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Communicating Science: Not Just Talking the Talk

Filed under: — group @ 16 September 2009

Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt

The issues involved in science communication are complex and often seem intractable. We’ve seen many different approaches, but guessing which will work (An Inconvenient Truth, Field Notes from a Catastrophe) and which won’t (The Eleventh Hour) is a tricky call. Mostly this is because we aren’t the target audience and so tend to rate popularizations by different criteria than lay people. Often, we just don’t ‘get it’.

Into this void has stepped Randy Olsen with his new book “Don’t be such a scientist”. For those who don’t know Randy, he’s a rather extraordinary individual – one of the few individuals who has run the gamut from hard-core scientist to Hollywood film maker. He’s walked the walk, and can talk the talk–and when he does talk, we should be listening!

While there may be some similarities in theme with “Unscientific America” by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum that we reviewed previously, the two books cover very different ground. They share the recognition that there is currently a crisis in area of scientific communication. But what makes “Don’t be such a Scientist” so unique is that Olsen takes us along on his own personal journey, recounting his own experiences as he made the transition from marine biologist to movie-maker, and showing us (rather than simply telling us–you can be sure that Randy would want to draw that distinction!) what he learned along the way. The book could equally well have been titled “Confessions of a Recovering Scientist”.

More than anything else, the book attempts to show us what the community is doing wrong in our efforts to communicate our science to the public. Randy doesn’t mince words in the process. He’s fairly blunt about the fact that even when we think we’re doing a good job, we generally aren’t. We have a tendency to focus excessively on substance, when it is often as if not more important, when trying to reach the lay public, to focus on style. In other words, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

This is a recurring theme in Randy’s work. His 2006 film, Flock of Dodos, showed, through a combination of humor and insightful snippets of reality, why evolutionary biologists have typically failed in their efforts to directly engage and expose the “intelligent design” movement. In his 2008 film Sizzle, he attempted the same thing with the climate change debate–an example that hits closer to home for us–in this case using more of a “mockumentary”-style format (think “Best in Show” with climate scientists instead of dogs) but with rather more mixed results. Randy makes the point that the fact that Nature panned it, while Variety loved it, underlines the gulf that still exists between the worlds of science and entertainment.

However, the book is not simply a wholesale, defeatist condemnation of our efforts to communicate. What Randy has to say may be tough to hear, but its tough love. He provides some very important lessons on what works and what doesn’t, and they ring true to us in our own experience with public outreach. In short, says Randy: Tell a good story; Arouse expectations and then fulfill them; Don’t be so Cerebral; And, last but certainly not least: Don’t be so unlikeable (i.e. don’t play to the stereotype of the arrogant, dismissive academic or the nerdy absent-minded scientist). Needless to say, it’s easy for us to see our own past mistakes and flaws in Randy’s examples. And while we might quibble with Randy on some details (for example, An Inconvenient Truth didn’t get to be the success it was because of its minor inaccuracies), the basic points are well taken.

The book is not only extremely insightful and full of important lessons, it also happens to be funny and engaging, self-effacing and honest. We both agree that this book is a must read for anyone who cares about science, and the problems we have engaging the public.

If the book has a flaw, it might be the seemingly implicit message that scientists all need to take acting or comedy lessons before starting to talk – though the broader point that many of us could use some pointers in effective communication is fair. More seriously, the premise of the book is rooted in perhaps somewhat of a caricature of what a scientist is (you know, cerebral, boring, arrogant and probably unkempt). This could be seen merely as a device, but the very fact that we are being told to not be such scientists, seems at times to reinforce the stereotype (though to be fair, Randy’s explanation of the title phrase does show it to be a bit more nuanced than might initially meet the eye). Shouldn’t we instead be challenging the stereotype? And changing what it means to the public to be a scientist? Maybe this will happen if scientists spend more time not being so like stereotypical scientists – but frankly there are a lot of those atypical scientists already and the cliches still abound.

When it comes to making scientists better communicators, Greg Craven’s book “What’s the worst that can happen?” demonstrates how it can actually be done. Craven is a science teacher and is very upfront about his lack of climate science credentials but equally upfront about his role in helping normal people think about the issue in a rational way. Craven started off making YouTube videos explaining his points and this book is a further development of those including responses to many of the critiques he got originally.

Craven’s excellent use of video to discuss the implications of the science is neatly paired with the work that Peter Sinclair is doing with his “Climate Denial Crock of the Week” series. Both use arresting graphics and straightforward explanations to point out what the science really says, how the contrarians distort and misinform and take some pleasure in pointing out the frequent incoherence that passes for commentary at sites like WUWT.

Crucially, neither Craven nor Sinclair are scientists, but they are excellent communicators of science. Which brings up a point raised by both Mooney & Kirshenbaum and Olsen – what role should working scientists play in improving communications to the public? Video editing and scriptwriting (and even website design!) is probably best left to people who know how to do these things effectively, while content and context needs to be informed directly by the scientists themselves. To our mind this points to enhanced cooperation among communicators and scientists as the dominant model we should be following. We don’t all need to become film directors to make a difference!

602 Responses to “Communicating Science: Not Just Talking the Talk”

  1. 151
    Bob Sell says:

    Somehow a number of Minnesota politicians are not listening to the story:

  2. 152
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Burgy #144:

    Ray approves of these remarks. I do not. To me, they ridiculed a person and so demeaned themselves.


    I know for a fact that Einstein didn’t take Bohr’s remark badly, even while disagreeing (he had great difficulty with the probabilistic interpretation of QM). Both were immersed in a tight-knit subculture with its own ‘robust’ communication style.

    Burgy, I give you that you’re misreading just about everything about how scientists communicate ;-)

    And with Huxley, Wilberforce had it coming: remember he resorted to cheap points-scoring ridicule first. So little has changed.

