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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. 51
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #6: It should be noted that Andy Revkin still indulges in “balancing” quotes from the likes of Michaels/Christy/Lindzen, and seems to think that Anthony Watts has some value.

  2. 52
    Bill says:

    BBC Horizon…..Please ! Cant we find something better to talk about ?

  3. 53
    Bill says:

    and for Brisbane ,Australia, look back at the flood records in the 1800’s and dont just look at 30 years to compare with!

  4. 54
    Joel D. Fedder says:

    The problem is that Climate Change is not a normal technology problem. The weight of evidence is clear, it is a problem that in a few years will be irreversible. The Media cannot hope they get it right, it must be right.
    this is not an issue for ‘balanced’ reporting. JDF

  5. 55
    Hank Roberts says:

    > anti-vaxers
    It would be most interesting to look back at the many stories about vaccines and autism over the past decade that featured “balance” using people who’d fallen for the falsified research and insisted they believed it so it must be true. What were those reporters thinking, by not paying attention to the long history that had established it was bad fake science?

  6. 56
    harvey says:

    Scott @34
    You are wrong. China is not building more coal plants. They are retiring their old plants, and planning on building 200+ total nuclear
    power plants by 2050. (they currently have 13, with 25 in construction)

  7. 57
    harvey says:

    scott @34

    Wrong, China is in the process of building 200+ nuclear plants by 2050, and retiring all old coal plants.

    The U.S. is being left behind…

  8. 58
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    harvey #57 not according to this book review.
    According to this, they are increasing their energy generation capacity across the board, including fossil fuels as well as renewables. It also paints a grim picture of China’s environment.
    However, the review is long on anecdote and short on data.
    I’m not saying this is a more reliable source of information, but I’m not sure the Chinese govt. is either.

  9. 59
    JiminMpls says:

    #57 China is in the process of building 200+ nuclear plants by 2050, and retiring all old coal plant
    The U.S. is being left behind…

    [edit] China will build about 100 new plants – and generate about 15% of their electricity with nuclear power – same as the current share in the USA. Their wind and solar capacity will be even greater than nuclear – but they will STILL generate about 50% of their electricity from coal.


  10. 60
    Scott Mandia says:

    China is ramping up coal plant production. Coal will dominate China’s energy future.

    According to The BBC, China is building two new power plants a week.

    From your own link:

    The US Energy Information Administration predicts that China’s share in global coal-related emissions will grow by 2.7% per year, from 4.9 billion tonnes in 2006 to 9.3 billion tonnes in 2030, some 52% of the projected world total. Total carbon dioxide emissions in China are projected to grow by 2.8% per year from 6.2 billion tonnes in 2006 to 11.7 billion tonnes in 2030 (or 28% of world total). In comparison, total US carbon dioxide emissions are projected to grow by 0.3% per year, from 5.9 billion tonnes in 2006 to 7.7 billion tonnes in 2030.

  11. 61
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #53 (bill): “and for Brisbane ,Australia, look back at the flood records in the 1800′s and dont just look at 30 years to compare with!”

    Don’t you realize that the catchment was reconfigured (dams etc.) in response to such events? That’s why comparing floods based on e.g. maximum water depth doesn’t work. A number of factors have to be taken into account in making such comparisons. This flood was clearly worse.

  12. 62
    Sou says:

    On Channel 7 news in Australia (a commercial tv network broadcasting nationally), we’ve just seen an interview with a scientist from the Climate Change Department at (I think) ANU. He was asked about the link between climate change and the current Australian floods and what can be done to adapt.

    He stuck to the topic and made it quite clear that we’ll continue to see rain events with more intense precipitation, and that the evidence is in that this is happening around the world. He spoke only of the impact of climate change on flooding, and the issue of how best to adapt to floods. He did not touch upon the worsening droughts, nor the need to reduce CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, or maybe because if this, I believe this interview would have resonated with a lot of Channel 7 viewers.

    BTW Channel 7 did not have a denier for ‘balance’. When asked what he would say to deniers who say this is part of a natural cycle, he cited evidence of global climate change and said the deniers are wrong!

