Christmas past

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.

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95 Responses to Christmas past

  1. Rachel says:

    What a strange comment from Shub. Who is he referring to in this bit?: “acquired a (real) in-house troll”. Marc Hudson’s reply to him is funny. I don’t know how Marc Hudson could have got it so wrong but then I know – mostly – what your views are. That makes a difference. When I check the pending folder on your blog and there are comments awaiting approval, if I’m on my phone I can’t see who the authors are. I find this very annoying and I really have to read the comments carefully. It bothers me a bit – that I do this – because it really shouldn’t matter who the author is but it clearly does and authors I’m familiar with I find easier to approve comments from.

    The twitter exchange you and Victor got embroiled in was also very strange and really unnecessary. Neither of you said anything that warranted the reaction you got, in my opinion. I think it’s just a case of misunderstanding during a period of Christmas angst.

    On the topic of Kevin Anderson, I largely agree with him. But I will change slightly the bit about “silence is an advocacy for the status quo” to “silence is perceived as an advocacy for the status quo”. So scientists who remain silent when the science is misrepresented do not necessarily agree with the misrepresentation, but it might be perceived by other people as being agreement.

    Sorry to hear about your ankle. That’s not good. Hope it heals quickly.

  2. Rachel,

    I had the impression that Shub’s in-house troll wasn’t you, but someone else. I probably agree with your clarification and I think this is the point Victor was trying to make (although he should probably clarify). Whatever is said, or not said, will be interpreted in some way. However, judging those who choose to say nothing as advocating for the status quo does seem a little extreme.

  3. Brigitte says:

    The issue of silence in science communication is a topic of AHRC funded research carried out by Felicity Mellor at Imperial; for info, see here – this whole episode would make a nice case study for them and perhaps already is. As for the misinterpretation affair you were embroiled in, words fail me [a different sort of silence 😉 ]

  4. Brigitte,

    Thanks. I shall try and have a closer look at that.

  5. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    On the advocacy/perceived advocacy question: I think it’s rather splitting hairs. The point is, which ever it is, it succeeds in adding oil to the wheels of denial.

    I was listening to scientists discussing media coverage and denial on the BBC’s Today programme [see from 2:46:15] and something that was said got me wondering about climate scientists who stay quiet. Over the 40+ years as part of my filming work I’ve interviewed hundreds of scientists; had meals with them; spent days with them on field trips; I’m even related to a few. And that’s a across a wide range of disciplines. So I have formed an opinion about them as a group. Applying this to climate science: tentatively, I’ve decided that there are quite a percentage who do their work and come to conclusions, but then don’t connect their findings to what it will actually mean to society in 50 years time. In other words they might say “my work shows that by 2100 the climate will be +/- 3 degrees warmer” but then, perhaps because it’s not their area of expertise, refuse to speculate about the consequent impacts of that warming. Or perhaps they think that society will come up with answers, adaptations, etc., like we have to other problems in the past. So, perhaps because science is so compartmentalised, they don’t think it’s their place—or more likely just don’t think in a broader context, full stop. Who knows, maybe there’s a bit of denial going on because, let’s face it, it is part of every human’s make-up. So although they’re adding oil to the wheels of climate denial, they don’t recognise the significance. They just believe (rightly) that scientific truth will win out in the end; so what’s the problem? Which would be fair enough except, of course, for the urgency of policy action which they’re failing to consider because it’s not within their remit or area of interest.

    I guess, to sum up, I’m asking whether the spectrum of gut response to what climate change represents might be the same amongst scientists as it seems to be across the rest of society. Whether it is, or isn’t, I’m convinced that communication is the only thing that can break the log jam.

  6. I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Just keep remembering they are human. As such they are allowed to disagree and don’t take it personally.

    I’ve added the Mancester Climate Blog to the list at

  7. Victor Venema says:

    I think John Russell provides a very good reason why most scientist will not engage in political advocacy. I do not even think that there is reason to assume some sort of subconscious denial. A climate scientist will be aware of how little he knows, typically just about a small part of climate science and for the rest of climate science he has to trust his colleagues.

    And that is just climate science. To determine the optimal response is nearly impossible. You have to know about economics and technological development, you have to think of coalitions to implement change (if the optimal solution cannot be implemented it is not the best solution). And so on.

    If you speak as a scientist, you would like to speak with a solid background. On a topic as broad as climate change almost no one can, when it comes to solutions no single scientist can.

    Add to that that many scientists are introverted and are not especially politically interested. They are mostly just fascinated about their own small topic of study. Thus I can imagine that most would not even voice an opinion in private.

    “… it does seem unfair to suggest that those who choose not to engage are advocating for the status quo.”

    The claim was even stronger: that those not engaging are advocating for a fundamentalist fringe opinion. That really goes too far and I also do not think that was really intended, that was just one sentence in an interview and the surrounding statements were much more reasonable.

    “… those who engage publicly should be actively debunking the nonsense on WUWT.”

    I would have written “WUWT and Co”. There are many more outlets and WUWT itself is getting less relevant, I feel. My impression is that even the ostriches themselves hardly linking to WUWT any more. Would be great if a media expert could study that. Maybe even the ostriches realise that you automatically discredit yourself by associating yourself with WUWT.

    This is a fully different matter from advocacy of a certain policy. That most of the posts at WUWT are erroneous is something that any scientist can immediately see and every climatologist should be able to see twice as much errors. So here you cannot use the “excuse” that your expertise is insufficient to voice an opinion.

    (Related to that, I can also see no excuse for scientists that associate themselves with WUWT. That discredits them to the bone.)

    (Also related to that, everyone that is truly critical should actively fight WUWT and Co. Their nonsense makes it harder to notice the warranted criticisms.)

    If I may quote myself at Bart’s:
    Not debunking WUWT and Co. also sends a signal. It will depend on the person whether that is intended or not. The signal becomes stronger if you are a scientist, still stronger if you are a climate scientist (not sure whether I already count as one), even stronger if you are a public figure and still stronger the more you interact with climate ostriches and even more if you write a comment below an erroneous post.

    I cannot prescribe how people behave. Fortunately. However, people should be aware that whatever they do, they are communicating. In that respect, refraining from advocacy is impossible.

    I fully understand that people have to set priorities and that they will do so based on their skills the set priorities. The demands on scientists are so enormous that no single person can fulfill them all. That is so clear that the first response sounded to me a bit like a straw man, but maybe my short, by definition, tweet, also gave a wrong impression; I think people understand each other better by now.

    That longer version did not fit that well into the first 140 character statement on Twitter. I hope that clears my position. Maybe I should write more blog posts and less long comments. 🙂

    Get well soon.