  3. 153
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Burgie, Are you suggesting that we treat liars and poseurs with courtesy? I do not see how this moves things forward. I view the purpose of this blog as education, and we should jealously guard that educational resource.

    The truth cannot defend itself. If we do not rise to its defense, it perishes under lies.

  4. 154
    Andrew Hobbs says:


    In one sense I would suggest you just confirmed my point. In your thought experiment you constructed a theory or model (that CO2 absorbed infrared radiation) and tested it to see whether the results would fit that or another model or theory. Not that it happened quite like that of course since that thought experiment would be more of a demonstration now. Presumably you were operating with prior knowledge of Beer-Lambert’s law and the absorbance profile of carbon dioxide which have been confirmed innumerable times since their initial discovery.

    In a rather more esoteric sense I would even argue that observations in experiments are still subject to the same standard. Even in the case you describe there may still be ways of explaining your observations which did not involve CO2 causing absorption of infrared radiation (More so if this was in the absence of the huge body of basic scientific knowledge surrounding the subject which supports your model, and which it is hard to imagine being without.) If you could think of such effects, whether it is related to other gases, the treatment of the glass vessels, even equipment failure, you would design experiments to decide which is correct. Even if you can’t think of other effects, they may still be there. The result is that you accept the cause and effect based upon your theory or model. Your model makes other predictions which you can then try to verify (or not) and these provide further support for your model. But I still say that in a complete fundamental analysis, simple observations will not prove cause and effect.

  5. 155
    Richard Steckis says:

    In answer to Ray Ladbury (#115), Jim Bouldin (#125) and Andrew Hobbs (#136),

    In my post I should have outlined the difference between statistical and dynamical models.

    Yes, statistical models are an essential part of the scientific method (e.g. Linear and multiple linear regression, ANOVA, MANOVA etc.). However what all of you seem to be arguing (correct me if I am wrong) is that the model stage is at the beginning of the process of scientific method. Well it isn’t. the scientific method essentially is this process (from wikipedia could be better):

    1. Define the question
    2. Gather information and resources (observe)
    3. Form hypothesis
    4. Perform experiment and collect data
    5. Analyze data
    6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
    7. Publish results
    8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

    The modelling process does not come into the method until about stages 5 and 6. Dynamical models cannot be developed until after stage 7 as they rely on established science for their development. Andrew Hobbs suggests that all statistics is correlation. This is not true. Cause and effect is determined statistically by using statistical modelling (such as those outlined above).

    As for prediction. I was a little lax in not distinguishing between prediction and forecasting. What I meant is that for dynamical models to have forecasting capability, they must comply with established forecasting principles. No GCM would pass a forecast audit as defined by the International Institute of Forecasters. Therefore, no GCM would be robust in forecasting the climate 100 years into the future.

    I suggest we use dynamical models for their actual intended purpose. That is to test our knowledge of a system and then define where that knowledge is lacking so that we can better understand the dynamics of that system.

    [Response: I love it when people tell scientists what they think they should be doing and then conclude simply by assertion that they are wasting their time. First off, modelling comes in to every single stage of your idealised method. They are used for coming up with questions in the first place, they are used for assessing what can usefully be observed and indeed what any observation of a particular quantity is actually related to. Hypotheses are certainly informed by their results, and model experiments (simulations) are done to test them (i.e. can the aerosol layer seen in the stratosphere after Mt. Pinatubo explain the subsequent cooling, changes in radiation, dynamical shift and rainfall anomalies?). Etc. etc. In a complex system like the Earth’s climate, it is almost impossible to come up with hypotheses that don’t require a model of some sort to quantify their effects. And as for the “International Institute of Forecasters” – what you are really referring to is Green and Armstrong’s ridiculous political posturing in the guise of ‘objective’ assessment. Something we examined (and found wanting) years ago. Unsurprisingly, some of their colleagues at IIF concluded that the G&A approach of simply listing apparent failings without quantifying their impact (or even checking to see whether they’ve even understood “fails to contribute to the public policy debate, it is because it fails on quality grounds.” I suggest that you stay on topic of attribution – which is quite distinct from forecasting in any case. – gavin]

  6. 156

    #149 RichardC

    In you post #100 you state:

    “We know that stopping the warming is simple – just add a little sulfur to the stratosphere at a piddling cost and global warming WILL, not might, WILL be stopped in its tracks.”

    At what cost to human and related bio-chemical earth systems, and socio-economic systems? I’d like to understand you suggestion in more detail. “add a little sulfur to the stratosphere” Can you outline generally your plan and its costs/effects in the earth biosphere and human population?

  7. 157
    pjclarke says:

    Scott Mandia [50]:

    WUWT won the Best Science Blog of the Year in 2008. Why? It is flashy, several articles are posted daily so there is always fresh content, and there is a sense of collegiality among the regulars. I post there as one of the few member of the Loyal Opposition and am often a target. Some folks get personal in their replies to my comments. However, there are a few there that are very intelligent, very courteous, and they have data and the occasional journal article to back up their arguments. Many times I take a deep breath before I reply and remember that I must “represent”. If my replies are professional and courteous, I believe the average person will give them the weight that they deserve, even on a site such as WUWT.

    Why do I post there? If this is the most popular place for people to go to get their information, then WE NEED TO BE THERE.

