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

Filed under: — mike @ 20 August 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. 1
    Joseph Romm says:

    Thanks for the great review, Mike. I will be happy to answer any questions about the book, assuming I can figure out the ReCaptcha each time.

    [Response: Thank *you* Joe for writing the book. I’m sure our readers will appreciate you participating in the comment thread. Thanks for that too :-) -mike]

  2. 2

    One metaphor I’ve long thought needed to be included in the debate is that of insurance. Climate denial downplays the risk of AGW. So, introduce to the discussion (never EVER use the word “debate” again. It isn’t a debate.) is a comparison to insurable risk. People buy fire insurance for their homes when there’s some small risk. 1-500 or so of a home fire. They buy car insurance when there’s a 1-100? 200? 500? chance of a significant accident in a year. And yet they’re proposing no action when we’re faced with much shorter odds of significant damage from global warming. Since we’re experiencing such bizarre weather after .8C of warming, they can no longer get away with proposing 0 chance of damage.

    Put them back on their heels.

    (I also want to introduce the concept of a Nuremberg Tribunal for Climate Saboteurs, but that’s probably a tougher sell. In 20 years, it won’t be as hard but so many of the malefactors will be “outside the jurisdiction” by then. )

    [Response: Jeffrey, you’ll be pleased to hear that I use *both* of these metaphors in The Hockey Stick & the Climate Wars. The fire insurance metaphor in this context was used by Steve Schneider decades ago, and its one that I use frequently in media interviews. – mike]

  3. 3

    You know, I think I’d like to read this book! ;-)

  4. 4
    Ron R. says:

    Was it Edward Bernays who gave birth to advertising and marketing and the art of getting eskimoes to buy refrigerators? Or perhaps it was Socrates who was the first in along line of persuaders.

    Years ago when I was interested in the creation/evolution debate I discovered that there was a little known group of information managers or handlers, I consider them, on the fundamentalist Christian side. The main organization promulgating religion in schools was of course the Creation Research Society, later renamed the more scientific sounding Institute for Creation Research. But behind them was another group, the “Christian Apologetics and Research Institute”. It was (is?) here that the more solid nuggets of Creationism (and later Intelligent Design) were distilled and honed. It was here that professional arguers like Kent Hovind went to learn the art of persuasion and how to win debates, which many thought he did. As we all know, this led to many battles in schools and courtrooms across the country. It wasted a lot of time and resources trying to defend against.

    They went on (I believe) to advise the GOP, and Koch funded rightwing think tanks became adepts. One tactic, as mentioned by Mike in the article above, was how to discredit an entire science merely by finding one small error in it. Piltdown man, was a fraud they said, therefore naturally ALL of evolution was fraudulent. You see this strategy in various forums on the web time and again because it works. Rather than addressing the science (whatever that may be) as a whole, find a small chink in the armor and work on that, while simultaneously casting as much doubt as possible on the rest. Doubt is our product says an infamous tobacco memo. Of course there are entire systems of thought which should be discarded, flat earthism comes to mind. But it takes a rare and truly unbiased mind to be able to find the bits of truth in an otherwise nonsense argument.

    The art of persuasion is of course necessary to winning any argument, but make sure you have real, physical, incontrovertible evidence on your side, not just clever words.

  5. 5
    tamino says:

    Re: #2 (Jeffrey Davis)

    … Nuremberg Tribunal for Climate Saboteurs …

    What would that accomplish? Revenge? The unworthiest of causes.

    It would also be remarkably divisive at a time we most need unity.

    Let’s adopt another useful strategy of rhetoric: to stay focused on the goal and not distract with (or be distracted by) contentious issues. Let’s not even discuss it on this thread (*especially* on this thread) Keep your eyes on the prize.

  6. 6
    flxible says:

    To go along with the point about repetition, very long ago I was taught that the basic format of an essay was: intro [tell them what you’re going to tell them], body [tell them the message], conclusion [tell them what you told them] . . . it’s aimed at the fact that folks best remember either the first thing or the last thing they read.