  8. Pingback: Making Science Public » Making science public: The science and silence conundrum

  9. Anders, I’m not irritated by what you’re doing at all. Quite the contrary! Dunno if a geophysicist working on GRACE data qualifies as a climate scientist, considering that I’ve never run a GCM or performed a paleoclimate reconstruction…

    Victor, many contrarians seem to be aware that WUWT is a crackpot site. They might not link directly to the site, but still drink deeply from the fount of WUWT “knowledge” and spray it all over the net. For example, Eric Worrall repeated a WUWT misunderstanding of a JPL document, and linked directly to the JPL document instead of WUWT. This gave the (incorrect and possibly libelous) impression that his argument was based on a JPL document instead of crackpot WUWT nonsense. This is not an isolated incident. That’s why I still debunk WUWT: they’re still spreading civilization-paralyzing misinformation at a staggering rate.

    By the way, I can’t stomach reading the conversation this article talks about. Sorry. It sounded really unpleasant, and I’ve reached my lifetime limit of being called a scamming corrupt charlatan anti-American genocidal mass murderer. But can Twitter really be blamed? If someone writes blog comments openly wondering whether climate scientists deserve the death penalty, how could a more restricted communication medium improve the signal to noise ratio of that conversation?

  10. Victor Venema says:

    Exactly, that is what I mean. They still go there to get the talking points of the day, but they do realise that linking to WUWT is not a good idea and link to some other source (JPL, e.g.) or also quite often not at all. If you know the titles of the WUWT posts, you notice where the misinformation you read in comments elsewhere comes from.

    I did not want to argue that making the errors of WUWT and Co. clear is no longer valuable. That may soon be the case, but not yet.

  11. That's MR Ball to you. says:

    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

    On the other hand, WUWT is like a game preserve for denialist memes. [AUS accent] “And over here we have CO2 IS HARMLESS. This year’s crop were rescued from a little old lady down the road – she had a house full of them and couldn’t afford to feed them. Look at the glossy coat on this little blighter! Now’s a good time to get those raincoats on, because we’re off to The Slime Pit of STATISTICAL PEDANTRY!! Kids, make sure you stick with your Mum, and keep your arms inside the railing!”[/Accent]

    I was going to say that avoiding dealing with these memes at the source means we’ll all have to deal with them in our local papers, but that’s already the case anyway. There’s also a case to be made that WUWT attracts a group of people who spend a lot of time arguing with each other, and bowing and scraping for AW instead of wasting everyone’s time somewhere else. Maybe it’s a wasp’s nest that could be just left alone to wither?

    It might be helpful to work out a set of strategies to deal with the intransigent denialist in your local papers. How do you argue, for example, with someone who simply rejects all of the science and keeps harping on the idea that more CO2 and warming in general are good things? These folks have lots of casual supporters who are simply ignorant followers. And unfortunately, I would number many of our local politicians in this group, although it’s hard to tell because they’ve been told to avoid saying anything about climate.

    The other thing I notice is that it’s very difficult to get the average person to comprehend the size and reach of the denialist propaganda machine. I don’t think they pay much attention to politics and issues in the first place, although they like to talk about their livelihood in relation to simplistic political pronouncements – about renewable energy, for example.

    I’ve made some progress by maintaining my sense of humour (such as it is) in the face of some of this nonsense, but at time it seems to be such a torrent of wishful thinking that you have to just step back and marvel at the absurdity of it all.

  12. Joshua says:

    ““Sceptics” object to any suggestion that scientists should be allowed to advocate…”

    Not from what I’ve seen. From what I’ve seen, (at least some) “Skeptics:” are more than willing to accept, in fact they applaud, advocacy from scientists when they agree with advocate./ Consider the response from “skeptics” to Lindzen’s avocacy. Or Spencer’s. Or Dyson’s. Or Curry’s. Or RPJr.’s.

    “Skeptics” object to any suggestion that scientists they disagree with should be allowed to advocate.

    And a related point. “Skeptics” often argue that the distinction of being published in peer review journals is basically irrelevant the quality of someone’s analysis. They often argue that the distinction of officially earning a title of “scientist” is irrelevant. They argue that by virtue of “extended peer review,” there is no reason to prejudge the input of a non-scientist, such as Anthony Watts, or Matt Ridley, or David Rose, or Michael Creighton, or our good friend the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley.

    In a sense, I think that “skeptics” have a valid point – as while context provides useful information for assessing the likely quality of someone’s input, what matters most is to judge someone’s analysis on it’s own merits.

    Yet, when it comes to advocacy, once again many “skeptics” display highly selective reasoning. While non-scientist input is to be considered of great importance on technical matters, scientists, by virtue of being scientists (or at least being scientists they disagree with) are to be disallowed from advocacy whereas the advocacy of someone like Watts or Ridley or Rose or Creighton on Monckton is to be embraced.

  13. @DumbSci,

    By the way, I can’t stomach reading the conversation this article talks about. Sorry. It sounded really unpleasant, and I’ve reached my lifetime limit of being called a scamming corrupt charlatan anti-American genocidal mass murderer. But can Twitter really be blamed?

    It was unpleasant, but was resolved and so falls into the “all’s well that ends well” category. Maybe I didn’t explain it well, but there was an independent Twitter conversation on the same general topic that wasn’t unpleasant, but a little frustrating.

    Victor and John,
    You make some interesting points that I hadn’t actually considered. It’s possible that even climate scientists are able to distance themselves from what their specific work suggests and the broader implications of global warming/climate change which they may not feel sufficiently qualified to comment on.

    MR Ball

    I was going to say that avoiding dealing with these memes at the source means we’ll all have to deal with them in our local papers, but that’s already the case anyway.

    I agree. Certainly when I was referring to addressing what is said on WUWT, I wasn’t necessarily meaning directly. If one is communicating science effectively and well, then that should – indirectly at least – play a role in addressing mis-information (whether on blogs or in the mainstream media).

  14. Victor Venema says:

    That is also my impression, Joshua.

    Does anyone have the time to compile a list of advocacy by the right scientists and the lack of complaints in the comment from the ostrich crowd? Would be a great resource to link to during discussions (at your local newspaper).

    My favourite example is the post of Lennart Bengtsson at the Climate Onion.

  15. Joshua and Victor,
    Yes, that is my impression too. Having said that, my point was that arguing that scientists should be allowed to advocate could start a heated exchange with a “skeptic” as they would likely assume that I meant scientists with whom they disagreed 🙂

  16. Victor Venema says:

    I you argue for advocacy and they against, you can link to such a post and ask for consistency.

  17. Victor, I’ve tried that kind of tactic before. Typically they will have a reason why your scientist’s advocacy is wrong, but their scientist’s advocacy is okay.

  18. Victor Venema says:

    Then the list should include such type of advocacies. The comment by Bengtsson is ideal in that respect. He is oceanographer, I think, and comments on details of a renewable energy system. That is completely outside his area of expertise. Could not be more wrong on that dimension. There might be more dimensions.

