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Communicating Science & Technology

Filed under: — rasmus @ 23 June 2006

I recently attented a conference on communicating science and technology in Tromsø, Norway June 6-9 (CST060606). The conference was filmed and the presentations can be viewed over the internet broadcast. There were many very good presentations bringing up important points, and one by Lawrence Krauss (Science under Attack) should not be missed. Also, the presentation by the nobel laurate Ivar Giaever provides a lot of food for thought, and Janet Sumner told how the science can be ‘jazzed up’ and made more accesible on the BBC (touching onto the climate science – climate chaos season – and showing clips of ‘Rough science’, ‘Labrats’ and ‘Science Shack’, in association with the Open University). The conference was attended by scientists, teachers, politicians, and people from the media. The topics of presentations span issues such as climate, ID, media, schools, and politics (the Norwegian minister of education). [I also gave a fairly diasterous :-( presentation on communicating climate with reference to :-).]

96 Responses to “Communicating Science & Technology”

  1. 1
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    To what extent did your conference engage the important contrast between the deficit model and the engagement model?

    In my experience too many scientists assume, without even realizing it, that science communication must be improved only under what some people call the “deficit model” — the name refers to the deficit in public knowledge about science — to the exclusion of what’s been called the “engagement model.” (Maybe this contrast has been talked about in RC threads that I missed.) In fact, it’s my impression that many scientists aren’t even remotely aware of the contrasting approaches.

    But maybe that problem is diminishing. It seems to me, for example, that itself represents a breakthrough in the relation of science and society precisely because RC balances engagement-model benefits with deficit-model necessities.

    Anyone interested in the contrasting approaches might want to see a thoughtful 27 June 2005 essay by David Dickson, editor of “The case for a ‘deficit model’ of science communication” appears at .

    Here’s an excerpt: “Increased knowledge about modern science does not necessarily lead to greater enthusiasm for science-based technologies. Indeed, there is considerable evidence to the contrary. For example, the more knowledge an individual has about a potentially dangerous technology (such as nuclear power or genetic engineering), the more concern he or she may well feel about that technology. In modern societies â?? particularly given the power and pervasiveness of today’s communications technologies â?? trust and respect need to be generated; they cannot be taken for granted or imposed from above, whether in science or any other type of social activity. That implies the need for an openness to dialogue, … .”

    In my view, respect for that need for an openness to dialogue is what makes engagement-model-based, which is at the same time a great deficit-model source of information, so valuable. Thanks.

    [Response:Good question – if you listen on the internet broadcast of the presentations, I don’t think that you find it, but there were some parallel sessions and I could not attend all. There was an understanding that the level of sciences is low in general in the society. There were also some presentations on survey, suggesting that people in general are interested in science & technology, despite this. By ‘science’, knowledge of potentially dangerous technology, such as nuclear physics, is not what first that comes to mind… Science is so much more than that. -rasmus]

  2. 2
    JMG says:

    How striking to find this here this morning, as I was visiting the site to find your e-mail addresses to send a comment that occurred to me this morning and that I thought was urgent to share with you.

    My background is as a nuclear engineer turned attorney. These disparate fields have given me lots of opportunities to read and wrestle with the questions of risk communication: the art of conveying honestly the risks inherent in an activity in a form that is useful to the people who are the target audience for the communication, so that they actually understand the risk and can make intelligent choices.

    What I want to suggest is that one of the reasons that the science of global warming is not better understood and accepted by the mass media and public is that we have unthinkingly chosen a set of units (degrees) that seems almost fiendishly designed to reduce the apparent urgency of the problem. Members of the media–and the general public–have a very hard time comprehending that the difference between 58F and 60F or 62F is HUGE. It is simply not a huge difference in their lifetime of experience–thus, encapsulating the punchline of a global warming threat assessment in such anodyne terms is disastrously bad risk communication.

    I would like to propose and hear your ideas on a better method of reporting the magnitude of the changes. The first one that occurs to me is this:

    Figure out the range of average temperature changes between this climactic period and the prior one. If I recall correctly, it might be on the same order of magnitude as some of the higher estimates for what we can expect from current IPCC projections (10 degrees).

    Anyway, whatever that range is, that would define a range of 100 Hansen units (or Arrhenius units, if you prefer), and we would begin to describe predicted changes using both scales (e.g., if 100 Hansens spanned a range of 10 degrees F, then when discussing the predictions for a 4F increase, we would say 4F (40 Hansens).

    Or maybe you can come up with better ones–but the idea has to be something that compresses the scale so that the human-caused variation looks like a raging fever and is not rendered artificially benign-looking simply because the temperature units we happened to start using make it seem like global warming is merely a global mild fever.

    We can argue that people “oughta” understand the huge magnitude of a 1 or 2 degree change in global average temperatures until we’re blue in the face–or we can recognize that when serious threats masquerade as harmless, your first priority has to be making it possible for people to appreciate the threat.

  3. 3
    Wacki says:

    Speaking of Communicating Science & Technology, why don’t you guys have an open forum? I have a ton of questions I’d like to ask and there doesn’t seem to be an acceptable venue for this. I’m sure many of your readers are more than happy to help teach others. The simple fact that the discussion on an article is closed after only one month really harms the learning process for those that are new to this website.