    [Response: Thanks for the comment Fixible. Joe actually quotes that maxim verbatim in the book! -mike]

  7. 7
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jeffrey Davis wrote: “Nuremberg Tribunal for Climate Saboteurs”

    tamino replied: “What would that accomplish? Revenge?”


  8. 8
    sidd says:

    Jeffrey Davis: “Nuremberg Tribunal for Climate Saboteurs”

    tamino: “What would that accomplish? Revenge?”

    Secular Animist: Reparations.

    Pour encourageur les autres.

  9. 9
    flxible says:

    Yes, from the profit-takers and funders of contrariness – even more to the point, if such action was really seen to be possible, that threat alone could put a pretty good damper on the anti-science crowd who are the shills for the profiteers. Put up or shut up.

  10. 10
    Jim Larsen says:

    “2. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition is the essential element of all persuasion.”

    Ahh, act like trolls? Ya know, many folks might for the first time in their lives accept and implement a fact from RC…

    Extending “weather on steroids”, CO2 is the steroids and water is the protein. CO2 increases water in the system so your weather bulks up.

    6 Secular said, “Reparations.”

    LOL Bravo!

  11. 11
    David B. Benson says:

    Fine review!

    Comments on steroids?

  12. 12
    Mike Roddy says:

    I was really affected by Joe’s book, and even went out and bought recent biographies of Churchill and Lincoln. Besides their cadences and use of metaphor, there is something else going on: they speak from the heart. Today’s leaders rehearse and self censor, hedging every sentence. The people sense this.

    It was a relief to read this quote from Sir Winston, asked if he wanted to give birthday wishes to Baldwin, his predecessor:

    “Actually, it would have been better for our country if Baldwin had never been born”.

    We are going to need this kind of language, too. Koch and Tillerson’s people talk to scientists and the American people as if we were punks. Scientists usually respond by referencing a paper.

    This won’t get ‘er done. The battleground is in the public dialogue. Since the media has abdicated, from corruption and cowardice, we are blessed to have someone like Joe to step into the breach. Let’s take this book as inspiration, and go to the next level.

  13. 13
    Mike Roddy says:

    As for Nuremburg, The Hague is better, since Nazi associations are not effective. Koch, Boyce, and Tillerson will be brought in on wheelchairs in about 20 years, their heads bobbing around crazily, as they barely understand the charges.

    The most relevant part should be the penalty: confiscation of all of their assets. That will get their attention. This could be a popular movement if we phrase it that way. Who cares if they go to prison? Taking their criminally obtained money will hurt them more, and actually do some good.

    [Response: Enough already with this “criminality” argument. It is not a crime to express your opinion, no matter how stupid or dishonest it may be. Nor is it a crime (perhaps unfortunately) to spend millions of dollars on misinformation campaigns. This sort of talk simply helps convince others that those on the side of taking the climate change risk seriously are crazy ideologues. Comments of this sort tend to make me agree with them. Enough.–eric]

    [Response: Eric, I think you do a disservice to Mike here. It is absolutely a fair argument to say that individuals who knowingly funded dishonest efforts to confuse the public about the climate change threat are participating in what might reasonably be defined as crimes against humanity. The tobacco CEOs were criminally liable for doing precisely that in the case of cigarettes and lung cancer. Arguably, what the funders of organized climate change denial have done might in the long run cost even more lives. Eric, you are certainly welcome to disagree with Mike, but it is wrong of you to attack him for expressing these views. They are quite similar to what James Hansen has said publically. I take it you disagree w/ Hansen? Have you called him out similarly? –Mike]

  14. 14
    Hank Roberts says:

    Red herrings attract gullibility, not curiosity
    Don’t follow’em into a kneejerk response.

    David Brin recently noted that _novel_ political speech is remarkable:
    —–begin quote—–

    “… Even a seasoned politician must feel a burning wish to insert a new thought now and then… even just one… that has nothing to do with politics, but instead what he, personally, feels to be missing. Something – perhaps – that he deems to be desperately needed.

    Then I heard it… when he listed eight national character traits essential for our success… and there, mixed in with seven expected ones was…

    … curiosity…

    Go back and watch that speech again. You’ll hear that word, which has no possible political redolence in the standard catechisms of the insipid left-right axis. And yet, it is telling… and tells a rich allegory, in light of our nation’s recent, magnificent accomplishment, It also lays down before you the stark clarity of the core difference between two sides in this, our tragic Civil War.

