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A failure in communicating the impact of new findings

Filed under: — rasmus @ 6 December 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

  1. 1
    Sean says:

    Well done Rasmus for at least acknowledging that a problem exists.
    RE “Not so much because of the science, but because the way it presented the science. The report was written by top scientists, so what went wrong?”

    Well, well, well.

    RE “… now that I finally got around to read it [SPM].” Um, it’s 36 pages. I’ve lightly read though the whole WGI 2,216 pages.

    RE “The authors of the SPM are experts at writing scientific papers, but that is a different skill to writing for non-scientists.” No surprises there Rasmus.

    At the risk of repeating myself and causing problems for readers :)
    There are well qualified people, in and out of Academia, all over the world who would be very willing to donate their time and talents to ensure the IPCC reports, and other Press Releases made about new Climate Science studies are communicated properly and effectively to the Media, to the PUBLIC, and to Politicians globally from the get go.

    They only need to be asked. An ounce of humility by the scientists plus an awareness of their own limitations in PUBLIC COMMUNICATION could only help them to take that step to reach out asking for such help on a regular basis. In my humble opinion. Best

  2. 2
    Sean says:

    After 8 weeks of quoting at other places multiple key items directly from the AR5 WGI SPM in context with URLs to the non-stop false claims by deniers, 5 days ago on Dec 1st I also published a comment that went like this:
    No worries Mark Mc .. extreme high temps, record avg temps, typhoon Haiyan, and the data in the IPCC AR5 WGI these are not issues nor examples confirm AGW/CC as true, but an icebreaker in the antarctic well that definitely proves the whole edifice is falling down about AGW/CC and is thus untrue and unscientific. And you even have newspaper reports to back up your rigourous investigation that proves your opinion is the correct one.

    OK. Very sharp. :)

    Have you yourself read the AR5 WGI Summary for Policy Makers? It is only 36 pages long! If not, why not? Have you also read the References listed in the SPM provided by the IPCC WGI? If not, why not?

    Have you read or already know what the AR5 WGI Full Report – Final Draft Underlying Scientific-Technical Assessment? It is 2,216 pages long? If not, why not? It has been publicly available online for free for over two months now.

    Have you read or already aware of the meaning of all the Jargon and Semantics contained in the IPCC Reports such as Annex III: Glossary? It is only 34 pages. If not, why not?

    Whether one is an IPCC skeptic about the science, or a true believer in it, how could you possibly be able to rationally debate, discuss or argue any point about the current state of the knowledge (or claims made online) of the Climate Science if you are have not even read these multiple individual reports yet?

    The WGI contains over 20,000 citations from over 9,000 separate science Papers. [note science papers, not newspapers, ok]

    The official scientific source of the IPCC Report AR5 WGI – Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis –

    Audio Visual for the time poor … 9:20 mins

    Sharing is Caring

  3. 3
    James Cross says:

    I think part of the problem comes from breaking the report into three reports.

    What was published was “The Physical Science Basis”. As such, the report could do little more than talk about evidence and uncertainties. The impacts and options reports are still being worked on.

    You need the second and third reports to get to “what do all those numbers mean for policy makers.”

  4. 4

    Yes. I’m working on the Technical Summary, myself, rereading carefully and making notes. It’s often unnecessarily tough sledding, with bits that are wordy yet vague. (An example of that is the section on the ‘hiatus’–I really didn’t get what they were trying to say at all, the first time through.) A few sentences are just structural nightmares. Indeed, it’s not always easy to know what the ‘take-away’ is supposed to be.

    But, on the other hand, there is constant care to state the important contextual parameters to make clear just what is being claimed at a given point, which I do appreciate. That, too, creates a tendency to wordiness, but, I think, in a good cause.

  5. 5
    Radge Havers says:

    Thanks Rasmus, for making your case clearly and without unnecessary drama, posturing, or histrionics.

    Some nice touches in the SPM are the points highlighted in tan boxes which facilitate a fast scan, and also some of those graphics are pretty sweet.

  6. 6
    Niall Robinson says:

    I think these are all good points. I agree that one of the most valuable courses that I’ve ever done was the “Writing science for non scientists course” (ran by a journalist). It was a revelation that good science writing is in completely the opposite order from good journalism (starting general and focusing to a conclusion vs headline results followed by backup info).

