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Overheard in the newsroom

Filed under: — group @ 12 January 2011

Reporter doing a phone interview: “Please slow down, professor. You’ve been researching this topic for a decade. I’ve been researching it since lunchtime.”

From here (h/t Josh).

214 Responses to “Overheard in the newsroom”

  1. 1
    John Mashey says:

    Well, that’s fair, as per What to do about bad science reporting.

    Reporters are likely normally (or maybe lognormally) distributed with regard to knowledge, experience and skill. If you find one who’s far out at the positive tail, be glad, else the best you can do is adjust to the level, help them out as possible, and hope for the best.

    I used to talk to press quite often about technology. One time I was being intervieweed by a reporter and was rapidly scaling down the level of discourse, and finally asked when she’d started doing technology columns:
    A: 2 weeks ago.
    Q: (hoping to calibrate usable examples): what were you doing before?
    A: the food columns, and I wanted a change.

    So, if you get a really-good one (and here I put in a plug for Dan Vergano at USA Today), be very, very glad.

  2. 2
    Joseph Sobry says:

    Professor: I can’t.
    Reporter: Why not?
    Professor: I have already been slowed down for ten years by the research. Call me back in twenty years.
    Reporter: Why?
    Professor: By then you may have caught up with my research.

  3. 3
    Steve Missal says:

    Well, there it is, yes? The great divide between the general public and the scientific community. I teach at the college level, and am still stunned by the naivete and ignorance of my 18 to 30-year-old students. They aren’t malicious, just incurious, and addicted to their hand-held electronic devices. Perhaps invading Facebook, Tweets, and Youtube might bypass the Koch brothers and enlighten our younger peers. Worth a thought.

  4. 4
    David Miller says:

    At least the reporter wanted to understand the issue. That certainly beats a lot of them. Would that we had more of those when it comes to climate change.

  5. 5
    Cam Adams says:

    That right there is why it’s so incredibly important that a concise, clear and understandable basic explanation is available for whatever new developments have come about. Even the average intelligent college graduate doesn’t have remotely enough time to understand even all of those scientific or political topics that she’s interested in, let alone all of those that are important and affect us all.

  6. 6
    Andy Revkin says:

    Professor: “Really… I don’t have time to talk to uninformed reporters”[even though my NSF grant essentially requires public outreach]. “Go away.”

    Reporter calls new number found via Google, a scientist with a lot of time and training (at a think tank fighting restrictions on CO2, or at, say, WWF). “Happy to talk. What do you need?”

    Alternate scenario:
    Professor: “Let me send you a link to some background on and Have a look and we can talk a bit later, OK?”

    Reporter: “Fair enough.”

    Professor: “When we’re done I may ask what you’re taking away from our chat, to avoid misapprehension. OK?

    Reporter: “Kind of like a test…. Ha ha. Like being back in college.”

    Professor: “Kind of like that.”

    [Response: Andy, thanks for the plug for RC. Of course, in reality lots of scientists do exactly as you are suggesting. To the credit of many reporters I’ve talked to, this has worked very well in my experience, and the resulting reports are done very well. So yes, I take this quote as less of a dig at journalists than at scientists who don’t/won’t/can’t explain their work very well.–eric]

  7. 7
    Sou says:

    My first reaction was to smile at the joke, sympathising with the reporter in her efforts to get the professor to talk in terms ordinary people could understand. I see in the comments that others might taken it as a joke on the reporter being uninformed rather than a joke on the professor being unintelligible.

    Either way, maybe that’s why it’s hard to communicate ideas to the general public.

  8. 8
    Joe Rojas-Burke says:

    As a journalist, I can tell you that the toughest part of the job is writing a story that portrays the science accurately and also speaks clearly and compellingly to readers, many of whom don’t know the difference between an atom and a molecule, have no math knowledge above arithmetic, and tend to make snap judgments about research based on how well it accords with gut feelings based on “naive physics.”

