Thinking About What A Friend Had Said, I Was Hoping It Was A Lie

Clarification On How to Better Examine Evidence Relating to Rare Extreme Weather Events in a Changed Climate

This was not the article I was planning on writing just next, but it appears that I must elaborate on some things I referred to in passing, lest they be misunderstood.

I certainly don’t advocate that “analysis of extreme weather events starts with the built in assumption that climate change has made it worse” as has been alleged. Quite to the contrary, I am suggesting we approach the Disaster Tango afresh, in such a way as to engage skeptics and consensus supporters alike, provided they are reasonable and rational about it.


Imagine you are reasonably well versed in science, probably an applied science like dentistry or mechanical engineering. You are professional and proud of your skills. And you look into this “global warming” business, and most of the writing on it seems like polarized nonsense. But though you see dubious arguments everywhere the allegedly consensus claims seem extreme to you, and you start to fall into the “skeptic” camp and gravitating to some theory of what is going on that casts significant blame on the key scientists in the field. And you start to enjoy mocking them.

A lot of climate scientists find falling into this position unimaginable. But I don’t. There but for the Grace of God go I.

And a lot of political types, especially journalists and people focused on elections, find this group irrelevant, unimportant. They make a lot of noise, they give cover to recalcitrant politicians, but they haven’t enough influence to matter.

I disagree. I think having a core of intelligent people not getting it is fundamentally a problem in a democracy We have to find a way to reach, if not the core group of celebrated malcontents and their sleazy professional eggers-on, the many intelligent people they are constantly recruiting.

So let’s for the sake of argument adopt the point of view of a skeptical recruit. Your position in the Disaster Tango is that claims are made linking every weather disaster without exception and even the occasional tsunami to climate change, that it is ridiculous, and that RPJr and Marty Hoerling among others have convincingly shown that there is little evidence of any trends to increased disasters, and that any concerns are at most ones for a distant future that can gradually adapt in any case.

But you, the skeptic, note that there are people who seem otherwise rational, who stubbornly resist this evidence. You want to win them over. Therefore, what you should be doing is looking at the totality of weird events, and try to determine whether they are getting weirder in any way that might be considered alarming. This seems like a question that can be addressed objectively enough that any person of good will would be convinced. And if, after all, the question is decided against you on the basis of sound reasoning, you would endeavor to the sort of person who would be convinced by it.


Now take your skeptic hat off.

We believe that there is no point in discussing mitigation yes/no anymore – that action is overdue and that contemplated action, while welcome, appears so far to be inadequate. Further, we can see that past commitments have mostly been ignored or fudged.

So we don’t know whether it is worth taking a great deal of trouble to investigate the global tendency of weird events. We know that if they haven’t taken off already they are about to with a vengeance. We can see the cracks in Nature starting to spread and slip. We don’t need no stinking proof anymore, and anyone who can’t see the risk is being amazingly obtuse.

If the bad guys trick the public with nonsense, we have to be better at influencing the public with near-sense. There’s no time to do better, we don’t have the troops on the ground to address every bit of crackpottery anyone comes up with. We should ignore all the dentists and engineers who make a hobby of tormenting this year’s target scientist.

Yeah, I could easily imagine going there too. Some of my best friends are there.

But look, let’s for the sake of argument assume that’s true. Let’s assume we don’t have the resources to address to bottomless arguments with stubborn Dunning-Kruger cases. What should we be putting our brain cells to?

Well, we are beyond the point where we can avoid the adaptation question. (I heard on NPR this week that people are moving fish up hills, on by one, trekking them up thousands of feet in little plastic bags to isolated ponds, in the hope that their species can find a cooler spot to which they are better suited.)

Adaptation will be expensive, and we need to plan for it. To plan for adaptation, we need a better handle on what we are adapting to. Early especially weird severe events which would be very unlikely in an unchanged climate are a sort of canary in coal mine, but we don’t really have a handle on it. So the prognosis for severe outlier events is something worth thinking about even if we don’t care about convincing the skeptic crowd.


So though I wanted to keep you in suspense for a while, and continue to think about how this ought to work, it appears necessary in the light of what I will charitably call misunderstanding, for me to summarize where I am heading as I see it now. I reserve the right to make modifications and even retractions as I investigate further, but this is my thinking as it stands.

1) We acknowledge that humans have changed the composition of the atmosphere measurably. This has changed the climate, whether to a tiny or large amount is to be determined, to some extent by this endeavor among others.

2) Since the human contribution is nonzero, all events, and especially all severe outlier events, take place in a changed environment. For present purposes, we do not assume whether this change is benign or malign, nor whether it is so far minimal or already overwhelming.

3) Both for defending the mitigation proposition and for calibrating the adaptation costs, it is worth keeping a close watch on whether extreme events of various sorts are indeed increasing in frequency or severity. Ideally we would also like to know if they are changing in geographic distribution.

