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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. 201

    #183 Richard Steckis

    Well, I’m not a scientist like you, but I think the models are looking pretty good at this point. Did you read the list that Barton Paul Levinson did on tamino site? That does not impress you at all? BTW BPL I copied it and linked to source on the OSS site. It’s a great perspective on climate model capacities thus far.

    http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/models/climate-modeling

    Your guessing warming is 25 to 30% anthropogenic. That would mean that if you are reasonably correct, 70 to 75% of it is natural cycle warming. On what basis is your guess?

    The current estimate of the low end of the Milankovitch cycle is around -3.4W/m2. The pre-industrial forcing estimate is right around 0.0 W/m2 or thermal equilibrium. We are moving negative in the Milankovitch cycle and instead of seeing lower numbers like say -0.1 W/m2 we have an estimate of 1.6 W/m2 ‘all in’ (so 1.6 is the mean estimate) on positive and negative forcing (anthropogenic forcing has both components on top of the natural forcing).

    I suppose my primary question to you is do you have a reasonable understanding of the inertia’s and feedbacks involved here?

    I suppose you can remain stuck in the mud of models are not always right till you die, or you can tie together all the pieces of the puzzle and look at the evidence and models in together and get the picture.

    If you don’t, the I would have to say you are not being reasonable. If you do, and you come to a conclusion that is not warmer by 2100, then I’d say you have an impediment in your view or some other logic problem.

    Or you can just continue on the meme that we will never know really until 2100.

    Even though I can not prove it, even if I repeat the experiment 100 times and it works every time, if I roll a ball down a hill and there are no impediments large enough to stop the ball. I can say with confidence that the ball will roll down the hill. All I can say is in my experience and mathematically, the ball should go down the hill every time I roll it.

    You can’t really prove it in each test because you don’t really know until the ball gets to the bottom of the hill, each time.

    But then, saying you can’t prove it really is just childish, isn’t it.

    How is it unreasonable to not recognize, in consideration of the change in forcing, the atmospheric lifetime of Co2, the fact that warmer oceans will evaporate more H2o (also a GHG) and all the associated details that reasonably clearly show that we have changed the angle of the hill. Except in this case the ball does not roll down, the climate warms.

    Your post just shows me that you are not well studied in the area of climate and not learning from all the great guidance you are getting here in this site. And if that is true, as you illustrate in your posts, then what reason would you have to be in here posting other than obstructionism, or you are bored, you like wasting other peoples time.

    As to your statement:

    “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).”

    This is the classic we don’t know everything therefore we might know nothing argument. You need to look deeper into the signal to noise ratio on the attribution. While the S/N ratio can always be improved, the signal is already showing us that this new warming path is not natural cycle.

    There are some things that can be stated with high confidence and some with less, we do not know nothing. The models match the observations, logic and reason alone tell the rest of the story, we don’t need to know everything to know something, or enough to make a decision.

    Leaders need to make decisions, folks like you can enjoy the luxury of yelling from the sidelines and heckling the referee. But that is just your choice. From what I can see, you simply have not learned enough to speak intelligently on the subject of climate and your personal bias may be getting in the way of honest scientific inquiry on your part.

    As far as forecasting, no one is saying exactly what the temp will be at a precise point in time, only that all things considered it is clear we are warming and will continue to do so in the long run. That much is clear. It is important to recognize that natural variation does not go away with global warming, it just happens on a different path.

    I’m sorry if I’m a little snarky too (hope I used that correctly) but from my perspective, you are not trying to understand this earnestly, or you have a blindside that you may not be aware of.

  2. 202
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Richard #198, what you describe makes what tamino #193 describes possible. You don’t actually disagree.
    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
    The real reason is of course that the media aren’t in the business of informing the public, but in that of selling eyeballs to advertisers. You’re not the customer, you’re the product.

  3. 203
    Mark Cunnington says:

    Getting off fossil fuels is not going to cost anyone any money, except for the oil industry. Electric cars are way cheaper to run than gasoline cars and cost competitive ones will be out within 2 years.

  4. 204
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mark Cunnington, it’d help if you’d give a source for what you say about electric cars (or anything else) — where did you read it? Why do you consider it such reliable information that you repeat it under your own name? When you make yourself the source of information for others it always helps if you give the source you’re relying on.

    When checking, don’t forget to check where the electricity comes from for the electric cars — the source and associated problems varies by state or country. Also don’t forget transmission losses, again specific to your location.

  5. 205
    tamino says:

    Re: #199 (Richard C)

    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.

    But the only reason they do that is the swift-boat campaign of Marc Morano, Senator Inhofe, Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, the Heartland Institute, etc.