    [Response: You guys are translators. Excellent depiction of the challenge you’re up against.–Jim]

  9. 9
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    The reason it’s hard to communicate science is not that scientists are any worse communicators than any other group. It is that science isn’t always easily reductable into sound-bites. I go looking for the information myself and I find a lot of excellent material (here and elsewhere) that I can understand up to a point – further understanding requiring a lot of reading, without the benefit of a readily available expert tutor – but to then distill this information further so that it makes sense in a thirty second spot on the evening news, who will then spend another thirty seconds quoting Mr. Monckton or his local equivalent? Might as well just point a camera at Brisbane and say “global warming did this”.

  10. 10
    Dan H. says:

    The problem is that the media is always trying to reduce everything to a “sound bite.” Consequently, they often misrepresent the facts, or talk to one person, and assume he/she represents the entire scientific community. Then again, they may have a pre-conceived view, and interview people until they find one to support it.

  11. 11

    Sounds like we need to teach climate change science at an earlier age…like k-12. Getting a mandate like this through congress would educate the public. Failure is just not an option.

  12. 12
    Danny Bloom says:

    The answer to this problem, which is a real one, since many reporters are newbies or don’t know the science they are reporting on and are just looking for a few good quotes to bolster their reportagel, is this: scientists who understand the issue of global warming and climate change need to write more oped commentaries for major newspapers like the NY Times and the LA Times and the Guardian, with their names attached as author, and get the truth out that way. Oped commentaries are the best way to communicate directly, under your own name, with the public. Do it.

  13. 13

    8 (Joe Rojas-Burke),

    You have only one recourse.

    1) Build a time machine.
    2) Build a cultural-influence-ray.
    3) Go back in time with your cultural-influence ray.
    4) Sweep it over the entire population, to convince them to show respect rather than disdain for those in school who are intelligent and work hard on their studies.
    5) Sweep it over the entire population, to convince them to pay attention themselves as best they can to basic math and science when they are in school, so they understand this stuff at the level which almost all human beings are capable of achieving, rather than the pitiful few who bother to try in our society (because it’s simply not cool to actually learn).
    6) Wait several hundred years (because, as anyone knows, time machines let you go backwards, but never forwards)
    7) Your job is then easier, because you will have a literate and educated readership.
    [Can you tell that I have a very intelligent daughter in high school who is torn between using the intellect that she enjoys, and being perceived as an uncool nerd because she has that ability?]

  14. 14
    Thomas says:

    Bloke @9. Its more that science usually boils down to a few nice equation bites. Perfectly understandable in 30seconds to those few with the requiste training, and just gobbledegook to everyone else.

  15. 15
    Anna Haynes says:

    Kudos to Andy Revkin at #6 for the “test” suggestion (“Professor: “When we’re done I may ask what you’re taking away from our chat, to avoid misapprehension. OK?”)
    Is this typically done?

  16. 16
    Lloyd Smith says:

    Once climate science has matured enough to make regional forecasts of climate with a sustainably high degree of reliability it will find its own voice. As climate science is included in the work of hydrologists, geologists and others with ties to policy makers and land use entrepenuers the language of climate will become embedded in everyday life. Until then, we are just another ology clambering for attention.

  17. 17
    Snapple says:

    Karen writes:

    “Sounds like we need to teach climate change science at an earlier age…like k-12.”

    Climate change is taught in science classes in schools. It is in the texts. The posters from the government agencies are on the walls.

  18. 18
    Sou says:

    In my time I’ve had to translate messages from a range of professionals into language that non-spe-ialists can understand. Non-spe-ialists comprised different audiences including Government ministers, central government policy and budget agencies, senior management, the media and the general public. We used different vehicles for different audiences and tailored the language to suit. It’s always been important to get the message across properly.

    Economists and statisticians can be as incomprehensible as research scientists. All professionals use jargon to make it easier to talk with each other. (Eg in economics, a decreasing acceleration of the uptrend means rising still, but not as quickly) Many if not most are rarely in the position where they need to try to explain things directly to the public – mostly they talk with their colleagues, and others take on the role of getting the messages out more broadly.

    The message to be conveyed from most scientific research can be communicated to lay persons. It’s just a matter of getting to the nub of the matter and leaving out the non-essential stuff.

    In regard to climate science, there are a lot of people who deliberately set out to confuse by bringing up irrelevant and inconsequential and wrong information. This is less the case in other professions, so climate scientists and communicators need to have a strategy to deal with that. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying ‘that’s wrong’ and repeating the basic message without unnecessary qualifiers (which only confuse and encourage the deniers).

