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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. 401
    Naindj says:

    Hank,

    Thank you for your reply.
    I am talking about this article, published in Nature.
    http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/1990/1990_Lorius_etal.pdf

    And the calculation I am talking about is in the box 1.
    This is very simple “cross product” calculation (that seems to be wrong) but it seems that a lot of studies made since then are using this coefficient 0.3.
    This is the point I wanted to ask here. Are contemporary scientists really relying on it or not?
    And second point, linked to it: do models use at some point these kind of very simple equation? (they must have a way to link CO2 concentration and temperature increase, because I think you can’t model CO2 absorption in such big scales (both time and space)…

    [Response: This is just a heuristic – an approximation that gives the right order of magnitude and as such it’s fine. All current models do very much more complicated calculations in order to get the full climate sensitivity (i.e. 2.5 to 4 deg C for a doubling of CO2) which of course include feedback terms. – gavin]

    Many thanks again.
    (a few words about me: I am neither “skeptic” neither “warmist”, I am in a process of reviewing where we are now, I finish my first review, and I am realy “in the middle” because 1-I think there is a global warming and of course human C02 is for a big part of it but 2-It seems to me models are overestimating the trend, so I am now trying to investigate how the models really work and it is a difficult job!)

  2. 402

    #381 CM

    I understand net time is perceived as faster than historical perspective traditionally assumes but still, time-hallowed? You mean the last 15 years of the www history? Unless of course you are stretching back into the TCP/IP days and BB’s.

    And besides, the net time-hollowed tradition on this site was set from the beginning by the RealClimate team 5 years ago. All their full names are available as well as background information on who they are and what they do.

    I do understand that some might lose their jobs or have possibly other legitimate reasons not to use their full names, but be it otherwise, for the sake of honor and integrity, posters should show some spine and not hide in the shadows of cyberspace posting such silliness as is befitting the level of argument traditionally found on a 3rd grade playground.

    Of course, that’s just my opinion.

    People that post offensive things, knowingly or unknowingly should post their full names along with it.

    Here is what I consider offensive. Any post that ignores the context of data or its relevance in consideration of the deterioration of the global economic system, the destruction of ocean, land and atmospheric habitats, the cause effect relationship on species, human populations especially/primarily (due to order of precedence of expected ramifications) the third world that will be put in a position of primarily paying the highest price because of the avarice of those that clearly don’t see (or don’t care to see) the connection between their actions and the resultant damage caused by such actions, as it pertains to the effects of human caused global warming on the living system of earth. Or any post that originates in confirmation bias (whether originated in science or public opinion) of information gleaned from those so willing to repeat a mantra that has its origin in naiveté, ignorance, political bias, the generally uninformed media, or from some talking head or just a guy on the ‘internets’.

    Since denialists, or denialist skeptics, are not climate scientists, and therefore coming form a point of naiveté (such as myself), ignorance, or are only here to spout through copy and paste arguments that are neither original, nor founded in reason or the scientific method, they should post their full name.

  3. 403
    jhm says:

    If anyone is still reading this thread, a good example of either poor communication or perhaps the difficulties of presenting complex and changing information can be found in this post by someone who is generally well informed (in the lay sense):

    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2009/09/climate-change-even-worse-you-think

  4. 404

    “…he respectfully treated each question as a genuine search for knowledge.” (Hank, 388)

    I think that is the best way to get people to accept the science. It is easy for us who are deeply entrenched in the on-line debate to forget how a newcomer perceives the issues. There is a lesson in the perspective of Matthew L (386 and earlier posts). His first comment was filled more with statements than with questions, but even then, it’s still possible to treat them as genuine questions and concerns. Which I think they were, based on his subsequent posts. Someone who comes to this issue like Matthew does, trying to make sense of news stories while browsing the internet, has a very different perspective on it than those of us who have been following the debate for years. I think he exemplifies the kind of person we need to –and can- convince of the strength of the scientific evidence. We should be thinking carefully about how to best do so.

    I think the tone of the response is important. Even if he were just repeating claims picked up from some anti-scientific website, what would do more good for him and for the numerous people reading (but not participating in) the comments: A sarcastic reply calling him out on his denialist talking points or a patient explaining of the issues? And what if he indeed were sincere in his concerns and (perhaps misguided) questions?

