Science communication – again

There are a number of possible things to write about, but I thought I might have a brief rant about a topic I find of interest. A tweet by David Roberts (who I mostly like) caused a bit of a Twitter storm a couple of days ago.

I actually disagree with him about this specific case; in my view, the Climate Feedback article was pretty good and Climate Feedback generally provides, from what I’ve seen, very good critiques of articles about climate science.

However, I do think that he does make an interesting point. The manner in which scientists critique articles about science should depend somewhat on the role they’re taking. If they’re doing so as domain experts, then they really should aim to critique the scientific validity of the article, not really the way in which it was framed. Given the same information, it may well be possible to present something in an optimistic way, or in a pessimistic way; scientists don’t have some special right to decide how it should be presented publicly. As individuals, however, they are perfectly entitled to express such a view, but they should aim to be clear about their role.

Now, this is where the slightly ranty bit starts (well, as ranty as I can get). This led to me having a discussion with someone who regards scientists (well, climate scientists, at least) as incapable of communicating with a public audience and regards them as being in denial when it comes to cognitive science and narrative theory. Essentially, there is extensive evidence about how to communicate effectively and many (maybe most) science communicators are simply dismissing this information.

I think this is wrong for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are clearly many scientists who are extremely effective communicators. Secondly, these critiques often seem to assume something about the goals of science communication that is almost certainly not the goals of those scientists who undertake such activities. In my experience, most scientists who choose to engage in science communication do so because they regard it as important to make the public aware of scientific information. They do not, typically, regard themselves as responsible for influencing public opinion. Most of the critiques, however, seem to revolve around their inability to influence public opinion. Well, criticising people for not achieving what they were not specifically intending to achieve, seems rather pointless.

Of course, I have no problem with scientists who openly choose to try and influence public opinion; I think they have as much right to do so as anyone else. I simply think that in many cases science communication is aimed more at providing information, than at influencing opinion. Critiquing the former, for not achieving the latter, just seems to indicate a lack of understanding of what motivates many who choose to engage in science communication.

However, the aspect of this that I find most irritating is that if there are a group of people who regard themselves as experts in cognitive science and narrative theory and, hence, how to communicate effectively, why don’t they go ahead and demonstrate this. Treat scientists as their audience and communicate to them so effectively that they not only understand how to communicate effectively, but are convinced that they should actually engage in this way. If this is an important topic that needs to be effectively communicate, and they have relevant expertise that will aid in such activities, then they have as much obligation to communicate this effectively, as scientists with relevant expertise have to communicate their information.

Okay, that’s my mini rant over. Of course, I’m generalising rather wildly. There are clearly a number of very effective science communicators and there are also those who have expertise in cognitive science and narrative theory who are helping to improve the effectiveness of science communication. I just find myself rather irritated by those who seem incapable of communicating effectively themselves, complaining about others they regard as ineffective communicators.

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76 Responses to Science communication – again

  1. During my discussion, the role of those who communicate about public health came up. People who communicate about public health issues often do have an obligation to try and influence public opinion (drink less, smoke less, eat fruit, …). The idea was that those who communicate about climate science have a similar obligation. I think, however, this is wrong. Public health officials have a formal mandate to do so. I do not think that climate scientists yet have such a mandate. As a society we have yet to collectively decide how we should respond to climate change and, in many cases, seem to have essentially decided not to do so (or not much, anyway). Until such time that there is some kind of collective decision that determines something of how we should respond, I do not think that those communicating about climate science have some kind of societally defined obligation to influence public opinion.

  2. I will suggest that because it is becoming increasingly clear that we have entered into the sixth great extinction, and because it is clear that the current extinction event is largely caused by loss of habitat and changes in the environment that are both driven by the activities of our species, that a higher level of involvement is required with regard to communication of the science and development of public policy in these areas.

    There are also the clear and deliberate efforts of the denialist industry that puts additional responsibility on scientists to rebut pseudoscience and spin. I think that cannot be dismissed in considering the responsibility of climate and environmental scientists in this particular instance.

