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AGU talk on science and advocacy

Filed under: — gavin @ 23 December 2013

We have often discussed issues related to science communication on this site, and the comment threads frequently return to the issue of advocacy, the role of scientists and the notion of responsibility. Some videos from the recent AGU meeting are starting to be uploaded to the AGU Youtube channel and, oddly, the first video of a talk is my Stephen Schneider lecture on what climate scientists should advocate for (though actually, it mostly about how science communicators should think about advocacy in general since the principles are applicable regardless of the subject area):

The talk has provoked a number of commentaries from the Yale forum, Andy Revkin at DotEarth, Judith Curry and Bart Verhegggen – with varying degrees of comprehension of the main points.

There is a lot of overlap between my talk and those given by Stephen Schneider twenty and thirty years ago – in particular the video at the Aspen Global Change Institute on whether a scientist-advocate was an oxymoron, and in descriptions on his website. Though I also touch on newer discussions, such as those raised earlier this year by Tamsin Edwards in the Guardian and in subsequent twitter and blog conversations. Another relevant piece is the paper on bringing values and deliberation to science communication (Dietz, 2013)

What’s new today is that scientific communication (and scientists communicating) is no longer limited to a few top voices in the broadcast media, but rather to a much wider (and perhaps younger) cohort of scientists communicating at many different levels -via blogs, twitter, facebook, reddit etc as well as in the mainstream media. Issues that were merely academic to most scientists a few decades ago, are actually very real to many more now. A greater appreciation of what other scientists have previously said about advocacy is perhaps needed.

I will likely write this lecture up more formally, but in the meantime I’ll be happy to discuss the points or the implications in the comment section. Note that I at one point mistakenly credit Aristotle with a quote that actually came from Elbert Hubbard (thus are laid bare the dangers of finishing a new talk late the previous evening…).

While difficult, let’s keep the discussion about advocacy in general, rather than for or against advocacy of specific policies.


  1. T. Dietz, "Bringing values and deliberation to science communication", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 110, pp. 14081-14087, 2013.

177 Responses to “AGU talk on science and advocacy”

  1. 101
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Since Hank Roberts is posting pages of physicists who understand the implications of exponential growth in a finite environment, I thought I’d mention Albert A. Bartlett, Prof. emeritus at U. of Colorado, who we lost in September at the age of 90 years. Al was one of the first to draw attention to this failure in economic models and remained active in popularization of science well into his eighties. A good man and a good popularize of science:

  2. 102
    Eric Swanson says:

    Herman Daly founded The International Society for Ecological Economics” and is totally aware of the “Limits to Growth” reality facing humanity. (Disclaimer: I was a member the first 3 years)

    The reality is that continued exponential expansion of consumption of finite resources is physically impossible. Even humanity’s present rate of consumption of the mineral and ecological resources of the Earth is unlikely to continue. Yet, many in the economics profession regularly promote the idea that the future will be like the past and unemployment will shrink, if only the economy can be returned to growth. These guys even tell us that “sustainable growth” is their goal, ignoring the very many scientific studies which point out that this future simply can’t happen. It turns out that some in the profession may have conflicts of interest when they make such claims, not surprising, given the history of problems in the economy since 1973. Here’s just the latest example of one such advocate:

    As pointed out by Guy McPherson, the future may be very different from the past if one assumes a worst case combination of trends. We can hope he’s wrong, but he does give references to support his conclusion. One can argue about his analysis, but he’s right in that, ultimately, nature bats last…

  3. 103
    DIOGENES says:

    Eric Swanson #102,

    ” As pointed out by Guy McPherson, the future may be very different from the past if one assumes a worst case combination of trends. We can hope he’s wrong, but he does give references to support his conclusion. One can argue about his analysis, but he’s right in that, ultimately, nature bats last…”

    ‘Worst’, ‘best, are very subjective terms, and are context-dependent. In the present context, they depend on what is selected as the base, or default, case for fossil fuel use, and what climate phenomena are associated with this default case. My selection of the default case (given the recent actions of the Abbott government in Australia to remove whatever constraints are left on fossil fuel extraction and export, and similar actions by the Harper government in Canada and our own government, and indeed of most large fossil fuel producing countries) is Business as Usual, High End! When I read the lines of Hansen’s recent paper in Plos One, or Anderson’s and McKibben’s writings, and then read between the lines, I don’t see that much difference. Perhaps the main difference is how they interpret the here-and-now. McPherson believes we have already gone over the line, whereas the other three, and many of their associates, believe we have a little more slack left.

