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Advice for a young climate blogger

Filed under: — group @ 9 March 2009 - (Italian) (Español)

Congratulations! You have taken the first step towards attempting to communicate your expertise and thoughts to the wider world, which remains poorly served by its traditional sources of information when it comes to complex societally relevant issues like climate change. Your aim to clarify the science (or policy options or ethical considerations or simply to explain your views) is a noble endeavor and we wish you luck and wide readership. But do be aware that you are dipping your blog into sometimes treacherous waters. Bad things can happen to good bloggers. So in a spirit of blog-camaraderie, and in light of our own experiences and observations, we offer some advice that may be of some help in navigating the political climate relatively unscathed.

Be honest to yourself and your readers. If your aim is to educate, say so. If your aim is to push for more funding for your pet projects, or advocate for a specific policy, be upfront about it. Don’t however be surprised if people spend their time trying to find hidden motives in what you do. There is a school of thought had has decreed that any public speech must be directed towards public action and that there is no such thing as a pure information supply. In the widest sense this is probably true – everyone blogs, writes or speaks out for a reason. However, this is often interpreted as implying that all public speech must be either pro-or-con some very specific proposal. This is nonsense. One can criticize George Will’s or Alexander Cockburn’s misuse of climate science without agreeing or disagreeing or even having looked at their public policy proposals. Of course, the corollary of this position, that any such criticism of your statements must itself be directed at supporting the opposite political action is very rarely appreciated. On the other hand, assuming that criticism of your statements must be politically motivated is usually a mistake. Sometimes that is true, but there are enough exceptions that it should not be assumed.

Know that there are people who will misrepresent you. Climate science is perceived to have political, economic and ethical implications. Most of the what gets discussed really doesn’t have any such implication, but the ‘scientization‘ of political discourse on this issue means that micro-parsing of published work and blog postings is a common practice. Advocates of all stripes (though predominantly those outside the mainstream) will examine whether a new result or comment appears to project onto their particular agenda, and trumpet it widely if it does. The motives can range from specifically political to a desire for publicity or position, though the exact reasons are often obscure and mostly not worth debating. Thus 15th Century tree rings become an argument against the Kyoto Protocol, just as bacterial flagella are whipped into service when discussing the role of religion in public life.

In the specific world of climate-related blogs there are a number of conduits by which misrepresentations gain wider currency. Matt Drudge for instance, spends an inordinate amount of time finding crackpot climate science stories in fringe media and highlighting them on the widely-read Drudge Report. Marc Morano (who we hear is leaving his post as a staffer for Senator Inhofe) is a very diligent reader of the climate blogs (Pielke2, WUWT, RC etc.) and any misrepresentation found there, or criticism that could be misrepresented, will quickly find its way into many email in-boxes. From there, if you are lucky, further misrepresentations might find their way onto the Rush Limbaugh’s show (via Roy Spencer), or Glenn Beck as throwaway lines confirming (to them) the perfidy of mainstream climate science.

Be aware that the impact that you have might be very different from the impact that you think you should have. Over time, if you find yourself constantly misquoted or used to support positions or ideas you don’t agree with, think about why that might be. You will likely find yourself accused of ‘stealth advocacy’ i.e. of secretly agreeing with the misquoters. If that isn’t actually the case, remember that the abandonment of responsibility for your words (i.e. “how was I to know I would be misquoted so often?”) is not an option that leaves you with much integrity. Being misquoted once might be a misfortune, being misquoted more often smacks of carelessness.

Don’t expect the world to be fair. Read Mamet’s “Bambi v. Godzilla“, and in particular the section containing this line:

“In these fibbing competitions, the party actually wronged, the party with an actual practicable program, or possessing an actually beneficial product, is at a severe disadvantage; he is stuck with a position he cannot abandon, and, thus, cannot engage his talents for elaboration, distraction, drama and subterfuge.”

Since you are presumably stuck with a coherent set of ideas, you won’t be able to adopt ten mutually contradictory inconsistent arguments in the same paragraph, or engage in the cherry-picking, distortion or deliberate misquotation. Though it is occasionally instructive to show what you could have claimed if you didn’t have such ethical principles.

Don’t let completely unfounded critiques bother you. If you speak out in the public sphere, as sure as night follows day, you will be criticized. Some criticisms are constructive and will help you find your voice. Many are not. If you are successful, you will start to come across an online simulacrum of you that bears your name and place of work but who holds none of your views, has no redeeming character traits and would be a complete stranger to anyone who has actually met you. Ignore him or her. There are some people who will always be happier demonising opponents than honestly interacting with real people.

Don’t defame people. This should go without saying, but trivially accusing scientists of dishonesty, theft, academic malpractice and fraud pretty much rules you out of serious conversation. Instead it will serve mainly to marginalize you – though you may gain a devoted following among a specific subset. Don’t be surprised if as a consequence other people start to react negatively to your comments.

Correct mistakes. Again, it should go without saying that maintaining integrity requires that errors of fact be corrected as soon as possible.

Realize that although you speak for yourself, if you take mainstream positions, you will be perceived as speaking for the whole climate science community. Don’t therefore criticize unnamed ‘scientists’ in general when you mean to be specific, and don’t assume that the context in which you are speaking is immediately obvious to casual readers.

Avoid using language that can easily be misquoted. This is hard.

Don’t use any WWII metaphors. Ever. This just makes it too easy for people to ratchet up the rhetoric and faux outrage. However strongly you hold your views, the appropriateness of these images is always a hard sell, and you will not be given any time in which to make your pitch. This is therefore almost always counter-productive. This can be extended to any kind of Manichean language.

If you get noticed by the propagandists, wear that attention like a badge of honor. You will be in very good company.

If you get caught in a blogstorm, know that this too will pass. Being targeted like this is not very much fun (ask Heidi Cullen). But the lifecycle for a blog-related kerfuffle is a few days in general, and the blogosphere as a whole has an extreme attention deficit disorder. After finding that your post and followups were all anyone can talk about on Monday, it likely won’t get mentioned again after Thursday.

Recognize that humor is far more effective than outrage. But try and rise above the level of the schoolyard. Think Jon Stewart rather than Rodney Dangerfield.