    I understand that the moral and ethical questions raised by the sixth great extinction are difficult to answer, but I think those questions are large and must be considered.

    In my final analysis, I think it is very late for our species to change course and avoid being seen primarily as a kind of biological scourge on the planet. I don’t like to think of myself, my loved ones et. al. as a scourge or plague in the biosphere, but my skills of self-deception can only take me so far.

  3. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: David Roberts is, in my opnion, one of the best communicators of climate science and related matters. Your final paragpraph suggests that you may not agree. Is that the case?

  4. JH,
    Actually, the post wasn’t about a discussion with David Roberts. I also regard him as a pretty effective communicator.

  5. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Thanks for the clarification.

  6. John Hartz says:

    Yet another article for the “time is not on our side” file…

    Winning Slowly Is the Same as Losing by Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone, Dec 1, 2017

  7. A Siegel says:

    Biggest problem, actually, with Climate Feedback article was its headline — and that proves Roberts’ point. The headline and subtitle as shared on Twitter was actually much more negative than the subheadings & the material in the article.
    Here is the subheading in the article: “Six scientists analyzed the article and estimate its overall scientific credibility to be ‘high’.”

    What is the share on Twitter, “Grist article mostly accurate but doesn’t make the likelihood clear enough … has a bias …”

    The scientific work shows that vastly more people will see that tweet and headline than read even the first paragraph … the headline & twitter share are more negative, attacking to the article than one gets from reading the entire set of material there.

  8. Steven Mosher says:

    That’s Mr Scourge, please and thank you.

  9. izen says:

    @-“However, the aspect of this that I find most irritating is that if there are a group of people who regard themselves as experts in cognitive science and narrative theory and, hence, how to communicate effectively, why don’t they go ahead and demonstrate this.”

    Perhaps they could start with those who communicate about public health.
    The various attempts so far to nudge people towards informed (or unconscious) behavioural change are not always successful.
    Although in the case of sugar it did not help that the industry spiked the science.

    But to the degree the ideas from these disciplines may be effective they would not be offered as free advice. They will have long since been incorporated into that field of public communication that earns good money.
    Advertising.

  10. izen says:

    @-smallbluemike
    “In my final analysis, I think it is very late for our species to change course and avoid being seen primarily as a kind of biological scourge on the planet.”

    That presupposes that a major extinction event is a ‘bad’ thing and that we carry some moral culpability for the evolution of the human capability to initiate such an event.

    Photosynthesis triggered the first extinction event, and permanently changed the geochemistry of the surface.
    Without violition or insight.

    That we are able to develop competencies that enable humans to have such an impact, and the ability to understand what we are doing, is something that is absent from the rest of the history of this planet.

    I have no idea whether we should be ashamed or proud that we are a species that could cause a mass extinction event.
    That we can argue about it is a matter of transcendent wonderment!

  11. yep. Wonderment transcendent! all of what you say is interesting and I think correct. Do you have grandkids? Will they understand and appreciate your transcendent point of view?

  12. Magma says:

    However, the aspect of this that I find most irritating is that if there are a group of people who regard themselves as experts in cognitive science and narrative theory and, hence, how to communicate effectively, why don’t they go ahead and demonstrate this. Treat scientists as their audience and communicate to them so effectively that they not only understand how to communicate effectively, but are convinced that they should actually engage in this way.

    Nice bit of science communication jiu-jitsu there.

    I think it’s quite possible to explain even somewhat complex scientific ideas clearly to a non-specialist or public audience, though some simplification must be accepted as part of the price. Is it possible to explain them to highly motivated mature individuals (or groups or them) who cling to anti-scientific beliefs and are unwilling to listen, read, or think carefully about those concepts?

    Probably not. And in matters of critical public import, maybe the focus should be on outvoting and politically marginalizing them. Until recently I would have added “embarrass or shame them”, but the Brexit and Trump/Republican fiascos suggest that shame may be a weaker force than tribalism.