4) Attempts at yes/no attributions of individual events to anthropogenic forcing or partial attribution by regressing against climate model output are misleading because they are inappropriate tools for rare events.

5) Attempts at yes/no attributions of individual events are also particularly counterproductive, as they exacerbate polarization and reduce the field for reasoned, nuanced discourse. Science-driven policy conversation should always seek continuous rather than binary-valued measures because it leaves room for ambiguity and allows for incremental progress and consensus-building.

6) This is more controversial, but I’d say partial attribution methods typically overvalue and misuse GCMs. (Ironic, huh?) In any case they low-ball attribution systematically. To take an extreme example, if at any point in space the model has the wrong sign for a trend, the partial attribution method will assign any event, no matter how bizarre, a negative percentage of anthropogenic contribution.

7) Recurrence times are problematic in interesting ways, but potentially offer a quantitative approach to the severe event problem by allowing various potentially fruitful ways to aggregate events over very large time and space scales, so we can reason about them effectively.

8) This does not appear to have been done. One of the key problems is global availability and inhomogeneity of data, especially regarding extremes of precipitation and drought. This leaves plenty for citizen scientists to work on in many countries.

9) Looking at temperature events can make use of remote observation datasets, so rolling up our sleeves and thinking about how to go about classifying and collating outlier events in temperature could start quickly.

I note that there is no role for GCMs in this research program, so we don’t have to try to explain to skeptics what GCMs are for and what they are not for, which has not been a winning proposition so far, to say the least.


I hope this helps clarify matters. I am certainly NOT advocating looking away from the evidence. I am advocating sounder ways of looking at the evidence, such that the currently dull Disaster Tango gains a few more interesting steps.

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47 Responses to Thinking About What A Friend Had Said, I Was Hoping It Was A Lie

  1. izen says:

    The suggestion that the discussion of the policy impacts of climate change the focus should shift from attribution and causation to assessment of recurrence rates may not be get a sympathetic hearing from those who use an epistemology of validation that is predominate in engineering and law.

    I know these are reified positions which do not split so cleanly in real people, but the archetype would be;-
    The engineer approaches a situation in which something has gone exceptionally wrong with the intention of finding out the causal chain that led to that event so that the fault can be correctly identified. Without knowing that attribution no valid response can be made.
    In designed systems with clear inputs, processes and outcomes, attribution of causation is the key way in which you know how to respond, and fix the unwanted outcome.

    Perhaps in law the same concepts of a causal chain and therefore the accurate attribution of responsibility is also the underlying approach. Rather than any consideration of historical records of such crimes used to asses the probability of such crimes and therefore the scale of response they should receive.

    The recent shootings at the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg USA have generated the usual search for cause and attribution. Although the formula seems simple.
    White, – mental illness.
    Asian, – terrorism.
    Black, – innate criminality.

    And while the usual arguments about gun control in the US context have also been raised, the mt approach of looking at recurrence rates does not seem to be common.

    However I was prompted to make the comparison in part by this short article;-
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/opinion/americas-gun-madness-as-seen-from-europe.html

    The view from France of the US shooting events is from the viewpoint of a region where such events are very rare in comparison, but not unknown.
    However while the causation and attribution arguments are much the same on both sides of the ocean, the impact of gun availability in setting recurrence rates is perhaps better perceived from Europe.

    Coincidentally, while SC was enduring an extreme rainfall flood event that killed many people and damaged much housing and infrastructure, France was also experiencing an extreme rainfall event that killed many and damaged much.

    The differences in recurrence rates for shooting massacres in each region is clear, but they clearly share the same factor that can engender extreme weather events.

    Or perhaps it is unscientifically Jungian to point to the synchronicity of extreme events as holding more import than endless wrangles about whether the SC floods would have been less if the outflow from the seasons most powerful hurricane had not become entrained by the coastal weather front.

  2. Interesting. What you suggest towards the end seems fairly obvious to me. The first part of your post has also got me thinking about how I view some of these things, again. I think when I read media reports that some would regard as alarmist, I probably tone them down because I assume that, even if they do actually sound alarmist, it’s simply poor reporting, rather than the scientists themselves making alarmist claims. I suspect that is often a reasonable interpretation, given that the media likes a story to sound more interesting than it might be if they simply reported the bare facts. However, maybe others go the other way and perceive it as even more alarmist than the media report suggests. So, trying to understand why people perceive things differently, is an interesting suggesting.

    However, what you say here is crucial

    I am suggesting we approach the Disaster Tango afresh, in such a way as to engage skeptics and consensus supporters alike, provided they are reasonable and rational about it.

    and I’ve rather lost faith that there are many others who are reasonable. I would like to be convinced that I’m wrong, though.

