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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. 151
    CM says:

    #107, re: perjury package proposition to smear Mike Mann,

    If I were a self-respecting stone, I wouldn’t allow things like O’Sullivan, Clizbe or Delingpole to crawl out from under me.

    But maybe it’s just a front for something comparatively respectable, like a Nigerian scam. “Thank you for responding to our call for whistleblowers. Please supply your bank details so we can transfer your $12 million share of the recovered climatology grant funds…”
    :)

  2. 152

    I have a theory.

    Science is magic, and you can’t teach magic, or get people to accept what you know to be true (i.e. science), because there’s no such thing as magic. So you can’t teach science.

    Most people know Clarke’s Third law, that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    What people don’t realize (what you don’t realize) is that for modern man, living in a complex society which is dominated by technology and science, from kitchen appliances to cars and airplanes to x-ray machines to big flat screen TVs… for people, to any person, science is magic.

    This applies to all of you scientists and engineers out there saying “not me, it’s not magic to me!”

    Yes it is.

    When you go to the doctor or dentist, or the mechanic for your car, or the salesman for a flat screen TV or a computer… it’s magic. You don’t understand it. You don’t. You may understand bits of it, and you may recognize that, like the things you do understand, it is founded on layer after layer of accumulated knowledge, experience, procedures and practices.

    But it’s still magic. All of it.

    Even for Gavin and that computer he works on so feverishly to create/run GCM’s… magic.

    Even for Spencer and those satellites that he works with so feverishly to extract/compile the UAH temperature data… magic.

    Even for Barton and all of the myriad things that he knows and does with his brain… magic, magic, magic.

    And people have an ingrained, ancient, hereditary reaction to magic. They have a species-learned reaction to gods, magic, spiritual powers and everything beyond their control, be it weather, disease, voodoo, bad luck, medicine, science, or that damn pinging noise that the car keeps making and the stupid mechanic can’t hear but you can.

    That reaction is one of fear, frightened respect, grumbling acceptance when necessary, and an instinctive desire to scream at the very first opportunity “ah HA! I knew it! It’s not magic after all! It’s not real, so I can ignore it from now on… ha, ha ha, I knew it!”

    People have done this with religion, magic, superstition, and all of the various flavors of “science” (alchemy, geocentrism, Lamarckism, Darwinism, and more) throughout human history. From the first time people were able to scream at the sky that there was no embittered, angry sun god who had burned the crops dry that year, to the latest discouraging article on climate change, people have been able to resolutely say “I do not believe” because it’s magic, and people innately do not want to believe in magic.

    Certainly they show respect and trust to the priests, shamans, witch doctors, scientists, MDs, dentists, and car mechanics, because they have to. Or rather, they act like they respect and trust them, and then they drive home saying “damn it, that ping is still there! F*&#$#ing moron! He doesn’t know S(*&#$t.”

    If people were totally, truly and completely educated, this would not happen. If people actually knew everything about everything, magic would vanish. All you would have is science, and people would understand and accept and act with rational, intelligent behaviors in the their own best interests as well as those of society.

    But that’s not possible. It is not possible to educate people totally and completely. Not them, not yourself, not anyone.

    So you can try as hard as you want to teach people about climate science. You can try as hard as you want to explain it to the reporter, who will explain it to everyone else, who will read and learn and think… “magic.”

    You can’t destroy magic, because it doesn’t exist.

    Magic is eternal. All you can do is to convince people that they need to trust the priests, shamans, witch doctors, MDs, dentists, car mechanics, and climate scientists. All you can do is to hope that people continue to believe in magic, because the day that they don’t they instead sneer at the damn magician-shaman-scientists, and they shake their fists at the sun god they know doesn’t exist, while the very earth bakes beneath their feet, and their modern, technological, non-magical civilization vanishes from the earth.

  3. 153

    BTW, Bob’s correlary to Clarke’s Third Law:

    Any sufficiently complex scientific theory is indistinguishable from statistics.

  4. 154
    J Bowers says:

    An ex-science editor of the Guardian has written a good article, based on the talk he’s giving tonight at Imperial College London:

    A manifesto for the simple scribe – my 25 commandments for journalists

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2011/jan/19/manifesto-simple-scribe-commandments-journalists

  5. 155
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bob (Sphaerica), The differences between science and magic:

    1)Science does exist.
    2)Science is parcticed by honest men and women who will show you how it works if you listen
    3)Science works.
    4)Sceince is sometimes wrong, but corrects itself
    5)Science is cooler than magic because the more you learn, the more you can apply it to new areas you didn’t understand before.

  6. 156

    J Bowers #154: I heard the same form a journalism instructor in Chicago many years ago; the only difference was the names of the subway stops.