    When dealing with the hard-line Morano’s of this world, it may be different. But otherwise, a calm and collected attitude is important. And even with the likes of Morano, it is not clearcut that abusive language is the way to go. Keith Kloor writes: “If I was stranded on a desert island because of global warming and I had a choice to live out my days with either Morano or Joe Romm, it’s no contest.” (http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2009/09/15/the-problem-with-morano/) That’s what we should avoid. Perhaps being nice is a better strategy. For Joe Public, it matters a helluva lot who is the nicest guy. They don’t know who is right or who is wrong. They decide based on their gut feeling.

    This quote from Matthew (361) is an example of what should be avoided: “Sad to say JP (a climate activist) did not acquit himself well. He got progressively angrier and ended up shouting, and was even forced to back-track at one point. In contrast the denialist remained very level headed. Anybody listening to the interview and not familiar with either person, or the positions they represented, would have scored a definite win for the denialist camp.”
    To the quiet, infrequent readers here, the tone of the conversation matters a lot.

  5. 405
    Jim Eager says:

    Gavin, instead of shifting placement of the “start here” tab or making it blink (groan), how about just changing its type color, say to red?

  6. 406

    #404 Bart Verheggen

    You are making some good points here. Maybe treat the initial statements as questions or innocent until proven guilty. Though sometimes it just looks so darn run of the mill…

    On the other hand, a quick context response that says, look it’s all been argued into oblivion and beyond, gives them a fast context on the idea that what they may be presenting as statements are actually run of the mill, rehashed, burnt out denialist talking points.

    That can also be helpful. I always try to approach with a professional attitude as best I can and then see where it goes form there, but then sometimes I also am frustrated…

    So maybe, be nice, until given reason to approach from another angle, may be justified.

    As to tone, nice and/or direct is still my (general) motto.

  7. 407
    Ron Taylor says:

    This is not going to get any easier. Just when you think the science is finally getting through, along come new denialist PR groups spouting the oldest, most thoroughly debunked talking points. See:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/24/AR2009092404797.html?hpid=sec-business

    There are many parallels with the tobacco issue, but it would be a mistake to assume that because science prevailed in that case, it will do so here. Most people knew someone who had died of heart disease, lung cancer or emphysema. There is nothing remotely as immediate and personal as that to link to the consequences of global warming. It remains pretty much an abstraction for most people.

    In fact, opponents of climate action have the advantage in arguing that action will cost money and jobs. That is immediate and personal. I do not think it is true, at least where jobs are concerned, but it makes a plausible and threatening argument.

    The only hope is to keep patiently explaining the science – to the public and to members of Congress. It is also necessary to keep explaining how peer review works in science and why it is so important. I had a friend tell me about a scientist who is a skeptic, and who could not get his ideas published in the peer-reviewed literature. He assumed that meant the scientist was being muzzled.

  8. 408
    Vincent van der Goes says:

    One big problem with global warming is that it concerns a change in a probability distribution. The human mind has trouble appreciating something like that.

    By the way, I agree strongly with Bart Verheggen in post 404. It is very easy to perceive a skeptical layman as someone who does not want to learn, when in fact he is simply misinformed. Needlessly offending people is easy, repairing the damage this does is not.

  9. 409

    It seems that scientists have an additional burden
    which doesn’t apply to other fields of endeavor. No one says ‘don’t be such a dentist, or carpenter,or poet.Nobody says don’t be such an artist of librarian or whatever’.
    Scientists do have a responsibility to explain their work to non scientists, however there should be some expection that the general public keep themselves minimally informed.Is it too much to ask that that for instance in the equation E=mc^2, that c squared is such a large number that even the tiniest mass can be converted to enormous amounts of energy?
    In the end scientists should be themselves.In the words of Popeye(the don’t be such a) sailor man-“I am what I am,what I am”.

  10. 410
    Deep Climate says:

    In evaluating sincerity of questions, one tip-off is the relevance of the question or comment to the topic at hand. For instance, someone who raises the MWP in the midst of a discussion of so-called “global cooling since 1998” is most likely insincere and merely parroting contrarian talking points. Still, I usually tend to give people the benefit of the doubt until they show their true colours.

  11. 411
    Hank Roberts says:

    Magnus, try here:
    http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/2009/09/planetary_boundaries.html
    which points to
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v461/n7263/full/461472a.html
    http://www.nature.com/news/specials/planetaryboundaries/index.html

    I’d speculate that when Gavin refers to “Earth Systems” he may be talking about the same body of research that leads to the paper; I wonder whether any model can encompass what’s involved in watching the boundary measures.