  3. Can we add a little punctuation to the title? I can’t work out whether the ‘I’ is the friend talking, or the author. Should it be…
    Thinking About What A Friend Had Said, I Was Hoping It Was A Lie
    or…
    Thinking About What A Friend Had Said: “I Was Hoping It Was A Lie”
    Sorry to be a pedant about this but I read it about 10 times trying to decide. I assume everyone else is doing the same.

  4. Ethan Allen says:

    mt,

    Your first link is broken, you have an extra ”

    [Sorted, thanks – AT]

    [Okay, I haven’t sorted it and may have broken it. Will have to wait for MT to fix it. Sorry. – AT]

  5. john,
    I think MT’s two recent post titles are all Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (or simply Young) song lyrics. I’m not sure about the punctuation.

  6. @aTTP

    Thanks. I looked it up. You’re right: they’re two lines of a song’s lyrics. It should have a full stop or a comma in the middle.

    [Okay, I’ve added a comma. MT can change it back if he thinks it shouldn’t be there 🙂 – AT]

  7. Ethan Allen says:

    AT,

    If you are getting “404 Not Found” It’s because it is being prefixed with an “https:” instead of an “http:” (that’s how I backed into a correct URL anyways).

    http://www.webcitation.org/6cALoqrTN

    [Okay, yes, there was no “http:” at the front, so it was defaulting to “https:”. Sorted now, thanks. – AT]

  8. Steve Marshall says:

    My first contribution, I fall into the description of a science educated retired (early) professional specialist engineer (explosives). Hitherto I’ve lurked here and elsewhere trying to get informed about climate change in order to be able to contribute with some knowledge in any debate, whether on-line or down the pub, not look a fool and help convince the convincible. I’d also like to exercise my democratic vote on this issue responsibly as well as behave responsibly in my personal life. I found myself motivated to do so when encountering the, to my mind, irrational vitriol with which climate science and scientists were regarded by deniers in the media wherever and whenever they got a chance. I simply could not believe their claims when compared to the measured caution of climate scientists. I might add that from school in the 1970s I’ve understood and accepted the basic mechanism of the green house effect and so considered the hypothesis of global warming as reasonable; I’ve never been a denier.

    I think you do people, such as myself, a disservice. The vast majority of us are only likely to be convinced by good science well communicated and can accept that firm attribution may be impossible to find. The same may be confidently said about lawyers (I’m married to one) who are familiar and practiced in the real and complex way people think and behave and are also comfortable with the lower than scientific standards of “on the balance of probabilities” which are never quantified, as well as “beyond reasonable doubt”.

    I think, therefore, over extreme weather events it is important to state the obvious as well as what is and isn’t known. The climate has and is changing and human activity is the principle cause, extreme weather events are happening within the context of a warmed climate which has more energy in it. At this time we do not know if the frequency or severity of such events has been effected, however, it is a reasonable hypothesis which is being investigated. A cautious person or organisation would expect to plan for more frequent and more extreme, extreme weather events. At this point it is worth pointing out that an extreme weather event might not always be recognised as such, for instance here in the UK we have just had an extremely pleasant couple of weeks in late September and early October, not the usual experience for the time of year.

    This then leaves climate scientists the time and space to continue to investigate the science.

    I do accept that there are a number of non-climate scientists and other educated and intelligent professionals who do not accept the consensus position of climate scientists. Furthermore, there seems to be between 2 and 3 percent of climate scientists who do not accept the consensus (well if 97% do then 3% don’t). Why this is, is in itself a separate and extremely interesting question well worth some social scientific research, which may have already been carried out. My own experience from my currently denying but scientific brother is that he is in part swayed by social and peer pressure and an overinflated opinion of his scientific scepticism when applied to areas in which he is not expert. I do believe, however, that when carefully presented with the evidence his position will change from accepting the fallacious but overweening position of active deniers.

  9. Steve,
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    I should possibly let MT comment, but I’ll add a quick thought about this

    I think you do people, such as myself, a disservice.

    I think MT was simply trying to set up a hypothetical scenario and trying to illustrate why some people may lean the way that they do. I don’t think he was intending to suggest that engineers – for example – are incapable of interpreting evidence properly, or that they draw illogical conclusions. If anything, it was an attempt to understand why some might interpret things in a certain way, not judge them for doing so.

  10. Joshua says:

    mt –

    ==> “Imagine you are reasonably well versed in science, probably an applied science like dentistry or mechanical engineering. You are professional and proud of your skills. And you look into this “global warming” business, and most of the writing on it seems like polarized nonsense. But though you see dubious arguments everywhere the allegedly consensus claims seem extreme to you, and you start to fall into the “skeptic” camp and gravitating to some theory of what is going on that casts significant blame on the key scientists in the field. And you start to enjoy mocking them.”

    I hope that you realize that while the trajectory that your describe here is one that we see outlined in “skeptic” confessionals, chances are that it’s a very rare pathway. If it were in any way common, then how would you explain the overriding association between views on climate change and ideological orientation? There is more in play. There are underlying influences on how people filter the evidence that they run across.

