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A failure in communicating the impact of new findings

Filed under: — rasmus @ 6 December 2013

I was disappointed by the recent summary for policymakers (SPM) of the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) assessment report 5, now that I finally got around to read it. Not so much because of the science, but because the way it presented the science.

The report was written by top scientists, so what went wrong?

I guess we need to recognise the limitations of the format of the SPM, and the constraints that they have to work under (word by word approval from 190 country representatives) may not have been helpful this time. The specified report length, combined with attempts from lots of people to expand on the content, may have complicated the process.

My impression is that the amount of information crammed into this report was more important than making a few strong messages.

The SPM really provides a lot of facts, but what do all those numbers mean for policy makers? There was little attempt to set the findings in a context relevant for decision making (ranging from the national scale to small businesses).

It is difficult to write a summary for a report that has not yet been published, and for that reason, the SPM is cluttered by technical details and discussions about uncertainty and confidence which have a better place in the main report.

The authors of the SPM are experts at writing scientific papers, but that is a different skill to writing for non-scientists. Often, the order of presentation for non-scientists is opposite to the way papers are presented in sciences.

A summary should really start with the most important message, but the SPM starts by discussing uncertainties. It is then difficult for non-scientists to make sense of the report. Are the results reliable or not?

I asked myself after reading the SPM – what’s the most important finding? If the IPCC hoped for good press coverage, I can imagine all journalists asking the same question.

My recommendation is that next time, the main report is published before the SPM. That way, all the space used on uncertainty and confidence in the SPM could be spared.

I also recommend that people who decide the structure of future SPMs and undertake the writing take a course effective writing for non-scientist. At MET Norway, we have had such writing lessons to improve our communication skills, and I have found this training valuable.

It takes some training to find more popular ways to describe science and spot excessive use of jargon. Many words, such as ‘positive feedback‘ have different meanings if you talk to a scientist or a non-scientist (a bad phrase to use in the context of climate change for people with very little science background). Also the word ‘uncertainty‘ is not a good choice – what does it mean really?

There are some examples of how the report could be written in a better way: The European Academies of Science Advicory Council (EASAC) followed a different strategy, where the main report was published before the summary, and hence the summary could be written as a summary and with a more coherent structure and a stronger connection to the reports target group.

The World Bank report of last year also comes to my mind – I think that is a much clearer form of presentation.

If I could have my way, I would also suggest that IPCC’s main reports in the future come with supporting material that includes the necessary data (extracted for the plotting purposes, but with meta-data providing the complete history of post-processing) and source code for generating all the figures in the report.

One way to do that could to use so-called ‘R-packages’ as suggested by Pebesma et al (2012) (PDF). It would also be good if future assessment reports pay more attention to replicating important results as a means of verification or falsification.

p.s.There exists a set of headline statements have been issued from the IPCC. THere is also a short video on the IPCC working group 1 findings

p.s. After posting this article, I was made aware of two short documents summarizing the IPCC reports – link here. I’m really grateful for this feedback. -rasmus

Update 2015: Related discussions in Nature Climate Change March 25, 2015. Also, this post motivated an article in EARTH: IPCC: A failure in communicating the impact of new findings


  1. E. Pebesma, D. Nüst, and R. Bivand, "The R software environment in reproducible geoscientific research", Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, vol. 93, pp. 163-163, 2012.

214 Responses to “A failure in communicating the impact of new findings”

  1. 101
    Sean says:

    @94 Steve Fish re “How many here have tried to post and found that their clarifications about communicating science issues to the public and the dynamics of barriers erected on discussion boards are off topic, deleted, and banned?”

  2. 102
    SecularAnimist says:

    Tom Bond wrote: “The bottom line is; to have any chance of reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2100 requires the deployment of every non carbon technology that is available globally including nuclear.”

    Tom, as Edward Greisch noted above (#88), the moderators of this site have generally ruled discussions of nuclear power “off topic” here, because more often than not such discussions have degenerated into prolonged. repetitive, vituperative argument, and even name-calling and personal attacks from some commenters. I, for one, have been accused of being a paid shill for the coal industry, because I advocated rapid deployment of solar power as more cost-effective than building new nuclear facilities.

    As I’m sure you are aware, there are many other sites, including Brave New Climate, where people can discuss nuclear power to their heart’s content.