    Otherwise the mass media would long ago have made all those mistakes and gotten over them. They’d now be reporting correctly about fundamental knowledge while sensationalizing cutting-edge science as they usually do. Instead we’re subjected to a perpetual “debate” over the basics, not because of the media but because of the “swift boat veterans” for climate dishonesty.

    Stop blaming the scientists, stop blaming the media. Blame the lies, and the lying liars who tell them.

  6. 206
    Rod B says:

    Gail Z’s, and presumably the State of Virginia’s assertion (147 & 150) is completely out of sync with what I have ever learned, though it’s been sometime ago. Is the current level of CO2 troposphere concentration high enough that it is actually ‘burning’ and killing off the trees and vegetation? Is H2O doing the same? When did CO2 become the precursor of ground level ozone? Is it only happening around the Eastern coast? No one, except for a quicky from Lawrence McLean (148), has even raised an eyebrow over this seemingly incredulous position. Or have I just been out to lunch while this was going on?

  7. 207
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, check what Virginia actually says.
    Check lichen’s usefulness as a clean-air measure.
    Check the chemical reactions.
    Eschew. Back away, slowly. Don’t feed …..

  8. 208
    Mike#22 says:

    Tamino 205 , “Stop blaming the scientists, stop blaming the media. Blame the lies, and the lying liars who tell them.” and grab a bucket.

    Urgent request to all the scientists in the world: Please design a simple Declaration of Peril, one paragraph or so, and have everyone sign it, and start mailing, faxing, emailing, phoning it everywhere.

    One simple Declaration of Peril. Let Hansen write it. But get unified, and communicate.

    I would think the world will listen.

  9. 209
    Jim Eager says:

    Rod, you must have missed Hank’s subtle comment @176, but I am also surprised that almost no one else has challenged Gail Z’s assertion.

  10. 210
    Hank Roberts says:

    Jim — see the last line of 207.

  11. 211
    Robb says:

    It’s always been a matter of education to me – I had a horrible science upbringing based on a lot of garbage and faulty premises – it took a lot of catch up in college and since graduation to drill in scientific principles – some kids just aren’t given the opportunity to think scientifically.

    Robb Hughes
    Head of Sales & Marketing
    Green Meetup
    Find Green Eco-Friendly Products Here

  12. 212
    CM says:

    Gail Z., if you’re still reading this, you should note that it’s not the CO2 (carbon dioxide) from fuel that reacts to form low-level ozone, and that CO2 is not toxic, rather, plants need it for photosynthesis. You may have got CO2 mixed up with CO (carbon monoxide), which does take part in those reactions. This is not the only problem with the reasoning you set out (the role of lichens; local air pollution vs. the composition of the whole atmosphere, the possibility of multiple causes/stresses). But this site probably is not the best place to discuss it further. Since you have your own blog, perhaps Rod B, Jim Eager, or some other helpful soul — perhaps even someone from your area — will take the time to visit there and help you frame your inquiry more effectively.

  13. 213
    dhogaza says:

    Richard Steckis:

    1. I am a published scientist.

    Keep in mind that Steckis has an undergraduate degree, no doctorate, when he tries to pull rank on people such as he did with Gavin (“I am a published scientist, you’re an applied mathematician”).

    His research work, done with others, doesn’t pertain to climate science at all:

    “Stock delineation of pink snapper Pagrus auratus and tailor Pomatomus saltatrix from Western Australia by analysis of stable isotope and strontium/calcium ratios in otolith carbonate”

    etc.

    Nothing to indicate that he knows diddly about modeling, the physics of climate science, etc – not that there’s any evidence in his posts, either.

  14. 214
    David Horton says:

    #208 And then the Heritage Foundation, et al, would set up another petition, with their tame fools, and the media would treat the two petitions as of equal weight. And who could possibly know the truth?

  15. 215
    Jim Bouldin says:

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

    That’s a pretty radical concept for us delusionaries, but I’ll give it a shot.

  16. 216

    What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?

    – Nobel Laureate Sherwood Rowland (referring then to ozone depletion)

    * Quote taken from Gavin’s book. :)

  17. 217

    re: 215,

    Sorry Jim,

    Got a bit frustrated yesterday reading all of this thread and it was unfair to single you out.

    I’ll keep taking the pills and see I can maintain MY grip on reality!.

  18. 218
    Rod B says:

    Just for the record, tamino (193), the tobacco execs testified that tobacco wasn’t addictive, not harmful, though admittedly some had trouble with “harmful”. And the so-called swift boat campaign was carried out by guys who actually served with the exploitive Kerry.