  12. 412
    Deep Climate says:

    An ongoing problem in the communication of science is the muddle from sincere, but confused, science and environmental reporters.

    Case in point: Andrew Revkin’s incoherent piece entitled “Momentum on Climate Pact Is Elusive” which begins:

    The world leaders who met at the United Nations to discuss climate change on Tuesday are faced with an intricate challenge: building momentum for an international climate treaty at a time when global temperatures have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/23/science/earth/23cool.html?_r=3

    Joe Romm has a scathing rebuttal and finds two egregious errors (since corrected by Revkin):
    http://climateprogress.org/2009/09/22/new-york-times-andrew-revkin-suckered-by-deniers-to-push-global-cooling-myt/

    Apart from the now corrected errors, Revkin never gets around to mentioning that global average temperature in the 2000s is significantly higher than the 1990s (up 0.19C in NASA GISS, 0.17C in HadCRU). In fact, there is much to cheer “skeptics” in his exposition.

    All this is discussed here in a post entitled “NYT’s Andy Revkin backtracks (but not nearly enough)”:

    http://deepclimate.org/2009/09/25/nyts-andy-revkin-backtracks-but-not-nearly-enough/

    The conclusion:

    Andy Revkin, wake up. It’s time to start exposing the spin instead of succumbing to it.

    Of course, the reference to temperatures that “may even drop” relies on an interview with Mojib Latif, but Revkin’s exposition doesn’t really jibe with my understanding of the Keenlyside et al 2008 paper in Nature (on which Latif was co-author). I know RC has posted in the past on this, and I understand a new post on the subject of natural variations due to oceanic cycles in the works, given the wide dissemination (and misunderstanding and/or distortion) of Latif’s recent remarks in Geneva.

    The sooner the better.

  13. 413
    Hank Roberts says:

    Another angle on teaching — of a kind that’s already important and will be more so as climate changes:

    “He is a gardener like many gardeners, but three things set him apart: He has a remarkable depth of knowledge about native and drought-resistant plants. He can talk about them non-stop with apparently little need for breath. And the gardens he tends are, technically, illegal, built into abandoned city medians and embankments.

    ‘I guess I am a guerrilla gardener,’ Snapp says …. ‘… I actually had to bring soil in. All that soil you see there was either trucked in or else I borrowed a friend’s truck to bring it in myself.’

    Snapp uses abandoned public spaces to create demonstration gardens of what he calls “appropriate plants.” These are nearly all drought-resistant and non-invasive varieties that, to the trained eye, reveal a storied landscape rich in Oakland’s past, present and potential future. …”

    http://oaklandnorth.net/2009/09/21/frank-snapp-and-the-not-so-secret-garden/

    The website a test/example of an innovation in journalism by the UC Berkeley Journalism school, local NPR radio station KQED, and others. They’re actually hiring journalists, trying to model what the future of the best in fact-based local news can be. Poke around and see what you think of their science. http://oaklandnorth.net/about/

    Gavin — y’all might consider doing a ‘column’ on not the hot-new-dubious but the established climate research, for the folks behind this (or vetting such if others do the drafting).

  14. 414
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Bart (404):

    Outstanding post, great points, vitally important.

  15. 415
    Chris Dudley says:

    One way to communicate science is to just be clear and direct. This recent compendium seems to take that approach: http://www.unep.org/compendium2009/

    Discussion of sea level rise seems to be up-to-date and the last chapter on Systems Management is an interesting read.

  16. 416
    llewelly says:

    John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation)
    25 September 2009 at 6:19 AM:

    You mean the last 15 years of the www history? Unless of course you are stretching back into the TCP/IP days and BB’s.

    Uh, what? BBs are long gone (other than a few museum pieces), but TCP/IP is still with us. Every web page is transmitted over TCP/IP.

  17. 417
    Hank Roberts says:

    I notice the NYT now has moved DotEarth up to the top spot “above the fold” and moved Tierney out of that top spot on their Science front page.

    My opinion — Revkin is one of the best; that doesn’t mean he’s not still subject to editors.

    The newspaper business sells advertising space, and delivers readers to the advertisers; I would not assume fault found with what the paper publishes is the fault of Andy Revkin personally. Remember when he was among those suddenly on unpaid ‘vacation’ recently?

    Try turning off your AdBlock long enough to look at the advertising around the science pages, see what you think.

