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Information levels

Filed under: — gavin @ 10 July 2010

Rasmus’ recent post on the greenhouse effect raised some interesting points concerning the technical level at which posts or other public communications should be written. This was a relatively technical article as these things go, eschewing the very basic ‘the greenhouse effect is like a blanket’ but not really approaching the level of a technical paper on the subject (no line-by-line calculations for instance). Nonetheless, there were complaints that was too much to be absorbed by the lay public, counter-arguments that making it too simple was patronising, as well as complaints that the discussions were not technical enough (for instance in explaining stratospheric cooling). In these discussions there are clearly the outlines of a common debate, and perhaps a way forward in the future.

An anecdote is maybe relevant. I was on a panel with a long-time science writer from New York Times and we were discussing the information content in science columns versus sports columns (the latter having far more because the writers see no need to waste space to explain the rules, introduce the players, or even explicitly state what the actual sport is!). The NYT writer explained that she always pitched her stories at exactly the same level – (paraphrasing) the interested, but educated, person who did not need the details but wanted the big picture. Indeed, she went so far as to say that was the only relevant mode of public communication on science issues. I took issue with this (of course), because I think this ‘mainstream media’ mode of communication leaves a lot of people very unsatisfied and indeed, RealClimate is in part a response to that.

Both these examples suggest that there is a very widespread feeling that there is only one level at which public communications must be conducted (though people often disagree with what that is). But this is rather a pointless argument to be having. Particularly in the new landscape of disaggregated media, the idea that there is only one anything seems completely anachronistic. It might have been ok when the daily paper was the only information source that some people had and its audience could be assumed to be relatively homogeneous, but these things are certainly no longer true (if indeed they ever were).



Instead, I think we should be explicitly thinking about information levels and explicitly catering to different audiences with different needs and capabilities. One metaphor that might work well is that of an alpine ski hill. There we have (in the US for instance) green runs for beginners wanting a gentle introduction and where hopefully nothing too bad can happen. Blue runs where the technical level is a little more ambitious and a little more care needs to be taken. Black expert runs for those who know what they are doing and are doing it well, and finally, double black diamond runs for the true masters. No-one accuses ski resorts of being patronising when they have green runs interspersed with the more difficult ones, and neither do they get accused of elitism when one peak has only black runs going down (as I recall all too painfully on my first ski outing). People self-segregate and generally find their way to the level at which the feel comfortable – whether they want a easy or challenging ride – and there is nothing stopping them varying the levels as their mood or inclination takes them.

I think this is exactly what we need in science communication. Explanations and stories unapologetically pitched at all sorts of different levels (and not just at a fictional ‘Mr or Ms. Average Newspaper Reader’) actually already happens in many environments (though not in newspapers, TV or institutional websites), however, where the analogy breaks down is that there is no signage. There is no Google icon that tells you whether the link is a green level explanation or an experts-only-you-will-get-hurt-if-you-don’t-know-what-you-are-doing technical discussion. There is no Wikipedia sliding scale to direct you to the information level appropriate to your level of competence or background knowledge.

Thus we often find that beginners are confused or turned off by inappropriate (for them) complexity, and old hands demanding something more challenging, and people in the middle despairing that we aren’t reaching the ‘right’ people with whatever level we adopt.

So how should we move forward? Can we institute a some kind of information level meta-tagging that would eventually be recognised by Google? (does that even matter)? Does such a system exist already?


190 Responses to “Information levels”

  1. 101
    EL says:

    Why not consult with the humanities? They may have a different take on this topic.

  2. 102
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Re 95: No. The point that Ray Ladbury has actually stated is way bigger than merely “that much of that contribution [from op-ed pages to civic discussion] for the past couple of decades [has] consisted of outright lies and misleading propaganda.” If he had said only that, I’d agree with him — except that “past couple of decades” should really say “forever,” given that democracy has always been messy and outrageous. Instead, his point is that all op-ed pages are utterly worthless as civic or technocivic forums. See for yourself. In 33, he wrote, in part, “As to op ed pages, I’d hate to add anything of value to them and destroy the perfect cesspit of misinformation and lies that they’ve become.” In 74, he wrote, “I’ve read nothing of any value on op ed pages in a decade.” Scientists and science’s supporters should recognize the danger in acting — or not acting — based on that kind of extreme overstatement.

  3. 103
    Ike Solem says:

    Thomas #89: “I think our problem is that humans evolved to be story-telling and story-absorbing beings…”

    Good point. Global warming fits into the “story problem” category – and what do most people recall of such math problems presented in story format? Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoon of Hell’s Library contains nothing but titles like “Word Problems Galore” and “The Big Book of Word Problems.” The typical public recollection is one of mystification (what is this problem talking about?), likely because they were never trained in how to solve word problems.

    First, you might want to consider what a word problem is – and the general consensus seems to be that word problems don’t work well as stand-alone problems. The first step in solving (or writing) a word problem is always building a model – and if you can’t go from the word problem back to the model with ease, then there’s a problem. Modern education systems recognize this – for example, SAT test questions will present the model explicitly, then ask questions relating to it. This glosses over the real problem – how does one construct a realistic model of a physical system, starting from scratch?

    The central problem might thus be that good chunks of the public don’t have a grasp of the basic model that all the climate word problems refer to. In comparison, in discussions of cancer and health, most people have a decent model of the human body – heart, lungs, liver, blood circulation, etc. Some people might be unaware of the role of the liver vs. the kidneys, say, but if someone said losing either was no big deal, who would believe it?

    A good way to get students to learn the material is to get them interested by telling stories – the classic one that high school physics teachers have used to capture student interest is the Dead Body Mystery – how can a detective, by determining the temperature of a corpse, estimate the time of death? One needs a model of heat loss from the human body. The surrounding conditions matter (freezing? wet?), as does the nature of the clothing worn, but the initial temperature – 37C or 98.6F – is a given.

    Let’s say our body is that of a mountaineer, who fell from a height, and is dressed in thermal underwear, fleece, and a goretex parka. It is 0C outside. If digital thermal probes were placed between each clothing layer, they’d show a range from 37C at the skin to a value slightly about the surface temperature at the surface. Now, replace the fleece with a thick goosedown layer – what would happen to the outer parka’s temperature? It would cool somewhat, reflecting the fact that heat was being lost at a slower rate. (The heat is being generated in this case by human metabolism based on conversion of organic carbon to CO2, not by solar radiation)

    That roughly corresponds to stratospheric cooling. Increase mid-tropospheric CO2, and it acts like a thick goosedown, and as a result, the radiation emitted to the surroundings is at a lower temperature, shifted to the longer wavelengths.

