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Communicating Science: Not Just Talking the Talk

Filed under: — group @ 16 September 2009

Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt

The issues involved in science communication are complex and often seem intractable. We’ve seen many different approaches, but guessing which will work (An Inconvenient Truth, Field Notes from a Catastrophe) and which won’t (The Eleventh Hour) is a tricky call. Mostly this is because we aren’t the target audience and so tend to rate popularizations by different criteria than lay people. Often, we just don’t ‘get it’.

Into this void has stepped Randy Olsen with his new book “Don’t be such a scientist”. For those who don’t know Randy, he’s a rather extraordinary individual – one of the few individuals who has run the gamut from hard-core scientist to Hollywood film maker. He’s walked the walk, and can talk the talk–and when he does talk, we should be listening!

While there may be some similarities in theme with “Unscientific America” by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum that we reviewed previously, the two books cover very different ground. They share the recognition that there is currently a crisis in area of scientific communication. But what makes “Don’t be such a Scientist” so unique is that Olsen takes us along on his own personal journey, recounting his own experiences as he made the transition from marine biologist to movie-maker, and showing us (rather than simply telling us–you can be sure that Randy would want to draw that distinction!) what he learned along the way. The book could equally well have been titled “Confessions of a Recovering Scientist”.

More than anything else, the book attempts to show us what the community is doing wrong in our efforts to communicate our science to the public. Randy doesn’t mince words in the process. He’s fairly blunt about the fact that even when we think we’re doing a good job, we generally aren’t. We have a tendency to focus excessively on substance, when it is often as if not more important, when trying to reach the lay public, to focus on style. In other words, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

This is a recurring theme in Randy’s work. His 2006 film, Flock of Dodos, showed, through a combination of humor and insightful snippets of reality, why evolutionary biologists have typically failed in their efforts to directly engage and expose the “intelligent design” movement. In his 2008 film Sizzle, he attempted the same thing with the climate change debate–an example that hits closer to home for us–in this case using more of a “mockumentary”-style format (think “Best in Show” with climate scientists instead of dogs) but with rather more mixed results. Randy makes the point that the fact that Nature panned it, while Variety loved it, underlines the gulf that still exists between the worlds of science and entertainment.

However, the book is not simply a wholesale, defeatist condemnation of our efforts to communicate. What Randy has to say may be tough to hear, but its tough love. He provides some very important lessons on what works and what doesn’t, and they ring true to us in our own experience with public outreach. In short, says Randy: Tell a good story; Arouse expectations and then fulfill them; Don’t be so Cerebral; And, last but certainly not least: Don’t be so unlikeable (i.e. don’t play to the stereotype of the arrogant, dismissive academic or the nerdy absent-minded scientist). Needless to say, it’s easy for us to see our own past mistakes and flaws in Randy’s examples. And while we might quibble with Randy on some details (for example, An Inconvenient Truth didn’t get to be the success it was because of its minor inaccuracies), the basic points are well taken.

The book is not only extremely insightful and full of important lessons, it also happens to be funny and engaging, self-effacing and honest. We both agree that this book is a must read for anyone who cares about science, and the problems we have engaging the public.

If the book has a flaw, it might be the seemingly implicit message that scientists all need to take acting or comedy lessons before starting to talk – though the broader point that many of us could use some pointers in effective communication is fair. More seriously, the premise of the book is rooted in perhaps somewhat of a caricature of what a scientist is (you know, cerebral, boring, arrogant and probably unkempt). This could be seen merely as a device, but the very fact that we are being told to not be such scientists, seems at times to reinforce the stereotype (though to be fair, Randy’s explanation of the title phrase does show it to be a bit more nuanced than might initially meet the eye). Shouldn’t we instead be challenging the stereotype? And changing what it means to the public to be a scientist? Maybe this will happen if scientists spend more time not being so like stereotypical scientists – but frankly there are a lot of those atypical scientists already and the cliches still abound.

When it comes to making scientists better communicators, Greg Craven’s book “What’s the worst that can happen?” demonstrates how it can actually be done. Craven is a science teacher and is very upfront about his lack of climate science credentials but equally upfront about his role in helping normal people think about the issue in a rational way. Craven started off making YouTube videos explaining his points and this book is a further development of those including responses to many of the critiques he got originally.

Craven’s excellent use of video to discuss the implications of the science is neatly paired with the work that Peter Sinclair is doing with his “Climate Denial Crock of the Week” series. Both use arresting graphics and straightforward explanations to point out what the science really says, how the contrarians distort and misinform and take some pleasure in pointing out the frequent incoherence that passes for commentary at sites like WUWT.

Crucially, neither Craven nor Sinclair are scientists, but they are excellent communicators of science. Which brings up a point raised by both Mooney & Kirshenbaum and Olsen – what role should working scientists play in improving communications to the public? Video editing and scriptwriting (and even website design!) is probably best left to people who know how to do these things effectively, while content and context needs to be informed directly by the scientists themselves. To our mind this points to enhanced cooperation among communicators and scientists as the dominant model we should be following. We don’t all need to become film directors to make a difference!

602 Responses to “Communicating Science: Not Just Talking the Talk”

  1. 351
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, click the link on the Nature page for the “Supplementary Information” — that’s 17 pages and not paywalled, well worth reading. It’d sure be nice to talk about the journal article instead of the newspaper headlines, especially since Nature has been reviewing that Letter since January.

  2. 352
    catman306 says:

    More from our friends at climate progress.

    P,G & E Corp quits US Chamber of Commerce over climate change denialism:

  3. 353
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dan Wang,
    First, consider the variability in the major forcings. CO2 forcing increases monotonically–that is the lont-term trend. The solar cycle is 11 (really 9-14) years, so certainly we can tell little or nothing on timescales shorter than that. And you would probably want to look at multiple solar cycles to get a clear picture of the trend (3 is the minimum to get an estimate of standar deviation cycle to cycle)–On that basis alone, 30 years ought to work.

