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Language Intelligence – Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga: A Review

Filed under: — mike @ 20 August 2012

Any book that manages to link together the lessons of the Bible, Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, and Lady Gaga (not to mention Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan, and Jerry Seinfeld), can’t be all bad. With Joe Romm’s new book Language Intelligence, it is, in fact, ALL good. There are lessons galore for the scientists among us who value public outreach and communication. The book is a de facto field guide for recognizing and assimilating many of the key tools of persuasive language and speech, something that is ever more important to science communicators who face the daunting challenge of having to communicate technical and nuanced material to an audience largely unfamiliar with the lexicon of science, sometimes agnostic or even unreceptive to its message, and—in the case of contentious areas like climate change and evolution—already subject to a concerted campaign to misinform and confuse them.

Unfortunately, as Romm notes, “Scientists are not known for being great communicators”. And so you will forgive me, I hope, if I fail to convince you to read his book. But you really should read his book! You should definitely read his book! In fact, you need to read this book! Have I mentioned that you ought to read Romm’s book?

Repetition is in fact one of the key tools of effective communication that Romm emphasizes. Channeling the late Johnny Cochran, Romm tell us “If you don’t repeat, you can’t compete”. That is hardly the only lesson in this book for would-be communicators. The book is packed with great examples from history, ancient and modern, of how rhetoric (defined by Churchill, as Romm informs us, as “The subtle art of combining the various elements that separately mean nothing and collectively mean so much in an harmonious proportion”) serves as the scaffolding of effective communication. The materials filling that scaffolding are the ‘figures of speech’, many of which are familiar to us, even if we don’t use them as frequently or effectively as we could. They include the use of hyberbole (extravagant exaggeration, and antithesis (the pairing of contrasting words or ideas), puns, and irony in its various forms. They include the use of wit and aphorisms, and metaphors (especially, where appropriate, extended metaphors) and devices such as alliteration and chiasmus (the repetition of words in reverse order). Romm provides numerous illustrative examples. In the case of chiasmus my favorite is from the James Bond Movie “Die Another Day”. [This is, incidentally enough, the only Bond flick to talk about climate change, via an ironic comment from the main villain: "Global Warming. Its a terrible thing"]. In one scene, Bond (played by Pierce Brosnan) tells the curmudgeonly “Q” (played by John Cleese; I preferred Desmond Llewelyn. So call me old school) “You’re smarter than you look”. Q, in reply, quips “Better than looking smarter than you are”. It is the figures of speech, used in proper measure and appropriate context, that comprise not only a memorable line from a movie, but the key tools to effective writing and oratory.

Romm’s key lessons to would-be communicators, in short, are:

1. Use short, simple words.
2. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition is the essential element of all persuasion.
3. Master irony and foreshadowing. They are central elements of popular culture, modern politics, and mass media for a reason—they help us make sense of the stories of our lives and other people’s lives.
4. Use metaphors to paint a picture, to connect what your listeners already know to what you want them to know. Metaphors may be the most important figure as well as the most underused and misused.
5. Create an extended metaphor when you have a big task at hand, like framing a picture-perfect speech or launching a major campaign.
6. If you want to avoid being seduced, learn the figures of seduction. If you want to debunk a myth, do not repeat that myth.

Many of you will know Romm mostly if not exclusively for his “Climate Progress” blog, and his round-the-clock, take-no-prisoners debunking of the disinformation efforts of climate change inactivists and clean energy opponents. So I suspect you, like I, will be pleasantly surprised as you are introduced to a completely different Joe Romm that you never knew existed. Joe demonstrates a remarkable intellectual breadth and depth that goes well beyond his obvious expertise in the area of climate and energy policy. His message in ‘Language Intelligence’ has a generality that extends to all areas of public discourse, whether it be politics, education, or entertainment. But make no mistake. His lessons have great relevance in the domain of climate change communication, and particular salience for those interested in communicating climate change—the science, the impacts, the risks—to a broader public audience. As a rule we don’t, for example, use metaphor–a particularly powerful tool for communicating complicated concepts in a simple and accessible way–nearly enough. Though, as Romm notes, we are getting better. One example of an effective metaphor that he provides (and indeed, which I sometimes use myself) is the notion of “weather on steroids” as a way of communicating the statistical nature of the subtle–but very real–influence that climate change is having on certain types of extreme weather events. Just as many of the home runs hit by a baseball player on steroids were almost certainly due to the taking of steroids–even if you can’t prove that any one home run resulted from it–so too is it likely that the record-breaking heat we are seeing in the U.S. this summer of 2012 is very likely due, in substantial part, to the impact of human-caused climate change and global warming.

Climate change critics have indeed understood the importance of language and rhetoric for some time. In the infamous leaked “Luntz Memo” of 2002, Republican pollster Frank Luntz advised his clients–fossil fuel interests–how they could more effectively use clever word choice and rhetoric–indeed, the figures of speech themselves–to reframe the public discourse over climate change, to help convince the public that there was no scientific consensus, that climate change was not a threat, and that any actions to mitigate climate change would themselves be dangerous. Already, the forces of climate change inaction were sharpening their rhetorical weapons in preparation for retrenchment in the war against the science of climate change–the “climate wars”.