    Science communicators (ie translators, science journalists etc) play a very important role.

    PS – could you please fix or relax the spam filter.

  19. 19
    Russell Seitz says:

    This invites the redefinition of ‘ Framing’ as: How many martinis the reporter had for lunch.

  20. 20
    Edward Greisch says:

    Well,,, If we all had math co-processors installed in our brains.. like the Borg… it would help a lot. Something like Mathematica would have to be included. I would also take the language module and whatever else was available. K-12 education would mostly involve learning to use the co-processors.

    When my daughter was 8 years old, she tossed 10 pennies 100 times and made a histogram. Then the public schools taught her to not be good at math.

    What we need to do most is reverse George W’s “No child Allowed Ahead” policy. The public schools and even private universities are really good at destroying the very smartest students. It isn’t good enough to just be able to learn online. It has to be possible to get degrees on line at zero cost and without regard to time or age.

    Example: A classmate of mine [class of 1968 Carnegie-Mellon U.] invented Boolean Algebra by himself when he was in 7th grade. He arrived at college at the usual age. He didn’t go to class or do homework. He read the book the night before the final exam and aced the final in all of his courses. He should have been able to graduate in 1 semester. Instead, he dropped out and took 2 computer programming jobs because he was bored.

    The problem: None of his teachers or professors were able to recognize super-genius. He was forced to remain in lockstep. He should have entered college rather than 7th grade. He should have had his PhD by the age of 18. We lost a truly great mathematician because of the teachers. The fault lies in the system, not in the student. There has to be a means of sorting out students and allowing the maximum possible learning rate. Lockstep must end.

    All students, and therefore all teachers, should learn more math. The reporters can’t speak math, and that is the root of the communications problem.

  21. 21
    Scott Mandia says:

    Reporters have access to the top scientists in the field. All they need to do is to visit the Climate Science Rapid Response Team.

  22. 22
    Hank Roberts says:

    > please slow down

    “‘Not so fast’ says Pat Michaels … with the Cato Institute”

  23. 23
    Richard Zurawski says:

    This is precisely the problem. Reporters known absolutely no science. The media, especially TV, places no priority whatsoever on science and journalistic requirements do not encourage the parsing of science on scientific terms. My response to this is that if a reporter is assigned to a story and has no background in science, it is no different that insisting on interviewing someone in another language without the reporter having any understanding of that particular language. The requirement of the “fill the news hole mentality” can only be fed if scientists acquiesce and make allowances for these serious shortcomings. You know that the story has a great likelihood of being misinterpreted, trivialized and skewed by the reporter. And once it is out there likely no way a correction will ever appear. Scientists have a responsibility to present science as accurately as possible and by and large do. It seems that journalists and producers and broadcasters do not share in in the responsibility. Scientists have to realize this and sanction the BS media reporters and broadcasters

  24. 24
    dhogaza says:

    Thanks, Hank … Pat Michaels:

    Not so fast, says Pat Michaels, a climatologist with the Cato Institute in Washington. “If you draw a trend line from the data, it’s pretty flat from the 1990s. We don’t see much of a warming trend over the past 12 years.

    So “no warming since 1998, therefore climate science is a fraud” has become “not much warming since 1998, therefore climate science is a fraud”?

  25. 25
    Snapple says:

    Pat Michaels appeared on the Kremlin-financed channel Russia Today (RT) after Climategate, but the party line on global warming seems to be changing in Russia. I wonder if Pat Michaels will be invited back?

    Even Russia’s Institute for Economic Analysis (IEA) is discussing how Russia has sold “quotas” to Japan. I think that means carbon credits. The IEA didn’t quote the Cato’s Russian “expert,” the head of the IEA, Andrei Illarionov.

    The Russians had those fires and the media is telling people about how their cities could flood. They are letting their scientists explain it a bit.

    It will be interesting to see if the talk leads to actions. It took the Kremlin a few days to tell people that Hitler had invaded Russia, but they finally did. They never want to tell bad news until they are able to say how they plan to deal with it.

    Sometimes I wonder if the Kremlin was fooled by our denialists and their own energy companies, who own a lot of the media in Russia.