If all of the above doesn’t put you off the idea completely, welcome to the blogosphere! Your voice is sorely needed.

434 Responses to “Advice for a young climate blogger”

  1. 101

    I had written in 82:

    However, when duBois states that clouds are a net negative forcing…

    duBois responded in 92:

    Actually, I was arguing that clouds were a net positive forcing.

    You are right — I was already thinking of the fact that we believe that clouds are on the whole a somewhat negative feedback.

    If clouds were a negative forcing we’d never have come out of glaciation since an increase in temps would increase cloud cover which would lower temps. Etc.

    There are other feedbacks — ice and water vapor for example — as I pointed out in my comment.

    I would never make it as a blogger since I obviously don’t make myself clear. Sorry.

    I have made several mistakes today — and you just pointed out one of them. Mistakes are part of the learning process — and it is a large part of how science works.

    Participate here. Learn. Then write posts at your own blog if you are so inclined — but try to go over your posts a little more carefully than I apparently go over my comments.;-)

  2. 102
    David B. Benson says:

    Can’t recall on which thread the questiion of the warming/cooling due to variations in TSI over the solar sunspot cycle cam up, but a fairly recent study by Tung & Camp, over the last 50 years of data,(Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2007GL030207) puts it at an (to me astoundingly high) 0.2 K.

  3. 103

    Forgive me for multiple posts — I can’t tell whether the post dialog is being received by you. My question is: Is there any way to start a new topic? To date all I’ve been able to figure out is how to respond to an existing post. It would also be helpful if you would post information on what I should expect when I post: How do I know my post was received?

  4. 104
    David B. Benson says:

    Bill Hamilton (101) — No way here for you to start a new topic. When you send your post you ought to see it with a statement that it is awaiting moderation. At least, I do using Firefox.

  5. 105
    Hank Roberts says:

    > skeptics are motivated by what the fossil fuel industry wants.

    Other search terms will occur to anyone looking for more information.

  6. 106
    Rod B says:

    “Group”, (before I get to the comments), an impressive and insightful post.

  7. 107
    Alan of Oz says:

    Hank @104: Let me first of all say I’m on “your side” but throwing scholar searches around where people will just look at the number of hits may take someone’s eye out. Especially when you practically dare them to come up with what will be seen as counter examples such as IPCC lobbying. See rules 3 & 5 in the article. ;)

  8. 108
    Alan of Oz says:

    RE #102, #103; I also seem to be having trouble seeing the message today (using IE 6.02).

  9. 109
    Alan of Oz says:

    RC editors: testing with FF

  10. 110
    Alan of Oz says:

    RC editors, nope FF 3.0.7 has the smae problem – refresh doesn’t help either. However I can now seem my posts 106, 107 & 108.

    Capctha fourtune cookie; “confusion have” :)

  11. 111


    The Pacific Decadal Oscillation is an oscillation, not a trend — it returns to the mean. Spencer doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  12. 112
    pete best says:

    Anyone can Blog, its all too easy and words are easy too. Ranting and raving is easy as well but talking seriously about the subject of climate and its related subject energy is done by many already and hence yours needs to stand out and get listed somehow because a google search will turn up nothing but everyones elses.

    So you need to write about the things that really matter and why we are potentially in the predicament we are. Lets take a look at some of the issues that really seem to get the deniers screaming.

    CONSENSUS: For some reason the deniers think that scientists work alone and are always looking to disprove everything rather than prove anything therefore the idea of a consensus is fraudulent because science does not work like that. Unfortunately I doubt that science works like that, it probably works both ways, individually and collectively, proof and falsity. Science does not march to the next theory funeral by funeral, it is more complex than that, far more and the laws of thermodynamics are a consensus, Evolution is a consensus as well (although originally devised by one man), relativity also and lets not mention quantum physics for it is too awesome for my laymans mortal hand to do it any justice.

    The other big issues relate to the time it going to take for us all to die from it as an issue (too long for a lot of us to care and for the rest of us we are too young to know any different and cars and aeroplanes are fun), what zero carbon energy alternatives are there that are cost effective and efficient enough to replace fossil fuels without upsetting the political and economics of the day is another big one.

    Stuff like that.

  13. 113
    MJ says:

    This post has some excellent advice. I recently began a climate related blog myself and consider all the items you brought up very important.

    In consideration of your first comment about ‘honesty’, I think it is also important to be transparent. We all have biases and it is important not to behave as if we don’t, but to that end ANY blogger should do their best to support their position with ‘truth’ and ‘fact’.

    I believe it is also essential to source as clearly as possible the basis for any post. I find too often that people write as if they are making statements based on some knowledge, when in reality it may just be their opinion. Or it might be the case it is something they learned in school or over time in their field of research, but forget that folks reading about the topic for the first time or with less base knowledge may not have that same basic understanding. So if in doubt and not meant to be just opinion, provide a source even on some basic concepts.

    Lastly – I think it is important to realize it actually takes lots of time to do it well (kudos to RealClimate on that front). It was not until started blogging that I realized how much time compiling a good post took, much less all the work involved in following comments in a site as busy as yours.

  14. 114
    Mark says:


    How about, instead:


    If someone else can independently repeat your work and get the same result, then there’s something to look at.

    If LOTS of someone elses can repeat your work, then there is a truth being shown.

    Just because lots of people have to get the same result DOES NOT mean it is consensus. It’s far more than that. It’s that anyone can get the same results.


    Consensus can mean that everyone has agreed. And that is what denialists are trying to insinuate by using “consensus”.

  15. 115
    Alan of Oz says:

    RE #111
    An easy to grasp non-specific example of consenus is “the textbook”.

    I prefer “psuedo-skeptic” to “denier”, it helps to clarify what skeptcisim means. You are banging you’re head against the proverbial wall if you don’t sort that one out early.

    Appeal to your protaganists claim of skepticisim and point out a genuine skeptic is first and foremost self-skeptical…

    Political bias in the IPCC? – Ask yourself why 300 odd nations representing the entire spectrum of politics all support it – is Al Gore really that charismatic?

