We often allude to the industry-funded attacks against climate change science, and the dubious cast of characters involved, here at RealClimate. In recent years, for example, we’ve commented on disinformation efforts by industry front groups such as the “Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and a personal favorite, The Heartland Institute, and by industry-friendly institutions such as the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and other media outlets that assist in the manufacture and distribution of climate change disinformation.
Author Chris Mooney (of “Storm World” fame) and fellow “Intersection” blogger, scientist, and writer Sheril Kirshenbaum have written an extraordinary, if rather sobering book entitled ‘Unscientific America’. What I found most refreshing about the book is that it not only isolates the history behind, and source of, the problem in question—the pervasiveness and dangerousness of scientific illiteracy in modern society–but it offers viable solutions. This book is a must read for anybody who cares about science, and the growing disconnect between the scientific and popular cultures (the problem of the so-called “Two Cultures” first discussed by C.P. Snow).
‘Unscientific America’ explores how we’ve come to the point we’re now at, examining the historical factors behind the diminishing prominence of science and scientists in the popular culture of the U.S. since its heyday in the years following WW II. The authors uncover more than enough blame to go around. They find fault with the media, both in how it portrays science and scientists (e.g. the icon of the ‘mad scientist’), and in the decreasing news coverage devoted to issues involving science and technology. They find fault in the way policy makers often abuse science (cherry-picking those particular scientific findings which suit their agenda), and in the behavior of corporate special interests who, in areas such as our own area of ‘climate change’, have often deliberately manufactured false controversy and confusion to dissuade the public from demanding action be taken. At this point, the scientists among you might begin to feel absolved of any responsibility for the problem. Don’t–Mooney and Kirshenbaum won’t allow us to escape blame, and with good reason. As they point out, we ‘eat our own’, when it comes to colleagues engaged in public outreach and science popularization. Case in point: Carl Sagan–a hero to many of us who value science outreach. One of the darker episodes in modern U.S. science history was the blocking by Sagan’s fellow scientists of his entry into the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Evidently, a majority of his colleagues resented his having become a household name–something they presumably considered unbecoming for a scientist. What sort of message does it send when the most effective science communicator in modern history was shunned by his colleagues for his efforts? Certainly not a good one. This is just one example, and there are many others–it is not surprising that so few scientists to choose to pursue the path of outreach and public education. The reward systems in academia and the scientific world typically do not favor scientists who choose to expend considerable time and effort engaging in public discourse. And here of course, it is as much that system, as the scientists themselves, which is to blame.
It is perhaps self-evident that those of us here at RealClimate have a keen interest in the topic of science communication. A number of us have written books aimed at communicating the science to the lay public, and have participated in forums devoted to the topic of science communication (see e.g. here, here, and here). We have often written here about the challenges of communicating science to the public in the modern media environment (see e.g. here, here, and here).
It is naturally our pleasure, in this vein, to bring to the attention of our readers a masterful new book on this topic by veteran environmental journalist and journalism educator Bud Ward. The book, entitled Communicating on Climate Change: An Essential Resource for Journalists, Scientists, and Educators, details the lessons learned in a series of Metcalf Institute workshops held over the past few years, funded by the National Science Foundation, and co-organized by Ward and AMS senior science and communications fellow Tony Socci. These workshops have collectively brought together numerous leading members of the environmental journalism and climate science communities in an effort to develop recommendations that might help bridge the cultural divide between these two communities that sometimes impedes accurate and effective science communication.
I had the privilege of participating in a couple of the workshops, including the inaugural workshop in Rhode Island in November 2003. The discussions emerging from these workshops were, at least in part, the inspiration behind “RealClimate”. The workshops formed the foundation for this new book, which is an appropriate resource for scientists, journalists, editors, and others interested in science communication and popularization. In addition to instructive chapters such as “Science for Journalism“, “Journalism for Scientists” and “What Institutions Can Do“, the book is interspersed with a number of insightful essays by leading scientists (e.g. “Mediarology–The Role of Climate Scientists in Debunking Climate Change Myths” by Stephen Schneider) and environmental journalists (e.g. “Hot Words” by Andy Revkin). We hope this book will serve as a standard reference for how to effectively communicate the science of climate change.
Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt
Much in the spirit of the Fraser Institute’s damp squib we reported on last year, S. Fred Singer and his merry band of contrarian luminaries (financed by the notorious “Heartland Institute” we’ve commented on previously) served up a similarly dishonest ‘assessment’ of the science of climate change earlier this year in the form of what they call the “NIPCC” report (the “N” presumably standing for ‘not the’ or ‘nonsense’). This seems to be making the rounds again as Singer and Heartland are gearing up for a reprise of last year’s critically…er…appraised “Conference on Climate Change” this March. Recently some have asked us for our opinion of the report and so we’ve decided we ought to finally go ahead and opine. Here goes.
A colleague alerted me to a small town Nevada newspaper (The Ely Times) that has recently taken to publishing some rather egregious contrarian editorials and op-ed pieces about climate change (see e.g. here, and here).
Much in the spirit of what we attempt here at RealClimate (that is, public outreach and education), I figured I’d make an effort to inform the paper’s readers of the misleading nature of what they’re being told.
I decided to respond to their most recent editorial ‘Is CO2 a Poison?’ and other questions which wasn’t really a contrarian hit piece (i.e., what we’re used to seeing on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal) so much as a confused mix of half-truths, irrelevant facts, flat-out errors, and, admittedly, some reasonable points (e.g. that there are challenging issues of fairness in how we go about achieving greenhouse gas emissions cutbacks). My letter was firmly critical, but, I felt, reasonably polite and fair.
I never received any correspondence from the editor (Kent Harper), and assumed that he had thus chosen not to publish my letter. So you can imagine my surprise yesterday in finding that, not only did the editor publish my letter, but in fact ran a contemporaneous and scattershot rebuttal along with it.
What I found particularly amusing was his denial that the original editorial contained any errors, as I had asserted. In particular, he challenged me to defend my assertion that he was wrong in claiming that the natural greenhouse effect leads to a warming of about 100F and that the correct number was closer to 60F.
Here is Mr. Kent, in his own words:
I asked Dr. Mann, in an answer to his e-mail, if the Wikipedia entry on the Greenhouse Effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_effect) was incorrect. It said: “The Earth’s average surface temperature of 15 C (288 K) is about 33 C warmer than it would be without the greenhouse effect.” A celsius temperature of 33 degrees, converts to 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit, which I rounded off to “almost 100 degrees”.
Kent: if you are reading this, I would be more than happy to personally answer your question. But since you’ve decided to take our ‘discussion’ public anyway, I thought I’d rather use this as a ‘learning moment’ here at RealClimate. So I encourage our readers to provide their own answers to your question in the comments below.
We’re pleased to report that, after a rough start, Nature’s blog ‘Climate Feedback’ seems to have gotten back on track. We’re happy to endorse it as a useful resource for those interested in relatively informal discussions of issues at the leading edge of current climate research.
A good place to start are two excellent recent entries by Kevin Trenberth of NCAR. The first of these provides an update on where the scientific debate over the influence of global warming on hurricanes currently stands. The second responds to the latest attempt by the Wall Street Journal editorial page to foist fallacies about climate change upon its readers.
If you are a RealClimate regular, you are undoubtedly aware of our ongoing interest in the developments in the scientific understanding of potential hurricane-climate change linkages. This is an area of the science where a substantial body of significant new research has emerged even since RealClimate’s inception in late 2004. The scientific research in this area, and the media frenzy and political theatrics that have inescapably followed it, are thoughtfully placed in a broader historical context in a fascinating new book by Chris Mooney entitled Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming. Anyone who is at all interested in the scientific history that has led to our current understanding of Hurricanes and their potential linkages with climate change, will find this book a page turner. The book is a nice complement to Kerry Emanuel’s recent book Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes (which too is so readable that it lies on our coffee table). Mooney in a sense picks up where Emanuel’s left off. Like Emanuel, he explores the history of the science. But he uses this historical context, and his studies of the personalities of key actors, to explore how the current scientific debate can be traced back to a rift that has emerged over many decades between distinct communities of atmospheric scientists.
