Real Video

Guest post by Kelly Levin, WRI; Paul Higgins, AMS; Brian Helmuth, University of South Carolina; and Andy Dessler, Texas A&M

Scientists have made massive progress in understanding the climate system and how human activities are altering it. Despite that progress, decision makers continue to struggle with climate change risk management.

RealClimate and other initiatives have shown that new media can be effective in enhancing communication of climate science. The speed by which new information can be transmitted has increased significantly, and new media has provided new learning opportunities, including discussion, debate, and links to further information.

This month, WRI, supported by, launched a pilot project to further build the capacity of the scientific community to more effectively relay their recent scientific findings. The project stemmed from the Google Science Communication Fellow program, which aims to foster more accessible, open, and transparent scientific dialogue.

The project assesses whether video can be a compelling way for a scientist to describe his/her discoveries and, if so, which type of video works best. Imagine video being embedded one day into journal websites and Google scholar, not only offering the option of downloading a recent publication but also a video associated with the publication. Imagine videos sitting alongside newspaper and magazine articles, where you can hear about findings directly from the scientist in his or her own words. Like RealClimate, the project aims to connect viewers to the scientists themselves.

This project has the potential to improve scientific communication and enhance the public understanding of science. Ultimately, if done right scientific communication can help shape the public debate and lead to more informed decisions. That’s critical because societal decisions have the greatest chance to benefit the public when they are grounded in the best available knowledge and understanding. We need RealClimate’s reader’s help.

Please assist us in identifying the most effective means for communicating the latest findings of climate science via video. Go to to watch the three videos.

Three scientists (also Google Fellows) — Andy Dessler from Texas A&M University; Brian Helmuth from University of South Carolina; and Paul Higgins from the American Meteorological Society – participated, and the videos showcase one of their recent studies that is either in production or recently published:

Dessler’s paper (Science, Vol. 330., focused on quantifying the cloud feedback. Using the ENSO to study changing cloud patterns during climatic variability, he found that the feedback is likely positive, consistent with the feedback that climate models yield.

Helmuth’s paper (Ecology Letters, forthcoming) examined the impact of variations in water and aerial temperatures on predator-prey interactions between sea stars and mussels in the intertidal zone. He and his colleagues found that predation rates decreased during non-coincident interactions between the two temperature stressors. Their paper underscores the need for taking into account temporal fluctuations in environmental stress, which can be ignored in experiments and models.

Higgins focuses on his recent research (Journal of Climate, in press) to more fully quantify the potential range in the terrestrial carbon cycle response to climate warming. This research suggests that plants and soils could release large amounts of carbon dioxide as global climate warms. That would push GHG concentrations higher and lead to even more climate warming. This is important because we’ve been counting on plants and soils to soak up and store some of the carbon we’re releasing.

Three videos were produced for each of the abovementioned papers:

  • The first is comprised of a slideshow of relevant images with a voiceover of the scientist discussing his finding.
  • For the second video, Dessler, Helmuth and Higgins filmed their own videos.
  • For the third video, Dessler, Helmuth and Higgins each came into WRI’s offices, and were filmed conducting a white board talk describing their findings.
  • Which video do you think works best? Click here to cast your vote and tell us about why you think it is most effective. Your votes will inform any scaling up of this project in the future.

    102 comments on this post.
    1. Rick Brown:

      I see that Hank Roberts referred to this article @38, but maybe it merits a second try. (If the text below isn’t all formatted the same it’s not for any lack of trying have it be so.)

      Kahan et al. 2012. The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Science. PUBLISHED ONLINE: 27 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE1547. (free access to full article)

      “For the ordinary individual, the most consequential effect of his beliefs about climate change is likely to be on his relations with his peers.”

      “For ordinary citizens, the reward for acquiring greater scientific knowledge and more reliable technical-reasoning capacities is a greater facility to discover and use–or explain away–evidence relating to their groups’ positions.”

      “Although it is effectively costless for any individual to form a perception of climate-change risk that is wrong but culturally congenial, it is very harmful to collective welfare for individuals in aggregate to form beliefs this way.
      One aim of science communication, we submit, should be to dispel this tragedy of the risk-perception commons. A communication strategy that focuses only on transmission of sound scientific information, our results suggest, is unlikely to do that. As worthwhile as it would be, simply improving the clarity of scientific information will not dispel public conflict so long as the climate-change debate continues to feature cultural meanings that divide citizens of opposing world-views.
      It does not follow, however, that nothing can be done to promote constructive and informed public deliberations. As citizens understandably tend to conform their beliefs about societal risk to beliefs that predominate among their peers, communicators should endeavor to create a deliberative climate in which accepting the best available science does not threaten any group’s values. Effective strategies include use of culturally diverse communicators, whose affinity with different communities enhances their credibility, and information-framing techniques that invest policy solutions with resonances congenial to diverse groups. Perfecting such techniques through a new science of science communication is a public good of singular importance.”

    2. Jim Galasyn:

      Tossing my own very lo-fi effort into the ring: State of the Oceans 2011

      Overview of threats to earth’s oceans, including global warming, acidification, overfishing, and dead zones.