  26. 26
    Hunt Janin says:

    For Joe Rojas-Burke, re # 8 above:

    As a generalist, I’m writing an introductory book on sea level rise. Any advice on how to explain climate change to the educated general reader?

  27. 27
    tamino says:

    Learning climate science, even a little of it, is difficult — even if you have extensive knowledge of math and a solid background in physics, with a keen interest in the subject. I’ve been at it for years, and my ignorance is still impressive. So let’s not berate journalists or the general public for ignorance when they lack either the background or the motivation that we possess.

    Instead, let’s strive to explain things Asimov-style: with wit, charm, and crystal clarity.

    And when it comes to the public “debate,” let’s talk less about lapse rates and more about the lapses of honesty by the denialists. Joe the Plumber doesn’t need to understand a zero-dimensional energy balance model, to see how mistaken and how dishonest are those who oppose action on the global warming issue. That’s the denialists’ weakness, and since we’re in a fight for the survival of human civilization we should go on the offensive, and hit ’em where it hurts ’em the most.

  28. 28
    Nick O. says:

    At the risk of seeming flippant, I can’t help but remember how this was covered in Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks!”, with Sarah Jessica Parker (the fashion reporter?) interviewing Pierce Brosnan (the government scientist). Most illuminating …

  29. 29
    Alexandre says:

    I don’t think science is not reductible to soundbites, as mentioned above. Of course it is. I did quite well in an amateur lecture explaining the greenhouse effect with a blanket analogy.

    The problem is to overcome the more ellaborate BS spread by denialists. Then you need a lot of time and knowledge – and even if you have it, the average audiece is usually very short on both.

  30. 30

    There seems to be a consensus that the biggest problem with climate change is communication.

    [Response: Nonsense. The primary consensus with regard to the “biggest problem with climate change” is the effects it will have on the biogeosphere.–Jim]

    This is apparent from this discussion and sessions at the recent AGS meeting and upcoming AMS meetings. The first thing required when communicating is a clear message.

    A clear message from sceptics is that the effect of CO2 and other global warming gases has been greatly exaggerated and it does not make economic sense to solve the problem by reducing emissions.

    How do you credibly counter that message?

    [Response: Um, with credibility maybe?–Jim]

  31. 31

    “Reducible” isn’t an absolute. Alexandre’s analogy may have done very well in its context, while omitting aspects of the question that would have been important in other contexts.

    The whole point of the anecdote at the head of this post isn’t, IMO, that the scientist OR the journalist were “wrong” in some way; the point is the difficulty of finding a meaningful intersection between very different contexts. Doing that takes effort and time, and I think Andy Revkin’s comment is very much to that point–understanding comes from dialog, and dialog requires active listening and the solicitation of feedback.

    Not easy under time pressure, of course, but you deal with the reality you have, not the reality you wish you had–ideally, that is. . .

  32. 32

    “…the root of the communications problem.”

    In my world, the essence of communication is connecting to the given audience at the level of its interest and expertise. Without contradicting the wishes for greater scientific literacy, I wonder whether enough has been done to reach both press and public with reference to their everyday lives.

    Specifically, has anyone here framed the issue in terms of, “changing the composition of a substance changes its properties” — and then related that to activities ranging from cooking, to metallurgy, to biotechnology, to the atmospheric effect of taking lead out of gasoline?

    It seems to me that this type of framing might not only speak directly to the public’s daily experience, but also appeal to reporters’ professional skepticism: When has changing a substance’s composition NOT changed its properties?

    Further, in this castle I’m building, such an approach could be a good jumping off point to address melting ice, ocean acidification and the many extreme weather events seen recently.

    I apologize if this has already been tried and failed.

  33. 33
    Ray Ladbury says:

    You know, the problem I have is not with reporters failing to understand scientific results. Rather it is the ignorance of scientific method and lack of interest that I find difficult to grasp.

    When you see an absolutely beautiful result with groundbreaking implications and the reporter devotes a single short paragraph to it, absolutely no space to its context within the field and then spends two paragraphs giving the viewpoints of anti-science twits, anti-vaxxers and other cranks for “balance”…that’s when I want to break the reporter’s fingers so he can’t type any more.