I can appreciate this at a very personal level. I was somewhat involuntarily thrust into the center of the public debate over climate change at this very time, when the “Hockey Stick” temperature reconstruction I co-authored, depicting the unprecedented nature of modern warming in at least the past millennium, developed into an icon in the debate over human-caused climate change [particularly when it was featured in the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC in 2001]. I soon found myself at the center of concerted attacks by those who believed, somewhat cynically (and quite illogically from a scientific viewpoint) that they could discredit the entire case for the reality and threat of human-caused climate change, if they could simply discredit my work and, indeed, me specifically (this is to be distinguished from the good-faith scientific debate and give-and-take, that is to be expected–and indeed is necessary, for the progress of science). Indeed, I wrote a book about my experiences–and what I think I’ve learned from them–earlier this year (The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars).

I was forced to defend myself in the face of a well-organized and well-funded campaign by agenda driven front groups, politicians, and policy advocates to discredit me. And I had to learn the tools of self-defense–I had to acquire the sorts of ‘language intelligence’ tools that Romm describes–through a trial-by-fire of sorts. It is my hope that other younger scientists coming into this field, who too may eventually find themselves subject to politically-motivated attacks on their work, will read Romm’s book (and perhaps mine too) and learn these lessons early in their career, so that they don’t find themselves ambushed with little or no defense, down the road. So, at the (very low, in fact) risk of repeating myself once too many times, I will say it again: you really do need to read Joe Romm’s book.

171 Responses to “Language Intelligence – Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga: A Review”

  1. 101

    #95 Dan H.

    So we got that goin for us.

    #96 dbostrom

    I can agree with you in part. Emotion can be effective in certain circumstances. And I would add a caveat that with whom, and how it is done counts, a lot.

    Example: I was a business meeting in St. Galen where Economie Swiss (lobbyist) was showing how they were able to improve their messaging for building new nuclear plants in Switzerland. They showed the effectiveness of appeal to reason and appeal to emotion. The emotion won, but only as a takeaway. The emotion that got the public was what they would lose.

    Of course all that changed with Fukishima and now Switzerland has committed to never build another nuclear plant… at least for now.

    I think the takeaway can work in the fuzzier middle, but won’t work on the outer perimeter since that is where the other side is most entrenched and would simply say look, their trying to appeal to our emotions, laugh, and then change the channel.

    Context is key.

    As I said, my success with those that simply say there is no warming or it’s all natural is in my opinion due to the fact that I only use facts and explain the context so that everyone sees the truth of the science.

  2. 102

    #99 CRZ9

    I think that is a very cogent analysis and depiction of the general situation.

  3. 103
    CRV9 says:

    Wow. Thank you for your kind words, Mr. john O Reiman.

    Main point is you can’t change the sceptics’ mind. You have to know who is you are communicating to and whom you are conveying your message to. You maybe debating with the sceptics but you are actually talking to the 3rd party who are listening in or reading your debate in public forums. Remember the young girl who wants to learn more?

  4. 104
    dbostrom says:

    John: I think the takeaway can work in the fuzzier middle, but won’t work on the outer perimeter…Context is key.

    Never succumb to dogmatic application of a single tool. Yes, absolutely. I’d offer that your thoughts are in keeping with “many buttons; some have more, some have fewer.”

    As my own anecdote, prior to 2007 I was interested in climate change in a detached way, the “mile wide, inch deep” way I find so many things fascinating. I’m the very shallowest, widest and mostly useless type of dilettante; climate change was obviously a threat but not something I felt engaged with.

    My closer engagement began when the ongoing sea ice vanishing act in the Arctic called my attention to something not scientific at all, namely the traducing of numerous scientists (really, a boundless pool given the interdisciplinary nature of the affair) by actors who themselves clearly were not deeply attached to truth.

    I know lots of scientists; my dad was a geophysicist, I’m married to a scientist, my social landscape is positively littered with researchers. I’m keenly aware of their attachment to truth and how unlikely and rare it is that researchers in fields not directly attached to lucrative commerce will risk their reputation by lying.

    The jackals baying at the heels of such as Michael Mann aroused my ire, enraged me, touched my emotions. Since then as a very peripheral and gnat-like entity I’ve contributed quite a bit of money, material support and a fair amount of actual work to the matter of slowing our plunge into disaster, as well as dissipating a lot of energy on catharsis at such places as RC.

    My conversion from vaguely interested to more attentive was purely to do with personal and emotional connections that really didn’t have much to do with climate science.

  5. 105

    #96 dbostrom

    en addendum I would add that the non emotional approach when done well works perfectly fine for those that might fit in the on the fence category.

    At least I’ve never had any problems or needed to appeal to emotion.