    [Response: That’s a fair suggestion. We’ve experimented a little with open threads, but we generally find that they degenerate very quickly and it’s much more difficult for interesting points to be noticed. You are of course welcome to email us at the contact address with specific questions. These can often be answered very quickly, or if there is enough substance, we end up doing a specifc post on the topic. There are other forums that are more user-driven – I’d recommend globalchange or UKww Climate forum – but please don’t hesitate to ask us questions – they are all read. – gavin]

    [Response: Sometimes I think we ought to have a once-a-month open forum to field questions on all relevant topics, and on topics that may embrace the subject matter of more than one post. As Gavin said, these can easily degenerate into sci.env type brawls, but perhaps that could be fought off with judicious moderation. –raypierre]

  4. 4

    Increased knowledge about modern science does not necessarily lead to greater enthusiasm for science-based technologies. Indeed, there is considerable evidence to the contrary. For example, the more knowledge an individual has about a potentially dangerous technology” …

    Such as coal and oil extraction and hydrocarbon combustion, and the associated ecological and environmental destruction and degradation, noxious and poisonous exhaust gass emissions and toxic waste, to say nothing of global warming, climate change and future hurricane enhancement, for instance. What did I miss?

  5. 5
    pete best says:

    I just like the way politicians and decision makers have relied on science and technology to make them look good and to offer +ve progress about peoples material ambitions. To suddenly have a scientific subject come up that is seemingly -ve in nature (AGW) and scary to boot (if the projections of change are true) that is at odds with materialistic progress as to almost stop it in its tracks if the CO2 cuts that scientists are asking for are made is just to much for politicians. All that is happenning at the moment is that politicians are going to keep economic progress happenning (democrocies have no choice do they)and hope for a solution to come along that eliminates CO2 before it is tool ate.

    the amount of effort and money that combating climate change requires can at the present time put us back to the dark ages. The entire infrastrcuture of the western world is CO2 based on fossil fuels and now the east to is forging ahead with a CO2 fuelled economy.

    I have not seen any real implementable options – just a little bit of carbon reduction via kyoto that is next to useless in the grand scheme of things

  6. 6
    jhm says:

    RE No. 2
    How about the energy required to raise average global temperatures, perahaps expressed in megatonnage (probably too big a number to grasp), or number of category 5 hurricanes.

  7. 7
    Liam says:

    one of the problems there is in engaging the public about the nature of problems relating to global warming is the scale of the issue. Traditional media, including the internet is literally too fragmented to be able to give a coherent picture of the type of changes that could occur.

    In contrast scientists have models (and the necessary understanding) to determine likelihood scenarios based on those models projections.

    Given the erosion of traditional medias importance, including the ubiquitous TV, why not try and engage with the average person using the technology they use. Essentially combine entertainment with science.

    I’ll attempt to explain. I’m not a fan of computer games in any way shape or form, but i remember a game called Civilisation where people could try and build a civilisation based on set inputs and consequences. They made investments and if they weren’t balanced their civilisation collapsed. An example was not investing in fire fighting services caused massive fires. And so on.

    At the same time many games out there are now internet linked so people play one against the other on the internet. Alongside that i saw that the BBC used a quite innovative program to run a climate model based on the British met office climate model

    software to link the model together available from

    Whilst this is very innovative, the limitation is that it is only going to be run by people who are already clued in to some degree, whilst those that are sitting at their playstations are outside the loop (and they are a huge chunk of people).

    In other words, create a game, that could also serve as a model that works as people play, giving them a graphic picture of the consequences of their choices. They build twenty new coal plants, the land starts disappearing, and so on. It should be possible.

    Essentially i think there is a real disconnect, and that will only be broken by innovatively engaging with people and it will be most effective if its done on their terms.

    [Response:I talked to some people from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) – part of the United Nations – who mentioned this possibility. The UN has already made a multimedia educational game – the fiirst action peace game, they claim – which is available on This game teaches the player some of the aspect of saving people affected by some disaster (there is some hint of climate relation in it). -rasmus]

  8. 8
    Wacki says:

    Ok, I just watched the Lawrence Krauss video. It’s very good food for thought. One problem I have with it is the NSF stats. I’ve done lots of heavy labor in my lifetime and I’ve never met someone that didn’t know the orbit of the earth was a year long. So I am incredulous that the 50% number is true.

  9. 9
    Brian says:

    Re #7
    In other words, create a game, that could also serve as a model that works as people play, giving them a graphic picture of the consequences of their choices. They build twenty new coal plants, the land starts disappearing, and so on. It should be possible.

    This already exists in the game you mentioned, the Civilization series. I believe the newest iteration, IV, was one of the best selling games in the world for awhile after it was released. Can’t comment on that version, but in III, which I played 4-5 years ago, modern development leads to heavy pollution consequences as well as eventual signs of climate change (unpredictable agriculture, forests and jungles shrinking or growing rapidly and uncontrollably, etc), mitigated only by heavy investments in environmentally sound technology. The better question is how many people play that game and leave the experience having accepted AGW as real? Or, how many people just say “**** it” and decide to rampage their opponents via military means as opposed to seeking a solution?

    A bit off topic!

  10. 10
    Michael Jankowski says:

    Re7,9 – One of the first versions of SimCity was exactly that. It was quite popular among college students in my time (early 90s) and has a series that apparently has expanded to this very day. I recall that you had a choice of various types of power plants (coal, nuclear, etc) each with their pros and cons. Spend too little on fire protection and police, and you have problems. Raise taxes too high, and you have other problems. I can’t remember the benefits of parks/greenspace (property values? population growth? etc), but they were there. The idea was to create a wonderful and sustainable city.

    Of course, what does a video game really provide other than entertainment? Many video games are all about violence and destruction (some quite realistic and graphic war simulations, etc), and that doesn’t seem to influence people one bit. If any, it probably numbs them.

