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Blogging climate scientists

Filed under: — group @ 14 March 2011

The newest arrival in the climate science blogosphere is Isaac Held. This is notable in a number of respects. First, Isaac is a top-tier climate scientist who is hugely respected in the community. For him to decide that it is worth his time to blog on the science should be an important signal for other scientists. Secondly, Isaac is a federal NOAA employee at GFDL in Princeton, and the blog is on the official GFDL website.


From Gavin:

People blog for many reasons, but the most common is it that they think they have something to say and that it isn’t being widely said already. Coincidentally, there was a letter in Physics Today (Mar 2011) that brought up the reason why I started blogging. It was from James Kent, who worked in the communications department of WHOI in the early 2000s. He says:

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. Passive participation was OK; active was not.

A case in point was the 2004 opening of the science fantasy film The Day After Tomorrow , in which the cryosphere goes global in about 90 minutes. Thermodynamic impossibilities aside, at last Hollywood was using the term “paleo-climatologist,” and we at WHOI had a chance to capture the public’s attention, riding on the science-fantasy coattails as science fact-tellers.

I met with a handful of climate scientists before the film opened and discussed how we, as an institution, might take advantage of the moment. The scientists all wanted to run, not walk, from such foolishness.

So we passed. The The Day After Tomorrow came and went. we posted a climate change FAQ to our website and waited for the phone to ring. As I recall, it never did.

It was precisely this lack of proactive communication related to TDAT that drove my decision to start blogging. NASA had initially warned all scientists off discussing the movie, or any science facts or fiction related to it, though later relented and put together a briefing on the topics (which I helped with, but was never posted on a NASA website). Apart from static web-pages at WHOI and LDEO (and maybe a few other places), almost no outreach was done, very little interaction with knowledgeable scientists provided, no Q&A sessions, no press releases, basically almost nothing. A few newspaper articles asked scientists what they thought, but that was about it. Thus perhaps the thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people, who might have had science questions that arose after watching the movie, had nowhere to go. I thought this was a tremendous lost opportunity and starting thinking about ways to provide some of that missing interaction. Subsequent discussions with a few other scientists, eventually, led to this blog.

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. A large part of this knowledge is relatively well-known inside the community but is somewhat rarer in the general public. What is clear, is that when people search for this knowledge – perhaps after seeing a headline, watching a movie or reading a brief summary of a new paper – they most often come across ill-informed or disingenuous commentary instead of real scientific information. Having more scientists providing accessible content can only improve that situation. (Just to be clear, this is not a statement that all disagreement on climate policy would disappear if people were more informed, rather a wish for people to use better/more appropriate/less nonsensical arguments for their point of view). What is most needed is layered information that allows people to go into as much depth as they want, starting from a soundbite or headline, without necessarily having to read and assimilate the technical literature.


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!


192 Responses to “Blogging climate scientists”

  1. 101
    James R. Barrante says:

    You put words in my mouth. I never said that increasing CO2 concentration in the oceans would not lower the pH of the oceans. Moreover, I never said anywhere in my book that increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere would not increase global temperature. I just said that there is no scientific evidence that increasing CO2 levels from 280 ppm to 380 ppm in 150 years could raise global temperature by a degree. Most climatologists agree that doubling CO2 from 380 to 760 ppm would not even raise global temperature by a degree. My questions above were honest with no attempt at tricking you. I don’t deny that the globe is warming. Never have. In fact, honest science shows that it has been warming since the Little Ice Age. It’s just interesting that when you can’t refute my arguments you stoop to calling me dishonest or a lying, disingenuous troll. I would think you should look at who is in your camp. Talk about being scientifically dishonest. It boggles the mind.

  2. 102
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Here, James. Let me refresh your memory:

    http://oceanacidification.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/off-balance-ocean-acidification-from-absorbing-atmospheric-co2-is-changing-the-oceans-chemistry/#comment-2185

    I’m sorry to hear about your memory problems.

    As to refutations of your contention about CO2, here are a few papers to read:

    http://agwobserver.wordpress.com/2009/11/05/papers-on-climate-sensitivity-estimates/

    Knock yourself out.

  3. 103
    dhogaza says:

    James R Barrante:

    Most climatologists agree that doubling CO2 from 380 to 760 ppm would not even raise global temperature by a degree.

    This is a false statement. Do yourself a favor and quit being ridiculous, please.