    It isn’t about “left” versus “right.” It never was, and don’t let anyone get away with telling you it is.

    This is future versus past.”
    ——–end quote———

  15. 15
    tamino says:

    Re: #9 (Jim Larsen)

    “2. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition is the essential element of all persuasion.”

    Ahh, act like trolls?

    Trolling and repetition are not the same thing.

    Some of you may remember when Anthony Watts and Joe D’Aleo published a document (for SPPI) accusing NOAA scientists of fraud by deliberately manipulating the temperature record via station dropout. I analyzed the entire GHCN data set to prove that this claim was false — and a half dozen or so other bloggers reproduced my analysis, all confirming my conclusion.

    When I posted a message to Anthony Watts stating that he owed the scientists an apology, numerous comments appeared trying to disparage my post. Most were of the form “What about (insert irrelevant issue here)?” Sometimes I addressed the issue, sometimes not, but I consistently included a message like this:

    Yours is another desperate attempt to deflect attention away from the real issue.

    Which is: Anthony Watts used false claims as the basis for accusing NOAA scientists of fraud. If he doesn’t admit his mistake and apologize for the unfounded accusation, he has no honor. None.

    Consistent repetition reinforced my statement with tremendous effectiveness. And it soon became apparent to commenters that every attempt to change the subject would be used to reinforce the real subject, and lay bare the dishonesty of avoiding it.

    In this case, repetition was not just effective rhetoric, it was also a necessary method to defuse attempts to avoid the issue. Real trolling often involves repeating the same junk even though it has been directly addressed and refuted, with evidence that is spot-on relevant to the topic at hand.

    So — don’t repeat a message which avoids the real issue, that’s trolling. But do repeat a message which addresses the real issue, especially if it brings focus back where it belongs while exposing the mendacity of attempts to shift the focus elsewhere.

  16. 16
    J Bowers says:

    Any notions of Nuremberg are the decision of future generations alone, because they’ll be the only ones to judge. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be open documentation similar to the tobacco documents. But the only way to get there is through political will, and the only way to get the political will is to let legislators know that they won’t be voted for if they continue to ignore the increasingly undeniable reality, no matter how much vested interests may fund their campaigns or however much the Grover Norquists of the lobby world may threaten them for dissent from their twisted take on the physical universe.

  17. 17
    Eric Rowland says:

    Thank you, and there’s even a carbon light Kindle edition. Maybe I can learn to persuade a few people to examine global warming outside their political framework. So far, my tactics have been, to steal one of the author’s own lines, “We hold these truths to be like duh!” That has been spectacularly unsuccessful unless one considers success as making the converted feel guilty for not doing enough.

    In fact, the more I attempt to lead by example and bring my life into alignment with the understanding that we require a carbon-less future, the more I appear out of touch with reality. Recycling…good. PV…OK. Vegan with a zero energy home and an electric car…nutjob.
    Inside our much smaller world of family, friends and acquaintances, it’s just as important for those of us who are not scientists to understand the art of persuasion because of our sheer numbers. If we truly want to change people’s views and their willingness to change their carbon footprint, we will have to understand the most useful way to frame our rhetoric. And from my experience, the less you act like, and eat like, the average citizen the more clear, calm, persuasive and rational you have to speak.

  18. 18
    Susan Anderson says:

    “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

    Maggie Thatcher on climate change to the UN, 1989, “neither murderers, tyrants, nor madmen”

  19. 19
    Jet Halon says:

    I’m a many year loyal reader of Real Climate. This is my first comment.

    Mike, I’ve always been fascinated with your work and look forward to your future research.

    While I appreciate the sentiment of your review and comments on “communicating” I have to respectfully disagree with your advice.
    Right now especially I think scientists need eloquence. They should not “exaggerate” (has that worked in the past?). Describing the climate as being on “steroids” is not elegant or persuasive because of the sports analogy. The insurance analogy doesn’t work either-if it did Geico and Progressive wouldn’t be spending millions trying to tell us whose insurance is best.
    Sad to see commentator Jeffrey Davis jump in with Nuremburg Trials comment and another with reparations.
    Articles in Real Climate are great. I hope you can continue to shine the light and be a force for education and ignore commentators who seem to swarm around and try to show their bonafides for being in a club whose principals live on higher ground.