    The last valid objection to the greenhouse model and CO2 projections was that there might be a tear in the garments, a dynamic behavior that
    would allow heat to escape at high temperature in the tropics – the Lindzen Iris proposal, refuted in the late 1990s at the same time that Pinatubo was providing a convincing test case for climate models.

    That’s why it’s safe to conclude that the core scientific issues on climate science were all settled in the 1990s – everything since then has just been refinement.

    If you desire a more complete treatment, the kind required to understand the details of a scientific paper, then you want to start with some textbooks, presuming a college-level background of courses in math, chemistry, physics and biology. For example:

    Atmospheric and Oceanic Fluid Dynamics: Fundamentals and Large-Scale Circulation, Geoffrey Vallis (2006)
    Atmospheric Radiation: Theoretical Basis, Richard Goody, YL Yung (1995)
    Marine Biogeochemical Cycles, Open University Press (2005)

  4. 104
    MS says:

    I do agree with earlier posters that classifying all posts would be a very time-consuming job. Normally I understand most posts at RC but sometimes I do skip over the most technical stuff , especially if I am in a hurry. I do not think this is a problem. RC is a wonderful resource of high level scientific material on climate science. But RC has its strength for people who really want to learn and are ready to read. And I hope RC will stay in this niche. Readers can adapt the information to their use (teaching, discussing, blogging…)
    Reaching out to other groups that do not want to, or have the time to read and learn should perhaps use other methods. Being a high school teacher I often use animations when I have to explain complex material. University of Colorado has some of very high quality, see Colorado animations . But there are very few about climate. Using animations makes the students get a feeling for the subject and visualization is very effective. I think animations can help interested laypersons get a feeling that they understand complex effects without having to read technical material.
    Reaching out to the public and even non-science journalists, things probably have to be even simpler. I was thinking of an idea but I do not have any experience on this. What if the scientists created a set of scientificly based oneliners like addressing the recent storm/drought/precipitation event and the general change in weather. And then most importantly kept mixing these one-liners into their answers, so that the public really learn these basics. That would make it more difficult for the deniers to change it all in next weeks story in the media.

  5. 105
    MS says:

    The link did not work correctly in my previus post. It is http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulations/category/new

  6. 106
    Ammonite says:

    Enterprise level solutions exist for organising knowledge. Each article, graph, equation, web page, test, questionaire etc is reduced to a database entry of the form [header, abstract, content, {tags}]. A web browser is attached to allow flexible search/retrieval and automatic linking based on the content of its database and the search templates established by the user.

    For example, this discussion could be filed under:

    “Information Levels”,
    Summary,
    Article text,
    {Type:Communication, Sub-Type:General, Complexity:1 Security:0 …}

    Say I am at green square level. I choose a beginners search template. With this template in play the knowledge engine screens out complex articles and math, but automatically highlights links to more basic and digestible material aimed at my level. I move my “slider” to the right and the next more sophisticated template comes into play. Power users design their own templates…

    Knowledge engines allow arbitrarily complex domain knowledge to become flexibly accessible. They are used very successfully in teaching medicine for example. This is not a practical suggestion for RC of course. It is a major endeavour with significant upfront and ongoing costs. Controlling scope to avoid “importing” the whole of science would not be trivial either.

    Thanks again RC and all the contributors for another stimulating discussion.

  7. 107
    Arne Perschel says:

    I want to propose a better metaphor than the ‘blanket’ to explain the greenhouse effect to a general audience.
    – The idea came to me two weeks ago and I wanted to make a video about it but prolonged technical problems are forcing me to write it down now that the topic is still hot here.
    – The metaphor is free to be used by science communicators, debaters, teachers, etc. Please improve it, make suggestions to make the metaphor as effective as possible (and as exact as possible).
    – I think it can also explain the saturation issue and stratospheric cooling, although I have limited understanding of these issues and the history of scientific understanding about water vapor*.

    Here goes: You are standing down a steep hill moderately covered with trees. As you look up through the trees you can still see patches of blue sky. (sky=earth’s surface, observer=i.e.satellite, trees=GHGs). Your friend is standing uphill and drops 1 ball per second (or any number). (For the perfectionists: the balls have perfect bounce and are not subject to air resistance or gravitational acceleration.) The balls bounce through the forest and after some delay, you will be receiving 1 ball per second on average. Now all of a sudden, lots of trees pop up out of nowhere. You will see the balls taking more time to make it through the forest. As long as trees keep popping up, you will be receiving less than 1 ball per second (to idiots who say less than 1 is 0, you just say it takes more than 1 second per ball). Tadaah! There’s your stratospheric cooling! As you look up, you can no longer see patches of sky (optic depth-saturation), does this mean adding even more trees will make no difference? Of course not. Now, if you could take a picture from above, you would be able to count the number of bouncing balls and verify that their number at any given time has increased compared to when there were fewer trees. The number of bouncing balls is the temperature (to be added to the black body). You could measure their number by measuring the sound coming from the forest.
    An alternative scenario that would be great class-room material is the kind of table with nails in it, through which you drop marbles and see where they end up and along which path (great material for chaos theory). Pin-ball tables are also great because they bounce so well and are very noisy. You could build in the possibility to add more obstacles on the way during the experiment. In this case, the louder noise would be an unforgettable demonstration of why the troposhere is warming.
    Nuances:
    – If anyone can think of a three-dimensional version that’s as clear, it would be even better because it comes closer to reality.
    – Add animals, bush and gnomes and whichever forest attributes you like to the story to represent the other GHGs and especially the water vapor feedback. (more trees means more animals being hit by the balls…)

    So, I hope that’s understandable. Please send me your comments. Please use it. Those among you who are good at lego and building racing soapboxes, feel free to make compelling visual and auditive demonstrations of this idea.
    We need more of these: see Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock’s ‘greenhouse effect in a bottle’ on YouTube.
    I’m sure I’m not the first person to come up with this, but I’ve never seen it used anywhere, so sorry for ‘stealing’ the idea. I sincerely hope, this may contribute to pushing us in the right direction.

  8. 108
    Fred Magyar says:

    Kevin @2,

    WOW! That idea definitely qualifies as the most mind stretching concept I’ve read today.