    It seems to me that any discussion of strategies to engage in meaningful discussions between “skeptics” and “realists” needs to; be based on a more comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms of how people developed their views in the first place.

  11. Joshua says:

    Anders

    You say: “and I’ve rather lost faith that there are many others who are reasonable. I would like to be convinced that I’m wrong, though.”

    I think that the problem here is that extending what you wrote outward we get a landscape a group of “reasonable people” and another group of “unreasonable people” in association with views on climate change That doesn’t see plausible to me. Grouping “skeptics’ as unreasonable people doesn’t seem, well, reasonable.

    Reasonable people can have their reasoning influenced in various ways.

    .

  12. Joshua,

    Reasonable people can have their reasoning influenced in various ways.

    Yes, you’re right. I was being a little unfair, but I do think there are certainly examples of some whose behaviour one would not describe as reasonable, unless you were being incredibly generous.

  13. Willard says:

    > At this point it is worth pointing out that an extreme weather event might not always be recognised as such, for instance here in the UK we have just had an extremely pleasant couple of weeks in late September and early October, not the usual experience for the time of year.

    This echoes the crux of the exchange between Kevin and Andy on the other thread:

    [Kevin]: The climate is changing: we have a new normal.

    [Andy]: The same could be said for every sunny unremarkable day, as well.

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/if-i-had-ever-been-here-before-i-would-probably-know-just-what-to-do/

    The new normal is remarkable.

  14. Maybe it is not just punctuation of the title. I did not understand much of this post. Who is “you”, “we”, “sceptics”, what are those horizontal lines, what exactly do you think others are claiming and why? It could use an introduction to explain what the post is about. I would almost say: please try again. Not sure if a short reply to this comment would be sufficient.

  15. ATTP: “and I’ve rather lost faith that there are many others who are reasonable. I would like to be convinced that I’m wrong, though.”

    That will not happen on twitter with people who made opposing science their identity.

    Reasonable people do exist, but they do not write blog posts and spend their free time writing comments against science. Thus we do not notice them.

    That being said, the percentage of people that can be convinced by presenting more science is small. If the brother of Steve Marshall wanted to be convinced he would read a good book about climate change. Given his current social peers, he probably rather not be convinced. People who accept the science will have to convince their peers at least convince them to actually look at the science and check the claims of WUWT & Co.

  16. mt says:

    The way we form opinions is not purely rational, as we’d like to suppose. That’s sadly obvious. Nor is it purely social and affinity-driven, as Kahan and his sort seem to imply. If it were, we would not collectively have come as far as we have.

    The facts of climate change once accepted call into question a great deal about how whether how we have organized ourselves in the past can be successfully continued in the future. Some find these implications more threatening than others do. This maps somewhat onto ideology, personality, and culture.

    Steve Marshall’s welcome assertion that “the vast majority of us are only likely to be convinced by good science well communicated and can accept that firm attribution may be impossible to find” may be overoptimistic, but surely there is some truth to it.

    Under the (in my opinion pernicious) influence of political professionals and academics like Kahan who formalize their approach, many academics are being dissuaded from communicating good science well.

    Communicating good science well is surely not sufficient to achieve a good policy result. But that is not to say it isn’t necessary. Unfortunately, that’s the conclusion that some have reached, and that’s why so much scientific outreach has been boiled down to rather gross oversimplifications.

    The short term political consequences of this are small; they don’t register on polling data or in quick social science experimental setups. But the long term consequence of neglecting science communication at **every** level of sophistication other than journal articles on one hand and sound bites on the other seems to me likely to be profoundly disastrous.

    Unfortunately, again somewhat under the influence of the Kahanites, the resources for such communication are limited. We ought to have more people communicating science than doing research, they need to approach a wide variety and range of prior knowledge and values in various audiences, and they need to be good at it. That is nowhere near the case.

  17. MT,
    To follow on from what you’ve said, there is a typical claim that the deficit model of science communication has failed. As I understand it, this is essentially a strawman. What it is referring to is evidence that reducing people’s deficit of knowledge, or understanding, does not influence their policy views. This may indeed be true, but my view as a scientist who is trying to communicate science, it is irrelevant. My view is that a better understanding of science and of our current scientific understanding, is intrinsically a good thing, even if it doesn’t immediately influence people’s policy views.

    As you seem to be suggesting, though, this type of framing by some social scientists may well be discouraging science communication. I find it particularly frustrating to see this kind of thing because it’s not only discouraging science communication, it’s also confusing a desire to see improved understanding of science, with a desire to influence people politically. The former does not require the latter.

  18. Victor,

    Reasonable people do exist, but they do not write blog posts and spend their free time writing comments against science. Thus we do not notice them.

    Yes, a fair point.

  19. Joshua says:

    mt –

    ==> “Steve Marshall’s welcome assertion that “the vast majority of us are only likely to be convinced by good science well communicated and can accept that firm attribution may be impossible to find” may be overoptimistic, but surely there is some truth to it.”