    I’d like to propose the use of IPython Notebook for reproducible, well documented analysis.

    When combined with geoscience research package such as the UKMO’s Iris, its starting to prove very powerful.

  7. 7
    MARodger says:

    IPCC SPMs are more than just a summary of the full WG report. They are also a political document signed off by contributing government delegations who are likely less concerned with ‘crafting the message’ and more attentive to ‘preventing the wrong message being authorised.’ Add in the hoped-for scientific rigour and the recipe is writ large for a right old hodge-podge.

  8. 8
    Edward Greisch says:

    2 Sean: Movies are great BUT: OR what? The “Or else” has to be enough to scare a psychopathic politician, and that is very difficult. By definition, a psychopath doesn’t care about anything except having fun. You have to be really graphic about how his fun is going to end right now unless he does as you say.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    Fergus Brown says:

    Rasmus, I think you are looking for something more like the synthesis report than the WG1 SPM. Bullet-pointing a technical summary of a very large amount of scientific material down to bite-size chunks for policy makers is almost unimaginably difficult, especially given the potential hostility of the IPCC’s critics.
    But your point is still valid – because there are fundamental differences between the conventions of scientific reporting (papers, reports, etc.) and those of writing (simplifications) for non-scientists, which makes the SPM especially tricky.
    Even Hansen’s latest (12/03/13) falls victim to the conflict of rigor/academic convention vs ‘message’. That paper contains some real bullets, but they just don’t fly, in the format presented. This is one of the reasons why ‘interface’ websites, such as RC & friends, are so important – because in the end, once the science is done, the important thing is to get the message across.
    One solution for this is to ‘divide’ the work into two – the paper, and the PR (broadly). The paper has the rigor, the press release has the main messages; the danger being that folks may read the PR, but very few will RTFR, and many of those already ‘know’. Mora et. al., a couple of months back, did this quite effectively.
    An abstract doesn’t do the job. If a major paper or report has policy-releant implications, then a secondary message is more or less essential.

  11. 11

    #5–Radge is right about some of the figures. In fact, I think that a considerable amount of the missing ‘punch’ in the TS comes from the dissociation of graphics from the text coming ftom its current status as draft.

  12. 12
    Hank Roberts says:

    as Rasmus said:

    the order of presentation for non-scientists is opposite to the way papers are presented in sciences.

    Don’t bury the lede.

    There are many examples: Late Lessons from Early Warnings

    I’ve watched research for a decade on how light controls circadian cycles. Scientists have written about this; there’s an the AMA (American Medical Association) warned about nighttime white light years ago.

    The conclusion is: don’t emit light in the blue-green (shorter than 560nm) range at night. The alternatives save energy, reduce glare, favor astronomy, and don’t screw up biological cycles. These are available and specifically_required to protect hatching sea turtles.

    They’d protect people too. But who knew? That’s buried deep in the Conclusions, never up top in the Abstract or first paragraph of the research papers.

    We throw incredible amounts of light into the night sky, to our detriment. We think we’re brilliant, don’t we?

  13. 13
    Joseph says:

    Any easy to access version of Pebesma et al is at:

  14. 14
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Communicate by starting with the bottom line.
    1. It is really happening and we know why.
    2. “uncertainty” means the range in how bad it will get how soon. A look at the US West drought projection should convince anyone who isn’t just being stubborn that we must change our ways. How?
    3. Stop burning carbon and leave it in the ground. This calls for a new energy infrastructure. The economic side is done by stopping pro-carbon subsidies and shifting same to renewable energy.
    4. The change will take decades even when we start trying hard. So we had better get going.
    5. There is no planet B.

  15. 15
    Susan Anderson says:

    Very nice discussion, thanks. Love the xkcd-ification!

    Neven has put up some neat stuff from Mauri Pelto and Peter Sinclair, which ref. probably belongs on Unforced Variations. However, the moving picture of how a simple 30-year data plot was created is for me a perfect window into how patient and careful real scientific observation can be. I wish it were possible to show how slow thinking creates deep roots in our hyperfast culture.

    so silly! “was logydig”

  16. 16
    Susan Anderson says:

    darn, that was not the right link. This is Neven. Please ignore the previous, bad cess to me for not proofing.