  13. 63
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Re: 40 Secular animist. I dont think you still get it. Climate science is a terribly complex have a complex web of interactions in motion between gasses, pressures, temperatures, oceans, solar irradiation, CO2 producing lifeforms etc etc. So if you understand that we do indeed have Climate Change or AGW you will know that that affects “everything” to greater or lesseer degrees. So Yes! the Brisbane and Australian flooding is to a degree caused by CC.. Yes! The floods in Brazil is caused by CC to a degree…Yes! the Massive flooding in Sri Lanka is caused to a degree by CC…Yes the record snowfall in New York is caused by CC to a degree. What scientists are working on is to get a better handle on the quantity of the degree that CC has caused or is contributing to any natural disaster. I dunno..I find this concept pretty easy to get my head around!

  14. 64
    Hugh Laue says:

    #38 Radge Havers “The alarmist warnings of reactionary, economic doomists (who failed to predict the current down turn by the way) have no scientific basis.”
    Similarly, the optimism that “the market and new technology” can solve the problem has no scientific basis.
    The practice of neo-classical economics, which is disconnected from biophysical reality, is the cause of the problem of which climate disruption is the most dramatic symptom.
    Except for climate disruption what’s happening now was predicted by the Club of Rome’s “business as usual” model in their Limits to Growth (1972). has the best suss on the situation, in my opinion.

  15. 65

    Warmcast #44: Thanks for the pointer. Raypierre has been good enough to put the article on his home site. A nice piece of work that I will read alongside his book, which I bought for summer (now post Brisbane flood clean-up) reading. I’ve been looking for some time for a compact, reasonably comprehensible exposition of the IR greenhouse effect.

    On news reporting: to me one of the starkest facts about climate change is that something like 90% of the extra energy in the system goes into the oceans. How can anyone with even a scant understanding of climate know that and not accept that even a modest 0.8°C warming can have significant effects on the climate – even if the state of the science is not quite there yet to demonstrate an AGW signature for specific events or even patterns of events?

    Perhaps we need to start collecting together relatively simple facts like this to counter denialist memes.

  16. 66

    Bill #53 when you hear about once in hundred year events on an annual basis, even on a weekly basis, you have to wonder. Here’s a hint: global warming increases the intensity of the hydrological cycle.

  17. 67
    Snapple says:

    The Russians are writing what Western scientists say about global warming. It seems the party line has changed. This basic article is all over the place. RIA Novosti is Russia’s official press agency. This article appeared in the Russian language:

    MOSCOW, January 10 – RIA Novosti. Increased global warming will not stop for at least the next thousand years, even if a total ban on greenhouse gas emissions since 2100, and this will lead to melting of glaciers in western Antarctica to the year 3000. This was reported in an article published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Sunday.

    Here is “global warming” in Russian–use the google translation and search “news.”

    глобальное потепление

    I was pretty sure the line would change because the Kremlin does have to deal with floods and fires. People expect to be protected. Russian people were furious about the poor protection from the fires.

    The Russians used to call our scientists liars, but now they are quoting them as well as their own scientists and officials on global warming. Medvedev now says it is happening, and in 2009 he claimed it was a “trick.”

    The Russians claimed the AIDS virus was made by “crafty” Pentagon scientists, but they finally gave that up, too. The KGB even admitted they spread that lie (and told another lie as an excuse for what they did.)

  18. 68
    Didactylos says:

    What was true 5 years ago may not be true now.

    It takes time to plan, design and build any sort of energy infrastructure. Plants coming online this year represent the work of the last decade or more.

    According to one of the sources listed above, China’s new coal capacity peaked in 2006. It has come down rapidly since. When I see another source blindly extrapolating the 2006 figure to come up with ludicrous projections for 2030, that’s when I call bullsh*t.

    The situation in China possibly highlights the importance of starting work on slow to build technology such as nuclear power as soon as possible.

    And that’s just what I take away after reading all the sources, instead of picking the one I like best.