[Read more…] about Storm World: A Review
There are a few minor items this week worthy of mention:
1. The CO2 rise. Who dunnit?
Here at RealClimate, we have been (naively, apparently) operating under the assumption that climate change contrarians had long ago moved on from the untenable position that humans are not even responsible for the observed increase in CO2 concentrations over the past two centuries. The dubious paper by Ernst Beck we commented on the other day indicates that there is indeed still a rear guard attack being waged. As if to drive the point home further, pundit Alexander Cockburn, known generally for his progressive views, has perplexingly disputed the existence of any link between CO2 emissions and rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere in a screed he penned this week for the online journal “Counterpunch” (also printed in The Nation). It’s hard to know where to start, since his piece is so over the top and gets just about everything so thoroughly wrong, it’s almost comical. So we’ll just hit the low points: (a) Cockburn claims that there is zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making any measurable contribution to the world’s present warming trend, despite the fact that not even such strident climate change contrarians as Pat Michaels dispute that there is a measurable influence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases on global temperature. Plus there’s all the empirical evidence of course (see the new IPCC report). (b) Going further, Cockburn brazenly opines that ‘it is impossible to assert that the increase in atmospheric CO2 stems from human burning of fossil fuels’ despite the fact that there is an isotopic smoking gun for this connection. He then (c) fails to understand that water vapor is a feedback not a forcing, and citing ‘expert’ Dr. Martin Hertzberg, quite remarkably states that ‘It is the warming of the earth that is causing the increase of carbon dioxide and not the reverse.’ Never mind that isotopic evidence proves otherwise. Upon what evidence does he base this assertion?
Since no anti-global warming op-ed these days is complete without it, Cockburn (d) resorts to the usual misrepresentation of lag/lead relationships between CO2 and temperatures during glacial/interglacial cycles as if they disprove the causal relationship between greenhouse gas concentrations and surface temperatures (see our most recent debunking of this favorite contrarian talking point here). Oh dear.
2. The other (Glenn) Beck–Even Worse!
CNN gave their resident shock-jock Glenn Beck a forum for spreading more disinformation on global warming in an hour-long segment entitled Exposed: The Climate of Fear (see also this discussion by “Media Matters”). We could pick apart his (rather thin) arguments, which constitute the usual cocktail of long debunked contrarian talking points. Suffice it to say, however, that the moment a rhetorician invokes Hitler, Nazi Germany, and Eugenics, it is the moment they are no longer worthy of being listened to (cf Godwin’s Law of usenet debates). We don’t seem to be alone in our opinion here. Beck’s performance earned him the dubious title of “worst person in the world” from analyst Keith Olbermann.
However, there was one amusing moment: Beck asked Christopher ‘Incorrect’ Horner what the key thing to google was that would show that Al Gore was wrong. Horner suggested the lag between CO2 and temperature in the ice cores. Of course, if you do Google that, the first hit is the RealClimate debunking of the issue. Thanks!
3. Nature’s new blog
Nature has started a new blog called “Climate Feedback”, which says of itself ‘Climate Feedback is a blog hosted by Nature Reports: Climate Change to facilitate lively and informative discussion on the science and wider implications of global warming. The blog aims to be an informal forum for debate and commentary on climate science in our journals and others, in the news, and in the world at large.’
Kerry Emanuel (whose influential scientific work we’ve discussed here previously) has written a particularly lucid and poignant popular article on climate change for the literary forum “Boston Review”. The article is entitled Phaeton’s Reins: The human hand in climate change. We thought it worth passing along.
It has now become all too common. Peculiar weather precipitates immediate blame on global warming by some, and equally immediate pronouncements by others (curiously, quite often the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in recent years) that global warming can’t possibly be to blame. The reality, as we’ve often remarked here before, is that absolute statements of neither sort are scientifically defensible. Meteorological anomalies cannot be purely attributed to deterministic factors, let alone any one specific such factor (e.g. either global warming or a hypothetical long-term climate oscillation).
Lets consider the latest such example. In an odd repeat of last year (the ‘groundhog day’ analogy growing ever more appropriate), we find ourselves well into the meteorological Northern Hemisphere winter (Dec-Feb) with little evidence over large parts of the country (most noteably the eastern and central U.S.) that it ever really began. Unsurprisingly, numerous news stories have popped up asking whether global warming might be to blame. Almost as if on cue, representatives from NOAA’s National Weather Service have been dispatched to tell us that the event e.g. “has absolutely nothing to do with global warming”, but instead is entirely due to the impact of the current El Nino event.
[Update 1/9/07: NOAA coincidentally has announced today that 2006 was officially the warmest year on record for the U.S.]
[Update 2/11/08: It got bumped to second place. ]
[Read more…] about El Nino, Global Warming, and Anomalous U.S. Winter Warmth