    3. GlenFergus:

      Richard Feynman famously attempted to explain the whole of physics in 100-odd lectures given at Caltech in 1961-63. The lectures purportedly targeted first year students, though contemporary accounts suggest that the series was too long, dry and technical to engage that audience. Unfortunately there is no video record to judge (though there is audio and the published notes).

      More interesting is his much later attempt to explain his own field (quantum electrodynamics) to a non-special_st audience without using a single line of mathematics. These four lectures given at the University of Auckland in 1979 are compelling stuff. No PowerPoint, no audiovisuals, no clever animation; just this guy and his chalkboard. But you can’t help watching.

      Why does it work? Three things:

      1. A presenter whose knowledge of the subject is beyond question (i.e. not Al Gore).
      2. One who knows how to package the material in an accessible way (no math … can’t be done, err, yes it can).
      3. Someone with that spark; that little piece of humanity that an audience will grab and hold.
      Such combinations are unusual, but they’re not actually rare. I reckon there’s a few in every university and research institution. Find, encourage, improve, market.

    4. Edward Greisch:

      Given 51 Rick Brown, there is no hope. Homo Sap is a dead end species. That is Unacceptable. Recent books:
      “The Social Conquest of Earth” by Edward O. Wilson
      “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch
      “The Believing Brain” by Michael Shermer
      “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer

      We are in the middle of the awakening process. “The Garden of Eden” was the “dream time.” GW is a giant hammer that will awaken us or kill us or drive evolution without mercy.

      Forget the real video. New task: Spread the Enlightenment [awakening] to all voters. Do the survey at The polarity or parity of the impact of science literacy must be reversed. Teaching climate science by itself doesn’t work, so forget it. We have to do “conversions” or “exorcisms.”

    5. Pierre Bigras:

      Instead of reinventing the wheel, perhaps climate scientists should do as James Hansen has done: step-up to the plate on a TED lecture (

      These provide dynamic venues and impose a time limit (18 minutes) to make the point you need to make. TEDs can be global, national, regional and even local. I would certainly consider this type of venue as a very appropriate way to get the message out.


      [Response: Here is one I did last fall at TEDxPSU. It was sort of an audiovisual abstract for my book, “The Hockey Stick & the Climate Wars”. -mike]

    6. Ray Ladbury:

      Rick Brown,
      I remember when that study came out I was rather shocked at how low they set the bar for science/numeracy. Rather than illustrating inverse between scientific literacy and concern over climate change, it seemed to me to reinforce the adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

      What is more, I don’t think it is telling us anything new. We already knew that we had a tendency to fool ourselves, and that harmony within our social group was a big reason why. That isn’t the point. The point is that such tendencies are maladaptive, and that we need science to help us overcome these tendencies so that we can accurately assess and address risk.

    7. John West:

      Ron Manley says:
      “the basic science: CO2=AGW, CO2+H2O=CAGW.”
      [Response: Please find a single ‘basic scientific’ text that defines ‘CAGW’ – let alone uses your definition. Though you are correct that most people do not understand the basics. – gavin]

      I think Mr. Manley was trying to illustrate that the feedbacks mostly from water vapor and clouds amplify the somewhat mild direct warming from anthropogenic CO2 emissions to the point of being dangerous.

      Taking the Measure of the Greenhouse Effect
      “If, for instance, CO2 concentrations are doubled, then the absorption would increase by 4 W/m2, but once the water vapor and clouds react, the absorption increases by almost 20 W/m2 — demonstrating that (in the GISS climate model, at least) the “feedbacks” are amplifying the effects of the initial radiative forcing from CO2 alone.”

      Research Finds That Earth’s Climate is Approaching ‘Dangerous’ Point
      “Based on climate model studies and the history of the Earth the authors conclude that additional global warming of about 1°C (1.8°F) or more, above global temperature in 2000, is likely to be dangerous.”

      Mr. Manley’s oversimplification highlights, I believe, a gap in the communication of the case for mitigation. In my experience, one can easily find information that is either technically correct but extensive or concise but technically incorrect. There doesn’t seem to be a widely distributed version that is as simple as possible but not one bit simpler.

      My attempt at an “Einstein’s Razor” version of the case for mitigation:

      1) Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere in quantities that exceed the natural sinks such that atmospheric CO2 increases even though anthropogenic sources are small in comparison to natural sources because they a large in comparison to sources not matched by sinks. Burning fossil fuels basically transfers carbon from the geologic carbon cycle into the biologic carbon cycle faster than the natural transfer from biologic to geologic causing an imbalance in the system manifested by an increase atmospheric CO2.

      2) Doubling CO2 increases GHE heat flux by about 3.7 W/m2 (per Q=5.35Ln(pCO2f/pCO2i)) and suppresses outgoing long wave radiation (IR) via absorption and re-emission.

      3) The 3.7 W/m2 increase in down welling heat flux (Radiative Forcing(RF)) causes the surface to be warmer on average by reducing net radiative heat loss at night and adding to the direct heating during the day.