  17. 17
    nigelmj says:

    I have a design background, but also some science, arts, and business experience managing teams and dealing with clients. I take an interest in climate change. My point is Im a generalist in some ways, and have considerable experience communicating with people at a professional level.

    Good communications is paramount, and I would suggest half of all our problems are poor communications. The information is often there, but sometimes people just dont connect on a communications level. Its a two way street as well, politicians also have to be clear and ask the right questions.

    The summary for policy makes wasnt all bad, but could certainly be better. Clarity and simplicity is the key, and it tried and got half way there.

    To me a related but bigger problem is climate scientists talking in the mainstream daily media. There are some very good ones like Mann and Hansen but sometimes others get bogged down in detail, and have not been good at tackling sceptical arguments.

    Plus you simply dont see enough climate scientists in the media. These are the people that get respect, not journalists writing some opinion piece.

    I think this website largely communicates well, which shows it can also be done by the IPCC.

  18. 18
    James Cross says:

    #12 Hank

    So I click your “don’t bury the lede ” link.

    First thing that comes up is:

    It starts out with:

    “Don’t bury the lede.” That’s what everyone always says to writers. Get to the point. Just give us the information we need.

    It’s great advice for journalists. Horrible advice for marketers.

    Is that what you intended? Is this marketing or propaganda (not in a pejorative sense) or reporting or science?

    I think propaganda guided by science.

  19. 19
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I think the thing people have to keep in mind is that far more than the actual WG reports, the SPMs are political documents that have been gone over by the spin-meisters at an almost atom-by-atom level to obscure rather than clarify. It is as if you had given the task to Alan Greenspan and actually told him to obfuscate. I picture some poor scientist or science writer going through the 44th round of reviews and giving up just to be done with it. Any policymaker who actually makes policy based on the SPM rather than having independent experts go through the technical report is an idiot. Unfortunately, most policymakers are even stupider than that.

  20. 20
    Sean says:

    What do practicing Climate Scientists, Climate Modelers, including those connected with the IPCC Reports since the 1990s have to say about critical commentary of the IPCC and Climate Science in general?

    And particularly when made by serving active Scientists or Politicians, and other ‘public figures’ such as David Murray, Hugh Morgan, ‘leaders’ from climate science ‘skeptical’ organisations such as the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF), the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), or yesterday ex-PM Mr. John Howard’s “One Religion is Enough” speech for his ‘friend’ Lord Lawson and the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) UK?

    Here is an example of a typical response. It is set back in Nov. 2005. It doesn’t matter how old it is, for he and the others on this ‘climate science communication website’ have been totally consistent in their views up to today.

    The author is Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York and is interested in modeling past, present and future climate. He received a BA (Hons) in Mathematics from Oxford University, a PhD in Applied Mathematics from University College London and was a NOAA Postdoctoral Fellow in Climate and Global Change Research.

    He was cited by Scientific American as one of the 50 Research Leaders of 2004, and has worked on Education and Outreach with the American Museum of Natural History, the College de France and the New York Academy of Sciences. He has over 100 peer-reviewed publications and is the co-author with Josh Wolfe of “Climate Change: Picturing the Science” (W. W. Norton, 2009), a collaboration between climate scientists and photographers. He was awarded the inaugural AGU Climate Communications Prize and was the EarthSky Science communicator of the year in 2011.

    He would be reasonably considered an “expert” and an “authority” in his field of Science.

    EXTRACTS From : Real Climate – Lawson vs. the IPCC — gavin @ 9 November 2005
    (See url link for references )

    “Nigel Lawson, one of Britain’s Chancellors of the Exchequer during the Thatcher Era (Secretary of the Treasury for those needing a US translation) and more recently known as the father of Nigella Lawson (a UK cooking diva), has weighed into the climate debate with a recent broadside calling for the abolition of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Based on a curious report by the UK House of Lords Economics Affairs committee (in which they made clear that they had no scientific expertise), Lawson demands that the only global scientific assessment process on climate change be shut down, and replaced with ….well what exactly?