    I have no idea one might build such a thing but what popped into my mind was something like a hyperlinked virtual tensegrity structure.

    Imagine, say a virtual mapping of a very high frequency information geodesic which might include all the information at the most advanced technical level.

    As you reduced the frequency of the virtual tensegrity of hyperlinks your virtual information geodesic would contain fewer and fewer information facets.

    Therefore your virtual information sphere would contain less complex information as you reduced the frequency of the virtual structure while still allowing you to perceive the basic underlying structure which in this case might be say a simpler underlying platonic solid such as the basic icosahedron, and would contain the most simple and elementary level information.

    Maybe you could have a user interface that allowed you to choose the frequency of the information geodesic that you wanted to access…

    Sorry, if I sound a bit like I might have gone off the deep end there for a moment >;^)

  9. 109

    Mike, Gavin,

    My two cents/sense.

    Without attempting to tackle the myriad challenges of a Google contexting search engine for relevance I would say that in order to eliminate the arguments here on RC about too hard or too simple, just go ahead and use the ski symbols with a key of course in the about :)

    There will always be the guy that says well I didn’t think that was a diamond run, while someone else on the same run says they should have put double diamond on the top.


    A Climate Minute The Greenhouse EffectHistory of Climate ScienceArctic Ice Melt

    ‘Fee & Dividend’ Our best chance for a better future – climatelobby.com
    Learn the Issue & Sign the Petition

  10. 110
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re : #107

    I’m sorry but I would prefer if you were to make it more complicated. Otherwise your version would only be telling half the story (or less)

    I think that you need to make sure that your picture includes the main mechanisms and I am not sure that a single carrier picture and a single greenhouse mechanism can ever provide enough insight.

    1. Two distinct carriers for transport of energy , arising from short wave source from above (below in your picture) as well as long wave source from below (above in your picture).

    2. Also greenhouse gases involve two distinct physical mechanisms absorption and emission which are not necessarily of similar magnitude.

    3. There are not two but three effects to explain (a) global warming, (b) and (c) the rough vertical distribution of the warming/cooling of the atmosphere.

    Those are the ingredients. Sorry but this comment does not include the recipe.

  11. 111
    Adam Smeltz says:

    About climate-change communications — thought this article, posted this morning, may be of interest. It’s an interview with Penn State’s Michael Mann, who analyzes the origins and nature of the “Climategate” ordeal and attacks on his work.

    Here’s a link: http://www.statecollege.com/news/local-news/mann-climategate-designed-to-distract-public-policymakers-471741/

  12. 112
    ccpo says:

    re: #2 and #108

    A simple way to achieve might be a presentation with links on each page to, say, five versions of the same info. They could be designated in any number of ways, e.g., education levels: Young Learners, elementary, high school, college/uni, post-graduate. Or stars. Or… whatever.

    Viewers could choose their level at the beginning, but view any given page at any level by clicking on the key/symbols/whathaveyou.

    If this is already under discussion, sorry.

  13. 113
    Eli Rabett says:

    Simplification requires omission, but omission provides opportunity. Starting with the simplest explanation provides the listener a chance to ask questions as his or her understanding grows. Adding detail increases the richness of the conversation. Now, you could be playing the why game with a four year old or a denialist, at which point you simply stop, or you can quickly reach saturation with some who doesn;t need more detail, at which point their eyes start to role, they look at their watch, and you invite them for a beer (or if you are already having a beer, you ask if they want another), or, and this is an ideal outcome, they get so interested they start reading Rabett Run (YMMV) and go on to graduate school.

  14. 114

    #111–Thanks for the link!

    Methinks Dr. Mann is clearly correct. . .

  15. 115
    AlC says:

    Re #111: Thanks for the link.
    Unfortunately, all four of the on-line comments at this point are negative. Looks like it needs some positivity.

  16. 116
    Edward Greisch says:

    I would like to see a list of the textbooks that Climate Science students use, at least. I would like to be able to take a degree in Climate Science free on line. Is that too much to ask for?

  17. 117
    Arne Perschel says:

    Re #110:
    Thanks. I’ll be trying to figure how that can be fit in. It seems like a tough job.
    I’m not sure whether I understand the three effects there are to explain from your comment.
    Is there something I missed?

  18. 118

    EG,

    Start with Dennis Hartmann’s “Global Physical Climatology.” Next, John Houghton’s “The Physics of Atmospheres.” Finally, Grant W. Petty’s “A First Course in Atmospheric Radiation.” For all of them, of course, work the problems.

  19. 119
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re #117 (#110 and #107)

    I’m not sure whether I understand the three effects

    [This may involve repetition.]
    You could isolate 3 or 4 effects.
    The usual argument is to carry out some sort of energy balance at the top of the atmosphere i.e. at the boundary of the climate system. (The bottom of your hill). Short wave energy goes in and long wave energy comes out. Start with equality > climate roughly steady. If for any reason the latter is reduced there is an imbalance, so the energy content within the atmosphere begins to rise > rise in average temperature.

    If the cause is the greenhouse effect the discussion would include the enhanced downward radiation from the greenhouse gases > warming of surface.

    Thats one or two effects to start with.

    What happens to the air? (at least two more effects) This is the subject of the previous thread about a “simple recipe”.

  20. 120

    Gavin or someone,

    Can you point me to annual time series for the IPCC projections for CO2 level?

    [Response: Here. – gavin]

  21. 121

    I was going to respond to the “hell on Earth” comment by SecularAnimist, but it would have been another snarky post in which I blamed =true= alarmists for much of the present problem, in terms of providing additional fodder for denialist arguments. Hands and gloves, as it were.

    It seems that some kind of hyper-card stack of arguments and counter arguments might be useful. Many of the arguments are circular, in the sense that A, B and C are all rebutted, only to wind up back at A. If there was a way to detect that they’d “backtracked” on an argument, that could be pointed out.

  22. 122

    I’ve typed about five different comments for this thread, and each time deleted before posting, but here goes:

    This issue is a keystone in the current situation, but the conversation here has tended towards technical solutions (it’s spelled “t-e-c-h-n-i-c-a-l”, but it’s pronounced “geeky”).

    I myself am a computer geek, and I love complex, geeky… erm… I mean technical solutions, but I’m also a professional problem solver, and a key to solving problems is to focus on the goal, not the tools.