  16. 116

    Mark wrote in 113:


    How about, instead:


    I agree that repeatability is important. However I myself distinguish between a mere consensus and scientific one. In my view, a scientific consensus is evidence based, a result of the interdependence between scientific disciplines that exists as a result of the division cognitive labor between them — as was identified by Duhem’s Thesis, but tacit under normal circumstances. Unfortunately current circumstances aren’t normal.

  17. 117
    pete best says:

    Re #113/114, Got a few spare Earths lying around the repeat the experiment with then? Climate science is not a repeatable science is it. I am sure that Co2/methane/NO etc being a GHG has been demonstrated in the lab repeatably but many other asepects of AGW use measurements (temperatures, precipitation etc) and models (determining cause and effect) in order to predict and forcast future trends but not single events.

    Therefore unless you have a valid alternative scientific hypothosis and a valid experiement or data to differentiate yours from the others (orthodoxy) then denial is a worthless scientific term, it belongs in psychological space and politics.

  18. 118

    Although tangental to the discussion, since the issue of repeatability came, the following may be of interest.


    Repeatability and the “Dichotomy” Between Historical and Observational Sciences

    You might hear practitioners of “historical sciences” refer to their science as “historical,” or practitioners of “observational sciences” refer to their science as “observational,” where one is able to “control the variables” in the observational sciences and experiments are more or less repeatable, but while the distinction has some utility in terms of the division of cognitive labor between “historical” and “observational” sciences, it is by no means a dichotomy, and to treat it as such is proof of the dishonesty or ignorance of the speaker.

    For an example of where it gets applied, you might look at:

    Edwin C. Allison Center for Historical Science

    … a center which is devoted to the “historical sciences” of “paleontology, paleoclimatology, geochemistry, sedimentology and organismal biology.”

    Outside of the lingo of specialized disciplines, there are usually only two sets of occasions in which I hear of the distinction itself: one is when the distinction is being applied only in order to demonstrate that it is not a dichotomy or even particularly helpful, and the other is when creationists use it to try to argue that evolutionary biology isn’t hard science, or that for example, the soft historical science of evolution might argue for life having a natural origin, but hard observational science demonstrates otherwise.

    It has a basis in the philosophy of science, but this is of little more than historical value, much like reading Descartes in a standard philosophy course. For one thing, there is no hardfast dichotomy between observational and historical science: all science is a continuum.


    Difference branches of science use both “observational” (by which the speaker actually means “controlled experimental”) procedures and historical methods: for example, while evolutionary biology might be thought of as essentially historical, we can observe how viruses and bacteria mutate into new species and even affect their environment so as to bring about this change, and may occasionally observe speciation at the multicellular level, particularly in plants, such as the creation of species through an active process of hibridization or polyploidy.

    Likewise, astronomy would seem to be “observational” insofar as we “observe” stars and galaxies, but it generally cannot be performed in a lab, we are usually unable to set up experiments where we control the variables and thus manipulate the object of study, and what we are actually observing is what took place thirteen billion years ago or eight minutes ago in the case of the sun. So in this sense, it would it seem to be historical. But is it?

    At one point the moon was something we could simply observe from a distance — but now it is a place we can visit, we send probes places like Titan or Europa. Moreover, when one says that “observational sciences” make predictions in the sense that they are with regard to future events, these are oftentimes passive in the sense that one does not control the variables as one might in a lab. Furthermore, even historical sciences using “historical” methods make predictions of a sort: postdictions where they predict things which will be found.


    Finally, one should point out that even the term “observational science” is itself fairly misleading, at least to a novice. “Observation” is normally thought of as being passive, but in this context it is being used to refer to active methods rather than passive methods of study, suggesting what is in fact the opposite of what it is intended to imply.

  19. 119
    Mark says:

    Tim #115 “However I myself distinguish between a mere consensus and scientific one. ”

    Aye, but denialists don’t.

    They use consensus and mean merely that everyone has agreed (much like everyone in the Catholic Priesthood has a consensus that God created the universe). Or that there’s a consensus that kids today aren’t respectful any more.

    And therefore “repeatability” is the same thing as scientific consensus but without that “we don’t HAVE to prove it, just all agree it is so” that is available in “consensus”.

  20. 120
    Pat Neuman says:

    My advice for young climate bloggers from Chanhassen, MN is to please disregard the recent comment at the Chanhassen Villager website (repeated below):

    … “The world’s largest-ever gathering of global warming skeptics assembled in New York City from March 8 to March 10 to confront the issue, “Global warming: Was it ever really a crisis?” About 800 scientists, economists, legislators, policy activists, and media representatives reportedly attended the second International Conference on Climate Change at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel.
    For more information, go to
    Submitted by FAdams on March 12, 2009 – 9:36am.”

    Instead, please read about the work by real climate scientists at

  21. 121
    guthrie says:

    Funnily enough the term denier is not a scientific one, it is one used in normal discourse to describe what could probably be whipped up into a phsychological diagnosis. I personally use it for someone who denies either that the earth is warming, or that we are responsible for much of it, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

  22. 122
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I think there is a lot of misunderstanding of the concept of scientific consensus. Scientists never sit down and lay out a consensus. Rather, it is just that some ideas/concepts/techniques are too useful to do without. That is, you simply can’t understand the phenomenon without those ideas. This is the way it works whether you are talking the consensus model of Earth’s climate or the standard model of particle physics.

  23. 123
    Jim Prall says:

    Re #114: The IPCC does indeed include scientists from a wide range of countries. My website has a complete list of the 619 authors of AR4 wg1, with links to their homepage and stats on how widely cited they are; I show sources from 41 different countries on AR4 wg1.

    The exact count is subject to some ambiguities about people born in country A, schooled in country B, now working in country C – there’s some brain drain to the top sites in the US and Europe. The point is that “government funding bias to promote AGW hysteria” seems unlikely to exist across so many different countries, even if you could believe in such an idea in one place. For the U.S., the evidence runs the opposite way, that the Bush White House worked hard to slant the outcome toward “no problem / undecided / just keep studying this”

    My listing also demonstrates that the most highly cited authors are more likely to have served on the IPCC, and also more likely to have signed one or more “activist” declarations such as the 2007 Bali Climate Declaration, the 2008 Union of Concerned Scientists call to action, or the 2003 “State of Climate Science” letter to Congress.