    Hi Scott, I’ve seen some of your posts at Mr Watts’ place and I admire your persistence, however I seriously wonder how many people still regard it as a source of ‘reliable information’, given the laughably transparent bias, selective editing, the outrageous ad hominems permitted in the comments and cherry-picks? Sure a lot of people seem to drop by, but then people will slow down to see the aftermath of a car crash on the motorway [highway]. I boost the traffic there occassionally with a visit just to see if standards are being maintained and to check out if any real science supporting the denial case has surfaced. I am rarely disappointed, most recently a Treasury document was described as showing Cap and Trade would ‘cost’ $1760 annually per family, an analysis the Treasury described as being based on the principle that ‘the math ignores the redistribution of revenue back to consumers. It only looks at one side of the balance sheet. It would only be true if you think the Administration was going to pile all the cash on the White House lawn and set it on fire. , naturally this rebuttal appeared nowhere on WUWT and the $1760 figure is being touted as the reality….

    The fact that WUWT won the weblog award for Best Science Blog, should give us pause for thought however. And that thought should be this: from the milions of WWW users, the winning site received just over 14,000 votes, in a poll that allowed individuals to vote multiple times. Admittedly this is about 10 times the number of votes received by RC, but a small number of voters with access to multiple PCs could easily distort the oucome, this was more a niche popularity contest decided by a completely unscientific method, than a way of determining the relative educational merit of the various science blogs.

    Civility, politeness and sticking to the arguments rather than the personalities are hallmarks of a good scientific debate; When Professor Mann’s paper on hurricane frequency was published, the WUWT response carried precious little comment on the science of the paper (other than a link to Steve McIntyre’s predictably lame comments, the same Mr McIntyre who described Gavin as ‘full of sh*t’ for the simple act of telling the truth, and who has a video clip of Professor Mann on his site captioned ‘try not to puke’, so much for civility). Mr Watts did however consider these comments fit for his audience …

    [edit–folks get the picture, no need to repeat the words of the charlatans here]

    So, as I say I admire your persistence, but I do wonder how many visitors truly regard such a site as reliable…

    Phil Clarke

  8. 158

    John P. Reisman, if you really are out to convince the denialist him- or herself, I would think that snark becomes still less effective. I can’t think of one occasion ever when someone was convinced by being made the butt of personal ridicule.

    Sadly, I have not yet found empirical support for the non-zero AGW learning curve postulated for denialists. (Although one might not notice–if I had been proclaiming “cooling since 1998” or some such, I’d’ve quietly slunk away, hoping no-one noticed my absence.) It won’t be argument that convinces the die-hards, it will be physical reality.

    I’m hoping enough of the reasonable are convinced by December.

  9. 159
    Richard Steckis says:

    Gavin says:

    “I love it when people tell scientists what they think they should be doing and then conclude simply by assertion that they are wasting their time. First off, modelling comes in to every single stage of your idealised method.”

    1. I am a published scientist.

    2. I did not say you were wasting your time doing science with modelling. I said you are wasting your time trying to forecast climate decades into the future.

    3. You are an applied mathematician. Of course you would argue that modelling comes into every stage of the scientific method. The simple fact is it doesn’t.

    4. You say they are used for coming up with questions in the first place. No. They are used for coming up with questions when they fail to reproduce the prevailing system being modelled.

    5. You say “In a complex system like the Earth’s climate, it is almost impossible to come up with hypotheses that don’t require a model of some sort to quantify their effects.” I agree. And that is usually statistical modelling arising from empirical research.

    6. Green and who?

    ’nuff said.

  10. 160

    #158 Kevin McKinney

    Third Party and denialist, not just denialist. Context is key.

    If you have some favorite quotes where you see me being snarky, please do post the links. I would love to refresh my memory and it might be entertaining.

    I think one of my personal favorite stories was when I said to someone regarding understanding risk and time factors, what if you were tied to a table and a big ax was swinging back and forth over you and, and, and… Sort of a Damocles moment.

    As to convincing the die-hards. I have about a 99% to 100% turnaround rate. That’s my experience lately. That of course can fade when someone goes and finds all new fresh denialist arguments but this can be quelled too with follow up and I always invite people to drop me a line if they see something they don’t understand.

    So, I don’t think we need to wait for physical reality.

  11. 161

    # 157 pjclarke @ 20 September 2009 at 5:29 AM

    I hope you are wrong or I am certainly wasting much time! I agree that if one looks at the comments, one does get the impression that the few of us trying to correct the misinformation are wasting our time. However, I imagine that there are quite a few lurkers who never post. Those are the people I am trying to reach.

  12. 162
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Surely trying to “convince the denialist” is futility bordering on madness. Who imagines them to be sincere in their position?

  13. 163

    #162 Jeffrey Davis

    Of those I have met, most if not nearly all are sincere.

  14. 164
    Radge Havers says:

    There seems to be some misapprehension that denialists are all simply well intentioned people who somehow managed to get their wires crossed on a particular topic. While that may be true for some, there are others for whom AGW is merely an element of the “culture wars” which in turn come under the umbrella of a larger political agenda. I’d go so far as to say that, although they may attempt to argue science, at the end of the day they don’t really give a damn one way or the other about whether AGW is real or not. They’ve got more glorious ambitions to indulge, and as far as they’re concerned scientists are just bit players in need of a good mugging –unless of course they’re making themselves useful by coming up with bigger flat screen TVs and more deadly weapons. Civility, always a thing to be cherished, protected, and nurtured just isn’t adequate for every task.

  15. 165
    RichardC says:

    156 John asked, “At what cost to human and related bio-chemical earth systems, and socio-economic systems? I’d like to understand you suggestion in more detail. “add a little sulfur to the stratosphere” Can you outline generally your plan and its costs/effects in the earth biosphere and human population?”

    Sorry for not being clear – it isn’t my suggestion, but my prediction of the result of the current focus on global warming instead of oceanic death. A dead ocean and a climate system on life support isn’t exactly a good thing.