  19. 69

    #68–Yes, I think that although coal obviously remains a big part of the Chinese energy mix, and will for longer than any of us here would like, we’re seeing a shift happening.

    The US EIA says:

    . . . coal will continue to dominate the fuel feedstock for the power capacity and generation even as other cleaner fuels increase market share. Coal consists of roughly 80 percent of the power generation feedstock, and the EIA forecasts the fuel will decline to 74 percent in market share by 2035.

    As that’s a growing market, presumably that means a larger absolute number–though the new coal plants will be cleaner in terms of emissions other than carbon:

    [For] the period 2011-2015, China anticipates the country increasing the share of natural gas and other cleaner technologies in the country’s energy mix and close several smaller coal-fired plants that were less efficient and heavy polluters. The NEA announced that the government had met its annual target to remove 10 GW of coal-fired generation from small capacity generators in 2010 and that over 70 GW had been retired overall from 2006 to 2010. In following this trend, the NEA forecasts another 8 GW of coal generation will be removed in 2011.

    As to renewables, the Chinese government has a plan:

    China has a goal to generate at least 15 percent of total energy output by 2020 using renewable energy sources as the government aims to shift to a less-resource intense economy. According to the consultancy EC Harris, in 2010, China is the world’s top investor in renewable energy projects, having invested around $120 billion to $160 billion between 2007 and 2010.

    Not chicken feed. A lot of focus has been on the controversial Three Gorges project; it should be fully online sometime this year, with 22.5 GW capacity.

    Wind is important, too:

    China is the world’s fifth largest wind producer, generating 25 Bkwh in 2009, growing 100 percent from 2008. China’s installed capacity by 2010 was 16 GW according to FACTS Global Energy, and has roughly doubled capacity each year since 2005. However, the lack of transmission infrastructure in this sector has left a significant amount of capacity inoperable. The NDRC aims to increase wind capacity to 100 GW by 2020.


    China’s government forecasts that over 70 GW will be added by 2020. EIA forecasts that China will increase its nuclear generation to about 598 Bkwh by 2035, growing at an annual rate of 8.4 percent and increasing its share of total power generation from 2 percent in 2009 to 6 percent in 2035.
    As of mid-2010, China has 11 operating reactors, 8 new nuclear power plants under construction and another 8 in the planning stage, the biggest of which is a 4.4-GW nuclear complex at Haiyang in Shandong province, set to begin commercial operation in 2014.

    So is the glass half-full, half-empty, or some other proportion altogether? I don’t know. But what’s clear is that China is at least making substantive, purposeful moves to shift their energy economy in the direction of greater sustainability. Some other nations should be doing that, too. . . like the one of which I’m a citizen (Canada.)

    EIA report:

  20. 70
    Chris G says:

    I think the majority of the population, including reporters, is not scientifically astute enough to have a good grasp of why our converting of carbon in fossil fuels to CO2 in the biosphere causes changes in the thermodynamic properties of the earth. Or, how these relatively minor changes in heat content and ocean pH can and will have dramatic impacts on the environment on which we depend. IMHO, the majority never will be.

    It’s a bit like nuclear fission. The physics is simply beyond the average person’s capabilities. If we had never actually set off a bomb, there would probably still be people today arguing about whether or not it was even possible. If BAU continues, things will eventually get bad enough that it becomes just as obvious as a mushroom cloud. (I suspect there is a minority who already see the cloud.)

    In democratic societies, it becomes necessary to convince 51% of the population that there is a serious problem before policy changes will be made. (China doesn’t have this problem, but they are wrestling with the conflict of mitigating climate change and not leaving their population in poverty relative US and European standards.) The best that sites like this can hope for is to push the percentages so that we get to 51% a little sooner than we would have otherwise, and hope that is before we hit an irreversible tipping point.

  21. 71
    Septic Matthew says:

    68, Didactylos: China’s new coal capacity peaked in 2006. It has come down rapidly since

    Are you saying that the rate of new installation peaked in 2006, and new installation continues at a lower rate? That’s consistent with my reading. Actual coal consumption will continue to increase for decades before it begins an actual decline.