  6. 106
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Kevin McKinney — 23 Aug 2012 @ 8:30 AM currently at #91:

    You say- “Asking innocent questions worked well for Socrates! (Less illustriously, sometimes for me, too.) It may not seem like it on certain websites, but most people still recognize distortion most of the time. And those innocent questions can certainly point it up for them.”

    I say- Would it be so. Please explain how the mass of media from cute to well nuanced that explains the very simple rules and dramatic results of evolution can leave a large proportion of US citizens rejecting evolutionary theory. I think the answer is just simple but emphatic opposition. Most folks don’t have the time, ability, or inclination to keep track of which of two sides of a scientific issues are correct. When dealing with the Koch brothers money machine telling The Big Lie (see- – and note the link to Denialism in the See also section), simple honesty and innocent truth don’t have a chance.


  7. 107
    Unsettled Scientist says:

    CRZ9 wrote > They said “Consensus is not science. Science is all about facts.”. Well, I thought it was true though it didn’t sound quite wright. And about Galileo, yeah. He did suffer from the consensus. It didn’t sound quite right, though.

    Yeah, it’s not right. He suffered from religious ideologues, not from scientific consensus. It was the Church that sentenced him to house arrest. It was the political pressures put on the Pope (who used to be friends with Galileo) that heliocentrism was against the scriptures that got him into trouble. He wasn’t told by other scientists that he was “bucking the consensus” and therefore needed a timeout. That’s just a myth spread by the denialati. Ironically, Galileo was trying to protect the Church from making a huge mistake. Galileo was Catholic, not Protestant like his contemporary Kepler. He was trying to convince the Church that heliocentrism didn’t go against Scripture. It didn’t work and the attacks on science by religious & political ideologues continue to this day (see evolution, stem cell research, climate, etc.).

    Where he may have gotten into trouble with the intellectual elite is his consistently answering (and teaching his students to give as an answer) “I don’t know.” Perhaps his two greatest achievements were the popularization of the scientific method based on mathematics (he wrote his work for the common man), and standing up against the political and theological powers of the day for the right of scientists to pursue research unencumbered by those powers’ ideologies.

    Galileo gets misused as an example of “standing up to consensus” all the time by the anti-science ideologues, and they have history completely backwards (not surprising). The idea that Galileo was made to suffer at the hands of other scientists is just wrong. See Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo (Johannes Kepler’s Conversation with the Starry Messenger) in which Kepler endorsed Galileo’s work, and Kepler again published Narratio de Jovis Satellitibus further supporting Galileo. Those who are using him as an example of scientific consensus holding back scientific research are wrong and quite often represent the modern equivalent of the political and theological powers against which Galileo so indomitably fought. Even when facing the threat of torture by the Church, Galileo would not back down.

    Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo is a good read about his work and life and includes his writings including Starry Messenger and The Assayer.

  8. 108
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by dbostrom — 23 Aug 2012 @ 12:31 PM, currently at #96:

    Check out the success that lead denial had. Here are two posts on lead denial by Hank Roberts in the Berkeley Earthquake Called Off thread (posts #37 and #38)- – comment-217529

    And – comment-217530

    Denial as a strategy works against honesty, truth, mom, and apple pie. Steve

  9. 109
    Jim Larsen says:

    dbostrom said, “if history is any guide we can be fairly sure his peers would chastise him in an official capacity, quite severely.”

    Ah, to wish upon an ad hominum.

    84 Garry talks of wording.

    Yes, from “theory” to “likely”, the words of science need to be translated or defined when discussing things with the public, and defining things up front doesn’t work. Definitions have to be included in each instance.

    94 Secular said, “So, for the fossil fuel corporations who funded the AGW denial propaganda campaign, the question would be “What did they know, and when did they know it?””

    So as long as they stick to Fox News, they’re safe. Fox News is safe as their product is entertainment, not news. Win win situation! Hiring Muller could have been a big mistake….

    97 Unsettled said, “There is no reason for scientist to change their lexicon when publishing a paper because of the existence of people who won’t engage them honestly.”

    Sure, but it does warrant a translation of the paper, including all equations, into a form which answers the dishonest in a public fashion. I’d pay $1 to see Hansen’s latest as explained by Hansen.

  10. 110
    Jim Larsen says:

    79 prok says, “If we get there, all hope is eventually gone,”

    Heavens no. There are many billions of revolutions left in Earth, and humans will survive on its surface as long as any other species we care about. AGW is about degrading a million years, not some sort of irreperable harm (man, that felt good to type).

  11. 111

    #103 dbostrom

    I’d say we are in general agreement on the many buttons. That’s why there are so many professional marketing companies to handle target marketing.

    As I said, emotions can work and there are various ways to use appeal to emotion.

    There are many interpretations and contexts too.

    No need to worry about me submitting to dogma though.

    I’ve said this here in RC in the past, and in communications meetings. There are many ways to achieve the same goal and each communicator has his or her own style that works for different audiences and applications.

  12. 112
    Unsettled Scientist says:

    Jim Larsen wrote > I’d pay $1 to see Hansen’s latest as explained by Hansen.