    Conversely, those who signed the “skeptics” declarations such as the 1995 Leipzig Declaration through the 2008 Manhattan Declaration fall very disproportionately toward the bottom of the rankings, among the least-cited or never published names.

    The site is linked on my name above; the URL is:

  24. 124
    Ike Solem says:

    Minor correction, BPL:

    “Will, The Pacific Decadal Oscillation is an oscillation, not a trend — it returns to the mean. Spencer doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

    It’s not an oscillation like a mass on a spring, but rather a wobble or a fluctuation. Sea surface temperature has a large effect on atmosphere-ocean heat exchanges, and warm sea surfaces evaporate more water as well as raising the air temperature, an effect with consequences in the Arctic as well as the equatorial and subtropical Pacific.

    For a decent compilation of such wobbles and their role in North American drought, see this site:

    Notice that those are mostly crude correlations unsupported by detailed models, by the way, but they do appear to account for a lot of the year-to-year variability that climate models miss. The physical basis of the oscillation mechanisms remain highly uncertain, with ENSO being the best understood – meaning that fluctuation (wobble) is probably a more accurate term.

    However, the rising pace of global warming is leading to subtropical drying via Hadley cell expansion, even as the positive water vapor feedback is kicking in – but under hot continental interior conditions, that water vapor is likely to be clear-sky water vapor – but figuring out the scale of the ENSO influence on atmospheric water vapor and temperature is a very tricky topic, see here for more:

    So, why bother blogging about climate? Well, it’s mostly to counter the dishonest spin put out by institution like the Heritage Institute, which can be seen, for example, in Andy Revkin’s NYTimes blog comments by people like Don Easterbrook, an “editor’s selection”.

    But that isn’t the whole story—take a look at the attached satellite image of March 9, 2009 and compare it to the satellite image of June, 2008. Notice that cool water in the Pacific that extends from the equator all the way up the west coast of North America into the Gulf of Alaska is still firmly entrenched. This is the cool water phase of the PDO and it isn’t going to change for at least 2-3 decades (at least it never has in the past) and it is unaffected by atmospheric CO2 as shown by the three PDO switches this century that occurred before atmospheric CO2 increased significantly. What this means is that no matter what the cause of global warming and cooling, we cannot escape the conclusion that the Earth is in for global cooling for the next 2-3 decades.

    Well, that’s blatant nonsense, as explained. However, since I’d already written comment #97, I didn’t have to write the whole thing over again, RC provides a convenient link, so I was able to post this in response, with a link back to RC.

    There you go: how to use blogs and comment sections to get your message across. How did I learn about this approach? Simple – I just watched what the PR experts hired by the American Petroleum Institute do – but instead of linking to bogus PR sites set up by industry lobbyists, I always try to link to the primary literature or to good reviews of it – and that’s an effective strategy, because people really do like clear scientific explanations more than emotive spin.

    In other words, respect the intelligence of your readers – there’s no need to dumb everything down.

  25. 125

    #98 Ryan O

    Thank you for your clarification.

    I must admit that it looked as if you were potentially accusing me of being “untrue”. It is not inaccurate to see that the paragraph infers or insinuates such a possibility by association.

    Your post #53 says you believe AGW is real and you bring up a few points about IPCC predictions, accuracy of models, magnitude of AGW and say you mention excoriation… but this really is a straw man argument. It has nothing to do with relevant understanding of the science in context.

    You are building up the argument of ‘hey, look at those that say those that doubt AGW are told they are ignorant or excoriated and called denialists and cast as individuals who, through deception or ignorance, are actively subverting attempts to minimize man’s impact on the environment. Then you say you are skeptical of IPCC’s predictions and accuracy of model impacts and skeptical of the accuracy of the surface temperature record.

    I think it would be difficult not to see this as a straw-man type argument, but I am absolutely giving you the benefit of the doubt. I do not believe in any way shape or form that you are trying to be purposefully deceptive in any manner of your points. Aspects of your argument, though likely inadvertently, can be interpreted as a red herring in the sense that it uses statements like “Yet I still believe that AGW is real and I strongly support action to reduce the impact of man’s influence on the environment and I have for years.” But I don’t believe you intend it as a red herring. Sometimes red herrings happen simply because of the perspective of the assertion or question.

    For clarity, I do not know your motives, but I am assuming based on what I have read that you are still learning, as are we all. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you are being deceptive. I think you are basing your concerns on your current perspective, and you doubt the IPCC, models, temp record and projected impacts, as stated.

    As to your assertions that I have presented a strawman argument, or an inverse strawman with a Scotsman on top (kinky); that is not my intention in any way shape or form.

    For clarification: “skeptics who are not (directly) connected to fossil fuels”, if that helps. I believe it reasonable to assume indirect connections (see below in this post).

    I am not quoting myself out of context. You translated my words incorrectly. I meant what I said, that people “don’t have enough of the relevant context yet” to understand this global warming event, it’s cause, and its’ potential, generally speaking.

    I must admit, “it irritates me when people ascribe motives to others when they cannot possibly know what the motives are.” I am having trouble with your ‘reaching’ by trying to tie what I said about people not having relevant context to your statement “then this is identical to stating that skeptics unconnected with fossil fuels are ignorant of these facts”. That is not a fair assessment of the statement itself. I did not say they were ignorant, those were your words ‘ascribing motive’ into my words.

    My words were, regarding this context:

    “As to those not connected with fossil fuels that are arguing AGW is not real, that’s mainly because they don’t have enough of the relevant context yet.”

    However, in support of what I think might be your point, generally speaking, many are naive of the relevant understanding of AGW and many are ignorant of the science, by definition, including myself. I seriously doubt that I will ever not lack knowledge or comprehension of some things specified. I can only keep learning more as time allows.

    Again, my point is that having ‘scientific facts’ is not the ‘end all be all’ unless you have relevant context. As I have stated elsewhere, anyone can prove the earth is flat if they limit the scope of their view sufficiently. And I do think some would even go so far as to ignore the factual relevant science for whatever reason, or lack of reason they might possess, foster, or embrace.