  22. 72
    Septic Matthew says:

    64, Hugh Laue: Except for climate disruption what’s happening now was predicted by the Club of Rome’s “business as usual” model in their Limits to Growth (1972).

    AND except for all of the other growth that has occurred since 1972, viz. the economic growth of China.

  23. 73
    Susan Anderson says:

    Last night I took a quick look at CEJournal (Tom Yulsman) and among a lot of good stuff was a cite of Keith Kloor’s supposedly excellent article on the constant stream of attacks in comments from both sides with citations of comments from WattsUpWithThat and ClimateProgress. While I’d agree that the comments were similarly offensive, it made me sick.

    One of the WUWT commenters, for example, claiming that CP readers and writers about mainstream climate science don’t know physics … While Joe Romm tends to take the gloves off and has offended a lot of people, it seems to me he has excellent scientific qualifications, while AFAIK Anthony Watts is a former weather presenter. One is a scientist, that is, while the other is an advocate. One reports real data and developments, while the other take these data and developments and digests them until they seem to support the fake skeptic POV.

    While it is poor tactics to resort to insult, I found the cherrypicked comments once again reinforce the idea that the argument is roughly equal, which is simply not true.

    But my real complaint is that this supposed “honest broker” spent real time finding these comments. So if time is a problem, what’s up with that?!!!

    Continuing to promote the argument may be easy and get reader eyeballs, but it is preventing real people from doing real work. It is also preventing readers from getting a grip on the most urgent issue of our time.

    While the infrastructure implodes and people die and lose their homes and livelihoods from stuff that looks remarkably like the consequences of climate change already in hand (Queensland, Sri Lanka, Brazil, extradinary snow in US), Keith Kloor, for whatever reason, is promoting the online argument and giving people an excuse for inaction.

  24. 74
    Septic Matthew says:

    57, Harvey: China is in the process of building 200+ nuclear plants by 2050, and retiring all old coal plants.

    China is retiring OLD coal plants and building NEW coal plants that are more efficient and less polluting. China is building more of everything: nuclear reactors, commercial aircraft, autos, combat aircraft, hydropower, flood control dams, railways, bridges, roads, solar power, wind power, biofuels, gas and oil pipelines from Central Asia, refineries, computers of all sizes, naval forces, army weaponry.

    The idea that any reduction in coal consumption is underway lacks any empirical verification.

  25. 75
    Adam R. says:

    @Septic Matthew:
    The idea that any reduction in coal consumption is underway lacks any empirical verification.

  26. 76
    Septic Matthew says:

    for reference:

    That’s a summary. The full volume is available if you want to buy it.

    It isn’t the only review of international energy trends (and alternative trends), but all that I have read predict coal consumption in China to increase for decades.

  27. 77
    Susan Anderson says:

    re coal consumption, I found this interesting. Very little discussion about the consequences of going down the long road to extracting every last ounce of fossil fuel, or encouraging alternatives. This attitude is decades old and devastatingly out of kilter. God forbid we should stop subsidizing wealthy interests and their bosses and get on with long-term survival (they should get real – their money will only protect them as climate change ramps up, not when it reaches its accelerating heights)!

  28. 78
    Susan Anderson says:

    re coal consumption, I found this interesting. Very little discussion about the consequences of going down the long road to extracting every last ounce of fossil fuel, or encouraging alternatives. This attitude is decades old and devastatingly out of kilter. God forbid we should stop subsidizing wealthy interests and their bosses and get on with long-term survival (they should get real – their money will only protect them as climate change ramps up, not when it reaches its accelerating heights)!
    (apologies if this comes up a duplicate, missed recaptcha but sometimes it goes in anyway)

  29. 79
    Snapple says:

    The Russian papers are reassuring people that the earth is not headed into an ice age; instead, the Russian papers report that the climate is warming, and the seas are rising.