  20. 20
    prokaryotes says:

    Eric i think you have to lead by example and if you talk about transitioning to a low carbon economy, you could focus on the advantages. Advantages like less affected from cancer causing car fumes (inside and outside of vehicles). No more gas price pitfalls. Actually doing something bug when switching to electric transport. Or to take the train instead of airplane. Or using algae fuel for your private plane, instead of conventional fuel. Or adopting biochar techniques to help your garden through a drought. Or how “green” cleaning products are more healthy for the environment and clean equally good, without health implications (like antibacterial soaps for instance). The list is long…

    Yes, at this stage depending where you live, not everybody has an easy way to charge an electric vehicle. But most people work and living in the city and drive about 20 miles a day, enough to use an EV. And if your friends see that this is working for you and that you can save money while doing it, they will switch too.

    Just do it.

  21. 21
    caerbannog says:

    tamino said (nearly 2 and 1/2 years ago!)

    Which is: Anthony Watts used false claims as the basis for accusing NOAA scientists of fraud. If he doesn’t admit his mistake and apologize for the unfounded accusation, he has no honor. None.

    Has Anthony Watts ever retracted and apologized for his “dropped stations” claim? It’s been nearly 2 and 1/2 years since he was called out on this. If he hasn’t issued a retraction/apology, then this is something that should be brought up again and again and again.

  22. 22
    Ron R. says:

    Eric #12 This sort of talk simply helps convince others that those on the side of taking the climate change risk seriously are crazy ideologues.

    Aye, we’re all a little crazy these days. If not there’s something wrong.

  23. 23

    Thanks for the review of this book Mike. I work in a scientific environment where have to write reports for general consumption and clear and concise language is a passion of mine. There no mileage in talking about avifauna when you mean birds, or herpetofauna when you mean amphibians etc, because most people won;t know what you are talking about. Yet we still do…it drives me nuts!

    I shall definitely get hold of a copy of this book.


  24. 24
    Thomas says:

    I think this is awkward for scientists. One the one hand we wish to lead people towards clearer thinking processes, which largely reject thinking by metaphor as too error prone. On the other hand, given the present environment, we need to be able to inspire and convince. So we have a difficult task to accomplish here.

    On another possibly note, I tried to order the book at Barnes and Noble this weekend, they had no record of it on their system. Either it is too new, or something fishy is going on. they did have a couple of earlier titles by Joe.

  25. 25
    Garry S-J says:

    My one suggestion for scientists communicating ideas to a wider audience:

    Never ever ever EVER use the word “suggests”.

    When you’ve finished writing your paper, abstract, media release, speech, or whatever, go back and change every instance of “suggests” to something else.

  26. 26
    LarryL says:

    Joe Romm is awesome! But personally, I think that the bulk of the climate science community are already immaculate communicators that need no further instruction in the art. I love reading this blog. I love reading the underlying papers when I can get my hands on them. The art of rhetoric and persuasion seem to be an artifice necessary only to make up for the general lack of education of the voting public. Being well educated, I don’t see the need for such artifice for a body of knowledge that is already skillfully communicated and self-evidently obvious. The real issue that needs to be addressed is the teaching of critical thought and basic education. But, until such time as the populace is sufficiently educated, Power-on Joe!

  27. 27
    Eric Rowland says:

    @ 18, Leading by example matters if there is already consensus regarding your position. One can lead by example by not smoking in 2012 but leading by example in 1970 would have had little effect. I don’t want to speak for Joe Romm but I think that is the main point in his new book. If we hope to lead humanity toward a more sustainable future we cannot only lead by example, we have to lead rhetorically. I’ve found it much easier to set an example than to persuade another person that my example matters. Leading by example is a late stage effort. Early adopters are annoying to almost everyone. We have to explain our position clearly and I don’t think we’re winning in that arena.