  19. 219
    Hank Roberts says:

    Perhaps Richard Steckis can tell us something about his agency’s work, as he’s named among the longterm staff. The agency’s program includes:

    “In the 2007/08 financial year, the Research Division is intending to achieve the following:….
    –establishment of long-term monitoring sites for climate change (Project 4.2)”

    http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/publications/tabledpapers.nsf/displaypaper/3713165a611636b3878657dac8257387002385ba/$file/fisheries+ar+2006-07.pdf

  20. 220
    Richard Steckis says:

    218Hank Roberts says:
    21 September 2009 at 10:22 PM
    “Perhaps Richard Steckis can tell us something about his agency’s work, as he’s named among the longterm staff.”

    Hank,

    Perhaps this web site will answer some of your questions:

    http://www.wamsi.org.au/2008/sustainable-ecosystems-sustainable-fisheries-node-4

    I am not actually permitted to comment on agency policy etc.

  21. 221
    Richard Steckis says:

    191 Ray Ladbury says:
    21 September 2009 at 10:11 AM
    “Steckis,
    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.”

    Rubbish. I just did not bother to answer your go nowhere question. That is a far cry from failing to understand.

  22. 222
    Radge Havers says:

    Pushing the communication envelope, a prank NY Post climate issue from the Yes Men:
    http://nypost-se.com/

  23. 223
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Rod B #206, yes I also was surprised at Gail’s assertions, which sound unlike anything I learned… here in Finland, lichen on trees (“naava”) is a sign of clean air.
    But not being an expert, I waited for someone who is to speak out. What took you so long?

  24. 224
    Chris S. says:

    #208: “Petition”

    I find the fact that the “great AGW scientist conspiracy” ™ can’t get its act together to rustle up a petition to challenge the Inhofe or orgone lists somewhat ironic.

  25. 225
    Richard Steckis says:

    213 dhogaza says:
    21 September 2009 at 6:38 PM
    “Richard Steckis:

    1. I am a published scientist.

    Keep in mind that Steckis has an undergraduate degree, no doctorate, when he tries to pull rank on people such as he did with Gavin (”I am a published scientist, you’re an applied mathematician”).

    His research work, done with others, doesn’t pertain to climate science at all:

    “Stock delineation of pink snapper Pagrus auratus and tailor Pomatomus saltatrix from Western Australia by analysis of stable isotope and strontium/calcium ratios in otolith carbonate”

    etc.

    Nothing to indicate that he knows diddly about modeling, the physics of climate science, etc – not that there’s any evidence in his posts, either.”

    When will you get over the fact that a doctorate degree is NOT a requirement for the title scientist.

    I did not try to pull rank on Gavin (that is YOUR interpretation). There is no ranking system involved here.

    You are right. My work so far has not been in the area of climate science. That does not mean that one cannot, as a scientist, comment on it and understand it and indeed learn about it.

    And I have been involved in dynamical modelling in fisheries systems. I co-developed an egg and yield per recruit model for bluefish and have been involved in biomass dynamics modelling. Not as fancy or complicated as a GCM mind you, but modelling in any case.

  26. 226
    Matthew L. says:

    I have been a long-time reader of this site, and of scientific journals generally on this subject. I would call myself a climate “agnostic”, looking for sensible rational argument such as this excellent post from your early history:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/what-if-the-hockey-stick-were-wrong/

    However I have been increasingly alarmed at the polarization of views. There has been a descent into emotional anger, political ranting and an almost religious tone coming from the AGW camp. Likewise the Denial camp has been taken over by rabid right wing libertarian, gun-totin shock-jocks blaming Obama for all the world’s ills.

    As a quiet, liberal, non-religious person who loves science and the search for truth this is very disheartening. In particular this blog has become very “defensive” when confronted with evidence that things might not actually be quite as bad as we feared. In particular many AGW proponents seem to be postively unhappy that the earth has not warmed more in the last 10 years. They take no joy in the fact that the Arctic ice seems to be staging a remarkable recovery from the awful melting of 2007. Is it not possible to accept good news at face value? Or do we have to change “summer ice in Arctic recovers 1m sq km since 2007″ into “Arctic ice suffers third worst summer loss in living memory”. Pessimism is not good for science!

    As a scientist (not in climate science I hasten to add) I like to see empirical evidence and am generally distrustful of models dealing with chaotic systems. I also know that succesfully predicting the past is absolutely no guarantee – or even a reasonable pointer to – prediction of the future, particularly in systems with so many variables that are set by the model maker, buffers and unquantifiable positive and negative feedback affects.

    Ho hum. I suspect I will now be pilloried by other commentators for daring to question the “consensus”. I get particularly worried when scientists seem so certain about such an obviously vast, chaotic and uncertain system as the Earth’s climate. I will not let the bullies on either side of this argument push me into one camp or the other. Likewise as true sceintists you should be prepared to investigate why every scientist predicting this year’s Arctic summer ice melt got it wrong, or why the earth has not warmed more in the last 10 years.

