nature, regardless of intelligence. That and hammer/nail syndrome.

    I’ve had too many discussions with very, very, very intelligent engineers who are absolutely certain that they’ve got it all down, to the point of dismissing a lot of things that they should be open to and are perfectly capable of understanding. The fact that they won’t and don’t confuses the heck out of me, because it’s not intelligence, and they couldn’t even have become as educated as they are if they’d lived their entire lives that closed off and certain of themselves.

    So why won’t they listen? Why do they willingly cling to their own bizarre (incomplete) theories of feedback-control systems and (incorrect) applications of the laws of thermodynamics or even their own experiences with trading stocks or statistics?

    [some] journalists… aren’t willing to put in the effort to a)develop a narrative that works; or b)understand how to adapt the scientific process to an existing narrative.

    Actually, I think they would if they could. Everyone wants to do a good job. I think their biggest problems are (1) space constraints, (2) reader attention span constraints and (3) you can never know the background knowledge of the reader, so you have to assume the worst. This makes explaining anything in a single article very, very difficult.

    I don’t blame the journalists much here. Climate science is one of the most varied and intricate I’ve encountered, in that unlike chemistry or physics it doesn’t really build from simple, base principles to the more complex. There are a million different starting points for understanding climate science, each ultimately related, but no one dominant over the others and so a definitive, best starting point.

    a massage therapist (no, not that kind!)

    [I would never even have thought it unless you’d pointed it out. Now I have my doubts.]

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 20 Jan 2011 @ 10:29 AM

  170. Ray Ladbury says:
    Bob, I don’t think the problem reduces to intelligence. There are actually smart people who read and even post at WUWT. The problem is that they have chosen to wear ideological blinkers.

    This is absolutely the problem. As a non-scientist with some understanding of the physics I have tried to help others see the problems with the information regularly posted at WUWT and the other websites. They often refer to these sites as if they are the last vestige of true science where the scientists have not sold out and are willing to stand up against the collective lie. But these are well educated people who should be able to understand. I figure that if they are (as they claim) really interested in the true science, than all I need to do is point out the errors and let them see what is really going on.

    It can take a very long time to bring just one person to the point of being willing to examine the data with a critical eye. And you can get them to the point where they start to see that the data supports what the real scientists are saying. But at that point the result always seems to be the same. They don’t want to see the data any more.

    Just when I think we are nearing a point where they will have to admit that WUWT or another site has purposely twisted the facts, they say “Well, I just don’t want to believe that. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree.” After that point the person will have nothing more to do with you. They will say, I don’t want to hear any more about it. You have made up your mind, and I have made up my mind, and there is nothing more to say.

    In the long run, it is never an argument of science, data, or facts. It is what they WANT to believe. It is addictive behavior clear and simple. They do not WANT to believe what the facts imply, so they simply won’t look any more.

    Comment by Tom S. — 20 Jan 2011 @ 10:31 AM

  171. Maya,

    My own approach which generally works is to not expose too much “belief” in or emotional attachment one way or the other to any particular conclusion. I look for a point of focus where the “target” is confused or uncertain (say how radiation works, or how glaciers work, or how ice core proxies work). I explain that detail and only that detail without necessarily connecting the dots for them (unless they seem open to it), under the assumption that once they’ve learned enough, they’ll on their own reach the same conclusions I (we) have.

    Pick your battles, make a point, and then make a tactical retreat.

    [A personal hero of mine is Nathaniel Greene, from the American Revolution, one of the most under appreciated figures and valuable generals in American history. Without his unique abilities at a particular time and place (the South, 1780 on), we would probably have lost the American Revolution. I bring him up because he basically won the war and never won a battle. He knew how to fight and withdraw, over and over, using different techniques and forces (militia, regulars and guerrilla fighters) to achieve a long term, strategic objective, regardless of the short term results, by focusing on tactical and achievements without succumbing to critically dangerous, strategic weaknesses.]

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 20 Jan 2011 @ 10:40 AM

  172. Ray Ladbury wrote: “I know a lot of scientists who don’t grasp some of the more subtle aspects of the scientific method.”

    I have sometimes encountered extremely intelligent, highly trained scientists online who confidently and fully grasp some field of scientific inquiry outside of their speciality — and nearly everything they imagine they know about it is utterly wrong.

    There may be a sort of “magical thinking” involved. Unfortunately, training in climate science (for example) does not “magically” create expertise in energy technologies (for example).