    Note that NAO, PDO and ENSO, while not actually cyclic, have comparable quasi-periodicities. And after 30 years, a monotonic forcing stands out like a sore thumb against these oscillatory forcings.

  4. 354
    Jim Eager says:

    Matthew wrote @246:
    What do you call a “long term trend”? From 1973 until 1993 there is no trend, the ice just seems to fluctuate randomly around the mean. From 1994 to 2007 there was a gradual decline in sea ice. However that is only 13 years – not really that long in the whole history of the Arctic ice cap.

    and @262:
    I plot trends for a living, and looking at the graphs on Cryosphere today I cannot see any significant downward trend much before 1993

    Why don’t you try looking over a longer period, say 1969 to 2009:
    Is that 40-year downward trend long enough for you?

    There is is a very good data record of Arctic sea ice extent and thickness starting long before 1973, thanks to the fact that US Navy nuclear submarines have been operating beneath the Arctic ice cap since 1958.

  5. 355
    tamino says:

    Matthew L:

    Well, I plot trends for a living, and looking at the graphs on Cryosphere today I cannot see any significant downward trend much before 1993, which is 16 years.

    I do statistical analysis of time series. For a living. To my very experienced eye the trend is obvious before 1993. But I know better than to trust visual impressions so I run the numbers. The trend is statistically significant before 1993, in fact it’s statistically significant by 1990. After that it’s so obvious even you can see it.

    So when it comes to detecting and verifying the reality of trends, I doubt that you know what you’re doing. In this particular case it’s certain that you didn’t.

    But did you ask, did you wonder “out loud” whether or not there’s a trend detectable before 1993? Did you say “it looks like no trend to me, but I can’t really say ’cause I’m no expert”? No. Instead you pronounce that you “cannot see” it and attempt to make that opinion authoritative by claiming that you “plot trends for a living.” Which I doubt.

    If you want to learn then you’re at the right place. If you want to continue to make false statements, support them by claiming some expertise which you obviously lack, then get all huffy and talk about how rude we are when your fraud is exposed — then you’re definitely in the wrong place.

  6. 356
    Andrew says:

    Does this count as not talking like a scientist? “Saying that there’s been global cooling since 1998 is like saying Peyton Manning’s been in steep decline since his 49 TD season in 2004.”

  7. 357
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re recycling of CO2:

    In terms of the C content, atmospheric CO2 ~ 750 Gt (gigatons) – well it but it’s around that area.

    (roughly, proportionality between mass and ppm: Atmospheric mass is roughly 10 tons / m2 * 500 trillion m2 = 5 million Gt. CO2 molecular mass is roughly 1.5 times average air molecular mass; C in CO2 about 12/29 ~= 0.4 times average air molecular mass; 100 Gt of C in CO2 is the number of molecules in roughly 250 Gt of air, and 250 Gt of air is roughly 50 ppm. Thus 100 Gt C as CO2 is 50 ppm atmospheric CO2; preindustrial CO2 near 600 Gt or 300 ppm.)

    About 190 Gt of C as CO2 is taken out from the atmosphere and put back into the atmosphere each year (not always at different times, although there is some seasonality that results in an annual cycle in atmospheric CO2 that is relatively small except in northern high latitudes) (about 100 Gt exchange through land biota (some of which goes into soil before going back into the atmosphere), and about 90 with the ocean, which I think is mostly abiotic; there is a very small geologic emission (average approx. 0.2 Gt per year) which is balanced by chemical weathering (abiotic, although biology can affect it) and organic carbon burial (my understanding is that, at least in recent geologic times, oceanic burial of C dominates, even though the photosynthesis rate in the ocean is much smaller than on land – although a small amount of organic C does wash into the ocean from land) (PS the organic C burial tends to be around (if I remember this right) 20 % of the total geologic C storage, so I would guess oxydation of organic C in sediments/rocks contributes about 20 % of the total geologic emissions (although some of that CO2 could be reincorporated into rock as carbonate minerals and be released as CO2 later)- although these proportions can vary, and large deviations have occured at times in the geologic past as indicated by C isotope ratios – see “Snowball Earth”, Hoffman, Schrag :
    (“Today (and over most of the last 500 million years), approximately 20% of the carbon entering the ocean is removed as organic matter” – presumably this is 20 % of the net flux of C into the ocean from the atmosphere and through water flow (much much smaller than 190 Gt per year), plus direct geologic emission into the ocean)) .

    (There is a way to bury C in the deep ocean that does not actually result in geologic sequestration – some organic C and inorganic C bearing material produced in the surface ocean can sink into the deep ocean, where it may oxydize or dissolve and turn back into CO2, but it will generally be trapped in the deep ocean until currents bring it back up.)