    Those points of advice summarize many of the key problems with journalism precisely. If the press follows that advice scrupulously, if it never goes beyond that level of detail, the public won’t. And if the public doesn’t, democracy becomes incompetent.

    One fascinating aspect of this sort of journalistic wisdom is that it doesn’t apply to sports reporting, where a tremendous amount of context is regularly assumed.

  7. 157
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Michael Tobis: “If the press follows that advice scrupulously, if it never goes beyond that level of detail, the public won’t.”

    This remark ignores the fact that for any issue there are publications that supply different levels of detail, and people who become interested then seek out the ‘higher resolution’ reporting. There are also multiple “ways in” for any topic. Take me, for example. I became interested in climatology because I noticed that some politicians were discussing science as though they knew what they were talking about. Now I’m trying to understand Hadley cells.

  8. 158

    155, Ray,

    All valid points… but to 99% of Americans, and 99.9999% of the people on the earth, what you consider science is to them magic, and they literally, on an emotional level, don’t understand the difference.

    If you doubt this, there’s this web site I know called… let me see, what was it… oh, yeah, wattsupwiththat.com.

  9. 159
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Bob (Sphaerica) you misunderestimate humanity ;) Seriously, the vast majority of individuals have at least one thing they’re really good at: pitch your science at that and you’ll have a rapt audience every time.

  10. 160
    don gisselbeck says:

    Whenever a bicycle part I am fixing finally works after the fourth try, I mutter “I hate magic”.

  11. 161
    flxible says:

    Bob(Sphaerica) has it right, the vast majority of humanity is almost solely concerned with putting food on the table, secondarily with trying to blank out the unpleasant realities of life, especially those over which they have no control, like living sans petro fuels [which the majority really do anyway]. In the “developed world” they’re otherwise busy dreaming of magically winning a lottery to get out from under their debt load so they can retire at 55. And regardless if they’re “believers” or “deniers”, they’re waiting for science to solve the problem . . . magically.
    CAPTCHA sez: Right Parabl so I had to agree ;)

  12. 162
    Didactylos says:

    Bob: You quietly dropped the “sufficiently advanced” part.

    People can cope with the basics, if it is explained well enough. Some people can understand a little or a lot more.

    Nobody that I know believes that thunder is made by clouds banging together, or by gods bashing anvils. Not any more.

    And I firmly believe that most people can cope quite happily with the concept of a metaphorical insulating blanket making the world get hotter.

  13. 163

    CM: That’s it! Thanks!

  14. 164

    Ray, One Anonymous Bloke,

    I’m not trying to be negative… quite to the contrary, I’m very confident that, despite the struggles and the Watts and the Novas of the world, we’re going to win this one (although it won’t be without some unnecessary cost).

    But I am trying to be realistic, and to choose a strategy that works. I do think that teaching the science is crucial, for whatever small segment of the population is willing and able to learn and understand. No opportunity should be missed to \get the science right\ and well communicated to anyone and everyone who can and will listen.

    But on the flip side, the fact is that WUWT gets millions of eager, ignorant hits a day, every day, week after mind-numbingly ignorant week. This tells me that there is a huge volume of people who will never be reached through science alone. There’s too much noise, and more importantly too much innate willingness to treat science like magic.

    I don’t think the worst denial arguments come from a lack of education and training and rigor of thought (strictly). They come from human nature, which is to over simplify a problem whenever necessary, and then to rather arrogantly assume that one has achieved complete understanding. In this way science becomes magic. There’s a point where one can say \that’s good enough, I like that, I understand it, so… it’s true.\

    [How many times have things been explained clearly to deniers like Rod B., only to have them, in the end, still stick to their original position? I rather think this was a result of evolution. A hundred thousand years ago the guy who over-thought the problem of how to escape the lion got eaten while he was working out the details. The guy who hastily just picked a half-assed way out and went for it lived to have more children.]

    Have you ever heard of Occam’s Eraser?

    Given two explanations for a problem, the one that you can most easily understand is the correct one.

    Or that famous quote from Sherlock Lohmes?

    When you have eliminated the confusing, no matter how probable, what is left must be believed to be the truth.

    This is what many, many people instinctively do. It may be human nature, or it may be a result of a (failed) educational system, but it is what the vast majority of people do.

    Given this, two strategies are needed. Teach when possible, but build trust and respect even more. People have to re-learn to trust science and scientists. With the very first \ah ha!\ moment that occurs in the coming years, and every such moment after, scientists need to be all over the press.

