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Ten Years of RealClimate: Where now?

Filed under: — group @ 14 December 2014

rc10The landscape for science blogging, the public discourse on climate and our own roles in the scientific community have all changed radically over the last 10 years. Blogging is no longer something that stands apart from professional communications, the mainstream media or new online start-ups. The diversity of voices online has also increased widely: scientists blogging and interacting directly with the public via Twitter and Facebook are much more prevalent than in 2004. The conversations have also changed, and (for the most part) have become more nuanced. And a bunch of early career researchers with enthusiasm, time to spare and things to say, have morphed into institute directors and administrators with lots of new pressures. Obviously, blogging frequency has decreased in the last year or so in response to these pressures and this raises the question: where does RealClimate go now?

Is RealClimate’s mission ‘Climate science from climate scientists’ still needed? There are successful sites about climate science that aren’t run by scientists, but that nevertheless do a good job in providing pointers to the mainstream science, most notably, Climate Central and Carbon Brief, and there are many climate scientists who are on Twitter (over 250 via this list curated by Tamsin Edwards). Lots of climate scientists are blogging for themselves (including some RC folk): Ed Hawkins and guests at Climate Lab Book, Tamsin Edwards, Doug McNeall, Simon Donner, Isaac Held, Jules Hargreaves and James Annan, Jim Bouldin, Sophie Lewis, Georg Hoffmann, Anders Levermann, Kate Marvel and Judy Curry, or who occasionally contribute to the bigger sites such as HuffPo or Slate (Micheal Mann, Ray Pierrehumbert) or the Conversation (Australian, UK, and US editions). The Climate Change National Forum (CCNF) has a wide roster of US-based climate scientists and an expanding mandate. However, none of these efforts duplicate RealClimate in terms of reach or content or community.

We therefore feel that RealClimate still has a role, albeit one that is not tied solely to the current list of contributors. Consequently we need to find ways to transition the site into something that is more of an institution rather than just somewhere we blog. This is undoubtedly a challenge and we will need help to do this successfully. Different directions are possible – increasing use of outside content (cross-posting good pieces by climate scientists elsewhere?), a wider focus to include climate impacts, more of a journal club etc. But while those are possibilities to discuss, we really think we should start with…

A clean slate

A number of us – Gavin, Mike, Ray P. and Ray B. – will be stepping away from an active role in running the blog in 2015. They’ll still contribute occasional guest posts and interact in the comments, but the day-to-day roles will be passed on. Though they will continue posting on Twitter (which requires a little less overhead): @ClimateOfGavin, @MichaelEMann, @Climatebook and @raybradleyUMass. Stefan, Eric, David and Rasmus will continue to contribute, though perhaps not at the same rate. This will leave some holes in the roster, and so we are making a…

Call for proposals

Specifically, we are putting out an open call for climate scientists to join the RealClimate team. We are looking for early career researchers who have a desire to explain the science and engage with the public who want to be part of a group that makes that a little easier. You should be an active researcher in a climate-related field (including impacts), at postdoc level or beyond, and have an enthusiasm to explain the science quite generally, not just about your own research. You might already have your own blog, or you might just want to give blogging a try to see how it feels. And all of it as a purely voluntary and unpaid activity!

If you blog independently or are thinking about it, it’s worth going over the advantages of a group blog (see here for a discussion): It can remain active even if for a short period individuals are too busy; it comes with an existing critical mass of commenters and readers that you don’t have to build; You don’t need to be an expert on everything that comes up; and there is support if things go wrong. RealClimate has always had an internal peer review system for substantive posts and this is fun to participate in even if you don’t have time to write full posts yourself. It is also a big help if you are looking for input on tone, level and writing style.

Additionally, we are specifically looking for someone with blogging experience to act as a general editor. This would involve keeping the WordPress software up-to-date, dealing with guest posts, comment moderation etc. This is not hard, but does take a little time, though the existing group will provide backup initially.