    As Hansen states: ” Climate impacts accompanying global warming of 2°C or more would be highly deleterious. Already there are numerous indications of substantial effects in response to warming of the past few decades. That warming has brought global temperature close to if not slightly above the prior range of the Holocene. We conclude that an appropriate target would be to keep global temperature at a level within or close to the Holocene range. Global warming of 2°C would be well outside the Holocene range and far into the dangerous range.” Because of unpredictability in the higher temperature ranges, he doesn’t specify exactly what ‘highly deleterious’ means, but his description of what has occurred already with increasing temperatures and what is possible should not leave anyone with a feeling of comfort about exceeding 1 C by any appreciable amount.

    But, if 2 C is the international consensus target, and if 4 C is becoming the target to which many/most climate scientists believe is what we can expect and to which we must adapt, then the real-world differences among McPherson, Hansen, Anderson, McKibben et al become insignificant. McPherson predicts near-term extinction (~mid-century); my interpretation of all the credible papers does not exclude extinction perhaps a generation or two later. Nothing more definitive can be stated at this time, because as Hansen infers, we really don’t know what will happen specifically when we start going much above the prior Holocene range.

  4. 104
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Ray Ladbury — 28 Dec 2013 @ 7:53 AM

    Just to follow up on your comment about Al Bartlett, anybody who hasn’t seen his classroom lecture about sustainable growth of resource utilization and world population should do so. It is in 8 short segments:


  5. 105
    Eric Swanson says:

    Re: DIOGENES #103 – I’ve watched 2 of McPherson’s recent YouTube videos. I saw at least 3 claims which I think are incorrect. I understand that McPherson’s background is ecology, thus, he must rely on the climate scientists for input to his scenario(s). We know that there are many climate model efforts, past and present, and that they produce different values for the rate of warming. Trouble is, there’s quite a bit of uncertainty in any modeling effort, thus there’s no way to decide which is giving the right answer, so we are left with a range of values to give to the ecologists. It would appear that McPherson has picked the most extreme of these, but I haven’t looked at his references to follow up on my perception.

    Then too, the Earth has been in a cycle of Ice Ages starting around 3 million years ago. Whatever mechanism(s) drive this cycle have not changed, as far as I know. The last interglacial, the Eemian, was warmer than today at it’s end and the sea level was higher, yet, the ice began to build and stayed for (roughly) the next 100k years. There has been research on the THC which suggests that a warmer earth would lead to a reduction in that portion of the sinking waters at high latitudes in the NH which fill the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Past research has pointed to the Greenland, Labrador and Ingmar seas as locations for this sinking. IF (a big if) sinking in the Greenland Sea were to stop or move to another area within the Arctic Mediterranean, that is, the waters poleward of the Greenland-Iceland-Scotland ridge, the result would be a different climate, even though the measurements of the AMOC via the RAPID program might not show much change. We might be experiencing such a change as the Norwegian Current can now flow into and thru the Barents Sea along the Northeast Passage, the result of the sea-ice retreat in Summer. Warming water over the Siberian continental shelf areas might tend to cause faster clathrate melting, thus faster methane emissions into the water during the warm months. But, during the winter, Europe might no longer enjoy the climate benefits of the ocean’s warmth as the water no longer flows around the gyre in the Greenland Sea and the sea-ice extent increases. Europe might expect a lot more snow and ice, perhaps so much so that it begins to build up in some locations over the years.

    So, instead of extreme warming threatening extinction of mammals on Earth, might we actually be repeating the climate changes which started the Ice Ages at the end of the Eemian? Such thinking is the domain of oceanography as much as the atmospheric sciences and I think there are still too many unknowns. Your guess is as good as mine…

  6. 106
    wili says:

    One of many things that scientists (and, really, most academics in my experience) tend not to do is strongly criticize those in other fields (with a few notable exceptions). While this is understandable in many way, there comes a point, I think, when scientists do have to point out that many/most economists expectations for future economic growth is incompatible with a livable planet. Most economist I have met and interacted with have no glimmering idea that we are in the midst of a mass extinction event, of the massive rates of deforestation, of horrifying deterioration of the oceans…and of the modern industrial economies role as the primary perpetrator of these calamities.

    I will say that many of them have come to understand GW well enough to advocate high taxes on carbon, but those sane economic voices have not had much sway in congress so far.

  7. 107
    David B. Benson says:

    Eric Swanson @64 — Yes, all three of my degrees are in engineering. I also have the nearby support of the best in the West power engineering professors. In addition, some knowledge of Hanford affairs and ready access to more knowledge there, by a retired expert.