    \We told you the Arctic was going to melt.\

    \We told you that parts of the Amazon would convert to savanna.\

    \We told you there would be more and more severe droughts, hurricanes and floods.\

    \We told you that temperatures would continue to rise.\

    \You just didn’t trust us.\

    But as I said in the original comment… it’s only a theory.

  15. 165
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bob (Sphaerica), The thing is that your characterization of people doesn’t fit with my experience. I’ve found that most people are very interested in science, and will make a real effort to understand it if you can make it interesting for them.

    I once explained the second law of thermo to a massage therapist (no, not that kind!). She said afterwards that she felt like she understood it, but that it made her brain hurt. I’ve explained nacreous clouds to my mother–who has zero scientific background, and I have explained my day job to Ghanaan cab drivers. Now, granted, all these folks had above average intelligence, but I think you can explain science–and even the scientific method–to most people at some level. Many will not grasp the subtleties, but then I know a lot of scientists who don’t grasp some of the more subtle aspects of the scientific method.

  16. 166
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bob, I don’t think the problem reduces to intelligence. There are actually smart people who read and even post at WUWT. The problem is that they have chosen to wear ideological blinkers. They refuse to look at the evidence, so it is pointless to try and explain the evidence to them.

    Likewise, I think the problem most journalists have is that it is difficult to wedge the scientific endeavor into the sorts of narrative they learn about in Journalism school without doing serious violence to the truth, and they aren’t willing to put in the effort to a)develop a narrative that works; or b)understand how to adapt the scientific process to an existing narrative.

    And then we have the tone trolls like Stephen@164, who can’t come up with any sort of substantive reply to the criticisms voiced here, so they reject it because we’re all a bunch of meanies and retire to their fainting couch clutching their pearls.

  17. 167
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Uh, Magnus, what makes you think that the conversations that take place on a blog on the intertubes have anything whatsoever to do with methodology in any field?

  18. 168
    Maya says:

    Ray, you seem to have had some success in explaining it to folks … I’ve been able to with a couple of people, friends who know me and will take the time to listen. With random people, though, I don’t think I’ve ever had any real success. If I happen upon a conversation where people are going, “Oh, global warming, riiiiight,” and rolling their eyes, it seems like no matter what I say, they still end up rolling their eyes, and I end up tongue-tied.

    What do I *say*? How do you approach people that makes it interesting, instead of their eyes glazing over (the alternative to being rolled). Or worse, angry and defensive because you’ve had to tell them that something they believe to be true is a lie?

  19. 169

    Ray,

    I’ve found that most people are very interested in science, and will make a real effort to understand it if you can make it interesting for them.

    Yes, absolutely, I agree… on a macroscopic, one by one level. But over all, with everything there is to understand, people get lost. They have to draw a line in the sand and say “I understand enough, I just don’t have the time… and it’s giving me a headache.”

    They ultimately trust that the car or TV or computer will do what it’s supposed to do, without totally understanding it. At that point, it becomes magic, and when the salesman tells them there’s no point to buying a $2000 high def TV without a $130 “Monster” cable, they believe them, because it’s all magic.

    (By the way, research and tests show that the dominant factor is by far cable length, and many expensive, shielded cables actually perform worse than cheaper cables. Don’t waste money on expensive HDMI cables, no matter what salesmen tell you.)

    I don’t think the problem reduces to intelligence,…

    Sorry if I gave this impression, but I don’t either. That’s a lot of the problem. It seems to be a habit, or ingrained in human nature, regardless of intelligence. That and hammer/nail syndrome.

    I’ve had too many discussions with very, very, very intelligent engineers who are absolutely certain that they’ve got it all down, to the point of dismissing a lot of things that they should be open to and are perfectly capable of understanding. The fact that they won’t and don’t confuses the heck out of me, because it’s not intelligence, and they couldn’t even have become as educated as they are if they’d lived their entire lives that closed off and certain of themselves.

    So why won’t they listen? Why do they willingly cling to their own bizarre (incomplete) theories of feedback-control systems and (incorrect) applications of the laws of thermodynamics or even their own experiences with trading stocks or statistics?

    [some] journalists… aren’t willing to put in the effort to a)develop a narrative that works; or b)understand how to adapt the scientific process to an existing narrative.

    Actually, I think they would if they could. Everyone wants to do a good job. I think their biggest problems are (1) space constraints, (2) reader attention span constraints and (3) you can never know the background knowledge of the reader, so you have to assume the worst. This makes explaining anything in a single article very, very difficult.

    I don’t blame the journalists much here. Climate science is one of the most varied and intricate I’ve encountered, in that unlike chemistry or physics it doesn’t really build from simple, base principles to the more complex. There are a million different starting points for understanding climate science, each ultimately related, but no one dominant over the others and so a definitive, best starting point.

    a massage therapist (no, not that kind!)