  19. Rachel says:

    Does anyone have the time to compile a list of advocacy by the right scientists and the lack of complaints in the comment from the ostrich crowd?

    I can do this although I don’t know of very many scientists who do actively advocate other than James Hansen.

  20. Rachel, thanks. I hadn’t seen that. Now I understand why Brigitte said

    this whole episode would make a nice case study for them and perhaps already is.

  21. Victor Venema says:

    Maybe everyone can chime in with example of advocacy by ostriches.

    Not exactly a scientist by any ones standard, but co-author of scientific articles, Anthony Watts was advocating for nuclear power at the last AGU. He wrote so in his post on his adventures at AGU shortly afterwards in the part on his BIG question to Hansen.

    Bart II, this would again be an example of someone advocating for something outside of his expertise. What are other “reasons” why advocacy by their friends is different from advocacy by climatologists?

  22. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    Although not a scientist I do receive regular emails and updates from The Union of Concerned Scientists [ ]. Apparently they have 200,000 members and they are unequivocal that their aim is advocacy, including to “Aggressively fight misinformation about global warming”. Perhaps more UK scientists should be encouraged to join, a UK branch set up, or a similar union started in the UK? Or should the Royal Society or other body try to be more proactive in fighting denial.

  23. BBD says:

    Whoopsie. Bit of a moderation blind-spot over at Manchester Climate Monthly and now the dodgy ankle… Well, they say things come in threes, so brace (“they” does not include scientists, but dear old grandma knew a thing or two, you mark my words).

    And oh, look, a barking goat! Not as impressive as a talking horse, but still a bit different. Bet I know who the “in-house troll” is… 😉

    Glad to hear you are coming around to seeing Twitter as I do… ie pernicious waste of energy and time…

  24. John,
    Interesting. I’m not aware that we really have something similar here in the UK. Wonder how hard it would be to set something like that up. Maybe something to write about post New Year.

    Yes, I guessed you would know who Shub meant by the “in-house troll” 😉 I’m not sure I’m quite at the pernicious waste of energy and time…” stage, but pretty poor for any serious discussions. Quite a good way to find things out though.

  25. Victor Venema says:

    Powerful coal, oil, and gas interests are trying to confuse us all about global warming and renewable energy:— Concerned Scientists (@UCSUSA) December 26, 2013

    Another advocate from Never Ending Willard:
    First, let it be noted that Junior already conceded being an advocate [1]:

    > I always seek to describe what I see as the policy implications of my work in the context of presenting an analysis. If you catch me claiming that I am focused only on the science, call me on it and I’ll buy you a beer 😉

    Another interesting quote I found via Willard.

    R. Tol said: “To me, a “stealth advocate” is a credible scientist who disguises political judgements as scientific facts.”

    That means that some scientists in this debate are not able to be stealth advocates, no matter what they say. Very interesting.

  26. chris says:

    This debate (about scientists and advocacy) is not a new one. Richard Doll (of smoking and cancer link fame) is a good example of a scientist that worried about being an advocate for his observations and their implications, but ultimately did speak out very robustly, ultimately to the benefit of all of us. e.g. here is some of Doll’s advocacy:

    “Death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not. In previous centuries 70 years used to be regarded as humanity’s allotted span of life, and only about one in five lived to such an age. Nowadays, however, for non-smokers in Western countries, the situation is reversed: only about one in five will die before 70, and the non-smoker death rates are still decreasing, offering the promise, at least in developed countries, of a world where death before 70 is uncommon. For this promise to be properly realised, ways must be found to limit the vast damage that is now being done by tobacco and to bring home, not only to the many millions of people in developed countries but also the far larger populations elsewhere, the extent to which those who continue to smoke are shortening their expectation of life by so doing.”

    and from a Brit Med J. commentary about Doll by Daube and Chapman (BMJ 2012;345:e7311):

    Interestingly, Doll was initially cautious about becoming involved in advocacy (adopting Hill’s view that the researcher “had no part to play in telling the public about those results, and still less in how it should behave”).9 However, later he became forthright on the need for action. In 1978 he wrote to the chancellor of the exchequer in support of increases in tobacco tax. His scientific publications were written in a style and with conclusions that were likely to draw attention. He often spoke at conferences around the world and adapted to the world of modern media interviews, understanding the value of a powerful quote. He testified in cases against the tobacco industry,10 and he accepted the position of president of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).

    and here’s a letter to Nature from 2006 arguing that biologists should be advocates for policy:

    Nature 442, 627 (1966)
    As reported in your News story “Should conservation biologists push policies?” (Nature 442, 13; 2006), academics are reluctant to demand the implementation of schemes to halt and reverse the biodiversity crisis. Conservation scientists seem to fear that taking a position would mean appearing biased, and that this would be better left to others.

    Using science to conserve biodiversity does not require a biased opinion: it simply requires belief in the results. There is ample evidence showing that ecosystem, species and genetic diversity are critical for mankind’s well-being, and that biodiversity is declining.

    Conservation scientists should follow the path of Richard Doll, who revealed that smoking causes lung cancer (R. Doll and A. B. Hill. Br. Med. J. 2, 739–748; 1950) and then became active in advocating changes in public-health policies — without undermining his academic credibility. If Doll, and later his colleague Richard Peto, had adopted a ‘back-seat’ attitude and not lobbied against the tobacco industry, many more lives would be claimed by lung cancer today than is the case.
    Guillaume Chapron

  27. WottsUpWithThat … I’ve been reading the article and comments. You’ve brought up a very important issue and many comments make valuable points to the extent I’ve copied for when I get around to doing more work in this this area.

    It is said that doctors should not treat themselves. It is also true that organisations or groups of people are least able to understand themselves but solutions cannot be imposed from outside, so it is largely pointless me offering advice.

    However, the first step toward solving a problem is to recognise that the problem exists. So much as the holographic messaging device in I Robot … the issue of advocacy in science … “is the right question”.

  28. ScotScep, I’m afraid I don’t really understand what you’re suggesting. Maybe you can clarify. Why is “advocacy in science” the right question?

  29. PS. Being Xmas I forgot, that as Chairman of the Scottish Climate & Energy Forum I should make it clear that we sceptics are “deniers” and to suggest so is a lie and therefore a libel.

    I would therefore be grateful if you re-framed from allowing commenters to lie about the views of sceptics on this blog.

  30. ScotScep, you really are going to have to be more specific because I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I also suspect that you meant “aren’t ‘deniers'”.

  31. John Mashey says:

    1) There are very few real skeptics @ WUWT, given that:
    a) Real data against the worldview is resisted, and bringers attacked/banned.
    b) But any nons4ense is accepted eagerly.