    [Response: I don’t know how much computer games would help in communicating the science to the general public, but something like SimCity/Earth which combined GISS’s EdGCM (a fast GCM) with a simple economic model (e.g. Nordhous’ RICE or DICE) and a carbon model (ISAM) would be a great tool for college level courses. It could help people think about things like how soon you need to start reducing emissions, or about what happens if you let a lot of cheap coal fired power plants get built early on, but then have to deal with their effects later. –raypierre]

  11. 11
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #1 – Allow me to draw an analogy. Although I was trained in Earth Sciences, these days, I delve quite a bit into things like Statistical Process Control. So here is the question of the day. Imagine that I have a process that has been running for a really long time. I have some data, but not complete data, about its past performance. I have some idealized notions about how it ought to perform, but I cannot definitively tell you exactly how much variation is too much. The next best thing, then, would be to use the past data to attempt to come up with a figure for Cpk (process capability). Based on the fact the process has been running as long as it has, I can be reasonably confident that, assuming I can recover enough past data, excise biases and errors, and put it in order, then I can determine at least some initial control and specification limits. In this conception, then, the control limits would constitute sort of a red flag, and the specification limits a no go. Now, given this, the need to be very, very sure about what the innate, expected level of variation is is aparent. This is something I would need to be very agnostic about. The last thing I would want to do would be to set inappropriate control and spec limits. On the one hand, I would not want to overreact to every little wiggle, and on the other hand, I would not want to miss an opportunity to stop a problem. In this scenario, overreliance on any sort of precautionary principle might result in a situation where while I may be stopping problems, I also am never running the process and I would go out of business. At the other extreme, I would be getting sued left and right and spending more on product recalls than I was making. This is the essence of the climate science problem.

  12. 12

    Re: 2, 6

    I think this “units” critique in #2 is a valid one, but I think that the solution in #6 is a better choice. To try to illustrate this, I need to make a small digression.

    A few days ago I made a posting in another thread asking why NOAA (and Hadley) use ACE as a measure of seasonal hurricane activity instead of PDI. Unfortunately, I did not get to follow up to the response I got from another poster pointing out the (rather obvious) fact that a cubic tends to exaggerate extremes, so the choice depends on the argument you are trying to make. My response would have been that using this justification, one can choose an arbitrary function of the data to make any point one likes, which is somewhere between confused and immoral!

    It seems to me that a better choice is to require that the value be physically meaningful – which is why I asked why PDI (a measure of the energy content) is not preferred to ACE (a measure of…the integral of the square of the wind speeds). And even if I am mistaken about the physical relevance of ACE, I trust that this little digression illustrates the issue here a bit.

    Returning to the topic at hand, we should pick something that covers the full scale, but let’s make sure the units are meaningful and comparable. Energy dissipated sounds good, but the issue of scaling it remains. It should be relative to the planetary energy budget, but scaled in some way so that we can make meaningful comparisons to the past and future.

  13. 13
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #11: I’m no expert, but the impression I have is that Emanuel developed PDI because it is a more accurate scaling of the potential destructiveness of a hurricane, more accurate since slight increases in windspeed result in much larger increases in destructiveness (as with, e.g., the difference between a cat 4 and a cat 5). ACE doesn’t reflect that difference very well.

  14. 14
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #3: Recognizing the concern about a too-open forum, would it be possible to hold all of the question on an open thread for moderation? If so, that sounds like a solution. Alternatively, if the software doesn’t allow that, questions could be sent to a separate email address established for the purpose and posted by the RC authors as they see fit. Doing something like this on a monthly basis strikes me as very valuable.

    For example, it’s obvious that there are a lot of very good questions that are a little too technical or obscure to be material for a post of their own. A question I have that falls into this category regards the import of the recent glaciation/Milankovitch work by Huybers and Wunsch, and how this relates to David Lea’s stuff.

    Another reason for a monthly Q+A might be to make it easier for other scientists to give a quick answer of two or three paragraphs and not have to go to the effort of writing up a full-blown post. It’s great when someone like Tom Crowley does a guest post, or when folks like Peter Webster or Isaac Held participate in a thread, but I have the impression that most scientists won’t do that. Such replies could even be done anonymously.

    One last thought is that creating such a “mini-post” opportunity might be a good way to get some participation in filling in RC’s major expertise gap (IMHO), which is the ecological effects of climate change.

  15. 15
    John Peach says:

    Re: 2,6,12

    How about KWH? Here’s a simple calculation that most everyone can understand, although I admit that it doesn’t tell the whole story:
    From Hansen et al ( the excess energy due to GHG is ~.85 W/m^2, so
    .85 W/m^2 * 5.1e8 km^2 (surface area of the Earth) * (1e3 m/km)^2 * 1/6.5e9 (population of the Earth) = 66.7 KW/person.
    In 30 days this amounts to 48,000 KWH per person of excess energy which is something that we can all relate to our electric bills.
    This of course ignores the heat capacity of the planet, but it does make it very personal.

    [Response: Or how about this: Imagine dividing up the surface of the earth into room-sized patches of about 20 ft by 20ft. Over each one you turn on a 100 Watt light bulb — and leave it on basically forever. (That’s 20,402,561,643,070 light bulbs, by the way). That’s roughly equivalent to the effect of doubling CO2 on the Earth’s energy budget. –raypierre]

  16. 16
    llewelly says:

    … PDI (a measure of the energy content) …

    It is PD (note: no ‘I’) which measures the power dissipation of a tropical cyclone (TC).
    PDI is a simplification of PD; PDI ignores the extent and distribution of TC winds, whereas PD is a double integral, integrated not only over storm lifetime, but also over the whole of storm’s wind field.
    (see Emanuel 2005).