Note that we are specifically focused on climate science (including impacts), so blogging about more general topics (scientific publishing in general, scientist’s clothes, academic inside baseball, politics, religion etc.) is best done somewhere else. Additionally, if you only want to write about your ideas for saving the world, there are probably better venues for that too. But if you are interested in joining the effort or at least talking about it, let us know. A few of us will be at #AGU14, so catch us there if you like. We’ll hopefully have a transition period over the next few months where people can try this out for size, put up a few posts, get advice, and see if they are interested in keeping this going. Hopefully, we’ll have a new critical mass of contributors by then.

In the meantime, we are always soliciting guest posts, so send along ideas even if you don’t want to commit to anything more involved!

42 Responses to “Ten Years of RealClimate: Where now?”

  1. 1

    For 10 years you have been an excellent provider of information, well written, and understandable. May you have another 10 years!!
    Some of us do not use Facebook or Twitter, mainly because we have enough to do with ordinary email. Please do not restrict your blog comments to Facebook or Twitter.

  2. 2
    doug says:

    Keep up the good work; it help many non-experts such as myself.

  3. 3
    Tim Jones says:

    For the past ten years Real Climate has been my go-to place for the truth of climate science. I very much appreciate Gavin’s and everyone’s dedication toward keeping the public educated with the latest developments. I too hope an active comment community continues and is included on the blog. It’s an invaluable service with precious institutional memory. Onward and upward good fellows that you are!

  4. 4

    Hopefully the change of guard will work. Real Climate is a useful resource, not only for the climate “debate”, but also for climate science. A great way to keep up to date with stuff you are not working on yourself.

    The blog of Doug McNeall has a more comprehensive list of climate bloggers than the above one. Maybe even complete. Highly recommended (for bookmarking).

  5. 5
    sidd says:

    Glad to hear you’ll keep on truckin for a while. Hope you can suck in some more contributors. My time is limited, but I will help as I can with general dogsbody work, i have some background in software. Could you publish a contact email or contact form for volunteers ?


  6. 6
    Peter Thorne says:

    I like the idea of cross-posting, with attribution and permission of course, interesting content from climate scientists elsewhere. It is hard to keep up with the breadth of material out there nowadays and undoubtedly we all miss interesting content. The idea of highlighting what a core team feel are interesting, scientifically robust, and topical pieces is useful.

    This would also have another, I think appealing, side effect. It would broaden in the public’s mind the climate scientist ‘cast’ which strengthens consensus messaging. Its far harder to shout conspiracy when its of the hundreds and thousands than when you restrict the cast to the tens. There are far more people working the field than is typically reflected in the media landscape (old and new, but particularly old). Seeing fresh content regularly from different voices in their own words reposted from their place would be a very interesting direction to take and perhaps help multiple aspects of communication as it is needed today.

    Of course, we’d still want the usual fare from the core team and solicited guest posts, but this is a way of reducing the burden on the core team while still posting regularly fresh content.

  7. 7
    Bob Bingham says:

    I am not a climate scientist but I rely on sites like your to get the research and publish it in a form that is quickly understandable and then I spread it to a wider network.

  8. 8
    Jennie Sutton says:

    Thank you,thank you, trustworthy citizens of troubled planet! Really “Real Climate has been my go-to place for the truth of climate science” too. Will definitely be with you as things develop. Good luck!

  9. 9
    Joel Huberman says:

    I’m a retired biochemist who has developed a strong interest in climate science. Real Climate has been a tremendously useful resource for me. A hearty “Thank You!” to all contributors during the past 10 years, and another hearty “Thank You!” to all contributors to come. I look forward to enjoying the increasingly sophisticated insights into climate science that I anticipate will be revealed by Real Climate in the near and distant future.

  10. 10

    I have treasured RealClimate as a source of good, solid information and explanation of climate science. I appreciate the need to update the way you present material, but please don’t go away. I always look forward to your emails announcing a new post. Please don’t go away.

  11. 11
    Paul LaMar says:

    I’ve found RealClimate to be a fairly good “litmus test” for determining whether the person I’m talking to is really interested in climate science or just claims an interest but actually wants to rationalize their current worldview. I will say, “I think RealClimate has some interesting posts on that very subject.” (Because RealClimate pretty much has a post on every climate related topic that an amateur might be interested in.) If they have already read the posts or express a desire to read the posts then I’m probably talking with someone interested in the science. If, on the other hand, they reply with something like “You can’t trust the guys at RealClimate” (or words to that effect) then I’m almost certainly talking with someone who doesn’t care about the science and isn’t interested in actually learning anything new.