    The residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere is thus only around 3 to 4 years. However, this does not mean a perturbation to the amount will decay on such a time scale, and the evidence strongly indicates that a small steady perturbation to the C cycle will result in accumulations over time that do not decay anywhere nearly as fast as a decade. (As I understand it, thus far into anthropogenic CO2 emissions, of a given additional emission of CO2 into the atmosphere, some fraction (typically 40 % ?) is quickly removed; this might be due to the equilibration of atmospheric CO2 concentration with surface ocean CO2 concentration and with land vegetation – this is a temporary equilibration, however. Given sufficient time, one might expect most of the additional CO2 amount (not individual molecules, which mix into the whole C cycle, but the amount added) to end up in the oceans if the relative proportions stay the same – if the ocean has 50 times the CO2 as the atmosphere, then the amount remaining in the atmosphere might be 1/50 of that which goes into the ocean (but I don’t know if the proportions would stay constant even given sufficient time) (biomass + soil is around 3 times atmopsheric C content, but there are limitations to how much that could increase – ie imagine all land covered with thick forest of tall trees above a temperate forest soil – and consider how likely that would ever be). The remainder (the amount, not the exact same molecules) persists for some time, however, because there are limits to increases in biomass and oceanic uptake is limited by the relatively slow rate of exchange between upper ocean and deep ocean water, and upper oceanic uptake is limited by chemical conditions. Climate change itself will affect uptake of CO2. I don’t see a return to the swamps of the Carboniferous period in the near future, and net organic burial takes time even on land; enhanced chemical weathering in a warmer climate with higher CO2 (assuming same correlation between climate and topography and minerology, etc.) will remove CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean but this will be slow (this, and carbonate mineral dissolution, buffer ocean pH, but these also take time to act). I would imagine rapid climate change will tend to cause deforestation and desertification faster than aforestation (migration of boreal forests into the present-day tundra, for example), so there could be a net release of CO2 at least at first. Higher temperature tends to reduce the equilibrium CO2 concentration in the ocean. Climate change plus CO2 might increase photosynthesis in some conditions, but climate change could also increase decomposition of organic matter in soil (and there are other issues – plants respire, too). That’s aside from methane feedbacks.

    As I recall from “AIP:Discovery of Glob. Warm.” (see “Science Links” on the upper right hand side of this page), two early reasons for dismissing anthropogenic global warming were 1. misunderstandings of how the greenhouse effect actually works, and 2. the idea that natural processes strongly and quickly (on human timescales) regulate the atmospheric CO2 level. The later was plausable at the time, but evidence since then indicates otherwise. I’m not sure if isotopic studies and their contributions to studies of C fluxes alone could definitively rule this out – it is possible to imagine that, sure, there has actually been a net gain of C in the oceans, etc, but perhaps the reason why the oceans have not taken up more C from the air is due to some natural fluctuation (as opposed to a behavior that would generally act the same way if we went back to another interglacial and repeated the experiment, etc.) – but other evidence and theory aside (I wouldn’t claim to know all the important points), it just seems too coincidental that CO2 levels remained so steady for thousands of years and would just happen to increase to far outside the range of hundreds of thousands of years of previous glacial-intergacial fluctuations (was solar forcing never 0.3 or less W/m2 greater than preindustrial values in all that time; and theres’ orbital forcing, even a magnetic field reversal within the last million years) when human industry comes along to emit it.

    Maybe there’s a negative cloud feedback in some tropical regions – there may also be a positive cloud feedback in subtropical regions and another associated with midlatitude storm tracks. Some feedbacks are better established than others (water vapor, sea ice and snow, convective lapse rates), and so there is uncertainty but the best information indicates around 2 to 4+ K warming per doubling of CO2 or equivalent radiative forcing (that includes CO2 and methane feedbacks, so is not automatically equal to anthropogenic forcing) – I would say a burden of proof tends to be more on any proposed changes to expectations than on our best-supported expectations.

  8. 358
    Patrick 027 says:

    “but other evidence and theory aside (I wouldn’t claim to know all the important points)”

    (ie the physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, and geology that could be used in a model, such as the effect of dissolved CaCO3 on oceanic CO2 uptake, etc.)

  9. 359
    Patrick 027 says:

    (a challenge to denialists – show me the CO2 peak during the MWP!)

  10. 360
    CM says:

    stevenc (#305, 308), an error message ate my reply last night. New try: Yes, I see your point about correcting for ENSO, and I shouldn’t have answered so glibly above (but it doesn’t bear on my preceding argument). Come to think of it, Gavin discussed this last year.

    So: When looking at a short time scale, like here, where year-to-year internal variability makes a big difference, the ENSO-adjusted trend may prove less misleading (for what that’s worth — a “ten-year trend” still doesn’t signify in climate, but we agree on that, I think). That about right?

    As for the rest of #305, it’s clear from the thread what M.L. said, what source he referred to, what source you said he could have meant by what you thought he said, and what I said about this, so I beg leave not to argue about what you think I said and meant. Life’s short.

  11. 361
    Matthew L. says:

    # (too numerous to mention)
    but particularly
    #340 JPR, your tireless patience is much appreciated.

    Wow! More useful stuff here than I have found in a couple of months general browsing. I had not noticed the “Start Here” button before, maybe because it is at the “end” of the list of links.

    Being a Blog, and therefore inviting access from the general public, can I politely suggest that you put the “start here” at the “start”. Or at least in a more prominent position? Perhaps a link at the top of your home page with a note that before posting in the comments section it would be appreciated if you could at least read the contents of the “start here” and FAQ pages?

    That is probably more important than an apology for the poor functioning of your blog software ;-)

    I have spent nearly a whole working day posting here this week. And I now have a serious backlog of financial models to build and run… and of course a great deal of reading to do in what little time I have to myself when I am not taking the boys to football or sitting by a muddy pond with a camera.

    Don’t expect me back here much before Christmas. At which point I might have garnered a sufficient grasp of the science to ask some slightly more challenging questions. I will, of course, be back anyway in a year’s time to report the result of my Arctic sea ice summer minimum bet!

    One final comment (and please take this as constructive criticism, there is no personal slight intended). Try to be a bit nicer to each other guys, it would make us lay people more inclined to listen to what you have to say. I *strongly* recommend you avoid sarcasm in comments. It is the lowest form of wit and really does make you come over as “arrogant and dismissive”. Roll with the punches and fight nasty with nice.

    Be more like Mr Verheggen in particular.