  16. 166

    #159 Richard Steckis

    Well, being a published scientist is not the end all be all of holistic reasoning capacity. And of course one can have sound published work in one area and still not understand the relevant contexts in another area.

    Just for the sake of clarity Richard, at this point in time, what is your forecast for climate in the future, let’s say in 2100

    a. Generally Warmer
    b. Generally About the Same
    c. Generally Cooler
    d. None of the Above because…

    If your answer is d. Why?

    Also, at this point in time, what percentage or percentage range would you give to anthropogenic influence on the current climate, and why?

  17. 167
    Martin Vermeer says:

    This wasn’t in refutation of Richard Steckis’ nonsense, but it could have been.

  18. 168
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steckis, Statistical modeling IS modeling. It would seem that your objection is to introducing actual physics into the models. I ask you, how scientific is that? Do you always object to that which you don’t understand?

  19. 169


    Global warming and oceanic demise are connected. It is too bad the ocean is not getting more press though as it is certainly a critical issue.

    The reason I addressed the ‘add a little sulfur’ suggestion in your post is that it is also a bad idea and your saying it the way you did might give others a false impression.

    I know it is frustrating. For me, sometimes I just look at it and say to myself, we’re not going fast enough and people don’t get it yet (actually I say other things). Usually I can shake it off pretty quick, or in a day, and move on with the work of education and progress as it may be achievable.

    It’s not always the goal that is most important but the path as well. And in the case of AGW, it is also important to have courage and fortitude no matter how dim the chances may seem, or the weight of loss, which can burden even the stout of heart. In this sense, those fighting this battle are soldiers for reason and though there will be casualties, it does not mean we stop fighting. We soldier on, because that is the duty we choose.

  20. 170

    Of all the weeks to have limited internet access! (People who follow my writing will understand.)

    I believe that the present topic is the keystone issue of the survival of civilization. I believe that the increased alienation between experts and the public during the past generation, notably in America but also elsewhere, is the single greatest threat humanity faces. It subsumes not just climate, but also food security, energy security, health, war and peace, and ultimately the preservation of any human accomplishment worth preserving. If we accept that humanity freely chooses its destiny, we had damned well better improve our competence.

    From the point of view of the scientifically advanced reader likely to be found here, the crucial error is that made by Jim Bouldin in #58:

    “I get fed up with people who think science is supposed to be delivered to them, by us, like a pizza at halftime of a football game. We can’t make people who don’t care and don’t want to learn, care and learn. And it ain’t in our job description anyway.”

    While literally true, this is the key to the problem. It ain’t nobody’s job description, and that is a crucial gap in how we organize ourselves.

    In areas where there is little risk of social controversy, science can perhaps proceed well enough with the traditional division of labor among faculty, postdoc and grad student apprentices, and lab assistants.

    Traditionally in science, modest attention is paid to “outreach”, but this is mostly intended to increase the likelihood that suitably talented children will be inclined to pursue scientific endeavors. Most of the public is served by science in ways they don’t directly grasp, and concrete and relatively modest engineering achievements are offered as a proxy. (The bus driver who takes you on the tour of the Kennedy Space Center is likely to wax rhapsodic about dessicated orange juice and ball point pens which write upside down.) Perhaps this is good enough.

    Where controversy arises, though, the problem of outreach is dramatically different. In those cases, there will inevitably be constituencies arrayed about the science wishing to emphasize certain facts, hypotheses, and patterns of thought (e.g., “it’s the sun, stupid”) at the expense of others. This essentially introduces noise into the feedback control system of democratic governance, making society ever harder to manage.

    In the face of this behavior, essentially opposition to clear communication of facts, the traditional outreach mechanisms of science have proven utterly powerless, and this is the problem we need to solve. It’s by no means going to be everybody’s job, but it should not be nobody’s job. The traditional divided loyalties of the scientist, between advance of science, advance of self, and advance of institution, hardly needs stretching in yet another direction. RealClimate, for which I have the greatest respect and gratitude, is about the best one could conceivably expect under the circumstances. RealClimate is a remarkable and invaluable contribution, but it’s obviously not enough.

    That there are amateurs like Craven and Sinclair is wonderful. They are starting to show up on the radar, and have been grossly underappreciated by the scientific community. I’ve been doing my best to call attention to their achievements, and I greatly welcome this burst of publicity from RC.

    But none of this is enough. At best as individuals we can match each bit of nonsense with a comparably accessible bit of sense. Fairminded but busy people will continue to split the difference. In stead of realism, we get a public and a politics carrying a strange muddled average of confusions and misapprehensions. The idea of acting as a counter to organized disinformation too often devolves into counter-disinformation.

    We need not just new communication techniques but new institutions. Organizing and presenting information credibly requires professionals whose primary responsibility is to convey existing information, and not to advance some point of view.

    It is time to create a profession of advocating for truth, rather than advocating for policy.

    “Not being such a scientist” is not by any means a job for all or even most scientists, but it isn’t a job for nonscientists either. Fundamentally Lou Grinzo’s comment early in this thread has it right. We need networks of collaboration between professional communicators and informed scientists.

    In some ways this is a perverse turn of events. The decisions we need to make are not about climatology. They are about energy policy, infrastructure, international relations, and fiscal policy. And traditionally, the public hasn’t had much patience for these things either. The problems there are the same, even though the predictability of those disciplines is much weaker than in climate physics. What we know and how well we know it needs to be made clear and credible at whatever level of interest and effort an individual chooses to bring to bear.

    It’s at root a problem in pedagogy. Pedagogy in turn is a problem in media. We have new ways of presenting information. Given new information technologies, the gap between what can be done and what is being done is huge. What can be done itself is an enormous project. This is not a problem for a few individuals writing blogs or making low budget videos, though that will have to serve in the short run. We need to create institutions that can make the difference in conveying the nature of the world we are facing.