    So besides being an excellent educational resource, this site has saved me from many hours of fruitless and frustrating conversation. Thank you!

  12. 12

    I will miss those of you who are leaving and pleased to learn of you who are staying. RealClimate has been a favorite stop of mine among the blogosphere and thanks for the past 10 years!

  13. 13
    barry says:

    Still lurking, always grateful. Thanks for the responses on the odd occasion I’ve posted, both inline and others, and to Gavin for taking the time to reply to a couple of emails 6 or 7 years ago.

  14. 14
    ferdberple says:

    the heavy hand of censorship drove many from RC and was reflected in their declining traffic volumes. it was inevitable that the site would lose relevance and the main players call it a day.

    [Response: While “censorship” has been a popular meme on activist anti-science sites, the reality is that we have always responded to well-argued and polite comments, even when we disagree with them. As for declining traffic, this has not actually occurred, except in proportion to our writing less ourselves. –eric]

  15. 15
    ferdberple says:

    Additionally, we are specifically looking for someone with blogging experience to act as a general editor.
    Anthony Watts is your man. Proven experience creating a successful climate blog.

    [Response: sorry, we should have mentioned that we are a climate science blog. – gavin]

  16. 16
    James Annan says:

    I think there’s a real risk to the continuity of RC with so many long-time (and significant) contributors stepping away at the same time. It might have been better to stagger things, one per year perhaps?

    Though I don’t really comment here, I always read and appreciate the posts…

    [Response: Thanks for the support. Unfortunately, “staggering” is easier said that done. We are all super busy, and for my part at least, I’m pretty much done with writing posts responding to “skeptical” arguments, as there’s virtually nothing new to respond to; it’s all be covered ad nauseum. Gradually, the posts worth doing seem to be far more technical to be worth doing, and this is arguably not the best venue for that. I hope to ramp up my contributions this year, in part to take up some slack, and in part because there’s a bunch of interesting (to me at least) research that I want to write about. But I doubt I’ll be able to sustain that long term. Encouragement to colleagues who would be good new blood for RC would be greatly appreciated–eric]

  17. 17
    Hank Roberts says:

    > posts responding to “skeptical” arguments, as there’s
    > virtually nothing new to respond to; it’s all be covered ad nauseum.


    John Mashey has suggested repeatedly (as have ‘Greenpa’ at NYT and others over the years) that we need a tool to easily separate comments into parallel tracks, for different kinds of responses.

    (“A simple matter of programming” as they say – would a Kickstarter work?)

    The rebunking stuff is a drag on those wanting to learn the science.

    I’m among the hangers-on here who try to reply to old questions from new userids — boring as it can be — to set an example for truly new readers, aiming at fifth grade reading level. No doubt some questions are fresh as new fallen snow from truly new userids showing up who’ve sipped the kook-aid.

    But some rebunkers are just here to be boring. And that goes ad nauseam.

    I wonder if RC could do what CCNF is doing — two tracks. Reading there can be such a great relief, to read discussion among scientists without the other stuff intervening.

    (I grew up a faculty brat listening to this sort of discussion from under the coffee table or behind the couch, as college professors got into science off the public record — it’s truly a great way for nonscientists to learn)

    Eric and others — I appreciate the need to go away and do the really interesting work. Any way y’all have to let us listen is appreciated. I’m following more ‘Twitter’ but it’s too terse for comprehension on many points.

    [Response: I very much like the CCNF model. Indeed, it’s the main reason I decided to try my hand at blogging with them. I would like to see if RC can do something like this, but unfortunately it isn’t (as far as I aware) implemented in any way automatically by WordPress or other blogging tools, so someone has to do work none of us have time for. Still, I will look into this further. –eric]

  18. 18
    Richard Lynch says:

    Thanks so much. I am really grateful to you guys having spent as much time as you have in providing clear, understandable coverage of issues that would otherwise have been beyond my grasp. I have only recently begun to engage with deniers, and I have found RealClimate to be a great resource. Best wishes to the four of you stepping back.

