Blogging climate scientists

Isaac’s entrance into the field of blogging is an important step forward, especially with the implicit support of NOAA for this new venture. Hopefully, more NOAA scientists (and indeed, NASA, DOE, other agency and university scientists) can be encouraged to contribute their voices and points of view as well. Note that RealClimate has a standing invitation to all working climate scientists to submit guest posts on science-related topics – so don’t be shy now!

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192 comments on this post.
  1. Eli:

    The word “my” is used in this article — who do you mean? Thanks, EK

    [Response: This refers to Gavin Schmidt. The post is by ‘group’ because we all wanted to welcome Isaac to the blogosphere.–eric]

  2. tamino:

    My gratitude to Isaac Held, and a hearty welcome to the climate blogosphere. And this is a good opportunity to thank RC, the inspiration for so many of us.

    I suspect attempts to interfere with such communication by denialist politicians (Inhofe et al.). Stand your ground — we need you more than ever.

  3. Stefan Rahmstorf:

    I just checked my web statistics. Guess what is the third-most popular item on my home page in the past week? Yes: my comments on The Day After Tomorrow! These have been near the top for all those years, ever since the movie came out.

  4. Steve Easterbrook:

    There’s also a question of different audiences. Scientists who blog each tend to develop their own style, some more technical, some more populist. Each attracts a different audience segment. When I started blogging, I envisioned it more as a kind of open notebook science – expecting my audience to be my colleagues within the research community (or perhaps just my own research group – I didn’t really expect anyone else to read it). I think there’s a major role for the kind of blog that improves communication within a research community, as well as the more outward facing blogs.
    I’ve also found there’s a huge gulf of incomprehension between academics who do blog, and those who don’t, partly because blogging is treated with suspicion by “serious academics” and partly because if you haven’t tried it, you have no idea what the benefits are:

  5. Peter Winters:

    Realclimate has been a terrific initiative. Well done.

    And, according to our public opinion data, you are correct about the impact of the ‘Day After Tomorrow’, especially in England rather than North America.

  6. Boris:

    Glad to see this. Given all the personal attacks that are tossed at climate scientists, it’s a wonder that any decide to start blogging at all.

  7. CM:

    As the post says, it’s great when climate scientists reach out to us moviegoers and help us understand stuff on our level. My hopes up, I eagerly headed over to Held’s blog, and was immediately hooked by this teaser:

    I find the following simple two degree-of-freedom linear model useful when thinking about transient climate responses:

    c \,dT/dt \, = - \beta T - \gamma (T - T_0) + \mathcal{F}(t)

    c_0 \, dT_0/dt = \gamma (T - T_0)

    The image caption was captivating, too. Dunno about this simple model stuff, though. I mean, there’s a fine line between popularizing and dumbing down; will he manage it?!

    Okay, \end{irony}. I’m glad Dr. Held has joined the blogosphere and to be honest, I appreciate being shown a bit of the math now and again (it’s something I actually think RC could do slightly more often).

    But those of us who look to science to tell us if sea level rise could really make Kevin Costner grow gills, will just have to keep looking…

  8. tamino:

    … I appreciate being shown a bit of the math now and again (it’s something I actually think RC could do slightly more often).

    I disagree.

    I indulge in more math then most climate bloggers (it’s my thing), and it appears that Dr. Held does too. According to his own description, “The level of discussion is meant to be appropriate for graduate students in atmospheric and oceanic sciences.”

    We need such technical approaches, but we need less technical ones too. I think RC is the premier blog for climate science, and as such, I think it strikes a good balance between technical and popular levels of understanding. In other words, I think you guys have hit the mark and I recommend maintaining that level. For those who want more, there’s my blog for math, and Held’s for high-level climate science — but let’s not forget that the most important target audience isn’t so technically inclined.

  9. James Allan:

    Someone once asked me, as an atmospheric scientist, if there was any accuracy to The Day After Tomorrow. I replied yes in that I think you see Dennis Quaid with a Zarges aluminium box in one scene. I seem to spend half my working life hauling those around…

  10. Daniel Goodwin:

    tamino #10:

    RC is the premier blog for climate science, and as such, I think it strikes a good balance between technical and popular levels of understanding.