    It is worth re-iterating what role the IPCC and other scientific assessments (another example being the WMO biennial report on ozone depletion) are supposed to play. Even for experts in any particular field (and definitely for policy makers), the vast scientific literature needs to be distilled and summarised.

    In the first instance this must be done by scientists who are in that field and familiar with it. Where there is a widespread consensus, and where there are substantial debates or important uncertainties should be made clear. Open expert review is crucial in ensuring that these distinctions are agreed to by most of the field. […]

    The heart of Lawson’s case is the economic criticism of the IPCC scenario generation process which has been pushed by Ian Castles and David Henderson. We are not economists and so we won’t engage in the specifics of this criticism, but as consumers (so to speak) of the product, it’s worth making a couple of relevant points. First, it should be emphasised that the scenarios are used solely for the providing input into climate models, and not for generic economic planning decisions. Therefore only the final differences in the total greenhouse gas emissions actually matter. […]

    A second point worth making is that IPCC is not the sole supplier of scenarios. The GISS group has developed its own ‘alternative scenarios’ (assuming relatively aggressive attempts to reduce emissions for instance, something IPCC explicitly does not consider), and any other group is free to do the same. If they are significantly different from the standards, other groups could be expected to run them as well. In and of itself this line of criticism clearly does not imply that IPCC should be abolished as an institution, since of course the scenario generation and their use in future projections only makes up a very small part of the scientific assessment process.

    However, Lawson’s claims that IPCC’s ‘ignoring of dissent’ is a ‘scandal’ betrays a fundamental ignorance of how the IPCC works. […] The IPCC makes its assessments in a very thorough writing and review process involving hundreds of scientists, open to critics, with transparent and predefined procedures. That it makes no proclamations in between the full assessments is not a ‘scandal’, it simply is sticking to its sound and transparent procedures. […]

    Much of the time these ‘outsider’ critiques are not based on anything other than a desire to confuse (claims that IPCC doesn’t mention this or that, or downplays solar effects etc etc) and have no traction in the scientific community.

    These critiques are therefore easily dismissed. More substantive potential criticisms based on peer-reviewed literature (which may or may not be correct) have to be considered more carefully in the context of similar studies and relevance, and that is generally what happens.

    In the end though, most outlier results do not end up in the mainstream, though investigating them often leads to a better understanding of the process (Lindzen’s Iris effect is a case in point).

    However, the bulk of Lawson’s case actually appears to stem from a confusion between the IPCC and the policy options exemplified by the Kyoto Protocol. These are two quite separate things.

    As Roger Pielke Jr [[edit]] is fond of saying (and with which I agree), scientific description of a problem does not imply a specific policy response. In this case, while the Kyoto process is an attempt to deal with the problems highlighted by the IPCC, it was neither suggested, nor prescribed, by that [UN IPCC] body.

    Therefore, what balance between adaptation (dealing with whatever happens) and mitigation (doing something about the emissions that contribute to climate change) is likely to be more cost effective is not a question within the remit of the IPCC (although many options are discussed in the WG III report).

    One point worth making is that if Lawson really feels that the high end emissions forecasts are unrealistic, then the costs of keeping to a climate-based target are much less – ‘Kyoto for free’ as it were.

    Lawson suggests that economic issues related to climate change should be discussed within economic departments of government, and I doubt anyone would disagree. He goes further though and calls for the dismantling of the IPCC and it’s functions to be transferred to the existing Bretton Woods institutions (that is, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).

    This is surely a mistake. IPCC is tasked with the scientific assessment of climate change, handing that function to economic institutions not heretofore known for their scientific expertise would surely be an error.

    Just how much of an error is revealed by Lawson’s last paragraphs in which he, ironically, he uses the notion of a scientific consensus to combat (admittedly widespread) popular claims of a direct link between the individual impacts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and global warming.

    Since no scientists have made a claim of direct cause and effect (see our recent post on potential statistical links between hurricane intensity and tropical warming), any scientific assessment (such as the next IPCC report) will certainly not do so either.