      4) The warmer surface emits more IR and causes the atmosphere to become warmer via convection, conduction, and radiative heat transfer.

      5) The earth-atmosphere system as a whole must warm enough for the effective radiative TOA (~20km) to emit the additional IR to space, basically obtain radiative balance.

      6) The climate warms about 1 degree Celsius on average globally to accomplish the initial radiative balancing on a decadal timescale termed the Transient Sensitivity (TS).

      7) The 1 degree Celsius warming causes changes in the system such as increased relative humidity and changes in cloudiness which amplifies the warming to 3 degrees Celsius on a centurial timescale termed the Equilibrium Sensitivity(ES), via an approximate feedback factor (ff) of about 0.8, (note: feedback factor is less than 1, so there’s no danger of “runaway” GW) [per] dT=[ES][dRF] and [ES]=[TS] + (ff)[TS] + (ff)^2[TS] + (ff)^3[TS] + (ff)^4[TS] ……… to convergence for all practical purposes.
      (dT = change in temperature and dRF = change in radiative forcing)

      8) 3 degrees C of warming globally on average above pre-industrial global average would cause significant harm to civilization(s) and ecosystems around the world.

      Any improvements/corrections welcome, especially a replacement for “per” in #7 which I don’t think is strictly speaking technically correct (yikes).

    8. Rick Brown:

      Ray @56 – Thanks, I think my point in posting the link to the paper by Kahan et al. ( was consistent with what you’re saying. (The paper came out all of 3 days ago, so perhaps you’re recalling another one.) The authors are some of the scientists studying how our brains fail us and, most importantly, how to try to overcome those failings. (For an excellent history and overview of this science by one of the leaders in the field I recommend Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.) When it comes to communication about climate change, this science will be as essential as climate science or risk analysis and it has to do with a lot more than how people look at the camera or use a white board.

    9. SecularAnimist:

      John West wrote: “3 degrees C of warming globally on average above pre-industrial global average would cause significant harm to civilization(s) and ecosystems around the world”

      The warming that has already occurred as a result of the GHGs we have already emitted is already causing “significant harm to civilization and ecosystems around the world”.

      By the time we reach 3C of warming above the pre-industrial average, the harm will be a lot more than “significant”.

    10. dbostrom:

      I recently saw Richard Alley speak, liked his style quite a lot. Bad news needs laughter to be digestible and Alley seems naturally suited make people laugh. He’s also able to make a plausible case for how we might yet extract ourselves from the mess we’ve made while simultaneously not glossing over the truth.

      Here’s a video of the his current talk.

    11. Ray Ladbury:

      Rick, I think I saw the preprint. I’m afraid I don’t have a whole lot of patience with the whole “framing” idea. People simply need to stop being stupid. Period.

    12. dbostrom:

      Ray, people need to be helped to stop appearing to be stupid. Sticking with “it’s stupidity” is fallacy, as is being increasingly demonstrated and explored.

      This challenge of helping people to better help themselves turns out not to be a simple problem. Why should it be? Of how many parts is one person composed? What happens when we replicate the mechanism somewhat imperfectly, billions of times?

      Simple? No, emphatically.

      Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring research because it’s not in your field; we’re still learning about damage that happens when people are too parochial in their beliefs and you don’t want to be part of that problem.

    13. Jennifer:

      Sorry folks, but all three left me quite bored. I think this is a FABULOUS idea. Scientists can explain their paper in general terms that anyone should be able to understand. But the example formats fell flat. In my opinion… how would these scientists relay their information to a group at a local church, library, high school? Use a keynote presentation with colorful graphics, not a lot of heavy science speak, and without a flat voice. The same can be done with these videos. Since the idea here is probably to keep this on the cheap so that it is accessible to any scientist who wants to do this, then a slide presentation with a voice over is probably the best way to go. (not a whiteboard that uses markers too lightly colored to see, a video of the scientists head, or a video with a bunch of imagery that is unrelated…)

    14. Ray Ladbury:

      dbostorm, I’m afraid I have little sympathy for folks who gauge truth by how nice the presenter is or by how much they like the conclusions. Truth is sometimes ugly and it is always indifferent to what we want. We need to be sufficiently mature to accept that and base our opinions and beliefs on the best evidence available.

      It is one thing to be ignorant. Ignorance is curable. Stupidity–which I define as simply believing things because we want to–will ultimately prove fatal.

    15. dbostrom:

      Ray, efficient critical thinking skills are key to our progress given the blizzard of bullshit in which we must function.

      Unless specifically trained otherwise our critical thinking skills substantially operate subconsciously and are riddled with defects having to do with atavistic cognitive processes and anachronistic responses to novel input. Even when we’re trained to think critically these hidden processes influence our conclusions.

      For a long time these mechanisms were invisible to us but we’re beginning to tease out some understanding and hence ability to make predictions about how information can be presented to us in a way that accounts for our defects and thus improve communications outcomes. It’s senseless to ignore this emerging information, just as senseless as it would be to ignore better understanding of climate and our role in shaping the future of the planet.