    The difference is quite relevant to the remainder of your post. Suppose a theory suggests AGW reduces average sizes of TCs. Can you test this theory by examining trends in PDI? No, because PDI ignores the extent and distribution of winds. You would need to use PD. But in Emanuel 2005, Emanuel considers PD first, and then chooses PDI. Should we then conclude that Emanuel selected PDI over PD in order to bolster the argument that AGW is making TCs more dangerous? No, because there a simpler and more likely explanation: for most of the historical record, the extent and distribution of TC winds are poorly recorded, if at all. Simply put, Emanuel could not easily use PD, because that data has more errors and more gaps. There are plenty of cases where one function of the data is selected for entirely honest reasons.

    (Later, a related study used ERA-40 data to estimate PD, and concluded that PD trends were similar to PDI trends – that is, increasing along with AGW. I seem to recall the same study also showed that AGW is correlated with larger TC wind fields, although I don’t see that in the abstract, and I don’t have a copy handy.)

    Given the behavior of certain researchers, it is certainly wise to be wary of people selecting a potentially misleading function of the data to make an argument (however, I strongly suspect Gray’s own metric, NTC, shows a correlation with tropical Atlantic SSTs as well). Given the origin of ACE, I can see why one might be more suspicious of ACE than of PDI. But in this case, I think you are barking up the wrong tree; ACE is also well correlated with tropical Atlantic SSTs, despite the fact that extreme wind speeds do not dominate ACE as much as PDI. In fact – Emanuel & Mann uses simple TC count – treating all wind speeds above 35 kt alike – and nonetheless shows a strong connection with AGW.

  17. 17

    Re: 16

    You are right that PDI assumes a constant wind field speed and area. My point is simply that it is closer to the physical reality than ACE hence maybe a better choice for comparison purposes and public discussion. (And I was not meaning to imply that Emanuel was trying to skew anything, just to contrast two existing metrics as part of a discussion on selecting a new one for public consumption in the global temperature policy debate.)

    I wish that Emanuel had discussed his rejection of ACE, but all he does is say that PDI is “similar” to it. Nevertheless, is very reassuring that all these different measures correlate well with SST and I will have a look for that paper on storm size estimates. With any luck I can join the data into my tracks database and do my own PD trend computation!

  18. 18
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #15 – Raypierre’s comments – That’s an interesting way to look at it. I thought that the running theory was that the increase in effective thermal resistance due to CO2 is affecting how energy dissipates. And as claimed by many, the main source of that energy is the reradiation of energy from the sun. So, the lightbulb increment idea does not seem to really be analogous. Am I missing something here? I sure hope that this is not how you are setting up your climate model, by imparting an equal distribution of new energy sources. Please tell me it’s not so!

    [Response: Don’t be so pessimistic. This is just a way of communicating what 4 W/m**2 means. It is, in fact, what the situation would look like if you immediately doubled CO2, before the planet had warmed up enough to come back into equilibrium. Note that the Earth still hasn’t reached equilibrium with the current amount of CO2, so the out of equilibrium picture isn’t entirely inapt. For that matter, Ken Caldeira has shown in essence that the kind of climate you get by changing
    the solar energy input by 4 W/m**2 is about the same as what you get by changing the infrared radiative forcing by 4 W/m**2, so the lightbulb experiment would in fact
    give you a climate that wasn’t terribly different from what you would get by changing the radiation balance using CO2 instead. –raypierre]

  19. 19
    Tim McDermott says:

    Re: 11

    Statistical Process Control is useful for processes that run near equilibrium. But weather is the poster child of chaotic processes, and it is likely that climate is too. So it isn’t (IMHO) so much finding the control points, it is finding the point at which our climate is captured by a different attractor.

    And once that happens, we are stuck there.

  20. 20
    Terry Aust says:

    Given that the majority of people believe the Greenhouse efffect.

    The next problem is giving the framework and information needed for them to have confidence that we are making rational decisions.

    If getting the science across is hard then expect some difficulty in getting across what is the net chnages of greenhouse effect (this land goes unproductive other land goes productive) the comparative costs of various ways of minimising the increase in temperature versus the comparative costs costs of adapting, the effects on jobs and wealth in various countries,and what mix we should choose, who gains and who loses from the various options, and politics (what if a republican suggests the right solution [only an Australian joking]).

  21. 21
    Karen Street says:

    In California’s 2006 Climate Action Team Final Report to the Governor and Legislature, section 4 contains a sentence I consider effective, “To comprehend the magnitude of these projected temperature changes, over the next century, the lower range of
    projected temperature rise is slightly larger than the difference in annual mean temperature between Monterey and Salinas, and the upper range of project warming is greater than the temperature difference between San Francisco and San Jose, respectively.”

    Definitely makes the predictions more comprehensible. And pretty scary for those of us who live on the coast instead of where there is weather.

  22. 22
    Liam says:

    Thanks for the responses Rasmus and Raypierre. I agree a game could have real potential for universities, something i hadn’t really considered as i had something else in mind. I’ll elaborate a bit below.

    Re 9 & 10

    9. The better question is how many people play that game and leave the experience having accepted AGW as real? Or, how many people just say “**** it” and decide to rampage their opponents via military means as opposed to seeking a solution?

    A bit off topic!

    10. Of course, what does a video game really provide other than entertainment? Many video games are all about violence and destruction (some quite realistic and graphic war simulations, etc), and that doesn’t seem to influence people one bit. If any, it probably numbs them.