    Also, on Brave New Climate, we have support from practicing nuclear engineers in Europe. I don’t think anyone there wants more than a low carbon way to have a reliable, on demand power grid. That is, regarding electricity energy. It is just that all the cost drivers we understand point to nuclear being a large portion of the total generation mix.

  8. 108
    Tony Weddle says:


    One thing has changed in the drivers of ice ages. Homo sapiens now exists, with the ability to build a CFC factory. That is all it would take to counter the tiny variations that previously led to ice ages over thousands of years. This is from Hansen’s book. So long as humans retain that capability (or equivalent) then there will not be another ice age. Of course, it’s an open question as to how long humans will retain that capability.

  9. 109
    Dave123 says:

    Gavin- Thanks for responding, and one more point: Industrial scientists won’t keep silent about global warming issues when they think they can stick their oar in. We will advocate, whether the academics do or not. The silence of the academics simply leaves the field open to industrial scientists who are frequently very skilled at presenting ambiguous information to skeptical audiences. It’s ok, if they’re on board- but if not, watch out.

  10. 110
    Tom Adams says:

    I have noticed that advocates often have idealistic premises and can become unwitting allies of those with realistic premises. For instance, the fossil fuels industry has at times poured money into clean energy advocacy because a realistic analysis indicated that this would increase the use of fossil fuels by suppressing the use of nuclear.

    So realistically what is the actual likely effect of your advocacy? Do the realistic odds indicate that you are just being an unwitting tool?

  11. 111
    Edward Greisch says:

    A new way to advocate science:

    “Chatbot Wears Down Proponents of Anti-Science Nonsense”

    “Nigel Leck, a software developer by day, was tired of arguing with anti-science crackpots on Twitter. So, like any good programmer, he wrote a script to do it for him.

    The result is the Twitter chatbot @AI_AGW. Its operation is fairly simple: Every five minutes, it searches twitter for several hundred set phrases that tend to correspond to any of the usual tired arguments about how global warming isn’t happening or humans aren’t responsible for it.

    It then spits back at the twitterer who made that argument a canned response culled from a database of hundreds”

    Seems like a great idea to me. One of our problems is that we are outnumbered. Chatbots could level the playing field for a while.

    [Response: Actually it sounds like a recipe for wrecking any media platform it is used on. What is to stop someone doing the same for his replies and so on. You will end up with bots responding to bots ad infinitum. Why don’t people ever think these things through? – gavin]

  12. 112
    Hank Roberts says:

    > For instance,… a realistic analysis …
    > So realistically

    Tom Adams, I’ve several times mentioned that tactic — hollowing out the policy center by funding disparate incompatible positions to hollow out the policy ‘center’ and postpone action, e.g. here

    But I have never seem the analysis you’re talking about — fossil fuel companies funding renewables as a way of taking support away from fission.

    I realize proving what we know happens is often difficult, but —

    Have you a pointer to a document anywhere showing that is factual? I’d love to be able to cite your comment with supporting reference.

  13. 113

    #111–Who’s to say that it isn’t already being done? Maybe that’s exactly why certain ‘interlocuters’ conspicuously aren’t.

  14. 114
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hansen’s reply to a comment at PLOS is worth reading.

    The paper is Hansen et al.
    Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature
    Published: December 03, 2013
    DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081648

    The comment appears at;jsessionid=5AA8D36DD89FD77C59664FF972201D82?root=76063

    Seems to me odd that the only commenter so far is from a physiology PhD, and he’s arguing that “uncertainty” is a problem — Hansen replies citing further sources of detailed information on each issue beyond those mentioned in the original review. Well done.

  15. 115
    Hank Roberts says:

    > chatbot

    What Gavin said. The followup discussion out there is priceless.

    Clippy for the internet.

    I see you’re trying to deny global warming. Would you like to:

    1. research the available facts and science?
    2. Have an authority figure you trust tell you, you’re wrong?
    3. Meet other like-minded singles?

  16. 116
    Tom Adams says:

    Hank 112, see:

    “I remember these big scare ads in the papers getting people to organize rallies against Shoreham. There were many things I didn’t know at that time that I’ve learned since. For one thing that turns out, the ads replaced by the oil delivery industry, you know, the companies that deliver fuel to people in Long Island. And sure the oil companies can say, “Go, solar,” because they know it’s never going to replace oil heat.”