    Jim Hansen discusses the latest science in April 2012 This is about a month after his latest paper was accepted by PNAS. It is more of a general speech on climate change, but of course he knows what is in his (by then already accepted) paper.

    Hansen on PBS Newshour is shorter and perhaps more to the point, getting right into it.

    Please send $1 to the American Cancer Society, Global Fund for Women, Autism Speaks or other charity of your choice ;)

  13. 113
    Garry S-J says:

    Steve Fish @88: What do I suggest “when some denialist spinmeister takes some perfectly nuanced explanation of a climate finding and twists it into total irrational stupidity”?

    Well, argue with them or ignore them, expose their lies and their motives. The usual. What I’m saying is that maybe the initial explanation is not always “perfectly nuanced” or – as you put it – “perfectly clear”. Sometimes it is, too often it isn’t, at least to non-scientists.

    Otherwise Joe Romm has wasted his time writing his book.

    I’m not blaming the victim here, guys. Communication can always be improved and when the forces of stupidity are trying to twist your words it just makes it more important to make the message as clear as possible.

  14. 114
    dbostrom says:

    Unsettled Scientist says: 23 Aug 2012 at 6:33 PM Please send $1 to the American Cancer Society, Global Fund for Women, Autism Speaks or other charity of your choice ;)


  15. 115
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Mike I am unclear, do you think we should read this book? ;)

    I will get a copy using some gift cards I have. I read a lot, so I get a lot of gift card from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It seems a way to help scientists to be better communicators, but as I have pointed out before here on RC communicating science and doing science are different skill sets. I hope that this book can bridge that gap.

    I recommend channeling the late and great Johnny Cochran. Like him or hate him he was a great lawyer. The contrarians have done so by saying about anthropogenic global warming “if it’s not a fact we must not act”. An equivalent statement that advocates for action needs to be said. I though don’t have any ideas what that might be.

  16. 116
    Jim Larsen says:

    ““if it’s not a fact we must not act”. An equivalent statement that advocates for action needs to be said. I though don’t have any ideas what that might be.”

    If it’s true, do we choose to be screwed?

  17. 117
    Jim Larsen says:

    “Please send $1 to the American Cancer Society, Global Fund for Women, Autism Speaks or other charity of your choice ;)”

    Got two side salads for lunch, and dropped a buck in the slot, so sick kids’ families will be together thanks to you.

  18. 118
    Unsettled Scientist says:

    dbostrom, thanks for pointing out The Climate Science Defense Fund. I actually tried to think of a climate related charity, but I couldn’t. So I just rattled of 3 that were in my head and I respect.

    Jim Larsen > Got two side salads for lunch, and dropped a buck in the slot, so sick kids’ families will be together thanks to you.

    Good looks!

  19. 119
    Mike Roddy says:

    Jim Larsen, #108:

    Fox hired Muller? I hadn’t heard it, other than his appearance touting (ugh) natural gas. If true, it’s important news, indicating a strategy shift by the fossil fuel companies. They may now instruct Heritage and CEI to admit AGW but point to natural gas as the only solution that won’t “wreck the economy”.

    Please confirm if he’s on the payroll. I don’t see him leaving the UCB faculty, but weekly guest appearances could be quite interesting. One thing we know for sure- Muller smells that Koch money.

  20. 120
    Edward Greisch says:

    We are all very frustrated, and some times it leads to poorly worded comments. We should be frustrated. We see the danger, but we can’t change what the driver is doing [driving toward the cliff]. Is Homo Sap smart enough to survive this one?

    I am almost half way through “The Moral Molecule” by Paul J. Zak The moral molecule is spam filtered. Zak talks about several other spam filtered. Some of them he applies to his test subjects by spam filtered or spam filtered. Zak talks about what #99 CRZ9 talks about but in greater length and detail.

    Now, if we could just create a worldwide fog of spam filtered…….

    But sometimes it doesn’t work. It is the steep rise in spam filtered rather than the level, and what is going on with spam filtered, spam filtered, spam filtered, etc. matter as well.

    The human brain was designed by evolution to survive the threat from lions. The threat of GW is a very different one that very few people can see. The book “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer does a good job of explaining this, but doesn’t give a spam filtered for dealing with denialists.

    spam filtered gestures spam filtered….. We have to devise a way to get around the problems imposed by the poor architecture of the average human brain. Zak has a clue, and we have a few other clues. The spam filter makes them harder to communicate.

  21. 121
    wili says:

    @#109 Jim Larsen wrote: “AGW is about degrading a million years, not some sort of irreperable harm”

    On the one hand, this can easily be disproved by pointing out the species that are being driven to extinction by GW. Those are harms that cannot be repaired.

    On the other hand, one cannot know for certain what the biological diversity of the earth is going to be in the coming millions of years, and saying that you can, one way or the other, is essentially lying.

    And keep in mind that GW is only one of multiple global and local assaults we are inflicting on the biosphere.