    [I would never even have thought it unless you'd pointed it out. Now I have my doubts.]

  20. 170
    Tom S. says:

    Ray Ladbury says:
    Bob, I don’t think the problem reduces to intelligence. There are actually smart people who read and even post at WUWT. The problem is that they have chosen to wear ideological blinkers.

    This is absolutely the problem. As a non-scientist with some understanding of the physics I have tried to help others see the problems with the information regularly posted at WUWT and the other websites. They often refer to these sites as if they are the last vestige of true science where the scientists have not sold out and are willing to stand up against the collective lie. But these are well educated people who should be able to understand. I figure that if they are (as they claim) really interested in the true science, than all I need to do is point out the errors and let them see what is really going on.

    It can take a very long time to bring just one person to the point of being willing to examine the data with a critical eye. And you can get them to the point where they start to see that the data supports what the real scientists are saying. But at that point the result always seems to be the same. They don’t want to see the data any more.

    Just when I think we are nearing a point where they will have to admit that WUWT or another site has purposely twisted the facts, they say “Well, I just don’t want to believe that. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree.” After that point the person will have nothing more to do with you. They will say, I don’t want to hear any more about it. You have made up your mind, and I have made up my mind, and there is nothing more to say.

    In the long run, it is never an argument of science, data, or facts. It is what they WANT to believe. It is addictive behavior clear and simple. They do not WANT to believe what the facts imply, so they simply won’t look any more.

  21. 171

    Maya,

    My own approach which generally works is to not expose too much “belief” in or emotional attachment one way or the other to any particular conclusion. I look for a point of focus where the “target” is confused or uncertain (say how radiation works, or how glaciers work, or how ice core proxies work). I explain that detail and only that detail without necessarily connecting the dots for them (unless they seem open to it), under the assumption that once they’ve learned enough, they’ll on their own reach the same conclusions I (we) have.

    Pick your battles, make a point, and then make a tactical retreat.

    [A personal hero of mine is Nathaniel Greene, from the American Revolution, one of the most under appreciated figures and valuable generals in American history. Without his unique abilities at a particular time and place (the South, 1780 on), we would probably have lost the American Revolution. I bring him up because he basically won the war and never won a battle. He knew how to fight and withdraw, over and over, using different techniques and forces (militia, regulars and guerrilla fighters) to achieve a long term, strategic objective, regardless of the short term results, by focusing on tactical and achievements without succumbing to critically dangerous, strategic weaknesses.]

  22. 172
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “I know a lot of scientists who don’t grasp some of the more subtle aspects of the scientific method.”

    I have sometimes encountered extremely intelligent, highly trained scientists online who confidently and fully grasp some field of scientific inquiry outside of their speciality — and nearly everything they imagine they know about it is utterly wrong.

    There may be a sort of “magical thinking” involved. Unfortunately, training in climate science (for example) does not “magically” create expertise in energy technologies (for example).

  23. 173

    Didactylos,

    You quietly dropped the “sufficiently advanced” part

    Only because everyone’s threshold for “sufficiently advanced” is different in different things. One man’s elevated CK reading on blood work is another man’s pinging noise in his car’s engine.

    People can cope with the basics, if it is explained well enough. Some people can understand a little or a lot more.

    Actually, I firmly believe that everyone can understand everything, with enough time, effort, and (sometimes, not always) help. I express this to children every day, that they have no excuse not to learn. I go ballistic on my daughter’s friends who try to say “I’m no good at math” or “I’m no good at science.” Everyone is capable of learning everything. It may seem easier for the person next to you, for now, but ten years from now you may find that you have more talent for the more intricate details of calculus than that person next to you who learned his multiplication tables more quickly than you did.

    The reality is that what distinguishes human beings from animals is an ability to learn far beyond our apparent capacity, as long as we don’t sabotage the effort by saying to ourselves “I’m no good at this, it’s like magic and I’m not a magician, so I give up.”

    My only point is that everyone has a point where they just don’t have the time or motivation to learn more. Everyone reaches a point where they must simply trust other people. At some point, on an emotional level, deep down inside they go “this is like magic, shoot, I’ll just have to trust him/them.”

    And with climate science, as wildly varied and complex, as it is, in an environment full of distracting (erroneous) clamor… the great mass of people are going to have to treat it as magic. So one must explain enough to them to achieve some level of understanding, but also of trust. Part of our focus as communicators and “shamans” must also be to cultivate and build that trust, because ultimately it is not merely very, very important, but in fact necessary.