  13. Steven Mosher says:

    “I have no idea whether we should be ashamed or proud that we are a species that could cause a mass extinction event.
    That we can argue about it is a matter of transcendent wonderment!”

    Yup

  14. Everett F Sargent says:

    RE: David Roberts
    Want to reduce the energy used by buildings? Make cities denser.
    https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/1/26/14388942/building-energy-use-density
    Judith Curry (nee Everett F Sargent) sez … easier said than done.

    Ice Apocalypse
    Rapid collapse of Antarctic glaciers could flood coastal cities by the end of this century.
    http://grist.org/article/antarctica-doomsday-glaciers-could-flood-coastal-cities/

    How soon will the ‘ice apocalypse’ come?
    https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2017/nov/23/climate-change-how-soon-will-the-ice-apocalypse-come-antarctica

    Speaking of dominoes …
    Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy
    https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/bix133/4644513
    “keystone dominoes”

    Has anyone here ever played the game of Dominoes?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominoes

    I’m collecting all the DeConto-Pollard papers now (I had several of them already, lost on my HDD’s or not). There seem to be quite a few as of late. So this question may be a bit premature … Where do all the fallen ice sheet dominoes go?

  15. Everett F Sargent says:

    RE: Communication of Climate Science per se (my previous post was directed more at the science of Ice Sheet Armageddon or Ice Sheet Collapsestrophe)

    When a process takes several decades-centuries-millennia, as would appear to be the case with AGW, how does one convince their fellow homo sapiens, whom perhaps have only a few decades of adulthood, to act now on a process that, to date, is at best, quasi-linear and relatively slow in the sense of said homo sapiens adult lifetime?

    I do find this to be a paradox that no amount of communication can currently overcome. But please do … Keep on Truckin’ …

  16. izen says:

    @-smallbluemike
    “Do you have grandkids?”

    No, but humans are one of a few species that can exercise altruism independent of genetic similarity.
    And I have enough nieces, nephews and cousins with actual and potential offspring that are genetically equivalent to at least 1.2 grandchildren. (grin)

    @-“Will they understand and appreciate your transcendent point of view?”

    Given historical precedent it seems unlikely.
    There is little appreciation for the choices made by our grandparents. At best they get credit for defeating Fascism, at worst excoriated for accepting racial discrimination and female inequality as social norms.
    No doubt the future will project its own moral perspective on the past in the ongoing saga of ‘Whig history’.

  17. angech says:

    “1. Once again the climate science community beclowns itself by critiquing an article on non-scientific grounds”.
    I did not understand, is he complaining about the article or the article reviewers views?
    ATTP
    “I simply think that in many cases science communication is aimed more at providing information, than at influencing opinion. Critiquing the former, for not achieving the latter,”
    So the problem is critiquing the science- rather than thanking the guys for putting the vital information out there.
    A selection of the gist of the article
    “”Ice Apocalypse ”
    (A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites “The Doomsday Glacier.”)
    Next to a meteor strike, rapid sea-level rise from collapsing ice cliffs is one of the quickest ways our world can remake itself. This is about as fast as climate change gets.
    Antarctica is a giant landmass — about half the size of Africa — and the ice that covers it averages more than a mile thick.
    Around 3 million years ago, when global temperatures were about as warm as they’re expected to be later this century, oceans were dozens of feet higher than today.Previous models suggested that it would take hundreds or thousands of years for sea-level rise of that magnitude to occur
    Pollard and DeConto are the first to admit that their model is still crude, but its results have pushed the entire scientific community into emergency mode.
    the full 11 feet of ice locked in West Antarctica might be freed up, their study showed.
    All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years — much too quickly for humanity to adapt.
    “It could happen faster or slower, I don’t think we really know yet,”
    – ATTP said
    “scientists (well, climate scientists, at least) [seem*] incapable of communicating with a public audience and regard them as being in denial when it comes to cognitive science and narrative theory.”
    Not these scientists, they have communicated the threat extremely well.