  28. 28

    It was you who brought up language, which finally moves me to voice my long held problem with Realclimate: tl;dr. “Too long; didn’t read”. All your posts, and this one is no exception, have between 2 and 3 times too much tedious prose for my knat like attention span. The problem is not entirely mine, since I can read Ed Yong’s work with no difficulty (Not Exactly Rocket Science). So, I hope that you can put this book to good effect, and I look forward to one day making it to the end of one of your posts.

    [Remedial action: how about a 3 point summary at the start of your posts, like GRL has? Or prize giveaways in the final paragraph? Or, gosh, I dunno – wit? humour? Or even humor (sic).]

    [Response: Jules–each of us entitled to our opinions. And our sense of what constitutes wit and humor is quite variable. But my short response: you’ll prefer me on twitter (@MichaelEMann). No more than 140 characters, I promise ;-) –Mike]

  29. 29
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Jeffrey Davis says:20 Aug 2012 at 11:45 AM

    One metaphor I’ve long thought needed to be included in the debate is that of insurance.

    Yes. Denskepticons are constantly banging on about spending trillions to prevent a problem that “might happen in the future.” The current annual global expenditure on insurance is in the $4-6 trillion range, depending on what scope you put on insurance vs. reinsurance, etc. Every year, from now ’til doomsday.

    Our active imaginations are already at play, frequently to our benefit.

  30. 30
    Edward Greisch says:

    12 eric: There was at one time a law against advertising falsely in the US. The law didn’t last long. Nor was it enforced much. Sorry I don’t remember dates, but it was during my lifetime.

    And now the Supreme Court has confused money with speech. Money is not speech. This is a constitutional problem.

    Here are some of the problems: The average person cannot tell the scientist from the liar, but the average person has a moral aversion to being lied to. The average person cannot learn enough science to figure out who is the liar on his/her own. Or maybe even with help.

    “The Authoritarians” by Bob Altemeyer. Free download from:
    Some [many] people believe whatever some “leader” tells them, without checking for self-contradictions. Logic is not innate with most people.
    ““It’s more God and nature’s dictates, rather than a man-made event,” the Missouri farmer said this week as he harvested a corn crop one-quarter of its normal size.
    Climate scepticism [sic] among farmers helps explain why carbon emissions are off the US legislative agenda despite the hottest temperatures on record.”

    GW itself does not convince those who see the evidence first hand, and in their wallets. So you think better rhetoric will help? Humans are stubborn to an absurd degree. Only humans ……. Will they get the message when there is no food in the grocery store?

  31. 31
    Poul-Henning Kamp says:

    @15: I don’t think Nuremberg is going to be relevant, there is far more money to be made by establishing product liability and negligence in US courts. I belive a number of such cases are already underway, including a class action representing “americans youth” as defined by some age-restriction below the voting age.

    That said, I would hate to hold Watt’s legal liability insurance in the years to come.

  32. 32
    chriskoz says:

    Great review, Mike. In the spirit of the power of metaphors, I’d like to bring one more, similar to the fire insurance:

    Q(denial): GW of 0.8C is tiny compared to the T swings of unpredictable weather. And they (scientists) say they cannot prove GW caused the event like US2012 drought, right?

    A: Yes, weather is like a bull in a rink, strong & unpredictable. And your life is like a piece of china treasure in the same rink that you must share. You cannot prove that the bull smashes the treasure if it starts jumping. So, do accept them to enrage the bull by showing him a red cloth?

  33. 33
    SqueakyRat says:

    “Like I”? Ouch ouch ouch!

    [Response: Ouch^4 right back at you. Subjective case (which this is) is “I”, while objective case (which this is not) is “me”. Might want do to a grammar refresher ;-) -mike]

  34. 34
    Mike Roddy says:

    Eric, implying that the criminal argument is crazy does not jibe with the evidence, but I’ll tone it down at your request. At some point scientists are going to need to address it, as Hansen does so well.

  35. 35

    But but but … what if your persuasive message is just plain wrong or nutty? And furthermore, aren’t you handing over your persuasion insights and its toolkit to precisely the people who would use them to persuade the masses into joining their false nutty cult or even worse, some false scientific hypothesis? The whole concept of persuasion in science is worth looking at in greater depth and detail than a simple field guide on using it as some sort of propaganda tool, worthy or not.