    The Irkutsk edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda (1-11-11), Russia’s largest-circulation paper, is reporting that the glaciers are melting and that the sea is rising. KP is owned by a company that is run by a guy with Gazprom connections. It reflects the Kremlin line, which seems to have changed (google translation):

    “The most daunting problem with the consequences of global warming – is melting glaciers, which can lead to flooding of coastal settlements. How will this affect the millions of people? Geophysics Valentine Radik and Regina Hock of the University of Alaska decided to calculate the possible options on a computer model, drawing from observation of 300 glaciers from 1961 to 2004. As a basis they have asserted that in the 21 st century because of greenhouse gases the average temperature will increase by 2.8 degrees Celsius. The model is then applied to 19 regions. And here are the results got scientists.

    Until the year 2100 will melt three quarters of alpine glaciers and the water level in the sea will rise by 4 meters by the year 3000 because of melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Moreover, until 2100, the volume of glaciers and ice caps shrink by 15-27 percent, according to infoniac….

    A professor Sean Marshall from the Canadian University of Calgary received the second scenario of future disasters. According to his calculations, the warming will continue for 1000 years. His research focuses on the inertial effects of global warming. Carbon molecules that are expelled by the use of fossil fuels and resulting deforestation can be centuries in the atmosphere before the impact on temperature. Even if humanity can stop this selection until the year 2100, warming will continue. This study is based on the likelihood of increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and as a result, a temperature increase of 3.4 degrees Celsius.

  30. 80
    Didactylos says:

    Snapple, you see conspiracy theories, I see incompetence, lazy journalism, and editors building up stories so they can demolish them later. It has been five years since the papers could trumpet “record high year”, so the flip-flop isn’t just temptation, it’s business as usual.

    A week is a long time in journalism. Think how long five years must be.

  31. 81
    Hank Roberts says:

    An example of a journalist avoiding fake balance when reporting a public announcement known to be untrue:

    “…. This statement is striking for a number of reasons, and …. So I’ve spent the last week trying to figure out why I was so sure I did not believe it the instant I read it.

    So let’s take it apart, shall we? ….”

  32. 82
    Snapple says:


    I guess you need to be more specific. What conspiracy theory you are talking about?


    That was a conspiracy, and even some UN officials said it might involve Russians.
    It sure looks to me like a classic “kompromat” operation.

    The KGB’s Operation Infektion?

    KGB chief Primakov admitted that the KGB spread the lie in the world’s media that Pentagon scientists made AIDS to genocide blacks. Primakov’s admission was published in Izvestia in 1992. Primakov made this admission at a KGB recruiting lecture at a university.

    During Climategate, the Russian media accused the climate scientists of conspiracies. They were very fast on that story and the theme of corrupt Western scientists was the same as during the AIDS campaign. Russian campaigns against scientists tend to be updated versions of anti-Semitic campaigns: the scientists are depicted as greedy plotters who are trying to rob or kill people. Stalin’s “Doctors’ Plot is a good example. The Communist Party denounced that campaign very quickly when Stalin died.

    Now, the Russian media are reporting on new research in climate science. I leave it to the scientists to say if they got it right. The information is appearing in large-circulation media and in Russia’s official press agency: RIA Novosti.

    In his EPA suit, Attorney General Cuccinelli cited RIA Novosti’s English-language adaptation of a Kommersant article as “proof” that British scientist were not recording Russian weather stations accurately. RIA Novosti is the Russian government’s official press agency. Now the government line has changed, and Cuccinelli has been thown under the bus.

    In 2009, when he visited Tomsk, President Medvedev call global warming a “trick” of some commercial interests; and now he says global warming is happening. Russian and Western scientists are now quoted in the Russian media about global warming.

    The big Russian media are not independent entities, so this seems to be a new political line—but this could move back and forth as they argue about policies. The media are often owned by Gazprom-affiliated people with close ties to the Kremlin. But the Kremlin owns a controlling interest in Gazprom. That’s just how it works.

    When the Kremlin-friendly Kommersant, which is owned by the notorious Gazprom mogul Alisher Usmanov, trashes climate scientists for fudging data and cites Andrei Illarionov’s IEA, that is not just some reporter. That is the official policy of the Russian government. Plus, Illarionov was a Putin adviser and worked for Chernomyrdin–the bureaucrat who turned the Soviet Gas Ministry into Gazprom. Usmanov has an eucation and career that suggest an affiliation with the KGB.