  24. 174
    Brian Carter says:

    142 Dhogaza, your memories of the time were of a university environment, but cast your mind back to those days. It was a different world. No internet, computers measured by the roomfull, books were the main source of information, so the Horizon programs and the books that followed them were considered quite authoritative amongst the scientifically literate – do you remember “The Violent Universe” and “The Restless Earth”, at a time when few outside the university environment had access to scientific journals these programs were the nearest we could get to the cutting edge, and they were great productions. “The Weather Machine” featured scientists working in the field and explaining what they were doing and why. We were introduced to concepts like the “snow blitz” theory which I guess might have gone the way of all flesh, but at the time it was exciting and worrying, too. Only those close to the field could have told a different story, and where would that story have been told? You say that only the view of those working in the field at the time matters, but we are talking about how the results of that work were propagated, the “Weather Machine” purported to represent the views of those working in the field, and any controversy certainly didn’t reach the same audience.

    Sure that program has been used to attack climate scientists by people who conveniently forget that the book is over a generation ago and pretty irrelevant today, but that doesn’t change the fact that at its time it had a great impact – I presume you read it?

  25. 175

    Bob: I go ballistic on my daughter’s friends who try to say “I’m no good at math” or “I’m no good at science.”

    BPL: Now I have a mental picture of crying eight-year-olds cowering under an angry lecture about radiative forcing…

  26. 176
    Snapple says:

    Here is a very interesting article about climate science written by journalism students. I think I posted this before from a different link, but this time there is a video.

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/01/10/106406/why-the-cia-is-spying-on-a-changing.html?story_link=email_msg#

    In the video, the head of the NAS, a former CIA chief, a CIA officer, and an Air Force General discuss the challenges they are preparing for due to climate change and global warming.

    I am not a scientist, so I rely on authoritative sources. Sometimes authoritative sources are wrong or lying, but usually when US officials are willing to speak on the record, they are telling you the straight story.

    Certainly science/policy “institutes” housed in parcel post mailboxes don’t appear to be bristling with satellites that record data the scientists are using.

    This excellent video would be good to show as an antidote to John O’Sullivan and Kent Clizbe who are appropriating the authority of the CIA for their crackpot campaign.

    On some other climate blog, I saw a poster criticizing the CIA for Clizbe’s ridiculous campaign to discredit Dr. Mann. This is jumping to conclusions about what the CIA actually says.

    “Journalist” John O’Sullivan and Clizbe could easily google CIA global warming and see what the CIA actually says.

    This article appeared on Jan 10, 2011, and if Clizbe and O’Sullivan were informed about the position of government agencies on climate change, they would have seen this article. I did.

    Perhaps they should be responding to what the CIA really says, since it is so different than what they say.

  27. 177
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Brian Carter@174,
    Horse puckey! All that proves is that there was crappy science journalism then just as there is crappy science journalism now. Science had perfectly readable editorials even then that anyone with even a passing understanding could read, and you could find it in just about any library in the country. Scientific American was a good source for the most part–better than today, in fact. Dammit, I was reading Physics Today in High School!

    Most important, though, is that then as now, people needed a comprehension that in science you never rely on a single study or a single paper.

    Look, if you invest your cash based on any single source of financial advice, then you are an idiot. The same goes with science. It is an information-based economy. We either learn to cope with and reliably assess information or we’re roadkill on the information superhighway.

    Same in the 70s, except then you were roadkill on the information two-lane.

  28. 178
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular Animist,
    Speaking as a physicist, a lot of the most arrogant attitudes from actual scientists I see have come from those in my own field. G&T, Claude Allegre, Will Happer… I think that training in physics can sometimes give physicists the misimpression that they can solve any problem. So they wind up solving the problem for the spherical cow. In my mind it this represents a poor understanding of scientific method.

    A big part of the scientific method is understanding that those who are most active in a field will likely understand it best. When in doubt, defer to the experts. Even more, regardless of field, we need to understand that the model is not the reality, but that it provides insight into the reality. We need to avoid the old U. of Chicago joke: “Well, that’s fine in practice, but how does it work in theory?”

    [Response: Good points Ray. Disparaging other science fields for their approaches, or attempting to solve problems with the wrong tools/approaches is usually foolish, because practitioners of various fields usually have good reasons for using the methods they do (which is not to say that particular fields can't improve by "borrowing" useful approaches/techniques from other fields--they often can, and when they can, they should). In ecology, there has long existed among a certain contingent "physics envy", meaning, the belief that the science should be entirely geared around a search for various mathematical "laws", as physics tends to be. Thus we get the frequently raised question of whether or not there are any "laws" in ecology, which has approximately the same usefulness as asking how many angels can sit on the head of a pin. Physicists have good reasons for reducing many phenomena to mathematical formulation, and ecologists have good reasons for employing a lot of basic description and inventory assessment approaches, pattern recognition, correlation and data mining approaches, and multivariate and spatial analyses. The reason is you need those things first if you are to get a reasonably well constrained, probabilistic sense of exactly what in the big wide world is driving what.--Jim]

  29. 179

    BPL: Now I have a mental picture of crying eight-year-olds cowering under an angry lecture about radiative forcing…

    Bob’s Daughter: But Daddy, the hockey stick is broken! Everyone knows that… go to my room again? But why?