    Hear hear. Hooray for you guys, seriously. If there’s someone genuinely motivated to educate themselves, I heartily recommend they start with RealClimate. I don’t know how to reach the others, unfortunately.

  11. John Mashey:

    One minor nit. I have some familiarity with GFDL, having long ago net with their folks and helped sell them supercomputers.
    It might be nice to add another paragraph update to this to explain the particular role of GFDL.

  12. Edward Greisch:
    is a government web site. That means it is an easy target for Republican cost cutters and an easy target for WUWT and Rush Limbaugh. They will ask that Isaac Held be fired for misappropriation of funds, and misappropriation of funds is a fatal sin for federal employees.

  13. dhogaza:

    They will ask that Isaac Held be fired for misappropriation of funds, and misappropriation of funds is a fatal sin for federal employees.

    Not if it’s budgeted and approved, which surely it is if it’s being hosted on the agency’s site.

  14. Chris Colose:

    //”…is it that they think they have something to say and that it isn’t being widely said already”//

    I agree with this, but I’d add that there are in fact many things that need to be said more clearly, even if they are painfully obvious or “well-known.” SkepticalScience for example, recently awarded as a climate change communicator of the year, doesn’t really say too much “new” or that you can’t find in some other form elsewhere, but they provide a convenient rest stop to address virtually any skeptical argument one can find on the internet. Just as important, in sifting through their articles one can be linked to a large number of cutting edge research papers, and most of the authors there are rather good at conveying that information to multiple audience levels.

    I don’t understand why a scientist would shy away from blogging or outreach. If it is because there is still a derogatory label associated with blogging, they couldn’t be more wrong about its potential benefits in terms of education and outreach (RC is a big reason I decided to pursue climate science in a formal setting), and it’s also likely to raise awareness concerning their own work. If it’s because they feel like they have to have something “new” to say in order to say it (perhaps from too much exposure to dealing with the peer-review arena), once again, they could not be more wrong. I also never bought into the argument that professionals are “too busy” to blog, perhaps not to the extent gavin does, but even in being an active passing-by commeter on popular sites.

    Blogging in some way is about being original with how you convey information, rather than saying something original, and provides a great medium between basic wikipedia-level articles and technical articles for which curious students can self educate them about some of the nuances of climate issues. I recently did a post over at SkepticalScience replying to a quote in Lindzen’s public testimony where he said a completely CO2-free atmosphere would only be about 2.5 degrees colder than today. To my knowledge, there was virtually nothing on the web that would help a curious student interested in thinking through such a hypothetical scenario, or extending that to more realistic situations like getting into a snowball Earth or getting out. Bloggers can fill in that missing link, as well as provide an active Q&A forum through comment sections, something the scholarly literature is incapable of doing.

    I also think that many researchers could learn something from reading a few blog articles, as to be frank, many climate scientists don’t actually do a good job of answering questions a bit more difficult than “is Earth getting warmer?” That’s another story though.

    [Response: Nice comment Chris. Scientists will, of course, have all manner of reasons for why they do, or do not, contribute on blogs. Time constraints are a very legitimate reason, in my experience (especially over the last year or so for me). As for drawing attention to our own work, that is certainly nice to have happen if the attention is favorable, but it may not necessarily be so. Regardless, this really should not be the primary motivation for blog contributions, which should rather be to inform the public about the relevant science as a whole. Sometimes those two motivations intersect, sometimes not. There is, IMO, a lot of reticence in the academic community about getting involved in public “controversies”–whatever those are believed to be. Also, there are those who choose to make their public contribution strictly within the scientific primary and secondary literature–at least at certain career stages. The importance of this is not to be overlooked.–Jim]

  15. GFW:

    Edward, hence Isaac’s statement in his very first post …
    “I consider working on this blog to be fully consistent with NOAA’s outreach and communications policies.”

  16. Hiram Hornblowe:

    Why do I get the feeling whenever I read Comments on Real Climate that I am sitting around a campfire with the wagons circled and most of the fire is coming from beyond the wagons?

  17. William Freimuth:

    Please provide something that can be picked up by ‘snopes’ so these viral denial epitaphs can be refuted.
    The attached spam (below) is circulating on the internet without as much as a counterpunch. People who read this crap, vote too. Doubtful they will read it here but I’m sure stuff like this constitutes about 99% of the science they will engage in this year.