    Recently one of my favourite “Greens”, Jonathan Porritt, a veteran of the movement over here, was interviewed on the most listened to morning radio news programme (The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4) alongside a “denialist” (forget his name I’m afraid). Sad to say JP did not acquit himself well. He got progressively angrier and ended up shouting, and was even forced to back-track at one point. In contrast the denialist remained very level headed.

    Anybody listening to the interview and not familiar with either person, or the positions they represented, would have scored a definite win for the denialist camp.

    Maybe you *should* take lessons in acting and comedy. It might make the reading / viewing / listening public more inclined to stick around to hear what you have to say. A few more media-savvy scientists will get the public’s attention. And it is the public you now need on your side if anything is to change.

    TTFN. “Keep calm and carry on.”

  12. 362

    simon abingdon: #313 Barton, why wouldn’t your 3 just say “The increase is mainly from natural warming”?

    BPL: Because it’s not. The radioisotope signature of the new CO2 confirms that it’s coming mainly from burning fossil fuels. Hans Suess discovered that signature in am-bi-ent air in 1955 and it was confirmed by Roger Revelle and Suess in 1957.

  13. 363

    Matthew L:

    >1. CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
    No dispute there. Somebody has already pointed to a source stating that circa 3 deg of warming comes from a doubling of CO2. Unfortunately the link posted was broken. Is this verified anywhere else?

    Try here:

    The Myhre et al. equation for radiative forcing due to increased carbon dioxide is:

    RF = 5.35 ln (C/Co)

    where RF is in watts per square meter, CO2 concentration C is in parts per million by volume, and reference concentration Co is also in ppmv. Clearly, doubling CO2 leads to a 3.7 W/m^2 increase in forcing. With a climate sensitivity of 0.75 K/W/m^2, this translates to a 2.8 K increase in surface temperature.

    – What is the total stock of CO2 in the atmosphere?

    It’s presently 387 ppmv, representing 3.01 x 10^15 kilograms, or about 5.9 kg for each square meter of Earth’s surface. The preindustrial level was about 280 ppmv, so this represents a 38% increase since about 1750.

    – How much as a percentage of this each year do the total emissions from human sources represent?

    About 1% per year.

    – How much CO2 each year is “recycled” in the carbon cycle?

    Of the new CO2, about 60% goes into natural sinks, mostly the ocean, and the other 40% stays in the atmosphere and builds up.

    – Are we sure that human sources adding CO2 to the atmosphere is a directly additive process? In other words what is the annual increase in total atmospheric CO2, and how does this compare with the total human emissions?

    See above.

    – Is it possible that human sources are swamped / absorbed / mitigated by the natural cycle of carbon into and out of the sea and terrestrial life forms?

    Natural sources and sinks are in balance on a human or historical time scale. Artificial sources aren’t.

    4. Climate feedbacks amplify the warming from CO2.

    – I understand that there are positive feedback mechanisms (warm seas emitting more CO2 etc). However, can we completely discount that there may be negative feedbacks too? A common one cited is increased cloud cover as the warm seas evaporate more water.

    Nobody can pinpoint whether more water vapor in a warmer atmosphere means more or less cloud cover. If it exists it’s a minor effect. My own RCMs run with a 1% increase in cloud cover decrease the surface temperature by 0.2 K. I think some more sophisticated models find a larger effect.

    The most recent analysis of cloud feedback finds that it’s positive; i.e., amplifies rather than reducing warming:

    Clement, A.C., Burgman R., and J.R. Norris 2009. “Observational and Model Evidence for Positive Low-Level Cloud Feedback.” Science 325, 460-464.

    5. No other source of the warming is plausible.

    – All heat in our climate (barring a tiny contribution from the earth’s core) comes from the sun. How much effect on the earth’s climate comes from variations in the output of the sun?

    Over the very long term, quite a lot. Recently, not so much, since solar flux hasn’t gone appreciably up or down in 50 years. More here:

    – How does this compare with the forcing effect from changes in CO2?

    My RCM runs with 1% greater solar constant–a bigger increase than we’ve ever seen in historical times–raises the Earth’s surface temperature 0.7 K. Compare that to 2.0-4.5 K from doubling CO2.

    Looking at the graph on the following site:
    There does seem to be some correlation between the warming of the sun since 1900 and the warming of the earth over the same time period. Is that just my imagination?

    Nope. Variations in sunlight account for about 2.5% of the variance of NASA GISS temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2007. Ln CO2 accounts for 76%, however.

    The sun seems to be declining in output;
    is this significant to global warming?

    Not really.

  14. 364

    Dan Wang: I find BPL to be unnecessarily snarky.

    BPL: Sorry. But after having to answer this stupid “no warming for ten years!” meme again and again and again and again and again until my head wants to explode, it’s very hard for me to be polite about this these days.

    JW: I think the statement “it has not warmed more in the last 10 years” is perfectly reasonable because global temperatures have been nearly flat within error bars for the last 10 years.

    BPL: That’s funny. When I regress NASA GISS temperature anomalies against elapsed time for 1999-2008, I get a RISING trend of 0.22 K per decade, significant at the 95% confidence level.

    JW: Furthermore, if 10 years tells you nothing about climate change, how do we know that 30 years does? Why not 100 or 1000 years as some others have claimed? What justification does BPL have that 30 years is the right time “scale” with which to look at climate?

    BPL: You plot the standard deviation against the sample size. What you get is a “horn” shape decreasing in width as the sample size increases. For most climate phenomena, the inflection in the curve is sufficient to indicate you’re getting signal rather than noise at 30 years.

    It’s not a guess. It’s a calculation.

  15. 365
    Matthew L. says:

    #363 BPL

    I feel guilty now for making spend so much time. However your precise, succinct and convincing answers are welcome. I shall also try and read the background information in links posted elsewhere.