  18. 418
    Hank Roberts says:

    Arrrrgh.
    “… temperatures have been flat globally …”
    http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/09/22/science/1247464767694/the-debate-on-climate-change.html

  19. 419
    Hank Roberts says:

    Well, the NYT got this right, belatedly:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/science/earth/25epa.html?_r=1&ref=science

    “… the newly obtained documents show that Dr. Carlin’s highly skeptical views on global warming, which have been known for more than a decade within the small unit where he works, have been repeatedly challenged by scientists inside and outside the E.P.A.; that he holds a doctorate in economics, not in atmospheric science or climatology; that he has never been assigned to work on climate change; and that his comments on the endangerment finding were a product of rushed and at times shoddy scholarship, as he acknowledged Thursday in an interview.

    Dr. Carlin remains on the job and free to talk to the news media ….”

  20. 420
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Start Here …. color … red

    Not red! View websites as do a significant number people (mostly male) with color-blindness, and design for the limits of vision. Blink …

    http://colorfilter.wickline.org/

  21. 421
    Theo Hopkins says:

    @ Lawrence Brown

    “Scientists do have a responsibility to explain their work to non scientists, however there should be some expection that the general public keep themselves minimally informed.Is it too much to ask that that for instance in the equation E=mc^2, that c squared is such a large number that even the tiniest mass can be converted to enormous amounts of energy?”

    It’s not a big number to mathematically ignorant folk like me. Depends on the units that light speed is measured in. Millimeters/year? Inches/second? after all light year(as distance)is 1 multiplied by speed of light per light year is (am I right?) a rather unimpressive 1 (number one). Sorry, but any formula leaves me cold, even though I know that is how scientists talk to each other. As for C^2 being a “big number”, all numbers beyond a million are “big” to me, so I see little difference between 10^10 and 10^1000. They are just all “bloody big”. Right now I am trying to understand the culling of the European badger as a control for bovine TB in cattle. It is a wildlife conservation issue in England. The research uses mathematical modeling; I get lost. All those researchers, even in the “fluffy” sciences of mammal ecology, use bloody maths.

    (The only thing I was good at at school in maths was three dimentional geometry, where I could beat the teacher … but now I am (sometimes) a sculptor)

  22. 422
    Jim Eager says:

    Hank, red was just a suggestion, suggest a better color.

    The point was to make the “start here” tab a different color than the other tabs.

    Heck, even reversing the same existing colors to blue-grey text on gold would to that.

    But a blinking tab, that would be annoying as heck!

  23. 423
    RichardC says:

    Instead of start here make it START HERE and enlarge it to fill the space available. Keep it in the same color as all the other command buttons.

    Alternatively, make a link to Start Here permanently first on the list of threads. The description could be shortened to “a one stop link for resources that people can use to get up to speed on the issue of climate change”

  24. 424
    Deep Climate says:

    #419 Hank Roberts

    Yes, the NY Times has done a pretty good job in examining the so-called “suppression” of Alan Carlin by the EPA, although I think they could have done more to pin down Carlin.

    As some of you know, I blogged a lot on the Carlin report and its sources.

    I now cover the NYT story here, and link back to my previous exposes:

    http://deepclimate.org/2009/09/25/john-broder-of-nyt-the-epa-fights-back-on-carlin-suppression/

    Concluding paragraphs:

    In short, Carlin’s excuses simply don’t add up. In fact, on top of the shoddy “scholarship” relying on highly dubious sources, it is increasingly difficult to avoid the looming issue of plagiarism. much as Carlin would like to.

    And if that is not enough, the growing pile of coincidental links between Carlin and the Competitive Enterprise Institute raise concerns about the think tank’s role in the whole affair, especially its possible support for Carlin’s appearances on Fox News. That’s a subject I hope to return to soon.

    This story’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.

  25. 425

    #416 llewelly

    I obviously did not give enough context. Of course the transmission control protocol/internet protocol is still with us. What I was referring to is that back then, as I recall, those I hung out with at sdsc called it the net or the internet, or technically referred to it as the tcp/ip. just as now it is referred to as the net or the internet or the web and www. So what I was inferring is that what we once called the tcp/ip is now referred to as the www (world wide web). But that’s just a perception thing. It is what it is.