    2) Viscount Monckton has been scientifically wrong again and again, unsurprisingly, but there is plenty of evidence that suggests him to beseriously mentally ill beside (delusions of grandeur, paranoia, possibly from Graves’ Disease) …(and in the SalbyStorm, commenters fawned over him)….
    but if a climate scientist does not drop what they are doing to do a careful debunk any time WUWT publishes yet another Monckton piece, if climate scientists don’t drop what they are doing and do a careful debunk, point by point, they are “assenting by silence”? What?

    When Tom Bethell published “Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary?” using high-school algebra to disprove Einstein, few physicists stopped their research to take him on. Via “assent by sllence” I guess that means physicists must agree with him. (see p.17 of the PDF attached there for an excerpt of a discussion with aphysicist who teaches graduate relativity … but Bethell told him that he KNEW NOTHING, for starters. (read the whole blog discussion though) Bethell later a whole book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, …
    Refuting that would take scientists from dozens of disciplines, and they haven’t done it!

    Likewise, scientists have failed to refute Timecube., although I’m not sure which disciplines are required.

    A wonderful outcome for some would be if all climate research stopped in favor of refuting every stupid thing that appears on any blog and in answer a flood of frivolous FOIAs. They can generate silliness faster than anyone can debunk it … although sometimes just giving the #s at SkS is good enough, since there are rarely new ones, and it doesn’t take a researcher to do it.

    3) At AGU, it was pretty amusing. Watts had a case with big W U W T label, praised by his fanboyz for entering the lions’ den of a scientific conference. I think he was very upset that almost no one noticed him or cared if they did, since within science, he is at most nothing.
    (I didn’t see him, a few friends did.)

  32. John,

    if climate scientists don’t drop what they are doing and do a careful debunk, point by point, they are “assenting by silence”? What?

    I think there are two separate issues here. Kevin Anderson was, I think, suggesting that those who remain silent are essentially making a political statement that they support the status quo. I think this is too extreme and to make a blanket judgement like this seems unjustified. What I was suggesting was that those who are choosing to engage should be aiming to do so well enough that what they do acts – implicitly or explicitly – to address misinformation (on WUWT or anywhere that typically misrepresent the scientific evidence).

    I certainly don’t think climate scientists should drop everything to rebut all of the nonsense of WUWT. It’s too much to expect – I should know, I’ve tried 🙂 . However, if scientists who do engage publicly find that what they’re saying is often mis-represented, maybe they should consider that they may not be saying it as well as they could be. You probably can’t completely avoid being mis-represented, but you can try to make it as difficult as possible.

    The AGU sounded like a very interesting meeting.

  33. Kevin says:

    Hi Anders,

    Since I was one of the people to engage with you on Twitter about this, I suppose I should respond. Let’s review for a moment what Victor said that I objected to:

    Victor Venema ‏@VariabilityBlog 23 Dec
    . @ClimateOfGavin It is probably better not to speak in public as to be a public person that does not correct the nonsense of WUWT and Co.

    ‘better to not speak in public’ — I think you’ll find many people — not simply climate scientists — would object to being told ‘not to speak’ if we don’t speak in some pre-ordained way for some particular purpose.

    I think Gavin said it most succinctly in his following Tweet:

    Gavin Schmidt ‏@ClimateOfGavin 23 Dec
    @thirstygecko @VariabilityBlog @theresphysics There are as many reasons to #scicomm as there are scis; up to them to decide why/what/how

    It is possible to both stipulate that most everything at WUWT is nonsense (and that which is not came from elsewhere) and also decide one’s communication and public engagement efforts are best spent elsewhere. As a climate scientists, my responsibilities include fieldwork, sample preparation, data analysis, writing papers, writing grants, running my laboratory, mentoring students and postdocs, service to my institution and my discipline, presenting my work at meetings and workshops, and public outreach, amongst other things (and occasionally I like to see my family and my home). Given that, I want to spend the finite amount of time I have to dedicate to communication with those audiences and media and topics that I think are the most interesting, fun, accurate, and likely to have an impact (for a given mix of my values which I don’t expect anyone else to necessarily share). Sorry, but I’m not going to have my communication and engagement activities dictated by a narrow vision of what the field of climate science studies, nor by a rigid expectation of how scientists might choose OR NOT to engage in the policy, political, and management implications of our findings.

    As to ‘irritation’ – everyone has a right to engage as they see fit. While I have my own ideas about what might be effective engagement given a desired result, I’m not going to tell anyone ‘not to speak’ based on those opinions. I’ve previous engaged with you about statements like e.g. ‘The hockey stick is wrong!’ (which I assume is why you use it as an example above) and ‘the hockey stick is robust!’ — both statements are sufficiently vague as to both be able to be trivially true. I’m all for engaging in an in-depth conversation online about the technical issues of millennial temperature reconstructions (because I find them fascinating and they are part of what I study), but confess to having considerably less interest in engaging or ‘debunking’ when the millennial temperature reconstructions are used as a totem or boundary-ordering device.

    As I said on twitter, ‘There is more to communicating science [than] constantly ‘debunking’ things that appear on the internet.’

    I’ll leave it at that.


  34. John Mashey says:

    (I know you’ve tried … the comments were more for others … but do read the sections of that piece on Tom Bethell, and imagine there were hundreds of blogs doing that, and Senators or MPs challenging physics funding because of its relativity hoax … while using their GPS, of course.)
    A related thread is underway @ RC, See my comment #40 for the advice I’ve given climate scientists discouraged by nonsense.

    BTW: if Scotitsh “Sceptic” Mike Haseler wants to threaten libel, anyone so targeted may wish to contact the University of Colorado-Boulder(CU) regarding SS’s *false* (and perhaps rising to fraudulent) claim in this. The flyer linked there states of Murry Salby:
    ‘Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado, 1997-present.’
    Note that the flyer includes Haseler’s edits and contact.

    Salby, of course, resigned from CU in Jan 2008, before CU could really fire up an oncoming conflict of interest inquiry and before completion of the ongoing NSF investigation that later led to his 3-year debarment for financial chicanery of the sorts that sometimes get people put in prison for grant fraud or false statements to the government.

    People may find this discussion amusing.

    Now, this illustrates several characteristics of people who call themselves sceptics, but better fit the “dismissive” category of Six Americas whose data is US-specific, but the general model (if not necessarily the #s) likely is useful.:
    a) Strong rejection of mainstream climate science and scientists, and often national research bodies, sometimes mixed with blanket disdain for universities, earned expertise, etc.
    b) Instant acceptance of even absurd ideas, even from the most absurd sources.
    c) Unwillingness to search for data, in this case: try Google (or Bing or Yahoo): murry salby and see the first hit. That was enough to make most dismissives flee the topci they’d discussed intensely for the previous 3 days, hoping for a new “Climategate.”