    Hopefully the information will be useful to others as well.

  16. 366
    Matthew L. says:

    #355 Tamino
    The only reason I did not do a proper statistical analysis of the trend is that I did not have a source for the underlying numbers, the time to look for one, or the time and means to interpret them even if I had found one. I have a day job, and am skiving from that to post here.

    The best I could do in the time available was to do a visual inspection of the graph and to give my impression based on that. You are, of course, perfectly free to criticise that impression and to give your own.

    The numbers and graphs I study as part of my job are financial and economic. Obviously, others study climate information for a living, and I would be (genuinely) very interested to hear from you what the trend 1990-1993 is. You could simply have done that.

    I have a wife and three very demanding and time consuming children at home. I barely get an hour a day to do anything for myself, and of that I spend more than I should trying to read and understand the science of climate change – because I know it is important.

    Last night I got home at 9:30 after a meeting at a Bank in the City of London. I then had to cook my own supper (Mrs L. had retired to bed – she is on call from 7am today), clear up the kitchen, iron a shirt and then screw together a flat-pack guinea pig (cavie) run to go in the garden for the kids new pets. After that, at about 11:00 I started to read some of the interesting links posted here. I fell asleep at the keyboard at around 11:30. This stuff is not easy to take in when you are tired.

    I am not asking for sympathy, just understanding.

    Why do you feel it necessary to waste your time accusing me of being a fraud and a liar? It adds nothing to the debate and only sours the tone.

    I could just go away and forget about climate change, like 90% of the rest of the population. Posts like yours are not encouraging me to pursue my interest.

    I am ignorant, not stupid. I need enlightening not insulting.

  17. 367
    William says:

    #363 Barton Paul
    I think you minimize the impact of clouds. The effect as a negative feedback can be large enough to negate the warming GCM’s predict and it’s an area where there is a lot of uncertainty and a great need for much further research.

  18. 368
    Mitch Wagener says:

    I am a professor of ecology at a small state school in Connecticut. My school is considered “second-tier” because the faculty are primarily teachers and we don’t grant PhDs. I think that those of us who are faculty in second-tier universities are in a particularly good position to educate the public on climate change. We have done scientific research. We know the process and lingo. For most of us there is less pressure to publish or perish, so we may have more time for public service. And we have a LOT of experience explaining science to non-scientists (our students). I do my part in a couple of ways. I give a fair number of public talks on climate change. At least half of these are guest lectures at local high schools. My school educates a large number of secondary teachers, both on the grad and undergrad level. The future biology teachers all come through my courses and I try to impress on them the urgency of the present situation and give them the best information to pass on to their future students.

    As far as the tone to take when speaking to the public, I think that a lot of people will accept the science if we treat them as intelligent people. No one wants to be treated by a rube. A lot of the people I talk to have only really heard about climate change as part of a partisan political discussion. If you explain the science of what we know and how we know it,–leaving the politics aside– many will accept it.

  19. 369
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I had not noticed the “Start Here” button ….

    Gavin, you know that “blink” tag in HTML? There may actually be one, and only one, appropriate use for it anywhere on the planet — the Start Here button.

    Or a color bar, or one of those stupid floaty windows that hovers in your face til you dismiss it the first time you visit a site ….

    Oh well, it’s been a lot of recreational typing, but not an awful lot.

  20. 370
    pete best says:

    Re #357

    Its simpler than that. 2009=20 billion tonnes and the recession aside where global emissions have falled by 2% they usuall grow by 2% os in the next decade (2010-2019) thats another 330 billion tonnes and the decade after that (2020-2029) another 400 billion and the decade after that (2030-2039) around 480 billion tonnes making around 1.2 trillion tonnes in total and a annual release come 2040 of around 57 billion tonnes.

    Of that 1.2 trillion tonnes around 50% of it will stay in the atmosphere but sinks might be faltering convincingly by that time and hence more and more is left in the atmosphere. So 600 billion tonnes equates to around a 300 ppmv increase.

    SCARY !!!!!

  21. 371
    stevenc says:

    CM, no we have difference of opinion of the lack of importance of the 10 year time period. My comments on both the temperature trend and on the sea ice were meant as subjects of this post: the topic of communication.

    Matthew, if you are honest, objective and polite in person then be the same way here. You weren’t to start out with. Sorry, just an objective appraisal. Until such time as you have rehabilitated your first impression you probably should avoid complaining about how you treated too much. Just my honest opinion.

  22. 372
    Ric Merritt says:

    A day or two ago, I briefly opined that the writings of “Matthew L” are indisguishable from trolling. That leaves open a gray area he might inhabit, which we might call inadvertant trolling. In a charitable mood today, after ML’s description of his limited time and experience, I’ll expatiate a bit. Matthew, the most favorable possible interpretation of this thread is that you are blundering around wasting people’s time for no reason whatever. All, repeat all, the answers you seek, if you sincerely seek them, can be had by silent perusal of this blog, its archives, and a sample of its links, with perhaps a occasional short, unloaded question, which I for one look on more favorably if it’s under your full name. (I give Tamino a pass on this point, because of his blindingly obvious experience, accuracy, relevance, and value. See for yourself on the Open Mind blog linked to the right. Tamino was a little harsh on you today, if you consider the exchange narrowly, but in the larger sense he’s very right.) Stop wasting our time. I’ve spent several years reading this sort of stuff, enough to see that you are nearly clueless, and I never needed to flail around like this with questions already answered all over the place. You don’t either.

    Nuff said. I’m already feeding the troll if that’s what you are. The ONLY grownup response would be brief and humble, and refer more to your future reading than anything else.

  23. 373
    Hank Roberts says:

    Matthew, Tamino teaches time series to many of us who are just amateur readers here. He’s very patient with us.