    Ironically considering my thread, thats exactly why i don’t play games. However that’s not a reason to disengage. When people don’t understand the choices put before the choices they make are often emotional and intuitive. Whether they believe in AGW or not should be irrelevant to the effort at communication, as ultimately it is the behaviour and choices these people make on a daily basis that will determine the severity of a climate response.

    My apologies if i am off topic, however I think this is entirely relevant. This is a post about “communicating science and technologies” i think and one of the problems with communicating the science of AGW, and engaging people with science, even some highly intelligent people is that it simply bores them. For many getting a grasp of what’s being discussed is completely beyond them. There’s an esoteric language used, necessary granted, but it excludes a huge portion of the population and actually turns them off.

    On the other hand one of the possibilities of using a game format is to present the results of the science in an entertaining way. A project like this has the potential to work in a couple of ways.

    1. Run over the internet using the type of software i linked above creates huge computing power. The British Met Office has awoken to that. Thus real modelling could be conducted whilst people play. If marketed correctly players would be aware that the game is based on scientific data and is serving a purpose.

    2. If it is done with a working model, new information (i.e. peer reviewed papers) as it occurs could be added to the game/model, with an explanation of what the new information means, how it was derived, explanations of concepts, acronyms, etc, etc.

    3. By repetitive play, which i’ve observed most computer game players doing, concepts, causes and consequences do sink in. The game itself wouldn’t need to be graphically complex, just challenging.

    I don’t mean to be critical, I think this website is a fantastic resource, and an example of real innovation, but if you want to communicate with the average person, you need to think outside the box. I’ve just outlined one possible (?) way.


  23. 23
    Mark A. York says:

    I’d settle for one the realclimate team publishing an op-ed on the NY times verifying Al Gore’s movie as they did here. It would really make an appeal to authority argument, since syndication could take it to the heartland cities where voters are skeptical of the threat and prone to believing Bill Gray. Along this line Roger Pelkie Jr. was quoted today in the LA Times. His quotes leave me a bit queasy. They sound denieresque. We more voices in the fray.

    U.S. Panel Backs Data on Global Warming

    “It’s a pretty profound, easy-to-understand graph,” said Roger A. Pielke Jr., director of the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. “Visually, it’s very compelling.”

    This makes it sound like some sort of ruse; obviously not the impression one wants in the press.

  24. 24

    #23, I would add that the debate is often misrepresented pitting one scientist with one view against another with the contrarian stance, resulting in a failure
    in presenting or getting the science through. Information, or a census
    of consensus scientists vs contrarian scientists would do a great deal of good.
    William Gray just gave a rebuttal calling another study confirming a large temperature contribution from the effects of GW, pitting him against a study and a NCAR director:

    BLITZER: Welcome back. With last year’s hurricane season behind us but this year’s hurricane season in full swing, many want to know what’s fueling all the hurricanes. A new study names a usual suspect. Let’s go to our Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center. She’s pursuing the story and has some details –Fred.

    WHITFIELD: Well, Wolf, this new report adds to the debate over whether global warming does, in fact, contribute to hurricanes.


    WHITFIELD: This year’s hurricane season opened on the heels of a record year in 2005, which included the devastating Hurricane Katrina. But has global warming been a factor in the high number of storms? A new study claims that global warming contributes more to high ocean temperatures than other factors like natural cycles or El Nino. CNN spoke with the director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research which conducted the study.

    TIM KILLEEN, NATIONAL CENTER FOR ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH: The global warming increase in sea surface temperatures associated with greenhouse warming gave roughly half of the observed increase in the sea surface temperatures, about .5 degrees Celsius.

    WHITFIELD: Warm ocean water is the fuel for hurricanes. And last year, ocean water temperatures were unusually high. If global warming is contributing to hurricanes like Katrina, it would provide an argument for trying to slow global warm. But one of the nation’s top forecasters says natural cycles are to blame, not global warming.

    WILLIAM GRAY, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY: I think that’s a gross exaggeration, that that’s not true. Nature functions this way.

    WHITFIELD: Regardless of the reasons, hurricane experts say we should be prepared for another stormy season.

    MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Even without invoking the global warming arguments, the research meteorologists are telling us that we’re in this very active period for hurricanes that may very well last at least another 10 to 20 years.

    WHITFIELD: Forecaster William Gray told us today he thinks the study’s findings are ridiculous, that you can’t blame last year’s hurricane activity on global warming. But one study last month came up with a similar finding that there is a link between global warming and hurricane activity — Wolf.

    BLITZER: I suspect this debate’s going to go on for sometime. Thanks very much, Fred, for that. ”

    The study in question makes a great deal of sense, then it gets marred by the usaul tired contrarian ideas. it needs to be presented more thouroughly along with all the scientists which support it.

  25. 25
    Paul Duignan says:

    Raypierre’s response on comment 15 suggesting using the analogy of a single light bulb over each “room sized” patch of the earth’s surface being turned on, could the analogy of a small electric heater being turned on for each “house sized” patch be used, or would this be a mistaken analogy from the point of view of physics?

  26. 26
    Nick Riley says:

    Pictures tell stories. One of the most dramatic ways, I believe, of communicating the issue of global warming, is to generate a map of future coastal positions due to eustatic sea level rise. We have just tried this at the BGS for Europe. Unfortunately, for 1m rise, the DTM data is not good enough to really bring things out accurately- but the 7m rise that will happen, just by Greenland’s ice going, is quite dramatic- and of course we would reach 7m before Greenland went. We have also done a map at 90m – assuming all the world’s ice goes- and much of the UK, and lowland Europe is thus submerged. Denmark, the Netherlands, the German and Polish plains, and much of western Russia ceases to exist.