    While you are standing by your statement, I think it is a weak stance. The (full) quote does little to add to your point, as it pertains to my point. Connection to fossil fuel, or no (direct) connection to fossil fuel does not change the relevance of the statement “don’t have enough of the relevant context yet.” as it applies to both groups. Hope that helps clarify.

    You also state in your clarification:

    1. It irritates me when people ascribe motives to others when they cannot possibly know what the motives are.

    If that irritates you, does it also irritate you when people misinterpret statements and ascribe motive? Like you do in

    3. As an example, #49 has a conversation with a fossil fuel representative and concludes that the skeptics are motivated by what the fossil fuel industry wants.

    I am not saying, and did not say that skeptics are motivated by what the fossil fuel industry wants. That is simply you ‘ascribing motive’ into what I said.

    Again, my statement was: “those not connected with fossil fuels that are arguing AGW is not real, that’s mainly because they don’t have enough of the relevant context yet”. You simply ascribed a new motive to what I said. But why would you do that? You already stated, it irritates you when people do that?

    Generally speaking, ascribing groups and motive is not improper as such motive is evident in groups. Ever been to a church, or a football game, a political convention, or a climate denial conference in New York? You don’t need to know individual motives, but to recognize that groups can and do have motives, generally speaking. And no, I am not saying that completely overrides individual motive intermingled in cognitive equative thought.

    I do mean that relevant context should be related to scientific facts and/or relevant reasoning related to relevant scientific understanding. Again, facts can be very deceiving when not in relevant context.

    I have a few questions for you:

    1. Do you believe that oil companies have a profit motive for their actions?

    2. Or do you think they are more altruistic in nature?

    and if you do think they are interested in, or even motivated by profit,

    3. do you have difficulty in connecting the potential connection between said profit, and obfuscation in matters of climate change?

    Hank made a point in #104 that has relevance in my opinion, even though it might take someone’s eye out ;) . There are actually lobbyists out their lobbying (yes, on both sides re. #106), and the arguments I hear often are regurgitation’s of what the lobbyists are stating. Hence education regarding the relevant scientific facts and understanding in context is important.

    Can you reasonably deny such connections both in potential and factual? Generally speaking, it is more than plausible and reasonable to assume that the fossil fuel industry, the lobbyists, the message promoted, the denialist web sites, and the regurgitated propaganda are connected in one, or more ways.

    I had a talk with a particular mayor about global warming and he regurgitated the standard RNC rhetoric (which I have a copy of). Precise phrases and arguments right out of the RNC publication on how to make your political stand on ‘climate change’ (they have been advised not to use the term ‘global warming’ due to it’s more inflammatory recognition). When I speak with denialists, they often say things that are boilerplate stuff from denial websites. Are you trying to get the point across that these are not connected in any way?

  26. 126
    Alan of Oz says:

    Pete, I don’t have any spare Earth’s lying around my workshop, so I suggest you enquire elsewhere.

    Repeatability: Do you ever take the advise of a doctor? Do you demand they perform experiments on a Pete Best clone before handing you a script for antibiotics? Do you swallow said anti-biotics in the expectation they will probably save your life?

    Certainty of predictions: No amount of experimentation, theory, philosophy or anything else you can think of will make it a certainty the sun will rise tomorrow but it’s a bet I’m willing to take.

    Computer models: Surely someone with such intimate knowledge of computer models realises the computer chips they are using to post would be impossible to design without the use of computer models.

    Science is a MODEL of the Universe based on two minimalistic articles of FAITH that roughly stated are:

    1. The real world exists even if I don’t.
    2. Other beings inhabit said real world with whom I can compare my observations.

    It seems that our observations are currently contradictory since I do not see where I have claimed anything about predicting single events?

    I do agree with one thing you say, “denial is a worthless scientific term”. However again my observation clashes with yours because I don’t see where I claimed it was otherwise?

    My use of the term psuedo-skeptic is directly aimed at those who’s phycological makeup allows their politics, religion, hip pocket nerve, etc to define their science. Is not countering that worldview what much of the advise in the article is about?

    Just in case you missed it. My whole point was that it’s no use babbling about this experiment or that result to the man in the street unless he first understands the meaning of skepticisim and why the philosphy of science is unique.

  27. 127
    Alan of Oz says:

    Re #122
    Jim, nice work, I can see a good deal of effort has gone into it and have bookmarked it.

    Something I hear more and more these days is that the IPCC scientists are “in it for the money”. I have seen some of the comments from the IPCC authors here and recognise they get nada in the way of remuneration.

    I had a quick sniff around the IPCC site and found their total expenditure for 2007 was about $US5.5 million, even taking the argument at face value says that’s a little over $2K each when divided amoung 2500 scientists – way to get rich huh?

    To do so much with so little is an increadible achievement but it would be nice to see a succinct page on the IPCC site spelling this out in better detail and thanking the authors/contributors for donating their time and effort.

  28. 128

    pete best wrote in 116:

    Re #113/115, Got a few spare Earths lying around the repeat the experiment with then? Climate science is not a repeatable science is it. I am sure that Co2/methane/NO etc being a GHG has been demonstrated in the lab repeatably but many other asepects of AGW use measurements (temperatures, precipitation etc) and models (determining cause and effect) in order to predict and forcast future trends but not single events.

    Agreed, climatology (and evolutionary biology for that matter) are typically not repeatable, although both have some elements of repeatability. And as such, I would say that “repeatability” (to varying degrees) is important but not essential.

    Please see my “comment” 117 on repeatability and the distinction between historical and observational sciences.

    Then again, in a certain sense, no experiment is completely repeatable insofar as any experiment must necessarily take place at given time and place which will necessarily be different from any attempt to “repeat” it, and thus there is always the possibility that certain unknown factors will be involved that are unique to that experiment. But I believe this is in part what you were suggesting (at least with respect to climatology) when you spoke of predicting future trends rather than single events.

  29. 129
    Hank Roberts says:

    Consensus statements are made by scientific groups routinely on matters that affect the public.