    Having said that, I replied very briefly to a previous commenter who made a claim similar to yours, and I will simply reiterate that you are incorrect. Reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2100 does not “require” the “deployment” of any new nuclear power plants, and in fact we can achieve that goal while phasing out all existing nuclear power plants.

    Indeed, there are multiple, detailed (and in some cases peer-reviewed) plans that have been put forward for reducing GHG emissions from electricity generation to zero by the 2030s, by rapidly deploying existing solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies, along with efficiency and smart grid technologies — with NO expansion of nuclear power.

    The plausibility of such plans is well supported simply by looking at what is happening in the real world with solar, wind, efficiency and smart grid technologies today, in countries like Japan, Germany, Australia and the USA, as well as in the developing world where ultra-efficient, ultra-cheap, off-grid solar power is driving a revolution in rural electrification in countries like India and China.

  3. 103

    #96–Tom, the nuclear question–or more accurately, the nuclear vs. renewables question–has a history here of triggering long, pointless debates (something of the ‘circular firing’ squad variety, IMO). Hence Ed’s injunction to SA to eschew.

    I agree with you, the main hurdle to be taken is figuring out how the hell we are going to get people to stop (mis)valuing fossil fuels–because that’s what it is going to take if we are to leave roughly 2/3 of proven reserves in the ground–NOT slagging (pun intended) proponents of other non-carboniferous energy sources!

  4. 104

    I first brought up the n-word here, but my intention was not to spark a discussion for or against it. If the disagreement here on this and related subjects reflects sentiments in the scientific community, i.e. no consensus, then I believe the community can’t expect any significant political impact regarding AGW. For the reasons in #86.

  5. 105
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I believe the community can’t expect any
    > significant political impact regarding AGW

    A proverb I learned as a child:

    When proclaiming something impossible, do not stand in the way of those already doing it.

  6. 106
    SecularAnimist says:

    Steinar Midtskogen wrote: “If the disagreement here on this and related subjects reflects sentiments in the scientific community, i.e. no consensus, then I believe the community can’t expect any significant political impact regarding AGW.”

    Your term “the scientific community” overlooks the reality that there are in fact multiple scientific communities, which represent widely varying fields of knowledge and expertise.

    The moderators of this climate science site are climate scientists who are, I think, wisely well aware that they are not experts on energy technologies, and who wish to keep the focus of this site on climate science, where they have a HUGE amount of knowledge and expertise.

    It is through their knowledge and expertise about climate, and their resulting understanding of the severity and urgency of the problem, that climate scientists can contribute “significant political impact regarding AGW” — rather than through making specific recommendations about which technologies are most cost-effective for rapidly reducing GHG emissions from electricity generation, an area where they have no particular expertise and their opinions may be no better informed than those of ordinary citizens.

    Hence the original topic of this thread — how to more effectively communicate the findings of climate science.

    I think that your comments have a bit of “begging the question” about them, in suggesting that the necessity of expanding nuclear power to reduce GHG emissions from electricity generation is an established fact, upon which any “debate” about addressing AGW must be based — rather than an unproven assertion to be argued.

    Personally, I believe it is a false assertion, which is indeed being proved false as we write here today by the explosive growth of solar and wind energy. But again, that is a discussion best taken to other, more appropriate venues.

  7. 107
    Hank Roberts says:

    Are there other situations than this where scientists at government agencies in different countries are prevented by politics from talking directly to each other?

    Doing a baseline study before doing anything that is expected to cause some change is — important, and often neglected.

  8. 108
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Sean — 13 Dec 2013 @ 9:58 AM

    Very few.


  9. 109
    Edward Greisch says: Tomorrowtoday: Matching speech rhythm with brain wavelength helps communication a lot: Just saw it 15 Dec 2013 in the wee hours.
    Do written words have some sort of rhythm?

  10. 110
    Edward Greisch says:

    102 SecularAnimist: I want you to show us the arithmetic. All of it. YOUR PROBLEM NOT MINE. You are just waving your hands.

    And move this to unforced variations.

  11. 111
    Edward Greisch says:
    “Average citizens do not have the educational background” required to sort emotional nonsense from information.