    Gavin said:

    Instead, I think we should be explicitly thinking about information levels and explicitly catering to different audiences with different needs and capabilities.

    The problem at hand has multiple facets. Certainly, finding a way to easily present the data simultaneously at multiple levels comes in, which is where all the techno-talk comes from. In truth, however, ordinary HTML links and open source wiki’s provide more than enough tools for a single site to do so.

    Cross-world solutions are desirable, but probably beyond our grasp. It would be a coup just to get Wikipedia to adopt such a convention on their pages, let alone to get something built into meta tags, search engines, browsers, and such. Look how long it’s taking just to get to HTML 5.

    Beyond this, however, is the problem of the extra work load in writing any explanation at four or five different levels, while simultaneously structuring all of the cross references and “level hops” (e.g. “Gee, I get this bit, but I don’t know much about latent heat, let me take a green circle on that and get up to speed before I continue”).

    But what really lies at the core of this hearkens to what the Great White Rabbit (i.e. Eli) just said (#113) [Please note that I think Eli is really cool, mostly because Eli speaks of himself in the third person… I’ve always imagined a rather fanciful conversation between Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Yogi Berra, and Eli… but I digress]:

    Simplification requires omission, but omission provides opportunity. Starting with the simplest explanation provides the listener a chance to ask questions as his or her understanding grows.

    Hyper links are the web’s way of programming in questions and their answers. But the important point here is that “simplification requires omission.”

    Specifically, writing at different levels is hard to do. Most people that understand a subject thoroughly actually can’t imagine comprehending (or mis-comprehending) it at a lower level, as a stepping stone to building knowledge. It rankles them to cut out pieces that they know are so important, but really are clouding the issue for the student. Geoff’s comment (110) is a good example of this (IMHO). For this reason, the best teachers are rarely the best, or even more than merely competent, in a field.

    This is why there are so few good teachers in the world. Teaching is about organizing and presenting thoughts, often wrong thoughts (see Lie-to-children), in just the right way, with just the right amount of omission, simplification and repetition, to advance the student. You can’t get them to the top of the mountain in one leap, and in fact sometimes they have to wander through a few valleys and swamps in order to get there. If you can’t accept that, you can’t help them.

    Anyway: my proposal is that it would be worthwhile to establish a climate science wiki. There are lots and lots of open source wiki software tools and even free hosting sites (wikispaces.com, for example).

    To make such a wiki popular, it should as much as possible avoid any points of contention. Proven science only. Specifically highlight anything that is proposed or at all in doubt. People can argue about whether GHGs are affecting climate, but not about how a CO2 molecule absorbs electromagnetic radiation of the right frequency and translates that into vibrational energy (or, to grossly simplify, “how a molecule absorbs radiated heat”).

    The easy part will be setting up a predefined structure (i.e. rules!) to help atomize and level the presentation of concepts. The hard parts will be (a) enforcing that structure and (b) getting people with the talent to write down to the level needed.

    That and (c) finding enough people with enough time to get the project somewhere.

    I think it would be a worthwhile endeavor, though.

  23. 123
    Radge Havers says:

    I don’t think writing at all levels simultaneously is necessarily implied. Just, if you’re writing a blog post, consider you audience. Carefully.

    Some have suggested opening with a sketch and filling in increasingly difficult material deeper into the article, which isn’t a bad idea either for some types of reporting.

    In any case, disciplining your messaging should have a cumulative effect in the long run. Having a comprehensive expert system available would be nice but isn’t the only option.

    As it stands, some seem to have been caught unawares by the appearance of the concept of optical depth in a basic summary. It seems to me that this speaks to part of the problem; that expert opinion is somewhat chaotic on what even constitutes the fundamentals for public consumption, let alone the level of technicallity.

  24. 124
    Edward Greisch says:

    BPL: Thanks for the book list.

    RC: Link to the NOVA movie on GW or try to put it on the web. Demonstrate or simulate a lot of experiments. Laboratory is what is missing. Most people may not realize that science is all about experiments. They can’t understand that “it just doesn’t work the wrong way” because they can’t try it themselves. They have no way to create laboratories in their garages.

  25. 125
    SecularAnimist says:

    FCH wrote: “… another snarky post in which I blamed =true= alarmists for much of the present problem …”

    If by “true alarmist” you mean someone who is truly alarmed by that which he understands to be truly alarming, then that’s me, alright.

    In all honesty, I cannot think of one single thing about our ongoing GHG emissions, and the ongoing rapid and extreme warming that they have already caused and will continue to cause, and the ongoing rapid, extreme and obviously dangerous effects that warming is already having and will continue to have, that is NOT alarming.

  26. 126
    David B. Benson says:

    Black & blue, eh?

    I certainly find atmospheric physics distinctly difficult and am looking forward to reading Ray Pierrehumbert’s book on the subject.

  27. 127

    Gavin 120,

    Thanks!

  28. 128
    wili says:

    Good point, as are many here. It strikes me that one web site cannot possibly accommodate all these levels of learners. Some who post here have taken it upon themselves to develop their own web sites that explain various parts of the science at various levels. This should be an inspiration and a goad to the rest of us. Each of us have a particular way of understanding and getting across info to a variety of audiences, and we all need to be trying to do so.

    This site could act as a kind of clearing house and vetting of web sites.

    Another point I tried to make in the previous thread was that the conversation following the posts can serve as a way for those who could not follow some aspect of the main post to ask questions or sort it out by following the discussion–as long as the discussion does not devolve into troll feeding/baiting, or doesn’t go into very tangential, technical details of little relevance to the main topic (both of these happen all too frequently, IMVHO).

    The following video has recently been pointed out to me as a good way to introduce a general audience to recent findings, one that goes a bit beyond the “Inconvenient Truth” level. I would be interested in what people thought of it:

    file:///Users/harkness/Desktop/watch.html

  29. 129
    Chris G says:

    Re: 50
    Neal J. King says:
    11 July 2010 at 3:39 PM
    “…weakened (maybe destroyed) by the Climategate.”

    I see Climategate as more of a symptom or indicator of the state of the public, rather than a cause. Looking into depth at any of the accusations, there was nothing very interesting in any of them. Yet, the accusations fell on fertile ground with the public, and all sorts of meanings were attached to them.