    A good scientist would not simply dismiss contrary evidence as “noise” in a long term trend. It smackes of “Cognitive Bias” – something all good scientists should strive to avoid.

  27. 227

    One paragraph:

    In light of the facts that 1) increased levels of greenhouse gases are definitely warming the climate, 2) the fraction of Earth’s land surface that is “severely dry” by the Palmer Drought Severity Index has increased from 12% in 1970 to 30% in 2002, 3) one billion people depend on glacier melt for fresh water, and 4) India and Pakistan, both of which possess nuclear weapons, have already exchanged fire and had troops killed over which side owns a glacier, it is likely (perhaps 67% probability) that, in the absence of changes in humanity’s fossil fuel use and the rate of deforestation, the human civilization we are used to will collapse within the next 40 years. Social collapse due to climate change has happened several times before, as with ancient Mesopotamia or the Mayan Empire; in each case drought damage to the agricultural base and the availability of fresh water was involved. We therefore recommend that all nations implement strict measures to conserve energy, switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and preserve forests, as quickly as possible.

  28. 228
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matthew L., You will excuse my own “agnosticism” as to whether you are in fact what you claim–e.g. a scientist and a long-time reader of climate science literature. My skepticism arises from your mischaracterization of that science. Indeed, the current decade is well on track to be the warmest ever. Every year this decade is on track to be one of the ten warmest on record, including 2008, a La Nina year, and a year coming at the end of the deepest solar Minimum of the past century.
    Recent pattern of warming are perfectly consistent with expected behavior given a greenhouse mechanism.

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/07/14/warming-interrupted/

    Your characterization of the models is also incorrect. First, climate is probably not chaotic. Second, there is a lot of evidence supporting the models. See Barton Paul Levenson’s recent post:
    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/09/15/seasons/#comment-35668

    So while I cannot disprove your assertion that you have read the literature, it is certainly clear that you’ve learned nothing from it.

    You

  29. 229
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steckis, and you have still failed to answer my question, which despite your dismissive attitude is actually very important. The question of how one directs inquiry is one of the crucial differences between modern science (since ~1600) and mere empirical study, which has been with us since the Ancient Greeks. Failure to recognize the importance of models at all stages of scientific inquiry suggests that you don’t fully understand the scientific method. You may understand it sufficiently to get by in your own specialty (and I concur that lack of a PhD is not a barrier), but you will undoubtedly be lost when you venture outside of your specialty.

    So, I ask again: How do you decide what questions are interesting without reference to a model?

  30. 230
    Jim Eager says:

    Matthew L. writes @226, among other things:
    “…almost religious tone coming from the AGW camp…”
    “…the earth has not warmed more in the last 10 years…”
    “…the Arctic ice seems to be staging a remarkable recovery from the awful melting of 2007…”
    “…scientists seem so certain about such an obviously vast, chaotic and uncertain system as the Earth’s climate…”

    Which are all common, run-of-the-mill denier memes that completely undermine his “as a scientist” self-descriptor.

    And this [edit] is what we are meant to respond to with civility?

  31. 231
    Jim Eager says:

    Hank @210, roger that.

  32. 232
    tamino says:

    Re: #226 (Matthew L)

    Likewise as true sceintists you should be prepared to investigate why every scientist predicting this year’s Arctic summer ice melt got it wrong, or why the earth has not warmed more in the last 10 years.

    A good scientist would not simply dismiss contrary evidence as “noise” in a long term trend. It smackes of “Cognitive Bias” – something all good scientists should strive to avoid.

    A real scientist wouldn’t repeat falsehoods without checking the data first.

    A real scientist would know that noise is inevitable, it can’t be hand-waved away, and if he didn’t have the mathematical skill to determine the significance level of conclusions he’d consult someone who does.

    Permit me to doubt that you’re a real scientist, while I also doubt that you care about empirical evidence as much as you claim.

  33. 233

    Matthew L.,

    I have observed a similar pattern as you described, one of polarization. I think it is due to the much more intense use of blogs in the public discourse. Look at the average amount of comments on a current RC thread versus on a thread from 4 years ago, such as the one you quoted (35 comments). The vast majority of commenters, both here and on contrarian blogs, come from people who are quite engrained in their opinions (though the extent to which their opinions are based on scientific facts and insight differs). They tend to voice their opinions quite strongly, even more so when faced with contrary opinions. However, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts. That’s why scientifically minded folk get increasingly frustrated when faced with yet the same meaningless or long-ago answered objections. That’s something else than dismissing “evidence”. It’s as if we are continuously forced to explain that observing a bird in the sky doesn’t mean that gravity doesn’t exist. I don’t say this to diminish you or your observations of the debate, but merely to explain where I (and probably many others here) am coming from.