    No matter who 102 SecularAnimist thinks he is working for, comment 102 is a propaganda victory for the coal industry. It is written on the RealClimate web site that wind and solar are all we need to overcome GW. SecularAnimist is wrong, but RC did not remove comment 102, so the coal industry wins. At best, the idea that there is a real controversy is continued.

    Education in the US, Japan and other countries is so bad that “Average citizens do not have the educational background” required to sort emotional nonsense from information. Or maybe it is the average IQ. People fear all things nuclear because they did not take enough science in the public schools. People do not fear GW because they did not take enough science in the public schools. Let’s attend some school board meetings.

  12. 112
    Ray Ladbury says:

    OK, folks, nukes have now taken over two threads. Does anyone need an explanation for why the moderators in their wisdom have deemed such discussions off topic. Might I suggest to the moderators that further discussions be carried on in another thread–perhaps the Borehole.

    I realize that the topic of how to address development of a new energy infrastructure is key. I realize that part of the public’s reluctance to embrace the science has to do with the seeming hopelessness of developing such solutions in time to avoid severe consequences. However, the science of climate change is in no way predicated on the acceptance of or even existence of any solution to the problem.

    There are plenty of forums for discussing nukes, energy and mitigation. It would be nice to have at least one place where we can come with the hope of getting the latest on climate science.

  13. 113
    Radge Havers says:

    Ed @~108

    Written words have rhythm. The obvious example is metre in poetry, which of course isn’t limited to poetry. You will also sometimes hear reference to various kinds of ‘beats’ in writing, comics, and film.

    Writers are encouraged to read their stuff out loud to make sure the sound is right.

    A little more here:

    As in music think of heart beat, breathing, and on top of that engaging novelty.

  14. 114
  15. 115
    SecularAnimist says:

    Edward Greisch wrote: “SecularAnimist: I want you to show us the arithmetic. All of it.”

    I am not going to do that, Edward, for three reasons:

    1. The moderators have stated that discussions of nuclear power are off-topic. I am doing my best to respect their wishes. As such, I will not be baited into an argument over the alleged “necessity” of expanding nuclear electricity generation.

    2. When I have posted such information in the past, with links to supporting material, you have completely ignored it, and your subsequent comments indicate that you have not bothered to read any of it. As such, I have no desire to waste my time providing information that you will ignore.

    3. Lastly, you have seen fit to insult me and personally attack my character and motives, accusing me of being a “paid shill for the coal industry” (your exact words), simply because I do not accept your assertions about the necessity of expanding nuclear power, and advocate aggressive deployment of wind and solar as more cost-effective ways to reduce GHG emissions from electricity generation.

    Apparently, you believe that the only reason that anyone could disagree with your pronouncements is that they are being paid to lie, or perhaps because they are stupid, ignorant, and driven by “emotion”. In either case, I have no interest in “discussing” anything with anyone whose idea of “argument” is baseless insults and personal attacks.

    [Response: Enough on this. Thank you. – gavin]

  16. 116
    wili says:

    “Enough on this” Thank _you_, GS!

    And if anyone really wants to see excellent communication in practice, see this video of Gavin’s lecture at AGU (you have to register, its free).

  17. 117

    #109–“Do written words have some sort of rhythm?”

    See, those humanities degrees some of us tote around in our mental baggage really can be useful.


    #111–““Average citizens do not have the educational background” required to sort emotional nonsense from information. Or maybe it is the average IQ.”

    Sorry, but very bright, very well-educated folks still fail to sort emotional nonsense from information. It’s not a matter of intelligence, or information; it’s a matter of self-awareness, humility and confidence, among other traits. One attempt to provide a theoretical framework is the idea of ’emotional intelligence.’

    Without it, in my experience, intelligence and information simply fall slave to ever more sophisticated (and unrealistic) rationalizations when emotional buttons are pushed in some way.

    #112–Hear, hear!