    Hiding the decline? Please, one read through the original article (admittedly a bit of a technical wade) and you realize that the ‘decline’ that was ‘hidden’ was mentioned by Mann. Pointing it out to the reader is an odd way to ‘hide’ anything. Clearly, ‘trick’ and ‘hiding’ were just a turn of phrase, meaning about the same as if one of my fellow programmers looked at a solution and said, ‘Hey, that is a neat trick.’ The public that listened to the climategate accusations _wanted_ to believe them.

    Anecdote: I once heard it said of someone that they had an encyclopedic memory for Scientific American. In the circle it was used, that was intended, and understood, as an insult, meaning the person had a good breadth of knowledge, but quickly got over their head when real experts were engaged in conversation. At the time it struck me that, in other circles, that would have been a bit of a compliment.

    OK, the point is that I think people already gravitate to the media source that fits their level of skill. Sources like BBC might be a green, Scientific American a blue, Science Daily a black, and journals like Science and Nature a double black.

    I’m not sure that there is as much of a problem with how the accurate science is presented as there is with sources where incorrect science is presented and feedback loops are established amongst people who are reluctant to accept unpleasant realities, reinforcing their belief that there is nothing unpleasant in the reality around them. There are plenty of good information sources, this site included, available. However, once someone gets too far into the denier feedback loop, they start to say things like, “Don’t bother showing me any links to RealClimate blogs.”, as though you are part of some global conspiracy.

    How does one know the difference, and which is the more accurate reality? For me, if I can extend the physics I learned in college to include new info I’m presented in a consistent manner, then I judge that to be more believable than someone who ‘proves’ that climate change can’t be real by using concentration (ppm) in a formula that requires density (units/volume), and isn’t really applicable anyway. I have basic physics in my toolkit, but for someone who doesn’t, it’s a bewilderment.

    So, what’s the answer? I wonder if it is necessary not just to make information available, but also, to try to interject hard bits into the feedback mechanisms, to go to the denier sites and engage them by pointing out where what they are saying is not consistent with the known laws of physics. I’m not speaking of Gavin, Rasmus, et al; it doesn’t take their level of expertise to do this. However, I tried this a few times and did not perceive any good coming from it. ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.’ kept coming into my head. But, you never know; maybe someone still trying to figure it out got something out of it.

  30. 130
    Septic Matthew says:

    Here at RealClimate information levels are handled well. You get everything from generalized statements to references to peer-reviewed papers and the pages of technical books.

  31. 131
    Dale Power says:

    It is natural to think that education is the key, after all, all of the scientists involved and the vast majority of people a realclimate in general have spent their lives in one form of educational setting or process or another.

    But most people aren’t looking to become climate experts or even “informed” they want to know what the current scientific thinking is on things and get confused when there is talk of “debate”.

    I suggest a three teared system to address this then.

    Tier One: Make simple definitive statements like “The Earth is Warming up because we are burning fossil fuels like coal and oil. The highest level scientists in the world agree this is happening and we need to take action to fix it now or horrible things are going to happen. Some bad, greedy people, often working directly or indirectly for the fossil fuel industry and others that simply lack the scientific data to see what is going on have been spreading lies and disinformation about this topic, but rest assured, the science is in, and it says Global warming is real.”

    Blunt, leaving no wiggle room and commanding. You don’t engage in debate with the crazy “preacher” on the corner, do you? Well, most people expect that no science discipline would spend years “debating” with the same type of people either. Just dismiss them and let them eat it.

    Tier two: The base level set here by RC. Tell people what is going on, add some of the math where needed to show how things work and let people that want to learn and figure thingsout.

    Tier three: Peer reviewed science track. Demand high level work and call people on it if they are wrong. SOP as far as I can tell.

    Basically, we are only missing the blatant tier one activities right now, but that is the tier that holds the largest audience!

    I suggest a group of Climate scientists, some of the top people, get together and put out such statements for the press regularly, perhaps even weekly. The loudest voice in the room gets heard as the authority if no one else speaks up just as loudly, even if what they are saying is obviously wrong.

    I think there are enough top Climate scientists here to do this, and it would take everyone involved minutes per week to do. I admit it is not the way things are commonly done, but the other side control this tier right now, and it seems we will all be better off if they did not.

    If anyone is interested in getting such a thing together, *I will help write the statements and get the word out to the press via releases.

    *Just so that no one thinks I am just trying to pass the buck.

  32. 132
    Thomas says:

    116: You might also look for the open university online courses, MIT has done a pretty good job of making notes available on a lot of technical subjects. Perusing the lists, and selecting interesting subjects is a great way to broaden one’s background. I’ve lost the link I had, but you should be able to find these sources. They aren’t perfect, printed class notes mainly, but compared to a hundred dollars or more per textbook, they are a great resource.

  33. 133
    Jacob Mack says:

    Without RC some of those advanced climate based textbooks and very complex papers I have been reading over the past few years would not have been as understandable and the context of them would have been difficult to discern. I have a considerable chemistry, math and biology background, but the multi faceted ways in which all of these parts have been applied in interpreting data and designing the graphs would not have been known by me without heavy doses of reading RC. I also think that having the various introductions for various levels of technically minded (or not so minded) readers like beginning with the RC Wiki is a great idea. I never will like straight Wikipedia itself, but the RC Wiki helps the “average Joe,” and the more advanced sections of RC have helped me to see how and why a conclusion was made, say based on sediment findings, or why ARGO floats had to be recalibrated, or why even though some errors of late have been found the science is still grounded in near certainties…etc… these are areas that without more focus and technical understanding just are not going to be known by people just reading the NY Times or the Economistl; it just is not possible,unless one already has advanced degrees and knowledge directly of climate science (but then what would be the point?)

    At any rate, RC is already accomplishing its mission in my book and I second all of Chris’ thoughts in post 1 and post 4!

  34. 134
    Chris Colose says:

    Gavin,

    off-topic but I am looking for the paper/graph of results which show that averaging over many IPCC models provides better skill than any single model on its own. If it helps, you showed it in your presentation here at UW-Madison when you visited not too long ago.

  35. 135
    Jim Ryan says:

    See article below from Melanie Philips which is beyond parody. She is one of the most vociferous anti-AGW voices in the UK. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Could you guys not write an open letter to the Spectator and at least put her right on the science. She actually quotes the Gerlich paper!

    Keep up the good work!