  30. 180
    Brian Carter says:

    177, Ray, what is horse puckey?

    The point about Calder, and whether you think it is bad journalism or not, is that he was not inventing his facts. The facts were presented on the program both in voice-overs to scenes of both laboratory and field work, and in direct to camera pieces. The scientists were telling it, and they told it in their own words. It may have been poor science, but there was no way that the viewer could tell that. Remember, the “information two-lane” (nice phrase!) was a dirt track, at that time it took a couple of years for a text-book to be published, by the time it appeared it was already out of date. Researchers communicated by what I have heard described as the “invisible university”, phones, letters, exchanging pre-prints etc, but that was a highly specific closed group, everybody else, as I said, were at least a couple of years behind.

    Forty years later it is easy to sneer at people for not comparing sources and evaluating the impending ice age meme as poor science, but at the time it was just not that easy. There would be no excuse for it today – there IS NO excuse for it today, but the 70′s were a different world.

  31. 181
    Didactylos says:

    Brian Carter: I keep trying to frame a suitable answer for you, but I’m finding it difficult because you insist on viewing history from your own perspective.

    That’s nice and everything, but don’t you think it’s a bit egotistical to treat your single data point as some great insight into the past?

    If as you claim, the journalism stuck to the facts (not very likely, but I have no intention of searching the Horizon archives) then there was really very little in the way of scare to be had. Ooooh, there might be another ice age in a few thousand years. Ooooh, it’s overdue. Ooooh, scary.

    People don’t care about global warming after we have actually experienced decades of rising temperatures. I just can’t imagine how much people didn’t care about some far future ice age.

    People aren’t totally stupid. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That’s why the IPCC was formed – to sift and test the extraordinary quantity of evidence and see just what it all adds up to.

  32. 182
    CM says:

    Jim (inline at #178),

    You might take cheer from the biology envy in the humanities (google “literary darwinism”, for instance).
    :)

    [Response: Interesting, I'd never heard of that. Wouldn't call that an example of envy though, which I never take cheer from, being as it is a destructive waste of emotion--Jim]

  33. 183
    Brian Carter says:

    Didactylos (nicely appropriate pseudonym!) all I have tried to do is show why the global cooling meme got established at that time, if you have no intention of searching the Horizon archives, as you put it, you are scoffing on the same basis as the denialists. As for scary, who said anything about scary other than you? The snowblitz hypothesis or theory (take your choice) with the idea of a sudden onset of an ice age was only scary if one was led to believe that it was about to happen, the program merely said it had happened and could happen, a different matter.

    Get this clear in your head. I am not a denialist. I am only as sceptical as is healthy, I accept the science so ably presented on this site. All I am doing is trying to show how it was not unreasonable for the idea of global cooling to have got a hold forty years ago, if that is viewing history from my own perspective what is so wrong about that? As one of the people that became convinced for a few years that we were in a period of global cooling, I am part of that history. You are expending your low grade sarcasm on entirely the wrong target.

  34. 184
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “Speaking as a physicist … I think that training in physics can sometimes give physicists the misimpression that they can solve any problem.”

    Don’t be too hard on physicists.

    It may be that anyone who is accomplished in a scientific discipline that has been particularly successful in its own domain of inquiry, may be vulnerable to developing a certain hubris.

    I once argued online with a scientist who appeared to believe that his particular scientific background enabled him to opine with great authority about natural resource management, the comparative environmental impact of rural vs. urban lifestyles, agricultural systems, urban planning, etc.

    He was a rodent geneticist.

  35. 185
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Brian Carter, Horse puckey comes out the end opposite where you would normally offer the apple unless you were really kinky.

    I have two points to make:
    1)What a science writer writes about science is utterly irrelevant to scientific truth. What matters is how many peer-reviewed papers are being published in support of a claim or using a claim to understand hitherto unexplained phenomena.
    2)You can get your science news from reliable sources or from second-rate hacks. Calder is of the latter school. He would not recognize a scientific truth if it walked right up to him and said, “Howdy.” He has zero understand of scientific method–and I don’t mean even the subtle parts. So, I ask you: Why, oh why when you have Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan and Brian Greene and Gavin, and Raypierre…would you rely on Nigel Calder to tell you about science?