  18. 118
    wili says:

    Apologies if this has already been linked:


    John Cook

    “Climate change is described as a “wicked problem”, with a range of strategies required to overcome the many barriers to climate action. Nevertheless, closing the “consensus gap”, the chasm between public perception and the 97% reality, will remove a roadblock that has delayed public support for climate action. “

  19. 119
    Edward Greisch says:

    115 SecularAnimist: You got me wrong.What I want you to do is show us how you are going to store energy from wind and solar or shut up about wind and solar. MY estimate is that the energy storage for 1 week for the US would cost half a QUADRILLION dollars. I showed you how I got that number before, a long time ago. Show me your numbers. No fair using a fossil fuel backup 70% of the time because that is just an excuse to burn fossil fuel. Your system must burn zero fossil fuel for a whole year. If you can’t do it, don’t bother us again. Ever. Enough on this. Gavin is right. I am very tired of it.

  20. 120

    The moderators have begun sending comments touching energy politics to the Bore Hole, presumably because energy politics is not a branch of climate science.

    The topic was “failure in communicating the impact of new findings”. My reply to Rasmus is that the problem is not so much the choice of words, but rather that in order to communicate the impact, climate science has to team up with experts in other fields. The scope of the impact is limited by the scope of what is presented. If climate scientists are unable to team up with other experts, the SPM is little more than an internal memo.

  21. 121

    #119–Ed, the putative ‘storage issue’ has been discussed at great length in this forum previously; as you may recall, I (among others) presented peer-reviewed studies examining the question, and concluding, essentially, that its magnitude is far, far less than what you allege.

    You can continue to insist on your point of view, but you did not convince previously, and repetition has added nothing to your argument.

    Trust me, I’m just as tired of this as you are.

  22. 122
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Edward Greisch …
    > show us how you are going to store energy
    > from wind and solar
    > or shut up

    That’s not how the future works, except in fairy tales.
    You’re not living in a fairy tale. You know that you are asking for a guaranteed future, with specific numbers. Asking for the impossible and not getting it isn’t a good reason to order people to shut up. Especially when it’s not your blog or your call.

    The future doesn’t arrive early. It does, so far, arrive.
    We bet on it continuing to work out — you’ve heard of trends?
    People study trends for a reason — in climate and in tech.

    How good are you at calculating and projecting trends? If you’re not the expert in this area, telling others to shut up is — hubris.


    You know how to find this stuff.

  23. 123
    Edward Greisch says:

    117 Kevin McKinney: Thank you on emotional intelligence. But I don’t see what the humanities have to do with it. Social sciences, yes. My English Lit teacher was too stuck on Freud. I don’t believe Freud.

    Why “very bright, very well-educated folks still fail to sort emotional nonsense from information” is clearly the question. That is what we are trying to deal with here. The human brain seems poorly designed to handle the kind of information provided by climate science.

    What do we do about it? Add social sciences requirements to high schools? Invent a gas that makes people quit believing things for long enough to start questioning? Call it “disbelieving gas.” That is what I was trying to accomplish by adding laboratory requirements to high school curriculums.

  24. 124
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Edward Greisch,
    I have some very smart, accomplished colleagues who reject climate science. And you certainly cannot suggest lack of intelligence or scientific understanding is behind the denialism of the likes of Freeman Dyson. Sometimes all intelligence does is make us more effective at fooling ourselves. And as to the humanities, I would suggest you read Albert Camus’ “The Plague”. It is a wonderful and ultimately optimistic metaphor for our current predicament.

  25. 125

    #123–Ed, the reference to ‘humanities’ was intended as relating to the ‘rhythm of words’ bit, as it’s a well-know phenomenon to all sorts of artists falling under the humanities rubric–poets, as Radge pointed out, but also composers (like me), singers, actors, and rappers.

    However, I’d claim that humanities *can* help develop emotional intelligence (though I wouldn’t claim that they are necessary, or necessarily sufficient, to do so.) That’s because they can help us to experience ourselves as emotional and social beings, not merely cognitive ones. If we imagine ourselves as only cognitive, or essentially cognitive, we are not beginning from an adequate base of self-knowledge, and our ’emotional intelligence’ will probably suffer as a result–if we can accept that formulation, at least as a metaphor, if not a ‘scientific reality.’

    Hope that makes something like sense.