    I think that it’s important here to distinguish between context. In the vast majority of contexts, good science well communicated seems relatively effective. But in a polarized context, such as climate change, while such science so communicated may have some beneficial impact, it seems to me to be naive to think that it’s anywhere near a sufficient strategy on a broad scale. The very notion of “good science,” “well-communicated” becomes hopelessly entrenched in an ideological battle. Extricating science and good communication becomes incredibly complicated, and it doesn’t seem to me that the determination of what comprises good science or good communication can be isolated from the context.

    I know that you don’t want this thread to devolve into climateball/personality politics, but it’s hard for me to read your post w/o thinking about “reasonable people” who might be convinced by good science well-communicated in the context of the person whose criticism at least partially inspired the original post. From my observations, an approach of good science well-communicated in the context of that individual is inadequate, and that it serves as an object lesson.

  20. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> “This may indeed be true, but my view as a scientist who is trying to communicate science, it is irrelevant. My view is that a better understanding of science and of our current scientific understanding, is intrinsically a good thing, even if it doesn’t immediately influence people’s policy views.”

    This seems to assume that people won’t filter the science that you offer through ideological filters. Just because you communicate the science won’t necessarily lead to them having better understanding of the science, irrespective of how it might or might not influence their views on associated policies.

  21. Joshua says:

    mt –

    There are quite a few statements in your 2:24 that I think are very problematic. Here’s another:

    ==> “Communicating good science well is surely not sufficient to achieve a good policy result. But that is not to say it isn’t necessary. Unfortunately, that’s the conclusion that some have reached, and that’s why so much scientific outreach has been boiled down to rather gross oversimplifications.

    The logic here seems to me to be self-sealing, to borrow a phrase. The notion of what comprises good science well-communicated is assumed rather than described.

    ==> “But the long term consequence of neglecting science communication at **every** level of sophistication other than journal articles on one hand and sound bites on the other seems to me likely to be profoundly disastrous.”

    This, as near as I can tell, looks like a distortion to me. I don’t think that Kahan advocates neglecting science communication at every level of sophistication other than journal articles and sound bites. Are you saying that’s what he advocates, either explicitly or implicitly?

  22. Joshua,

    This seems to assume that people won’t filter the science that you offer through ideological filters. Just because you communicate the science won’t lead to them having better understanding of the science, irrespective of how it might or might not influence their views on associated policies.

    Indeed, but I think there are two possible responses to this. One would be “I don’t care, all I have is my scientific understanding and a sense that I can maybe explain some of it to others. If they choose – for whatever reason – to dispute this, that’s their choice”. The other might be “okay, I need to think about the audience when I do communicate science and try to think of how I might tailor what I say, depending on who I’m talking with”.

    In some sense, the latter can be obvious; talking to children, versus adults; talking to a group of other scientists, but not specialists, versus talking to people with little scientific background. So, of course, one might think about how to discuss this with an audience who are pre-disposed to dispute the evidence, versus one that is not. However, there is always the concern I have that you end up thinking in terms of how you might market your message, rather than simply doing your best to explain a complex scientific topic to an audience of non-experts. I do think that science communicators have to be careful of thinking too hard about marketing (how do I get people to accept this) versus simply thinking of clever ways to explain the science, tailored somewhat to the pre-existence scientific knowledge of the audience.

  23. mt says:

    ” it’s also confusing a desire to see improved understanding of science, with a desire to influence people politically”

    Absolutely. Richard Betts complains about this.

    But as one who thinks the climate problem has now slipped into an emergency (a sort of weird very slow emergency), I would be willing to make the sacrifice of science literacy for effective policy if it made any sense.

    But it **can’t possibly make any sense** if we value democracy.

    Bad climate policy is easy. Good climate policy is hard. Social consensus is hard and systematic forces of polarization is making it impossible. If we elevate intuition and reaction over reason, we effectively abandon democracy altogether.

    I’d go so far as to say we are even at risk of abandoning modern civilization too, at least unless we get much smarter oligarchs.

  24. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> “To follow on from what you’ve said, there is a typical claim that the deficit model of science communication has failed. As I understand it, this is essentially a strawman. What it is referring to is evidence that reducing people’s deficit of knowledge, or understanding, does not influence their policy views. “

    1). I think that the claim is that the deficit model won’t work in a polarized context…not that it is inherently flawed in all contexts.

    2) I think that there is a view, among many, that the deficit model explains how to change people’s understanding of the science, and by logical extension then influence their views on policy. So I don’t think that the criticisms of the deficit model, in context are, at least always, a straw man. The view doesn’t seem to be, for some that communication strategies on the deficit model are justified simply to change people’s views on the science. And even there, I would say that such a justification seems simplistic.