    He’s sounding impatient, I’d suggest, because you presented yourself as an expert, after making an amateur’s observation. In a financial business you’d know better than to opine from eyeballing charts — especially after the past year’s experience with that method — and expect numbers for the asking. So, asking would get that respect.

  24. 374
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, Matthew asked
    “I would put quite a lot of money on the summer minimum in 2010 being greater than 2009. Know any gullible bookies?”

    Er, “quite a lot”? At what odds?

    Try here, for a start, and ask for pointers:

  25. 375
    Radge Havers says:

    “start here”

    To be fair, people don’t necessarily do a visual scan in a meditative, scientific manner. The eye is guided by visual elements of implied direction and weighting and is directed by the interest of the viewer.

    RC has a fairly good design; it’s responsive, to the point, and inoffensive. That said, the treatment of “start here” may indeed render it innocuous for some, an issue if you need to redirect the disoriented and uninitiated right off the bat.

    I don’t have an answer to that, but just as an thought experiment in communication (and blinking aside) what if “start here” were rendered as in a slightly lighter shade of ochre and maybe even in small caps and italics? The placement already seems good–top center.

    I also notice that among the keys “start here” is filed under is “FAQ,” and I can’t help wondering if the two categories shouldn’t be more closely associated.

    And yes, this is the kind of boring stuff designers fuss with all day.

  26. 376
    Deep Climate says:

    #374 Hank Roberts
    If no odds are stated, it must be 50-50. I’d take that in a heart beat, as long as the bet is for the month of September average.

  27. 377
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, I dug up some references to Jonathon Porritt, who’s just left a government position to become an activist about climate I gather.


    There’s quite a muddle there — people who don’t believe in climate change opposing tidal and wind power in their neighborhoods, particularly.

    Reminds me of Marin County, California, where forty years of attempts by the ecologists and foresters to address the fire risk on Mt. Tamilpais by clearing brush and doing prescribed burns has been completely defeated year after year by people for whom “protecting the environment” means “peace in my time.”

  28. 378
    Deep Climate says:

    #316, Ray Ladbury says:

    We in the reality-based community have to keep emphasizing the science, which, despite the opinions of many politicians, does not change with public opinion.

    But without a strong public opinion mandate, the politicians are less likely to act effectively. The contrarians understand this very well, and that’s also why they hide their sources of funding so assiduously, as that awareness would discredit their arguments further.

    That’s why I’ve always favoured a double-pronged approach: “follow the money” and “follow the science”. Admittedly, I’m better at the former.

  29. 379
    Deep Climate says:

    And speaking of “following the money”, Lord Monckton has deigned to grace my humble blog with his presence. I can only hope I am worthy.

    See here for his comment and my reply:

  30. 380
    David B. Benson says:

    William (367) — Cloud negativ feedback, if any, did not prevent the Eemian (interglacial 2) from bing about 2 K warmer than present. Some data suggests interglacial 4 was 3–4 K warmer than present. Somehow I cna’t take claims of important cloud negative feedback very seriously in light of the evidence.

  31. 381
    CM says:

    Re: the etiquette of anonymity on this site (for Ric M., John P. R., and a few others). Some of us prefer in time-hallowed Internet tradition not to post our full names. The possible reasons are many and various, rarely admirable, often sensible, and mostly harmless. Most often we’re not challenged on it, even though we lack Tamino’s well-deserved cachet. Please keep it so, except if we make nasty personal attacks on named persons.

  32. 382
    stevenc says:

    CM, oops, meant to say we have no difference of opinion

  33. 383
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matthew L.,
    I had crafted a nice, helpful response to your queries of yesterday directed at BPL. The spam filter ate it–that’ll teach me to post without first copying what I wrote. I see that Barton and others have answered you in detail, so I will merely ask a question that has been bothering me.

    First let me emphasize that I mean no offense. I ask out of true curiosity. When you arrived on the scene a few days ago, you seemed fairly confident that concern over climate change had been overblown. You seemed to feel confident in your ability to draw conclusions from the plots and data. As it turned out, you had made only a cursory scan of the plots, had conducted no statistical analysis, had little if any familiarity with the underlying science and little familiarity with the history of climate science. So, if you don’t mind a sincere question, what was the basis for your confident, sanguinity toward the risks posed by climate change? This is important, because many others are probably relying on the same sources of info as you–and they are clearly unreliable on this topic.

  34. 384
    anon says:

    Congrats guys. You made Geitner’s speech. You have the US gov’t officially tilting at wind mills. Let’s hope that climate scientists are the first to feel the pinch. [edit]

  35. 385
    paulina says:

    So, I went to this event a couple of days ago where a network news anchor talked about the challenges involved in reporting on global climate destabilization. He made two basic points:

    * we need more, much, much more coverage; and

    * the little coverage (relative to the significance of the issues) there is does not draw a large enough audience

    So, there’s a problem. We need to cover this more, but how can we cover it more when “no one” watches the coverage we already provide?

    The first point one qualifies for incontrovertible truth status. The second one? I’ll take his word for it, for the sake of exploring his point of view. But I’m always uneasy whenever anyone tells me “people just aren’t interested in X,” no matter what X is.

    Then he offered a caveat:

    * the cutesy, endangered animal global climate destabilization stories do attract a lot of viewers.

    One solution seems to be to simply explore more, many, many more such stories. While there probably is room for more such stories, there are two main reasons why this simple approach might not/probably wouldn’t(?) solve the problem. One, presumably you couldn’t simply increase the number of such stories indefinitely and still have a good enough audience for each. On the other hand, do we know how much more could be done, profitably, so to speak? Why isn’t the first line of approach simply to hit the level of saturation, for this kind of story? Did anyone try this? Do we know what would happen? Who knows this? How? Based on what parameters?