    Before we put the map out on the web- can anyone give me the latest estimate (with reference) of sea level rise for if all the ice melted?.

  27. 27
    Deech56 says:

    Re #25: This is a good idea – I’ve got the mug to prove it. One thing to take into consideration is the time at which the seas will be at these levels. The point that contrarians make is that Greenland’s melting would be a bad thing, but this won’t happen for centuries or whatever. The sea level changes that are happening now are on a scale that is miniscule, and are difficult for the American public to fathom.

  28. 28
    Karen Street says:

    This is a question that occurred to me after a climate skeptic showed at yesterday’s discussion of the Gore movie: don’t we have a pretty clear idea of how warm the moon was in 1960 and is today? If the warming were all solar increases, wouldn’t we be seeing it there first?

    Emphasizing the particular fingerprints of global warming seems to be a step the media could do more of, because those not committed to “skepticism” find them helpful: warming during the night and winter greater than during the day and summer, cooling stratosphere, rising tropopause. Others?

    A tiny bit off subject, maybe, but as a teacher I try to pay attention to the explanations that interfere with the understanding people bring into the room.

  29. 29
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Re #1 and Rasmus’s response to it, here’s some more concerning the deficit model of science communication (whereby scientists look for better unidirectional ways to convey understanding to nonscientists who get to listen but not to speak) versus the contrasting engagement model (whereby scientists look for better ways to wade into civic discussions that are often conducted under notably unscientific rules).

    Here’s the deficit-model rhetorical tactic offered in comment #2 for better informing people: “What I want to suggest is that one of the reasons that the science of global warming is not better understood and accepted by the mass media and public is that we have unthinkingly chosen a set of units (degrees) that seems almost fiendishly designed to reduce the apparent urgency of the problem.”

    The underlying communication tactic seems to me, and apparently to others who responded, to offer a really interesting prospect for decreasing the public’s knowledge deficit. Great stuff. And at conferences like the one in Norway, people offer lots of other good ideas about decreasing that deficit.

    A problem, though, is that deficit-model communication tactics — useful and important as they are — don’t account for all the dimensions of the communications challenge. Consider a particularly virulent dimension, a tactic that I believe I’m seeing increasingly employed against climate science: sarcasm.

    This week in “Best of the Web” at, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal — a writer who pays close attention to quotation marks used to stigmatize a phrase, and who calls global warming “global warming” — came up with a legitimate criticism of unscientific handling of climate science. ABC news is soliciting anecdotes that viewers believe demonstrate effects of global warming in their own lives.

    Mr. Taranto blasted that, and the next day published some sarcasm from two of his readers. Both had sent him the sarcasm that they’d submitted to ABC. The first began, “This winter was unusually warm here in New England. I went the whole time in my light jacket rather than my heavier leather one. I had great heating bills. Still, it was unusual.” The second began, “Tharg and me used to hunt mighty mammoth but he scared to cross ice bridge. It now too thin to take weight of even saber cat. Only mouse or rabbit can cross.”

    The ironies in the thing are multiplied, of course, in that Taranto himself does precisely what he’s blasting ABC for doing. That is, he treats anecdotal information as scientifically meaningful. Taranto himself portrays climate science irresponsibly every time he recycles his gag about Vice President Gore’s delivering a global-warming speech on an outlier of a really cold day.

    Now, it might be objected that Taranto and those two readers will never be reached anyway. Fair enough. But what about all the people who read Taranto and the WSJ? Can they be reached only through earnest, straightforward, unidirectional communications conceived under deficit-model thinking, or should science seek ways actually to engage them?

    This morning’s newspaper contains another in a series of sarcastic attacks on climate science in the right-wing comic strip “Mallard Fillmore.” That strip’s central character, a journalist duck, can actually be pretty funny once in a while, as when he once narrated a spring-break road trip to Florida by two babe-chasers in a convertible: Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson. Today’s strip, though, has no whimsy. It’s just grimly propagandistic in a sarcastic way, a way that can’t even be called satire. It posits “global media climate-hysteria” and portrays a man at a microphone screaming hysterically “We’re either gonna have global warming or freezing, and it’s all humans’ fault!”

    Does anyone here want to write the strip’s author and try to reduce his journalist duck’s deficit of understanding about what I’ll call, for this occasion, the old first-they-say-cooling, then-they-say-warming canard?

    My point is that we need more innovations like RealClimate, where scientists not only follow the deficit model in useful ways, but also follow the engagement model. I don’t know what to do about Taranto’s and Mallard Fillmore’s readers, but I do know that they aren’t going to be reached by earnest scientists speaking to them unidirectionally.

    One last thing: It appears to me that Rasmus is right if he’s implying that the excerpt I quoted in 1 gets things a bit off topic in a climate-science blog, in that it focuses on technology, not science. Fair enough, though it’s still true that the essay recommended in 1 is highly germane to the present thread.

    But it also appears to me that Rasmus has conflated nuclear power, a technology with lots of complicated dimensions, with nuclear physics, the arcane, pure science conducted at the laboratory where I work. My lab’s researchers are elucidating the quark structure of nuclei, not the applications of nuclear knowledge that was gained decades ago.

    Now, probably Rasmus knows full well why those two things are different. But that wouldn’t stop some of our nuclear physicists from wishing to sit Rasmus down as a captive audience and defray what they’d see as his knowledge deficit. Many nuclear physicists, like many scientists in other fields, operate on the deficit model without even realizing that there could be another model for science communication. They wouldn’t care that Rasmus would want not just to listen but respond, because under the strict application of the deficit model, that whole dynamic isn’t even considered.

