The article starts with
The recent slowdown (or ‘pause’) in global surface temperature rise is a hot topic for climate scientists and the wider public. We discuss how climate scientists have tried to communicate the pause and suggest that ‘many-to-many’ communication offers a key opportunity to directly engage with the public.
The article is a combination of an attempt to discuss the slowdown in surface warming (which they seem comfortable calling a pause) and the role scientists could play in communicating such things to the public. In general, the article is quite good and includes an interesting figure that illustrates how climate models do indeed predict such slowdowns, but don’t all predict them as the same time. Hence, ensemble averages tend to remove such variability.
The article then discusses some of the issues with public communication and the benefits and risks of engaging online. It finishes with
The pause is a grand ‘whodunnit’ at the edge of our scientific understanding — we have an unusual (but not totally unexpected) event, with incomplete but rapidly improving information and understanding. The outcome of our investigations is important at the global scale, both in the near-term (decadal) and the long-term (end of century). The challenge is to embrace the complexity of the situation, to acknowledge the uncertainty and the nuance, to welcome questions and investigation and show the process of climate science in good health.
which is a great illustration of how interesting and challenging science can be.
So, overall, I think it’s an interesting article that makes some good points. I do find it a little odd that they seem comfortable defining what they themselves see as a slowdown as a “pause”. What has paused? I know that there are some time intervals for which some of the surface temperature datasets have zero (or close to zero) trends, but these tend to be quite short and have large uncertainties. So how does calling something that isn’t really a pause, a “pause”, help with communicating this somewhat contentious and complex issue?
As far as the general idea goes, I think it would be great if more climate scientists engaged publicly and did so as honestly and openly as possible. I do think, however, that having some sense of the goals would be useful. If it’s to simply communicate with the public and then leave them to make up their mind, it might be fine to simply present information clearly and honestly and not worry too much about anything else. If it’s to try and convince “skeptics” that they’re mistaken, then I think it will fail. Admittedly, I thought that simply communicating clearly and honestly might achieve that when I started this blog, so maybe my cynicism is due to my very obvious failure. Others may well have much more success than I’ve had, and I certainly hope so. The comments on Tamsin’s recent blog post would, however, seem to suggest otherwise.
There is one aspect of communicating honestly and openly that I do think sometimes does get overlooked and that is that one should also be willing to point out when someone else is wrong. It’s no good opening lines of communication if it simply allows others to express erroneous views without being challenged. Admittedly, it’s easier said than done and can be difficult if you’re trying to maintain some air of civility. I do think, however, that public engagement about climate science is likely to be largely ineffective if it doesn’t also include an attempt to address the erroneous views of the most vocal “skeptics”. I, however, am no expert at this myself, so could indeed be wrong. What I do know, though, is that I plan to go out for a couple of pints tonight, so keeping the comments light-hearted and sensible would be appreciated.