    “The scientist Professor Ian Plimer could not have said it better! If you’ve read his book on Global warming you will agree, this is a good summary.

    (Embedded image moved to file: pic02995.gif)

    Are you sitting down?

    Okay, here’s the bombshell. The volcanic eruption in Iceland, since its first spewing of volcanic ash has, in just FOUR DAYS, NEGATED EVERY SINGLE EFFORT you have made in the past five years to control CO2 emissions on our planet – all of you.

    Of course you know about this evil carbon dioxide that we are trying to suppress – it’s that vital chemical compound that every plant requires to live and grow, and to synthesize into oxygen for us humans, and all animal life.

    I know, it’s very disheartening to realize that all of the carbon emission savings you have accomplished while suffering the inconvenience and expense of: driving Prius hybrids, buying fabric grocery bags, sitting up till midnight to finish your kid’s “The Green Revolution” science project, throwing out all of your non-green cleaning supplies, using only two squares of toilet paper, putting a brick in your toilet tank reservoir, selling your SUV and speedboat, vacationing at home instead of abroad, nearly getting hit every day on your bicycle, replacing all of your 50 cents light bulbs with $10.00 light bulbs…well, all of those things you have done have all gone down the tubes in just four days.

    The volcanic ash emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere in just four days – yes – FOUR DAYS ONLY by that volcano in Iceland, has totally erased every single effort you have made to reduce the evil beast, carbon. And there are around 200 active volcanoes on the planet spewing out this crud any one time – EVERY DAY.

    I don’t really want to rain on your parade too much, but I should mention that when the volcano Mt Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it spewed out more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire human race had emitted in its entire YEARS on earth. Yes folks, Mt Pinatubo was active for over one year – think about it.

    Of course I shouldn’t spoil this touchy-feely tree-hugging moment and mention the effect of solar and cosmic activity and the well-recognized 800-year global heating and cooling cycle, which keep happening, despite our completely insignificant efforts to affect climate change.

    And I do wish I had a silver lining to this volcanic ash cloud but the fact of the matter is that the bush fire season across the western USA and Australia this year alone will negate your efforts to reduce carbon in our world for the next two to three years. And it happens every year.

    Just remember that your government just tried to impose a whopping carbon tax on you on the basis of the bogus “human-caused” climate change scenario.

    Hey, isn’t it interesting how they don’t mention “Global Warming” any more, but just “Climate Change” – you know why? It’s because the planet has COOLED by 0.7 degrees in the past century and these global warming bull artists got caught with their pants down.

    And just keep in mind that you might yet have an Emissions Trading Scheme – that whopping new tax – imposed on you, that will achieve absolutely nothing except make you poorer. It won’t stop any volcanoes from erupting, that’s for sure.

    But hey, relax, give the world a hug and have a nice day!”

    [Response: Oh dear. This is of course nonsense (the Pinatubo comment is particularly egregious) – and could merit a line-by-line rebuttal – but do you have a real source? – gavin]

  18. One Anonymous Bloke:

    Facts are finite, falsities are infinite, which means there will always be more material for denialists to discuss. Further, I cannot see much value in setting up multiple blogs to discuss the same issue; I suspect scientists may be of the same mind. While you cannot compete on quantity however, when we consider quality, the advantages are all yours. Journalists need reliable sources, scriptwriters need credible scenarios; Real Climate helps provide them, and I hope encourages more scientists to take the plunge.

  19. One Anonymous Bloke:

    Hiram #17 That’s because some idiot set the grass on fire.

  20. One Anonymous Bloke:

    William Freimuth’s quote #18 comes from Carl Paladino, a former GOP gubernatorial candidate”,

  21. Pete Wirfs:

    Regarding the “ARE YOU SITTING DOWN?” fable, using google I found it on quite a few sites. The oldest one I’ve found so far was posted in May 2010 ( ) . And there are variants on the theme.

    Interestingly, I also found a June 2010 rebuttal here;

    So far I haven’t found any true source. It seems everyone posts it without any attribution.