  18. brigittenerlich says:

    Although I know a bit about cognitive science/cognitive linguistics and narrative theory (sort of)/rhetoric, I don’t think any of my rather amateurish science communication efforts have ever been influenced by these theories – perhaps that’s wrong. However, I am sometimes asked to find ‘the right words’ to persuade people of this that and the other and I refuse to do that. I am also often told that … but but but public health engagement/participation/communication etc. does that. Like ATTP I think public health officials have a different role to linguists and/or science communicators. I see my role as revealing framing, frames, persuasive techniques, metaphors etc, but I don’t want to use them to persuade. That’s not my job. As for science communication and narrative theory, here is an interesting article http://www.pnas.org/content/111/Supplement_4/13614.full – which talks about persuasion and the ethics of persuasion. As an aside in a conversation on twitter about science, science communication and trust (which we are supposed to establish, shore up, enhance, etc.), it occurred to me that, I quote myself “where trust falls is largely not a rational choice but (like religion) random; it all depends on which social (media) network, time, space, tribe you are born into”…. I am not totally sure yet what that might mean for persuasion or the science of science communication…

  19. ATTP you wrote:

    Of course, I have no problem with scientists who openly choose to try and influence public opinion; I think they have as much right to do so as anyone else. I simply think that in many cases science communication is aimed more at providing information, than at influencing opinion. Critiquing the former, for not achieving the latter, just seems to indicate a lack of understanding of what motivates many who choose to engage in science communication.

    Is it really that binary? Surely there is a third role, somewhere in the middle, that is providing information (or rather knowledge) about a subject and the implications that information, in order to inform the policy choices made by, say, a politician. Indeed, that is almost the job spec of the Chief Scientific Officer. Sir Mark Walport is a hugely effective communicator, and has to engage a wide range of expertise and policy people. I very much doubt a non-scientists could do his job.

    And on the whole ‘narrative’ approach to communication, take Prof. Steve Jones. He is exceptionally engaging on his area of research (evolutionary genetics), whether in print, on the radio or in person. When he is asked about policy questions related to human fertility, for example, he provides insights that only someone who has spent so much time thinking on the subject can provide.

    But does that mean there is not a problem (with science communications)? No.

    Because while they show how it can be done, it is not always so well done. And also, for complex interdisciplinary subjects like health, climate change, etc. no one person can provide all the skills to make the evidence easy to digest, in a way that is both engaging for the public policy-relevant.

    Two recent events highlight a nuanced approach to this whole question of science communication and relationship to public sphere/ policy … 1. the Huxley Summit hosted by the British Science Association (videos of talks due soon), and 2. the “Communicating uncertainty to recapture trust in experts” event run by CSaP (Centre for Science and Policy) at Cambridge.

    I found these hugely more rewarding than head banging about whether climate scientists are allowed to talk or not. How bloody ridiculous. Of course they need to be in the room, in the same way that NOT having a Steve Jones in the room when discussing the future of human evolution, would be ridiculous. Just not alone. There are other useful voices.

  20. pete best says:

    It you are trying to communicate impending disaster (21st century disaster) then you need to overcome the extremes of human nature namely that of its nonsense to its definitely going to happen when the science of it is MAYBE. So on the blogosphere we get both sides of the argument (it wont and it will happen) and the truth of it suits no one as we are not screaming either way, just interested in the science of it all.

    So where does that leave us then. If we are trying to convince the population at large that enjoying life through conspicuous consumption needs to be curtailed or changed due to its long term negative impacts then how do we do that? Remember Science is interesting in so much as it gives us progress and each and every new generation has it easier and better than the previous one through technology and progress. We expect aircraft to fly faster and get us places quicker, we don’t expect not to be able to fly. We expect the same of cars and I.T in general, we expect more convenience such as ordering things online that just turn up, we don’t expect not to be able to have it.

    So Rio was in 1992 and since then our emissions have gone up by 20 billion tonnes, not down. Kyoto has not worked. Paris wont work either more than likely. The only thing that will work is no one having any impact on their lives but everything being low carbon somehow.