  19. 19
    rocketman says:

    I do frequent other climate sites (most notably Skeptical Science) but there is nothing quite like RealClimate. While other sites do feature articles by climate scientists, this site feels like I am in closer personal communication with the leaders in the field. I hope that will not change. I also appreciate that the site challenges me to learn more rather than dumbing down the science to make it more accessible to the layman. Not that there is anything wrong with making science accessible but there are other sites that provide that. hopefully the reboot will keep the features that make the site unique while increasing the activity which has obviously dropped off over the last year.

  20. 20
    Aaron Lewis says:

    Much of what you have done is “bat” against pitches by paid professionals.

    University baseball teams do not regularly play against the major league baseball teams, and it is not fair to expect them to do so.

    You need a pro team. Maybe you do not need “The Panda” in every game, but you need to have batters that are as good as the (best professional) pitchers they are playing against. The way to be the best is to do something one has a talent for, and to do it very often. You need talented professionals.

    Go get a grant, and turn it into a professional team – based at a university (or NCAR or Woods Hole). You have a very valuable brand, sponsorship would likely be very valuable. I would start by asking firms that take pride in their intellectual property.

    [Response: The problem with this is that “professionals at running a science blog” in this context is inevitably going to mean “not working scientists”, which means the blog will no longer be what it says it is: climate science from climate scientists. Whatever other efforts may be taken on the “communicates” or “political” front, that’s not what RC represents, nor do we aspire to that. RC is about people like us talking directly — with no intermediaries — about the science that underpins the debate about what to do (or not) about climate change. Other scientists can — and should — do this, and we need more of it, not less. –eric]

  21. 21
    Kendal Stitzel says:

    Happy Beethoven’s Birthday from Colorado! Thanks for the clear informed writing that blew away my doubts and shone lots of light into the dark corners created by the denial industry. Best of luck to those moving on. I’m sure this will remain one of my “go to” sites.

  22. 22
    Phil Scadden says:

    For me, the most interesting part of RC is articles by the scientists about new science results. I sure hope that will continue

  23. 23
    patrick says:

    @19 Aaron: I understand what you mean but believe me: before I saw any part of the response to your comment, my first thought was: How about “Climate science from climate scientists”? That’s what defines this site.

    What you see is what you get. What you get, among other things, is a degree of transparency and professional ethics (re: science as science) uncommon in the league you mention. Also:

  24. 24
    Mal Adapted says:


    the heavy hand of censorship drove many from RC and was reflected in their declining traffic volumes.

    Yet here you are.

    it was inevitable that the site would lose relevance and the main players call it a day.

    Leaving us with the likes of you 8^).

  25. 25

    There are many other blogs by now doing the debunking. This almost never needs climatological expertise. You do not need a top climatologist to write that the WUWT widget is deceptive. To see the mistakes you only need a little bit of scientific thinking and if the widget were not deceptive, it would not be designed by WUWT.

    Debunking is also not that useful, the people that believe that nonsense have proven over and over again to be convincible by counter arguments. When someone does not publish his idea in the scientific literature, but on WUWT, you can be almost sure that it is wrong. People that do not know that yet after all those years are beyond convincing.

    If that makes it more interesting for you guys, you could thus probably put much less focus on debunking nowadays and more on interesting new developments in climatology.

    I was thus wondering how to interpret this: “You should be an active researcher in a climate-related field (including impacts), at postdoc level or beyond, and have an enthusiasm to explain the science quite generally, not just about your own research.”

    Do you only mean that you do not want people to post adverts for their own papers or does it go further? Writing on topics you are not working on is much harder and also kinda defeats the slogan: climate science from climate scientist.

    [Response: I largely agree with your points. My sea ice post is a good example of what we’re looking for: it’s not about my research, but it’s about something I follow closely, and that I have worked on indirectly (e.g. I’ve published about the Antarctic wind changes, but not about sea ice, particularly). Writing about one’s own work is fine, but the point is that promoting one’s own papers, rather than the larger context in which they sit, shouldn’t be the focus. –eric]

  26. 26
    Hank Roberts says:

    the CCNF model…. I would like to see if RC can do something like this …

    It might require a full stop (leaving the current RC as a reference archive) and restart using that CCNF model — a different platform, tedious work for someone who knows how to set these things up.