    The second main reason why this surely would not solve the problem (wait, what’s the problem, again? too little coverage? is that the main problem, or is there another problem that providing more coverage is supposed to solve? what is *that* problem and how is the coverage supposed to solve it?) is that such a one-sided approach focused on a single impossibly thin slice of the issue threatens to trivialize the issue or at least grossly misrepresent global climate destabilization.

    For instance, such a focus would serve to implicitly define GCS as an environmental/animal issue, and a narrow one at that, rather than the mother of all issues, at the intersection of, and critically important to, economics, national and global security, health, and life anything remotely like how we conceive of it today.

    In fact, the more I think about that consequence of the cutesy (if tragic) stories, the more I wonder if doing those, while not getting audiences for stories on other aspects, is worse than doing nothing? If you represent global climate destabilization as a problem in the domain of environmentalism, are you doing more or less to tell the story of climate change than if you say nothing at all?

  36. 386
    Matthew L. says:

    # 372 Ric,
    “Inadvertent Troll” is probably a good description. If I had any idea of the reaction my (I still contend fairly innocuous, albeit naive) post would elicit, I would not have posted. If I have offended anybody, my apologies – that was never my intention. If you feel I have wasted your time, my apologies also. Suffice to say I am very grateful for the time of those who answered my innocent inquiries in the spirit they were meant. I hope that the time has not just been wasted on me, but on other ignoramuses reading this blog too.

    # 383 Ray
    There is a huge amount of conflicting information out there on the web and blogosphere. Those of us with limited time find it very hard to filter out the “noise”. I drop in here to read the interesting articles on the blog from time to time. I do not have time to click on every link or trawl through the usually huge number of comments.

    I will take you through the process that led me to post (I would also make it clear that I have learnt a lot since):

    – I read in some trashy (and some not so trashy) newspapers that it is “expected” that we will suffer a 5 deg C rise in temps “by 2080” (actually I mis-remembered a figure of 8 deg C, but that was a simple mistake – my reaction would have been the same either way). The reports never specify when from, by whom and on what assumptions. They concentrate on the alarming consequences, not on the basis of the rise. This is very frustrating, I want to know why such a dramatic rise. Any fool could guess the consequences!

    – I then try and find some sources of data and (because of my nationality) I go to the UK Met office Climate Change guide and thence to the Hadley centre. I am surprised to find that, despite the above mentioned expectation of a huge rise in just 70 years, that temps have been “flattish” since 2001, and that the hottest year ever is now nearly 11 years ago (I have since found out that the NASA figures that are cited most commonly here do not show quite the same levelling off). I wonder why this is not seen as good news.

    – I looked back over 50 years of the Hadley Centre data and found a fairly consistent 0.15(ish) deg C change each decade. I also found that the IPCC mid-range “expectation” is nearer 3 deg C for the 100 years between 2001 and 2100, 0.3 C a decade. That is a huge difference from the “extreme” figure I thought I had read and I wondered where the papers got this figure from, and why nobody seems to be questioning it (in the light of the more moderate, but still alarming enough, IPCC number).

    – I think to myself how can anybody possibly predict a rise in temperature of this magnitude. The temperature graph would have to take off like a rocket from this point. Surely this is the work of climate change “extremists” being jumped on by the papers to make sensational reading (such is my high opinion of the press).

    – Somewhat earlier than all this, around the time of the dramatic ice loss in 2007, I found “The Cryosphere Today” from a Google search. For each of the last two years I have watched the Arctic ice coverage increase again, but I read nothing about this in the press – only continued statements about the imminent disappearance of the Arctic Ice cap. Again apparent good news ignored.

    – I turn to the web for education and find huge numbers of blogs and sites all stating totally conflicting information and views. The blogs seem to be full of childish yah-booh name calling, ranting, sarcasm and downright abuse. This makes my head spin. I want to hear from the scientists themselves what they think of this apparent (to me at least) conflict between the global warming to date and this extreme measure of global warming predicted in the press.

    – I come to Real Climate. I have been here before because the articles are always intelligently written by people who seem to know what they are talking about, even if a lot of it sails over my head – with plenty of clearance! I read the above article about how scientists need to communicate better in the media – which rings a great big bell.

    I then make the fateful decision to air my frustration with the awful tone of the debate and what I perceived to be negative spin put on apparently positive news. The rest is history.

    It is midnight here, time to sign off. I have to get up early tomorrow to clean out the Guinea Pig hutch before leaving for work.

  37. 387
    Naindj says:

    First I appreciate this site and I learn a lot reading it. Thanks.
    I don’t want to do like Matthew, but I have a question.
    The models, do they still use the results of C.Lorius (Nature 1990)?
    These results are in a nutshell, deltaT=0.3deltaQ where deltaT is the increase of Temperature and deltaQ the forcing (of CO2), and then leading to an increase of 1,2 °C with a forcing of 4 W/m2.
    I read some discussion about this and some people (skeptics of course) say the relation should be more deltaT=0.2 or 0.18 deltaQ. And would lead to a deltaT of “only” 0.7.

    I apology if it is a question answered hundreds of times, but I really could not find any answer yet.
    Thank you for your help.

  38. 388
    Hank Roberts says:

    This might be worth a look by the RC contributors who like science fiction — it’s a good piece about what’s being done effectively now to teach skepticism, in an interesting forum:

    “… his mission to the land of the nerds worked. I am a professional skeptic and activist today because Barry Beyerstein took time from his research to speak to paranormal fans at a science fiction convention — and because he approached that task with warmth and enthusiasm. As the audience pelted him with our naïve questions (surely science couldn’t explain the miracle of fire-walking?), he respectfully treated each question as a genuine search for knowledge. There in that beige room, he made us feel that we were all partners in turning the lens of science toward the mysteries of the universe….”