    The cumulative impact:

    of all of the chemicals we’ve produced that the earth has never seen before,
    of other toxic wastes,
    of nuclear wastes,
    of destroyed eco-systems,
    of ocean acidification…

    of all these and more over thousands and millions of years to come cannot possibly be accurately calculated in any reasonable way.

    Also recall that we were already well into the current mass extinction event well before anything like the full force of the consequences of GW started to kick in. So in a way, GW can be seen as a mass-extinction event on top of a mass extinction event. Again, the long-term consequences of such multiple assaults on the global eco-system cannot possibly be calculated. And of course, we are not done inflicting insults–nano-tech and GM may end up being even greater assaults than everything else we have created.

    These are largely uncontrolled experiments on the only planet we have. As things really start to become unglued, and agriculture fails even as population continues to soar, people are more and more going to start to look as every remotely palatable species as a potential dinner, and every burnable species as fuel to cook said dinner. With 9 billion or more of us scavenging the earth for every last bit of flesh or plant, there will likely be precious little left for the living world to jump-start complex life forms from.

    Have a great day,

  22. 122
    prokaryotes says:

    #68 “Furthermore, the nature of the scientific evidence and corresponding burden of proof are not the same–these are completely different kinds of systems with different levels of noise and different levels of certainty of cause and effect. This relates to the point that J Bowers made up thread, and also Tamino’s. Real wisdom is required w.r.t. this issue, not just knee-jerk reactions motivated by anger–Jim”

    Apparently you are wrong with your opinion in this matter, because the same methods – sometimes from the same people were used to discredit the science around climate change. For instance, this “another must read book” makes the connection very clear

    [Response:What, you think there's a "right" and "wrong" when it comes to viewpoints on the issue? And I wasn't arguing about whether climate change deniers use the same methods as cancer deniers did--read it again. I was arguing that the nature and strength of the evidence on the two topics were different.--Jim]

  23. 123
    Susan Anderson says:

    I do wish that when you reject a comment you would put it in the borehole, that way we could know if it is a mechanical glitch or intentional. Full disclosure: I have a great admiration for Tenney Naumer, and if her phrasing is a bit stark at times, it is necessary as a counterbalance for the habit of understatement prevalent in the scientific community. So far, that’s not working, is it?

    Her blog is eclectic, but she keeps a vast archive of scientific literature and thought-provoking material here, which you might add to her sidebar. Many of us feel the time for discretion has long passed, and while not condoning distortion, some strong language is quite welcome and a wake up call long overdue.

    I am aware that I am at times an intruder and occasionally an enabler of the worst trollish types because of my lack of expertise in the subject area, and try to back off when I do so. But discussions of language and denial are something I believe I can contribute to. Also, as an informed layperson I can put paid to the idea that one must have advanced maths to understand the drift of climate change and climate change science.

    Humor, brevity, graphics, and an avoidance of boring are all useful in the ongoing effort to reach over the footlights.

    [Response:Shouldn't be too hard to figure out. Aside from the fact of insulting Eric and making a non-sequitir response to his points (and thus not apparently understanding them), the idea of "pelting people with rotten eggs and tomatoes" has no place here. Aside from decency considerations, just think for a second about the wisdom of saying something like that. That's why it was boreholed. Obviously some others think this is acceptable behavior. I don't.--Jim]

    OTOH, I wholly support the “by scientists for scientists” majority postings here, and would not remove one jot of detail or analytic sophistication.

    [Response:Susan, I have no idea how that ended up in the borehole. It has been restored. --Mike]

  24. 124
    Jim Larsen says:

    118 Mike R wondered about Fox VS Muller.

    Fox doesn’t financially support anybody. If you ain’t increasing Fox’s bottom line (and supporting the political/”scientific” views of Fox’s owners), you’re the enemy. As you noted, it’s the Koch brothers that financed Muller. My post was made with the assumption that the typical reader knows what you know.

  25. 125
    Susan Anderson says:

    That’s “your” sidebar, not “her”. aargh

    Thinking about it, I don’t believe I’ve ever used “suggest” in a comment. So it’s possible to delete it from the mindset.

  26. 126
    Susan Anderson says:

    Mike, oh dear, you did not put my comment in the borehole! My apologies for not being clear. It was Tenney who wondered where hers went, and it was over a day ago, but since I had a similar disappearing comment I thought it would be helpful to know if it was the computer problem or intentional. If you all have a problem with a comment, that’s your prerogative which I respect, regardless of whether it feels personal. It’s helpful for growth to know what or why something, trivial or not, disappears.

    [Response: Yes, I've restored *Tenney's* comment. And, no, I didn't place it in the borehole in the first place. I don't know how it got there. --Mike]

    too funny: ostriches in my recaptcha!