    It is precisely because such anecdotal ‘science’ is not a balanced picture of the state-of-the-art that IPCC exists in the first place. And if IPCC did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it….
    URL Doc
    House of Lords Report


    Related: MAY 21, 2013 – THE IPCC SHOULD BE ABOLISHED – Ross McKitrick (CC Denier activist) has a recent report entitled – “What is Wrong with the IPCC? Proposals for a Radical Reform” at

    The Report has a foreword by John Howard, former Australian Prime Minister.

    It is published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, whose Chairman is Lord Lawson, former British Foreign Secretary and whose Directors and Trustees include four other members of the British House of Lords.

    McKitrick does an excellent job in explaining the origins and structure of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He also provides a damning indictment of its failings.

    Ref URL

  21. 21
    Sean says:


    Re: “ex-CBA Chairman Murray’s slur”, “Chicken Littles”, “corrupt science”, and Howard’s Neo-Theocracy “One Religion Is Enough”, “sanctimonious tone “, “a substitute religion”, “denier” has been employed in this debate with some malice, “those with political agendas = a distortion of science”, ” the alleged views of experts “, University of East Anglia emails, “errors” regarding the Himalayan Glaciers, nakedly political agendas of … impartial scientific advice, “Revealing his (Edenhofer) real agenda”, ” a grudging admission”, “warming process … at a standstill for the past 15 years” [an intentional LIE by little honest John? or he simply does NOT read IPCC reports?], “the main reason we lost” [in 2007? You’re deluding yourself JWH], “GFC .. had not affected Australia much at all” [Bollocks, it did], ” as alarmists” [is OK, but not Deniers, sure John]

    Doesn’t any of the preceding fall into the defamation and public slander category under Australian Law?

    Meanwhile CORRECTING Howard’s “cherry-picked” grossly “re-edited” and “RE-Framed” and “Verbal of a IPCC Report quoting (translation) : Ref 1: Basically, it is a big mistake to discuss climate policy separated from the major themes of globalization. The climate summit in Cancun end of the month is not a climate conference, but one of the largest economic conferences since the Second World War. Why? Because we do not have 11,000 gigatons of carbon in the coal reserves under our feet – and we must settle only 400 gigatons in the atmosphere if we want to keep the 2-degree target. 11 000 to 400 – there is no way around the fact that a large part of the fossil reserves must remain in the soil.
    Is the defacto expropriation of the countries with natural resources. This leads to a very different development from that which has been triggered by development policy.
    First time we’ve developed countries, the atmosphere of the world community virtually expropriated. But one must say clearly: We distribute by climate policy defacto the world’s wealth around. That the owners of coal and oil, which are not enthusiastic, is obvious. You have to free themselves from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has to do with environmental policy, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole, almost nothing.

    Nevertheless, the environment IS SUFFERING from climate change – especially in the South.
    It will be a lot to do with the adjustment. But that’s just far beyond traditional development policy beyond, we will see in Africa to climate change, a decline of agricultural yields. But this can be circumvented if the production efficiency is increased – and especially if the African agricultural trade is embedded in the world economy. But then we have to see that successful climate policy just needs a different global trade and financial policies.

    The great misunderstanding of UN summit in Rio in 1992 is repeated in climate policy: the industrialized countries speak of environment, the development of developing countries. [end quote] FULL Text in CONTEXT

    And if Howard is going to VERBAL him, can’t he at least get his name right – it’s “EdenhoFer” not Edenhoper. :)

    Worthwhile to reread Patrick Stokes – Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University “The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.”

    aka “Yes, you are entitled to the freedom to hold your own opinions and beliefs, but in the world of reality you are not entitled to your own Facts.”

    When will the IPCC leadership, or any Climate Scientist take on people like Australia’s ex-PM John Howard publicly and destroy his fraudulent arguments and disinformation and egregious slander of themselves????

  22. 22
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    “…the SPMs are political documents that have been gone over by the spin-meisters at an almost atom-by-atom level to obscure rather than clarify.”

    What do the actual climate scientists say?

  23. 23
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Steve Easterbrook shows that you can extract the message (provided you already know climate science.)