  4. 104
    dhogaza says:

    Barrante:

    It’s just interesting that when you can’t refute my arguments you stoop to calling me dishonest or a lying, disingenuous troll.

    Just because someone says that you’re lying, doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth …

    Corollary: just because you claim you’re telling the truth, doesn’t mean that you are…

  5. 105
    Snapple says:

    Dr. Barrante,

    They already refuted your arguments.

    Why don’t you answer the 26 mind-boggling rhetorical sentences in that passage from your ludicrous children’s book?

    After that, perhaps you can document your sources for those eight sentences which begin with the royal “We know”?

    As for your claim that there has been no warming since 1998, where did you get that?

    Phil Jones said that there was no “statistically significant warming since 1995 [not 1998]–but only just.”

    Here is the loaded question and his response:

    BBC: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?

    Phil Jones: Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

    http://legendofpineridge.blogspot.com/2010/02/media-misquotes-climatologist-phil.html

  6. 106
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Most climatologists agree
    [citation needed]l

    Singer & Avery? Michaels?
    been debunked:
    http://www.stanford.edu/group/CCB/articles/Anderegg_ClimateConsensus_Report2009.pdf
    http://www.pnas.org/content/107/27/12107.short

    Got a refereed journal source?

    It’s easy to make such claims, there’s no law against saying stuff like this; the “advocacy science” business claims, well, whatever pays them.

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_jX9QklC3G4E/SwTFmc2EK1I/AAAAAAAAB4g/qh3jxvHYqQk/s1600/Lucky+Strike+cigarette+ad.jpg
    http://www.ochsner.org/content/misc_files/Tobacco-Free_Camel-Cig-Ad.jpg

  7. 107
    JiminMpls says:

    Let’s not be too harsh on poor James Barrante. His book is no more ridiculous than William Westfield’s.

    http://oddbooks.co.uk/oddbooks/westfield.html

  8. 108
    Chris Colose says:

    My apologies for originally taking James Barrante seriously in my reply to him. I could have spent 20 minutes that I took to write the comment doing something else, but I thought someone actually was curious. After looking through the short version of his book, and his comments here, it’s disappointing that someone with such credentials is unable to actually make the connection to how the chemical and physical processes he studies interact when allowed to operate on the planetary scale. For that matter, his apparent lack of ability to create a logical thought (like his insistence in the book that slow climate changes in the past must mean we cannot be altering the climate now) is particularly suspicious. Virtually every paragraph that begins with or develops one of his “questions” is misleading, and logically or scientifically fallacious in some form or another.

    I don’t know the psychology or motives behind “going emeritus” or the number of “scientists” with good credentials outside climate who actually think climate change physics is all bogus, and I won’t speculate, but in the meantime I would suggest Dr. Barrante work on the things that “emphasizes analytical thinking and problem solving” (as he so clearly expected from his students back in Physical Chemistry).

  9. 109
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Dr. Barrante, I think part of the reason it’s sometimes difficult for non-experts to take “scientists” seriously is because some of you insist on making such a public fool of yourself.

  10. 110
    Eli Rabett says:

    FWIW Eli knows a couple of people at SCSU and they are quite good.

  11. 111
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “Most climatologists agree that doubling CO2 from 380 to 760 ppm would not even raise global temperature by a degree.” – James R. Barrante

    And how much would that slightly less than 1’C of warming increase the water vapor content of the atmosphere, thereby enhancing it’s effect?

    The science states that the fast feedbacks which are largely water vapour, result in a 3’C to 4’C of warming, with perhaps twice that as the oceans reach equilibrium.

    Why are you dishonestly ignoring well known positive feedbacks in your comments?

    You can’t really think you will manage to deceive anyone here.

  12. 112
    Eli Rabett says:

    It’s a cultural thing. Most chemists use IR spectrometers which have glow bar IR sources, a hot electrically heated bar at at few hundred C (looks like your electrical stove element on medium high, sort of just redish). Under such conditions emission plays no role.

    However, if you point out that in the atmosphere you will have both absorption and emissiondue to thermal excitation, some of them get it. The physical chemists almost at once (present company excepted), the analytical types more or less, and the organikers? ok, they are organikers?

    FWIW SOD is beating the pressure/temperature broadening thing to death

  13. 113
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    Dear Dr. Barrante:

    Can you tell us why you believe that beers law applies to the extinction of “thermal” radiation when this radiation passes through a thermally radiating medium that approximately at the same radiating temperature.