    Or persuade John Mashey to nudge some eager young programmers into a Kickstarter to build the blog comment tool we’ve been dreaming of (grin) …
    a Sorting Hat, basically.

  27. 27
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, if you do go to something closer to the CCNF model, please preserve the inline responses — and the list of the recent ones in the sidebar.

    Being able to see clearly where the climate scientists do add a reply to the ‘peanut gallery’ comments is often very helpful. A compilation of those, filled out a bit, would be a good reference in itself.

  28. 28
    Hank Roberts says:

    P.P.S. — if you do come up with something like the CCNF / Sorting Hat / 2-threaded model for separating the conversation among scientists from the posts and exchanges among kibitzers — another thought.

    Hire a librarian. Or let us contribute a fund for enticing librarians to help out — because folks like me aren’t going to be trusted by those who come in expecting a conspiracy and accustomed to people lying to them. Read toward the end of The Long Con how effectively such folks are steered. Yet some show up with what they believe are honest questions.

    Starting by asking where they got the idea (even if they claim to have just thought of it themselves) and then trying to explain how to tell the PR sites from the science sites — is always difficult (and boring, ultimately).

    Folks like me try, and some of the regulars here have wonderfully thorough compilations of information they can try leading new readers to that have been looked at by the climate scientists and vetted as getting it right.

    But — trusting trust is the hardest thing to get right, and easiest to fool yourself.

    I keep thinking how I wish a professional reference librarian was on call, someone who might be recognized as honestly committed and more to the point trained to help people find answers to their questions.

    The climate scientists could educate any general reference librarian, for sure — and a professional librarian would give an outside opinion about the answers.

  29. 29
    Hank Roberts says:

    PPS, I don’t know if there’s a way to call on this sort of Ask A Librarian service — this one’s primarily for U. of California:

  30. 30
    patrick says:

    Contributors emeritus: Thank you all so very much. The bad news is you’ll be missed. The good news is you won’t burn out–at least not here.

    I trust contributors emeritus will continue to be noted at the top.

    I hope new volunteers will find the energy to volunteer. Think of it as the emergency room. The emergency is in communications possessed of both integrity and skill. The headline writers still need more help even if many fine journalists need less–as recently seen in a couple of notable cases.

  31. 31
    Edward Greisch says:

    I thought I signed up for a Coursera course on the psychology of denialists, but now I can’t find it.

    I see ideologues on both political sides with only scientists and engineers able to think clearly but unable to have much political influence. All of the politicians are royal screwups. Progress is impossible no matter who wins an election. Both sides have conspiracy theories or strange psychological theories about the other side.

    I wish RC would start including articles on how to shatter the human tendency to ideology. Maybe an anti-ideology gas or pill or shock treatment would work. Boghossian’s street epistemology would work for Boghossian, but I don’t like to be a street epistemologist.

    Any ideas? reCAPTCHA circles for ever.

  32. 32
    Ancient Nerd says:

    There is something I have noticed about the psychology of science. Please bear with me. I am on your side! ‘Settled Science’ does not imply ignoring evidence that does not add up. Exploring the anomalies can open up whole new fields.
    There are examples from Physics (my background, such as it is) of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Once electromagnetism has settled, the results of some experiments did not seem to fit. The Michelson-Morley experiments gave rise to relativity. There were other strange phenomena that opened up quantum mechanics.
    Money from grants does not seem to be scientists only motivation. Glory is a big one. They like those letters after their names. they like to be called ‘Doctor’. Exploring the gaps gets there, not covering them up.

  33. 33
    Hank Roberts says:

    Apropos the suggestion about somehow getting a reference librarian for the site, going forward:

    plenty of people call the library because they don’t have access to the Internet, but others call after they couldn’t find a satisfactory answer on Google.

    “You can find a lot of information online, of course, and that’s great,” she says. “But when you can’t, or when you have too many answers, or you can’t quite distinguish fact from fiction, that’s when you reach out to us.”

    Librarians are “information spec ialists,” she says, and can help point patrons to resources that aren’t available online. Also, sometimes there’s just something about speaking to a human being.