  27. 127
    dbostrom says:

    OT but as the sidebar came up: Science of Doom. Quiet for a few months, now back with the usual marvelous illuminations of climate underpinnings, such as the latest Geopotential Height – The Height of a Given Atmospheric Pressure

  28. 128
    CRV9 says:

    #115, J O’Sullivan
    The contrarians have done so by saying about anthropogenic global warming “if it’s not a fact we must not act”

    Only thing I came up with is a comeback line.
    “You’re saying you’re defending justice just like Johnny Cochran in the court room. So the fossil fuel industry is O.J. Simpson in this case?”

  29. 129
    Jim Larsen says:

    121 Wili used the “L” word.

    On a communications thread, this bears note. I used humour and found that if the joke doesn’t “take”, the response can be significant.

    And I lie not, recaptcha says

    message, oterwit

  30. 130
    Jim Larsen says:

    And Wili, to explain my decision.

    I decided to say “million years” instead of the maybe more accurate “billion years” to give the statement more diversity – billions of revolutions VS a million years. Plus, the target audience, more-or-less-skeptics-who-aren’t-sure, would respond to “billion years” with derision, but “million years” with a sort of negative awe, hopefully. Sometimes shaving the truth down to what does the motivation but doesn’t alert the “bull” flag is best. (talk about opening up a can of worms – I’ll close by saying all tools have their purpose)

    [Response:Millions and Billions of years are meaningless. We need to know what's going to happen in the next century, and that alone is a wicked problem.--Jim]

  31. 131
    Edward Greisch says:

    121 wili: “what the biological diversity of the earth is going to be in the coming millions of years”
    If you read enough paleontology, you may come across a graph of species diversity over time. Species diversity sort of has a “constant” equilibrium. The great extinction events disrupt that equilibrium. It takes something like 20 Million years to return to equilibrium, depending on the “size” of the event. After the Great Death alias the Permian-Triassic Boundary extinction event, 40 Million years went by before diversity returned to “normal.”

    I’m putting in lots of ” because diversity tends to grow over billions of years and because the terms are not exact. Our extinction event started from a high level. That isn’t exact either. I wish we had some paleontologists instead of me saying this.

    PS: See:

  32. 132
    Jim Larsen says:

    Jim, in the context of this thread, “millions” and “billions” both translate to “forever”. The point is that our actions over this 100 years will have permanent and very substantial effects (or hopefully not). The original joke, that it isn’t permanent, just permanent, well, I stand by it as reasonable science communication – and that it got a rise out of somebody, that’s also a sign of effective communication.

    [Response:OK. My point is simply that we need to try to get a handle on what's most likely to be most heavily impacted in the nearest term future, so that we can (hopefully) take appropriate actions on the adaptation front. Better yet, on the mitigation front.--Jim]

    (And when your audience believes the Earth is 10,000 years old, a million sure sounds big, eh?)

    And while 131 Edward’s analysis is grand, it would have ruined the original sound bite. Sound bites are paramount nowadays. Make them provocative, catchy, and essentially true, but expecting rigour is a sure-fire way to kill a sound bite.

  33. 133
    Jim Larsen says:

    Knowing one’s audience is critical. Climate scientists should remember that their audience is not the folks who flock to their speeches, but those who avoid them like the plague (other than to heckle or protest).

    The only good “you” could do in communicating with me is to improve my effectiveness with “your” true target audience, the convincible skeptic.

    The choir is already saved (in theory).

    And, I think the whole thing is quickly becoming moot. An ice-free Arctic ocean is what it looks like it will take, and that looks like it’s just a couple years away, so, we’ve probably frittered away as much time as we’re going to.

  34. 134
    prokaryotes says:

    [Response:What, you think there's a "right" and "wrong" when it comes to viewpoints on the issue? And I wasn't arguing about whether climate change deniers use the same methods as cancer deniers did--read it again. I was arguing that the nature and strength of the evidence on the two topics were different.--Jim]

    Jim the difference between tabacco denial and climate change denial is the impact on humanity. With systematic denial and manipulation of the public opinion in regards to climate change, often with falsification of data – the time to act on the problem runs out. Our environmental setup “Holocene climate” has changed drastic and the result is, survivability of your civilization and the habitability of the places we call our home and use to feed is at stake. It doesn’t get more existential than this.

    Climate scientist should speak up about this problem on “National Security” and tell the public how it is. You need to outline the big picture (a multitude of problems) and offer the solution (climate action).

    [Response: I agree with you Prok. Indeed, I express many of these very sentiments in my recent book "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars". -mike]

    [Response:I don't disagree with anything you say, but I was not arguing against this and you keep shifting the focus of the original argument. Of course climate change has big implications for the planet. But if you were dying of lung cancer or emphysema you might have a different perspective on which of those two issues were more important to "humanity"--particularly your own.--Jim]

  35. 135
    Hank Roberts says:

    > “What did they know, and when did they know it?”

    The fossil fuel _prospecting_ companies have been running climate models for decades, I recall.

    They use them to figure out what areas in the geological past likely accumulated sediments that produced and captured petroleum, and where that moved to and can be found today.

    So there may well be proprietary research that hasn’t been disclosed.

    “What did they know, and when did they know it?”
    is a fair question to ask.