    (Disclaimer: I am coaching this from a denialist perspective because that is what they will do with it. Plus, the satire is too good to pass up.)

  36. 36
    Hank Roberts says:

    How people fall for stuff they’re primed to believe, an object case:

  37. 37

    re: the farmers who see drought as the hand of God.

    Sure, as punishment for sinning against Reason by continuing to burn so much carbon.

  38. 38

    James Hansen very effectively used metaphor when he gave this testimony in 2007:

    “If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains – no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.”

    In 2008, he wrote in an article for The Guardian:

    “CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

    People may not like these words, but what in them, explicit or implied, is not true?

    It is well documented that these companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on false advertising, lobbying, faux science, media manipulation, and any other means that can be used to confuse the voting public on the extreme danger that we are now facing.

    Food production is already impaired and will become even more so. People are already dying of hunger and more will die. Food shortages are causing civil unrest and will increase deadly conflicts. Just because we have not yet experienced this in the U.S. doesn’t mean it won’t happen here.

    Hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures by these companies each year is what some of us call “real money.”

    Does it just appear out of thin air? Hell no!

    An actual physical human being has to authorize this type of expenditure. They are the guilty party.

    We don’t have laws on the books to criminalize this behavior, but we should.

    If we never promulgate such laws, then we are culpable in our own species’ demise.

    [Eric, please don’t bury your head in the sand.]

    [Response:If Eric were interested in burying his head in the sand, I don’t think he would be a member of RealClimate. I agree with his comment above, as well as Tamino’s.–Jim]

    Joe’s book is full of revelations.

    The biggest take home point for me is that those who want to do nothing about CO2 emissions have been using the methods in Joe’s book FOR DECADES to take us to the cleaners!

    Everybody who cares about the future must read Joe’s book and arm themselves with its techniques in order to win the battle for the planet.

    This book will change your life — it has already changed mine!

  39. 39
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Edward Greisch: And now the Supreme Court has confused money with speech. Money is not speech. This is a constitutional problem.

    Money is free speech. Those who have more money have more free speech. I have less money than Sheldon Adelson, thus he is more free than me. It’s written in the Constitution.

    The Constitution depends on unwritten assumptions, among them that it will be read in good faith, by people who subordinate their personal ambitions to the spirit of the Constitution’s words. Take away good faith and the document simply doesn’t work.

  40. 40
    prokaryotes says:

    Suggestion: Topic for the discussion on “Ecocide”. Which could include an analysis of the rhetoric from the fossil fuel funded denial machine, ala Frank Luntz.

  41. 41
    Unsettled Scientist says:

    > tl;dr. “Too long; didn’t read”

    That whole “too long, didn’t read” meme is drives me mad. I have an alternative interpretation of tl;dr. “Totally lost, don’t read” as in don’t bother reading what comes after tl;dr because the person is talking about something they couldn’t be bothered to look at, yet still thinks his/her opinion is worthwhile. tl;dr essentially says since you can’t spoon feed complex concepts into my brain without me having to think, i’m just gonna spout my uninformed opinions.

    Julia, please don’t take this as an attack on your personally, it’s an attack on the meme, this was just my camel’s back breaking under a hair. Personally I think it would be a shame to see the well thought out and detailed posts that RC is known for to be condensed into what is essentially a bumper on the nightly news. I come here specifically for the reason that working scientists give the subject matter a detailed treatment while bringing it down a notch that non-subject matter experts can understand with a little work and little background knowledge of math & science.

    I think Mike’s reply was spot on. If you want snippets, stick to Twitter. I come here to read. In fact, I come here to read the post, then download the primary sources and read those too. Learning takes effort, especially reading. Let’s face it, this post was less than two pages if it was printed on paper. If you can’t read two pages, you’re not actually interested in the subject matter.

  42. 42
  43. 43
    Radge Havers says:

    Naysayers, always always identify your audience. One man’s passion for rigor is another man’s desiccated liturgy.

    OTOH, some perfectly good rhetorical forms may be too sophisticated for some people.