    Russia has a ruling party called United Russia, and Prime Minister Putin is the head of the Party.

    The BBC has a short article that tells who owns what media.

  33. 83
    pete best says:

    El nino and la nina most likely to blame but surely a climate change fingerprint can be discerned now in the weather of 2010/2011. Indeed if it can then maybe RealClimate can comment accordingly.

    Everyone seems to be going a little bit mad about all the recent weather events in the southern hemisphere.

  34. 84
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Snapple
    Has anyone started a ClimateConspiracies blog yet? There are so many.

    As a reader, my suggestion: get it together and put it somewhere.

    Conspirators create many fake stories in which their real one disappears. Scattering claims widely is part of that tactic of confusion.

    Rule One of Database Management: one list, many pointers. I suggest you create your full list somewhere (elsewhere) once rather than repeating bits of it many places, if you want people to distinguish it from the noise.

    Not commenting on your claims, commenting on your placement. Put them on your blog where they can be dissected and documented at length, it’d help a lot.

  35. 85
    Snapple says:

    I don’t quite understand what you are saying, but I often have posts on my blog about climate change denialism. As for database management, I can barely get messages off my cell phone.

    As for conspiracies, some conspiracists say that greedy climate scientists FABRICATED global warming to get government grants. Andrei Areshev, a Russian academic associated with a Foreign Ministry think tank that ofteh floats a new political line, claimed that US scientists are CAUSING global warming by beaming “secret climate weapons” at certain countries. After he said that, Medvedev observed that the Foreign Ministry was “insufficiently analytical.”

    Today I write about a clown named Kent Clizbe. He is offering a bounty for any scholar who will rat-out Dr. Michael Mann for his alleged frauds. This was reported on DeSmogblog and also in a Canadian paper that always has conspiracy theories (John O’Sullivan of the Canada Free Press.)

    Clizbe claims he used to be in the CIA in order to have credibility, but he really doesn’t speak for the CIA view at all because the CIA and climate scientists have been working together on climate change in an environmental task force called MEDEA (Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis). This goes back to the mid-90s, and there was just an interesting article about the history of this collaboration in The Vancouver Sun titled “Why the CIA is spying on a changing climate.”

    Scroll to the bottom of my post to get the link to the Vancouver Sun article and other articles about the collaboration between the CIA and scientists.

    I know that the CIA’s MEDEA program even worked with the Russian intelligence–the Director of the CIA John Deutch said that in a 1996 speech. I know the Russian scientists know there is global warming, and now their media is talking about this instead of trashing climate scientists.

    The Vancouver Sun article was written by journalism students at Medill. These young journalism students have written an excellent article about climate change.

    Maybe people should notice this article instead of only noticing ignorant articles.

  36. 86

    I’m really disappointed in a lot of the responses from the more “scientific” crowd.

    First, reporters report on more than just “science”. And even if they only report on “science”, there is a LOT of science to report on that isn’t “climate change”.

    Second, not everyone wants to be a scientist. And even if everyone wanted to be a scientist, not everyone wants to be a climate scientist.

    The amount of arrogance on both sides is absolutely unbelievable. This could be a byproduct of how society seems to have become increasingly polarized, but my guess is that it is closer to being a cause of the problem than the effect of something else.

  37. 87
    Ray Ladbury says:

    The problem, FCH, is that when journalists report on science, what they write is unrecognizable to the folks who are doing the science wrong. There is no understanding or attempt to convey scientific method, and there is no attempt to place the results in the context of previous work or within the theoretical framework.

    I do not think it is arrogance to expect reporting on science to be recognizable to the scientists.