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 20 Jan 2011 @ 11:05 AM

  173. Didactylos,

    You quietly dropped the “sufficiently advanced” part

    Only because everyone’s threshold for “sufficiently advanced” is different in different things. One man’s elevated CK reading on blood work is another man’s pinging noise in his car’s engine.

    People can cope with the basics, if it is explained well enough. Some people can understand a little or a lot more.

    Actually, I firmly believe that everyone can understand everything, with enough time, effort, and (sometimes, not always) help. I express this to children every day, that they have no excuse not to learn. I go ballistic on my daughter’s friends who try to say “I’m no good at math” or “I’m no good at science.” Everyone is capable of learning everything. It may seem easier for the person next to you, for now, but ten years from now you may find that you have more talent for the more intricate details of calculus than that person next to you who learned his multiplication tables more quickly than you did.

    The reality is that what distinguishes human beings from animals is an ability to learn far beyond our apparent capacity, as long as we don’t sabotage the effort by saying to ourselves “I’m no good at this, it’s like magic and I’m not a magician, so I give up.”

    My only point is that everyone has a point where they just don’t have the time or motivation to learn more. Everyone reaches a point where they must simply trust other people. At some point, on an emotional level, deep down inside they go “this is like magic, shoot, I’ll just have to trust him/them.”

    And with climate science, as wildly varied and complex, as it is, in an environment full of distracting (erroneous) clamor… the great mass of people are going to have to treat it as magic. So one must explain enough to them to achieve some level of understanding, but also of trust. Part of our focus as communicators and “shamans” must also be to cultivate and build that trust, because ultimately it is not merely very, very important, but in fact necessary.

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 20 Jan 2011 @ 11:29 AM

  174. 142 Dhogaza, your memories of the time were of a university environment, but cast your mind back to those days. It was a different world. No internet, computers measured by the roomfull, books were the main source of information, so the Horizon programs and the books that followed them were considered quite authoritative amongst the scientifically literate – do you remember “The Violent Universe” and “The Restless Earth”, at a time when few outside the university environment had access to scientific journals these programs were the nearest we could get to the cutting edge, and they were great productions. “The Weather Machine” featured scientists working in the field and explaining what they were doing and why. We were introduced to concepts like the “snow blitz” theory which I guess might have gone the way of all flesh, but at the time it was exciting and worrying, too. Only those close to the field could have told a different story, and where would that story have been told? You say that only the view of those working in the field at the time matters, but we are talking about how the results of that work were propagated, the “Weather Machine” purported to represent the views of those working in the field, and any controversy certainly didn’t reach the same audience.

    Sure that program has been used to attack climate scientists by people who conveniently forget that the book is over a generation ago and pretty irrelevant today, but that doesn’t change the fact that at its time it had a great impact – I presume you read it?

    Comment by Brian Carter — 20 Jan 2011 @ 2:19 PM

  175. Bob: I go ballistic on my daughter’s friends who try to say “I’m no good at math” or “I’m no good at science.”

    BPL: Now I have a mental picture of crying eight-year-olds cowering under an angry lecture about radiative forcing…

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 21 Jan 2011 @ 5:46 AM

  176. Here is a very interesting article about climate science written by journalism students. I think I posted this before from a different link, but this time there is a video.

    In the video, the head of the NAS, a former CIA chief, a CIA officer, and an Air Force General discuss the challenges they are preparing for due to climate change and global warming.

    I am not a scientist, so I rely on authoritative sources. Sometimes authoritative sources are wrong or lying, but usually when US officials are willing to speak on the record, they are telling you the straight story.

    Certainly science/policy “institutes” housed in parcel post mailboxes don’t appear to be bristling with satellites that record data the scientists are using.

    This excellent video would be good to show as an antidote to John O’Sullivan and Kent Clizbe who are appropriating the authority of the CIA for their crackpot campaign.

    On some other climate blog, I saw a poster criticizing the CIA for Clizbe’s ridiculous campaign to discredit Dr. Mann. This is jumping to conclusions about what the CIA actually says.

    “Journalist” John O’Sullivan and Clizbe could easily google CIA global warming and see what the CIA actually says.

    This article appeared on Jan 10, 2011, and if Clizbe and O’Sullivan were informed about the position of government agencies on climate change, they would have seen this article. I did.

    Perhaps they should be responding to what the CIA really says, since it is so different than what they say.