  24. 24
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Sean asks, “What do practicing Climate Scientists, Climate Modelers, including those connected with the IPCC Reports since the 1990s have to say about critical commentary of the IPCC and Climate Science in general?”

    I would recommend responding in the same way as Leonardo: “As to my critics, I pay no more attention to the wind that comes from their mouths than to the wind that comes from their anuses.”

  25. 25

    The first axiom of communication requires a sender and a receiver.
    The consensus report was written by committee with little regard for the receiver.

    Climate and thermodynamics will convey a very clear message, it will be ruthless and unmistakable – We will receive the message, or not. Either as prepared data or as direct experience – the message will be repeated until received.

  26. 26
    David Stern says:

    I agree that it is too technical and too much jargon for such a summary for “policy makers”. The uncertainty stuff is not due to the scientists themselves who wrote the report, the IPCC insists on all this. Everything in the SPM must be defendable at the final plenary with all the governments. The whole process is not ideal for producing a document to communicate the main findings to the public. They do also provide a 2 page “headline findings” which I think is better.

  27. 27
    MARodger says:

    Sean @20.
    Do you really mean to say “McKitrick does an excellent job in explaining the origins and structure of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He also provides a damning indictment of its failings.”? Amongst other things, McKitrick is one of a UK-based grouping that would be a stain on the reputation of any hosting country – the Gentlemen Who Prefer Fantasy. I cannot conceive of why anybody here would choose to applaud such a one or to link to a sample of his work that is certainly Gobbledegook With Plenty Fimflam (and could well be Great Wads of Petroleum Funding). This McKitrick reference makes no sense here unless you translate it into Troll.
    BTW – Congratulations – a 1,400+ word comment. A new record for you.

  28. 28
    pete best says:

    According to Kevin Anderson of the tyndall centre at Manchester, UK – those involved in what do to about climate change pontificate and fly around the world attending conferences and meetings and ultimately achieve little it would seem. His recent presentations speak of a almost certain 4C world whilst the window of probability for a 2C world has gone (due to the level of cuts required to achieve it which makes it nigh on impossible to achieve in the current economic and political climate).

    whatever the future holds for humanity for millions of the poorer perhaps it wont be good.

  29. 29
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Pete Dunkelberg: “What do the actual climate scientists say?”

    I think the WG summaries are a pretty good distillation of the consensus. I think it would be safe to say that among actual climate scientists there is:
    1)fascination with the complexity of the problem
    2)amazement that the models work as well as they do given that complexity
    2a)high confidence that the basics of the model are adequate to forecast future warming
    3)concern about potential unknown tipping points that could make things a whole helluva lot worse
    4)alarm at the lack of progress on addressing the issue
    5)frustration at the ability of the chuckleheads to hijack the discussion and the vilification of dedicated climate scientists and science in general

  30. 30
    Geoff Beacon says:

    I thought that someone here might have commented on Hansen et. al. “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature”.

    Is anyone sulking?

  31. 31
    Edward Greisch says:

    As I just told

    “Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not” by Robert N. McCauley
    “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian

    You have to start a lot more basic than you have.
    “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian

    “So the core piece of advice I give may at first sound counterintuitive, but it is simple: When speaking with people who hold beliefs based on faith, don’t get into a debate about facts or evidence or even their specific beliefs. Rather, get them to question the manner in which they’ve reached their beliefs―that is, get them to question the value of faith in appraising the world. Once they question the value of faith, all the unevidenced and unreasoned beliefs will inevitably collapse on their own. In that sense, the book is really about getting people to think critically―the atheism part is just a by-product.”

    “Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not” by Robert N. McCauley
    It is about “basic cognitive trait, observed in young children.”
    1. Biological Essentialism.
    2. Teleological Thinking.
    3. Overactive Agency Detection.
    4. Dualism.
    5. Inability to Comprehend Vast Time Scales.
    6. Group Morality and Tribalism.
    7. Fear and the Need for Certainty.

    All 7 are childish and pre-stone-age thinking.
    The population of Fayette, Missouri was 2,688 at the 2010 census. Central Methodist University is there. The teachers were teaching religion during class time, in violation of the First Amendment.