      My brother took some pictures w/a digital camera during x-ray therapy and the resulting interestingly speckled photos led me to search for information on the effects of ionizing radiation on integrated circuits. I happened to bump into your research as a result. Analogizing w/your domain, you could still do statistical analysis of IC response to ionizing radiation without knowing the details of the IC internals but you’d also have to engage in uninformed speculation about why the dies behaved as they did. If you have knowledge of the actual IC structures you can form conclusions about how to improve the performance of dies, make wiser component selections by taking into account geometry and fabrication methods, best of all make better predictions about what’s going to happen to a population of parts without having to exhaustively tax each and every specimen.

      In the case of our squishy wetware, we’re running the platform but were not privileged to have a set of blueprints made available. We’re drawing them now– slowly and laboriously– and each additional sheet added to our collection helps us figure out how to run better.

    16. Radge Havers:

      “…I have little sympathy for folks who gauge truth by how nice the presenter is…”

      OK, but what I think some people here are trying to get at is that you can assume that a given audience may be easily distracted; therefore it’s a good idea reduce the funky noise in your presentation and make it attractive. That’s attractive as in attracting and keeping attention.

      Also quite a lot of people aren’t interested in proving themselves in a grueling, nerdy boot camp. So the message has to be NOT bias confirming, but accessible to the way in which they apprehend the world.

      “…We need to be sufficiently mature…”

      On occasion shaming can be effective, although these days, politically, we live in a pretty shameless environment.

      “Stupidity–which I define as simply believing things because we want to–will ultimately prove fatal.”

      Anger can be effective in so far as some people, politicians, don’t think people are serious unless they’ve formed a screaming mob outside their door — though these days, maybe not so much. (I mostly use it to push back against bullies.)

      More constructively, all this can be addressed by ___________?

    17. Edward Greisch:

      The human brain was designed by evolution to avoid being eaten by a lion. In the old days, you were either very nervous or lunch. The human brain is very susceptible to learning anything that might help detect a lion. False positive detection methods are called superstitions. We keep them because a false positive [alarm when there is no lion] is better than a false negative [no alarm when there is a lion]. So people believe a lot of nonsense along with a few right things. There is no separate system in the brain to sort out the nonsense.

      The human brain is mal-adaptive for modern civilization. Most people do exactly the wrong thing, whatever the subject. They don’t do it a little wrong, they do it perfectly wrong. Doing it perfectly wrong makes learning impossible. You can only learn when you can make successive approximations that keep getting closer to right. A little mistake is necessary to start. So they don’t get it on GW. That is Not news.

      The human brain needs to be re-designed from the ground up. Can evolution do it in a billion years? Maybe. So there is going to be a population crash within the lifetimes of people who are reading this. Can RC do anything to preserve some remnant of civilization and science? That is a better question.

    18. Craig Nazor:

      Ray – I assume that you would call this stupidity? It certainly goes far beyond “mere” ignorance!

    19. Ray Ladbury:

      Craig, that goes beyond stupid and verges on criminal. There are real world consequences to such legislation. Were I an insurer, I’d be looking to cut my losses in NC.

    20. Ray Ladbury:

      dbostrom and Radge,
      To be clear. We are not talking here about a lack of knowledge or a lack of expertise. Rather, we are talking about an utter inability to reason correctly, free of fallacy. This is something Europeans could do in the Middle Ages, and other cultures well before that.

      We would have better luck discussing climate change with a Medieval monk than we would with a contemporary libertarian. These are people who would dismiss anything I said purely because I have an advanced degree in a relevant field–and may the nonexistent deities help you if you are an actual expert (in any field) trying to talk to these people. These people have not simply embraced insanity, they’ve glorified it. And unfortunately, it is they who hold the future of humanity hostage.

      Let me be clear. This is not simply a war about climate science–nor about evolution or vaccinations. This is a war about whether humans will realize the need to perceive reality accurately.

    21. John West:

      “This is a war about whether humans will realize the need to perceive reality accurately.” — Ray Ladbury

      Reality according to who? Experts? Physicists?

      “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”
      – Lord Kelvin, 1895.

      [Response: Kelvin undoubtedly had more faith in his opinions than was warranted by actual evidence, but the quote you use is unsourced (as far as I can tell). He did have a lot to say about the difficulty of aerial navigation, but he was aware at least by 1902 that heavier-than-air flight was possible. on the larger point, we have stressed numerous times that opinions of indivuals ate no where near as important as assessments for guiding policy – precisely for the reason you allude to. – gavin]

    22. SecularAnimist:

      Ray, keep in mind that the deliberate disinformers — the fossil fuel funded propaganda mills, media outlets and other purveyors of denialism — are not “stupid”. Many of them are, in fact, brilliant.

      Among their number are some who understand the science of anthropogenic global warming and climate change thoroughly and well, and who use that understanding precisely to craft deliberately misleading denialist pseudo-science that will be plausible-sounding and convincing to the general public — especially to that portion of the public who have some degree of scientific literacy.