    I’m also met with a defensive (if not outright attack-mode) attitude if I engage at websites such as WUWT (as I’ve done in recent days). It’s quite disheartening indeed. I happened to have entered the conversation at WUWT where the Arctic sea ice situation was trumpeted as a recovery (as you claim in your comment). As NSIDC noted: “While this year’s September minimum extent was greater than each of the past two record-setting and near-record-setting low years, it is still significantly below the long-term average and well outside the range of natural climate variability, said NSIDC Research Scientist Walt Meier.” The downward trend from 1978 to 2009 Arctic sea ice minima is steeper than that from 1978 to 2006. Whether this signifies a real change in the long term trend, or whether these were just 3 anomalous years (with very little ice), is hard to tell for sure. That observation has nothing to do with pessimism. I don’t see how the past two years are a sign of recovery to the climatologically normal state (i.e. a 30 year average). Timescales are key. Same goes for the last decade. Cognitive bias? I can’t help it that there is a lot of weather variability.

    Perhaps this list is useful as a rough guide on which sources to trust:
    http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/who-to-believe/

  34. 234
    dhogaza says:

    When will you get over the fact that a doctorate degree is NOT a requirement for the title scientist.

    I did not try to pull rank on Gavin (that is YOUR interpretation). There is no ranking system involved here.

    Your “I’m a scientist, you’re an applied mathematician” statement was meant to establish yourself as being qualified to judge – dismiss, actually – the modeling work done by folks like Gavin. You’re trying to prop yourself up as an expert.

    I’m sorry, but there’s nothing in your educational or professional background that would lead me to believe that you’re qualified to make a sound, professional judgement of the value of GCM or anything else in climate science. Yes, plenty of folks with a mere BS work as fisheries biologists, just as you do. Few of them claim to be capable of tearing down the work of world experts in totally unrelated fields, however.

    You are right. My work so far has not been in the area of climate science. That does not mean that one cannot, as a scientist, comment on it and understand it and indeed learn about it.

    Your minor work delineating fish stocks using stable isotope ratios in otoliths gives you no more knowledge about the work you dismiss than that of any other interested layperson. When it comes to climate science, that’s what you are – a layperson.

  35. 235
    dhogaza says:

    Matthew L:

    They take no joy in the fact that the Arctic ice seems to be staging a remarkable recovery from the awful melting of 2007.

    Let’s see … early in the melt season arctic ice extent was just about at the 1979-2000 average, and by the end of the melt season arctic ice extent was at the third lowest minimum, far below two standard deviations from the 1979-2000 average. While NSIDC hasn’t published their summary yet, it’s clear that the summer melt was extremely high, even though melting slowed in August (yet was still dead-on the long-term trend of increasing August melt).

    Perhaps the “no joy” you witness is due to the fact that your definition of “remarkable recovery” isn’t shared by all? For instance, those who actually study the Arctic?

  36. 236
    Richard Steckis says:

    “So, I ask again: How do you decide what questions are interesting without reference to a model?”

    Those which interest me enough to learn the process that is going on. Simple as that. No models. Just human curiosity. You know, the sort of human curiosity that gave us a whole swag of science before and since mathematical models were ever invented.

    But I guess you are now going to try and argue that models are not just mathematical. Well that may be true but here we are exclusively debating about mathematical models.

    [Response: You might want to consider that many questions that people are interested in - including almost anything to do with the climate - are just not amenable to being solved by just thinking about them. Your horizons may indeed be limited by what you can discover with a pen, paper and a pair of binoculars, but don't assume that is a a general trait. - gavin]

  37. 237
    Richard Steckis says:

    “Failure to recognize the importance of models at all stages of scientific inquiry suggests that you don’t fully understand the scientific method.”

    Poppycock!

  38. 238
    Richard Steckis says:

    Ray,

    I do not fail to recognise the importance of models. I have, as stated earlier, been involved in mathematical modelling in a limited capacity. Mathematical modelling is a great boon to my profession (fisheries biology) as a tool (get that word?) in managing natural resources. I just do not place the central importance to them that you seem to.

  39. 239
    Matthew L. says:

    Hi Jim,
    sorry you seem to think me a “denier”, nothing could be further from the truth. To be a denier I would have to ignore all the evidence. My problem is that “cognitive bias” is leading the deniers to disregard evidence in favour of AGW, and the other side to disregard evidence against it.

    I am convinced that global warming is taking place, but like many bemused citizens find the evidence for CO2 as the primary cause to be patchy at best.

    However I am fervently in favour of reducing our dependence on burning fossil fuels (I hate waste), I am an advocate of solar energy and impatient for governments to get more committed to alternative energy sources.