  35. [Rachel says: Scotty, you can’t come here and tell commentators which words they can and can’t use. Only Anders and I can do that and I don’t object to use of the word “denier”. On a more pleasant note, thanks for the update with regards to your climate site.]

    On a more pleasant note

    I’ve added the following blogs to the list at

    Manchester Climate Monthly
    350 or bust
    400 Parts Per Million
    Amy Huva
    Climate Asylum
    Thought Fragments
    Climate Denial Crock of the Week
    Climate, People & Organizations
    Critical Angle
    The Cosmogonic Grunt
    Doug McNeall’s blog
    From a Glaciers Perspective
    Small Epiphanes
    Global Warming: Man or Myth?
    Graham Readfearn
    Read the Science
    Real Sceptic
    Climate Wars
    Simple Climate
    Variable Variability
    Vvatts Up With That
    What’sUpWithThatWatts, et al.

    That’s now 160 climate blogs. And as you can see from the links, I’m displaying links to more warmist blogs than sceptic.

  36. Rachel says:

    I’d like to attempt an interpretation of Victor’s tweet because I think there’s context here that’s missing from those characters. For reference, here’s the tweet:

    I think Victor is being more specific than simply saying scientists shouldn’t speak in public unless they’re going to correct sites like WUWT. I think he’s referring to scientists who choose to engage with contrarian blogs and who choose not to correct the nonsense there. So it would probably be better if those scientists who are engaging with contrarians on contrarian blogs and not correcting the misinformation, do not engage there at all. Of course I could be wrong, but that was my interpretation.

  37. Kevin,
    Thanks for the comment.

    Sorry, but I’m not going to have my communication and engagement activities dictated by a narrow vision of what the field of climate science studies, nor by a rigid expectation of how scientists might choose OR NOT to engage in the policy, political, and management implications of our findings.

    I agree with this and I did find it a little surprising that you in any way interpreted what was said as an attempt to dictate anything. In retrospect maybe some things weren’t expressed as clearly as they could have been, but Twitter does only have 140 characters. As Rachel points out above, some of this came from a much more extreme angle (from Kevin Anderson) and was a response to a suggestion that scientists who don’t engage are advocating for the status quo. So, much of what was being said was more a defense of what scientists choose to do than you seem willing to acknowledge. So, ultimately, I completely agree with Gavin’s tweet but I still think that scientists do have to consider the impact of how they choose to engage.

    I’ve previous engaged with you about statements like e.g. ‘The hockey stick is wrong!’ (which I assume is why you use it as an example above) and ‘the hockey stick is robust!’

    It wasn’t why I used it as an example. Maybe you don’t notice it, but it’s not uncommon in the UK to see statements – in the media – like “the hockey stick has been debunked”. Maybe you know that’s trivially incorrect, and I know it’s trivially incorrect, but most don’t. So, how do I interpret that this seems to be a common theme in the media and yet it rarely seems to be challenged? I know that if one wants to be pedantic then terms like “wrong” and “robust” are not ideal, but we’re talking here about a general public who – in some cases – think the hockey stick is wrong. How does one correct this perception if one can’t use “the hockey stick isn’t wrong” or “the hockey stick is robust”. I completely realise that there are many details that we still don’t understand and much that millenial reconstructions can tell us about climate sensitivity and more, but I believe that the general public simply think in terms of something with the shape of a hockey stick.

    So, I’m not suggesting that you – or anyone in particular – should be doing this. However, if statements like this (and it’s not only about the hockey stick) are commonly made in the media and are typically unchallenged, how should the general public interpret this? Even I find it confusing. So, it would seem sensible to me that those scientists who choose to engage at least try to do so in a way that also corrects typical mis-representations. I’m not suggesting that this should be done directly, or that this should be the main focus, but if there are scientists who often talk to the media then why should they not at least try to “correct” these mis-representations?

  38. While I don’t agree with much of what is poster on WUWT, and some of it from mad Moncton really annoys me, I rather like having my beliefs challenged, and sometimes there is useful info on there which forces me to review the evidence supporting my belief. It was interesting however that it appears Mr.Watts got a taste of what contrarians are apt to dish out on a regular basis. Over Christmas he had a charming photograph and a moving quote from a Christmas Apollo mission. The thread was sadly derailed by posters who in the face of all the evidence for many years claimed that the moon not only orbited the Earth, but spun on it’s own axis in the same way as the earth. Numerous posts were made with evidence that this was plainly bonkers, but they persisted in their beliefs, and for once Mr.Watts had to shut down a thread due to people denying obvious and logical evidence.There was also the inevitable ‘ there was no moon landing’ from one poster who was eventually blocked. I wonder if he can reflect on this incident and gain insight into how some adherents of climate science must feel when reasonable evidence is rejected time and time again? Blwyddin Newydd dad i chi! Happy New year to you !

  39. Gareth,

    The thread was sadly derailed by posters who in the face of all the evidence for many years claimed that the moon not only orbited the Earth, but spun on it’s own axis in the same way as the earth.

    It’s quite interesting that you’ve commented here, because this was discussed briefly over at Sou’s (HotWhopper). Unless I misunderstand what you’re saying, those claiming that the moon both orbits the Earth and spins on its axis are correct. The Moon is tidally-locked with the Earth and so it spins once on its axis during an orbit and so always has the same face pointing to the Earth. Of course, from the perspective of the Earth, the Moon appears not to spin on its axis, but the surface of the Earth is not an inertial reference frame (i.e., it too is spinning on its axis and orbiting the Sun). If you were to observe the Moon from an inertial frame, then it would be clear that it both orbits the Earth and spins on its axis.

  40. John Mashey says:

    re: AGU
    Yes, it is always fun, as well as intellectually stimulating, and it’s good to see friends, sometimes having corresponded for years by email without having met them before. I also spend a lot of hours walking the poster sessions, and talk to the grad students and post-docs eager to talk to anybody who will listen. They do a lot of fieldwork in out-of-they-way places … but if anyone is getting rich on the grant gravy train, I haven’t met them yet.

  41. It’s true that the moon spins on it axis, once per revolution from our perspective, thats related to it’s orbit and not a spinning around an axis in the same ways a does the earth. I think that is where there is much misunderstanding. Otherwise we would at some time see all of the moon. The debate was whether it spun like the earth, it does not. It keeps one face to the earth so from an external perspective it does spin on it’s axis once, but not from the view of a moon dweller. From their perspective the stars would pass overhead as on earth, but the earth would not rise and set in the same way as we on earth see the moon rise and set. If the moon spun on it’s axis there would be earth rise and set, but that does not happen apart from a very small area of the moon. Another way to think of it is to place a ping pong ball on the outer edge of an LP ( Or large CD!) glue it in place and paint one side facing the centre of the deck red. That is the moon with it’s face towards us, now switch on the deck, the ball revolves around the centre and in theory it does make one rotation of its own per orbit, but is does not spin in the same way as the earth because it is glued to the LP’s surface. An external observer would say yes, it does spin, but it is not the same as the earths rotation. Substitute tidal locking for glue and that is the situation. Interesting how something defined in the very early days of astronomy is still debated, I wonder if the hockey stick will still be debated in 500 years time?