    Public Health is one example:

    Climate change: the public health response
    H Frumkin, J Hess, G Luber, J Malilay, M McGeehin – American Journal of Public Health, 2008 – Am Public Health Assoc
    … There is scientific consensus that the global climate is … et al., begin with a statement
    that prima … attention to climate change: “Public health should address …
    Cited by 12

    Climate change and human health: present and future risks – ► [PDF]
    AJ McMichael, RE Woodruff, S Hales – The Lancet, 2006
    … There is near unanimous scientific consensus that the rising … conditions and by the robustness of public health defences. …
    Cited by 490

  30. 130

    Ray Ladbury wrote in 121:

    I think there is a lot of misunderstanding of the concept of scientific consensus. Scientists never sit down and lay out a consensus. Rather, it is just that some ideas/concepts/techniques are too useful to do without. That is, you simply can’t understand the phenomenon without those ideas. This is the way it works whether you are talking the consensus model of Earth’s climate or the standard model of particle physics.

    Agreed. In fact this is something that I treat in a bit more detail in the comment I linked to under “scientific consensus” in comment 115 above.

    Here is perhaps the most relevant excerpt:

    Likewise, the more broadly integrative theories will rely upon the conclusions in a wide variety of disciplines, implications in a wide variety of of disciplines and have explanatory power in a wide variety of disciplines. At the same time, modern science requires a large division of cognitive labor. It is divided into fields, disciplines, sub-disciplines and sub-sub-disciplines. Few people can achieve any real expertise in more than a handful or so areas…

    As such, experts throughout the scientific endeavor generally have to rely upon points that are at least tacitly dependent upon a form of scientific consensus — whether they are aware of this or not. Its unavoidable.

    But at the same time, it generally isn’t something which they have to be all that aware of – precisely because the principles which have become part of the well-established consensus are well-established. We generally become self-consciously aware of expert consensus and the need for it only at the interface between the scientific community and the broader community in which it is embedded.

    Comment 155 to post “BBC contrarian top 10”

    However, I also argue that in addition to being largely tacit, a scientific consensus is also evidence based. (For more on this please follow the link immediately above.)

  31. 131
    Ryan O says:

    John (#124): I have no further interest in playing a Derrida deconstructionist game, especially with someone who claims

    I am not saying, and did not say that skeptics are motivated by what the fossil fuel industry wants. That is simply you ‘ascribing motive’ into what I said.

    and then proceeds to write a 7-paragraphs exposition explaining how the wants of the fossil fuel industry provide motive for skeptics.

  32. 132
    SamWeiss says:

    So, what should a young blogger say about today’s headline news:
    Increased Number Think Global Warming Is “Exaggerated”:

    It would appear as if the American public is increasingly becoming less concerned about how serious AGW is or will be.

    Is this the result of science reporting (or the lack of it?) Perhaps the influence of bloggers (WUWT?)

  33. 133
    Abi says:


    The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen has ended today and I’m amazed it’s barely had a mention on here.

    The Guardian and The Indy have have been reporting on some of the issues, but would it be possible to post a summary of the current state of the science from this conference for the layperson?

    Thanks in advance.

    [Response: Stefan was there, maybe he can provide a summary when he gets back. Also check out Eli Kintisch at ScienceInsider. – gavin]

  34. 134
    Mark says:

    Pete Best says:

    “Re #113/115, Got a few spare Earths lying around the repeat the experiment with then? Climate science is not a repeatable science is it.”

    The science that drives Climatology IS repeatable.

    Go on, get a large enclosed area, a thermometer, lots of CO2 and a powerful lamp

    You’ll find out, like arrhenius did, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

    The physics that goes into the calculations being done by the models simulating climate are likewise repeatable.

    Who needs a third earth to monkey around with?

  35. 135
    Jim Prall says:

    On readability: I’m a few years into my first pair of bifocals, and I
    probably need an upgrade. I agree that short paragraphs are best.

    Those facing eye strain should try Firefox (or IE 7), then hit
    Control-Plus key repeatedly. This will increase the text size, without
    limit. (In IE 6 there are only two steps of text text zoom available.)

    Zooming the text can foul up more complex sites with multi-column
    layouts, so be ready to hit Control-Minus to restore sanity if you
    navigate to such a site (each window can have its own “text zoom

    My one gripe with the RC site design is that the style sheet or
    whatever makes the text quite rough when I zoom it greatly in this way
    in IE7 (on XP sp3). Character spacing goes all wonky, with some
    letters colliding and other pairs so far apart they look like unwanted
    word breaks.

    I just tried this in Firefox 3.0.6, and I thought I remembered having
    similar font trouble there, but it looks great in FF.

    I’d really appreciate if the keeper of the RC site design could try
    this out, see it happen in your IE7, and then tweak the style sheet or
    whatever to allow zoomed text to stay properly spaced. But check that
    it keeps Firefox happy too.

    Also re #97: “I Like Ike” – great post! Way to lead by example! You
    made my morning.

    – Jim

    [Response: Unfortunately, I don’t use IE – but if someone does, and they know their way around a style sheet – feel free to suggest any tweaks… – gavin]

  36. 136
    Mark says:

    Jim Prall, #135. You can make IE use its own fonts and this may work better than using the ones from the site (they may give a family of fonts that don’t have the size you want, so it picks another font that IS the right size, or uses a different size).

    That ought to fix your problems (though you may have to change some other settings about what fonts IE will use, since they may not have the font sizes you need either.

  37. 137

    Re: Mark’s comment 131

    Pete Best wrote in 117:

    Re #113/115, Got a few spare Earths lying around the repeat the experiment with then? Climate science is not a repeatable science is it.

    Mark responds in 131:

    The science that drives Climatology IS repeatable.

    Go on, get a large enclosed area, a thermometer, lots of CO2 and a powerful lamp

    You’ll find out, like arrhenius did, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

    Mark, actually Pete Best makes the same point in the comment you are responding to.

    Please see:

    I am sure that Co2/methane/NO etc being a GHG has been demonstrated in the lab repeatably…

    Comment 117

    Mark continues in 131:

    The physics that goes into the calculations being done by the models simulating climate are likewise repeatable.

    It would be strictly repeatable to the extent that it is deterministic and one starts with the same exact conditions one will end up with the same results. However, if the model is at all interesting (like the weather), then it will be a chaotic system and over time a small variation may be amplified until it affects the entire system — and as such, one learns very little from identical runs.