  17. 117
    John Mashey says:

    re: ice ages
    People might recall that one of RC’s contributors, David Archer wrote the very readable “The Long Thaw” a few years ago. Give one to anyone who thinks we’re going to have another ice age any time soon.
    Indeed, CFC factories do the job if need be, although SF6 is even stronger (IPCC AR4 WG I, p.212) @ 32,000 GWP for 500-year horizon, indeed assuming the capability is retained.

  18. 118
    SecularAnimist says:

    Gavin wrote: “You will end up with bots responding to bots ad infinitum.”

    Which would be difficult to distinguish from what’s found on most blog comment pages now. Chatbots, ditto-heads, trained seals. What’s the difference?

    [Response: We can try to have the occasional meaningful exchange. Maybe. – gavin]

  19. 119
    SecularAnimist says:

    RealClimate excels as a site where one can learn about the science of anthropogenic global warming and climate change, from the basics, through the major issues up to the cutting edge research questions.

    However, it is not, nor is it intended to be, a particularly useful site for learning about or discussing non-fossil fuel energy sources, technologies, or economics. Historically, the site’s authors and moderators have (IMHO) wisely encouraged discussions here to remain on-topic — i.e. about climate science — and have discouraged extended, detailed, substantive and especially argumentative and belligerent discussions of energy issues here.

    I hope this will continue to be the moderation policy here. We already have Brave New Climate, which in my view is first and foremost a pro-nuclear advocacy site that purports to be a climate site, where the interest in global warming is mainly as a justification to promote nuclear power.

    As for advocacy, as I have commented previously, no one in the world is better equipped, or has better cause to be motivated, to vociferously advocate urgent action to reduce GHG emissions than do climate scientists, because no one in the world has as clear a view of what business-as-usual emissions portend for the future.

    But advocacy for action does not necessarily require advocating specific, detailed policy or technology responses. Certainly climate scientists have the same right as any other citizen to weigh in with their views on such questions. But when they get into the technological and economic “weeds” of energy issues, particularly in fast-changing fields like wind and solar where it’s difficult even for dedicated experts to keep up with the rapidity of technological advances and exponential growth, they are leaving behind the expertise that makes their speaking out about the AGW problem itself so compelling.

  20. 120
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Tom Adams
    Thanks, but is there anything more than that quote in a newspaper? I realize it’s tediously nitpicky to ask for more, but without better, it’s a “they said she said somebody said” story, hearsay

    The quote is:

    “[GWYNETH] CRAVENS, [AUTHOR] … learned since. For one thing that turns out, the ads replaced by the oil delivery industry, you know, the companies that deliver fuel to people in Long Island ….”

    Which isn’t coherent enough to be accurate. The transcript says “Aired November 7, 2013 – 21:00 ET THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.” —
    Maybe CNN will get a better quote.

    Do you know if Cravens has published this, or plans to?

    She’s saying the local trucking companies — people who deliver fuel — are cooperating by spending for ads that are not directly tied to their immediate businesses. That’s just odd. Their budgets can’t be that big these days.

    It’d make sense to ask where the ads came from, who paid for them, and whether the trucking companies were just conduits to hide the source, and become a much more interesting story.

    Same point you’re making — look carefully at claims made — applies.

    Watch for the trick of feeding a sincerely concerned citizen bad information that he/she wants to believe so is willing to repeat uncritically — then later being able to discredit the person who repeated them by showing they’re fake.

    Of course we often can’t find out who’s lying or advertising.
    But I repeat myself.

  21. 121
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, suggest followup at unless Tom Adams has a better suggestion, that’s the only one I could find for discussing that.

  22. 122

    117–FWIW, “Long Thaw” summary, above (my tablet sometimes gets insistant that all links go first.)

  23. 123
    Jon Kirwan says:

    Thanks, Hank (#114), for the link to Hansen’s response.

  24. 124
    Clive Best says:

    Gavin, the advocacy of climate scientists has already been very successful. You are hard pressed today to find any western politician who would dare to question that global warming is not caused by man.

    [Response: You are living in a dream world: Barton, Lawson, Rohrbacher, Alexander, Cruz, Inhofe, Howard etc. … – gavin]

    However my questions to you are different.

    Just how comfortable are you with the consequences of winning this argument? I believe it also brings responsibility because scientists can’t just claim to be messengers and then wash their hands of the consequences. How do you propose that humanity can possibly cut emissions by 60% within 20 years? Is it not also the responsibility of scientists to propose solutions rather just alert policy makers? How exactly do you propose to stop ASIA from burning cheap available coal or convince developing countries not follow suite? Should we abandon growth in living standards in the west to save the planet?