    I talk about science to nonscientists all the time–housewives, truckdrivers, people standing in the grocery checkout line. I can usually find a way to make it interesting for them, and I am by no means a great scientific communicator. The real problem I see in so much science reporting is that the reporters don’t seem to like science.

  34. 34
    Scott Mandia says:


    When one has questions, one seeks those that have the expertise and or the biggest financial stake in the issue. Here is what you say:

    Humans are changing the climate and there are serious risks associated with this change that are going to cause hardship for many and increase living costs for all.

    So who is concerned? Every international academy of sciences, many military and intelligence officials, many health experts, and most international insurance companies. Shouldn’t you be also?

    You can make a difference. Be more energy efficient and demand that your lawmakers respect the experts and make dealing with climate change a top priority.

    Then end it with: You know, China is eating our lunch in the solar and wind technologies so even they know what is coming. However, until the US gets off its coal and oil addiction, China will continue to build new coal plants which are the worst emitters of heat-trapping gases and other pollutants. The world is waiting for its leader, the US, to do the right thing and to lead by example but it can only do so when its citizenry demands it.

  35. 35
    Sean says:

    From my point of view as a mathematician on the fringe of the atmospheric sciences community, the battle is being won, and mostly by an overwhelming popular surge of interest in environmental issues. As with all complex systems, the basic ideas that govern the majority of the variability are easy to explain. It’s prediction on regional scales and with definite quantities and uncertainties that is tough. But I think that the distrust of climate scientists is exaggerated by the mass media. The public is coming around. We’re winning this fight.

  36. 36

    Scott in #34

    Can that be reduced to a simple credible message?

    [Response: You are badly mistaken in your underlying premises and assumptions. Simplicity of message does not trump accuracy of message. You can simplify all you want–and that’s what deniers do in spades– but when you are flat out wrong with your message, as you are, it doesn’t matter one whit. Scientists have the primary responsibility of getting the story right, a burden that deniers such as yourself do not carry. You have the luxury of saying whatever you want without having to do the work of defending it. We don’t.–Jim]

  37. 37
    John Mashey says:

    Kneejerk whacking if the press may be satisfying, but accomplishes nothing.
    The original post is obviously ambiguous.

    1) The reporter may in fact know nothing whatsoever about the general topic.

    2) The reporter may in fact be quite knowledgable in the general topic, but simply us new to this one. It might be a complex paper in Science that they have just seen. The reporter could be ready to ask some detailed questions trying to understand how some new result compares .

    Given the information, those are plausible extrema of the distribution of skills, and quite possibly It is skewed, with 2 being less likely.

    But posters who assumed 1 might want to think about whether that us a productive assumption.

    It is far better to calibrate the listener, rather than just assuming.
    Emulate Steve Schneider, who was awesomely good at this on his feet. I never once heard him talk down to anyone, even in the face of poor questions.

  38. 38
    Radge Havers says:

    Ulick Stafford @ 30

    A clear message from sceptics is that the effect of CO2 and other global warming gases has been greatly exaggerated and it does not make economic sense to solve the problem by reducing emissions.

    How do you credibly counter that message?

    Those memes are entrenched. You’ll probably have to speak to the deniers’ intended audience and go after the dishonesty. Relentlessly. I might add that it isn’t pointed out often enough that the science (read IPCC) presents a range of scenarios as decision support to policy, not a single outcome. This should be simple enough to repeat, but detail oriented scientists are often led into the weeds chasing irritating pettifoggers.

    The alarmist warnings of reactionary, economic doomists (who failed to predict the current down turn by the way) have no scientific basis.

    Agree absolutely with tamino @27, hit ’em in the wingnuts.

  39. 39
    Jesse says:

    Speaking as a reporter who has some science background, let me offer this:

    Many of us who cover science in the first place do have an interest, but not always the expertise. I have some understanding because I went through a couple of years of it. But the guy who works for me has a hell of a time. It isn’t that he is stupid or uninterested, he just doesn’t have the mental tools. (In a similar vein, how many of us understand jet engine repair? Brain surgery?) Specialization in college (and even in high school) means that I know science people who can’t write a grammatical sentence or spell, or are woefully ignorant of basic civics. (Though I think people in the sciences do have a greater ability to switch from one field to the other).