    As a consequence of the complexity of interaction, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to identify the form of causation applicable to the system as a whole (e.g., what is responsible for the near constancy of the global average of relative humidity). As such, we appear to be better off with ensembles of runs with a given model (or ensemble of models) and looking at the distribution — or what he referred to as trends — after a suitable length of time.

    I believe this is what Pete is referring to when he states:

    … but many other asepects of AGW use measurements (temperatures, precipitation etc) and models (determining cause and effect) in order to predict and forcast future trends but not single events.

    Comment 117

    However, I would make another point: we actually learn very little about a given model if all we do is repeat the same run with exactly the same initial conditions. Moreover, I am not particulary interested in how a climate model behaves except insofar as it is presumably good at modelling the climate system. But the climate system itself is, at any given point in time, unique — and will include causal factors which are not included in a given model, factors which may or may not be significant in terms of the evolution of the climate system. And the more factors models take into account, the more complicated they become, tending towards the complexity of the climate system — which is itself beyond the comprehension of any individual human mind.

    Which is why it makes sense for him to ask rhetorically whether or not you have a “few spare Earths,” which incidentally would have to be identical to our own and subject to deterministic causation for strict repeatability to apply.

  38. 138
    MJ says:

    re #135 – I think the problem may lie in the fact that the site uses both a screen and print style sheet.

    Gavin – I did a quick look and the style for instance at the beginning of the actual post is called “storycontent” and it only exists in the print style sheet. My speculation (and that is all this is) is that this causes the conflict with the IE zoom. Of course this helps making printing the post easier and they are changing the zoom function further in IE8. Here are a couple of posts about how the funcion works in both from Microsoft:
    IE7 –
    IE8 –

  39. 139
    Will Denayer says:

    Ike Solem (post 124): Thank you. I very much appreciate your explanation. I really enjoy this site. I learn a lot from you people. I am a philosopher working in a politics dept. these days. I am interested in political decision-making concerning climate change and in solutions. I have no expertise in climatology or physics, so sometimes it is hard for me, but you people help – thanks again.

  40. 140
    sidd says:

    I second the call for a summary of the Copenhagen meet. I read Eric Rignot in a NYTimes article stating that ice loss from Greenland was 2/3 due to ice export (sliding and calving) and 1/3 due to melt. All of the ice loss from Antarctica was export. A link to the presentation would be nice.

    I seem to recall that the rate of ice loss in Greenland has increased 250% and from Antarctica by 59% in the last decade. Is there more news on the GRAVIS front ?

  41. 141
    Mark says:

    Tim, this “However, if the model is at all interesting (like the weather), then it will be a chaotic system and over time a small variation may be amplified until it affects the entire system”

    Is true, but that isn’t science behind climate science, is it.

    And you are completely wrong here:

    “and as such, one learns very little from identical runs.”

    Nope. Have you heart of a chaos theory term called “an attractor”?

    You learn A LOT from repeated identical runs. Sensitivity to the accuracy of the inputs, which leads to the determination of how well you can predict your chaotic system when it’s in certain realms.

    Next time you look at, say, the Lorentz attractor, have a look at the lines. See how in some places the lines are close together. If your system is in this mode, you can change the system DRASTICALLY with a small change. See how in some places the lines are far, far apart. Here you can predict with good accuracy for a long time where the system will be, even if your measurements aren’t as perfect as you’d like.

    You can learn a lot from rerunning.

    If that’s a bit big for some, how about this: you can determine whether your coin is fair or not by repeatedly tossing the coin. The more times you toss (repeating the EXACT SAME experiment) the better determination of the accuracy of the fairness of that coin.

    Learn nothing? Only before Chaos was investigated. That’s Victorian thinking.

  42. 142

    It remains my conviction that the primary cause of the delay in runaway global warming resides in the buffering effect provided by the conversion of ice to water. How else can we explain how both poles can be losing frozen water without a simultaneous increase in global temperature? Sooner or later the “tipping point” will occur with disastrous consequences.

    If this hypothesis is without merit, perhaps someone here will explain why. Since this has yet to occur you can be certain I will persist with it.

  43. 143

    Re Sidd’s comment 140

    (200) From the NYT

    Previous computer models missed ice slipping into the ocean

    According to Rignot, the scientific community is now more fully aware that ice sliding into the ocean — as opposed to ice melting — plays a preponderant role in ice-cap evolution. “Ice is slipping into the ocean at a rapid rate, a phenomenon that was not correctly incorporated into previous models,” said Ringot.

    “In Greenland, we estimate that two-thirds of the cause of the glaciers’ disappearance is accelerated ice slide, while the remaining third of the cause is ice melting. In the Antarctic, the cause is 100 percent ice slide, and the speed-up there is exponential.”

    Researchers: Sea Levels May Rise Faster Than Expected
    Published: March 11, 2009

    (2006) Greenland

    The loss of ice from Greenland doubled between 1996 and 2005, as its glaciers flowed faster into the ocean in response …

    PR Newswire, Feb 16, 2006

    (2009) West Antarctica
    One model’s projections for West Antarctic Ice Sheet:

    Rare good news, caveated: A British scientist says his model shows that previous thinking that 3°C of warming is sufficient to melt the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is wrong; he puts the figure at 8°C.

    MARCH 12, 2009
    Quick Hits From Copenhagen

    (2008) Antarctica:

    n all, snowfall and ice loss in East Antarctica have about equaled out over the past 10 years, leaving that part of the continent unchanged in terms of total ice. But in West Antarctica, the ice loss has increased by 59 percent over the past decade to about 132 billion metric tons a year, while the yearly loss along the peninsula has increased by 140 percent to 60 billion metric tons. Because the ice being lost is generally near the bottom of glaciers, the glacier moves faster into the water and thins further, as a result. Rignot said there has been evidence of ice loss going back as far as 40 years.

    Escalating Ice Loss Found in Antarctica
    Sheets Melting in an Area Once Thought to Be Unaffected by Global Warming
    By Marc Kaufman, Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, January 14, 2008; A01

    (2009) … but more recently:

    Until recently it was only the fragile Antarctic Peninsula that juts up from West Antarctica, which was considered vulnerable to global warming. The peninsula is warming more rapidly than much of the rest of the world with temperatures rising 2.5 degrees in the past 50 years and ice loss increasing 140 per cent in the past decade.