    Comment by Snapple — 21 Jan 2011 @ 7:15 AM

  177. Brian Carter@174,
    Horse puckey! All that proves is that there was crappy science journalism then just as there is crappy science journalism now. Science had perfectly readable editorials even then that anyone with even a passing understanding could read, and you could find it in just about any library in the country. Scientific American was a good source for the most part–better than today, in fact. Dammit, I was reading Physics Today in High School!

    Most important, though, is that then as now, people needed a comprehension that in science you never rely on a single study or a single paper.

    Look, if you invest your cash based on any single source of financial advice, then you are an idiot. The same goes with science. It is an information-based economy. We either learn to cope with and reliably assess information or we’re roadkill on the information superhighway.

    Same in the 70s, except then you were roadkill on the information two-lane.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 21 Jan 2011 @ 9:16 AM

  178. Secular Animist,
    Speaking as a physicist, a lot of the most arrogant attitudes from actual scientists I see have come from those in my own field. G&T, Claude Allegre, Will Happer… I think that training in physics can sometimes give physicists the misimpression that they can solve any problem. So they wind up solving the problem for the spherical cow. In my mind it this represents a poor understanding of scientific method.

    A big part of the scientific method is understanding that those who are most active in a field will likely understand it best. When in doubt, defer to the experts. Even more, regardless of field, we need to understand that the model is not the reality, but that it provides insight into the reality. We need to avoid the old U. of Chicago joke: “Well, that’s fine in practice, but how does it work in theory?”

    [Response: Good points Ray. Disparaging other science fields for their approaches, or attempting to solve problems with the wrong tools/approaches is usually foolish, because practitioners of various fields usually have good reasons for using the methods they do (which is not to say that particular fields can’t improve by “borrowing” useful approaches/techniques from other fields–they often can, and when they can, they should). In ecology, there has long existed among a certain contingent “physics envy”, meaning, the belief that the science should be entirely geared around a search for various mathematical “laws”, as physics tends to be. Thus we get the frequently raised question of whether or not there are any “laws” in ecology, which has approximately the same usefulness as asking how many angels can sit on the head of a pin. Physicists have good reasons for reducing many phenomena to mathematical formulation, and ecologists have good reasons for employing a lot of basic description and inventory assessment approaches, pattern recognition, correlation and data mining approaches, and multivariate and spatial analyses. The reason is you need those things first if you are to get a reasonably well constrained, probabilistic sense of exactly what in the big wide world is driving what.–Jim]

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 21 Jan 2011 @ 10:17 AM

  179. BPL: Now I have a mental picture of crying eight-year-olds cowering under an angry lecture about radiative forcing…

    Bob’s Daughter: But Daddy, the hockey stick is broken! Everyone knows that… go to my room again? But why?

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 21 Jan 2011 @ 10:33 AM

  180. 177, Ray, what is horse puckey?

    The point about Calder, and whether you think it is bad journalism or not, is that he was not inventing his facts. The facts were presented on the program both in voice-overs to scenes of both laboratory and field work, and in direct to camera pieces. The scientists were telling it, and they told it in their own words. It may have been poor science, but there was no way that the viewer could tell that. Remember, the “information two-lane” (nice phrase!) was a dirt track, at that time it took a couple of years for a text-book to be published, by the time it appeared it was already out of date. Researchers communicated by what I have heard described as the “invisible university”, phones, letters, exchanging pre-prints etc, but that was a highly specific closed group, everybody else, as I said, were at least a couple of years behind.

    Forty years later it is easy to sneer at people for not comparing sources and evaluating the impending ice age meme as poor science, but at the time it was just not that easy. There would be no excuse for it today – there IS NO excuse for it today, but the 70’s were a different world.

    Comment by Brian Carter — 21 Jan 2011 @ 3:00 PM

  181. Brian Carter: I keep trying to frame a suitable answer for you, but I’m finding it difficult because you insist on viewing history from your own perspective.

    That’s nice and everything, but don’t you think it’s a bit egotistical to treat your single data point as some great insight into the past?

    If as you claim, the journalism stuck to the facts (not very likely, but I have no intention of searching the Horizon archives) then there was really very little in the way of scare to be had. Ooooh, there might be another ice age in a few thousand years. Ooooh, it’s overdue. Ooooh, scary.

    People don’t care about global warming after we have actually experienced decades of rising temperatures. I just can’t imagine how much people didn’t care about some far future ice age.

    People aren’t totally stupid. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That’s why the IPCC was formed – to sift and test the extraordinary quantity of evidence and see just what it all adds up to.

    Comment by Didactylos — 21 Jan 2011 @ 4:14 PM

  182. Jim (inline at #178),

    You might take cheer from the biology envy in the humanities (google “literary darwinism”, for instance).