    Start by suing every small town high school in the country over the issue of religion in the classroom. Once you have gotten religion out of the classroom, you can start teaching science.

  32. 32
    Hank Roberts says:

    Gavin, may I nominate for your sidebar:

    > Pete Dunkelberg says

    Steve Easterbrook shows

    That’s by far the most content- and link-rich page I’ve seen on climate, and it’s all science/computation/math, no angst and handwringing and emo.

    Much of it I recognize but have never seen all the links together in one place. Remarkably good resource.

    No crap, no SEO optimizing twickery; a few outdated links out of the dozens that are there — the collection is worth following.

    I think it’s worth promoting.

  33. 33
  34. 34
    nigelmj says:

    Edward Greisch #31, I agree the best way to make people question religion, is to get them to consider how they gained their knowledge and the validity of faith in evaluating the world. One could also ask them if gaining information from faith or the bible is likely to be reliable. As an atheist I point out the bible is most likely an early and valiant attempt at a world history and an attempt to understand the world, and write rules, but knowledge has improved since then, and we should not regard the bible as the only source.

    Of course the same approach can be taken to how people gain scientific knowledge, and how they test its validity. Even the general public can see some experts are more reliable than others, and that the people who do the research deserve respect, and the climate sceptics that make rebuttals without hard data and calculations are scoring cheap points.

    On communicating science, while I completely believe we are altering the climate, climate scientists dont communicate terribly well to the public. Communications is a learned skill, and it may be that the human mind that is good at science isnt so strong in language.

    On your point about religious thought being possibly a product of certain childhood lines of reasoning, this maybe correct, but theres some evidence for a “god gene” in the sense we may be programmed to believe in a god. This doesnt mean there is a god, its likely an adaptive mechanism to provide a sense of subservience and thus order, however this would explain the pervasive nature of religion.

    However we are a product of genes and environment and further adaptive behaviour has made us question the reality of god and where the thinking comes from, and to take a more science based approach.

  35. 35
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Am I wrong?

    IPCC carbon budget: Missing feedbacks ignored.

    If I’m wrong. Please tell me.

    I have a hard time discussing this with climate scientists.

    I get the impression that the UK Met Office want to bury flaws in the AR5 carbon budget.

    What about RC?

  36. 36

    Yeah, that Easterbrook post is good. Thanks!

  37. 37
    perwis says:

    Pete, Hank:

    I agree. Steve Easterbrooks page on the new IPCC report is a must-read! He ought to be on board when it is time for the next SPM (or at least the Synthesis Report SPM).

  38. 38
    Sean says:

    [edit – belligerent attacks on other commenters get a little tedious Please stop.]

  39. 39
    Sean says:

    “You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” ― Richard P. Feynman

  40. 40
    Susan Anderson says:

    Since it is a given that over 90% of people since the world began are “believers” I don’t think pushing against basic human instinct is an effective communication technique.

    Personally, I have a lot of trouble with the many forms of gods made in man’s image, but it doesn’t get anywhere to bash the premise. For example, a much better argument with a christian is to point out that their basic text emphasizes caring for each other and stewardship, as does the core message of almost all the world’s religions.

    Whether it’s cultural, community-based, aesthetic, about avoiding the fear of the unknown, having a reliable friend, or whatever, religion is going to go on being a given.

    It’s better to point out that evidence-based information is a useful tool in day-to-day, year-to-year, and century-to-century understanding and survival.

  41. 41
    Hank Roberts says:

    This may help:

    You’ll soon be able to see the Earth from space any time of day — no spacesuit required. Two cameras — one high-def, one medium-resolution — will start streaming near-real-time footage from the International Space Station in early 2014. Operated by the Vancouver-based company UrtheCast ….

  42. 42
    owl905 says:

    Stand me on a different curb from either Rasmus’s criticism, or a lot of the hijackers who showed up for this one. AR5 SPM was decently written – best of breed over the series. It lacked the traction of previous reports because the world has chosen to reject the warning of the science. It has influences and tilts where it responded to junk collections offering horoscope-level substitutes to refute AGW. That’s where this thing has gone, and those are the points that need focus with policy makers.