    Please avoid any Kook-Tard comments about sponges, wet floors, or overflowing toilets.

    On a personal note, I find it astonishing that you would fail to comprehend simple high school level principles of physical science.

    I think it good that you have been put out to pasture.

  14. 114
    dhogaza says:

    > Most climatologists agree
    [citation needed]l

    Singer & Avery? Michaels?
    been debunked

    Debunked, or not, there are more than 5 climatologists in the world, and at least two of those you list aren’t climatologists.

    Hopefully Barrante can do better (especially since he accepts his statement as being true, unlike you or me, Hank)

  15. 115
    Jim Eaton says:

    A year or so ago, I was chatting with a geology professor of mine, Eldridge Moores (Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of California, Davis, and a former president of the Geological Society of America) about the fact that many of the deniers of continental drift/sea floor spreading way back then and global warming deniers now seem to be professors emeritus. He said that definitely was true — some older scientists just cannot give up their beliefs despite new science showing something contrary. He said much of the opposition to the theory of continental drift/sea floor spreading disappeared as the old guys died off. Of course, we didn’t have the Republican Party denying the science of geology back then.

  16. 116
    Craig Nazor says:

    All,

    Someone here (I think it was Ray) called James Barrante a “troll,” to which he appears to have taken offense.

    Wikipedia defines “troll” as: “…someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

    I have no objective way to ascertain the level of honesty of James Barrante, but I have my doubts. He has done this before at RealClimate when looking for ways to boost his bona fides among the AGW denier set (back in May, 2010):

    “I appreciate your plugging my new book “Global Warming for Dim Wits”, but I should warn you before you spend your hard-earned money on it. The AGW crowd at the website Real Climate have labeled the book, and, more importantly, me as “jaw-dropping ignorant.” I think they don’t like what I said in the book, which is curious, because I’m not convinced any of them has read the whole book.”

    http://dailybayonet.com/?p=3518

    This looks like troll behavior to me, and for profit. Now we can wait and see if he takes his most recent perceived abuse here to again boost his reputation (and sell books) to those who believe his interpretation of science.

    It is really a backhanded compliment to the credibility of this web site. Those of you who are railing against him are actually providing him with valuable quotes to use to sell more books.

    I wonder if he’ll send you a cut of his profits? No harm in asking!

  17. 117
    Snapple says:

    Dr. Barrante should read the “Most Used Skeptic Arguments and What the Science Says.”

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

    Dr. Barrante even speculates that the earth may have started its trek back to an ice age but that we won’t be able to tell unless we can look back for ten generations.

    If an ice age were starting, I think we would see more ice, not less. I don’t think the permafrost would be thawing.

    Dr. Barrante just calls climate scientists “dim wits” because he hasn’t taken the trouble to study what authoritative sources have written on this subject.

    I am not so young, and I am not a scientist; but first I try to read what the experts say. I don’t just assume that the most prominent experts are a bunch of morons.

    The world’s scientific academies, the government agencies, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences say there is global warming, mainly due to CO2.

    There are a lot of people who are smarter than I am, but at least I know that and it doesn’t make me jealous. In fact, it’s a big relief to me that there are people smarter than I am who can provide leadership.

    Dim Wits who don’t have the faintest grasp of this important subject should not be writing books for children.

  18. 118
    SecularAnimist says:

    Barrante wrote: “It’s just interesting that when you can’t refute my arguments you stoop to calling me dishonest or a lying, disingenuous troll.”

    It’s just interesting that [edit–lets keep it civil] always seem to say that when their “arguments” are refuted.

  19. 119
    Jon G says:

    In defense of James Barrante, the discussion here has gone far beyond the scientific and into the bashing of a persona. It is very uninteresting and in my view most distasteful. Moderators, please get this discussion back on course.

  20. 120
    Hank Roberts says:

    A successful troll drags tempting bait and captures attention.
    Using red herring is a good way to draw attention away from the subject.

    So, what was the subject again? Let’s look.

    Dr. Held is up to number five in a series. Let’s read.

    “Isaac Held’s Blog
    5. Time dependent climate sensitivity?
    Posted on March 19, 2011 by Isaac Held

    The co-evolution of the global mean surface air temperature (T) and the net energy flux at the top of the atmosphere, in simulations of the response to a doubling of CO2 with GFDL’s CM2.1 model.
    Slightly modified from Winton et al (2010).