  26. 426
    RichardC says:

    424 Deep Climate said, “This story’s not over yet.”

    Yes, that’s another possible way — instead of convincing them, skewer them. Unfortunately, they tend to martyr on

  27. 427
    Deep Climate says:

    #426 RichardC said:

    Yes, that’s another possible way — instead of convincing them, skewer them. Unfortunately, they tend to martyr on

    Who exactly do you think could or should be “convinced” instead of “skewered”? Alan Carlin? CEI? Glenn Beck? James Inhofe? All of the above?

    Or perhaps we should try and convince those who are earning a great living by spouting nonsense about the climate, like Marc Morano and Tom Harris?

    In my opinion that’s an unrealistic hope. Better to “follow the science” and “follow the money”.

  28. 428
    Naindj says:

    Gavin, Hank

    Thanks to consider my questions and sorry if it is a little bit out of the subject. Even if it shows the difficulties to understand climate simulations; leading to difficulties to explain it to the public.

    I will try to clarify my concern.
    The radiation modelling needs to be simplified, because of computation limits.
    So the models use simple relation between flux and CO2 (or greenhouse gas mixture) concentration.
    Which relation do they use and how they tune it? The IPCC reports are not so clear on that, or not detailed.
    And I read from a skeptic, mister Andre Legendre to be precise, that this tuning might be done with overestimated data for CO2 forcing and associated temperature (the 1.2 C used in the article I was talking about before)
    As I am skeptic about this skeptic statement ;-), I want to investigate myself. But not easy to find the equations and parameters used to model radiative processes.
    So I repeat my question: which simplified relations are used in the model and moreover how are they tuned?

    Many thanks again, from all the sites I’ve been through these last months, this one is the most intelligent.

    [Response: None of these simplified expressions are used in the GCMs. Instead, they take the results from line-by-line calculations (i.e. ones where you separately calculate the radiative transfer at each individual wavelength, taking into account all of the absorbers and scattering) and group that into a slightly less complex calculation using a few tens of correlated bands (the GISS GCM uses 33). The forcing from CO2 comes from the line-by-line models and is accurate to about 10% (depending on uncertainties in the background climate state rather than the radiative transfer). – gavin]

  29. 429

    I take your point Theo.Yet going to a basic textbook on physics you’ll find that the speed of light is a few hundred thousand kilometers per second(300,000, or 186,000 miles per second).
    http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/numbers.htm
    That’s fast enough to travel around the Earth seven times in one second! So c squared in these same metric units is is 90,000,000,000.
    The main point is, to see that a tiny amount of mass yields huge amounts of energy.The bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki converted less than ounce of matter into energy.BTW, I also enjoyed solid geometry.
    I was not attempting to be smug. There are many fields where my kmowledge is far from perfect.Though I still fervently hope that many non scientists wound stop being such non scientists if only to a small degree.

  30. 430
    Marion Delgado says:

    I think, alas, this is how we often communicate:

    http://www.unshelved.com/archive.aspx?strip=20090829

  31. 431
    Deep Climate says:

    #417 Hank Roberts

    My opinion — Revkin is one of the best; that doesn’t mean he’s not still subject to editors.

    #418 Hank Roberts

    Arrrrgh.
    “… temperatures have been flat globally …”

    That’s what I’m talking about … Don’t blame the editors, or even Revkin himself. He’s is sincere, but terribly confused. Clearly, he’s been spun pretty badly. And he makes mistakes. It’s too bad.

    http://deepclimate.org/2009/09/25/nyts-andy-revkin-backtracks-but-not-nearly-enough/

  32. 432
    Hank Roberts says:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/opinion/ssi/images/Toles/s_09252009_520.gif

    Remember, these are the sketches for the ideas that don’t get into actual print

  33. 433
    RichardC says:

    427 Deep asked, “Who exactly do you think could or should be “convinced” instead of “skewered”?”

    The least skeptical of the influential. Any nominees?

  34. 434
    Eli Rabett says:

    Good cop, bad cop?

  35. 435
    Patrick 027 says:

    There are occasions for being stern and scolding; it looks like I got Gord to shut up (1 down, 10^6 to go): http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php?p=11&t=532&&a=18

  36. 436
    Gail Z says:

    Jim Bouldin, I have been having this argument with significant other for ages. He thinks scientists should be screaming from the rooftops and blames them that the public isn’t better informed. It reminds me of when my children were growing up and they would say, we didn’t do the dishes because we didn’t like the way you asked us to wash them. And I would say, it doesn’t make any difference HOW I ask you, you just don’t WANT to wash them!