  39. 389
    Jacob Mack says:

    Bravo on the post! I just want to day it can be difficult communicating desnity altitude, temperature effects on pressure, and in turn the change in vapor pressure and saturation/condensation, to the non-scientist (natural sciences/environmental) since it all seems so contradictory to the lay person. Speaking of the size of an atmospheric column and little to no water vapor in the stratosphere and how C02 holds in more IFR as a result of increased amounts thereof, and how C02 absorbs at different bands than H20 and the exact IFR absorbance range varies with altitude conditions, well, most people have a hard time seeing how and why these are all true.
    Statistical signifcance/correlation/curves too, are something lay people cannot seem to grasp either. It does not make them stupid or denialists, it is just that they do not understand. (Sighs) I once again commend RC on their great and far reaching efforts as evidenced by the heavy traffic and postings.

  40. 390
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, for the above, hat tip as due to Ken MacLeod’s invaluable weblog:

  41. 391
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matthew L.,

    I think that the problem you and many others have is that because science is a process for continual improvement of understanding, it doesn’t translate well as “news”. Only rarely is any single paper or result of such significance that it stands out as a discontinuous leap in understanding. Yes, there are some scenarios under which we could see 5 degrees warming in 70 years. However, unless you have read the paper and know the context of why the authors are considering this scenario, it is very easy to get a misimpression of the state of our knowledge. You would do much better to read summaries of the broad state of theory and evidence–of the type you would find in Scientific American or similar respectable science magazines that present science for the Layman. The Economist also occasionally has good coverage.

    And of course, Realclimate is an invaluable resource. Just be aware that there is a history–science has been facing down denialists for nearly two decades now. It is science vs. anti-science. There is no middle ground.

  42. 392
    Radge Havers says:

    While expertise has to be respected by lay people, experts need to keep in mind that they are communicating across a huge gulf that even to be met half way would require years of study on the receiving end.

    Assuming that magic will happen when well intentioned pointers are extended to native intelligence is probably unrealistic unless the pointers are both exceedingly well structured and comprehensive, especially in this noisy environment. Random walks through massive wikis, and occasional handfuls of helpful bread crumbs demand more passion and synthesis of the user than many people or even dedicated explainers can budget for. Such devices may well just serve to raise expectations and wind up adding to people’s frustrations.

    It’s a problem that shouldn’t be ignored lightly if, as I fear might be the case, our society in general is beginning to devalue reason.

  43. 393
    Hank Roberts says:

    Naindj, look the paper up in Google Scholar to begin, just to know for sure which paper you’re talking about.

    This one?

    Or this one?

    The first has been cited by over 1900 subsequent papers:

  44. 394
    Hank Roberts says:

    Another kind of education:

    “… most existing green rankings are flawed in several respects. They count the promises companies make about green plans rather than actual achievements. And most focus on the environmental impact of a company’s operations, but exclude that of its products.

    Apple argues that broader, more comprehensive figures for carbon emissions should be used—for everything from materials mined for its products to the electricity used to power them—and it’s offering up its own data to make the case…. consumers’ use of Apple products accounts for 53% of the company’s total 10.2 million tons of carbon emissions annually. That’s more than the 38% that occurs as the products are manufactured in Asia or the 3% that comes from Apple’s own operations. “A lot of companies publish how green their building is, but it doesn’t matter if you’re shipping millions of power-hungry products with toxic chemicals in them,” says CEO Steve Jobs in an interview. “It’s like asking a cigarette company how green their office is…”

  45. 395
    RichardC says:

    I saw an article briefly and can’t find it now. Help would be appreciated. Somebody’s finding acidic upwellings of 50? year old deep water. Current thoughts on ocean acidification didn’t predict it yet. More bad news.

    Anyway, the news which shapes public opinion is filtered through very few men. To convince the part of the public which follows Watts, you must convince Watts. Watts won for Best Science Blog.

    It might take a serious tipping point, such as the arctic sea ice going seasonal…

    ” WASHINGTON — Arctic sea ice thinned dramatically between the winters of 2004 and 2008, with thin seasonal ice replacing thick older ice as the dominant type for the first time on record. The new results, based on data from a NASA Earth-orbiting spacecraft, provide further evidence for the rapid, ongoing transformation of the Arctic’s ice cover. ”

    I wonder what the thickness numbers will be. Anyone know when they’re expected?

  46. 396
  47. 397
    RichardC says:

    Creepily cool images of ice thickness 2004-2008. They made the thickest ice blood red draining out of the arctic. The graph below it show a decline of the overall ice thickness towards that of first year ice, at which point the arctic will have an ice-free period in a typical year. Extrapolating that short trend gives an initial first-order guess of 2012 or 2013 for a typical minimum being 0.

    Some would say it has to do with the Mayans.

  48. 398

    #366 Matthew L.

    1990 to 1993 is not a climate trend.

  49. 399

    #369 Hank Roberts, Gavin

    I have not checked in word press, but in most CMS systems you can move a folder to change its order in the nav. Placing it first, before the Home tab, would give it recognition from a usability perspective.

    And I agree with Hank, I have never seen a place on the web where the blink tab was appropriate, but maybe this is the one, “and only one, appropriate use for it anywhere on the planet — the Start Here button.”

    It would also send a message to Tim Berners Lee, that its creation was not in vain.

    However, I think changing the placement will improve the likelihood of entry by placing it to the far left, then home, then the other tabs.

  50. 400

    william: I think you minimize the impact of clouds. The effect as a negative feedback can be large enough to negate the warming GCM’s predict

    BPL: Really? Completely negate it?

    Why did we have ice ages? Shouldn’t the cloud feedback have prevented the drop in temperature?