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/6144429/frankly-more-sense-is-spoken-by-his-plants.thtml

    [edit – replaced quote with link]

    [Response: Never a truer word: “When people don’t want to admit certain unpleasant things about themselves, they project these unbearable characteristics onto other people instead.” but she has the sense all wrong. Oh dear. – gavin]

  36. 136
    Geoff Wexler says:

    # 131

    I don’t agree with all of your suggestions in tier 1. Environmentalists may and perhaps should use appeals to authority such as

    The highest level scientists in the world agree this is happening

    but researchers and climatological experts are not the same as environmentalists (although there may be an overlap) even when writing tier 1.

    The authority to which researchers should always appeal is that of the evidence. Otherwise the quoted phrase sounds a bit like a choice between :

    (a) We are not the proper experts but are appealing to the opinions of yet another group of high level people.

    or

    (b) We are the highest level experts in the world and so we do not need to provide you with anything except our conclusions.

    The result is a hole in the argument. By all means refer to Oreskes work on the weight of scientific opinion but that should not be at the expense of the discussion.

    Also excessively confident assertions (such as yours) which omit all uncertainty are pointless and are at variance with the IPPC summaries. People have got to get used to some uncertainty right from the start, its part of learning about science.

    I was once asked whether I agreed with AGW.I only had about 1 second so I said yes because of “very strong theory and a lot of observations”. This person knew the scientific meaning of the word theory.

  37. 137
    Geoff Wexler says:

    #135

    Yes, the Spectator has become one of the most extremist of the sources of climate misinformation in the UK. Last year they had Delingpole relaying and amplifying Ian Plimer. The trouble is that many people, including some good scientists, use it as source of ‘information’. There is also a multipier effect because reporters and journalists (e.g. on the BBC) read it. Most other weeklies are hard to buy in the UK so it appears to have almost no competition in many newsagents.

    Ian Plimer is famous for his ‘gish gallop’ (see wikipedia) technique. However Melanie Philips used it before him to dominate BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze.The Specatator article adopts another propagandist technique which is to pad out any references to science with lots of anecdotes about persecution and bad behaviour which are almost impossible to check. It might require a few more investigations by Muir Russell.

    But it is possible to discuss Gerlich and D. Tscheuschner. The so called up-market Spectator should be informed that it is making a fool of itself. Perhaps the best person to do this would be Ely Rabett. If G & T had been right about thermod. I suspect that many solid state devices such as bipolar transistors would have to be uninvented.

  38. 138

    http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/index.php?report=global&year=2010&month=jun

    Rasmus, Gavin, Jim and Mike and other busy ones here at RC, hats off, June 2010 4th consecutive month of all time global warm temperatures is in a way proving you very right. With the other ‘anti science’ like contrarians a sleep at the switch of reason, not laughable but at best incapable of seeing reality as it storms in front of them. Now is the time to reason some more in a simplified way:

    2010 warmest in history records, does that mean “Global cooling”? Does it mean “the greatest hoax in history” is still being perpetuated?

    Comes a time when contrarians must simply attack some other conspiring
    irrational topic. Because this one is becoming more and more proven. The truth
    is out there, errr, your house, right now, no need to go any further…

  39. 139
    Jerry says:

    Why is this a difficult story to convey? Ignoring denialists, at its heart is the contention that there are enough individuals on this planet using sufficient fossil fuels that their collective action over decades can change – has measurably and (opinion here) detrimentally changed – the energy balance of the planet.

    The pace of change is, on an individual level, a barely detectable temperature change per lifetime. The scientific view that a change of 0.05C change per decade is a potentially catastrophic is a tough sell to most individuals, particularly in regions where snow and ice are still annual events.

    Most of this thread discusses how hard or how easy should be the articles describing why the situation is dire. The link between cause and detrimental effect is long and many-branched.

    By analogy, consider why does an obese person makes the choice not modify his or her lifestyle to minimize the risk of obesity-related disease, such as heart failure or diabetes. Exercise and diet modification are hard choices to make.

    The current world-wide model of adult behavior is to strive to command more resource and to pass that command on to the progeny. The proposed replacement model for adult behavior is to minimize resource consumption now to maximize resource available to the progeny later — MUCH later.

    Austerity is a tough sell.

  40. 140
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jerry wrote: “Austerity is a tough sell.”

    Abundant, endless, free wind and solar energy is not a tough sell.

    Which is exactly why those who profit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars PER DAY from perpetuating the use of fossil fuels falsely claim that eliminating the use of their products means “austerity”.

  41. 141
    Dale Power says:

    RE: #136:

    You are correct, when dealing with people that have time and desire to learn more about what you are saying. But then you have tiers two and even three available for them for that.

    So, no holes in the argument.

    What is happening right now is simply this: For the most part, those that have a sciences background (except Geologists for some reason?) understand the data and you don’t have these silly arguments with them over what is what.

    Those that don’t have the science already are made up of those that don’t want to be bothered and those that are striving to learn it. The later group is about 2-10% though. (Based on a guess, so take the numbers for what they are worth to you!) The rest of the people, which is still the majority of all people, just needs to know what to think and who to believe.

    WE have all been conditioned to except being told what reality is by others and if we try to change that system now, people will be confused.

    Think about how a teacher would instruct an Elementary School class if they did not want to speak down to them, but also had to impress a point rapidly.

    That is about the “base” level of what people care to hear.

    A few raw facts, stated over and over and don’t leave room for the Oil and coal companies to cast doubt.

    I believe very strongly that this is the area where communications have broken down for climate scientists. They assume that everyone is willing to learn, and not learning means they can’t be reached. Both are false ideas.

    Tier two is for those (like most of us here?) that want more information.

    It is different than what has been being done, possibly scary, as it seems too bold and forward, but scholarly hasn’t been working well lately due to the loud and bold opposition.

  42. 142
    Kooiti Masuda says:

    Chris Colose (#134):

    James Annan’s theoretical thoughts on the subject of your question is on his blog, e.g. http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-multi-model-mean-is-so-good.html.

  43. 143
    wili says:

    Yes, another record month. And now the National Academy of Science has come out with a new, dire report (topic of a future thread at realclimate?).

    @139 “Austerity is a hard sell”

    Not for these folks: http://www.riot4austerity.org/blog/

    On another front, I have a atmospheric chemistry question: A GHG like methane with positively charged hydrogen pointing out everywhere is likely to form weak bonds with, for example O2. (If I am way off here, please let me know.)