  21. BBD says:

    The only thing that will work is no one having any impact on their lives but everything being low carbon somehow.

    Welcome to fantasy energy land!

    We’re doomed. (Normally I’d park a smiley after that, but I’m not really joking anymore).

  22. Richard,

    Is it really that binary? Surely there is a third role, somewhere in the middle, that is providing information (or rather knowledge) about a subject and the implications that information,

    Indeed, I think there are many roles. Everything from those who simply feel comfortable presenting information without getting too involved, those who are comfortable expressing their personal views, and those who engage with policy makes with the goal of informing policy (there are probably other styles too).

    Of course they need to be in the room, in the same way that NOT having a Steve Jones in the room when discussing the future of human evolution, would be ridiculous. Just not alone. There are other useful voices.

    Indeed, and my view is that these others voice should start stepping up, rather than spending their time complaining about the prevalence of scientific voices, or how scientists are lousy communicators.

  23. John Hartz says:

    The Yin and the Yang of communicating climate science was recently addressed head-on in a Harvard forum…

    Climate change researchers, professors, and journalists debated how best to present the severity of climate change to the public Wednesday evening at an event hosted by the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

    The discussion, titled “Hope and Despair: Communicating an Uncertain Future,” was held in the Geological Lecture Hall. Elizabeth M. Wolkovich, an assistant professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, moderated a discussion about how to best motivate the public to take action on climate change.

    David Wallace-Wells, who is the deputy editor of the New York Magazine and wrote the article “The Uninhabitable Earth” this year, advocated the use of fear about the planet’s future as a way to inspire more people to become “climate agents.”

    “I think that there is real value in scaring people,” Wallace-Wells said. “When I talk to colleagues it just seems so obvious to me that when you think about the relatively well-off Western world, that complacency about climate is just a much bigger problem than fatalism about climate.

    Nancy Knowlton, chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian Institution, said she thinks it is more effective to be optimistic about humanity’s ability to stave off disaster.

    “I’ve had many, many students come up to me after talks about optimism or the Earth Optimism Summit that we ran in Washington saying ‘you know, this was incredibly empowering, I now really want to go out and work on solving this problem. I almost left the field of conservation because I thought there was nothing I could do,’” Knowlton said. “I do feel that it is absolutely essential to talk about what’s working, why it’s working, in addition to providing this very scary context.”

    Climate Change Panel Talks ‘Hope and Despair’ by Yasmin Luthra & Aidan F Ryan, The Harvard Crimson, Nov 30, 2017

  24. Mitch says:

    Science communication has been more than adequate to raise the problem of climate change, if policymakers were willing to act. Go back and look at the discussion about the ozone hole before the Montreal Accords.

    We are involved in a different world, where a certain very influential set of groups are trying to avoid change and are using significant amounts of effort to discommunicate the findings. The important point is to continue with honest reports of climate change and our understanding of impacts. The hardest point to communicate is that warming will continue even if we stop immediately, and effects of our actions will continue for millenia.

  25. Brigitte,

    However, I am sometimes asked to find ‘the right words’ to persuade people of this that

    Yes, this is what makes me feel uncomfortable too. I’m more than happy to present information that I think I can defend (that is supported by the available evidence, in other words). I’m far less comfortable with the idea that I should be finding ways to influence public opinion so that they do something that I might regard as the correct response to that information. I don’t feel that that is my place.

    The article you highlight looks interesting. I also noticed Ruth Dixon highlighting this article. The abstract says

    Over the last decade, scholars have devoted significant attention to making climate change communication more effective but less attention to ensuring that it is ethical. This neglect risks blurring the distinction between persuasion and manipulation, generating distrust among audiences, and obscuring the conceptual resources needed to guide communicators.

  26. Mitch,

    Science communication has been more than adequate to raise the problem of climate change

    Yes, I agree. I don’t think the problem is ineffective science communicators. It’s one reason I find the criticism frustrating; it largely ignores the enormous amount of misinformation being peddled by those who are do not feel obliged to present an honest representation of our current scientific understanding.