  26. 126
    michael sweet says:

    Ed Greisch,

    this peer reviewed study found that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels. They find that energy storage is not economic and it is cheaper to build more capacity to supply baseline power using renewables. the study area is about 20% of the USA market (NorthEast USA). You are arguing a straw man. This study shows:

    1) Less than .1% fossil fuel backup for 4 years.
    2) Cheap cost.
    3) They find storage is generally not economic, as you are pointing out. Other methods exist to solve your pet peeves economically.
    They find that at 2030 costs renewables can provide 90% of power most cheaply (primarily using wind). 99.9% of power is not that expensive. In the end there will be significant differences in how the energy will be used. They model spilling excess energy, which is unlikely to happen. They do not consider using hydro because they said it made the problem too easy to solve. They do not use nuclear because it is not economic to ramp up to provide peak power and is uneconomic with high renewable market penetration.

    This study answers all your questions in a peer reviewed study. It is a conservative model which leaves much room for improvement in costs using renewables only. You have not provided any peer reviewed reverences for your wild claims. Please provide peer reviewed support for your wild claims in the future.

  27. 127
    wili says:

    Ed Greisch wrote: ” The human brain seems poorly designed to handle the kind of information provided by climate science. What do we do about it?”

    I think that is _the_ (or at least _an_ important) question.

    GW a threat without a face (though the Koch bros are kindly providing a villain for the story).

    It is not obviously immediate (unless you’re in the midst of, for example, the ’03 European heat wave–I was–and can connect the dots).

    It is largely self-inflicted (though not so much for the worlds poorest who have contributed least but are and will be suffering most first).

    And it often just seems too big to easily wrap ones head around. I’m still staggered nearly daily by the latest developments.

    Today it was the report that the very bedrock of the West Antarctic is starting to drift sideways, in response to the loss of billions of tons of overlying ice a year, in response to GW, in response to all of us getting in our cars, buying our crap, over-heating and -cooling our buildings, and generally living unsustainable lives.

    If I have trouble groking the enormity of this reality, who have been reading and teaching about these things for 30-some years, what is the average joe and jane to make of it?

  28. 128
    Patrick 027 says:

    re 123 Edward Greisch – lab requirements –

    How many people graduate from high school these days without it? I kind’a thought it was standard to have some lab work in chemistry, at least. Maybe not in the sense of a requirement but in the sense that that’s the way most kids get their science quota filled. But maybe my H.S. was anomalous and/or outdated?

  29. 129
    Hank Roberts says:

    For anyone who doesn’t know yet how to look this stuff up, when I do this search
    (click the link, or read it as plain text)

    is this 2013 report (PDF) Energy Storage: Current Status and Future Trends
    Yes, it has numbers, charts, graphs.

  30. 130
    AIC says:

    Susan Anderson, thank you for pointing out Mauri Pelto’s video at

    I just kept looking at all that beautiful glacial country (I had to stop it numerous times to admire the beauty) and the people doing mountaineering (granted, sometimes with heavy packs, and sometimes under dangerous conditions) and saying “What?!? People get paid to do this??”

    Also there is “Scientists’ Concerns Challenge Conservative Sea-Level Rise Projections”

  31. 131
    Radge Havers says:

    Ok now, Ed. First of all, some food for thought:

    If you think about it, writing is obviously a temporal art. You’ve no doubt read entertaining and enlightening books that were paced to be page turners or that otherwise successfully hijacked your brain and manipulated your thoughts and emotions. You don’t need an MRI to get that (or to learn how to do it). Which is not to say that there aren’t a lot of gasbags who are into lit — just be real about what it offers.

  32. 132
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Sigh! Here we go again….I believe that scientists should realise that literature complements science. There’s not much point is knowing your subject to the nth degree and then failing to convey the salient pieces of information to the policy makers and public at large. Universities have a large part to play in this problem. A little more Shakespeare in the program will help no end. Please don’t be smug and think you don’t need it…YOU DO!!!

  33. 133
    wili says:

    This may be relevant here:

    “The findings prompted the [Royal Society of Art], a multi-disciplinary institution dating back to the 1700s, to develop a proposed 8-part agenda to fight so-called stealth denial and the need to focus on keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

    One of those parts, ironically, is the need to develop a media communication strategy which no longer focuses on the debate over whether climate change exists. Instead, communications of climate change should solely focus on competing ideas and solutions to fight it.”

    Link to RSA study:

    (Warning: 80 page pdf)

  34. 134
    Hank Roberts says:

    Perhaps public education would be furthered (at least for the next generation) by presenting the issue as an interactive game, in which the goal is to destroy civilization — with the tools at hand.