  30. 30
    Mark A. York says:

    Yeah, good ole Jim Taranto who failed to graduate from my alma mater Cal State Northridge. The scare quotes are used because he doesn’t believe it. As I’ve proven if I submitted a reasoned comment he wouldn’t publish it, except on a rare occasion. They have a message at opinionjournal, and Bill Gray is only a part of it, but that’s the tune.

  31. 31
    edward lanwermeyer says:

    There is a useful book on climate change “After the Ice: A Global Human History” by an archeologist (Steven Mithen, Reading University, 2003) that is both a history of the various stages of proto and early Meso-Neolithic (as the last of these Stone Age’ periods were known), and its variety of evidence faunal and floral, those climate induced changes both preceding and following the last ice age, and then the Younger Dryas (c. 10500 BC) , to the final warming that occured after that. The treatment is global in scope but its focus is clearly to the story as it is told in still working digs in the MIddle EAst and Europe. MIthen integrates for the general reader very well the knwon data on historical climate change, the dramatic social and material changes this brought into the physical and social world of early Homo Sapiens, our ancestors, as he takes the reader on this immense–and very readable– journey.

    I personally don’t know anything in the current climate literature (which I don’t read weekly I must confess) that can compare to it in sheer effective communication on the subject , the topic (communication) of this latest exchange of points of view in RC here.

    But, you have to put down the New York Times, to get to it.

    edward l. June 24

  32. 32

    Regarding open threads:

    I am a co-moderator of a new ongoing open forum on global change issues that includes but is not limited to climate change at

    The other moderators are James Annan, Raymond Arritt, Coby Beck and William Connolley.

    This has been going for only a month, but has several dozen subscribers already. You may participate with or without a subscription.

    We welcome intelligent submissions on subjects relevant to the management of the global environment, including energy policy, demographics, politics and philosophy; our moderation policy is comparable to realclimate’s, but our subject matter is somewhat broader. There are no feature articles; this group is structured similar to the usenet of old, but with light moderation.

    (We’d welcome a link under “other opinions” from the RealClimate homepage!)

  33. 33

    I am teaching physics (and computing) to 17-20 years students at highschool/college level now for 38 years. In my opinion one big problem is the grasping of the intensity or order of magnitude of a phenomen or problem. So the light bulb illustration by rasmus is a very telling illustration. But when it comes to energy needs, many see no difference in output between a wind-farm and a nuclear park (not to speak from the availability problem) So the exspectations on clean energy sources are often extremely naive, and rarely is a simple division ( or multiplication) made to compute the energy equipment needed just for running the homes and livings of the students and their family of one single school.

  34. 34
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 21: “…the lower range of
    projected temperature rise is slightly larger than the difference in annual mean temperature between Monterey and Salinas, and the upper range of project warming is greater than the temperature difference between San Francisco and San Jose, respectively.”

    I suspect that type of comparison will put many people at ease, esp. those living in northern latitudes – they’ll say to themselves,hey, now I don’t have to sell my house and move to Florida when I retire.

    As for adopting units other than temperature (excuse me if I missed the point here), that is a sure way to lose, or confuse, the general population. Temperature may not be the best metric of global heat storage, but people are familiar with it.

  35. 35
    Jim Roland says:

    Communicating climate change? The following gives some interesting research findings if anyone’s not seen them:

    Basically – don’t speak about scary weather, don’t suggest that tiny every-day actions will save the planet. Instead speak of values, like responsibility, stewardship, competence, vision and ingenuity. Speak of the necessary action as new thinking, new technologies, planning ahead, smartness, forward-thinking, balanced alternatives, efficiency, prudence and caring. Charge opponents with irresponsibility, old thinking and inefficiency.

    Interestingly, the term ‘greenhouse gas effect’ is best avoided – heat-trap and CO2 blanket are more meaningful.

    (I’ve plagiarised this good summarisation by Almuth Ernsting).

  36. 36
    pat neuman says:

    Re: 35.

    Can we charge opponents with injustice and state that the wrongdoers should be punished for harmful actions against individuals and groups, the human race and other inhabitants of Earth? What and how much action constitutes a wrong doing? How far should can we go in verbally charging an opponent for what we think is wrong doing? If it does no good to punish the wrongdoers, should they allowed to go scat free?

  37. 37

    Stereotyping Laurence Krauss as something is the first sign of the simple minded road to a childish debate, which serves some politicians quite well, but here we are interested in climate science, you know something a tad more serious than character bashing. I rather characterize ideas or statements as nonsense rather than trying to define someone who we really don’t know. Krauss is trying to wake up a collective giant, scientific Americans, its surely needed at this time.

  38. 38
    Wacki says:

    Re #37 or wayne davidson,

    My previous response was deleted which I find unfortunate but whatever. I fully understand what you guys are doing and I know how quickly conversations like this can degrade into what can only be described as mindless ballyhoo. I did not mean any disrespect toward Laurence Krauss. In fact, I agree with his general statement very strongly and I said that in my previous post. I just have problems with his arguments. I was incredulous that the National Science Foundation’s survey, particularly the 54% statistic, was accurate. I mean seriously, have you ever met anyone that didn’t know the earths orbit was one year long? I haven’t. And then he goes on to make jokes about who votes for who based on those miserable statistics. I’m not a Republican and I’m not even religious. However, I found that to be in pretty poor taste and a pretty dumb move considering what he was trying to accomplish. His anti-Republican comments did not stop there. And then I proved one of his statements about the missile program to be completely wrong. Anytime someone is emotionally charged in a formal lecture setting, stereotyping large groups, and citing even one incorrect fact I am forced to do nothing less than double check every single fact they say. I may have stereotyped him, but he stereotyped an entire country. And to be honest I feel I have the right to stereotype him given some of the statements he made. I have only one message to Lawrence Krauss and anyone interested in “Communicating Science & Technology”. My message is:

    Both political parties have strengths and both parties have weaknesses. If you are trying to send a message, it’s best not to needlessly alienate, insult, and stereotype the party you are trying to talk to. This is especially true if that party is in power.