    [Response: Interesting, I’d never heard of that. Wouldn’t call that an example of envy though, which I never take cheer from, being as it is a destructive waste of emotion–Jim]

    Comment by CM — 21 Jan 2011 @ 5:35 PM

  183. Didactylos (nicely appropriate pseudonym!) all I have tried to do is show why the global cooling meme got established at that time, if you have no intention of searching the Horizon archives, as you put it, you are scoffing on the same basis as the denialists. As for scary, who said anything about scary other than you? The snowblitz hypothesis or theory (take your choice) with the idea of a sudden onset of an ice age was only scary if one was led to believe that it was about to happen, the program merely said it had happened and could happen, a different matter.

    Get this clear in your head. I am not a denialist. I am only as sceptical as is healthy, I accept the science so ably presented on this site. All I am doing is trying to show how it was not unreasonable for the idea of global cooling to have got a hold forty years ago, if that is viewing history from my own perspective what is so wrong about that? As one of the people that became convinced for a few years that we were in a period of global cooling, I am part of that history. You are expending your low grade sarcasm on entirely the wrong target.

    Comment by Brian Carter — 21 Jan 2011 @ 6:07 PM

  184. Ray Ladbury wrote: “Speaking as a physicist … I think that training in physics can sometimes give physicists the misimpression that they can solve any problem.”

    Don’t be too hard on physicists.

    It may be that anyone who is accomplished in a scientific discipline that has been particularly successful in its own domain of inquiry, may be vulnerable to developing a certain hubris.

    I once argued online with a scientist who appeared to believe that his particular scientific background enabled him to opine with great authority about natural resource management, the comparative environmental impact of rural vs. urban lifestyles, agricultural systems, urban planning, etc.

    He was a rodent geneticist.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 21 Jan 2011 @ 6:55 PM

  185. Brian Carter, Horse puckey comes out the end opposite where you would normally offer the apple unless you were really kinky.

    I have two points to make:
    1)What a science writer writes about science is utterly irrelevant to scientific truth. What matters is how many peer-reviewed papers are being published in support of a claim or using a claim to understand hitherto unexplained phenomena.
    2)You can get your science news from reliable sources or from second-rate hacks. Calder is of the latter school. He would not recognize a scientific truth if it walked right up to him and said, “Howdy.” He has zero understand of scientific method–and I don’t mean even the subtle parts. So, I ask you: Why, oh why when you have Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan and Brian Greene and Gavin, and Raypierre…would you rely on Nigel Calder to tell you about science?

    Scientific consensus is what determines what is most likely true in science. Second-rate Journalistic hacks don’t get a vote.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 21 Jan 2011 @ 7:25 PM

  186. Secular Animist,
    That’s just it. The scientists who are most successful tend to know the limitations of their expertise. In olden days, I actually got to meet a fair number of Nobel Laureates. I think because they were experts themselves, they tended to respect expertise. By and large, these were not humble men, but they were men who knew their limitations.

    I think it is quite possible to do science without understanding every nuance of the scientific method. I don’t understand how one can miss something as basic as the fact that the experts who publish regularly in a field will tend to understand it best. When I find someone who truly doesn’t understand that, I start to wonder whether maybe it’s their grad students really doing the work.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 21 Jan 2011 @ 7:38 PM

  187. Physicists? Hah!

    [Response: :)

    Comment by tamino — 21 Jan 2011 @ 8:35 PM

  188. 185 Ray Ladbury: Calder wrote the book, but in the program that the book was based on, the scientists told it in their own words, as I clearly stated in post 180, you must have missed that. Now you may think differently about this, but even Asimov and Sagan were popularisers, and in my book scientists telling the camera about their research trumps any populariser, whether it is Calder, Sagan or the good doctor. Incidentally, I may have missed the odd item here or there, but I don’t remember either Asimov or Sagan talking about current climate research in the 70’s so your point seems a little irrelevant.

    It seems ironic to me that people believing what scientists told them in the 70’s media are considered just as wrong as the people not believing what scientists tell them today. Poor Joe Public, he’s wrong whatever he does!

    Comment by Brian Carter — 21 Jan 2011 @ 8:46 PM

  189. Brian Carter, OK, let’s try this again. Try to follow.

    1)It does not matter what some ignorant food tube journalist says about the science.

    2)It does not matter what an individual scientist says about the science, or two or three.

    3)What matters is the scientific consensus.

