I hope everyone has had a pleasant and relaxing Christmas. Didn’t get up to much, apart from deciding to have a short trail run before dinner and managing to twist my ankle when I didn’t notice a small rock in the path. Not too bad, but hobbling around a bit. My attempt to wind down before Christmas was somewhat spoiled by the discovery, to my cost, that one way to guarantee a heated exchange with someone is to say something about science communication. “Sceptics” object to any suggestion that scientists should be allowed to advocate, while others appear to object to anything that might be interpreted as telling them how they should behave. Admittedly, I didn’t express myself all that clearly, but it didn’t help that others involved seemed unwilling to consider that what they had interpreted me as saying, wasn’t quite what I was intending to say (Twitter really is rubbish and I know what my New Year’s resolution is going to be ).
I think that there was also a context that some didn’t appreciate. The discussion started on Bart Verheggen’s post about Gavin Schmidt and Judith Curry on science advocacy and was motivated by a post on Manchester Climate Monthly that presented an interview with Kevin Anderson about science, silence, and neutrality. My comment on that post also lead to another heated exchange. Kudos, though, to Marc Hudson for changing his judgement and apologising. As an aside, I notice that Shub has also left a comment suggesting that Marc Hudson’s initial judgement of me was correct. He makes a rather odd argument. He suggests that I am/was a “clever troll” because I allowed hardcore deniers to make comments on my blog and, in doing so, have therefore acted as some kind of enabler. I have now, according to Shub, changed and – with Rachel’s help – am now taking a harder line. Well, I have changed but that’s mainly because – as Shub’s comment aptly illustrates – I’ve learned that dialogue with some is both impossible and pointless to even attempt.
The main messages from Kevin Anderson seemed to be that silence is an advocacy for the status quo and that those who are discouraging advocacy from scientists are the most political and the most dangerous of the scientists that are engaged in these issues. I think I understand where Kevin Anderson is coming from, but I don’t quite agree and think this is a little extreme. It’s clear that what people say, or don’t say, does have implications, but it does seem unfair to suggest that those who choose not to engage are advocating for the status quo. There are many reasons why people may choose to engage or not and we should be willing to let people do what they think is best. That doesn’t mean that they’re beyond criticism, but a blanket judgement seems unjustified.
Having said that, I have become confused by what I’m encountering. The comment (from Victor initially) that seemed to cause the most consternation was the suggestion that those who engage publicly should be actively debunking the nonsense on WUWT. In retrospect, that may not have been the best way to put it, but – in my view at least – most of what is presented on WUWT is nonsense and so if what you’re saying publicly isn’t, directly or indirectly, acting to correct what’s said on sites like WUWT, then maybe there’s an issue with what you’re saying. It’s clear that it’s hard to avoid being mis-represented, but that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t be trying to avoid this from happening, or changing what one says if it happens regularly.
However, maybe some don’t agree that what’s presented on WUWT is mainly nonsense. Is it possible that the criticism there of various past climate reconstructions has some merit? Could the hockey stick be wrong? Are there some who think that maybe there was some past era that was warmer than today, where the rate of warming was faster than today, and that didn’t lead to a mass extinction? As far as I’m aware, there’s no evidence for this but even if there was, would it matter? Similarly, I’m amazed that there seem to be some who think that the criticism of GCMs by Andrew Montford (for example) has some merit. Really? From what I’ve seen he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, but maybe I’m wrong.
So, in some sense I have some sympathy with what Kevin Anderson was saying. As a non-climate scientist who’s somewhat stumbled into discussing global warming/climate change, I am confused/surprised that there aren’t more climate scientists who actively debunk what appears to be nonsense (or – at least – show some irritation at what’s being said). Is it because they think it isn’t nonsense? Is it because they think it’s irrelevant? There may be some truth to this but it’s hard to regard it as irrelevant when you see the same nonsense in major newspapers and on TV. Is it because they think it’s not their role? Is it something different altogether or some combination of reasons? I even get the sense that some are irritated by what people like myself are doing. Almost as if it’s not my role. However, if they’re irritated by a non-climate scientist trying to present climate science, you’d like to think that they’d be even more irritated by those who appear to be trying to undermine climate science.
Anyway, this post has got longer than I intended. I hope everyone did have a good Christmas and my plan is to try and spend the next couple of days just relaxing and enjoying the break. Blogging may continue to be somewhat intermittent.