  25. mt says:

    I have a long piece about the history of “Public Communication of Science” which attempts to explain how they wandered into the dark corner where they find themselves, for those who want to dig into that.

    http://planet3.org/2013/08/15/swim-in-your-lane-how-the-public-understanding-of-science-community-fails-and-betrays-the-climate/

  26. MT,

    But it **can’t possibly make any sense** if we value democracy.

    This is why – IMO – the apparent views of those like Oliver Geden are frustrating because they seem to spend a good deal of time trying to point out that evidence-based policy making is essentially never going to work because of the underlying realities of politics. There may be some truth to this, but – in my view – it’s not a good thing. Clearly evidence does not tell us what to do, but I certainly think we should be striving for more robust evidence-based policy making, rather than trying to argue that it’s essentially impossible.

  27. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> “However, there is always the concern I have that you end up thinking in terms of how you might market your message, rather than simply doing your best to explain a complex scientific topic to an audience of non-experts. I do think that science communicators have to be careful of thinking too hard about marketing (how do I get people to accept this) versus simply thinking of clever ways to explain the science, tailored somewhat to the pre-existence scientific knowledge of the audience.”

    Interesting point, and I agree.

    On top of that, the very notion of “marketing” to convince people is problematic – because, IMO, it transfers thinking that works in non-polarized contexts (e.g., convincing someone that they want a product) to a polarized context (engaging in discussion with someone who is pre-disposed to reject what you have to say).

  28. jj says:

    There is another aspect of extreme events that is rarely highlighted. We talk about 2C or 4C warming and tell people that 4C warming would be a disaster. But it warms 4C every day through the diurnal cycle. 4C sounds tiny. We know that what were once 1000 year floods will be much more common under 4C warming. What would that look like? Well, South Carolina. Whether the South Carolina event is a rare but possible 1000 year event in the pre-anthropogenic climate, or a step on the road to much more common flooding, it serves as a case study for what 4C will look like. It serves as a striking example of how what sounds like a small mean annual warming can lead to devastation and death.

  29. Joshua,
    It makes the 97% issue interesting. I don’t have a problem with consensus messaging specifically, because I think understanding the level of consensus is part of science communication. However, I do think that science communication is not simply pointing out the consensus and saying “you must accept this”. It might be a useful bit of information, but science communication should be about explaining the science to people, not really convincing them of the level of acceptance.

    However, politicians may use it very differently. A politician may well be trying to influence people’s policy views (almost by definition) and so may use marketing techniques to do so. A politician may well use the strong consensus to justify their policy ideas. I think it’s important to distinguish between providing information – as a science communicator might do – and trying to influence – as a politician might do. They may even use the same information, but – ideally – would use it in different ways.

  30. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> “I don’t have a problem with consensus messaging specifically, because I think understanding the level of consensus is part of science communication. “

    Again, I agree. Although I don’t particularly care about quantifying the precise magnitude (I’m skspetical about how to do it accurately) I use the high prevalence of shared view among experts as a guide for me to navigate matters beyond my comprehension. That’s why I find it amusing that “skeptics” often spend so much time explaining why the magnitude of shared view is irrelevant (or anti-science) even as they spend gobs of time arguing about the precise quantification.

    Where I think that Kahan is mistaken is that he seems to argue that consensus messaging contributes meaningfully (counterproductively) to the prevalence of “skeptical” views on climate change.

  31. Joshua says:

    mt –

    I’ll step off the dance floor for a while now, so as to not clutter up the thread, but I would appreciated it if you found your way to directly addressing some of the comments I directed towards you. Of course, if you are more interested in directing your attention elsewhere, I’ll understand.

  32. mt says:

    Joshua: “Just because you communicate the science won’t necessarily lead to them having better understanding of the science, irrespective of how it might or might not influence their views on associated policies.”

    I would like to get people’s attention and say “regardless of whether you agree with me, this is an honest account of how I think about this thing”; in cases where I have deeper knowledge about the thing, it is likely that there will be learning even if there is no immediate persuasion. And if there is learning, (presuming I myself am not on the wrong track, which I generally do, but your mileage may vary of course) that person’s opinions are less likely to veer toward less effective or realistic ideas.

    That we have descended into pointless bickering is obvious. My problem with Kahan is that he implies that once we get into that state we can’t get out.

    That is true for some people of course; Marc Morano knows where his bread is buttered, and Tony Watts knows what his fans want. These people will not likely change their minds. But most people aren’t to that level of commitment.

    I don’t expect to win declared skeptics over with a single ironclad argument. I understand that human minds don’t operate that way. But if it’s all the same to you I’d prefer for them to have some realistic understanding of where I’m coming from rather than having some shallow caricature of it. At the very least it won’t make matters worse.

    Also, I have looked carefully at some of Kahan’s work and I am not enormously impressed. In the case of the publication I review at the link, which is perhaps his most famous work, I believe he has tortured the data to make his point. I claim that his conclusion is not supported at all on the evidence he provides.