    Scientific consensus is what determines what is most likely true in science. Second-rate Journalistic hacks don’t get a vote.

  36. 186
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular Animist,
    That’s just it. The scientists who are most successful tend to know the limitations of their expertise. In olden days, I actually got to meet a fair number of Nobel Laureates. I think because they were experts themselves, they tended to respect expertise. By and large, these were not humble men, but they were men who knew their limitations.

    I think it is quite possible to do science without understanding every nuance of the scientific method. I don’t understand how one can miss something as basic as the fact that the experts who publish regularly in a field will tend to understand it best. When I find someone who truly doesn’t understand that, I start to wonder whether maybe it’s their grad students really doing the work.

  37. 187
    tamino says:

    Physicists? Hah!

    http://xkcd.com/435/

    [Response: :)
    ]

  38. 188
    Brian Carter says:

    185 Ray Ladbury: Calder wrote the book, but in the program that the book was based on, the scientists told it in their own words, as I clearly stated in post 180, you must have missed that. Now you may think differently about this, but even Asimov and Sagan were popularisers, and in my book scientists telling the camera about their research trumps any populariser, whether it is Calder, Sagan or the good doctor. Incidentally, I may have missed the odd item here or there, but I don’t remember either Asimov or Sagan talking about current climate research in the 70′s so your point seems a little irrelevant.

    It seems ironic to me that people believing what scientists told them in the 70′s media are considered just as wrong as the people not believing what scientists tell them today. Poor Joe Public, he’s wrong whatever he does!

  39. 189
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Brian Carter, OK, let’s try this again. Try to follow.

    1)It does not matter what some ignorant food tube journalist says about the science.

    2)It does not matter what an individual scientist says about the science, or two or three.

    3)What matters is the scientific consensus.

    4)There was no consensus about a coming ice age in the 70s or the 80s or the 60s for that matter. Asimov and Sagan did not speak out on the issue in the 70s, because there was not a consensus. Asimov did speak out on climate change in 1989, about the time the consensus gelled.

    Now, as I said before. You can get your science news from decent sources or you can get it from crap sources. Hell, you can find idjits on the intertubes that still say we’re headed for another ice age.

    FYI: Newsweak is a crap source. Time is a crap source. Useless News and World Report is full of suck. The BBC sucks in science reporting. Don’t even think about the Wall Street Urinal or Faux News. NPR doesn’t suck, at least some of the time. The Economist is usually good. Scientific American, usually good.

    When I hear someone start with “Scientists say…” I know I can safely discount everything else that comes out of their mouths.

  40. 190
    Greg Simpson says:

    Isaac Asimov on the greenhouse effect in 1977.

  41. 191
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    re: #188 and the thread on the “global cooling scare”. You can call it scary if you want, but you’re just cherry-picking adjectives. In my opinion, “dramatic” is a far better description. Then as now, the media does its best to dramatise science so as to reach a wide audience.

  42. 192
    Brian Carter says:

    Ray Ladbury: 189; Since you have been so kind as to condescend to me, I will endeavour to show that I have followed your kind remarks.

    1) Agreed
    2) Not so sure about that – matters to whom? To the science, I agree, to Joe Public, though, an expert is an expert – and to a scientist out of his field more weight may be assigned to an expert. Nobody put the other side of the story to Joe Public. As for the scientifically literate, well I will return to that shortly.
    3) Agreed
    4) Indeed, but the significance of that emerged later, my concern was to give some impression of the impact of the Horizon program. Incidentally, Sagan was not a household name over here at that time, I read the works of the good doctor, of course, but given the lousy state of science education I learned a lot of my basic science from Gamow.

    In that period I had a subscription to Science and took the publications of the RAS. I glanced at New Scientist and occasionally caught SciAm. Being in industry I had no access to university libraries, to read a scientific journal took a half hour bus ride into the city and a fifteen minute walk to the Central Library, I had to search the card indices for the item I wanted and fill in a request form, then sit and wait until an assistant brought me the requested item. As I worked a five and a half day week and the reference library was closed on Sundays I had Saturday afternoons to do this in, so it didn’t happen every week, but I tried to keep up with the fields that interested me! I only say all this to counter your breezy attitude to keeping up with pukka science, which is somewhat anachronistic, and your apparent belief that when reading papers in the physical sciences I had to move my lips. Oh, just for reference, I was in geotecnics…soft rock geology and foundation engineering. As for the popular resources that you are so scathing about, unlike your good self I never read them!

    Oh yes, “One Anonymous Bloke”, scary as an adjective implies humour, dramatic takes it more seriously. Sure the media dramatises science, but don’t you find science somewhat dramatic in its own right?