  38. 88
    Nick O says:

    #86 – FurryCatHerder. I’m sorry you think there is a lot of arrogance in all this, particularly if you have detected it on the “scientific crowd’s” side. More likely what you are seeing or reading is a deep sense of exasperation on the part of many scientists. On the one hand, we are required continually to strip complex scientific theories and arguments into a few sound bites, maybe just a couple of minutes of interview or air time. That means an enormous amount of simplification and loss of detail. The sceptics then come up with points of detail which we say we have glossed over, or ignored, or underplayed, or misrepresented in some way, so we are forced back into trying to put across a much fuller picture. And then the editors/journalists tell us that’s too long for their news slot, and can we reduce it back to a few main points …? So it’s back to square one, and we seem just to go round and round, getting nowhere, hence at least some of the exasperation. The matter is not helped by the cultural difference in the ways of rhetoric between, say, science and engineering on the one side, and politics and social science on the other, something which I tried to cover in an earlier post. Thus, I would hope that most of the “scientific crowd” try to use argument and rhetoric to present and support matters of fact or observation or well derived theory etc., and respect and progress in the field is achieved, over time, in recognition of how well those observations, theories etc. stand up to scrutiny. In this way, argument is there to serve a deeper purpose, namely to try to discover and explain how the universe works. By contrast, it seems to me anyway that in politics and the media etc., respect and progress are accorded to people who, over time, are good at having arguments and doing well in arguments, even if the factual basis over which they are arguing is actually quite minor or insignificant in the general scheme of things. The skill in this way is not so much how this reflects on any underlying truth, but rather how good is this or that person at being argumentative, or contentious, or at giving an interviewee – a scientist, maybe? – are really hard time in the studio over some point he glossed over trying to turn complex theory and observation into a 40 second sound bite. So much of this different way of working gets taken to the extreme (to sell papers? to provide ‘shock’ stories and headlines?) and looks like argument for argument’s sake, or contestation and contention for the mere purpose of unsettling things rather than clarifying things. V. difficult for scientists to make progress is that sort of environment …

  39. 89

    Ray @ 87:

    Uh, the “general public” wouldn’t know a “scientific method” if it bit them in the butt, why are journalists supposed to write in a style, or within a framework, that isn’t going to sell papers?

    Journalists aren’t altruistic people who write news stories for the fun of it, they are typically either employees of a news organization or free lancers who are hoping to sell the story.

    That may be a large part of the problem — most of the Climate Scientists here aren’t producing a product that has to be sold in the marketplace. Maybe that’s what’s needed — an Isaac Asimov or Stephen Hawking style mainstream book that explains Climate Change in a way that isn’t raw numbers and Stephan-Boltzmann equations. While I understood that “Stratospheric Cooling” proved that the lower atmosphere is retaining more heat, it wasn’t something that was presented the first time I saw it in a way that explained =why= it was proof. And remember — studied lots of science on the way to concluding that Engineering is boring!

  40. 90
    Snapple says:

    Here is a really mendacious article on global warming.

    The alleged ex-CIA employee Kent Clizbe is being accorded credibility by a lawyer/writer named John O’Sullivan of the Canada Free Press.

    John O’Sullivan keeps stressing the intelligence/CIA background of Kent Clizbe so that gullible people will believe Clizbe’s claims of fraud against Dr. Michael Mann.

    If O’Sullivan, who is supposedly a lawyer, wants to know the CIA view on global warming, why doesn’t he read what the CIA says right on the CIA website instead of bragging about Kent Clizbe’s apocryphal intelligence credentials.

    Here is what the CIA says about its program called “Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis.” (MEDEA):

    Some climate scientists even have security clearances from the CIA. Clizbe only has Raybans, a vivid fantasy life, and a blog. The climate scientists study the CIA’s satellite pictures of the Arctic thawing and other changes in the earth.

    I think the climate scientists are the real patriots who are trying to help our people and the whole world.

  41. 91
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Furry Cat Herder, You seem to assume people don’t want to learn anything. That is not my experience–particularly those people who read science articles to begin with. I think you have to start with a realization that the intersection of the crowd who watches American Idol with that which reads Scientific American is pretty much the empty set to begin with.

    The fact of the matter is that 1)science is interesting, 2)science is powerful, 3)the continued prosperity of our society is predicated on continued advance of science, and 4)it is in the interests of society for people to understand the scientific method even more than it is in its interest to understand scientific facts.