    Global climate models typically predict transient climate responses that are difficult to reconcile with the simplest energy balance models designed to mimic the GCMs’ climate sensitivity and rate of heat uptake. This figure helps define the problem…..”

    You know how to find it.

  21. 121
    Mark says:

    Dr. Barrante’s arguments seem to be yet another example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.64.2655&rep=rep1&type=pdf , or at least confirmation bias. More the subject for a psychology blog, not RealClimate.

  22. 122
    Didactylos says:

    Okay, a few problems with James R. Barrante.

    Firstly, he can’t be described as having “gone emeritus” (in the pejorative sense) because he has no reputation to destroy.

    Secondly, his book says “This book was written for dim-wits” – so I stopped reading.

    I did flick through a few more pages, but the burning stupid made me stop.

    James R. Barrante – the problem with providing any reasonable critique to your work is simply the sheer quantity of things you get wrong. I had difficulty finding anything at all that you hadn’t lied about, distorted, or got wrong through sheer ignorance.

    Dim-wit indeed.

    “I take full responsibility for any errors found in the book”

    [edit – enough, thanks]

  23. 123
    Alan Gregory says:

    This is noteworthy, especially in light of the House Republicans’ arrogant dismissal of real science.

  24. 124
    Brian Dodge says:

    A few comments on Barrante’s “Global Warming for Dimwits”-

    “If we know anything about climate change, we know that it changes very slowly.” “Considering that it takes 10,000 years for Earth’s climate to change…”
    “In the past 400,000 years the climate of the earth has changed only four times.” Wrong. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ngrip-epica-do18.png http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vostok_Petit_data.svg

    “…do you think it is possible to detect any kind of climate change by studying global temperature for 150 years?” Of course – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/mean:12/plot/esrl-co2/offset:-320/scale:0.007

    “The scientists who originally collected the temperature going back thousands of years decided that one data point every 80 to 200 years would be scientifically valid.” Wrong again. ftp://ftp.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/paleo/icecore/greenland/gisp/dye3/dye3-1yr.txt

    “…the fact that global temperature has not increased since 1998…” Another lie. http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/uah/from:1995/mean:6/plot/uah/from:1998/trend (UAH data from noted skeptics Dr John Christy and Dr Roy Spencer)

    “…people will argue, ‘The changes today are different from what they were 400,000 years ago!’ But that is not what the data shows. In fact, they are exactly the same.”
    You have already pointed out that humans weren’t burning vast amounts of fossil fuel 400,000 years ago, and the CO2 ice core record shows that its current level, ~390 ppm, is much higher than it was anytime in the last 400,000 years. Look at the Vostok CO2 data again; a change from ~200 ppmv to 280 ppmv, initiated by the Milankovic cycle and reinforced by outgassing of CO2 from the warming seas and increasing water vapor, warmed the globe by ~ 8 degrees C. we’ve gone from 280 ppmv preindustrial levels to 390 ppmv, and we are headed towards 560 ppmv (and more; the IPCC projections don’t include methane–>CO2, and CO2 emissions, from the melting of permafrost, which already have begun).

    I wouldn’t waste my time reading the entire book if someone gave me a free copy, let alone paying for one.

    “The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is about 0.036% [it actually hasn’t been this low since 1997]. in a crowd of 10.000 people, this is about four people.” Josef Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Adolph Hitler, and Pol Pot, perhaps?

    “In defense of James Barrante, the discussion here has gone far beyond the scientific and into the bashing of a persona. It is very uninteresting and in my view most distasteful. Moderators, please get this discussion back on course.” Jon G — 21 Mar 2011 @ 10:02 AM

    Pointing out that the statement “global temperature has not increased since 1998″ is a lie isn’t bashing his persona, but his lack of fact. Barrante, a Phd. who has published a book “Applied mathematics for physical chemistry”, knows very well what an OLS fit to the UAH data from 1998 means.

    Addressing misinformation blogged by non-scientists, or blogging nonsense, in a discussion of blogging by scientists, IS on topic.

  25. 125
    Jim Kent says:

    Would I be out of line to return for a moment to the original post in this string? I would like to comment on the initial entry.

    I was surprised when Physics Today accepted my letter for publication, and even more honored to have my letter excerpted and discussed on RealClimate.
    I would like to offer another wrinkle on the wrinkle why our actions (or inactions) at WHOI regarding TDAT turned out the way they did. In the letter I suggested that the outcome depended on the motivation and incentives/disincentive of scientists. While I believe this is true, I also believe there is more to it, and that the outcome also depended in large part on who framed the issue.

