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Communicating the Science of Climate Change

Filed under: — mike @ 12 January 2009

It is perhaps self-evident that those of us here at RealClimate have a keen interest in the topic of science communication. A number of us have written books aimed at communicating the science to the lay public, and have participated in forums devoted to the topic of science communication (see e.g. here, here, and here). We have often written here about the challenges of communicating science to the public in the modern media environment (see e.g. here, here, and here).

It is naturally our pleasure, in this vein, to bring to the attention of our readers a masterful new book on this topic by veteran environmental journalist and journalism educator Bud Ward. The book, entitled Communicating on Climate Change: An Essential Resource for Journalists, Scientists, and Educators, details the lessons learned in a series of Metcalf Institute workshops held over the past few years, funded by the National Science Foundation, and co-organized by Ward and AMS senior science and communications fellow Tony Socci. These workshops have collectively brought together numerous leading members of the environmental journalism and climate science communities in an effort to develop recommendations that might help bridge the cultural divide between these two communities that sometimes impedes accurate and effective science communication.

I had the privilege of participating in a couple of the workshops, including the inaugural workshop in Rhode Island in November 2003. The discussions emerging from these workshops were, at least in part, the inspiration behind “RealClimate”. The workshops formed the foundation for this new book, which is an appropriate resource for scientists, journalists, editors, and others interested in science communication and popularization. In addition to instructive chapters such as “Science for Journalism“, “Journalism for Scientists” and “What Institutions Can Do“, the book is interspersed with a number of insightful essays by leading scientists (e.g. “Mediarology–The Role of Climate Scientists in Debunking Climate Change Myths” by Stephen Schneider) and environmental journalists (e.g. “Hot Words” by Andy Revkin). We hope this book will serve as a standard reference for how to effectively communicate the science of climate change.

106 Responses to “Communicating the Science of Climate Change”

  1. 101
    Hank Roberts says:

    P.S. to John — you did download — and read– the book described at the top of the post already?

  2. 102
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John Burgeson, One way of assessing the credibility and influence of a researcher is to look at their publication record. For climate science, this is an invaluable resource:

    You will note that the Heartland attendees are WAY down the list. This is not because they are industry shills or bad researchers. Rather it is because their prejudice against the consensus science leaves them at a terrible disadvantage when it comes to explaining the climate. The consensus is agreed upon because the ideas it contains are so bloody useful. One of those ideas is the importance of CO2 as a long-lived, well mixed greenhouse gas. One inescapable consequence of that is that humans are responsible for the current warming epoch.

    Enjoy your retirement. BTW, where were you at IBM. I have an Uncle who is also retired from the Boulder branch, and one of the post docs on my experiment when I was in grad school is also an IBMer.

  3. 103
    Bill Hamilton says:

    Are you folks aware of the recent work of Bruce J West and Nicola Scafetta? See
    for a brief summary with references. I know the variations of the irradience of the sun are considered to have a negligible effect on climate due to their small size, but it’s possible these guys have a new approach to analysis that uncovers some previously overlooked effects.

    [Response: Yes we are aware, and no they don’t uncover any overlooked effects. Their approach is simply a single factor statistical fit where they vary the different frequencies to match the observed variance. It has the same physical content as a fourier transform (i.e. none). – gavin]

  4. 104

    To Hank, who posted: “P.S. to John — you did download — and read– the book described at the top of the post already?”

    Yes, I read most of it yesterday afternoon. Great book. I have recommended it in another thread.

    To all — thanks for comments. I am still feeling my way along this site.

    To Ray — thanks for link reference. I worked for IBM from early 1957 through the summer of 1994, in Akron, Cleveland, Endicott, Chicago, Boca Raton and Austin.

  5. 105


    Are you sure that’s all there is to it? Yes, I agree that Scafetta’s claim that he used wavelets doesn’t necessarily add any content beyond Fourier. But they claim to have found a stochastic resonance, wherein a small excitation can lead to a large response. Obviously the temperature increase must be governed by the total input energy — they are just saying the temperature increase needs to be apportioned differently.

    [Response: But this is simply based on statistical fits that are done independently in each frequency. There is no physics there. -gavin]

  6. 106
    Hank Roberts says:

    Good blog on communicating science, here:

    Hat to (always worth reading)
    where he introduces the above link with:

    “Scientists themselves would be the first to agree that portrayals of them on TV and in films are always wildly unrealistic. But then so are most portrayals of musicians, journalists, violinmakers and others whose numbers are so low that most people never meet one. (From a very interesting and amusing (if long-winded) disillusioned account of the whole worthy enterprise of ‘public understanding of science’.)…”