    Asimov and Hawking–and especially Carl Sagan–didn’t popularize science by ignoring the scientific method, but rather by teaching it. After all, it was Asimov who said, “The most exciting words to a scientist are nut “Eureka,” but rather “Huh, that’s weird.”

  42. 92

    I caught the 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still the other night. I was stuck by Professor Barnhardt’s statement to Klaatu (the alien who is threatening to simply exterminate the human race if they don’t get their act together and stop threatening to nuke anything and everything they can get get a bead on):

    It is not enough to have men of science. We scientists are too easily ignored — or misunderstood. We must get important men from every field. Educators — philosophers — church leaders — men of vision and imagination — the finest minds in the world.

    Even then, people instinctively knew that when the world was faced with real danger… the scientists would have a hard time getting people to listen.

  43. 93
    tamino says:

    Re: # (Ray Ladbury)

    I have a nit to pick with your comment. You said:

    I think you have to start with a realization that the intersection of the crowd who watches American Idol with that which reads Scientific American is pretty much the empty set to begin with.

    There’s at least one member of that set.

  44. 94
    Rattus Norvegicus says:

    Make that two!

  45. 95
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tamino, OK, present company excepted. You have to realize, in our house we don’t even have a TV that receives digital–and it wasn’t even worth getting a nearly free converter box.

  46. 96

    93, tamino,

    I will be expecting an upcoming post on your site on the statistical significance of a panel of three judges selecting the next American Idol, and whether or not we can truly declare, with any degree of confidence, that the winner is, in fact, an “Idol.”

  47. 97

    Ray @ 91:

    It doesn’t matter for a single second what the minority of the population who cares about science and wants to do anything about science does or doesn’t do. They are a fraction of the population.

    Until the average person understands that “going green” isn’t a conspiracy, will save them big bucks in the long run, and they have to do it anyway — ain’t gonna happen! And it HAS to happen. So … figure out how to explain this stuff in a way that is understandable and convincing.

  48. 98
    feedback says:

    Back to science reporting, if I may…

    1) Yes, it would be nice if the general population – or, more pertinently, the news reporter’s target audience, understood scientific method. But they don’t. That’s what the denialist lobbyists rely on. They work like advocates in court. They don’t have to be right. Their job is to convice the jury: and they do that with things the jury *do* understand, with the tools most use to take decisions in their daily lives: in short, narrative driven by motivation, reputation and blame.

    2) Sorry, scientists talking to the media need to put a little work into understanding the system they’re perturbing.

    3) The journalist you talk to does not produce the story you see in the end. The journalist has to deal with the sub-editors (copy-editors, in the USA).

    The sub-editors’ job is not just to fix the (frequently appalling) grammar and spelling. The important part is to put themselves in the shoes of the “model reader/viewer” – who must, realistically, be assumed not to know about the particular science in advance. (Even Scientific American and New Scientist have to publish astronomy for zoologists and vice versa!)

    The skill of sub-editing therefore consists in knowing enough about everything to smell a rat anywhere, but being able to pretend to know nothing about anything in order to be sure the story’s readable by the target audience.

    4) The stories that get plaudits from scientists are those in which the journalist tricked the sub-editors into including some accurate statements of the issue, by phrasing them in ways that looked like normal English and avoided tripping the “this will puzzle the reader!” switch.

    5) My advice for talking to journalists, therefore, is to conspire with them to see how much of the story you can get past the subs, working together. *Negotiate* simplifications in plain English that, while not precise, are accurate.

  49. 99
    flxible says:

    What’s most important is not how much information is imparted, but the readers mindset.

  50. 100

    Re: #80, #87. It’s painful to see see people so brilliant in one discipline discard the analytical approach necessary to succeed in another.

    Consider what’s described in item #1 in Feedback’s post at #98. This same method is available to good guys such as yourselves, if you will discard your wishful thinking about the way the world works or ought to.

    As Feedback states, “Understand the system you are perturbing.”