  21. 171
    Ray Ladbury says:

    In your cartoon scientific method, for the first step:
    1. Define the question

    How do you determine which questions are interesting?

    For step 2, how do you determine which resources and information will be useful for you?

    For step 3, is every hypothesis about the phenomenon equally interesting?

    For step 4, how do you decide what experiments to perform to test a hypothesis? What data must you gather?

    Step 5–what sorts of analysis do you perform and how do you decide? How do you decide what conclusions your results allow?

    And so on. I know how real scientists approach this. But what is your answer?

  22. 172
    Theo Hopkins says:


    “More seriously, the premise of the book is rooted in perhaps somewhat of a caricature of what a scientist is (you know, cerebral, boring, arrogant and probably unkempt).”

    Ummm. The only working scientist I know is cerebral and unkempt. He went off the other day to give the congratulatory speech at a dinner to celebrate his scientific society’s 150 year anniversary. Only a professor of (I won’t say his area of expertise, he sometimes reads RC) could dress in a suit that may have been fashionable thirty years ago, a tie that “just didn’t go” and – yes – mismatched socks.

    But he is not boring.

  23. 173
    David B. Benson says:

    Michael Tobis (170) — I do not agree that it is nobdy’s job description.

    Scientific American
    Popular Science
    American Scientist
    Popular Mechanics
    Science News

  24. 174

    NASA is funding these types of issues. Several of my colleagues and I have submitted a proposal in response to the following solicitation:

    Global Climate Change Education (GCCE): Research Experiences, Teaching & Learning
    Announcement No. NNL09ZB1005C

    If we are awarded this grant, I amy be looking to some of you for advice. :) Below is the Executive Summary:

    The proposed project will allow Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) to establish an Institute for Climate Education (I.C.E.) that will provide professional development opportunities in climate change to current and future secondary school science teachers. The five main objectives of the project are to 1) train in- and pre-service secondary school teachers to develop curriculum using NASA global climate data and models, 2) train these teachers in methods of guided inquiry learning, 3) support the
    development of a local community of climate change educators, 4) provide pre-service teachers with authentic global climate change research experiences, and 5) increase diversity among both global climate change educators and secondary school students entering science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career paths. The I.C.E. will achieve its professional development objectives in cooperation with Brookhaven
    National Laboratory (BNL), Stony Brook University, and the Science Teacher
    Association of New York.

    A holistic approach to teacher training distinguishes the I.C.E from other professional development activities. The I.C.E will increase teacher competence and provide the skills necessary to engage and encourage secondary students in STEM fields by combining in-depth instruction in the subject matter with training in student learning styles, methods of guided inquiry learning, and peer mentoring. Through internship opportunities with BNL, the I.C.E will provide pre-service teachers with opportunities to
    participate in on-going climate change research where they will gain the skills and knowledge base required of both a scientist and an educator.

    As a direct result of participation in the I.C.E., guided inquiry learning exercises that incorporate NASA climate data and models will be implemented in secondary school science classes. These exercises will engage students by introducing them to state of the art science through hands on interaction with data and models. Consequently both
    student and teacher will have a greater understanding of climate science as well as a greater appreciation of the significant contributions made by NASA.

    The success of this institute will be monitored through formative and summative evaluations using both quantitative and qualitative methods that measure effectiveness among in-service and pre-service teachers, and among their students. The results of the formative evaluation component will provide feedback after each I.C.E. module that will be used to revamp and fine-tune the curriculum before the module is offered again. The summative evaluation will measure the success of the I.C.E. grant-funded project at reaching its five primary objectives.

    The I.C.E personnel consist of diverse team that have a history of working together in science education. Each co-investigator brings the necessary professional experience and discipline expertise to coordinate and assist individual elements of the program. In addition, the relationships with partnering institutions are already established and the I.C.E. project will build on and strengthen these contacts, furthering both the mission of
    the I.C.E. and that of the partnering organizations.

  25. 175
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Michael Tobis, my statement back there was mainly a reaction to those who are ready to blame society’s scientific ignorance problems on scientists of all people (and even do so on the very blog where a number of scientists have been going out of their way for five years now to inform the public on climate change issues!). The other point, that for the life of me I cannot understand why people are just completely blowing off, is that we already have a societal component whose sole function is to inform the public, known as the media. And a whole ‘nother component involved in informing people, known as teachers. And a whole ‘nother component involved in instilling scientific curiosity in children, known as parents. It’s a bit of a joke frankly. My statement was a shorthand way of saying, sorry, the problem with the public not getting it isn’t because scientists aren’t slick enough with their message and need to take acting lessons. Nevertheless, I agree with a lot of what you say, especially about collaboration between scientists and communicators.

  26. 176
    Hank Roberts says:

    John (Burgy) Burgeson says: 19 September 2009 at 11:26 AM

    > Re: … approves of these remarks. I do not. To me, they ridiculed
    > a person and so demeaned themselves.

    Nope, they ridiculed the _WORK_. I’d suggest revising your own criteria of human behavior to include how scientists handle hard argument.

    It’s a new thing in the world, and very few cultures either invent or maintain anything like science.

    Examples abound.

    Gail writes:

    > lichen, a harbinger of death.
    > burning gasoline emits CO2, which reacts to UV radiation, creating ozone.

    See? You can look this stuff up.

  27. 177
    Radge Havers says:

    #170, Tobis

    We need to create institutions that can make the difference in conveying the nature of the world we are facing.

    Yes, but it’s hard to imagine what that would look like. I occasionally try to think of an ideal mechanism and work backward from there. Frankly, I don’t do very well with it — as though some scientists could get together and buy out one of the global media and entertainment companies that have a near monopoly on radio content. In this fictional scenario they could broadcast science news and affairs programming 24/7 instead of the denialist dreck to be found almost everywhere on the dial whenever the subject is addressed.