    It’s also important for scientists to engage the public in a jargon-free way. Carl Sagan said it well: there is no reason to expect public support if you don’t engage. But too often many of the hypotheses that make science work are also a bit on the esoteric side. That is, they are great and beautiful hypothesis and questions, but they might not connect with many people. I know when I try to writ about it a gigantic challenge is relating it to something people care about.

    I also find it is often easier for me to understand what a scientist is saying when I repeat things back, or ask even the wrong questions (assuming someone tells me why it’s wrong). But even better is when I ask how they got into whatever field. Many of you scientists give better answers when I ask that. I am not sure why that is.

    I should also say that most of the time as a reporter you have to do things on the fly. This isn’t only true of science. When I used to cover crime, for instance, I basically had to piece together an entire sequence of events, get out 500 words and ensure accuracy — in two hours. The same often happens with science stories. If you can get an expert grasp of any science in that amount of time, you are a smarter person than I am by far.

    Do things get oversimplified? Yes. But that is sometimes better than nothing.

    Sometimes I find scientists still couch their words with the language of hypotheses, probability and such. In many cases, it’s better not to. If you say “Evolution is probably true” that means something much different to a scientist than to a journalist whose last science class was in high school.

    Or another example: telling people they are x percent more likely to get cancer from smoking is much different than saying “smoke enough and your lungs rot.”

    Both are accurate. The latter is far more effective.

  40. 40
    SecularAnimist says:

    One Anonymous Bloke wrote: “Might as well just point a camera at Brisbane and say ‘global warming did this’.”

    That’s exactly what we should be doing.

  41. 41
    Nick O. says:

    Much more on topic this time (apologies for previous post)…

    Ben Miller – now a comedian/comic actor but formerly a physics PhD student at Cambridge – did a ‘Horizon’ programme on the BBC on Monday, covering the general theme ‘What is one degree of temperature?’ Part of the problem was to explain why we as a species ought to be concerned with predicted rises in mean temperature which appear to be rather small, maybe only one or two degrees. The whole programme is available for viewing over BBC’s i-player, but look particularly at the bit between 48 mins 28s and c. 51 mins 20, and especially between 50:00 and 51:20, when the stats prof. explains – very neatly and clearly in my view – why such a small rise in mean temps is actually rather bad news. The i-player link can be found on:

    I think this sort of explanation, in just under a minute and a half, can really hit home very effectively, even though the overall programme had a more humorous and self-depracating air about it. Worth a look.

    Also re #33, Ray Ladbury’s first point: ‘You know, the problem I have is not with reporters failing to understand scientific results. Rather it is the ignorance of scientific method and lack of interest that I find difficult to grasp. ‘ I couldn’t agree more, Ray, although I think the problem is much worse and more widespread than this. To my mind, we are more and more reliant every year on achievements in science and engineering, which in turn are reliant on detailed knowledge of physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics. Yet many children at school end up being called ‘nerds’ or worse for being gifted in or devoted to these subjects. The peer pressure is v. much to do other things, it seems to me. We also seem to be a society that respects gifts in argument and rhetoric much more than substance of fact and weight of evidence, witness recent political ‘arguments’, legalistic arguments within an increasingly litigious culture, etc. etc. Legalistic and political type argument and rhetoric are therefore dominant in nearly all discourse. In this atmosphere (no pun intended), more general truth can get v. easily lost in points of detail. The worse part of it is that since so many people are not trained even at a rudimentary level in how science works i.e. the method and philosophy of it, they don’t have a confident enough background to take the legalistic type approach to argument apart. I would feel an awful lot happier if as many students were studying ‘philosophy, science and engineering’ as degree courses as there are studying ‘philosophy, economics and politics’. The methods are different, and the knowledge claims are even more different. So what do we do about the rhetoric?

  42. 42
    Bill says:

    Surely we have more important science to discuss on this site, rather than re-hatching all this old stuff !…please

  43. 43
    Mike Tabony says:

    Like Alexandre (#29), I lecture often on climate change and use the blanket analogy for greenhouse gases. Furthermore, I ask high school and middle school students to remember a few years back when they kicked off the excess blankets, then tell them that the planet cannot kick off all the blankets we humans are piling on it. So far, I think they are getting that part. The main problem I see is that many of the present day students are like present day adults, very reluctant to admit there is a problem because then they might have to do something about it. Better to just deny.