    4)There was no consensus about a coming ice age in the 70s or the 80s or the 60s for that matter. Asimov and Sagan did not speak out on the issue in the 70s, because there was not a consensus. Asimov did speak out on climate change in 1989, about the time the consensus gelled.

    Now, as I said before. You can get your science news from decent sources or you can get it from crap sources. Hell, you can find idjits on the intertubes that still say we’re headed for another ice age.

    FYI: Newsweak is a crap source. Time is a crap source. Useless News and World Report is full of suck. The BBC sucks in science reporting. Don’t even think about the Wall Street Urinal or Faux News. NPR doesn’t suck, at least some of the time. The Economist is usually good. Scientific American, usually good.

    When I hear someone start with “Scientists say…” I know I can safely discount everything else that comes out of their mouths.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 21 Jan 2011 @ 9:21 PM

  190. Isaac Asimov on the greenhouse effect in 1977.

    Comment by Greg Simpson — 21 Jan 2011 @ 9:50 PM

  191. re: #188 and the thread on the “global cooling scare”. You can call it scary if you want, but you’re just cherry-picking adjectives. In my opinion, “dramatic” is a far better description. Then as now, the media does its best to dramatise science so as to reach a wide audience.

    Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 21 Jan 2011 @ 9:53 PM

  192. Ray Ladbury: 189; Since you have been so kind as to condescend to me, I will endeavour to show that I have followed your kind remarks.

    1) Agreed
    2) Not so sure about that – matters to whom? To the science, I agree, to Joe Public, though, an expert is an expert – and to a scientist out of his field more weight may be assigned to an expert. Nobody put the other side of the story to Joe Public. As for the scientifically literate, well I will return to that shortly.
    3) Agreed
    4) Indeed, but the significance of that emerged later, my concern was to give some impression of the impact of the Horizon program. Incidentally, Sagan was not a household name over here at that time, I read the works of the good doctor, of course, but given the lousy state of science education I learned a lot of my basic science from Gamow.

    In that period I had a subscription to Science and took the publications of the RAS. I glanced at New Scientist and occasionally caught SciAm. Being in industry I had no access to university libraries, to read a scientific journal took a half hour bus ride into the city and a fifteen minute walk to the Central Library, I had to search the card indices for the item I wanted and fill in a request form, then sit and wait until an assistant brought me the requested item. As I worked a five and a half day week and the reference library was closed on Sundays I had Saturday afternoons to do this in, so it didn’t happen every week, but I tried to keep up with the fields that interested me! I only say all this to counter your breezy attitude to keeping up with pukka science, which is somewhat anachronistic, and your apparent belief that when reading papers in the physical sciences I had to move my lips. Oh, just for reference, I was in geotecnics…soft rock geology and foundation engineering. As for the popular resources that you are so scathing about, unlike your good self I never read them!

    Oh yes, “One Anonymous Bloke”, scary as an adjective implies humour, dramatic takes it more seriously. Sure the media dramatises science, but don’t you find science somewhat dramatic in its own right?

    Comment by Brian Carter — 22 Jan 2011 @ 5:25 AM

  193. Brian Carter:

    I’m really uncertain if you are genuinely confused, or you are just trying to take us for a ride.

    The media routinely runs scare stories about what may happen in various extreme circumstances. supertsunami, supervolcanoes, meteor strikes….. all just media hot air. Yes, it *might* happen. The probabilities, though, are minuscule. This doesn’t stop the scientists involved from trying to explain their work. It’s easy to take them out of context, and that’s how the program makers get an exciting show.

    If you were foolish enough to equate such hyperbole with scientific fact, then you were not very “media smart”. You state that you believed the world was in a cooling period. Did it not occur to you that if the claim was real and substantial, then a proportionate response was needed? No. You recognised that it wasn’t an issue, and promptly forgot about it for 40 years.

    No matter what you claim, the global cooling idea had little traction in the 70s. Compared to today’s media coverage of global warming, it was nothing at all.

    The only reason anyone remembers the ice age story is because of a concerted effort to use it as a way of casting doubt on real science.

    I’m not that stupid. I hope you’re not either.

    A clue: scientists are *supposed* to change their minds when new evidence becomes available.

    Comment by Didactylos — 22 Jan 2011 @ 9:58 AM

  194. Brian Carter, A bit of advice: If you don’t want to be ridiculed, don’t take ridiculous positions (e.g that Newsweak or Calder are at all credible on science.) I’m sorry, but you are still digging the hole. Either you did not realize that the sources you were consulting for science news were unreliable (hard to believe given their general unreliability on everything else) or you knew they were unreliable and relied on them anyway.