    It’s a daunting challenge. If you doubt it, I present as exhibit A one of our local radio jocks who sponsored a rally to **encourage** wasting as much gas and energy as possible. The idea was to protest a supposed assault on “freedom” posed by an awareness campaign to turn off the lights for an evening. And it’s not just radio of course. There’s CNN’s Glenn Beck for example, who has an inflammatory “global warming hysteria list” posted on his website that, among other things, does a lot of sneering about African circumcision.

    It’s crazy out there.

  28. 178
    Owen says:

    #163 John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation)

    It is good to actually see someone on this page express this sentiment.

    I am frankly too tired to get into a debate about this at this point, so to the rest of you, feel free to jump. I am unlikely to respond.

    However, I have read much of this blog for a number of years now. Reading this to see what you folks think, and studying on my own has helped me to form my current opinions.

    I tend heavily toward the skeptical in everything I do. One of my favorite books is “Science is a Sacred Cow” by Anthony Standen. (A scientist, by the way.)

    I am almost certainly what most of you folks would call a full blown contrarian. However, I can tell you in all honesty that with the information I have currently, and with my present grasp thereof, I quite simply and honestly do not believe it likely that an increase in current CO2 levels will precipitate a measurable change in global temperatures.

    I realize this an old saw, and I understand that it will not be accepted by this community, really under any circumstance. I have my discussions elsewhere, generally face-to-face with those who know me. I still believe that there is much to learn in this area. I do not fully accept the arguments of Plass. I have yet to be convinced of the efficacy of applying LTE to the atmosphere. I am most disenchanted with the treatment provided on page 2 of Goody and Yung. I prefer the explanation by Houghton in his book in the late ’90s, but disagree with his conclusions as well. I strongly suspect that radiation transport calculations are actually not the correct approach. I would like to see considerably more interest paid to scattering.

    Like I said, I probably will not respond to the myriad criticisms to come. Of course, possessing simple human curiosity, I expect I shall read them.

    Regardless,thank you Mr. Reisman for your comment. There may be other contrarians who frequent this board, and will be glad to see it. Naturally, most of the readers will remain unhappy, because your comment has of course done nothing to convince me of your arguments, but it has convinced me of your humanity. On some things, we simply disagree. Still, I wonder if within ten years there may be many more of you agreeing with me than there are now.

  29. 179
    stevenc says:

    I wrote a long comment earlier that never appeared, long for me anyway because I detest typing, so I’ll give a Reader’s Digest version and see if that survives the trip through cyberspace. I don’t think the public has as low opinion of scientists as many of you seem to believe. A Harris Interactive poll dated 8 August 2006 on the most trusted professions puts scientists at 3rd with only doctors and teachers being more trusted. People tend to not trust those they don’t like so my interpretation is scientists are also well liked. My further comments were based on the doctor-patient relationship and how doctors have been communicating complex issues to people who have a stake in the issue for a long time. I don’t recall what specific literature we read but it would probably be out of date now anyway. May I suggest calling your nearest medical school to see what they would recommend.

  30. 180

    Scientists, of all people, should realise that they need to deal with reality. I think Jim Bouldin (57) needs to understand this.

    Newspapers write, depending on their readership for, on average, 12 year olds. Some write for a younger reading age. This is because they know how to get through to their readers. Some scientists may not want to engage with this idea, but it is the reality of mass communication, and is also practiced by the visual media.

    Spending a few hours sitting down and coming to an agreement on how to draft a scientific discovery / message / theory with someone who can write or speak in this way is well worth the effort.

    The reality is that a huge proportion of the population are not going to be able to be communicated to in scientific or technical terms. There is no mileage in complaining about this. Whose fault it is does not matter when urgent issues, such as climate change, are being discussed. What matters is getting the message across when there are others are powerfully lobbying an opposing view due their self-interest.

    Appeal to people’s self-interest. Like it or not, it’s what will get through to the greatest number of people. They vote out of self-interest, buy products out of self-interest, and their views on global warming are often coloured by self-interest and not wanting to change.

    High moral or scientific ground often counts for nothing unless you can convince people why change is in their interests, primarily in the short-term. And the change has to be made relatively easy by the governments and regulators.

  31. 181
    jyyh says:

    Phil Matimein wrote:
    >Appeal to people’s self-interest. Like it or not, it’s what will get >through to the greatest number of people. They vote out of self-interest, >buy products out of self-interest, and their views on global warming are >often coloured by self-interest and not wanting to change.

    >High moral or scientific ground often counts for nothing unless you can >convince people why change is in their interests, primarily in the short->term. And the change has to be made relatively easy by the governments >and regulators.

    And how would You like Your bad news, or rather, “a Working Opportunity that Includes Travelling Northwards, a real Fighting Chance for Permanent Employment With no Benefits, Apartment, and Food Security”, to be served? Oops, flipped to sarcasm there. I should really try to be more constructive and stop talking about disturbing things, appeal only to self-interests, so people could take it easily in… Have A Pleasant Monday.

  32. 182
    Martin Vermeer says:

    I was about to write in defense of Jim Bouldin, who was being unfairly attacked (as scientists usually are), but Jim #175 can take care of himself. Hear, hear.
    Michael Tobin, the kind of institution you envisage is (1) not the responsibility of scientists to establish, and (2) impossible to exist or be successful in our current society.
    The problem is one of credibility with the target audience. You say ‘…a profession of advocating for truth, rather than advocating for policy.’ OK. Let’s say, an outreach arm of the IPCC. Do you seriously believe that those already rejecting anything coming from there would suddenly change their minds?
    Or take Sinclair and Craven, who you (and I) admire. But isn’t this admiration largely a function of them being amateurs working with limited resources? Say they had the resources of an Al Gore to work with — would they be any more successful than Gore? Get real.