    A suggestion to Rasmus – write the document you think it should have been and publish it. Trying to gain credibility with a lead-in strawman labelled ‘what went wrong’ when their coverage is easier to follow than yours, indicates the question should be asked to mirror mirror.

  43. 43
    Chuck Hughes says:

    Sean, While I appreciate your concern your pixilations are tedious. The mouse on my computer is exhausted from all the scrolling. Before making your next post, chisel it out on a piece of granite first. Then let us have a look.


  44. 44
    Hank Roberts says:

    Perhaps worth revisiting:

    Carbon sensitivity – how much concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere change in response to different levels of carbon emissions. A significant fraction (roughly half) of our CO2 emissions are absorbed by the oceans, but this also takes time. We can think of this as “carbon cycle inertia” – the delay in uptake of the extra CO2, which also takes several decades. [Note: there is a second kind of carbon system inertia, by which it takes tens of thousands of years for the rest of the CO2 to be removed, via very slow geological processes such as rock weathering.]


    It turns out that the two forms of inertia roughly balance out. The thermal inertia of the oceans slows the rate of warming, while the carbon cycle inertia accelerates it. Our naive view of the “owed” warming is based on an understanding of only one of these, the thermal inertia of the ocean, because much of the literature talks only about climate sensitivity, and ignores the question of carbon sensitivity….

  45. 45
    MARodger says:

    “I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb.” ― Richard P. Feynman

  46. 46
    Radge Havers says:

    Sean @~39

    Yeah, however all in all, Feynman was pretty sociable if not downright charming.

    There’s a time and a place for everything, but in the end it all comes down to one thing. You know what they say, good manners are the lubricant of social intercourse.

  47. 47
    Pekka Kostamo says:

    While you discuss the issue of global warming/change and publicising the evidence for it…

    Back in the 1930’s “climate science” described the statistics of local weather for the very practical benefit of local farmers and so forth. Then, an interested group of scientists (of no great popular note, by the way) then agreed in some international meeting that the proper way to describe “climate” and the possible changes of it, was to compute averages, variances, extremes, trends and so forth over a period of 30 years. Which was (and apparently still is) statistically justified.

    It was also agreed that “climate” would be reported over the latest completed 30-year period, as this corresponded with the needs of the data user community. A moving reference designed to eliminate any long term change, in other words.

    This process is still in place, quite intact in most countries.

    Enter “global climate change” science with its physics-based models and hundreds of years’ time ranges. Trying to match its results with the statistical-based older cousin is the source of endless confusion.

    It would be of immense benefit if the “global climate change” community, from the Secretary General of the WMO to the individual researcher presenting his/her results, could agree on a common reference baseline period. Be it “pre-industrial”, or any other time period deemed justifiably stable to serve as a reference.

    The current practice, with each reading referenced to a suitable (and often different) reference period, may well be scientifically adequate, but for the general public it is hopelessly too complicated and serves mainly to confuse the issue.

    (Just from the sidelines …)

  48. 48
    The Elf says:

    I think the IPCC WG1 AR5 SPM is well written. The “Highlight Statements” 2 pager ( is a nice touch.

    Rasmus, consider nominating yourself to be a lead author for IPCC WG1 AR6, if there is one. It is a lot of work, but would afford you the opportunity to improve the next IPCC WG1 SPM!

  49. 49
    Edward Greisch says:

    WOOPS! SORRY! Religion wasn’t the intended subject at 31. Methods for Teaching/explaining Climate Science was the intended subject.

    Unfortunately, religion gets into the subject of psychology when you are trying to tell somebody something unexpected. What is going on in the denialists’ brains is all-important in trying to communicate GW.

    [I thought I was commenting on the Unforced Variations: Dec 2013 thread. How did I get here?]

    Whatever the denialist believes, it is a lot like a religion in that it is dogma of whatever type. Facts don’t matter. Not until you teach them how to get facts. And you can’t do that in less than a few years. I think Boghossian’s method is like Socrates’ method, but I haven’t gotten the book yet.

  50. 50
    Mike S says:

    Maybe the terms negative feedback and positive feedback could be replaed with disminishing feedback and ampliftying feedback, respectively, when writing for the geneeral public.