    I suspect history will judge scientists more favourably according to their net positive rather than negative stance.

    [Response: Very strange. Is a doctor prevented from diagnosing leukemia if they can’t cure it? Or a critic prevented from complaining about a movie if they can’t direct one that is better? That is an odd line an argument from you. But the basic fact is that all the decisions that relate to your questions are value based and will involve winners and losers. In a democratic society those decisions should be made collectively – not exclusively by climate modellers like myself. And why you think I have any particular insight into Chinese economic growth or their energy industry is a complete mystery. Scientists like myself generally report on their science (in this case of climate change) and for the most part I do. If you are arguing that decision makers are better off not knowing about the probable climatic consequences of their decisions, than I’m afraid we are going to have to agree to disagree. – gavin]

  25. 125
    GlenFergus says:

    Gavin @ #111:

    We’re there already I suspect. See (Aussie tech journalist; real name) Stilgherrian’s recent UTS lecture (~last quarter is about Twitter bots and AI):

    [Response: Oh dear. – gavin]

  26. 126
    Tom Bond says:

    SecularAnimist at 119 said
    “I hope this will continue to be the moderation policy here. We already have Brave New Climate, which in my view is first and foremost a pro-nuclear advocacy site that purports to be a climate site, where the interest in global warming is mainly as a justification to promote nuclear power.”

    I find this type of comment very unhelpful and similar to denial site comments, opinions based on a belief that are not supported by evidence and data.

    Professor Brook who runs the climate science and energy options blog bravenewclimate is fully committed to the advocacy of climate science just the same as realclimate. The only difference is Professor Brook also advocates for energy options.

    Any detailed reading of bravenewclimate shows that all the data presented is fully supported by evidence and data just the same as realclimate.

    Information about Professor Brook can be found here.

  27. 127
    Hank Roberts says:

    > all the data presented

    “Trust, but verify.”

    There’s always new data, but new data doesn’t often change the weight of the evidence much — that weight develops over time through subsequent citations.

  28. 128
    Edward Greisch says:

    Gavin: I think I read something that said that the fossil fuel industry is already doing chatbots, possibly in the comments to the original article. It seems like they are. In any case, would the loss of twitter be a great loss? Not to me.

    I think most people believe whichever message they hear most often. So we need to catch up. Redundancy is important to those who don’t have science to sort truth from nonsense.

  29. 129
    Edward Greisch says:

    Web sites that don’t use recaptcha seem to have comments that are 99% denialist. Could it be chatbot runaway?

  30. 130
    prokaryotes says:

    Re machines

    Spend enough time debating on the Internet and you will likely, at some point, end up debating a machine.

  31. 131
    Brian R says:

    Scientist should only be advocates for the scientific process. Advocacy implies(correctly) that the advocate has a stake, financial or emotional or both, in the subject matter. Advocates are less likely to look at other viewpoints or data that conflicts with their own viewpoint.

    I’m not saying that scientist can’t have opinions about a subject. Just that opinions have no place in science. Opinions are subjective and science should have no place for subjectivity.

    [Response: Hi Brian, this is very much a purist’s view. The problem is that scientists are normal human beings, with interests, biases, egos, dreams, opinions and foibles. Pretending that they aren’t for the sake of pretending that scientists are completely objective just sets up normal scientists for a fall when it is (inevitably) shown that scientists are just as imperfect as every other human. But actually I think your point fails on a number of different points too – opinion – on what is important, what is worthwhile to discuss, what is interesting – is actually very important in science, and each scientist has a probably unique view of that. It is part of what makes individual scientists interesting, and so to pretend that we all think in lockstep does a huge disservice to the community. When it comes to advocacy though, what you deride is actually dogmatism – the inability to change one’s views in the light of new evidence. I agree that this problematic, but it has nothing to with advocacy per se. Your first point, related to the assumption of a stake in the outcome is trickier – since climate science is dealing with risks to large parts of the globe, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t have an emotional stake in that. Should no-one therefore comment on global threats? – gavin]

  32. 132

    Edward Greisch writes in 128:

    Gavin: I think I read something that said that the fossil fuel industry is already doing chatbots, possibly in the comments to the original article.

    You may be thinking of an article reprinted by Joe Romm at Climate Progress.

    From the original piece:

    As I also mentioned yesterday, in some of the emails, HB Gary people are talking about creating “personas”, what we would call sockpuppets. This is not new. PR firms have been using fake “people” to promote products and other things for a while now, both online and even in bars and coffee houses.