  39. 39
    Wolfgang Flamme says:

    I’d also recommend the presentation Key questions in climate research from this conference.

  40. 40
    cwmagee says:

    Re: sea level change maps-
    Do those maps account for isostatic compensation, or do they merely draw a line at the appropriate modern contour line?

    Re: civilization, and climate games- in the original civilization, my brother once triggered a run-away greenhouse effect that turned every non-mountain or hill on the planet into swampland. The resulting loss of productivity meant that he counldn’t afford the units needed to clean up enough pollution and stop the process. Unfortunately, I think this potential outcome was removed from later versions to make the game more winnable.

    A simplified climate model that was computationally forgiving enough to run on a modern home computer would be an interesting learing tool, however.

    [Response:You actually have two choices for that. The first is, which will run a GCM in the background. You don’t get much control over the experiment, but you get to monitor its progress and share results with others, which is quite instructive. The second is EdGCM, which is a simplified version of the GISS GCM. It has a very nice interactive user interface, and gives you a lot of flexibility in experimental design. Check out . Now, if somebody would just couple EdGCM to a carbon cycle model and maybe a simplified economic model, then give the whole thing a neat SimCity type of interface, we’d really be cooking. –raypierre]

  41. 41
    Gareth says:

    raypierre: “we’d be really cooking”

    I thought we were anyway…

  42. 42

    Re #40 — I could probably put my gray model into javascript and make it a web page, if anybody’s interested. But considering how my last effort went over, I don’t want to do it unless I know someone will want to look at it.

  43. 43
    Eli Rabett says:

    Somewhat off topic, but I think you need to reopen the discussion of sudden (defined as tens of years) catastropic sea level rise given the recent Hansen article in the NY Review of Books, and new results on Greenland glaciers (some of which was dealt with in a recent Real Climate thread). This idea has suddenly and strongly moved into the mainstream media. Links in the updates at

  44. 44
    Sinjin Eberle says:

    Any thoughts on the new article in the WSJ today regarding ‘consensus’??

    [Response: The article is by Richard Lindzen ‘There is no ‘consensus’ on global warming”. I don’t have the full text, but it is disccused at – gavin]

  45. 45
    JMG says:

    re: #34’s response to my #2 (“As for adopting units other than temperature [excuse me if I missed the point here], that is a sure way to lose, or confuse, the general population. Temperature may not be the best metric of global heat storage, but people are familiar with it.”)

    I think we’re in violent agreement–you see the famiarity as a good thing, I see it as a bad thing, because the deceptive familiarity of a “few degrees” completely masks the massive disruption represented by global scale heat retention.

    My point is that the use of familiar units is, in my opinion, becoming a barrier that impedes recognition of the vast _unfamiliarity_ of what we’re doing to the earth.

  46. 46
    Richard Simons says:

    CBC Newsworld ‘Passionate Eye’ is showing a program on climate change and the reaction of the US Government this evening (Monday) at 10pm ET and 10pm PT. Last night they showed an introductory program on climate change that to me, as a non-climatologist, seemed fair if rather superficial (but then, I’ve been following the discussions here and alsewhere).

  47. 47
    Hank Roberts says:

    >40, cwmagee — this deserves a journalist’s attention if it can be nailed down. Dumbing down a game is like dumbing down politics, eh? Look where we’re going.

    Quoting: “in the original [C]ivilization [game], my brother once … turned every non-mountain or hill on the planet into swampland. The resulting loss of productivity meant that he counldn’t afford the units needed to clean up enough pollution and stop the process. Unfortunately, I think this potential outcome was removed from later versions to make the game more winnable.”

    I wonder if the original Civilization game was realistic enough to be scary about warming, and the business-as-denial effect is what they actually simulate now?

    The denial lobby is so big because the real consequences of business as usual make the game less “winnable” in real life, so they deny those possibilities.

    Dick Fugett of Whole Earth Review long ago wrote — reviewing the original Flight Simulator — that the game’s “Pause” feature would be a popular option if available in real aircraft operation. Practice furthers.

    Agree with Ray’s comment — the gamers I know (chess players all) would readily understand and play a good climate model. They know they’ll be doing it in real life, and would appreciate the practice.

  48. 48
    Karen Street says:

    Re 44, if there were debate in the scientific community, Lindzen would be publishing his arguments in scientific journals. Does the debate count as scientific if the discussion takes place outside of scientific journals, conferences, etc?

  49. 49
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #18 – Raypirre’s comments. Not to be picking a nit here, but is is really correct to try and model an increase in de facto thermal resistance with an increase in energy output? Inquiring minds want to know.

  50. 50
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #19 – But nonetheless, even if the process is somewhat or wholely chaotic, it should be possible to get a handle on a reasonable control band. It is not so chaotic that it has gone into runaway in the past. If anything, there are hints of an innate tendancy toward periods of shutdown. So, what harm would there be in attempting this approach as a first step. In terms of models, finite element modeling best practices from the electronics industry injected into the GCMs, would be something to pursue.