    I am on thin ice here, speculating on the motivation of others. But based on my four years of experience in Woods Hole, I believe there is some credibility to the following case.

    Picture the room in which I opened the discussion on what we should do about TDAT. Everyone except me was a PhD with at least a decade of experience at Woods Hole. All had tenure. I have a lowly bachelor’s degree in earth science and a master’s in journalism, and had been hired by a lab director whose support was waning and so I had a degree of guilt by association. I was seen as “the communications guy” with dubious motivations and allegiances. (As one department chair so elegantly put it: “you work for the institution; I work at the institution.”)

    The wrinkle on the wrinkle is that in this context who matters as much or more than what—and I suspect this phenomenon is not unique to WHOI. Had I been a scientist, my proposal to initiate communications about TDAT (rather than passively respond) would probably not have been summarily dismissed. Had I been a senior scientist, it might have received actual debate. And had I been, say, Wally Broecker or Richard Ally—well, I think the outcome might have been entirely different.

    Nonscientists beware: Science is an intensely tribal pursuit and credibility is extended only to tribe members. Nonscientists bring no currency to the table, and it was remarkable that scientists agreed to meet with me at all.

    Science communications lies in what I find to be a delightful gray zone. I used to think its effective prosecution required expertise in the communication arts coupled with knowledge of science facts, methods, processes and culture. Now I believe the only hope for science communications is for communications initiatives to come from and be lead by scientists. This might be a like saying: “Plumbers must learn to be electricians! How many plumbers can do that?” True, individuals gifted in both arts will be rarer than individuals gifted in only one. But I believe dire times do surface people of talent.

    Where does this leave us humble nonscientist science communicators? Probably best as advisors, as back-room consultants and coaches, to embolden scientists by giving them the tools to go courageously into the unknown, dirty, messy, nonlinear multivariate world of communication. But we have to be asked; we can’t offer help. Just as many scientists comment on public issues only when invited, we communicators must get used to the idea of helping scientists only when invited by scientists. Like the old joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb—just one, but the light bulb has to want to change.

    [Response: thanks for stopping by! I think your diagnosis is very close to the mark. Partly it’s a ‘not invented here’ syndrome, and partly it’s a ‘why do I need to do anything different’ attitude. Any suggestions for overcoming these obstacles are welcome. – gavin

  26. 126
    Septic Matthew says:

    FWIW, I agree that Isaac Held’s blog is a good addition to climate blogging. I read a few of his posts before commenting. Looks like I’ll read it regularly.

  27. 127

    RE:125

    Excellent comments Jim…I couldn’t agree more. My strengths are also in communication rather than hard science. I also had a ‘lowly’ degree but was quite enjoying teaching. However, I left the university system as I was constantly frustrated with the myopic approach of many academics. This is unlikley to change as to be successful in academis you do need to have a single mindedness to the task at hand. But what annoyed me was that they could not see the need to be good communicators of their science, and often actively looked down on people with such talents rather than embraced their skills for the benefit of the university.

    I still work in a bureaucracy (government)and find that there is a different kind of single-mindedness – the fear of making a bad decision. This is also frustrating as decisions rarely get made at all. The combination of these two systems means making progress on important issues such as climate change is very difficult.

  28. 128
    John E. Pearson says:

    Brian Dodge,

    Next time Barrante quotes the trace gas nonsense ask him if believes whether it was natural cycles or 10 micrograms of Polonium 210 that the Russian government used to murder Alexander Litvinenko.

    captcha: Trotsky, eputuag

  29. 129
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Re: Gavin’s response to #125: Good metaphors are your friend. The metaphors employed in this article are a good example, I think. Peter Hadfield’s metaphor for the difference between forcing and sensitivity in this video is excellent, and it also illustrates a situation to avoid: the Monckton ambush so ably dissected.

  30. 130
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    …the tools of communication are the tools of art. Get some artists involved, or become artists.

  31. 131
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I really wish we could ignore Barrante and his obtuse ilk–and in an ideal world we should. After all Barrante is self refuting–arguing simultaneously that CO2 is an insignificant trace gas and that it is saturated. He’s so transparently wrong, he should embarrass other denialists. Unfortunately, people see a PhD dissenting from the consensus and don’t bother to see if the PhD is in climate science or comparative lit or whether (as in the case of Barrante) the PhD stopped publishing during the Johnson Administration.