    “Denial” is pervasive in present day US society. Not only does it stop action in moving to a more sustainable society but toward a more moral society as well. As a friend of mine in Maine says, “In present day America, to solve any problem we only reach into the closet far enough to get a bottle of ‘Denial’.” My guess is that will change soon and then the “blame stage” will begin. Civil society will be sore tested.

  44. 44
    Warmcast says:

    I notice that Pierrehumbert has published an excellent article about the greenhouse effect in Physics Today. Although I think it is beyond the scope of the average journalist, it is written at a palatable level suitable for many engineers, teachers etc.

    I posted something about it on my site.

    This week the BBC broadcast a good Horizon programme about temperature that was presented by comedian/actor Ben Miller who has a physics phd from Cambridge.
    Apparently the idea for the show was triggered by a discussion about climate change that Ben had at a dinner.

    It’s good that more accessible material is being produced, it may take some time, but it is well worth it. I suspect it is going to be a never ending task though!

  45. 45
    William Clark says:

    “Nick O. says:
    13 Jan 2011 at 1:22 PM

    Much more on topic this time (apologies for previous post)…

    Ben Miller – now a comedian/comic actor but formerly a physics PhD student at Cambridge – did a ‘Horizon’ programme on the BBC on Monday, covering the general theme ‘What is one degree of temperature?’ Part of the problem was to explain why we as a species ought to be concerned with predicted rises in mean temperature which appear to be rather small, maybe only one or two degrees. The whole programme is available for viewing over BBC’s i-player, but look particularly at the bit between 48 mins 28s and c. 51 mins 20, and especially between 50:00 and 51:20, when the stats prof. explains – very neatly and clearly in my view – why such a small rise in mean temps is actually rather bad news. The i-player link can be found on:

    I think this sort of explanation, in just under a minute and a half, can really hit home very effectively, even though the overall programme had a more humorous and self-depracating air about it. Worth a look.”

    Is there a YouTube link or similar to this? iPlayer content from the Beeb cannot be accessed in the US.

  46. 46
    Nick O. says:

    Re. #44, William Clark. Oh, sorry William, I didn’t know about this problem (that you can’t do BBC iplayer in the US). I also don’t know how to put a bit up on a Youtube link, but maybe someone else reading in the UK does, and could help re. accessing iplayer in the US somehow …

  47. 47
    jana goldman says:

    RE: #15 and #6 – The “test question” — yes, indeed it is done. And a good reporter will often ask — “Is there something I should have asked but didn’t?” or “Let me review to ensure I understood what we spoke about.” I’m a public affairs officer at NOAA and was a daily newspaper reporter for 13 years earlier in my career. As a reporter, I always welcomed a scientist (or other expert whom I was interviewing) who spent some extra time to make sure I got it right — it was to both of our benefits. In my current job, I continue to be grateful for scientists who take extra time to ensure reporters, as well as I, understand their work.

  48. 48
    David Beach says:

    In my experience, reporters are usually trying hard to write a good summary but are often red-pencilled by editors who have to assemble a page of conflicting column-inch requirements.
    Compression of non-simple statements by the use of adjectives and adverbs can be mutilated to nonsense by editing.

  49. 49
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    SecularAnimist #40 I couldn’t help noticing in the first sentence: “…scientists said…” :) Salient points I can take away from this article and bring into discussions:

    1. 4% more moisture in the air since 30 years ago.
    2. “Climate trains the boxer but weather throws the punches”
    3. It’s happening everywhere – South Africa, Brazil, the Philippines…

    I have a question. I think it’s increasingly likely that the weather will soon (how soon?) degrade our energy infrastructure and or basic utilities to the extent that CO2 emissions will plummet. Is there any data/research out there that explores this hypothesis? I had a look at IPCCAR4 but it merely talks about the need to strengthen infrastructure. A massive clean-up effort probably emits a lot of CO2, but if that boxer hits you again while you’re still reeling from the last blow…?

  50. 50
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #46: Please! It sounds very interesting.