      More importantly, many of them have profound expertise in the psychology of manipulation, and the tools and techniques of propaganda, advertising and brainwashing, and have conducted a great deal of in-depth research on how to effectively exploit every conceivable weakness and vulnerability of the human mind. Some of the more blatant manipulation occurs through the so-called “right wing” media, where it’s pretty obvious that some well-programmed buttons are being pushed (Al Gore! Al Gore! Al Gore!), but there is plenty of more subtle brainwashing through the so-called “mainstream” media as well (e.g. false equivalances).

      AGW denialism among the general public does not just arise spontaneously out of human “stupidity”. It is the result of a massive, long-term, far-reaching campaign of deliberate, systematic deceit.

    23. Radge Havers:

      Ray, you are clear as always. I guess I’m not though.

      Unless you are an unusually gifted communicator with the right cred, there are some audiences you practically shouldn’t bother to address. Fortunately it’s not libertarians, or whatever, all the way down.

      Their time in the sun will pass, one way or another. Whether that happens in a timely fashion, well human society is a lot messier than physics. They’ve got the best position on the board, but they are not omnipotent. In any case, I’m pretty sure that simply scowling at the bastards won’t produce much results.

      You are a problem solver by trade, so I’ll ask again; more constructively, this can be addressed by ___________?

    24. Daniel J. Andrews:

      Commented on the survey site. But putting on my tinfoil hat, perhaps these videos were done so we’d all be shaking our heads saying “No no no”, and in a month there’ll be an appeal for money so they can make the truly good communication videos they wished to make in the first place. We’ll be relieved and gladly donate. “Donate money to communicate climate science to the general public or we’ll show them THIS!” “NOOOOOOOooooooooooo!” :)

      That’s not to disparage the individuals who did the talks. For me, the whiteboard presentation worked (although not enough colour contrast in the writing). But you’re doing this for the general public and as someone noted, many of them will tune out right away. Someone suggested having high schools give feedback rather than the audience here, and I think that is a good suggestion.

      And yes, I’d be happy to donate to a fund that would provide a good communication-style video.

    25. Ray Ladbury:

      John West, the fact that you seem to think that reality is subjective speaks volumes. Good luck with that. Let us know if you want to refult the laws of graviation and we’ll film it for Fail Blog.

    26. dbostrom:

      Further to SecularAnimist’s remarks, improved science and technology are being used as weapons against progress in a war over perceptions. Wishing that the Gatling gun does not exist and continuing to rely on javelins and leather shields is a recipe for defeat.

      Ray correctly identifies that certain folks are beyond hope but it’s not perfection we need, rather communications reaching enough people to be reflected in policy. There are tools that can help with that objective.

      “Hard” scientists often look askance at the “soft” sciences but leaving aside prejudice both arenas are highly reliant on statistics to describe aggregate behavior than cannot be reliably ascribed to individual samples. So it is with the scientific study of risk communication; we can’t predict how individuals will react to a given risk and how it’s perceived but we can tease out predictions of how populations will behave in the face of given communications about given risks.

      Use Google Scholar to look up risk communication. It’s a bit long in the tooth but Fischoff’s Risk Perception and Communication Unplugged: Twenty Years of Process (don’t be frightened, “process” is a joke) is a handy platform for catching the train. Of particular relevance to the topic of RC is Risk Communication on Climate: Mental Models and Mass Balance

      There’s hard work to be done to catch up on the deep topic of risk communication. It’s easier to push it away but that leaves us with the problem of asymmetry as mentioned by SecularAnimist.

    27. richard pauli:

      I just stumbled onto a nicely produced video

      Produced by WPSU (a PBS affiliate) and the Rock Ethics Institute, this short film reviews the current state of scientific understanding about the human influences on climate change through straightforward explanations by top geological, meteorological, and geographic scientists working on climate related research at The Pennsylvania State University. The film concludes with the argument that while the sciencehas reached a high degree of certainty and there is little remaining disagreement about the causes of climate change, there remain questions as to what to do about climate change which are fundamentally ethical in nature and are now the responsibility of decision-makers and the public-at-large. The film features professors Richard Alley, Katherine Freeman, Michael Mann, James Kasting, Petra Tschakert, Klaus Keller, and Nancy Tuana.

    28. SecularAnimist:

      Here’s a pretty good video about the dangers of anthropogenic global warming — from 1958, thirty years before James Hansen’s famous testimony to the US Congress:

    29. Rick Brown:

      Hmmm, the links looked okay in preview, but not in moderation. Apologies if this is redundant.
      Here’s the link to Sterman’s website –

      and to the Pidgeon and Fischhoff 2011 paper –

    30. Ray Ladbury:

      Radge and dbostrom,
      While I have to admit that there are some brilliant propagandists on the other side, the truly remarkable thing about the Skeptic arguments is how bad they are. It is not even that they are technically wrong, but rather that they are so inconsistent, paranoid and downright silly as to be risible. For most, it simply becomes a game of Whack-a-Logical-Fallacy. Hell, I’m thinking of printing up Logical Fallacy Bingo cards. I mean really these guys aren’t that smart. So, the queation that comes to my mind is why in the hell does the average idjit American fall for this crap. And the only thing I can come up with is that the denialati are telling them what they want to hear.