  32. 132
    Deconvoluter says:

    Re: #129

    Shouldn’t it be Peter Sinclair (not Hadfield) ?

  33. 133
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Deconvoluter #132: Potholer54 = Peter Hadfield.

  34. 134
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    I’m still waiting for Dr. Barrante to explain how he concludes from beers law that there is absorption saturation in a media that is radiating at the same frequency which he claims absorption is saturated.

    Where oh where, has the incompetent gone?

  35. 135
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Or did Sinclair come up with it first (now I’ve made the connection to desmogblog)? It’s a good metaphor whoever created it.

  36. 136
    Edward Greisch says:

    Saturated: Gavin: Please calculate the residence time in the high energy state. I’m guessing the CO2 molecule falls back to the low energy state in milliseconds. CO2 can’t all be in the high energy state [saturated] all at once. That would be a quick end to the saturation argument. Arrhenius couldn’t have done the computation because he died in 1927, while Quantum Mechanics was being invented.

  37. 137
    Jim Kent says:

    George–One sentence you wrote struck me: “But what annoyed me was that they could not see the need to be good communicators of their science, and often actively looked down on people with such talents rather than embraced their skills for the benefit of the university.”

    The irony is that many scientists (the best ones anyway) are very good communicators with their peers. In fact, they might be loathe to say so, but they excel as marketing their science to scientists. They know how to tell their story persuasively to other scientists, who are professional critics. The remarkable part is that skill stops short as soon as they have to communicate to nonscientists. I suspect the issue is more will than skill.

    As far as looking down at communicators, I think there is a certain vulgarity associated with making science accessible, since accessability is assumed to require compromises of accuracy and precision. When I was an undergraduate, I once commented to my philosophy professor about how lucid a certain philosopher’s writing were. He chuckled and said: “Yes…if you really want to insult a philosopher, you say ‘he writes clearly.'”

  38. 138
    Edward Greisch says:

    In the old days, we remembered Giordano Bruno. Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600), was burned to death for thinking that there could be life on other planets. It was better to not communicate in those days. NOT communicating has become a tradition. In the case of Climate Science and other subjects, it is time to do the opposite. Blind traditions are bad. In today’s world: 1. we have the right to speak and 2. For our species to survive, everybody has to understand science.

    Remember in accusing scientists of not communicating that there used to be powerful reason to not communicate. What is demanded is TWO acts of creative destruction. First changing the culture of science so that, second, the culture of the USA can be changed. Neither is easy. Changing everybody’s culture should be harder than getting them to change religions, except that we are trying to minimize the impact on their lifestyles. Consider what we are offering: Believe in us or you will die of starvation. But you might die of starvation anyway. We aren’t exactly offering “salvation,” whatever that is.

    The only thing we can’t do is give up. I’m saying the above because the project must be dealt with as a major research project. It is the most difficult absolute necessity.

  39. 139
    Deconvoluter says:

    RE: #133.
    Thanks for the useful correction; they have cdifferent accents.

  40. 140
    Deconvoluter says:

    RE: #136.

    Your argument appears to be too strong. In principle it could abolish saturation effects at all levels and wavelengths e.g. in the centres of sharp absorption lines and at low altitudes. I thought that saturation , when it occurs, applies to the shortage of e.g. unabsorbed photons not to to a shortage of unexcited CO2 molecules.

  41. 141
    Jim Kent says:

    Edward–Agree. That change has to come from scientists. The paradox is, scientists have been so conditioned to noncommunication, it will be hard to find champions, and harder still to have champions who are not excommunicated or executed. Any change will involve casualties. There is some safety in tenure, but I believe the change will be lead from the top and bottom. From the bottom, I mean young scientists who often have a wider social awareness than their elders. And from the top, I mean the major leading lights who, from the safety of their status, can survive advocating unpopular notions. I was in the middle at Woods Hole and learned that change initiated from the middle is the first lamb to the slaughter.

  42. 142

    136, Edward Greisch,

    I’m guessing the CO2 molecule falls back to the low energy state in milliseconds.

    My understanding is that the density of the atmosphere causes so many collisions (and the accompanying transfer of the vibrational energy in CO2 as translational energy in O2 or N2) that even that relaxation time is irrelevant. That is, the energy absorbed by CO2 through IR is almost instantly transferred to (and thus heating) the surrounding air, leaving the CO2 molecule to absorb again, long before the CO2 molecule is able to re-emit the IR.