    Do these weak bonds play any role in absorbing and emitting heat waves the way the strong bonds between the carbon and the hydrogen do in the methane atom?

    (Apologies ahead of time if this is just totally mindlessly stupid in some basic way that I missed. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made a bone-headed fool of myself very publicly.)

  44. 144
  45. 145
    Adjunct Professor John Barker says:

    I think that RC generally does a great job of clarifying ideas to a relatively narrow audience. “Narrow” in the sense that most seem to be already well informed and prepared to follow the rules of scientific discourse. As is the nature of blogs, a number of thought streams emerge, but, in general, the knowledge is cumulative in that later contributions heed and build on earlier ones- that’s “science”.

    However, I feel that this particular effort is below par. Gavin’s issue seems clear enough to me, and he ended with:

    “So how should we move forward? Can we institute a some kind of information level meta-tagging that would eventually be recognised by Google? (does that even matter)? Does such a system exist already?”

    This seemed to be a trigger for almost everybody to throw in their two cent’s worth on the issue of science communication, with little heed to Gavin’s question and little or no cumulation of knowledge on the subject.

    I suspect that this means that the subject is more difficult than most people realise. As I indicated in #59 above, I have found very little evidence of the issue being addressed systematically by educationists. Gavin posits that there could be “levels”. But what do these levels look like? How can we construct them, given a mass of information on a topic? How can we analyse an effort at explaining a concept and systematically identify flaws in the effort? The emphasis here is on “systematic”- a coherent and logically consistent framework, with some axiomatic basis.

    By the look of it, resolving this problem is beyond the scope of the blogosphere and needs to be handed to a team comprising logicians, linguists, psychologists and some scientists, who deconstruct a range of presentations of concepts and develop a framework that can be operationalised.

    And while we are at it, maybe we can come up with a similar system for dealing with the Plimers of this world- they are simply not playing by the rules of modern empirical discourse. They are preying on the weakness afforded by its open-ness and the tacit assumption that everybody who is participating is genuinely interested in the “truth”- ie a consensual “public knowledge, as John Ziman called it.

  46. 146
    Geoff Wexler says:

    #141 (#137 and #131)

    WE have all been conditioned to except being told what reality is by others and if we try to change that system now, people will be confused.

    My impression from speaking to people is that they are already confused. Most of them have been exposed and remembered the tier 1 proposals to which I objected in #136. But they have more frequently read about a rival reality dished out by the media. They have to be helped to choose between these versions on a rational basis; reading ex cathedra pronouncements has just left them free to follow their prejudices.

    Consider the success of Channel 4’s Swindle. This deceitful program owed much of its success to the way it asked for the evidence apparently for the first time . The lay public who had been starved of evidence, and lapped up the ‘information’ in spite of the fact that it had been poisoned. It started with Nigel Calder’s “you have been told lies” and went on from there.

    An analagous problem exists with the Russel Muir report. ‘Tier 1′ might consist of some headlines. It might perhaps have been backed up by authority e.g. ‘senior civil servant + distingushed advisors have concluded…’ Its to easy to cancel this by unsubstantiated accusations of whitewash. After all whitewash has occured in the UK over miscarriages of justice i.e. in a completely different area. So once again people are choosing their reality on the basis of prejudice and some experience of politics. It may not be impossible to deal with. How about considering the evidence ? That where RC has been so helpful.

  47. 147
    Joe Joyce says:

    Hi. I’d like to make a suggestion, if I may. Being part of category 3, might I ask for more pictures? This is a serious request. I’ve enough science background to understand everything but the higher math. I also have a very visual imagination; I “see” things to understand them. If I can’t “see” something, I don’t understand it. That’s personal. It’s also the fact that the eyes give humans the bulk of all information about the world. Eyes are far and away our most sophisticated sense organ, with an amazing amount of processing ability devoted to their inputs.

    So I’m very serious about pictures. For example, there’s an iconic energy balance diagram that shows a very simplified breakdown of incoming and outgoing energy. That would be an excellent starting point for a multi-layer explanation of the greenhouse effect, based on a series of related, very similar diagrams of lesser and greater depth. Use a lecturer/text and include math, in the last minutes of each segment/in sidebars, Start the science and math out at basic and go up to the key equations used to create the models.

    There are a number of ways you could show increasing complexity in this energy in-energy out example.. Two obvious ones are splitting the main flows into ever-finer lines visual by visual, and zeroing in on specific spots in the general flow, expanding and expounding on each particular location, more and more, each with its own series of visuals. This, in microcosm, seems to me to be the sort of thing you are striving for, collectively. But who’s to do it? Clearly, the people that do the real work should only vet something like this.

    I’m not trying to be presumptuous [even if I am succeeding] and I’m not trying to run on too much, so I won’t flesh out a possible training program. But my other hat at work was Automation guy. Guess I was good enough, got sent all over the Northeast US to learn and teach. I could understand and translate between “tech” [an early form of modern “geek”] and “normal/human”, use the info to design training classes complete with teacher and student course materials [in an industrial setting], then give the classes, from 1 hour intros to 3 weeks with the new crews that would run 70 foot long machines. [And yes, I did the same for my office, then headed up that local operation, so I did “suffer the consequences” of my playing expert. Wouldn’t have it any other way.]

    Anyway, there’s lot’s more, yadda, yadda, I did good, yadda, yadda, and the point is there are people like me who can do the same for the science of climate change. You don’t want scientists for this, you want interpreters, good interfaces between science and citizen, middlemen. They will [need to] be creating, if not teaching, a science course and a math course in miniature. Maybe you get a few good presenters to read the script convincingly for online or visual media publication.

    There is much that can be done, but I think some of the emphasis is wrong. You need to simplify to nothing, and you need to complexify up to where you can safely refer the student [for they will be at this level of interest and ability] to specific literature [*free* and easily available], which means you will be presenting things on levels up to graduate, but just barely touching it. I believe you’d want a basic undergrad-level exposition for your top level. Still, you’d want a basic info section, being the bulk of each segment, right up front, with complexities relegated to the [skippable] back of each segment.

    I’d put a specific controversies section right before the last – math – section, and only answer half of the controversies in that section. Answer the other half in the next level up’s basic info. Always make plain you are going from simple to complex, step by step, both with and without math. Be heavy on visuals, and work the initial visual to death, repeating it in greater of lesser detail in every section. People like easy and simple, they like explanatory pictures, they love controversy, and they like to be able to dodge the math. Cartoony pix, bright colors, absolute truth* with error bars – *as best we know it.