    There simply is no excuse for not understanding the scientific method enough to realize that only experts who publish regularly in a field have a voice in the scientific consensus of that field, or that the consensus carries more authority than the opinion of any one expert. If Joe Public does not understand that, he’d better wise up quickly.

    The fact is that there was concern over the effects of sulfate aerosols from fossil fuels in the ’70s. This was a very real effect and the concern was warranted. There was no consensus about the magnitude of the effect or the severity of its consequences. To compare that to the present day where 97.5% of experts agree with the consensus is risible.

    And to try to justify that risible position by saying, “But I read it in the papers…”. Please! I can read about alien abductions if I choose the right papers.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 22 Jan 2011 @ 11:09 AM

  195. Didactylos and Ray Ladbury, it seems such a pity that your reading comprehension skills are not up to standard, I really suggest you do some work on them. Try, for instance, reading my posts again and try to see how what I am actually saying differs from what you are replying to.

    Ray, your first sentence is frankly ridiculous. Where do I say either of these things, dammit, man, you are the only one to have brought up Newsweek! You have dealt with so many denialist “strawman” arguments that you are falling into the habit yourself!

    Didactylos, I would dearly love to know what the proportionate response would have been in the 70’s to a cooling world, burn more fuel? As for out of context, as I remember it the scientists were allowed ample time to develope their themes, more than they would be today, I suspect.

    Really guys, the amount of heat that has been generated just because I have tried to give some idea of the impact of a science program in the 70’s, and your lamentable incapability to read what I am actually writing, I quite despair of you. Fail!

    Comment by Brian Carter — 22 Jan 2011 @ 12:17 PM

  196. Brian Carter #192 Scary is a subset of dramatic. Science can be quite dramatic sometimes, but I think inspiring is a better fit to the data :)

    Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 22 Jan 2011 @ 2:07 PM

  197. Brian Carter – Sorry to interject, but I was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 70’s. I was in the humanities, but had to take basic Geology and Botany classes. In both fields, glaciology was a BFD. There was NO MENTION of an immenent ice age.

    I was also somewhat engaged in various political and environmental issues. There was tremendous concern about a nuclear winter and about acid rain. There was even some concern about solar dimming (which was related to acid rain) but noone ever talked about global cooling. Noone. Ever.

    The denialist meme is that “global cooling” was the consensus in the 1970’s. There may have been some pop science articles and TV programs about global cooling, but it was widespread either within or outside the scientific community.

    Comment by JiminMpls — 22 Jan 2011 @ 5:47 PM

  198. Brian Carter: When you truck out an old canard, you should expect all the context to be discussed, even if you want to ignore it and focus only on your own personal recollections.

    Comment by Didactylos — 22 Jan 2011 @ 6:25 PM

  199. Brian Carter,
    Look, Clownshoe, I have also pointed out that Calder is unreliable (Ferchrissake, he wrote “The Chilling Stars). Newsweak is about the only source that was sensationalistic enough to run with the story. Regardless of where you got the story, it was not the position of the scientific community. Period. Is that freaking clear enough for you, or do I have to break it down to monosyllabic grunts?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 22 Jan 2011 @ 7:10 PM

  200. > Brian Carter

    Brought up a program rebutted long ago, about a notion not well supported by science even then, as documented in Connolley et al. Science thriller.
    One-sided presentation of old material, followed by ‘but I was only’.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 22 Jan 2011 @ 7:19 PM

  201. Brian, the other thing you have to remember is how much prior and concurrent 1970s talk there was at the time about nuclear winter.

    People were ‘primed’ for the idea that we could be thrown suddenly into devastating cooling. Journalists are just people, scientists are people too. There was a lot of continuity and conflation of the two separate cooling possibilities. I remember reading a (very badly written) novel about the horrors of sudden cooling and I really cannot remember whether the initiating event was nuclear war or climate change.

    Comment by adelady — 22 Jan 2011 @ 7:41 PM

  202. JiminMpls @197 Interesting! At about the same time as you, I was a grad student at the UW-Madison meteorology dept, with a particular interest in climate studies. I did my M.S. on a paleoclimate reconstruction using tree pollen in lake sediment cores as a climate proxy.