      I really wish I knew what to do. After all, science shows us its greatest value when it forces us to face things we’d rather not believe. That’s when we need it most. And it freakin’ well works. I had entertained fond hopes that humans would avail themselves of this valuable invention and thereby attain a more realistic approach to risk. I no longer think this is possible.

      To me, that is the real issue. We may manage to flatter and cajole our fellow humans into addressing the serious risks now facing them, but so what? Unless they become a whole helluva lot smarter in the process, they will fail to address the next threat or the one after that. It’s getting harder to see the poing.

    31. dbostrom:

      Ray, true enough as a group we’re at risk of proving every bit as intelligent and helpful as an enormous mass of rock either spilling messily from the mantle or mindlessly intersecting with Earth’s orbit. It’s pretty annoying to contemplate that our largest and most durable artifact may yet prove to be a self-inflicted wound, perhaps not the smear of isotopes in the geologic record we once worried about but another equally useless memorial.

      Homo Bolidus? “Dumb as a bag of rocks” is surely not an accurate description of the human race?

      Improving ourselves should prove no more difficult than building a space elevator. Technically doable but…

    32. Radge Havers:


      Hard to say what the average American falls for. That’s a pretty large and diverse chunk of people. Probably most Americans don’t give it a lot of thought to begin with. What we need are smarter leaders and more engaged followers. Smarter average people would be a bonus.

      In terms of numbers, I’m not sure what fraction hard core denialists actually represent. I’m inclined to think that much of what they do is provide cover for a corrupt political process, as something of a stalking horse that has little to do with what most people think and is instead a part of the game that power brokers play with each other.

      What’s the point? Mitigation I guess. Personally I don’t have much stake in the matter, but I start itching whenever I try to ignore it.

      I can’t tell you what to do, but at least print up a batch of those Bingo cards!

    33. Jim Larsen:

      52 Jim G,

      Great job, but the lo-fi is frustrating. The powerpoint is out of focus and small. Zooming in x2 would have helped. Many slides were unviewable, but they sounded cool! And the promised link to the powerpoint?

      The current-trawling with anchored boats doesn’t sound as devastating as drag-trawling. I’d assume the net was held pretty stationary, so why all the sediment disturbance?

      You might want to mention how big fish like tuna start their lives as small prey fish. As tuna become rare, the small fish who eat tuna fry become far more common. The fry end up getting hit hard by greater predatory pressure, lower supply from a declining population of adult fish, and a chemical assault from anoxic conditions and species.

      IIRC, this was in a church, yet near the end you mentioned your belief that humans are just another species!! :-)

      I really enjoyed it. You do good work.

    34. Eric Davies:

      As a non scientist, part of the general public:
      Memory, and attention, are boosted the more they are stimulated: audio (webcam/speech alone) isn’t sufficient. Sight and hearing should be associated.
      I preferred the whiteboard presentation (speech had immediate relavance with whiteboard) : best way to present graphs, but where possible photo, animation or video illustrations are more attractive (experience tanks…). Music was annoying though.
      In my opinion no one method of presentation is superior to all others but each should be employed where most effective. Look to popular science vulgarisation series for inspiration (national geographic, c’est pas sorcier…)

    35. Jim Galasyn:

      Jim Larsen, thank you for watching and for the kind feedback. I’ve updated the post with links to the slide deck:

      State of the Oceans 2011 [pdf]
      State of the Oceans 2011 [pptx]

    36. Paul Torek:

      I was going to comment on the videos, but instead, you should just listen to R. Gates’s advice. And dbostrom’s. I don’t think you’ll need to match the slick production values or megadollar megaphone of the denial industry. But expert help on communications is definitely worth some investment.

    37. Keme:

      As a communications professional specializing in applied research, higher education and public health, I can tell you it’s not easy to present complicated material to the public in a way that’s informative and compelling and I dare say, entertaining. This kind of communication is both an art and a science that requires relevant expertise.

      Evaluating the video options from that perspective, I have to admit that despite my eager anticipation at the onset, I abandoned all three options within the first couple of minutes (sorry – I so wanted to like them).

      Communication is a professional discipline complete with many subject matter experts — strategists, directors, writers, editors, “the talent”, graphic designers, programmers, videographers etc. I highly recommend that you consult with a creative agency and work with their team of experts to develop a system that showcases scientists and their work in a way that can be both branded and templated (replicated). This is important as you go forward as you want to stay consistent and within budget.

      For what it’s worth, you do a great job with Real Climate; but speaking to the general public is another matter entirely. You have to engage them without trivializing the science or yourselves; then you’ll have a winning strategy.

      One more thing… In addition to individual multi-media-produced papers, you also need a series of videos that serve as an introduction to the bigger picture. It’s important to always present information within context for the public.

      I could go on but suffice it to say you’re on the right track. Now do it right. It’s time.

      All the best.

    38. Bob Fischer:

      I think that anyone interested in climate change communication should read the Debunking Handbook. The principles it describes are based on some really interesting psychological experiments.