    The whole system is a complex balance of many different events happening in both directions, and so one needs a “rate of reaction” sort of approach to really break it down.

  43. 143
    Deconvoluter says:

    Re: #142.

    Yes,I agree, except for this bit which could be misunderstood:

    leaving the CO2 molecule to absorb again, long before the CO2 molecule is able to re-emit the IR.

    The description ‘long before’ could have misleading implications. It also disregards the fact that another CO2 molecule could be emitting, without absorbing, during the delay. You must have a rough balance or you will have an unrealistically fast tropospheric warming.

    In practice over such short time scales the air would be warming or cooling a little depending on the time of day.

  44. 144
    Eli Rabett says:

    Edward Greisch and Bob, the collisional lifetime is about 1-10 microseconds at atmospheric pressure for the vibrationally excited CO2, this is OOM 1000 collisions.

  45. 145
    George says:

    I really don’t think it is appropriate for a scientist to have a blog in any way associated with a government-funded organization. It is an unfortunate use of tax-payer dollars that Dr. Held’s blog site features the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory(GFDL) and NOAA prominently at the top of the page. At least this site does not do that.

  46. 146
    Dan H. says:

    Edward,
    Nice comment, and one that many here should take to heart. Scientists should not be afraid to voice their opinions; right or wrong. To many times throughout history, scientists have been ridiculed (or worse) because of statements that were unpopular. Science should be decided in the lab or field, not in a barroom. Personal attacks have no place in science

  47. 147
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    George #145 I think you’re completely wrong. It’s entirely appropriate for scientists to use institutional resources to discuss science: that’s their job, in fact. I appreciate that Republicans and other delusional fanatics don’t like that, but the solution is to defund the fanatics, not the scientists.

  48. 148
    Radge Havers says:

    George @ 145

    “I really don’t think it is appropriate for a scientist to have a blog in any way associated with a government-funded organization.”

    So they should only be allowed to communicate through more expensive printed media? You want what, just tri-fold brochures on 8.5″ x 11″ stock? Distributed by mail? Street corner stands? Can they use two colors or is only black permissible?

  49. 149
    Brian Dodge says:

    “I’m still waiting for Dr. Barrante to explain how he concludes from beers law that there is absorption saturation in a media that is radiating at the same frequency which he claims absorption is saturated.” Vendicar Decarian — 22 Mar 2011 @ 3:37 PM
    Not to mention a simple explanation of how that reradiation varies with altitude, which changes the temperature and density of CO2 along with the rest of the atmosphere, and the mean time between collisions which lose energy before some statistical fraction has had a chance to radiate away, or transfers enough thermal energy into vibrational energy which is radiated away. He might want to start by reading “A high resolution infrared radiative transfer scheme to study the interaction of radiation with cloud”, Roach and Slingo, Quart. J. R. Met. Soc. (1979), 105, pp.603-614 – “The simple exponential attenuation law which applies for monochromatic radiation, know as Beer’s Law, is not obeyed over the wide spectral intervals occupied by the absorption bands of the principal gaseous absorbers(water vapour, carbon dioxide, and ozone)…”

    “Please calculate the residence time in the high energy state.” Edward Greisch — 22 Mar 2011 @ 4:06 PM Average residence time for the full column of the atmosphere? Residence time for the CO2 above an atmospheric pressure of 250 millibar, where the water vapor has fallen by ~ 3 orders of magnitude, but the CO2 is still well mixed? This high altitude CO2 is disproportionately important, because its greenhouse effect keeps the troposphere warm enough to hold water vapor; if we could magically remove just this CO2, and leave the 3/4 of the CO2 that’s in the lower atmosphere the same, the planet would get much colder as the water vapor condensed out.

    “I thought that saturation , when it occurs, applies to the shortage of e.g. unabsorbed photons not to to a shortage of unexcited CO2 molecules.” Deconvoluter — 23 Mar 2011 @ 5:46 AM See Vendicar Decarian’s comment. For every absorbed photon whose energy get thermalized, there is, statistically, thermal energy transferred into CO2 excitation and emitted isotropically as a photon. The half that are downwelling and get absorbed & thermalized at (or near) the surface maintain more energy there, thus higher temperatures. If CO2(and H20, GHGs) didn’t absorb thermal energy from N2, O2 and radiate, but the energy was all thermalized(an optical analogue of Maxwell’s Demon), the atmosphere would be much hotter. The only way to get the energy out of the system would be conduction of heat to the surface, against the lapse rate temperature gradient, until the surface got hot enough to radiate all the outbound energy in the infrared windows where there isn’t absorption.