  22. Radge Havers:


    Yeah, I sometimes get some pretty weird e-mail propaganda sent to me that’s obviously been forwarded countless times. If you’re not in contact with people who enjoy gettin taken in by this stuff, you may not be aware how pervasive and pernicious it is.

    I generally refer the immediate sender to Snopes, a site which seems to do a pretty good job of researching these sorts of things.

    A variant of this one came to me a few times a year or so ago:

    It was packed with a decidedly denialist slant, and I Snoped the senders on it. Can’t find the specific entry on it now though. Point is if you only happen to travel in tony circles, you may not be aware of a whole underground universe of misinformation.

  23. Damien:

    Skeptical Science does an excellent job of the information level part of the problem, with “Basic”, “Intermediate” and “Advanced” tags to many of the discussions. If you haven’t visited it in the last 12 months or so, please spend the time to do so.

  24. BillS:

    Re: 13, 14 & 16

    From the 2010 Science Plan of the Science Mission Directorate (p.17):

    “The NASA mandate includes broad public communications. NASA carriers
    out Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) programs that capture the
    imagination and enhance knowledge. As a Federal agency, NASA has a
    responsibility to communicate information about its programs and
    scientific discoveries to the public… .”

    As a recipient of a NASA money (student research fellowship), I do what I can.
    whenever and wherever I can to fulfill this responsibility — but no blog.

  25. Francis:

    Please add Dr. Held’s blog to your Other Opinions. (You might also consider adding Steve Easterbrook’s Serendipity and Science of Doom, as well. Also, a bunch of your links have gotten pretty stale, like Andrew Dessler)

  26. wildlifer:

    I call Poe on #18….


    Perhaps anews

  27. Eli Rabett:

    Bob Grumbine is a NOAA scientist and blogger, although his is not on an official NOAA site. His blog is one of the best

  28. dhogaza:

    I call Poe on #18….

    No, he was pointing out that it was idiocy. “Poe” presumes the poster posts the content as truth.

    It’s interesting that its history only goes back to May 2010 … another anti-Obama, Dem congress lie.

  29. Edward Greisch:

    25 BillS: Thanks.

  30. Everett Rowdy:

    The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies…. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the State with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated by it as enemies.
    – Henry David Thoreau

  31. frflyer:

    As a layman who reads several climate blogs a day, I agree with Tamino @9, and others, that it helps to have different levels of technicality among climate blogs.
    Real Climate, Open Mind, Skeptical Science, Science of Doom have all helped me improve my underestanding of the science. Reading the more accessible Skeptical Science articles, for example, improves my ability to grasp what is being said at Real Climate or Science of Doom, which are a bit more technical. though not always.

    Other blogs have also been rewarding and informative

    Climate Progress
    Deep Climate
    Watching the Deniers
    Solve Climate
    Get Energy Smart Now
    My view on climate change
    Hot Topic
    Rabbet Run
    Only In It For the Gold
    Climate Sight
    Peak Energy
    Idiot Tracker
    Climate Feedback
    The Way Things Break
    AGW Observer
    Climate Crocks

    Okay, sometimes I read more than several.

    I often suggest that people go to Skeptical Science to learn something about the science. For some, Climate Crocks might be a better place to start. So there is a broad spectrum of the public that need varying levels of education on climate change.

    At most of these blogs, I often learn as much from reading the comments section as from the articles. What you all are doing is valuable. Keep it up.

    Gavin: If scientists are reticent about communicating with the public, how about simply showing up? What I mean by that, is that I’ve been imagining thousands of scientists showing up at the congressional climate witch hunts to collectively make a statement, with their presence.

  32. barry:

    The wrinkle I offer that I discovered many scientists would be marginally comfortable offering their opinions if asked but saw it as an entirely different thing to initiate the expression of their opinion.

    I used to teach (arts) to the daughter of an English atmospheric physicist who studied under John Houghton. When I met her father I buttonholed him to try and fill in some of the many gaps in my knowledge of the greenhouse effect. After an hour or so, I realized he’d offered his own opinion on nothing, so I asked his opinion straight up about global warming, partly to see how he’d handle giving it. Even then he was a little oblique in his answer, and I was impressed with his dedication to science and disregard for his own take. I found that I trusted his advice the more because he was reluctant to be definitive.