  42. ps. I think HotWhopper rather cherry picked my posts to a great extent, what I said in it’s entirety is as I posted above. I may be wrong, but that’s part of the learning process!

  43. Gareth,

    I think this is a little bit of a semantic discussions. If you were to ask an astronomer (and I have) if the Moon spins on its axis (like the Earth) they would say “yes”. It does so once per orbit of the Earth. The fact that we always see the same side (ignoring nutation) doesn’t mean it doesn’t spin on its axis, it just means that it is tidally locked. You say,

    The debate was whether it spun like the earth, it does not. It keeps one face to the earth so from an external perspective it does spin on it’s axis once, but not from the view of a moon dweller.

    It’s true that a moon dweller would either always see the Earth or never see the Earth. However, they would see stars rise and set and they would see the Sun rise or set. So, whether they regarded the Moon as rotating on an axis or not would depend on what they were considering that relative to.

    Also, if a Moon dweller were to measure the mass of the Moon, they might ask why the gravitational force that they experience was slightly less than they would expect based on the actual Moon mass.

  44. Gareth,

    I think HotWhopper rather cherry picked my posts to a great extent, what I said in it’s entirety is as I posted above. I may be wrong, but that’s part of the learning process!

    Possibly, but I did try to defend you somewhat there 🙂 Indeed, it is part of the learning process.

  45. Thanks for that, much appreciated, I think you summed up what I was trying to say in a more specific and efficient way than I did. It is the relative perspective I tried to explain in a rather laboured way which differentiated lunar movements from earths.

  46. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    Hi Gareth,

    I was surprised at your WUWT comment about the moon not rotating on its axis (which was mentioned on Hot Whopper) but knowing you better than most after our numerous discussions on The Carbonbrief, I put it down to a simple mistake on your part.

    I know you’re not in climate denial now—though I think you had tendencies in that direction not that long ago—but I think that “having your beliefs challenged” goes a little far at times, and suspect you sometimes try to be all things to all men. I’ve noticed your posts are often tailored to suit the site on which you’re commenting and I suspect you’re more interested in the to-and-fro of the argument than in defending or advancing a carefully considered and researched scientific position. This would be fine except that for people like me with deep concern about what the future holds, this is not a game, it’s the future of my children and grandchildren. Believe me, if it wasn’t for climate change I wouldn’t be frequenting blogs, because I’ve so many other demands on my time and things I’d rather do.

    Due to the moderation and the pack mentality of readers, commenting on WUWT is a total waste of time (I know because I’ve tried). That’s why so many other blogs (like this one and Hot Whopper) have sprung up to counter it’s ridiculous claims. I suspect and hope it’ll be slowly sidelined.

  47. Victor Venema says:

    Rachel, thank you, that is what I would have written.

    I think that becomes clear in the comments where the tweet came from:

    Thus I more wonder whether Kevin could respond to this tweet. Maybe at Bart Verheggen would be the best place.

    By the way, why can Rachel include Tweets and we not? Is there a special trick?

  48. Victor,

    I don’t know why you don’t seem to be able to include Tweets. Did you just include the html from the embed tweet option on Twitter?

  49. Victor Venema says:

    Yes. And I guess Kevin as well.

  50. Victor, I’ve just cut and pasted the “embed tweet” text into your comment and it seems to work fine. The text you’d included seems different to the text I included.

  51. Hi John,good to hear from you.We all change, For instance it’s not so long ago that you informed me that you would never use the word ‘denier’ as it was unhelpful. You are also correct, I do modify my posts with regard to the site, it’s no good winding people up just for the hell of it. The deer will come to you if you sit still, they will run if you chase them. I don’t know what I am, I know the world is warming, I know we have much to do with that temperature increase and I am a passionate supporter of renewable energy production. Apparently though I am still a denier in some eyes! Whatever site I post on I tend to stick to those principles, and suffer abuse as a result on some sites as you will have noticed. By the way I try not to classify people or myself, it is a fruitless reductionist strategy in my eyes. I do agree with most of what you say, though we have our differences (remember debating the causes of threats to polar bear populations?) but it’s great to see you here, I could really do with your support on other sites! I did not not put across my point regarding the spin of the moon particularly well I admit, but I believe it has been a misinterpreted at times. As you can see from above, when I say the moon does not spin in the same way as the earth, that is essentially true, and it is what I should have said. From our perspective on Earth it does not spin, from an external perspective to the Earth/Moon it does. However from whatever perspective you see the Earth, it spins, it is a different situation. By the way, a thought experiment I have not quite resolved yet is this. If the moon is spinning now, and it stopped, but still orbited the earth, what would it look like? Is it possible to have a non spinning orbitting moon from any perspective? Whatever, best wishes for a great New Year, regards to Christian and co. Gareth.

  52. Victor Venema says:

    Maybe when you submit with the form below the comments and you do not have special privileges, you cannot include some html, like the script statement used by twitter.

  53. Gareth,

    By the way, a thought experiment I have not quite resolved yet is this. If the moon is spinning now, and it stopped, but still orbited the earth, what would it look like?

    If it stopped spinning in an inertial frame (i.e., relative to the distant stars), then the side we saw would depend on the position of the moon relative to the distant stars (i.e., from our perspective). If, however, the Earth was still spinning, then the tidal influence of the Earth on the moon would eventually cause it to be tidally locked once again and the Earth would end up spinning a little slower (I think).

  54. Victor, that may be it. I actually simply added the missing text to your comment and it all appeared fine.

  55. Kevin says:

    Hello Rachel/Anders, Victor,

    1. I don’t think that Rachel’s interpretation of Victor’s comment (which is the same comment repeated at Bart’s), makes things any better, from my point of view. I continue to find it distasteful (and ultimately counter-productive) that folks are willing to try to dictate the terms under which climate scientists choose OR NOT to engage.