    However I see much bigger threats to our environment from deforestation and over-cultivation. If anything gets me angry it is the US subsidy of the utilisation of good agricultural and forest lands to grow bio-fuel crops to feed their addiction to the motor car. If I lived in the USA I would have voted for Obama, so my political leanings are definitely towards the liberal, and certainly not conservative and I would hate to be lumped in with the “denialist” camp.

    I received a scientific education and am from a scientific family (my father is an retired research engineer with a chemistry PHD – obtained in the ’50s when a PHD really meant something) and, like many with that background, I am a sceptical “non-believer” by nature. I need to be convinced – merely believing what I am told is not an option. I want to see evidence.

    First of all, a couple of my favourite web sites:
    http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/
    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/

    Notice anything? Both purely factual. No comment, just evidence. I wish there were more like them.

    On your various points:

    Matthew L. writes @226, among other things:
    “…almost religious tone coming from the AGW camp…”
    Sorry you don’t see it that way, but that is honestly how it comes over to many of us of an atheist bent. I have been asked so many times whether I “believe” in global warming and if I have “faith” in the scientists.

    Sorry? What’s to believe? Either it is happening or it isn’t. It clearly is, that is a matter of fact. Belief is inextricably linked with faith. Both concepts are alien to me. I have no more “faith” in any scientists than I do in my local priest.

    “…the earth has not warmed more in the last 10 years…”
    Well is that not a provable fact? Looking at HadCrut3v, the average temp. variance for the 5 years 1999-2003 (inclusive) is 0.381, and for 2005-2008 is 0.414. Just look at the graph on the Hadley centre site, it has gone distinctly flat since 2001. I want to know why this is happening. Surely somebody in the scientific community can point me to some evidence rather than dismissing me as a “denialist”?

    It is not just me, you need to convince the rest of the public. If you don’t then the denialists will be able to cite facts and all you will have to counter them is insults. That does not make you look good.

    “…the Arctic ice seems to be staging a remarkable recovery from the awful melting of 2007…”
    Again this is a fact. In 2007 the sea ice minimum was 3m sq km below the long term average, in 2008 it was 2m sq km below it and in 2009 it fell to about 1.6m below it. In 2008 and 2009 the winter sea ice maximum was only about 0.5m sq km below the long term average – a distinct improvement on 2004 and 2005. The proportion of multi-year sea ice is increasing and the build up of ice has started earlier in 2009 than in any year since 2005.

    The signals look good that the most extreme predictions of Arctic sea ice loss may be mistaken. Certainly all but one of the scientists in the field got it wrong this year.
    http://nsidc.org/images/arcticseaicenews/20090722_Figure4.png
    The actual minimum was 5.1m square kilometers.

    The NSIDC is an execellent organisation, even if they do seem to have a tendancy to interpret all the data negatively. Antarctic sea ice has never had a problem and has reached a record winter maximum this year.

    Now cannot we cheer a bit of good news without being growled at by those who in some perverse way seem to wish things were worse as that would prove they were right all along.

    “…scientists seem so certain about such an obviously vast, chaotic and uncertain system as the Earth’s climate…”

    Well you are aren’t you? Certain, that is. I am sorry that you think this is a “denialist meme” (no idea what a “meme” is, will have to consult my dictionary). In 2001, all the climate change models pointed to catastrophic global warming this century. So far this has not happened (it might yet of course). Surely the “story so far” is good news?

    [Response: What is being objected to is your caricature of what "scientists" think. Perhaps you'd care to point to anything written by a principal on this site that declares certainty of the science? Why would we even be scientists if we thought everything interesting was already known? It is indeed a standard (and false) 'meme' that all of us scientists are going around saying there is no uncertainty, but this is absolutely, fundamentally, and blatantly untrue. Unfortunately, the story so far is not good news - despite a welcome lack of record breaking sea ice loses this year. Just look at the long term trends. Someone who takes comfort in a single wave receding while the tide is still rising is not thinking very far ahead. - gavin]

    “And this is what we are meant to respond to with civility?”

    I think that is my main beef – the simple lack of civility. The population need to be convinced. We are after all being asked to pay big bucks in increased energy and transportation costs. And all we see is the two sides in their entrenched camps chucking brick-bats and being rude to each other. And when we politely ask for evidence we get insulted. You need to treat your audience with more respect. We are not idiots.

    I feel like an innocent bystander stepping into a fight. Both the participants stop beating each other up and beat up the bystander instead!

    Now try to your best to be civil. I am honestly a pushover, an easy target, my bias is to your side if anything. If you can’t convince me you won’t convince anyone.

    By the way, I should not have said I was a scientist. I received a scientific education and retain a strong interest in scientific issues. I build complex financial models for a living, so I know what it feels like to be wrong!