    It must leave a bitter taste, trying to straddle the gulf between being accurate and being effective in the public discourse, and with critics taking any and every opportunity to rake muck and muddy the waters. Nevertheless, it is very interesting to observe intelligent people having to learn new skills, however reluctantly, to try and deal with a pernicious problem that is outside their formal training. I salute those that make the attempt.

  33. prettyfly:

    Its always pleasing to see another climate scientist enter the fray to try insert some truth into the propaganda filled wasteland of the web. The impact that I see locally that the denialist lobby has had on public opinion is somewhat scary.

    Its somewhat disturbing that they label climate scientist religious in their beliefs in man-made climate change when one doesn’t have to look to hard to see the similarities between denialist’s and young earth creationists.

    But then, one of Plimers closest skeptic allies is and young earth creationist, isn’t he?

  34. wildlifer:

    Yeah,dhog, I guess I should have referred to the quoted text rather than the post. Sorry for the confusion.

  35. CM:

    Re: the volcanic spewing of foolishness referenced at #18, and others of its ilk, this comes to mind:

    “That’s the spirit, George. If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.” (Black Adder)

  36. paul haynes:

    “In my experience, when it comes to climate scientists, they perceive that what is missing is the context, background and the understanding needed to interpret climate data, a policy proposal or the latest paper”

    and, in my experience, this is often unexpectedly interesting stuff to read about, so more climate scientists talking about what they do in an engaging way the better. It will also be a useful tool against those who have suspicion of climate science and additional evidence for those interested in the real practices, and philosophy, of emerging science, as opposed to naive ideas about “the scientific method” or how science works.
    Thanks again for being a useful resource.

  37. Steven Sullivan:

    we all need a laugh break now and then…for (intentional) climate chuckles I go to this ‘skeptic’ parody site, which gets the paranoid, indiscriminate, and often self-contradicting outrage of the skeptics *just right*:

    [Response: Even better is Friends of Gin and Tonic–eric]

  38. CM:

    Re: #38, if we’re naming our favorite denial parody sites:
    – the site that brought us Arctic Sea Ice: Staggering Growth. It’s genius.

  39. Steven Sullivan:

    oh yeah, denialdepot is great too. FoGaT, though…hmm, that’s a little too ‘inside’ for me, I guess.

  40. Phil Scadden:

    I’d second denialDepot but my favorite entry there is how to cook a graph. Mind you Jaws was hilarious too. So many to choose from. The comments in the 2009 entries are particularly funny as so many thought the site was serious. The “about” sidebar is just brilliant.

  41. barry:

    @40 – I was one who took denialdepot seriously and took on the ‘denialists’ for a dozen posts. I made a nice foil for the wags, but they were a little uncomfortable at using my gormless sincerity and kept trying to hint at what the game was. I’m still not quite over learning what a schmuck I was, and it put my contretemps with real contrarians in a new light. Helped me loosen my grip in the general debate.

  42. barry:

    Mind you, it’s a testament to denialdepot’s mimicry, and the depravity of what passes for ‘debate’ at contrarian sites like WUWT that some mistake their lunacy for the genuine article.

  43. Mark:

    Blogs by competent scientists are very valuable, but as Greg Craven points out, for non-scientists the opinions of single bloggers necessarily carry much less weight than peer reviewed articles or reports by recognized committees (IPCC, NAS, etc). Has the climate science community considered something like ‘The Faculty of 1000’ (F1000) ? This is a post-publication peer review system, not unlike RealClimate, but with a more formal structure and publication outlet. Such an organization would provide IPCC-like peer review, but could keep up with new research more easily than the IPCC assessment reports. If it had the imprimatur of a recognized and respected journal, it would rise well above the level of blogs, while providing a similar service.