    There was certainly talk in the Center for Climate Research about possible global cooling. As I recall the state of the research at the time, dating sediments was starting to become practical, but good dates (mostly radiocarbon) were still expensive and sparse. It was becoming apparent that Milankovitch cycles could be driving glacial/interglacial cycles. It was also plausible that we were nearing the end of a Milankovitch interglacial, and the LIA could be a precursor to the next glacial downturn.

    (Note: this is a personal glimpse, and not intended to be any summary of the collective state of knowledge at the time, only my own local state of knowledge.)

    At the time, I regarded climate models as little better than a joke. They were mostly two dimensional, and loaded with assumptions that made them tractable on the computers of the day. My own study seemed very dubious, due to the flaky reconstruction method (canonical correlation analysis) that I was encouraged to use. I never published it, beyond my thesis, and switched out of research to become a weather forecaster.

    What a difference a few decades make! I’ve followed the climate science with some interest the whole time, and it’s now solid, fairly detailed, and backed up with all kinds of well-dated paleoclimate proxies. My kudos to the people who stuck with it, while I was dealing with tornadoes and snow storms!

    Comment by John Pollack — 22 Jan 2011 @ 8:06 PM

  203. Brian Carter: I recall that many moons ago Dave Foreman (of Earth First! fame) sent me a book about John Hamaker’s theory that we must immediately remineralize the earth to avoid an imminent ice age (I think Dave was hoping an impending ice age was true so that Mother Nature might take quick revenge on those ravaging her). I can’t recall who wrote the tome (although it still might be somewhere on the bookshelf), and I managed to get through much of the pseudoscience until I got to the point where the author stated that rock dust not only was essential to thwarting the coming ice age, but it also was critical to human health — so he ingested rock dust daily. At that point I informed Dave that I thought the book was a plop of bull pucky.

    That is my memory of “scientists” promoting global cooling in the 1970s.

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 23 Jan 2011 @ 2:21 AM

  204. 199, Ray Ladbury, dear chap, you are already into monosyllabic grunts. Two of them in fact. “News” and “Week”. You really must do something about your fixation on that journal, you are starting to sound unhinged.

    202, John Pollack: That was interesting, did you include any work on coleoptera at the time? This would be about the time Dansgaard was identifying climate variations with his O16/O18 ratios and made his possibly ill-advised extrapolation?

    Comment by Brian Carter — 23 Jan 2011 @ 5:15 AM

  205. #202 John

    I’ll stand corrected then. There was some discussion about global cooling among those studying the climate.

    BUT, was it thought to be an imminent threat or something that would occur in another thousand or few thousand years? Was it tied to aerosol pollution or some other human activity or just a natural cycle?

    I remember concerns about all kinds of threats. Plate tectonics, for example, were pretty new, too. In Geology 101 we watched lots of movies about earthquakes and heard dire warnings about massive earthquakes striking major cities. The threat of The Big One came into general conversations, too.

    As a humanities major, I don’t remember hearing anything about the imminent threat of a new ice age.

    Comment by JiminMpls — 23 Jan 2011 @ 7:09 AM

  206. Brian Carter: Why are you reduced to insulting Ray? Do you really have nothing useful to say?

    So far, I have refrained from pointing out that everything you have said is straight from the concern troll manual. After all, people do sometimes say these things quite innocently.

    But you are really pushing it, you know.

    Comment by Didactylos — 23 Jan 2011 @ 10:31 AM

  207. #205 Jim – no need to stand corrected. What was being talked about within Center for Climatic Research at UW apparently wasn’t even making it over to the environmentally concerned humanities majors.

    What I recall was a lot of uncertainty about the future direction of climate change. We had certainly warmed since the LIA, but global temps had stalled, and local winters were of course quite harsh, contributing to the psychology, if not the research. The models were interesting, but hardly trustworthy. I was impressed that quite a few of the grad student modelers were transfers from math or physics majors, and couldn’t tell you what the weather was doing if they were staring right at a weather map. It was certainly understood that it would take a long time to develop another glacier, not something that would sweep over us in a decade or two.

    As part of my studies, I took a glaciology course. The accepted wisdom was that it would take a very long time to melt an ice sheet. (This was intuitively “obvious” to anybody who had defrosted a refrigerator on a hot summer day, and waited a long time for the thaw.) However, the only heat transfer method seriously considered was conduction – which is very slow.

    #204 Brian – Coleoptera weren’t considered. Not many in lake sediments. Many of the lakes were varved (annual layers)and could be dated cheaply without radiocarbon. Dansgaard’s work was regarded as important, but preliminary.