  27. Eli Rabett says:

    Be careful, Eli lost a number of communicators after reaching your conclusion six years age

    Kloor, Randy Olson and to an extent Andy Revkin, but a whole lot of other people appear to think that scientists are lousy communicators, and indeed, a whole lot of scientists agree and there are workshops, meetings and even, shudder, blogs, devoted to self improvement, or not. This goes into the file under missing the point.

    It’s not that scientists are or are not lousy communicators (say that and Eli will lock you in a room with Richard Alley for example), but that journalists are lousy communicators. It’s their [insert bad word here] (emphasis added) job and they are screwing it up to a fare-thee-well. It ain’t just climate either. What journalists produce often makes the average cut and paste student paper blush with modesty

  28. BBD says:

    While Eli has a point, it’s important to remember that journalists work for editors who work for proprietors who have… views.

  29. Ken Fabian says:

    Other kinds of climate communication don’t face organised, well funded, widely supported anti-communication and opposition – because there aren’t trillions of dollars of energy related investments at stake. It’s not esoteric knowledge for it’s own sake to be accepted without consequence; this is knowledge with serious, all encompassing economic implications.

    A big portion of the intended audience – primarily those in positions of trust, responsibility and power, for whom being ignorant or misinformed is a form of negligence – is resistant to accepting information they would prefer not to be true and is welcoming of justifications for maintaining that resistance.

    I think it is very appropriate to communicate the worst case scenarios, although without exaggerating their likelihood; those are surely high amongst the risks we are seeking to minimise. A one in ten likelihood of something that will be globally catastrophic is, by my standards, something to be very alarmed about. I don’t see how avoiding emphasis of that alarming possibility in some effort to tailor communications to sound more positive is going to be more effective when communicating with people who have already demonstrated they want to believe there is nothing to be alarmed about, who value justification for preventing or delaying strong actions and already have a history of supporting anti-communications to make the belief that there is nothing to be alarmed about with respect to climate change – only with the policy responses to it.

    I don’t know what kind of communications can work with such an audience and maybe it’s a matter of generational change displacing and diminishing their influence – but that is not good, knowing that delay is not our friend and a one in ten chance could become one in five while we fiddle and diddle. I suspect no “kid gloves” kind of communications will move these obstructors, it will take the “gloves off” sort. Successful legal actions setting precedents for culpability?

  30. Ragnaar says:

    Scientists > Journalists > Us

    Journalists are going off the rails because of the huge growth of the interwebs.

  31. John Hartz says:

    If I had a dollar for each article about how best to communicate climate science that I have come across during the past ten years, I would be a rich man. 🙂

  32. Ken Fabian: “Other kinds of climate communication don’t face organised, well funded, widely supported anti-communication and opposition – because there aren’t trillions of dollars of energy related investments at stake.

    Outside of America there are also trillions of dollars at stake, but you do not see them buying politicians who claim climate change is a (Chinese) hoax or at least that we are not sure what is causing climate change.

    The deep political corruption is special and especially problematic combined with a culture war where people accept their politicians to be climate-hoaxers because at least they are not Democrats. These corrupt politicians then provide the cover to corporate cable news to report on this train-wrack.

    So, yes, I do not think that the problem is how scientists communicate, but it is also not just powerful interests. The corruption-tribalism complex is also important.

  33. Two items: one: cautious science communicators tend to flame less-than-cautious communicators when the calamity we face is even slightly dramatized or exaggerated. I think the energy flaming or even correcting other folks who think big steps are needed is a really bad idea because it creates dissension, supports the idea that there is no scientific consensus and most importantly, it’s a waste of the energy that should be directed at folks who deny or soft pedal the dangers of climate change through willful ignorance or greedy deception. I think there is some undercurrent at work about great accuracy or who is most right about how bad the situation is that plays out in some chiding that is counterproductive. I think the best response when someone exaggerates or misses on the high side by a bit would be,”I hear you, I think it’s not quite that bad, but I believe it’s bad enough that I am not going to expend any effort trying to convince you to walk it back a bit when so much effort is needed to address the bad faith and/or ignorance of the denier community. ” But as another has said, if I had a dollar for every time I read about communication. This reflects our collective frustration with our species’ commitment to slow or no change in systems that threaten the well-being of some many individuals and species.