    [Response: The Faculty of 1000 is a great idea and I’ve been reading it for years, but it still falls into the general category of scientific communication among peers, whereas blogs are aimed more widely.–Jim]

  44. Mark:

    RE #43. Thanks for the response, Jim. I agree that blogs are more widely distributed outside the scientific community. However, I teach an intro to climate change course to largely non-scientists, and for an Accounting or English major, RealClimate, Issac’s blog and WhatsUp are equivalent.They simply do not have the analytical background to make a meaningful distinction. It isn’t because they are unintelligent, as similar talks with Honors College students (about 95% pre-Meds) produce the same Blogosphere-induced confusion. Perhaps a solution is hybrid of F1000 that has wider appeal than F1000, but the higher status of a peer-reviewed system. I think the method of assigning weight to various climate change sources by level of consensus and the scientific credentials of the backing organization (NAS ranks higher than AAPG, but AAPG ranks higher than the US Chamber of Commerce) is useful for non-scientists. Unfortunately it means that blogs by individuals must rank low. Lindzen, Singer, Pilkey Jr, Spencer all have PhD’s, just like us, and they make seemingly persuasive arguments. Somehow we need to reach the 95% of the population that hasn’t developed their analytical skills. RealClimate and SkepticalScience are great, and I direct students to them, but they are still independent blogs. An F1000-type arrangement adds creditability to the source.

  45. John:

    Hi Re #8, There was a very interesting comment left on another blog here some months ago by Prof. Jed Barker, a Physics Professor from Australia. He has put together a pdf file describing 9 different levels at which information can be presented. Newspaper articles come at around level 4, with mathematical content coming at level 8. Level 9 is the level of the original stroke of genius from the discoverer. I would guess that RealClimate comes in at around 6-8, depending on the mathematical content of blogs. It would be really good if someone, here or elsewhere, could produce similar blogs to RealClimate but covering various of the levels defined by Prof. Barker.

  46. flxible:

    Mark @44 “Somehow we need to reach the 95% of the population that hasn’t developed their analytical skills

    As a teacher of “an intro to climate change course” apparantly not teaching analytical skills nor anything about scientific method, why blame it on the “blogosphere” and the people doing the research?? If your students can’t sort the wheat from the chaff and figure out how to research references before they reach the end of your course, you as well as they should get failing marks.

    [Response: Out of line. He wasn’t blaming anything on anyone, just stating the reality of the situation as he sees it.–Jim]

  47. Radge Havers:

    Re: Mark

    Speaking as a lay person and general observer, I think Mark has a point. I’d ask it this way, if something were to happen, god forbid, to Gavin; what would be the fate of this site? Is there some mechanism in the way it’s run that would maintain the site and its standards down the road indefinitely?

    Establishing reliable websites that distribute widely recognized, good quality information –where there is so much competing noise– is a barely nascent activity, IMO. It’s more than a matter of branding, so much as providing a method or “seal of approval” if you will, that busy people can use as a touchstone.

    Re: flxible
    Well, OK. But I think the idea is to make the sorting task less onerous. Put another way, the status quo is less than perfect, no?

  48. Ray Ladbury:

    flxible,I don’t think that is entirely fair. Kids aren’t born knowing this stuff, nor are they taught it in high school. How would you teach a college freshman–one with maybe 2 semesters of science in high school and maybe a freshman chem lab under her belt–to discriminate between a legitimate work and G&T, for instance? And keep in mind that many of their peers will have already been politicized into rejecting science. If this were easy, it would have been solved.

  49. flxible:

    If something were to happen to Gavin, there are a dozen others in the RC group that we would hope would step up to the plate, it appears to me to be a group endeavor, with one person being particularly well spoken and passionate. The posts here are well referenced and documented and RC certainly has more than a few “seals of approval” as a science blog.

    Yes the status quo is less than perfect, as it will always be for human society. The object should be to help folks [especially students] learn some critical thinking in their own interest. I’m not a scientist, but it sure doesn’t take a lot of “vetting” to tell the difference between RC and WUWT, a little critical thinking should do the job.

    [Response: Yes, but that’s a big part of the point–they have to be taught how to do that.–Jim]

    After all, if the IPCC and all the professional scientific bodies of the planet are saying one thing and a few political loudmouths say the opposite ….. ??

  50. Kelly:

    As a former video producer who worked for a news service focused specifically on environmental and energy policy issues, climate science issues garnered higher viewer numbers than most other topics covered. The audience we produced for were mainly policy professionals and so often the interest in the climate science shows were watched more for WHO said what than WHAT was actually said. The point is the debate of climate science still exists within the larger population as a ‘is it real or not’ question thanks in part to politicians and media professionals — perhaps if we could raise the conversation to a level beyond this amongst those groups we could expect more from the general population…