    2. Anders: I have a feeling we’re not going to come to agreement here, but my position continues to be that there is more to climate communication than debunking (and yes, in retrospect, I realize I type this on a blog originally dedicated in name and deed to debunking WUWT). As Alice Bell tweeted in response to me and Doug McNeall:

    @dougmcneall @thirstygecko indeed, and those who imagine otherwise will be doomed to debunk ever-more because they miss important groundwork— Alice Bell (@alicebell) December 23, 2013

    I personally feel I get further toward my own communication goals by dedicating my time to laying that groundwork, rather than reacting to something someone said on the internet — although I clearly react to things people say on the internet as well 😉 Others use their communication time and energy differently. That’s OK. In any case, most of my conversations with journalists are about dendrochronology and drought, and on these topics it isn’t just the ‘dismissives’ that get it wrong …

    I had written a much longer comment here, since your reply to me seems to genuinely reflect frustration with my push-back on the series of tweets that started with Kevin Anderson’s (in my opinion) quite extreme and inappropriate position (yes, I know you do not agree with him on this), but in retrospect I realize we’re likely to keep going around in circles on this — likely because we approach the issue with a different mix of backgrounds, experiences, values, and goals — and that’s OK too. So, I’ll let y’all have the last word.


  56. Kevin says:

    Hmm, used the ‘Embed Tweet’ thing and it didn’t seem to work for me either …

  57. Rachel says:

    Anyone can post a tweet. Just copy and paste the URL of the tweet directly into the comment box.

  58. Kevin,

    I don’t really want the last word, I just find this confusing

    Anders: I have a feeling we’re not going to come to agreement here, but my position continues to be that there is more to climate communication than debunking (and yes, in retrospect, I realize I type this on a blog originally dedicated in name and deed to debunking WUWT). As Alice Bell tweeted in response to me and Doug McNeall:

    because I don’t think this reflects what I’ve said at all. I feel like I’m in a discussion in which I continually agree with what the other person is saying, while – despite this – they continue to disagree with what I’m saying. To be honest, I’ve just found this whole discussion rather confusing. Maybe best to leave it at that, though.

  59. Thanks for the response, it sounds right. I’ve just done a small experiment with two strings tied to the beams and me moving around a central object.The cats are watching me with great pity. If I keep my face to the central object as I move around, the strings twist, if I dosy-do as it were, they stay straight. It’s the latest storm and an awful day in North Wales with not much to do!

  60. Victor Venema says:

    It is not my best Tweet, but just to try out the comment system:

    I do not notice me ordering anyone. Just expressing a thought and even highlighting that I am not certain, “probably”.

    At least where I live, we have freedom of expression, that includes not being able to force people to communicate in a certain way. At least now I understand the problem and I would say, it is based on a complete misreading of what I said. I realise that the short tweet is not very subtle, but it is by far an order for someone I do not know to communicate in a certain way.

  61. Victor Venema says:

    It works, thanks Rachel.

    Gareth Phillips: “While I don’t agree with much of what is poster on WUWT, and some of it from mad Moncton really annoys me, I rather like having my beliefs challenged, and sometimes there is useful info on there which forces me to review the evidence supporting my belief.”

    WUWT only challenges my belief in human intelligence. There is so much nonsense there that it is nearly impossible to find the few interesting challenges. For every challenge you would have to do your own research to check it and in almost all cases will find after some hours of study that is is simply wrong.

    If you want some challenges, read the scientific literature or go to conferences. If you go to a university library you can normally print or copy or order any scientific article. Also the IPCC reports are great information sources.

    In my current main talk, I like to cite the climate sceptics of the IPCC as follows:

    “This [inhomogeneous data] affects, in particular, the understanding of extremes, because changes in extremes are often more sensitive to inhomogeneous climate monitoring practices than changes in the mean.” Trenberth et al. (2007)

    You can find some interesting challenges at Climate Dialogue. At my blog you can find problems with daily climate data used to analyse changes in extreme weather. And it sounds as if Kevin can provide you with some challenges of paleo data on droughts.

    Those are real challenges. WUWT is just noise of the most horrible kind. Or as a colleague expressed more beautifully, reading WUWT is like smashing your head against wall while listening to ABBA. With my apologies to ABBA.

    Trenberth, K.E., et al., 2007: Observations: Surface and Atmospheric Climate Change. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

  62. Thanks Victor, I will take your advice. Occasionally WUWT do point to peer reviewed publications which they feel support their stance, I think it is always worth checking those out. There is a vast amount of tosh on WUWT, but occasionally there is a gem, and that can make it worthwhile. I have been tempted to give up on it after being called all sorts of names from Communist to Anti-Semitic, but I hand in there because we also need to know what is being said. I also like Skep Science, it’s a great learning site, but I would be wary of posting there due to the ‘ no prisoners taken responses’ as are many others judging by their minimal comment rate. I’ve been told it is because you really need to know what you say is correct and based on good evidence before you post, but is that not like playing chess only against people you can beat? I like the idea that we can be wrong and learn to alter our views through reasonable discussion and evidence. The day no-one is allowed to post anything unless it is correct would be a worrying time. Of course there are those who will not change despite evidence, my feeling is leave them to their beliefs as long as they don’t harm anyone. By the way, with regard to consensus I tend to be wary in the absence of good evidence due to my background. I spent most of my career in a health profession and we have made serious blunders over the years by treating patients on a belief in consensus when we were wildly mistaken. It was only when someone produced objective evidence we changed, and at the time they were usually given a lot of stick as a small minority. Consensus is useful, but only if supported by good evidence.
    On a final note, it’s great to see a worried looking David Cameron looking at the devastation the recent storms have brought. He shakes his head and says we must do more, that these weather events will become more common. Hopefully he is back- pedalling from his ideas of ‘green crap’

  63. andrew adams says:

    I totally agree with Kevin that if scientists choose to engage with the public then they should do so in a way which which works for them and which they (and hopefully their audience) find rewarding. There is only one “rule” as I see it, which is that they should promote those ideas which constitute our current best scientific understanding of the subject in question (which can be as wide or as narrow as the individual chooses), and the integrity of the scientific process itself, and counter any misunderstandings which their audience might have where they happen to arise. But then that is what effective science communicators do naturally anyway.

    I don’t think this is incompatible with what Victor was expressing in his tweet – if scientists do stand up for “good” science then that will counter the nonsense from WUWT and other misinformers even if they choose not to actively debunk the fake skeptics’ arguments. It is probably a good thing that some do choose to tackle the skeptics head-on but it’s right and good that others take a different approach. As someone who is part of the audience for science communication I often just want to hear about the science is telling us – that is interesting and imporant enough in its own right, I don’t only want to read about why WUWT is wrong (although that can sometimes be educational in itself).

  64. andrew adams says:

    Actually, having read that comment back, “even if they choose not to…” should probably read “even if they don’t specifically set out to…”

  65. Andrew,
    I agree, and this

    which is that they should promote those ideas which constitute our current best scientific understanding of the subject in question (which can be as wide or as narrow as the individual chooses), and the integrity of the scientific process itself, and counter any misunderstandings which their audience might have where they happen to arise.

    is what I was trying to say, but not as clearly as you’ve managed.

  66. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    Yes, Gareth, you’re right. i don;t use the word ‘denier’. That’s to say I might think someone is a [that word] but because I know it might get their hackles up and, more importantly, allow the fence sitting bystander to typecast me, I prefer to say that they’re ‘in denial’ or, when referring to a group, ‘those in denial’.