    People in the US seem to have lost faith in a lot of “certainties” [though there is no such thing, and to an extent, questioning is good]; one is the concept that science exists to help people. With that went the aura of “rightness” that science had, and does not now seem to have any more. For successful methods that work to educate people about science, you have to restore the general populace’s sense that scientists are working for the benefit of society, and know what they are doing, or at least have a much better chance of knowing what they are doing than non-scientists who guess at things.

    To restore that sense, I suspect they must be given a full dose of what makes science science. Show what, not merely who, but what scientists are today, and how science got to this stage, using climate science as the viewpoint. That means chunks of the history, showing the confusion and warts as well as the successes. Illustrative history, probably written with 5th grade level English, telling a series of entertaining stories about the people and their challenges. While telling stories about people, it can explain the scientific method, the basic ideas, and the arguments used to advance or deny the ideas of global warming, as a companion text.

    Basically what I’m saying, I think, is that science must show what it means to be scientific professionals, and what “Big Science” really is, which is not a handful of isolated geniuses working alone and making great discoveries, but thousands and tens and hundreds of thousands of people all doing bits of the work. Skeptics seem to believe all of global warming is created by a handful of people who control like puppets a hundred or two morons who are the regular scientists, ie: people who couldn’t make it in the real world. You need to flex science’s muscles, repeatedly, until the general population gets the message that there is no balance, there are not 2 equivalent sides…

    Well, I’ve probably gone on way too much. Hope some of this makes sense. Sorry I can’t comment usefully on Gavin’s idea of “tagging”. I looked at doing it in the field of chess variants, and quickly realized something like that is a job for a trained and dedicated group. I’ll settle for good pictures and a few general tags – and wish for what Gavin wants.

    Joe

  48. 148
    SecularAnimist says:

    I commend to your attention this past Thursday’s broadcast of the radio program On Point, entitled “Heat Waves: The New Normal?” in which host Tom Ashbrook interviewed Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University, the lead author of a new study which found that “exceptionally long heat waves and other hot events could become commonplace in the United States in the next 30 years … posing serious risks to agriculture and human health.”

    Guests on the program were:

    Noah Diffenbaugh, author of a new study that says heat waves could become commonplace by 2039, with devastating consequences. He is an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.

    Jonathan Patz, professor of environmental studies and population health sciences at the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He studies the impact of climate change on public health.

    Bill Easterling, dean of the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. He is an economic geographer and climatologist who studies the impact of climate change on agriculture.

    Bjorn Lomborg, academic and environmental writer. He is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which establishes priorities for advancing global welfare. His 2007 book is “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming.”

    In my opinion, there are plenty of examples of both good and bad science communication by Professor Diffenbaugh.

    On the whole, he seemed focused on a rather dispassionate and technical approach to communicating the scientific content of his study to a lay audience — which struck me as reminiscent of the RealClimate approach — and this he did fairly well.

    With one exception — which prompts me to appeal once again to all of you scientists who are trying to communicate about AGW with the American public: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE give temperatures in Fahrenheit instead of Celsius. I know that C is the scientific standard. But ordinary Americans think of — viscerally — the weather in degrees F.

    When Diffenbaugh talks about a “2 degree” temperature increase (without even stating whether he means C or F), his US audience is thinking of how a 2 degree F temperature change feels, and not how a 3.6 degree F temperature increase feels, which is what he’s actually talking about.

    Aside from that, I found two problems with Diffenbaugh’s presentation:

    First, he seemed reluctant to express any urgency or — dare I say it — alarm — about his findings (although Patz and Easterling did, when they spoke to the impacts on health and agriculture).

    Second, just before Ashbrook introduced Lomborg, he asked Diffenbaugh a question about what could and should be done. Diffenbaugh took a lot of words to very reluctantly express a general opinion that something should be done — and then concluded with a HORRIBLE message that dealing with AGW would have great costs, and many “difficult” trade-offs, and thus “hard decisions” about what to do.

    Which was certainly a nice lead-in to Lomborg, but it is absolutely NOT true, and is in fact nothing more than obstructionist propaganda.

    The decisions are not “hard”, the so-called “trade-off” of the fossil fuel corporations’ billion-dollars-a-day profits for a sustainable clean energy economy and the survival of human civilization is not “difficult”, the costs of dealing with AGW are far exceeded by the (potentially catastrophic) costs of not doing so, and indeed the transition to a hyper-efficient renewable energy & organic agriculture economy is not only the solution to AGW but the foundation of the New Industrial Revolution of the 21st Century and sustainable prosperity for all humanity.

    So, very unhelpful messaging from Prof. Diffenbaugh there — on a subject that is well outside his area of expertise. (I wonder how many climate scientists who know better than to fall for fossil fuel corporation propaganda about climate science, also know little enough about efficiency and renewable energy technologies that they easily fall for fossil fuel corporation propaganda about “we can’t survive with wind and solar alone” etc).

    As for Lomborg, I was sufficiently dismayed by that comment from Diffenbaugh, and sufficiently disinclined to listen to Lomborg’s predictable, scripted, deliberate lies, that I turned off the radio at that point.

  49. 149
    EL says:

    SecularAnimist writes:
    “Diffenbaugh took a lot of words to very reluctantly express a general opinion that something should be done — and then concluded with a HORRIBLE message that dealing with AGW would have great costs, and many “difficult” trade-offs, and thus “hard decisions” about what to do.”

    Dealing with global warming will have large costs and trade offs. His assessment was fair.

  50. 150
    Radge Havers says:

    The subject is difficult. On the other hand, to take the simplest approach, the RC team could get together over lunch, sketch out some guidelines for categorizing entries, and then start marking posts that afternoon. Refinements would be an on-going project. If true to form, commenters would not be shy about expressing themselves on the subject of the actual helpfulness of markers.

    Speaking generally, if the idea is a good one and would meet a real need, it’s worth exploring a bit before giving up in despair over the magnitude of an imagined perfect vision. I haven’t really seen any compelling arguments that it’s not a good idea. There does seem to be a tendency in some of the comments to defend the status quo, as though threatened by the prospect of newbies who might boot-up faster with better organized information than their predecessors. If the present system works for you, great! This may not be so for everybody. Certainly a screw-you-I-got-mine attitude won’t win any friends in most circles and just sucks the life out of a room.


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