    The Forest of Rhetoric
    Figure of Speech at wikipedia

    Have to mention Willard Espy, Words at Play. Good clean fun.


    Let the punishment fit the crime. Personally, I’m a getting a little tired of people at the top getting a pass. In some respects, it may be practical in the short term, probably it’s not healthy over all IMAO.

  44. 44
    Titus says:

    I’m a product/program manager by trade in hi-tech and biomed industries. I work closely with scientist doing the R&D which then moves to engineering and then to marketing. All three disciplines are absolutely essential to getting the product out of the door and each requires its own set of skills, knowledge and experience.

    To put marketing in the hands of R&D (which I think you are advocating) would be disaster. They do not and should not even try to go together as they will detract from each other. Additional to being completely different disciplines they miss the glue of engineering to knit them together into a working, compliant and practical product.

    Climate science has great scientists and huge marketing. Using my analogy above it needs some engineering (glue) to make it credible in the eye of the customer. That’s what I see as missing and no amount of PR will make up for that in the end.

  45. 45
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Unsettled Scientist says: 21 Aug 2012 at 12:18 PM

    Re long vs. short: “I come here specifically for the reason that working scientists give the subject matter a detailed treatment while bringing it down a notch that non-subject matter experts can understand with a little work and little background knowledge of math & science.

    Too short to contain the narrative means the narrative becomes ambiguous, leaves us scratching our heads, making up stories to fill the lacuna. I’ll offer that disambiguation means we have to think less and that ambiguity is positively correlated with increasing compression, to a point.

  46. 46
    Dan H. says:

    People die of hunger every year, and will continue to do so regardless of the climate. Food production has increased several fold throughtout the last century, with no indication of any of oyur impairment. Poverty is the main issue leading to starvation. Food shortages have been casued by climate, but rather by poverty and government actions.

    [Response:Both the original statements, and yours here, are simplistic to the point of meaningless. There is an enormous body of literature regarding the effect of weather and climate on agriculture, particularly agronomic crops, and if you and Tenney and anyone else interested want to discuss the topic–without simplistic biases but with reference to the scientific literature– you can do that in the open thread.–Jim]

  47. 47
    Ray Ladbury says:

    With all respect, climate change does have engineers. They are the ones looking at potential consequences and trying to mitigate them. They are the ones who ask, “How bad could things get, and what can we do to ameliorate the consequences.” They are every bit as ignored as the scientists if not moreso.

  48. 48

    I didn’t know that James Hansen has already been using Nuremberg type language and that insurance is not a novel figure.

    Sorry to have unnecessarily stirred the hornet’s nest.

  49. 49
    Jim Larsen says:

    41 prok says, “No Copyright Law The Real Reason for Germany’s Industrial Expansion?”

    Great example. It’s relevant to peer-review articles, and exact for privately funded research. Of course, for publicly-funded research, the quantity of ownership a journal should enjoy due to its improvement of a publicly owned product is debatable. Current law says 100%, as the publishers are just part of the public enjoying free use of a publicly owned resource. Though every word is written by the public servant, the journal provided guidance and reputation – why even an editor! Surely that merits a mere 100% ownership?

    That bothers me, as does the policy where the results of publicly funded research is owned by the private company paid to carry it out. (probably too extreme a case or worded wrong)

    Note to scientists:

    Create a science-supporting non-profit and only provide peer review through that organization (its not currently in anybody’s job description, right?). Charge tons for your services. You’ve got exactly the same power the journals have – reputation.


    re-write every peer-reviewed article with the help of a science-literate “real” writer. Publish online and charge enough to recover costs and a fair wage. Peer comment, constant updating – there’s lots of things which you could do which are more communication than structured science.

    recaptcha agrees: concrete armatol

  50. 50
    Garry S-J says:

    Re my earlier comment about “suggests”.

    Your search facility says it appears 818 times on this site alone. That’s 818 instances of people sounding like they’re not really sure of what they have to say. That makes it all so much easier to ignore and harder to report to a wider audience.

    To the average person, “suggest” means “hint”. No-one is inerested in what the data are hinting and no-one will be inclined to take action on the basis of hints.

    Please, no more “suggests”.