    Regarding the moon. I once ended up with having an argument with an astronomer because when he discussed what would happen to a geostationary object if gravity was suspended, I described the resultant trajectory as seen from the perspective of Earth. Not surprisingly, he preferred it as it would be drawn in a physics textbook, with the object leaving orbit tangentially. He was right, of course, but it didn’t make my description wrong, which if he’d been a good teacher and he’d listened to his pupil, he’d have realised. Being me of course I wouldn’t let it go when he said I was wrong and the argument became quite heated (much to the embarrassment of the onlookers) until eventually he conceded that my description was accurate when viewed from the equator directly beneath the geostationary object. Afterwards I realised that I could have expressed myself better at the start than I did, if I’d seen it from his rather rigid viewpoint; but then he was the one in the the teaching role, not me.

    As to your thought experiment: I guess the simple answer is that the moon would appear to rotate backwards once every 24 hours. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

  67. @ Andrew Adams, nice post, well said.

  68. > There is only one “rule” as I see it […]

    Me too, but I thought it was “You do not talk about Climate Club”.

  69. John,

    As to your thought experiment: I guess the simple answer is that the moon would appear to rotate backwards once every 24 hours. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

    I think the Moon would appear to orbit the Earth once every 24 hours (due to the rotation of the Earth) and would appear to spin on its axis every 27 days (the period of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth). In other words, the side facing the Earth would change completely in 13.5 days and then return to the original side over the next 13.5 days.

  70. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    Actually ATTP, it was me that wrote that, not Andrew. And yes, that makes much more sense.

    And I’m right in saying that our tides would not be affected in any way?

  71. John,

    Thanks, corrected 🙂

    The tides would largely be unaffected because they respond mainly to the basic gravity of the Moon (and Sun). However, as I pointed out to Gareth, the tidal interaction would cause the Moon to spin-up until it was, once again, synchronous and would slightly reduce the spin of the Earth (I think).

  72. I like the idea of the tidal interaction once more synchronising the Earth with the Moon. Does this mean that every tidal barrage generating power slows down the Moon slightly and brings it microscopically closer to Earth ? And as for the tidal effect caused by the Sun, when use barrages, do we move an infintessimally small distance closer to the Sun?

  73. Gareth,
    Strange you should mention that. I have wondered if anyone has considered how much our future use of tidal energy would change the orbit of the Moon around the Earth. It must change it, given conservation of energy and angular momentum, but I imaging it’s negligible. I do think, however, that we should start referring to it as Moon power, rather than tidal power 🙂

  74. Actually, probably lunar power would be better than Moon power.

  75. I’ve explained that using tidal power would (imperceptibly) hasten the Moon’s ascent from Earth.

  76. Anyone who’s interested in tides might also find chapter 1 of my dissertation interesting.

  77. Thanks DumbSci, it’s not as straightforward as I had first thought.

  78. BTW, lunar tides are roughly twice as large as solar tides, but that means solar tides aren’t negligible. Lunar power therefore seems less accurate than tidal power…

  79. No prob Gareth. I too was surprised to learn that extracting more tidal power would move the Moon away from the Earth even faster. It’s wildly counter-intuitive, so maybe we should fix things so the Moon orbits in the opposite direction as the Earth spins. That way using tidal power really would move the Moon closer to the Earth…

  80. @DumbSci, I suspected that I was being somewhat simplistic 🙂 Thanks for the links, I’ll have a look at those. I was also about to try and do a quick calculation to see what the effect would be, but you’ve saved me the trouble. Maybe I should do it anyway to see if I get it right though 🙂

  81. Rachel says:

    Wow, that’s fascinating, about the moon and tidal power. DumbSci, you would have to have the worst handle ever. Or maybe not the worst, because it is quite funny, but the most inaccurate.

  82. Regarding my pseudonym, students who are praised as smart do worse in school and even lie more than students praised as “hard worker” and even worse than students who aren’t praised at all.

  83. Rachel says:

    Thanks, I think I’ve seen that article you link to in NYMag before but had forgotten about it. This is very useful information for a parent to have. My school motto was non sine pulvere palma; no reward without effort, which seems appropriate.

  84. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    The only problem with your handle, Dumb Scientist, is it makes me wince every time I have to address or refer to you. Your name is a self-imposed ad hominem after all. 🙂

    Regarding tides; I was aware of the facts discussed as I’d read it somewhere before (it might even have been one of your previous posts elsewhere). I’m often surprised how few people (not on here of course) don’t realise the difference between solar and lunar tides and how their coincidence, or not, produces spring or neap tides: also affected, of course, by the variable distance of the moon from the Earth.

    Also I assume that the position of the continents has a great effect on tidal energy being absorbed, as they form two north/south barriers to the two tidal pulses as they circumnavigate the globe (couldn’t really be a greater restriction). I guess that in the days of Pangea it would have much easier for the tides to travel round the globe, which might have made them bigger. In fact that’s an interesting question: without the continents in the position they are, would tidal range be much greater?

  85. “DS” might cause less wincing. You’re right about Pangea’s tides producing less friction. In fact, a common young earth creationist argument tries to extrapolate today’s relatively fast ~3.8cm/year lunar recession rate into the past. This results in absurdities because tides in the past produced less friction and thus didn’t move the Moon away from the Earth as quickly.

  86. Note that in this sense the tidal amplitude is less important than the angle between the tidal bulges and the line connecting the centers of the Moon and Earth. That angle was smaller during Pangea than today, so the Moon receded slower back then. (See my first link for an attempted explanation.)

  87. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    Thanks, DS.

    On the OP topic, I came across this post on the subject of advocacy. Tamsin Edwards is a regular commenter on Curry JA’s site so I assume there’s a certain meeting of minds.

  88. BBD says:

    “DS” might cause less wincing.

    I must admit this is what I generally use, and why. Glad to have confirmation that this abbreviation is okay with you.

  89. I tried to post a couple of times on Sou’s (HotWhopper) after our host had pointed me to it, but no success. I tried different ways, word pad, google etc, but no joy. Is the site down or having problems at the moment? Any advice ?

  90. Gareth,
    I don’t know. I have had trouble with blogger sometimes, so there is a chance that you’ll suddenly discover that you’ve made multiple comments.

  91. I did wonder if that would happen, hopefully if I have made multiple posts she will understand. Interesting programme on Radio 4 at the moment on Antarctic ice.

  92. Victor Venema says:

    On blogger you need to have third-party cookies activated (if the comment form is not in a separate window). Maybe that is this problem.

  93. Thanks Victor, i’ll check that.

  94. Pingback: Holding out for a hero – science, silence, #climate and communication #Manchester | manchester climate monthly

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