    But for a defense contractor with ties to the federal government, Hunton & Williams, DOD, NSA, and the CIA – whose enemies are labor unions, progressive organizations, journalists, and progressive bloggers – a persona apparently goes far beyond creating a mere sockpuppet.

    Denier-bots live! Why are online comments’ sections over-run by the anti-science, pro-pollution crowd?
    Joe Romm (Climate Progress, 2011-02-21) reprinting with commentary piece by Happy Rockefeller (“UPDATED: The HB Gary Email That Should Concern Us All”, Daily Kos, 2011-02-16)

    The author quotes from an MS document by the PR firm HB Gary explaining its product software:

    Persona management entails not just the deconfliction of persona artifacts such as names, email addresses, landing pages, and associated content. It also requires providing the human actors technology that takes the decision process out of the loop when using a specific persona. For this purpose we custom developed either virtual machines or thumb drives for each persona. This allowed the human actor to open a virtual machine or thumb drive with an associated persona and have all the appropriate email accounts, associations, web pages, social media accounts, etc. pre-established and configured with visual cues to remind the actor which persona he/she is using so as not to accidentally cross-contaminate personas during use.


    I don’t know specifically that the fossil fuel industry is doing this, but we know others are. If denialist comments are anti-correlated with ReCaptcha, this would be suggestive of the software’s use. Then again, I suspect a lot of the deniers come from the graying Tea Party crowd who may have more of a problem with ReCaptcha. Then again, the Koch brothers largely created the FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity:

    Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) was a powerful industry-funded think tank, promoting deregulation. It was founded by Koch Industries interests and continues to maintain strong links. In 2003, an internal rift between CSE and its affiliated Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation led to a split in which CSEF was renamed as a separate organization, called Americans For Prosperity.
    In July 2004, CSE announced it was merging with Empower America to create FreedomWorks.[1]

    Citizens for a Sound Economy

    … and thus the Tea Party movement, so perhaps there really isn’t that much of a difference.

  33. 133

    CORRECTION to my above comment:

    Then again, the Koch brothers largely created the FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity:

    … should be:

    Then again, the Koch brothers largely created the movement through FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity:

  34. 134

    Final correction:

    Then again, the Koch brothers largely created the movement through FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity:

  35. 135
    John Mashey says:

    Timothy: see TEA Party: Tobacco Everywhere Always and the peer-reviewed paper to which it links. The tobacco industry was a strong partner in setting this up, and the Tea Party idea and even the idea of costumes came via them ~1990. Among thinktanks, CSE was their favored funding recipient.

    Like the Kochs, tobacco companies have little use for science or the Federal government. The tobacco companies fear 2 things above others:
    a) Higher cigarette taxes, which selectively inhibit teenage smokers, their crucial source of new customers, since few people get really addicted to nicotine except during rapid brain development.
    b) Any motion whatsoever from fragmented healthcare systems in the direction of single-payer or anything else that tends to make the end-of-life costs more visible.

    Of course, Koch agendas mesh quite well with these.

    These guys really, really know how to do advocacy … albeit not of the good kind, especially visible to anyone who has studied them. They have some of the best marketeers and brought them to the party. They are now moving on to e-cigarettes, with thinktanks like Heartland in full support, and they can market well, here or here, somewhat reminiscent of “clean coal” commercials.

    Since scientists generally try to stick to truth, they are inherently at a disadvantage. Naomi Oreskes’ 2008 talk (partial) and powerpoint, pp.29-63 included discussion of the classic marketing expertise applied by Western Fuels Association in the early 1990s. I attended that talk, but the video there is unfortunately just part, so if anyone knows where the rest is, please post. There’s a great shot from the WFA movie that shows CO2 turning the Earth green, including the Sahara.

  36. 136
    Keith Woollard says:

    Moderators: How about we bring this back on topic, I cannot understand how you let all this drivel about spambots and the tea party on this thread
    You are all paranoid

  37. 137
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Woolard

    Bots or socks — same effect on conversation. Throttling a bot or a sock isn’t harm to a human being.

    About a year ago, we moderators became increasingly stringent with deniers. ….
    We discovered that the disruptive faction that bombarded climate change posts was actually substantially smaller than it had seemed. Just a small handful of people ran all of the most offensive accounts. What looked like a substantial group of objective skeptics to the outside observer was actually just a few bitter and biased posters with more opinions then evidence.

    the ban on climate deniers on the forum has actually been in effect for the last two to three years ….