    39. Steve Fish:

      Re- Comment by Keme — 3 Jun 2012 @ 8:33 PM @ #86:

      Keme, I think that what you say is right on! However, climate scientists don’t have, and probably cannot get, funding to do what you suggest. Most of their efforts to get the attention of the general public regarding important aspects of their research findings is not in their job description and detracts from their research time. What they do in this regard is pro bono. This being the case, why don’t you get together a group of professionals who would do their part pro bono. Pro bono publico, for the public good.


    40. Radge Havers:

      Keme @ 86, well said!

      Here’s an interesting perspective from McKibben on the state of denial, and I think a reason to press even harder on the communication front.

      Crazy people jump shark, intimidate weak kneed politicians, normal people try to get on with life:
      The Planet Wreckers: Deniers of Climate Science Are On the Ropes — But So Is the Planet

      Wisdom from “Yes, Minister”
      [How to guide ministers to making the right decisions]
      Sir Humphrey: If you want to be really sure that the Minister doesn’t accept it, you must say the decision is “courageous”.
      Bernard: And that’s worse than “controversial”?
      Sir Humphrey: Oh, yes! “Controversial” only means “this will lose you votes”. “Courageous” means “this will lose you the election”!

    41. Keme:

      Steve Fish @ 87

      “climate scientists don’t have, and probably cannot get, funding to do what you suggest.”


      But if the costs are socialized across different agencies and universities, then a robust presentation system can be put in place that can be “templated”. By templated, I mean the overall look and feel, style sheets, concept, platform, etc are all pre-developed and then disseminated to individual scientists/departments with detailed instructions for customization. Ideally, this would be rolled out as part of an overall integrated communications campaign with generic and subject or regional-specific supporting materials including print, online and other media support, especially social media. In the world of communication, the more the merrier. Modest efforts here and there just get lost in the noise.

      If this is to be done right and if you actually want to make an significant and measurable impact, this can’t be done merely as a pro-bono, albeit some of it can. As I mentioned before, the costs can be spread across different agencies and institutions. This is done all of the time. It’s just a matter of developing a proposal and negotiating the budgets.

    42. dbostrom:

      By templated, I mean the overall look and feel, style sheets, concept, platform, etc are all pre-developed and then disseminated to individual scientists/departments with detailed instructions for customization

      A fine idea; big cost savings and “branding” in one fell swoop.

      Sharing costs would be the tough nut to crack; rise through the strata of university administrations and witness the nonlinear increase in friction. The first layer of parochial departmental self-interest is a mere cakewalk, relatively speaking.

      NOAA’s climate center maybe could have pulled this together but it was aborted by anachronistic fossils in the House.

    43. tamino:

      First, I agree that the presentations won’t be satisfactory until professionals — those who know how to create media that communicate to the masses effectively — are involved. You wouldn’t ask Spielberg to revise your models for Greenland ice sheet decay, would you? Don’t ask scientists to produce the next installment of “Star Wars.” Sure, there are a few scientists who have that ability. When did Neil Degrasse Tyson agree to do your videos?

      Note also: enthusiasm is no substitute for skill. I’m sorry that the “My cousin has a video camera, and my dad has a barn we can rehearse in!” approach isn’t sufficient — but that’s just the way it is.

      Yet there’s another, even more important point. Do we really need to expend precious resources communicating to the public at large the impact of climate change on the predatory habits of sea stars? When it comes to global warming, we’re in a fight for our lives. Is this the best use of our time? I don’t mean to belittle any of the research presented, I was quite impressed. But like most research, it represents the fine details which scientists find so fascinating, but makes the general public start snoring.

      It is perhaps all the more crucial to accept that fact, when you consider that the enemies of sensible climate action will *not* make that mistake. While WRI works to inform the public of the impact of soils on the carbon cycle, the so-called “Heartland Institute” is developing a curriculum for teaching their fake brand of climate skepticism to students in grades K through 12.

      To the creators of the videos, I salute your enthusiasm and I admire — even share — your motivation.

      But I hope you’re still reading this thread, because I think your efforts are misguided. Is it any wonder that in spite of an utter lack of scientific validity, when it comes to the public-relations war, the fake skeptics are kicking our asses?

    44. Keme:

      dbostrom @ 92

      “Sharing costs would be the tough nut to crack…”

      Well, I didn’t say it was going to be easy!

      But it can be done. I’m presenting working on a project co-sponsored by several governmental and non-governmental agencies and a university. It’s surprising what can be accomplished when you leverage mutual objectives.

    45. Keme:

      Tamino @ 93

      “Do we really need to expend precious resources communicating to the public at large the impact of climate change on the predatory habits of sea stars?”

      Maybe not sea stars, but landmark papers MUST be communicated to the public in a more engaging way.

      “When it comes to global warming, we’re in a fight for our lives. Is this the best use of our time?”

      Yes and no. Yes, communication is crucial and no, not every paper should be made into a visual/multimedia; but key papers definitely need to be. For example, papers like Anderegg et al 2010, should be made into a “visual op-ed” and liberally distributed.