    The problem is that slinging mud is so much more successful per dollar spent — the generic weakness of the defence. Suspicion is easier to spread than knowledge by a margin. That’s why an institution that would be really useful, is a legal defense fund for climate (and other) scientists. Hansen would have needed this when he was being gagged. Michael Mann should have sued the pants off his libelers. That’s the way to establish a tradition that attacking science comes with a price tag. Consider it a dress rehearsal for when the shit hits the fan, and scientists are getting attacked (as they will!) for failing to effectively communicate the full scope of the disaster.

    Well-intended writers like Mooney & Kirschenbaum and Olsen are part of the problem. Participating in the ‘blame the scientists’ game, however obliquely, may be a cute literary device, but is not a good way of hanging on to your target audience.

  33. 183
    Richard Steckis says:

    John Reisman #166,

    My answer is all of the above or none of the above. The simple fact is I do not know. Nor does any scientist who uses GCMs to forecast climate that far ahead.

    5% Anthropogenic CO2
    20-25% Anthropogenic land use changes. And that is an out of my ass guess.

    Ray Ladbury #171,

    Your so-called cartoon method is the accepted general scientific method. Of course it has many embellishments. The rest of your post is just an attempt to belittle.

    Ray Ladbury #168,

    I have no objection to the use of physics in dynamical models. I object to those models used for forecasting decades into the future as if those forecasts are real and un-challengeable. By the way Ray, where are the biologics and the chemistry in the models. There is more to climate dynamics than just physics (about time you accepted that).

  34. 184
    Greg Craven says:

    I can’t believe people are arguing about who’s job description *anything* is. When water is pouring in the side of your boat, you don’t stand around arguing about who’s job it is to plug the hole. YOU do whatever you can. And if you don’t think there’s quite likely a very large a hole in the side of the boat, then why are you here?

    Sorry to get snarky, but it seems very much like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic while you let the ship’s crew argue about whether the water will breach the bulkheads, or not. Shouldn’t we each be asking “What can I do to help?” and if no one is around to answer, start looking for helpful things to do ourselves?

  35. 185
    pete best says:

    It amazes me that science has managed to communicate every science available over the years since principia mathematica in 1672 but for some reason AGW is not being communicated properly because nothing constructive is being done about it at the moment.

    This is of course not the case, I am sure that medical and social sciences always meet with this kind of political interference but not economic so much as charity often funds medical science. AGW is a valid well communicated science both in books and on the WWW and even in video (RC agrees with Al Gore in AIT) but nothing is quite so refuted by the public at large as much as AGW is. Politicians, economists and media commentators all have an opinion on what AGW is and means even if they are mostly incorrect technically.

    No one who agrees with the science and wants us to do something about AGW can really expectus to suddenly turn of the carbon taps or even agree on what to do just yet. It has been such a shock to most people that it could take decades before we do anything serious about the situation. I mean nothing is as tightly ingrained in our culture as fossil fuels are. We have let some terrible company decisions go unmolested and still do. We may have even gone to war to get oil.

    In scientific terms quantum physics and climate science and no different and adhere to the same methods of proof and verification. That does not mean that everyone is going to agree especially if its time to give up SUVs and flying and eating loads of nice food from far away places.

  36. 186
    mondo says:

    Re: 137 by 1234567890.

    “That`s why we need to change the way how we generate energy. Renewable is the key to solve this. Another effect of cleaner air means less health issues.

    The time of fossil fuels is over, every approach into tar-sands, mountaintop removal, coal or methane gas is doomed.”

    But what if detailed economic analysis were to show that the power bill for every American family would go up fourfold if your recommendations were implemented? Would you still hold the same position? Do you really think that ‘We the People’ will agree with you??

  37. 187

    Greg, what I have a problem with is people blaming me for not plugging the hole with my bare hands, when there is this guy holding the tools who even refuses to look if there is a hole :-(

  38. 188

    The denialist crazies are actually our friends, in the sense that they are recognizably cuckoo to a goodly number of folks who are otherwise uncertain about the merits of the arguments made on each side.

    There are still “smoking denialists”, but they have definitively lost the debate. The same will be true for the issue of climate change. Right now, IMO, it speaks very loudly to the “normals” when Joe Denialist says “It’s been cooling for the last 15 years,” and you say, “Well, actually, oceanic temperatures have been at their highest level ever, and last month was the second-warmest August ever seen. What do you mean by “cooling,” exactly, that it includes such facts?” He’s not phased, but the drive-by reader will get it.

    I think, FWIW, that the dominant emotion on the part of the majority vis a vis AGW is not skepticism but weariness. I don’t think that the denialists are actually winning–I think they are loud, but their credibility is not increasing in the mainstream. If anything, the reverse.

    What’s really scary is how slow effective action is proving to be.

  39. 189
    Hank Roberts says:

    It may be that what’s ignored is that the US was consuming a relatively untouched continent over the past couple of centuries. The whole gamut of new technology, new science, fast food, and other inventions came from the culture evolved while digesting that free lunch. That free lunch has been eaten.

    Nothing will ever be as cheap again.

  40. 190
    Hank Roberts says:

    > whose job description

    A teacher who tells you it’s not in his job description to go out and educate the wilfully ignorant isn’t saying it’s not worth doing, he’s saying he’s already fullly busy by definition trying to teach those actually willing to at least show up in class.

    People have limits.