    … “As moderators responsible for what millions of people see, we felt that to allow a handful of commenters to so purposefully mislead our audience was simply immoral” …

  38. 138
    John Mashey says:

    This post is about science and advocacy, and good advocacy for science requires some understanding the opposition, its tactics, its use of technology (like spambots), its funding and its clever appeals to political orientation. Once upon a time, there were far more Republicans supportive of climate science. For example, Sherwood Boehlert was always a friend to science during the Joe Barton/hockeystick/Wegman saga, a dandy example of clever and effective advocacy against science.

    It is hardly a task for climate scientists to research this turf, but rather for social scientists, investigative journalists, media experts and such, whose skillsets and experience are relevant. One of the most encouraging changes over last few years at AGU has been an increase in such folks and closer relationships with climate scientists.

  39. 139
    Hank Roberts says:

    Apropos bots and socks, recently seen on Slashdot:

    By girlintraining • 2013-Dec-22 00:12 • Score: 5, Insightful

    I’m only asking because I’m on the lookout for techniques to derail a discussion. A “misdirect” is calling attention to something irrelevant but intended to provoke an emotional response. It’s used to push more-relevant posts down the page – hopefully below the fold.

    You must be new here. The majority of the intelligent and thoughtful discourse evaporated when Slashdot was bought out by Dice. If you want to see what the future looks like, punch in Then vomit in your mouth. It’s been replaced with paid schills and hobbyists. There are a few of us left from the old guard, but we’re only here because, frankly, there’s nowhere else to go. Every promising new forum website seems to be shortly after swallowed whole by “Web 2.0” and it promptly goes to shit in an effort to look trendy and hip, at the expense of actual content and relevant discourse.

    The post you’re replying to was not accidental. It was quite deliberate. Like all things Web 2.0, very little of what is passed off as original or user-contributed content actually is. About a third of the posts here on Slashdot are now by 3rd parties who may or may not be affiliated with Dice, who in turn are just subcontractors for larger business ventures; Shell companies within shell companies.

    It’s part of a new “dark net” of small companies in quiet office complexes filled with nothing but a few cubes and employees who show up and are handed a 3 ring binder with pre-cooked posts and responses to “criticism” of whatever position they’re being paid to represent under a pseudonym.

    Welcome to the real Web 2.0.

    Remember — one person, one voice is the old idea.

    Usenet gave us killfiles so each of us, individually, could choose to ignore whatever set us off. We could choose not to get diverted into flaming digressions by killfiling that which we could not ignore.

    The www can’t afford that sort of rationality in discourse; inciting digression is an effective way to control conversation, just as sockpuppetry is an effective way to fake the weight of opinion.

    The current blog commenting system, like our current political system generally “… is not necessarily representative per capita, but it most surely is ad valorem.”
    — The Space Merchants (Pohl and Kornbluth)

  40. 140
    Mal Adapted says:

    The comments section of that National Geographic news item Hank cited is infested with deniers. Let’s hope the example of Reddit’s science editors catches on.

  41. 141
    sidd says:

    Re: killfiles

    implementing killfiles for this blog comment page is not so hard. I have done it in the past, and there used to be a plugin for Firefox as well (Greasemonkey ?).

    Addendum for Usenet geeks:

    Another thing i did when i was quite bored: you can split the page into individual comments, massage the format a little, feed into your personal leafnode or other newsserver, and use nntp client of your choice so that you have regular {rn,trn,slrn,gnus,…} killfiles. Extra points for actually hacking together a something that will post replies to realclimate. I did everything but that last bit at one point, but i didnt want to write a captcha breaker …

    But I must say the pagedown key works just about as well, since the moderation here is good. Three cheers for the moderators.


  42. 142
    Edward Greisch says:

    Thank you Timothy Chase, John Mashey, 137 139 Hank Roberts, 140 Mal Adapted.

    The video gives a lot of alternative meanings to the word “advocacy,” but the opposition has carried it way beyond that.

  43. 143

    Thanks Gavin and commenters for the interesting discussion about science and advocacy. I have nothing to contribute about economics or nuclear power, so I will come back to the main topic of the discussion.

    Since any scientist communicating science seems to advocate for something, I neither agree with the idea that ‘all scientists who become advocates, irrespective of who they are, cannot be trusted to produce unbiased scientific output’ (John Benton, #73). Perhaps I’m very naïve or I’m still at an early stage of my career. As all of you know, Science comes from latin scientĭa (‘knowledge’). It implies that, as scientists, we have the obligation to increase the knowledge, not only among scientists but the knowledge of society in general. For that, we need to spread and communicate our science. Does it mean that we advocate for our science? I don’t think so. I think I’m just doing my job. That was the main reason that drove me to start a blog about ocean and climate sciences one year and half ago.