    Poles apart but warming greater than thought
    Marian Wilkinson Environment Editor
    February 27, 2009


    On another front, further calculations have been done regarding Siberian permafrost…

    Using computer models and measurements from Siberia, Ciais and his colleagues predicted a fifth of the carbon could be released by 2200, once soil temperatures reached about 8C higher than today’s levels. A global average increase in air temperatures of 2C would mean significantly higher temperatures in the Arctic, and Ciais warned that a few unusually hot years could see soil temperatures reach the 8C threshhold.

    Global warming may trigger carbon ‘time bomb’, scientist warns
    Billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane could be released from thawing Arctic soils, says climate researcher
    Tuesday 10 March 2009 18.26 GMT

    (2009) … and the Amazon:

    LONDON: A new research has predicted that global warming will have a devastating effect on the Amazon rainforest, shrinking it by 85 percent if there is a rise of 4 degree Celsius in the temperature.

    Amazon could shrink by 85% due to warming
    12 Mar 2009, 1552 hrs IST, ANI

    (2009) … and deaths due to global warming:

    COPENHAGEN: Around 150,000 deaths now occur in low-income countries each year due to climate change that causes crop failure and malnutrition, diarrhoea, malaria and flooding, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    Warming killing 150,000 more people in poor countries: WHO
    12 Mar 2009, 2019 hrs IST, IANS

  44. 144
    Bryce says:

    Ironically, the maligned blogger you mention in the article also has a pretty good article with advice for young bloggers.

    [Response: No surprise. Michael has a lot of useful stuff to say. He’s been in this game since the early days of usenet. – gavin]

  45. 145
    Anne says:

    So how should a blogger handle statements by the press, which are stupid.

    I just ran across a Yale Environment 360 interview with Elizabeth Kolbert, a climate change reporter with the New Yorker, where she says:

    “I mean, Freeman Dyson has done a tremendous amount of damage saying, “I don’t believe models. We can’t model this.” Well, we actually can model
    it very accurately, it turns out. And we’re talking about very fundamental science. It’s not a very complicated science.”

    Should we ignore such imbecilic statements of how simple the science is? Is that the message we want to give the public? Someone should tell this woman to look at the scientific blogs out there, so that she realizes how complex it is to model the climate.



    [Response: Kolbert has done a tremendous job bringing this to the public and understands the issues extremely well. Her “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” is probably the best pop. sci. intro to the issue out there. Her statement is not ‘imbecilic’ – the basic science is very simple and something that the public doesn’t grasp well. And yes, she understands how hard it is to model the details – read chapter 5 of her book. You have picked the absolutely worst target here. – gavin]

  46. 146
    Chuck Booth says:

    I don’t recall seeing this posted previously, so I thought I would bring it to the attention of RC readers- it is a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Co.) podcast about military preparations for war resulting from political strife caused by global warming:

    Other CBC podcasts on global warming (and other topics) are indexed at:

    “Global warming is moving much more quickly than scientists thought it would. Even if the biggest current and prospective emitters – the United States, China and India -were to slam on the brakes today, the earth would continue to heat up for decades. At best, we may be able to slow things down and deal with the consequences, without social and political breakdown. Gwynne Dyer examines several radical short- and medium-term measures now being considered—all of them controversial…”

  47. 147
    MarkB says:

    Re: #123

    Jim Prall,

    Great website!

    One thing that contrarians seem to be good at is getting their message out despite being on the fringe. Here are a few things I’ve noticed:

    – I recognize almost all the names of the small group of contrarians (all of the 18 who are in the top 500). Their names are constantly repeated/recycled in the press to the point where they are practically celebrities. When the press strives for “balance”, there aren’t many contrarians to choose from. I can’t say the same about most of those who have signed an “activist” statement, nor most others on the list. Most of them don’t really stand out in a crowd.

    – Some of those in part of the “Deniers” series aren’t really deniers. William Nordhaus, for instance, believes global warming is quite serious, but seems to be critical of the Kyoto Protocol, arguing instead in favor of an international carbon tax.

    Others, like Hans von Storch, is on both the Deniers series and the Inhofe list. There are many other examples of these kinds of distortions.

    – You make a distinction between “activist” statements and “skeptic” statements. To me, someone who is trying to influence policy to stop emissions reductions is just as much of an activist as someone who is trying to urge governments to reduce emissions. “Skeptic”, on the other hand, is a bit more redundant. All scientists are skeptics, so it doesn’t say much. Are skeptics skeptical of their views and the views of other skeptics?

  48. 148
    Alan of Oz says:

    Re #125, #104

    John: You’re right, I (deliberately) missed Hank’s context. I was looking at how easily the list of papers could be misrepresented by a myopic (ie: one eyed) protaganist. The problem with discussing lobbying is that “everyone does it”, it’s difficult to convince people that any particular lobbying effort is coordinated and deliberately fraudulent, especially if they are the victims of such fraud. IMHO it’s better to be specific and attack individual fraudsters such as Andrew Bolt and even then I think it’s best to present the evidence for fraud not as an accusation but as a question. eg: I’m not sure why he select that line but if you look at what X actually says…

    In my (limited) experience it’s just as constructive to talk about standard Gore rhetoric as it to talk about standard RNC rhetoric even though anything more than a glance at Hank’s and my lists will show they actually say pretty much the same thing (ie: certain FF companies have deliberately obfuscated the facts)..

  49. 149
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John Davison, Please do the math. The ice lost to melting represents a tiny fraction of the solar energy incident on the region. You can also sink energy in a variety of other places–deep in the oceans, for instance. As Hank says, you can look this stuff up–or at the very least, calculate it.

  50. 150
    Douglas says:

    One thing to consider is that the blogosphere allows entry by anyone, and some people hold quite scary views. A few months ago I had an extended, polite, reasonable discussion with a denier, and felt I was making headway, when out of the blue he sent me a really horribly racist diatribe that had nothing to do with any part of the discussion. I broke it off because there are some people–quite a few, apparently–who are really a long way out there…