    And nothing is off-limits — really.

    “There are no stupid questions,” Caballero-Li says. “Everything is a teachable moment. We don’t embarrass people; we try to answer any questions they have with honesty and we try to refer them to appropriate resources that they might find useful.”

  34. 34
    Andy Skuce says:

    Edward Greisch @31

    It may have been this course you signed up for:

  35. 35
    John McCormick says:

    Climate science should not be limited to the contemporary study of sensitivity of climate to climate- forcing gases and positive feedbacks.

    Several noted Paleontologists have amassed a great amount of information and understanding of the sequence of events that led to four great extinctions. They have not been invited by RC or any blog to tell us how it happened then and how we are on a path to make it happen again. I am particularly interested in Dr. Peter Ward’s research and conclusions. Invite him to contribute.

  36. 36
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by John McCormick — 30 Dec 2014 @ 11:37 AM, ~#35

    John, do a site search for “Peter Ward.” Upper right. Ignore the links ending in “comment-page” to find mentions of him in topical blog essays.


  37. 37
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years already! It seems just like yesterday when I used to make off topic comments about the politics of the science ;)

    Thanks to the RC team, the guest bloggers, and the regular commenters. Gavin, Mike, et al, you are leaving big shoes to fill.

    I’ll through in my own two cents and request posts from guests or the new regular RC scientists about the ecological impacts and bio-geological GHG cycles.

  38. 38
    Edward Greisch says:

    34 Andy Skuce: Yes, I’m signed up for that.

  39. 39
    Ancient Nerd says:

    How about a smartphone app? Uncle Henry says “It sure is cold outside. How do the ‘Scientists’ explain that”. Ten year old Timmy pulls out his smart phone and brings up local historical weather data. He then points out that while it is colder than usual outside, the record was ten degrees colder back in 1937. The record high was in 2007 etc.
    this app would take something like zip codes and report records for the date and month. It should also report real time low and high.

    We could get the Archie Bunker effect going this way.

  40. 40
    t marvell says:

    The site was originally designed for professionals. I think it has changed partly into a go-to site for non-climate scientists to start understanding climate change. Several responses to this blog indicate that. The blog’s managers seem to tolerate comments by amateurs. If RC wants to continue in that direction, I suggest that it advertise itself as such. It could also expand its links to other useful web sites and blogs, could have links to major news stories and papers, and have links to the home pages of the relevant journals.

    [Response: Actually we very specifically stated who this site was intended for in our very first post. It was not oriented at “professionals” (though we are glad that professionals read it). –eric ]

  41. 41
    namnack says:

    I really wish I had been aware of this site (and of the significance of climate science in general, given the predicaments..) when it started 10 years ago. I drop by every day to scoop or to delve into a specific topic. This is the most complete, comprehensible, categorized and interactive knowledge base on the topic that I know to exist.

    Please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater while you contemplate a remodeling of this website’s functional design. I think that additions that do not compliment the current set-up, should be approach with careful consideration. Obviously, but still..

    As to the interactive part of the site: I would personally welcome a obvious visual distinction to discriminate between professional posts and those made by non-professionals in the comment sections. Something like adding color to a poster’s handle signifying this distinction, would already do wonders. And/or a replacing of the link to a poster’s website to an internal ‘calling card’ with a brief personal summery of relevant thoughts and/or accomplishments. Something to quickly identify the poster with.

    Anyway, thanks for the efforts all have put into this site for the last 10 years and those that are yet to come. Yours is one of the true gems on the webs.

  42. 42
    Ron R. says:

    Thank you Real Climate for ten years of efforts to inform. Personally, I’ve learned a lot. This is a model site for how other sciences can be explained re: direct from scientists -> public. Out of the “Ivory Towers” and into the trenches. We need more RCs.

    There will always be areas of disagreement for a variety of reasons. Similarly, there will continue be intentionally obtuse people who stubbornly refuse to ‘get it’ and/or who delight in “exposing” your humanness for cheap ratings. But all-in-all RC has conducted itself in a professional and fair manner. And despair not, it hasn’t been in vain.

    I wish the best to all who have given their life’s blood to this difficult mission and wish the best for both the site and the new team.