    Unfortunately, as Robert (# 14) indicates ‘any scientist moving to advocacy is regarded with suspicion not only by the public, but by their fellow scientists’. I find this sad, really, really sad. In the case of climate sciences, we know that some people make a lot of noise trying to confuse society about what scientists really know about AGW. So, in the present situation, more questionable behaviour is ‘To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing’ because ‘El que calla otorga’ (I guess the English translation would be ‘Silence is consent’).

    I really think that scientists should communicate more about what they do and find. That is what I advocate for.

    Happy New Year.

    R. So-mavilla Cabrillo

  44. 144
    prokaryotes says:

    but i didnt want to write a captcha breaker

    You don’t have to, [1] ;)

  45. 145
    Jim Eager says:

    “You are all paranoid”

    You don’t visit on-line climate comment sections much, do you?

  46. 146
    Eli Rabett says:

    Cannot find it but many moons ago Eli read a report that showed how nuclear and renewables (solar/wind) fit well together. Nuclear plants run best full out as Eric says, and are ideally suited to baseload, wind and solar tend to be most economical run exactly during those times when peak load is seen. They fit together well.

  47. 147
    Eli Rabett says:

    The only possible reply to 131 by Brian R “Just that opinions have no place in science. Opinions are subjective and science should have no place for subjectivity.”

    is you gotta be joking (there are several other less polite ones). What experts do is 99% opinion, opinion based on expertise, opinion based on observation, opinion based on learning, but opinion none the less.

    Mr. Galileo, does the earth circle the sun? Based on my observations and understanding yes. Mr. Stocker, will continued emissions of CO2 lead to global warming? Yes, based on our knowledge of the climate system, for extra special sure yes. Is this dangerous? While I will defer to WGII on the details, based on previous reports, yes.

    Brian is simply trying to force scientists out of any discussion. Not to be taken seriously

  48. 148
    Edward Greisch says:

    “A Warning From Carl Sagan on Scientific Ignorance”

    “Sagan nailed it.” Exactly. If the people in general don’t understand science, democracy ends. But the present situation is far worse. Anything more I say would be too easy to misinterpret, misconstrue, or lead off the track. So I will try to refrain from the examples I gave before. We have a huge amount of catching up to do because the poverty of our education over the past century has cost us a lot of our democracy already.

    Please don’t construe this example to be only about Global Warming:
    “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations”
    It can be read in a more general way as a story about the plutocratic attack on democracy in general. The cure is for all citizens to be sufficiently well educated in science and math to not fall for the propaganda.

    Training in science would help people in general overcome dogma in general. Reference “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch. Deutsch talks about The Enlightenment and Enlightenments plural. Will we fall into a new Dark Age? Dark Ages seem to be the standard. Staying enlightened is the goal. The human brain hasn’t changed.
    We are now in the midst of conversion/growth from a static society to a dynamic society. A static society is almost all previous civilizations. Contrary to popular belief, people in static and stone age civilizations were much less happy than we are today. It is necessary to complete the conversion to a fully dynamic civilization. Failure to become fully dynamic would entail collapse back to very unhappy times.

  49. 149


    Your example of Brian Cox’s attitude to advocacy takes me back to a local Computer Science conference in apartheid South Africa, where an academic boycott was brewing, and some of us who opposed the system felt we could get some support from those who were more ambivalent (or wanted to hide their support of the system for the sake of international respectability), so I put a motion to the AGM calling on members of the sponsoring organisation, in view of the academic boycott, to support and end to racial discrimination in higher education.

    Immediately, someone got onto his feet to argue that this was a “political” motion, and called for a vote that the motion should not even be put to the meeting. He won. The next motion: a call for more government funding. Was that political or not?

    Through the late apartheid era (I had my first academic job in 1981), this argument that science is value-free became a great shield for doing nothing when there was a lot you could do to oppose the system – like campaigning against discrimination in education and refusing to take on government projects that reinforced the system. Of course science as such is value-free, but as you explain with great support by the much-missed Stephen Schneider, scientists aren’t value-free.

    Keep up the advocacy. We need it. Especially from people who have a clue.

  50. 150
    Susan Anderson says:

    Excellent: thanks Gavin, Edward G, Eli, and several others.