    Comment by John Pollack — 23 Jan 2011 @ 1:03 PM

  208. Sometimes I think you folks are a bit critical of the media. Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism has been publishing a series of student-written articles in many newspapers about global warming and national security. I think they are very informative, and I told them so.

    You might check out the links here.

    Comment by Snapple — 23 Jan 2011 @ 1:50 PM

  209. Hi,as a non-scientist but a keen student of many disciplines and observer of human behavior, my observation here is that the fear factor is very significant. While it’s true that Americans in particular are ignorant of science (and of most other stuff, but I digress), there is still some underlying respect for it, perhaps a legacy of the 1960’s space program. What I observe most often as I discuss climate change with regular people (I spend a lot of time, usually in vain, trying to raise awareness) is that scientists, who of course are telling the truth, are scaring the heck out of the general public, not intentionally of course, but probably because there is no quick solution in a test tube to make the problem go away. When the (petroleum industry supported) denier community says “don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong” the public heaves a sigh of relief and goes back to happily destroying the biosphere.

    The other factor, of course, is that the problem is too big – many individuals want to act to solve the problem but they as individuals have no easily measurable way to “fix” this, either in their own small efforts or at the ballot box – the task seems unbelievably huge. This helplessness results in avoidance and also leads to denial.

    Maybe the Russians have it right, don’t mention it until we have an answer (that’s sarcasm, I’m not serious).

    What we need to do is find a way to make this palatable and digestible for the average person, and find ways to give them hope. A tall order, easier said than done, but one thing we can do is have more of our scientists engage human to human via the media (You-Tube anyone?), at events and so on. The more we can humanize the messenger, the more the problem can be brought down to a human scale. Real, sincere and truthful explanations, and most importantly, proposed, achievable solutions, will be able to overshadow the lies of self-serving, obfuscating deniers. This is not a solution, but it will help. So, we know you’re busy, but keep communicating.

    Don’t we miss Carl Sagan right now?

    Thanks for this fantastic site.

    Comment by Carolyn — 23 Jan 2011 @ 6:39 PM

  210. An October 2010 survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found that “68 percent would welcome a national program to teach Americans more about the issue.” That’s the good news. Whether or not you see as good news the fact that 45% understand that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere has to do with your perception of glasses as half full or half empty. The way I see it, your target audience isn’t 99 percent of Americans: it’s 6 percent – just enough to make those who understand the basics of AGW into a bare majority.

    Comment by Steve R — 23 Jan 2011 @ 10:12 PM

  211. Why not create venues in which reporters and scientists edit the same article / website? Wikification now! This means not only the creation of a ‘wiki’ but also of the events in which we can meet face to face and strategize about how best to communicate these issues, particularly including the Web 2.0 channels (invading Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and the like).

    Comment by Ron Mader — 26 Jan 2011 @ 3:48 PM

  212. I think I know where “ex-CIA operative” Kent Clizbe may get his information about global warming. Recently I drove out to Haymarket,Virginia to see this science institute I had read about on the Internet; but they must do a lot of really secret work, because I had a lot of trouble finding the Institute even with my GPS.

    I didn’t give up, and I eventually located the science institute. It is run by “Bob,” a mighty wizard who somehow manages to operate reconnaissance satellites and other classified sensors from his “primary” address (mailbox #209 in a Haymarket, Virginia parcel post store).

    It finally occurred to me that Bob’s technology must be highly-miniaturized and invisible to the naked eye.

    Comment by Snapple — 28 Jan 2011 @ 5:35 AM

  213. #213–

    Nice job, Snapple.

    And yes, many of these points were also made in Gwynne Dyers’ Climate Wars, which I summarized/reviewed here.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 28 Jan 2011 @ 9:24 AM

  214. Carolyn,
    I think your diagnosis is spot on. Humans have a regrettable tendency to “turn off” when confronted with a truly frightening prospect–particularly one that is not imminent. This is why pictures of diseased lungs on cigarette packages are not particularly effective anti-smoking propaganda.

    What I think is missing from the discussion is the fact that a carbon-neutral, or even carbon negative society is entirely achievable on a timescale of a couple of decades. And of course, we have fossil fuel interests predicting immediate catastrophe if we try.

    Then, too, the need for global actions plays right into the fears so many Americans have of “global government”. I’ve been wondering lately whether in a wired world we really need global government to get global action. Would it be possible to set up a “game” that people could play all over the world that would implement effective strategies to decrease energy use, sequester carbon, plant forests…? We have a whole generation of gamers all over the world.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 28 Jan 2011 @ 10:11 AM

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