  33. izen says:

    @-mt
    “But if it’s all the same to you I’d prefer for them to have some realistic understanding of where I’m coming from rather than having some shallow caricature of it.”

    That is certainly a noble aspiration. It may be effective in reducing a knowledge deficit.
    However it can be the intrinsic form, the underlying assumptions about the knowledge you are presenting that causes the rejection and negates any influence on policy it may have.
    The validity of science as a means of knowledge is partly under direct attack from ‘interested parties’ like Marc Morano. But that is a fringe concern for enthusiasts.

    In the mass market, the exigencies of sales mean that any report of science to the majority of the general public will be sensationalised and distorted, not out a malicious intent to denigrate science, (or at least not only that) but because it sell better by engaging the emotional reactions of the readership.

    The UK mass market tabloid has recently produce another fine example of this style;-

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3266337/Could-Day-Tomorrow-happen-Collapse-ocean-currents-cool-Earth-global-warming-reverse-20-years-planet-WOULDN-T-freeze-over.html

    It is clear from the subsequent comment stream that this sort of article feeds a POV, perhaps ideologically driven, that rejects the validity of any speculative science. Unless the causal chain is direct, linear and simple the conclusions from such research is dismissed as policy irrelevent and derided as a cover for governments to take more money from the individual.

    While a sincere endeavour to – get people’s attention and say “regardless of whether you agree with me, this is an honest account of how I think about this thing” – gets you the moral high ground, I have difficulty seeing much benefit that tactic in the context of the present framing of science, evidence and policy responses. One that a priori classifies speculative science about the future as epistemologically illegitimate.

    There is one advantageous aspect of a focus on recurrence rate rather than attribution. It can shift the search for information to the past. Whenever an extreme weather event is declared there always seems to be those prepared to cite an obscure record of a past event that could trump it and therefore reject the implication this is a ‘smoking gun’ of AGW.
    However the fact that extreme events can happen in the past should be a clear signal of the future possibility of repetition. There are thousand -long year records of hurricane, flooding and drought incidence in geological records. Even without the potential impacts of a changing climate the information about the past should inform what measures of adaptation are required in the future.

    This science of geology has the advantage of dealing with the certain past, (except when the proxy indicators show something politically unwelcome!) a field of science with more credibility than the modeled projections of an unknowable future.

  34. Willard says:

    > My problem with Kahan is that he implies that once we get into that state we can’t get out.

    Perhaps then there’s a way to reach common ground, since I believe Dan implies we can get out of it:

    The Compact effectively informed its citizens of the appropriateness of using the best available science for these ends but not through a “messaging” campaign focused on “scientific consensus” or anything else.

    The Compact’s “communication strategy” was its process. The dozens of open meetings and forums, convened not just by the Compact governments but by business, residential, and other groups in civil society filled the region’s science communication environment with exactly the information that ordinary people rationally rely on to discern what’s known to science: the conspicuous example of people they trust and recognize as socially competent supporting the use of science in decisionmaking directly bearing on their lives

    http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/6/27/what-se-florida-can-teach-us-about-the-political-science-of.html

    While I dismiss Dan’s argument against consensus messaging as illiberal status competition [1], I think this kind of “experiment” would look like what you’re seeking, MT.

    [1]: http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com/post/122716794529

  35. Michael 2 says:

    RE: Steve Marshall “it is important to state the obvious as well as what is and isn’t known.”

    Pedantic moment — you can state what you know, but not what I know. A thing is not known; only people can know a thing, things do not know themselves.

    “The climate has and is changing and human activity is the principle cause, extreme weather events are happening within the context of a warmed climate which has more energy in it.”

    You see, this is not a thing that is “known”. It is what you *believe*. You imply that a climate with more energy in it will produce more storms, that is after all the “meme”, the dogma, the thing you must believe to belong to this exclusive club. But in fact, it is a battery with nothing to do. I have some high-energy lithium batteries. They just sit there until there’s a sink, some place for that energy to GO.

    Flying over the ocean to Hawaii, you’ll cover thousands of miles of hot, humid atmosphere. Is it stormy? Sometimes, but usually not. Why not? Because it is ALL hot and humid. Megajoules of energy is contained in it. But nothing happens. Some nice fluffy clouds.

    South Carolina got zapped because of a differential — cold air allowed condensation to proceed; which as you doubtless know releases enormous amounts of heat, which if you do not quickly remove the condensation process will simply stop leaving you with a big fluffy cloud.

    So there has to be a mass of cold air swirling around the hot moist air. But where is cold air going to come from in global warming? Gone! No more cold air anywhere, thus no more major storms, which is what appears to be the actual case. You expect there to be increased storms and with greater severity because that is what you believe. The potential for severity is certainly there, but you need a heat sink of equivalent sinking capacity in order to realize the full magnitude of all that energy.