    Here’s an example:

    Public Health–Research & Library News
    Taubman Health Sciences Library

    From the CDC’s Public Health Matters blog:

    Plague Inc., an app created by James Vaughan, of Ndemic Creationslayers, allows players to select a pathogen and strategize how to evolve symptoms, transmit the disease, and counter actions taken by world governments and scientists. If the interventions don’t work and the disease is successful, players can watch as governments fall and humanity is wiped out.

    Read an interview with Mr. Vaughan that discusses the app as a non-traditional way to raise public awareness on epidemiology, disease transmission, and diseases/pandemic information here.

  35. 135
    Edward Greisch says:

    128 Patrick 027: Go to a small town, meaning one with less than 2000 residents. They can’t teach chemistry or physics in their high school. Go to a moderate sized city with maybe 40,000 residents. Only half of the students take physics.

    A single year of physics is not enough. A single year of chemistry is not enough. All students need to do enough experiments to understand and believe the following:
    Nature isn’t just the final authority on truth, Nature is the Only authority. There are zero human authorities. Scientists do not vote on what is the truth. There is only one vote and Nature owns it. We find out what Nature’s vote is by doing Scientific [public and replicable] experiments. Scientific [public and replicable] experiments are the only source of truth. [To be public, it has to be visible to other people in the room. What goes on inside one person’s head isn’t public unless it can be seen on an X-ray or with another instrument.]
    We build confidence by repeating experiments.

  36. 136
    Hank Roberts says:

    … Live Like Your Children Will Be Adults on Earth.

    Why do I keep harping on this subject? Why do the rest of us keep ignoring it? …

  37. 137
    Edward Greisch says:

    126 michael sweet: “Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time
    Is a repeat. Here is the answer I gave Kevin McKinney + a little more:

    If you think 99.9% of the time is reliable enough, please go ahead and try it out in NY city and Westchester County. You will be on the next train out of town, with tar and feathers.

    There are 8772.48 hours in a year. 99.9% up time leaves 8.77 hours of down time. Check “Estimated Value of Service Reliability for Electric Utility Customers in the United States” at to get the cost.
    Dick Glick’s 99.998% reliability is more reasonable, but still gives you .175 hours = 10.5 minutes of down time per year.

    “For scenarios in which backup is used rarely and at moderate fractions of load, LOAD CURTAILMENT is probably more sensible than fossil generation.” Nope. You can’t turn off my air conditioner when I need it most. Or my CPAP.

    “If renewable generation is insufficient for that hour’s load, storage is used first, then fossil generation.”

    Fossil fuel is used 9 hours/year. A great improvement but not quite as advertised. A very expensive facility, given that it is used only 9 hours/year.

    They use 3 times as many wind turbines as nameplate power would suggest. I expected 4 or 5 times nameplate power would be required, but they make up for it with solar. Their price for wind turbines is unrealistically low. So you have to multiply the cost of wind power by 3 to 5.

    They assume zero line loss.

    Meteorological stations are sparse. This is unrealistic, especially because they have no meteorological stations in hilly or mountainous regions. There is almost no wind in the valleys. You are forced to build very tall structures on the peaks only since the mountains are forested and may be off limits. That applies to West Virginia, the western 2/3 of Pennsylvania, part of Virginia and maybe Kentucky. This is where “Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time” fails.

    Good try. Doing it for nuclear is a 1 liner. France already does it 80%.

  38. 138
    Edward Greisch says:

    132 Lawrence Coleman & 131 Radge Havers: Theory of mind, OK. Shakespeare wrote in a foreign language. Languages change with time, and Shakespeare’s is just too old.

    English Lit should not get into a jurisdictional dispute with psychology. English isn’t psychology or psychiatry. Freud’s psychiatry isn’t the latest psychiatry. Psychology is a lot easier to understand than English Lit. It is a matter of English Lit claiming territory it has no right to claim since psychology came along. Having a degree in English does not qualify one as a psychologist.

    The IPCC report 5 SPM could have used some editing, but it didn’t need more irony. Less overworked scientists could have done fine.

  39. 139
    Hank Roberts says:

    > You are forced to build very tall structures
    > on the peaks only since the mountains are forested
    > and may be off limits. That applies to West Virginia ….