    The public and policy makers don’t want to know about climate change. The implications of the known facts are too frightening, and so vast, that most people – even people who acknowledge that climate change is happening – refuse to see its effects.

    I rather doubt any amount or type of education is going to help, until individuals are personally affected – if then. The California farmers are blaming the government for their water problems, rather than climate change induced drought.

  37. 437

    According to the met office,which has a highly respected reputation.They state in part:
    “temperature change over the latest decade (1998-2007) alone shows a continued warming of 0.1 °C per
    decade.”
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/myths/2.html

    This is straight forward, and negates any attribution by anyone citing this source, of cooling over this time period.

  38. 438
    Eli Rabett says:

    There is something to be learned in this exchange
    @ Lawrence Brown

    “Is it too much to ask that that for instance in the equation E=mc^2, that c squared is such a large number that even the tiniest mass can be converted to enormous amounts of energy?”

    @ Theo Hopkins
    It’s not a big number to mathematically ignorant folk like me. Depends on the units that light speed is measured in. Millimeters/year?

    Theo makes a category error. The numerical expression, and the units are irrelevant. What is important is the comparison with other energy sources which is what Lawrence was saying. Anyone who has ever taught sees this a lot, which is why teachers are always asking questions of their students to check that they are getting through and why the good ones are always swapping stories about the truly eerie interpretations they get back from their class. It is literally impossible to figure out all of the “crooked” ways that people can think, but if you have heard about them, you can head some of them off at the pass.

    Communication has to be two way

  39. 439
    Rod B says:

    John P. Reisman (302), it’s not important, but is annoying. I was responding to the charts you recommended in the context of your response. You said ‘you “flatliners” should look at these charts.” I looked, and they seemed pretty flat to me, and said so. Now you say I’m looking at the wrong charts in a wrong way??!!?

    Sorry for the delay. My internet link has been on the fritz.

  40. 440
    stevenc says:

    A neophyte to the global warming discussion gets told by a skeptic the world hasn’t warmed in 10 years. He comes here and repeats it. The reaction is the argument that it has warmed. The neophyte has seen the documentation from the NOAA stating that once ENSO is included it hasn’t. The neophyte now concludes: they can’t even agree on if the Earth is warming or not.

    A neophyte to the discussion comes here and repeats it hasn’t warmed in ten years. He is told that’s true according to one data set but not others and everyone agrees that the results are still within the modeled variations. The neophyte thinks: well I guess it might be true or maybe it isn’t but either way it hasn’t changed anything.

    My conclusion is that sometimes it is better to avoid arguing over things that are both disputed and unimportant.

  41. 441
    Radge Havers says:

    I think BLINK was tossed out of the W3C specification for HTML, although you can do a CSS version that annoyed users can dump with a user style sheet.

    That and accessablily issues made me think that maybe the original blink comment was sarcastic.

    Logical changes in placement for “start here” were suggested, and in that vein a visual reorientation could be considered too. For instance, the area now used for administrivia (that contains the Technical Note) is prime real estate. The eye pretty much lands there when the site is first entered. A brief sentence at that spot with a link each to “start here” and “FAQ” would be hard to miss.

    BTW, suggesting changes to artists after a design has been finalized may cause much darting of eyes and some sweating to occur as they try to figure out whether the change will necessitate a chain of adjustments that end up in a redesign of the whole site.

    [Response: Thanks. But don’t confuse our site designer with an artist. Real artists are likely to take offense. – gavin]

  42. 442
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 438 Eli Rabett:
    ” but if you have heard about them, you can head some of them off at the pass. ”

    Cirrus clouds are ‘high in the sky’ (phrase used when I was in fourth grade – I knew better even at the time but didn’t bother to explain it to the rest of the class and the teacher) – some would take this to mean you never see cirrus clouds near the horizon. Etc.

    Lift on a wing occurs because the air has to flow faster over the top of a wing to keep up over the bottom – Nope; air flowing over a wing is deflected downward by the shape of the wing and angle of attack; for steady flow, this requires cross-flow pressure gradients which require pressure anomalies that require along-flow pressure gradients that result in the acceleration of the flow … pressure perturbations themselves result from the wing moving through air that resists deflection via inertia, thus causing changes in density, thus causing changes in pressure, thus causing changes in flow.

  43. 443

    #439 Rob Black

    You are referring to the 10 year charts derived from the hadcrut data, charted on the woodfortrees site?

    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1880/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1880/trend

    The whole point of the article was to show that 10 years is not enough to separate the long term climate signal from the short term natural variability.