  41. 191
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Determining what questions are worth asking is one of the crucial differences between science and mere empirical inquiry as practiced by the ancient Greeks. It is also necessarily model dependent. Nothing in science is model independent. Your failure to understand this is one of the reasons why you don’t understand the science of climate.

  42. 192
    Radge Havers says:

    #179 stevenc
    People are a mixed bag. It’s hard to deny that society is shot through with anti-science sentiment, enough that it’s a political problem. I think people like the idea of scientists on one level and mistrust them on another.

    #187 MV

    this guy holding the tools who even refuses to look if there is a hole :-(

    Well yeah, but after a certain point you’d probably just shove him overboard and do the job yourself. Or maybe that’s just me. I’m excitable.


    I like the idea of a legal defense fund. It’s one of the best I’ve heard though probably not a stand alone solution. Once something like that becomes effective, it too will come under attack.

    #190 HR
    Good so long as the able bodied don’t hide behind it as an excuse.

  43. 193
    tamino says:

    Greg Craven (#184) hits the nail on the head. There’s a big leak in the boat, let’s stop arguing about who’s supposed to plug the hole and who’s supposed to bail.

    Pete Best (#185) also hits a nail with his amazement that the general public is not so convinced of AGW that some of us are climbing over each other to get to the hole first, and others are grabbing buckets and bailing as fast as we can.

    What I think the readership here hasn’t fully appreciated is that the reason the public isn’t convinced has nothing to do with inadequacy of scientific explanation. It has to do with a “swift boat” campaign by denialists. Pure and simple. It took the presidency away from John Kerry, it similarly derailed Mike Dukakis (replace “swift boat” with “Willie Horton”), and it has so far derailed climate action in the U.S.

    The swift boat campaign, the Willie Horton ads, and everything that Marc Morano does, are brutally dishonest and tremendously effective. The fact that Morano, Inhofe and their ilk believe what they say doesn’t diminish their dishonesty, any more than it does for Ian Plimer, Martin Durkin, or the tobacco company execs who claim smoke isn’t harmful with a straight face.

    We’re in a fight for our lives and I’m no longer interested in being a nice guy about it.

  44. 194
    Fred Magyar says:

    I guess the likes of Richard Feynman are just not that cool anymore.

    Or maybe the public at large is just too darn ignorant nowadays to be able to participate in any serious discussion that assumes a grounding in the basics?

    As a layperson, I just don’t buy that and have little patience with having science dumbed down for me by trying to make it “entertaining”.

  45. 195
    Fred Magyar says:

    Mondo @ 186,

    But what if detailed economic analysis were to show that the power bill for every American family would go up fourfold if your recommendations were implemented? Would you still hold the same position? Do you really think that ‘We the People’ will agree with you??

    What if the true external costs for environmental degradation were added to your current fossil fuel energy bill and you found that it was much more than the fourfold increase for renewables?

  46. 196
    Patrick 027 says:

    “I object to those models used for forecasting decades into the future as if those forecasts are real and un-challengeable.”

    Okay, but it certainly makes sense to rely on those models for guidance. The models are challengeable and incomplete, certainly, but they are useful. Nobody is pretending biology, etc. don’t play some role (and I’m not so sure that some models don’t include a bit more than just abiotic atmospheric and oceanic physics (?)). But if a model doesn’t include, for example, CO2 and CH4 feedbacks, we can still say that according to the model, ___ is what would happen if we don’t have those particular feedbacks; with that we can consider what might happen with those particular feedbacks, etc. In as far as challenging that a model or model ensemble is ‘wrong’ without qualification (wrong how?, why? by how much?, in what direction or shape?) is not particularly productive, and specifying the proposed error carries some burden of proof if it is new to the best body of knowledge available (if it isn’t or can’t already expected based on knowns and known unknowns…).

  47. 197
    Patrick 027 says:

    ” Michael Mann should have sued the pants off his libelers. ”

    Maybe, but I don’t see that winning over any denialists, who will defend the libelers with ‘freedom of speech’.

    I imagine myself on the Hannity show trying to illustrate the problem of denialists. I say, “lend me $1 and I’ll pay it back with 10 % interest”. I take the dollar. Hannity asks for it back. I say “What money? Prove it! Video tapes can be faked; your people should send blueprints of all equipment used to my people. You can’t trust your memory. I have a right to my opinion and I don’t think I took any money from you.” (PS and on a show with an evolution denier, I would get up, walk behind the person and sit down again. “What just happened?”, I ask. “You went behind me”, s/he says. I say “That’s just a theory. You don’t know that God destroyed me and recreated me in a different place.”).

  48. 198
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re mondo – “But what if detailed economic analysis were to show that the power bill for every American family would go up fourfold if your recommendations were implemented? Would you still hold the same position? Do you really think that ‘We the People’ will agree with you??”

    What if the power bill went up a few percent for a few decades and then went down two-fold?

  49. 199
    Richard C says:

    Tamino – 193, I’ve got to disagree. I would say the reason the public isn’t convinced is because mass media journalists and editors don’t understand science, (that’s TV and newspapers, not science journals). Rather than understanding the science and then publishing the story, they broadcast both “sides” as valid, not matter how wrong the argument.

  50. 200

    #178 Owen

    Most of my acquaintances are conservative. They still listen to their favorite information sources. I unplugged from US news media a long time ago just because if I want to see a circus, I will go to one. At least there I can order footlongs and eat cotton candy.

    I too am skeptical by nature. The more I heard about how much of a problem global warming might be, the more curious I became.

    I am a generalist also by nature. I try not to get lost in the details but tie together all the different pieces of the puzzle in order to see the bigger picture.

    have you have a chance to browse around my site?

    I have done everything I could to treat the science and the arguments as well as its participants fairly. There is a contact link if you have any questions that I might at least try to answer.