    I refute it thus

  40. 140
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Edward Greisch,
    A layman does not need 2 years of science. Nor do they need to be able to do science. What is needed is training on how to be an intelligent consumer of science. This could be accomplished quite easily in a year if one spent less time on specific scientific facts and a bit more on stories of science in action.

    As to literature, psych and science, most scientists I know could benefit from a bit more breadth in the humanities, not to mention formal training in statistics. Humans have been telling stories to each other since we developed language. Literature can help them tell the very exciting story of science.

  41. 141
    Radge Havers says:


    Eh? What are you on about? I was responding to what I read as rather sweeping generalizations from your quarter.

    Just a technicality, Shakespeare did not write in a foreign language. Middle English maybe. Beowulf definitely.

    And another. There have been numerous approaches to literary criticism, Freudian is a niche and probably out of fashion these days anyway. These days we have Greischian which is broadly dismissive and equally dubious.

    This thread is about communication, the principles of which can be applied with some variations to any number of subjects. I’m sorry if they made you do something in college that you didn’t like, but it’s starting to sound like this is more about grinding axes for you than anything else.

    Practicing art has the potential to offer insight into people. It’s not science in the sense that it deals with complexities that we don’t have sufficient math to deal with. However if you have practiced an art, you know that it is experimental, verifiable, and occurs in public. The process is much less ‘hard’ than behavioral science–which in turn is softer than physics– and so it is indeed very vulnerable to b.s. But it is not therefore a waste of time (even though it can be put to frivolous uses with disturbing effectiveness).

  42. 142
    wili says:

    ” You can’t turn off my air conditioner when I need it most.”

    Odd you should say that. Highest use of ac is most likely to correspond to highest solar PV output. And there are obviously thousands of other items whose timing of use could be timed according to when electricity was most available. It just takes thinking of electricity as part of nature rather than as something that is constant…but constantly destroying nature.

  43. 143
    Edward Greisch says:

    139 Hank Roberts: You haven’t refuted me. Mountaintop removal removes the wind farm that could otherwise have been put on the mountaintop. Go to Olean N.Y. and check the wind in the valleys for a year. It isn’t like it is out here in the flatland. There is little wind in the valleys. Above the trees above the Allegheny Plateau [the mountain tops] there is wind just like there is in Iowa.

    140 Ray Ladbury: Laymen: Everybody needs to be mathematical enough to figure out what is dangerous and what is safe.

    Journalists [and that includes a lot of people with degrees in English] need to be able to understand the language of science, which is math so that they can understand the scientists whom they interview. Writers need to be able to tell nonsense from science. A 4 year requirement in science would be better than a 2 year requirement. It takes quite a while for “what science is” to sink in.
    Other laymen: Need to know enough to debunk the climate denialists and the anti-nuclear coal company propaganda and to figure out the propaganda on TV and other places. Other laymen need to know enough to debunk all of the nonsense that their parents taught them. That leads to an even more taboo subject, so I will stop there.

    If you looked at
    you saw that children and people who have not been trained in science believe some very strange things. Everybody needs to get the nonsense out of their heads. Training in science and math is the only way to do it that I know of.

    You are free to define some other curriculum that you think will accomplish contact with reality sufficient to enable every citizen to debunk their own foolish beliefs. So far as I know, it takes quite a lot of science training to debunk your own previous nonsensical beliefs. Rethinking continues long after you quit going to school. Experiments you do in college and graduate school are instrumental/fundamental to this process. Doing experiments with your own hands demolishes wrong thinking. Nothing else does. Science is about experiments. Nothing else is.

    141 Radge Havers: Shakespeare is Greek to me. We can say that you are better than me at learning foreign languages.
    Literary criticism is rather irrelevant. We don’t want to do literary criticism. What we want to do is teach stuff to people who don’t want to learn it. Could it be done in a novel? It could help. So do it. Write. Use psychology. Advertisers use psychology. We need to use psychology to fight back.

    142 wili: If you had read the URLs I gave you, you would have found out that solar power sometimes has dropouts in the middle of the day in the desert for no apparent reason.