  40. 240
    Richard Steckis says:

    Gavin says:

    “You might want to consider that many questions that people are interested in – including almost anything to do with the climate – are just not amenable to being solved by just thinking about them.”

    I never said that Gavin. I merely said that the question can come from curiosity and interest, not the solution to the question. The solution requires empirical investigation, data gathering and analysis. Sometimes using established models as a guide, sometimes not.

  41. 241
    Rod B says:

    Jim Eager (230), does the fact that Matthew L’s “…common, run-of-the-mill denier memes…” have an element of truth make him more, or less, a scientist? Just curious.

    [Response: What truth? Repeating things you've heard without checking their veracity very clearly makes you less of a scientist. Perhaps you would care to read our posting on the sea ice minimum predictions a couple of months back? Last lines: "Arctic ice cover is not just a number, but rather a metric of a profound and disruptive change in an important ecosystem and element of the climate. While it doesn’t look at all likely, the best outcome would be for all the estimates to be too low." - where is the "joy" in that? - gavin]

  42. 242
    Hank Roberts says:

    The PDF file from WAMSI indicates some people at the agency do. Perhaps looking at their published work will give a clearer idea of what the current science is. For example from the link given above
    http://www.wamsi.org.au/2008/sustainable-ecosystems-sustainable-fisheries-node-4
    look down to:

    WAMSI 4.2.3
    Establishment of fishery-dependent indicators of climate change
    Nick Caputi Alan Pearce, Ming Feng & Rod Lenanton
    November 2008

    Google their names. It appears we’re dealing with an outlier here.

    It probably makes more sense to focus on the work being done by the scientists actually involved in the climate change area.

  43. 243

    #226 Matthew L.

    What is your last name? I’d like to look at your work.

    Ho hum?

    Actually the earth has warmed in the last 10 years… or were you talking about a different set of cherry picked dates?

    http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/myths/global-warming-stopped

    How is Arctic ice loss that is “the third-lowest extent since the start of satellite measurements in 1979″ good news?

    http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

    Following Ray, how is climate chaotic? Weather is certainly chaotic. Climate is more about trend.

    By the way, I love that set up you did:

    “As a quiet, liberal, non-religious person who loves science and the search for truth this is very disheartening.”

    A contrarian might suspect the opposite to be true.

  44. 244

    #233 Bart

    Well said!

    I especially like:

    It’s as if we are continuously forced to explain that observing a bird in the sky doesn’t mean that gravity doesn’t exist.

    What a nice way to sum up the feelings of many of us, especially the few of us that spend time at WUWT. Do not quit posting there.

  45. 245

    Compared to 1997 a weak summer El-Nino is ongoing

    http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/ensostuff/ensoyears.shtml

    I have not seen this in a while

    http://www.cdc.noaa.gov/map/images/rnl/sfctmpmer_30b.rnl.html

    Warm all over the world in September, also August ranked second warmest:

    http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/index.php?report=global&year=2009&month=aug

    What would be the other explanation for this aside from AGW? The spotless sun? :)

  46. 246
    Matthew L. says:

    “What is being objected to is your caricature of what “scientists” think. Perhaps you’d care to point to anything written by a principal on this site that declares certainty of the science? Why would we even be scientists if we thought everything interesting was already known? It is indeed a standard (and false) ‘meme’ that all of us scientists are going around saying there is no uncertainty, but this is absolutely, fundamentally, and blatantly untrue. ”

    Yes, you guys are a model of how to do it that is why I am an avid reader, of this blog. I, however, am a member of the general public with a job in financial services and limited time to read the literature. I claim no expertise in climate science. I get my information predominantly from the media. Over here (UK) the media brooks no uncertainty when it comes to climate change.

    Apparently, according to “The Metro” (the most widely read paper in London) by 2080 we are going to suffer 8 deg C of temperature rise, London will be underwater and daffodils will bloom in December. However when I look at the actual figures, I see flat temperatures, doubts over sea level rise and a growing Arctic ice cap. Can you not see why we are all getting very confused out here?

    [Response: Yes. You are confusing something predicted for 70 years in the future with something that happened last week. No doubt an easy mistake to make. - gavin]

    You guys should be countering this kind of pro AGW extremist nonsense as well as that from the denialists. Otherwise the denialists will tar you all with the same brush.

    “Unfortunately, the story so far is not good news – despite a welcome lack of record breaking sea ice loses this year. Just look at the long term trends. Someone who takes comfort in a single wave receding while the tide is still rising is not thinking very far ahead”

    If it were a single wave I would agree, but this is the second wave in a row and it looks like a third may be on the way because the se ice has started to grow unusually early and pretty rapidly too.