    The “they” is the management — the people who get the whole large picture — not the individual scientists.

    As employees the scientists likely get a small piece of a proprietary data set and do limited work with that.

    I know that scientists talk to each other, at least in the halls if not from the podium at meetings, unless they’re very actively throttled by their employers.

    Perhaps some journalist-scientist type is looking into this question.

  36. 136
    Hank Roberts says:

    Here’s an example of how to look at responsibility:

    Rather than proclaiming opinion and emphasizing belief, do the research

    “… to explore the following four questions: (a) What did tobacco companies know about the health risks of smoking and when did they know it? (b) What evidence is there that tobacco companies conspired to deliberately mislead the public about the health risks of smoking? (c) How were scientists involved in the cigarette controversy? (d) Have tobacco companies changed the way they do business ….?”

    doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-06-0912
    Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev June 2007 16; 1070

    Note the links with the abstract provide access to source documents.

  37. 137
    Susan Anderson says:

    Hank Roberts has the right of it. I’ve posted an extract over at the open thread of a rather cogent article on UVA and GMU which I hope will appear today (never mind the provocative blogsite name) which as I suspected associates recent presidential shenanigans with Mike Mann:

    Jim: Did Tenney say that? I thought the conversation with Eric clarified that she had been falsely associated with those remarks. It is not a non sequitur to point out that earth is in the balance and it might be time to have the accusations of criminality not be exclusively directed at the truthtellers on this issue.

    If I have this wrong, I apologize, have to run or would check back carefully, will do later.

  38. 138
    simon abingdon says:

    #123 Susan Anderson

    Susan, you say “as an informed layperson I can put paid to the idea that one must have advanced maths to understand the drift of climate change and climate change science”.

    Susan, the layperson ipso facto and without qualification is hopelessly uninformed. And part of what you deny is in fact incontestable, viz “one must have advanced maths to understand”.

  39. 139
    Edward Greisch says:

    132 Jim Larsen: “And when your audience believes the Earth is 10,000 years old,” quit talking. There is no point in bothering.

  40. 140

    #133–”The choir is already saved (in theory.)”

    Not so much–this isn’t a theological problem, after all, but (ultimately) a practical one. Environmental correctness will not put one morsel of food into one’s mouth, if the ecological systems needed to provide it are toast.

  41. 141

    #138–Typical denialist comment: “incomplete knowledge = no knowledge.”

    All human knowledge is incomplete, unfortunately, so the conclusion would have to be that all humans know nothing.

    Something’s wrong with that picture, surely.

  42. 142
    sidd says:

    Re: advanced math required to understand climate science.

    I contend that climate science is quite easy to understand without advanced math. See the skeptical science site, beginners series.

    Understanding that CO2 blocks IR does not require details of bond angles, vib-rot states, Clebsch-Jordan coefficients. Comprehending the isotopic signature of fossil fuel loading of the air does not need calculations of nuclear states and decay paths. Grasping that CO2 warming leads to water vapor feedback does not require van der Waal calculation or Gibbs surfaces. Seeing that applying a substantial fraction of a watt in radiative imbalance to every last square meter of the world will heat it up does not require a MODTRAN calculation.

    What _mis_understanding of these simple ideas requires is a conscious denial of the science … and requires no advanced math either.


  43. 143
    Hank Roberts says:

    You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

    It may be we’ll have so many troubles that climate change will seem a minor issue. Here, for example another problem being avoided with ‘tobacco tactics’ in use:
    “… Endocrinology, a peer-reviewed journal, has published a study …. devastating for the chemical industry….”

  44. 144

    @simon re:138

    No one needs advanced maths to understand that when the outflow of certain of Greenland’s glaciers accelerated to nearly double their past outflow that something very major was going on.

    No one needs to understand advanced math to see that the hockey stick graph shows us we are in serious trouble.

    No one needs advanced math to understand what is going on when hundreds of supra-glacial lakes appear when before there were none.

  45. 145
    simon abingdon says:

    #144 Tenney Naumer

    You misread me Tenney. I was talking about understanding, being able to answer “how” questions, to know reasons and not jump to easy conclusions.

  46. 146
    Hank Roberts says:

    >>> “as an informed layperson I can put paid to the idea that
    >>> one must have advanced maths to understand the drift of climate change
    >>> and climate change science”.

    >> the layperson ipso facto and without qualification is hopelessly uninformed.
    >> And part of what you deny is in fact incontestable, viz “one must have
    >> advanced maths to understand”.
    >> I was talking about understanding, being able to answer “how” questions,
    >> to know reasons and not jump to easy conclusions.

    Susan, don’t fall for it.

    You clearly said one can understand ‘the drift’ — where we’re headed, where we’ll end up if we keep going the way we are — without the math. True — and you point to where we can read information that’s been scrutinized by those who do understand the math and the science. We can find reliable sources.

    Simon truncates the quote from you, then claims understanding the drift equals being able to answer the “how” questions, so nobody can do that without the math, so what we _can_ do can’t help jumping to conclusions. Nonsense.