  44. 144

    “If you think 99.9% of the time is reliable enough, please go ahead and try it out…”

    Actually, I think that’s probably pretty close to what I experience now in suburban Atlanta, and nobody breaks out the pitchforks. (Just the candles and oil lamps, and, in some cases, generators.) Last significant outage was a couple of months ago, when a large branch took out the feeder line for the whole neighborhood for several hours. Last year, it was a car hitting the pole supporting the transformer. Stuff happens…

    As to the overall ‘response,’ oh, please! It’s a mishmash of the unconvincing and the irrelevant, a determined missing of the point worthy of our friends over at WUWT. (Don’t mean to be harsh, but, yeah, I really find it that bad.)

  45. 145
    Radge Havers says:

    Ed @~143

    I hasten to point out, I’m not necessarily any better at languages. If I had worded my comment better, I might have said that linguists divide English into three periods: Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Modern English. Shakespeare is in the modern period. Anglo-Saxon is generally considered to be mutually unintelligible with Modern English. Middle English is, well, somewhere in the middle. Not sure that’s any better…

    As for the rest, I guess we’ll let it rest but for this: effective communication requires empathy and conscious examination and application of it.

  46. 146
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Edward Greisch: “Everybody needs to be mathematical enough to figure out what is dangerous and what is safe.”

    Well, then we’re screwed, because not everyone thinks mathematically. Nor do they find mathematical arguments particularly illuminating. What is needed is the ability to separate honest inquiry from bullshit and to recognize wishful thinking. This involves developing sufficient critical thinking skills to recognize expertise as well as bias.

    Journalists are another problem–what we see most of the time now is not journalism but simply shoehorning the facts into a series of templates whether they fit or not. I swear that the next journalist I meet who has written a “One crazy trick…” story will receive a swift kick in the shins.

  47. 147
    Edward Greisch says:
    “Study finds shift to ‘dark money’ in climate denial effort”
    “A shift to untraceable donations by organizations denying climate change undermines democracy, according to the author of a new study tracking contributions to such groups.”

    Communication cannot succeed because “In all, 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010.
    Meanwhile the traceable cash flow from more traditional sources, such as Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, has disappeared.”

    Scientists are not advertisers with billion dollar budgets for advertising. Given the opposition, we are doing amazingly well. Effective communication requires an absence of monetary motivation to tell people things that are wrong. A target audience that is smart enough and well enough educated in science will understand RealClimate and be almost immune to denialist messages.

    “Empathy?” Not applicable to an audience of scientists. Not what we need because we need voters who can figure out every future issue on its scientific merits. In a technological civilization, the voters have an unending stream of technical issues to decide. Empathy is a one-time thing. Empathy doesn’t help with the next issue. Effective communication requires voters/listeners who are scientists, at least to some extent.

    Democracy depends on voters who can act intelligently. In the past, everybody could understand the issues because there were no issues that required science. Everybody was at the same level. That has changed.

    Robert Brulle of Drexel University used to get his data.

  48. 148
    Radge Havers says:

    Ed@~147 on empathy.

    No, no, no, no, no, no, no…

    Oh wow, where do I begin?

    Forget empathy. Start here:

    Holy moly.

    Just as an aside. For those scientists who don’t have software that automatically writes publication-ready reports from their data, there is still a need to properly craft language so that other humans can read it. And that’s in an environment where communication is highly formalized. It’s even more critical in the complex and shifting social contexts outside of expert inner circles.

    I gotta ask. Are you goofing on RC? Tell me you’re goofing.

  49. 149
    Edward Greisch says:

    Public Broadcasting [PBS] is helping us with shows like “The Electric Company”, “Sid the Science Kid” and others I can’t remember the names of. One has a song that says: “I am a scientist. I can live by science alone.” Catchy tune.

    Communication depends on listeners who are prepared to hear the message. An unexpected message contains more information than an expected message. An unexpected message may contain too much information to be learned all at once or at all. PBS is preparing children to be able to hear our message.

    “Conservatives” hate PBS. No wonder. PBS is undermining their propaganda hold on their children. We need to free all children from instinctive unscientific ideas and from parental brainwashing so that they can become free adults.

    We should be in favor of PBS because PBS is doing some of the teaching that the public schools are not doing. Public schools could do better by showing PBS shows during class time.

  50. 150
    Edward Greisch says:

    148 Radge Havers: What does “goofing on RC” mean?