    “My understanding is that the density of the atmosphere causes so many collisions (and the accompanying transfer of the vibrational energy in CO2 as translational energy in O2 or N2) that even that relaxation time is irrelevant.” “The whole system is a complex balance of many different events happening in both directions, and so one needs a “rate of reaction” sort of approach to really break it down.” Sphaerica (Bob) — 23 Mar 2011 @ 7:04 AM
    IMHO, it should be plural “rates of energy transfer” since they vary with altitude, temperature, and effective path length which is affected by the random walk nature of the absorption-thermalization-emission diffusion of energy, as well as pure scattering by clouds. (A question for someone who knows more radiation physics than I do – why does the spectrum of scattered/emitted light from thin clouds show water vapor & CO2 lines, like clear sky (back) radiation, but that from optically dense clouds approach a black body?)

    Houghton, J. T. (1969), Absorption and emission by carbon-dioxide in the mesosphere. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 95: 1–20. doi: 10.1002/qj.49709540302
    “Abstract –
    Theoretical and experimental evidence is presented which leads to a vibrational relaxation time appropriate for the v2 vibration of CO2 at 15 μ under atmospheric conditions at 210°K and standard pressure of 6·0 × 10−6sec. The effect of this on the atmospheric cooling rate near 90 km due to emission by CO2 is discussed. It is shown that absorption of solar radiation by the v3 band (at 4·3 μ) and the combination bands of CO2 (at 2·7 μ) leads to a heating rate of about 2°C (12 hr)−1 near 80 km, this being one of the largest contributions to the radiative heating rate at this altitude. The processes by which relaxation from the v3 vibration of CO2 occurs involve vibrationally excited oxygen and the v2 vibration of H2O. The magnitude of heating-rate depends considerably, therefore, on the H2O concentration. For thermal radiative exchange by the v3 band, thermodynamic equilibrium begins to break down at 30 km; its contribution to the radiative budget of the mesosphere is consequently very small.” Can you rephrase this so the average Tea Party Republican can understand it, or do they need to take a physics course first?

    What has this got to do with blogging, or other communication by scientists, you may ask? (at least those of you whose eyes haven’t glazed over and skipped to the next shorter, simpler comment)

    All scientists have experienced trying to explain complex subjects, like atmospheric radiative transfer, or whatever their speciality is, in simple enough terms that non scientists can understand.

    Frequently, you lose your audience – their eyes glaze over, or they ask a question that shows they missed some important simplification – and you have to back up and start over. Frustrating.

    Or, they reach a point where they say “it’s too complicated; let talk about something else”. Even more frustrating – a waste of time.

    Sometimes, they assume that what you are trying to say is so complicated that it must be just self important bullshit, and that scientists are a bunch of econazi socia _ lists lying through their teeth making up stuff to steal their tax money for grants; that if it can’t be simplified to where they can grasp it, it can’t be true. Now you’re not a scientist frustrated by your attempts to explain, and the laymen’s inability to understand simple stuff you learned as an undergrad, but you’re pissed off by the arrogant asshole who wears his ignorance like a cloak and wrongly accuses you of being the bad guy. (Or you KNOW he understands what an OLS trend is, and what the difference between “no trend” and “not statistically significant” is, but chooses to cherrypick endpoints and conflate meanings in order to make political points and lie about the science).

    Is the reward from reaching an occasional Septic Matthew worth the hassle of trying to reach those who actually believe a right wing political hack with a journalism degree has read and is familiar with all the literature*, or butting heads with the Watts, Goddards, Pielkes, Idsos, M&M, G&T, Currys, Svensmarks and other contrarians, or being threatened by the lawyers from E&E, or Cuccinelli?

    I do it (as an interested lay person, not a scientist) because trying to teach is a good way for me to learn; since I’m widowed and childless, it’s an intellectual exercise with little emotional stress for me – YMMV.

    * Monckton or Palin, take your pick. Gavin, the next time a reporter who has quoted Monckton on climate asks you a question about climatology, try referring him to Palin for the answer. How long do you think it will take for him to get the joke? &;>)

  50. 150
    RichardC says:

    George 145:

    I see it as free work for the agencies. Lots of personal time goes into a blog.


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