    It’s a “voters don’t understand calculus so there’s no hope for change” argument.


  47. 147
    Brian Dodge says:


    The only way to avoid the easy obvious conclusions[1] – is willful ignorance, not being “hopelessly” uninformed. Go to WUWT discussion of the Arctic collapse to see what contorted hoops of willful misinterpretation the denialists are jumping through, in a desparate attempt to deny reality.
    Anybody arguing that we don’t know enough to act is arguing for more data – more drought, more heatwaves, more floods, more food riots, more dead people. The experiment we are performing on our climate(“how bad will the consequences of unregulated emissions be?) would never pass an IRB(Institutional Review Board, which must approve any experiments on humans at all institutions doing such experiments – except fossil fuel companies &;>).

    [1]CO2 absorbs IR, is the main GHG, human emissions are increasing its concentration in the atmosphere, raising temperatures globally; the second GHG, water vapor, exists in equilibrium with water/ice, would precipitate out if not for the CO2, so acts as a feedback; since the oceans cover so much of the planet, water is a large positive feedback; melting snow and ice as the atmosphere warms decreases albedo, another positive feedback, biased toward the poles, which gives larger polar warming than the global average; decreasing the temperature gradient from the equator to the poles is reducing the driving forces for the jetstream; the jetstream’s meanders are increasing in amplitude and slowing, just like the lower Missippi River where its driving gradient decreases; the larger slower meanders increase the amplitude and duration of blocking highs, increasing drought and extreme temperatures – and 30,000+ Europeans and 5,000 plus Russians die, and the US corn crop, Russian wheat crop, and Aussie wildland fire protection fails – or extreme rainfall floods the US, France, Pakistan, Thailand(driving up prices for disk drives – hows that for unexpected adverse impacts from AGW?), and the Aussies while they’re still recovering from the drought and wildfires. All this is happening while denialists are touting the end, er slowdown, uhm, statistically insignificant warming since 98, 2002, … whenever. One might think that if the sensitivity is low – “See, it’s paused, or only warmed a little, but CO2 is still rising” – but the consequences are already as bad as we now see, the hairs on the nape of their neck would be rising.

  48. 148
    Radge Havers says:

    There’s understanding and then there’s understanding. When it comes to climate science, compared to most at RC, I understand little.  But it’s enough to see that AGW is real and serious, and it’s a heck of a lot better than having a head stuffed full of crackpot memes.

    As for calculus, it’s generally a good thing, and I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t bashing math who would suggest that those who are able, and society in general, would be better off with less of it. (That whole hopeless without calculus characterization is bogus.)

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, know your audience and speak to it. Some need lots of info, others not so much.

    Something to ponder from your TV, and applicable beyond the classroom:

    “In its essence, teaching is a performance art. In the classroom paradigm, the teacher has the responsibility to communicate as well as entertain and engage.”

    Amy Farrah Fowler, 
    Big Bang Theory
    The Thespian Catalyst

  49. 149
    Jim Larsen says:

    Lessons on persuasion….

    Persuasion doesn’t work. I used the August Unforced Variations thread to try to come up with a consensus of smart folks who are RC regs. Total failure. No matter what the input – pure electric car owners will freeze in winter and boil in summer because the range will wither if one uses climate control – uh, no difference in thought patterns at all. Spreading the available batteries amongst the vehicles we have would use the batteries more efficiently. Again, no effect at all. 100% battery power is the ONLY acceptable solution, even when the vehicle being built will be landfill long before we generate all electricity carbon-free.

    Naw, it’s all about results. When Iowa’s farmers can’t grow corn or raise cattle profitably, then Iowa farmers will “vote AGW”. (Not the best example – Iowa farmers are voting AGW because of government handouts on wind farms, too. Note that’s buying the vote, not persuasion.) When the arctic sea ice is obviously imminently doomed, people will figure they were uninformed (NEVER wrong), and the solution is to use the same theories and thought processes that led them to believe that AGW was a myth. Yep, failed theories will become EXACTLY the theories and thought processes that will solve AGW, according to those who hold that opinion.

    So, it’s NOT about scientists talking, NOT about science at all. It’s about common folks having their lives ruined. Do that to enough voters and their friends, and things can change. But thinking the brilliant folks who lead the opposition will do anything but use their great wealth to slow progress, well….

    So pray for arctic ice to melt. Pray for devastating droughts and heat waves. Death and destruction are unfortunate but KEY components to persuasion. If thousands of “real” people, or millions of “undeveloped” people don’t die, tis a yawner. So unless enough people die sooner, later is gonna be fracked.

    (How’s that for a screwed up post)

  50. 150
    sidd says:

    Language is best directed to those who are most affected; the young and very young in the demographic bulge who will live in increasingly inclement climes to come. There are many in Asia and Africa. Have we any capable volunteer translators into the languages ? It would be quite expensive to hire such talent, maybe a Kickstarter type crowdsource ?

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