  36. Michael 2 says:

    Excellent descriptions! Your description of ordinary science-literate persons (me) on viewing all this hullabaloo is very accurate. It wasn’t on my radar at all until Climategate rose above the clutter. Having worked in military and government I know how easy and prevalent is exaggeration, and that’s being somewhat generous with description.

    But I also know that smoke and mirrors doesn’t mean a claim is false. It just means I’ve got some work ahead of me (and, now, behind me) trying to decide for myself.

  37. Kevin O'Neill says:

    In the first comment Izen writes (my emphasis): “The engineer approaches a situation in which *something has gone exceptionally wrong* with the intention of finding out the causal chain that led to that event so that the fault can be correctly identified. Without knowing that attribution no valid response can be made.”

    This is skipping a step; how does the engineer know something has gone wrong and why does it need to be ‘exceptionally’ wrong? Statistical Process Control has been around now for decades. ‘Recurrence rates’ seem in engineering parlance to be very much the same as SPC and control charts.

    I think a more concerted effort to show various metrics in a format already familiar to engineers and using similar lingo could be more persuasive. For instance a graph like this:

    Could just as easily be constructed in a Control Chart format – as could many other metrics – showing a process moving out of control.

  38. Willard says:

  39. Udu Wudu says:

    “I think MT’s two recent post titles are all Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (or simply Young) song lyrics.”

    I have been a big fan of this stuff in my time but the first post’s title did not register. Now that you mention it, obviously it is Deja Vu by CSNY (lyrics by David Crosby). The origin of the title of the most recent post, however, was immediately apparent to me. In this case it is a Buffalo Springfield song, indeed probably their most famous, which is “After the Goldrush”, written by Neil Young. Perhaps the next post will have lyrics from Graham Nash and the one after that Stephen Stills so that we get the full complement.

    [Fixed – W]

  40. rustneversleeps says:

    Not a Neil Young tune, but he always owns “All Along the Watchtower” when he plays it (especially at the Dylan tribute, which always gets taken down on YouTube, etc)… thinking about Paris…

    “”There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,
    “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
    Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
    None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

    “No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke,
    “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
    But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
    So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

    Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
    Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

  41. T-rev says:

    I come from an Applied Science Background (Surveying) albeit out of it for some time. I was watching this recent lecture by Kevin Anderson (Tyndall Centre) and was reminded once again of the where the problem lies with emissions

    He’s especially scathing of economists, which reminded me of Mr Tol 🙂

    Perhaps I relate because of his Engineering background and his seemingly unerring ability to zero in on what the fundamental issue is… Emissions.

    I have taken that extra step and cut my emissions back to about 2.5t per annum, as well as voting only for politicians who will introduce legislation saying they promise to take it seriously. We’re like the slave owners of old, the only way to stop, is to stop owning slaves, talking about it and waiting for others to do it isn’t working,..until a significant minority start mitigating, only then will the politicians notice. Until then I can be satisfied I am doing all I can and not exacerbating the problem.

    Trying to convince the deniers isn’t going to help, you will waste energy, become depressed and most importantly waste time by not acting on emissions mitigation. We need to walk to the front of the bus…

    I think it was this month, 50 years ago, that then President Johnson (LBJ) made a speech to congress warning of the dangers of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. Since then, all we’ve done is talk about it.

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  43. Steve Marshall says:

    Michael 2 – Sorry for the delay in replying but I have been overdosing with rugby. I accept what you say regarding what is and isn’t known vs what is and isn’t believed, however, there is a large body of evidence which I’d assert is objectively known and to express it as believed (even though it is) will effectively down grade it in the eyes of an unconvinced audience as well as make it unnecessarily vulnerable to attack from deniers. For example there are deniers who vehemently assert that the greenhouse mechanism does not take place. I believe it does and base that belief on the explanations I have been taught and read about. I’d never state that I believe it is true (which I do) but rather state that it is a matter of scientifically proven fact and any belief to the contrary is simply wrong.

    What you write regarding energy being held in the atmosphere until a means for it to be released may be true, however, I’m skeptical that the atmosphere will ever become a uniform and docile warm blanket, however, I accept that it is hypothisis that may be tested by moddeling and am open to being convinced by such evidence. Even if such a state can be reached, there is likely to be a period, perhaps decades long, during which extreme weather events will be “enhanced” by increased energy in the system.

    Anyway France vs Ireland has jus kicked off and so ……..

  44. KenH says:

    ” 3) Both for defending the mitigation proposition and for calibrating the adaptation costs, it is worth keeping a close watch on whether extreme events of various sorts are indeed increasing in frequency or severity. Ideally we would also like to know if they are changing in geographic distribution.”
    One would think that insurance companies would be doing a lot of analysis on this. They should be coming at the question minus the biases. Is there any information about their conclusions?

    A nitpick: I have been reading Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic magazines for quite a while. Calling the contrarians “skeptics” is certainly wrong by the definition of these magazines.

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