    So, are you still hung up on the short term?

    This is a climate trend chart that has attribution well defined for it.

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.A2.lrg.gif

    The 10 year charts are not climate charts. I hope I’m understanding your argument properly, and I don’t think I have ever used the term ‘flatliners’? Did I?

  44. 444

    Eli is on target when he says:
    ” The numerical expression, and the units are irrelevant. What is important is the comparison with other energy sources….”
    An example is a power plant in Kansas which requires 14, 110 car coal trainloads each week!
    (from “Energy, Environment and Climate” By Professor Richard Wolfson,Norton and Company 2008,page 117 figure 5-10).Burning coal is,of course, a chemical reaction.Nuclear reactions provide roughly 10 million times the energy of chemical reactions.(same source as above p.184).A nuclear plant refuels about once a year with a single truckload of uranium fuel.

    This not an endorsement of or opposition to either form of energy. It’s an attempt to corroborate what Eli so rightly said about comparisons,in this case between chemical and nuclear reactions.

  45. 445
    Patrick 027 says:

    ” Nope; air flowing over a wing is deflected downward by the shape of the wing and angle of attack; for steady flow, this requires cross-flow pressure gradients which require pressure anomalies that require along-flow pressure gradients that result in the acceleration of the flow ”

    Well, the cross-flow pressure gradient supports streamline curvature; the along-streamline gradient supports variations in speed, and the later gradient is associated with conversion from potential to kinetic energy as in Bernoulli (sp?).

  46. 446
    Fran Barlow says:

    While I agree that Greg Craven is a fabulous communicator and his resoprt to the Venn Diagram was a useful approach the problem with this approach was to effectively avoid looking at the prospect that the downside risk in the opposite columns would occur. Yes he suggested you could attach values to each but the reality is that while catastrophe through inaction is a distinct possibility, the probability that the regulatory impost of robust action on climate change could trigger a depression on a world scale can be almost completely discounted. Moreover, while a depression *might* last five years, a roiling climate-driven catastrophe makes a five year depression look laughable.

    Craven’s diagram also attaches no positve values to action taken if the assumptions about AGW-driven climate change are wrong. In that case, we only get a better environment and more liveable cioties. Gosh

  47. 447
    simon abingdon says:

    #444 Lawrence Brown “A nuclear plant refuels about once a year with a single truckload of uranium fuel”. The proposed IFR (which would breed its own fuel on-site) doesn´t even need that.

    Moreover, “The available fuel metals were never separated from the plutonium, and therefore there was no direct way to use the fuel metals in nuclear weapons. Also, plutonium never had to leave the site, and thus was far less open to unauthorized diversion” (Wikipedia).

    The IFR project was cancelled in 1994 by Bill Clinton as being unnecessary!

  48. 448
    Mark says:

    Lawrence, solar power gets the raw material delivered directly there, no need for any cars. Same with wind, tidal and geothermal.

  49. 449
    Mark says:

    “A neophyte to the global warming discussion gets told by a skeptic the world hasn’t warmed in 10 years.”

    You’re out of date: it’s 11 years now. You have to include the 1998 figure, remember!

    Over the last 10 years, it hasn’t cooled, it HAS gotten warmer.

    What’s happening is that an idiot forgot all his maths and was told it has been cooling, when in fact all that has happened is that one year is colder than another year in the past.

    Which isn’t the same thing.

    Draw a best fit to the data.

    It’s basic statistics that anyone who’s done a higher mathematics or physics course (a levels) know to do.

    But this neophyte either hasn’t done it (and ignores that they don’t know what they are talking about: Dunning Kruger), or doesn’t care that the analysis is done incorrectly (and won’t do it themselves) because they aren’t just a neophyte, they are a neophyte and don’t want AGW to be real.

  50. 450
    Mark says:

    Mitch says: “No one wants to be treated by a rube”

    And to them I say: so stop acting like one.

    If I were to walk in to an office and start ordering the nearest woman to “get me a coffee, luv”, would I be treated like a misogynist?

    Now what if it’s just because that person was nearest me and I wanted a coffee.

    But if I continue to do this sort of thing when I walk in to an office, do you think they’ll stop treating me as a misoginist?

    No.

    I’d have to change my attitude before they would consider that, and they would be wary for some time after that until I proved myself.

    So to those who don’t like being treated like a rube, I say “educate thyself and act not like the rube and you shall have what you want”.