    What do you call a “long term trend”? From 1973 until 1993 there is no trend, the ice just seems to fluctuate randomly around the mean. From 1994 to 2007 there was a gradual decline in sea ice. However that is only 13 years – not really that long in the whole history of the Arctic ice cap. In 2007 the sea ice grew back very quickly and has been on an upward path since. Try joining the winter peaks together and the summer troughs together on the following graph:
    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/sea.ice.anomaly.timeseries.jpg

    But as you say, it is only two years of data. We will see. If I were a betting man (which I am!) I would put quite a lot of money on the summer minimum in 2010 being greater than 2009. Know any gullible bookies?

  47. 247
    stevenc says:

    When NOAA publishes a report stating the ENSO adjusted trend for the last decade was 0.00 +/- 0.05C per decade then it doesn’t seem fair to critisize laymen, or perhaps even scientists, for repeating them.

    The trend in Arctic sea ice is down and I see no reason to believe this long term trend won’t continue. The idea that a rebound has become a point of interest for so many I suspect can be taken back to how the media reported it. This is why I suspect counting on the media regardless of their position is a risky business.

    I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I still lean towards the skeptical point of view. I would just prefer to not see you lose the argument until the warming continues or the models are shown to be statistically unlikely.

  48. 248

    Mathew L , “If it were a single wave I would agree, but this is the second wave in a row and it looks like a third may be on the way because the se ice has started to grow unusually early and pretty rapidly too.”

    Amateurish statements presage bad prognosis. Arctic summer solstice clouds played a major role in averting a 2007 like melt. You claim a recovery? I saw the same type of strong recent melt. Even when clouds increased albedo. The right way to interpret current ice conditions is to consider all weather factors leading up to sea ice minima.

  49. 249
    Matthew L. says:

    “Yes. You are confusing something predicted for 70 years in the future with something that happened last week. No doubt an easy mistake to make.”

    No need to be sarcastic Gavin ;-)

    Actually I am reading a prediction of 8 deg C by 2080, which requires over 1 deg C a decade. I then look back over the last decade and see barely any change at all, and if I look back 30 years a change of just +0.39 degrees. I am not saying it is necessarily a change in the trend, I just think this kind of scare mongering does not do genuine climate scientists any faovours.

    Do you subscribe to the 8 dec C prediction, or anything close to it?

    In case anyone thinks I am cherry picking I get the following from HadCrut3v:
    (Period, Total change, Change per decade)
    10 years; -0.198; -0.198
    20 years; +0.155; +0.077
    30 years; +0.388; +0.129
    40 years; +0.488; +0.122
    50 years; +0.455; +0.089

    This is a very obvious, and worrying, trend. It is not, however, supportive of an 8 deg change in 70 years. As I have stated myself, history is no predictor of the future. However, it would need a pretty extreme set of positive feedback assumptions in a model, and a very brave scientist, to predict much more than a degree or so of warming in the next 70 years against taht kind of trend.

    [Response: First off, by not providing an actual reference or link, no-one is in a position to know what you are talking about. Is that a local number? for the summer? a maximum or a mean? what are the error bars? with respect to pre-industrial or present day? under what kind of scenario? Whether the underlying data is valid and whether whatever you are reading is properly contextualised remains a mystery. Second, you appear to think that projections of climate are derived using the Excel linear regression routine. I'm sure that this functionality has many uses, but for calculating the impact of multi-thousand Gigatonnes of CO2 entering the climate system, it probably lacks a certain something. Like physics. - gavin]

  50. 250
    Matthew L. says:

    Wayne (#248)

    “Arctic summer solstice clouds played a major role in averting a 2007 like melt. You claim a recovery? I saw the same type of strong recent melt. Even when clouds increased albedo. The right way to interpret current ice conditions is to consider all weather factors leading up to sea ice minima.”

    Yes, weather played its part, as it always will. It was extreme warm weather and unusual wind patterns that caused the 2007 melt in the first place, and the subsequent loss of multi-year sea ice that has increased the vulnerability of the ice to melting.

    However, the probability is that the weather in 2010 will not be that different from the “average” weather you get in the Arctic Summer – which in the past has supported a sea ice extent of around 6-8m sq km. The chances are that it will gradually return closer to that level over time, even if you assume a gradual decline is the long run trend. You would have to assume that Arctic weather patterns have significantly shifted long term for this not to be the case.

    If I am wrong I will lose my bet (if I can find a bookie to take it) and you can feel smug ;-)

    Guys, if you keep on like this you will turn be into a denier!
    (joke)

    All I am trying to say is that not sufficiently countering the extremists in your midst, leaves you open to being tarred with the same brush. If you were in the Britsh Labour party in the 1970′s and 1980′s you would understand what I am talking about.

    Also, if you let reality drift too far away from your prediction without either explaining it or modifying it (the prediction that is) then you are in danger that your prediction will lose credibility.


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