  43. 193
    Didactylos says:

    Brian Carter:

    I’m really uncertain if you are genuinely confused, or you are just trying to take us for a ride.

    The media routinely runs scare stories about what may happen in various extreme circumstances. supertsunami, supervolcanoes, meteor strikes….. all just media hot air. Yes, it *might* happen. The probabilities, though, are minuscule. This doesn’t stop the scientists involved from trying to explain their work. It’s easy to take them out of context, and that’s how the program makers get an exciting show.

    If you were foolish enough to equate such hyperbole with scientific fact, then you were not very “media smart”. You state that you believed the world was in a cooling period. Did it not occur to you that if the claim was real and substantial, then a proportionate response was needed? No. You recognised that it wasn’t an issue, and promptly forgot about it for 40 years.

    No matter what you claim, the global cooling idea had little traction in the 70s. Compared to today’s media coverage of global warming, it was nothing at all.

    The only reason anyone remembers the ice age story is because of a concerted effort to use it as a way of casting doubt on real science.

    I’m not that stupid. I hope you’re not either.

    A clue: scientists are *supposed* to change their minds when new evidence becomes available.

  44. 194
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Brian Carter, A bit of advice: If you don’t want to be ridiculed, don’t take ridiculous positions (e.g that Newsweak or Calder are at all credible on science.) I’m sorry, but you are still digging the hole. Either you did not realize that the sources you were consulting for science news were unreliable (hard to believe given their general unreliability on everything else) or you knew they were unreliable and relied on them anyway.

    There simply is no excuse for not understanding the scientific method enough to realize that only experts who publish regularly in a field have a voice in the scientific consensus of that field, or that the consensus carries more authority than the opinion of any one expert. If Joe Public does not understand that, he’d better wise up quickly.

    The fact is that there was concern over the effects of sulfate aerosols from fossil fuels in the ’70s. This was a very real effect and the concern was warranted. There was no consensus about the magnitude of the effect or the severity of its consequences. To compare that to the present day where 97.5% of experts agree with the consensus is risible.

    And to try to justify that risible position by saying, “But I read it in the papers…”. Please! I can read about alien abductions if I choose the right papers.

  45. 195
    Brian Carter says:

    Didactylos and Ray Ladbury, it seems such a pity that your reading comprehension skills are not up to standard, I really suggest you do some work on them. Try, for instance, reading my posts again and try to see how what I am actually saying differs from what you are replying to.

    Ray, your first sentence is frankly ridiculous. Where do I say either of these things, dammit, man, you are the only one to have brought up Newsweek! You have dealt with so many denialist “strawman” arguments that you are falling into the habit yourself!

    Didactylos, I would dearly love to know what the proportionate response would have been in the 70′s to a cooling world, burn more fuel? As for out of context, as I remember it the scientists were allowed ample time to develope their themes, more than they would be today, I suspect.

    Really guys, the amount of heat that has been generated just because I have tried to give some idea of the impact of a science program in the 70′s, and your lamentable incapability to read what I am actually writing, I quite despair of you. Fail!

  46. 196
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Brian Carter #192 Scary is a subset of dramatic. Science can be quite dramatic sometimes, but I think inspiring is a better fit to the data :)

  47. 197
    JiminMpls says:

    Brian Carter – Sorry to interject, but I was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 70′s. I was in the humanities, but had to take basic Geology and Botany classes. In both fields, glaciology was a BFD. There was NO MENTION of an immenent ice age.

    I was also somewhat engaged in various political and environmental issues. There was tremendous concern about a nuclear winter and about acid rain. There was even some concern about solar dimming (which was related to acid rain) but noone ever talked about global cooling. Noone. Ever.

    The denialist meme is that “global cooling” was the consensus in the 1970′s. There may have been some pop science articles and TV programs about global cooling, but it was widespread either within or outside the scientific community.

  48. 198
    Didactylos says:

    Brian Carter: When you truck out an old canard, you should expect all the context to be discussed, even if you want to ignore it and focus only on your own personal recollections.

  49. 199
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Brian Carter,
    Look, Clownshoe, I have also pointed out that Calder is unreliable (Ferchrissake, he wrote “The Chilling Stars). Newsweak is about the only source that was sensationalistic enough to run with the story. Regardless of where you got the story, it was not the position of the scientific community. Period. Is that freaking clear enough for you, or do I have to break it down to monosyllabic grunts?

  50. 200
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Brian Carter

    Brought up a program rebutted long ago, about a notion not well supported by science even then, as documented in Connolley et al. Science thriller.
    One-sided presentation of old material, followed by ‘but I was only’.


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