      “I don’t mean to belittle any of the research presented, I was quite impressed. But like most research, it represents the fine details which scientists find so fascinating, but makes the general public start snoring.”

      Agreed. What’s missing is context — the big picture. The public needs context to make the details interesting and relevant. You also have to weigh and prioritize the details and decide how big of a role each one needs to play, if at all.

      “Is it any wonder that in spite of an utter lack of scientific validity, when it comes to the public-relations war, the fake skeptics are kicking our asses?”

      Hear, hear!!!

      The science community (as a whole) has to acknowledge the need to make communications a bigger priority and proceed accordingly.

    46. SecularAnimist:

      tamino wrote: “Do we really need to expend precious resources communicating to the public at large the impact of climate change on the predatory habits of sea stars?”

      What the public needs to know about is the impact of climate change on their food and water supply. Scientists need to be willing to use words like “drought” and “famine”.

    47. Susan Anderson:

      Excellent thoughts from a good few. Frank Capra in 1958 is a revelation. Blue Man Group. Bill McKibben does very well. Penn State well done! Dryasdust academic, not so much for the public arena.

      Fear, hatred, and rage are being leveraged into ignorance. There has to be a way to reach over those footlights. Otherwise we will have the kind of violence we’ve only read about in history books and see on the news elsewhere in the world. Famine and drought, for a few, indeed.

      My other concern is with our addiction to spectacle. American Idol and all its spinoffs, sports events, rock concerts, humor show, all our entertainment is now accompanied by high speed spectacular performances and lots of pyrotechnics. The Queen’s Jubilee was accompanied by guns, more guns, and airplanes, fireworks, the lot. We have come to feel that we are not celebrating if we do not have the biggest, the best, the most cosmetic.

      To present reality in the face of all this requires a variety of extraordinary skills.

    48. Radge Havers:

      @ 89, 92
      Funding and coordination: sounds like the sort of thing that WRI and perhaps the AMS could have a hand in.

      Keme @ 94
      Just curious, if you can say, what is the project mentioned that you are working on– or for that matter projects that you could point to that might be models?

      Susan Anderson @ 97
      Spectacles. I sometimes wonder why there aren’t major concerts, festivals, etc. to raise awareness about climate change and/or money for organizations (including even a fund for communications projects).

    49. Susan Anderson:

      Radge Havers@98:
      Al Gore did try, it was quite a big effort. One of the reasons for the kill the messenger campaign. I don’t think scientists – except those on the firing line (WHOI, Mann et al.) – get the concentrated viciousness of the escalating campaign to conceal and help people hide from reality, or the vulnerability of a wired and addicted public struggling to survive and dependent on commercial interests for their entertainment.

      BTW, Pauli’s referenced Penn State effort is *not* dry, but still aimed at folk who are already open enough to look at the message. The genius of Gore was that he actually got people’s attention. One has to respect, if not admire, the expertise of the folks who successully got to work to take down his reputation.

    50. Joe Joyce:

      I watched the 3 videos on clouds again, by Dr. Dessler. The good doctor, and I know he is, is sadly not a good speaker. Video 1 sucks. [Which is odd, because that implies a vampire movie…] Video 2 is totally distracting. I found the Martian Face in one of the clouds, and that was the high point of video 2. Video 3 I overall liked. Dropping the 3 breaks where Dr. Dessler titled the following section would greatly improve his whiteboard presentation, as would computer enhancement of his drawings because it would be nice if we could actually see them all.

      Improve the drawing in video 3, from the perspective of a totally naive viewer. For example, don’t use the quarter sun in the upper left hand corner, use an entire sun with complete rays all around, preferably colored bright sunshine yellow. Use common [standard if possible] icons, simple and obvious to all, not shorthand icons

      I would like to see several take-offs from the third video to explain in significant detail the ways and means used to subtract out the other components of the system to leave clouds, and those used to compare ENSO and expected climate change in general, then specifically for clouds, just for starters.

      It should also be an entry for a series of video lectures on clouds, the first of which gives a general overview of what we know and don’t, the body of which gives a sketch of the overview and concentrates in depth on 1 aspect, or a few related aspects, like aerosols, height, temp, etc, and the final [assumedly long, or longer] video gives summation and discussion. If I were getting greedy, I’d say the discussion would be the basis for another series of videos that go into more depth, doing modelling and such, but being realistic, the most I can probably hope for is a better video 3.

      But I will point out that I am far more choir than audience. Been following climate for 5 decades, been aware of global warming for 4, and aware it was a “current event” for 3 decades. So I’m obviously interested and I want more. But I’m not your typical layman. again, let me use a musical analogy to make my point. The following 2 performances are ostensibly of the same piece of music. While that may be debatable, both performance claim such. Please watch both to the end, in the order presented. Grin, there will be a short quiz at the end. [It will also allow you to kill the commercial which seems to have become attached to the end of the second video.]

      1] Which video did you enjoy more? I liked both, but found one more compelling than the other.

      2] Which audience enjoyed the music more? Why did they find their performance better than the other audience found theirs?

      3] Which audience do you need more, and why?