    The science is being communicated. Public policy is being set by the highest bidder.

  34. both approaches are fine and they are complementary. If you are not scared about climate change, you should read Wallace-Wells. If you are already scared at some level and want to engage in an optimistic efforts to stave off disaster, you should read folks like Knowlton. It’s not either or, it’s both and…

  35. Ken Fabian says:

    Previous post was supposed to be “Other kinds of science communication” – but I hope the meaning is still clear.

    Victor – Are there no influential, organised opponents of strong climate action within European nations? I have to wonder if they are there and they hold similar views to their English speaking counterparts, but are close mouthed and are taking care to cloak their more fundamental opposition in economic alarmist or other rhetoric?

  36. smallbluemike, scientists will disappoint you. It is not in the nature of scientists to ignore errors for external reasons, especially as a group.

    It would also be stupid: destroy the reputation of science and people would notice the bias and discount the problem as less serious as presented. This is a marathon, we will not be at zero-carbon emissions before 2050; one should not destroy the reputation of science gratuitously.

    It would have been possible for the scientists to just say that the article of Wallace-Wells had some inaccuracies and exaggerations, but the people who think more doom is better communication were not amused by any critique and jumped on it and forced a much longer and more detailed debate about the problems.

  37. Victor, you make my point: I think there is some undercurrent at work about great accuracy or who is most right about how bad the situation is that plays out in some chiding that is counterproductive.

    Another option is for scientists or technocrats who think another has overstated the case is to say nothing, to remain quiet, to stop the chiding of the fearful, maybe say, well, some of this is certainly a little scary. Unless, of course, you think what is happening is not scary?

    You may be correct. Maybe global decarbonization is like running a marathon and our plan for completing the marathon in good condition and in the time that we have set as a goal is going pretty well. Is that what you believe?

    It seems a little presumptuous for anyone to jump to the defense of the reputation of science or to worry about destroying the reputation gratuitously. The history of science is that scientists often get things quite wrong in rather spectacular ways. Or that scientific inquiry and study produces tragic outcomes in a myriad of ways. My own take on the reputation of science is that science has a very checkered history, but that given enough time and effort, the scientific process can lead us to know what is true and what is not. Science is not a white knight in my estimation. It may just be a knight.

    I don’t respond with these comments with any malice and my questions are not rhetorical.

    All that said, I really believe that it makes little sense for me to engage in these exchanges and I really wonder why I can’t just step fully away from these exchanges. I am reeling in the years as they say. I am slowing down. The day will come when I will step away from these exchanges.

    Warm regards to all,

    Mike

  38. Steven Mosher says:

    “If I had a dollar for each article about how best to communicate climate science that I have come across during the past ten years, I would be a rich man. 🙂”

    If you had bought a bitcoin every time you read one, then well, just saying

  39. Describing accurately what we know and what we don’t know and how we know this is not an undercurrent. It is science. Feel free to write doomsday stories, the worst case scenarios are terrifying, but do not expect scientists to give up their culture.

    If you do not want to see critiques of doomsday stories getting big: write accurate ones and stop attacking scientists.

    Something I forgot to mention before: In Europe the anti-climate-science movement is a fringe outside of the racist parties. However, that does not mean that parties who acknowledge there is a problem put much priority into solving it. Climate change is still an abstract and slow-moving problem and the companies that stand to lose from solving it are still powerful.

    So even if the people were right who dream that when scientists would just communicate better WUWT & Co. would go away, the climate problem would still not be solved. It is probably smart to put your energy in promoting solutions, which have many benefits beyond climate change, than trying to “convince” unreasonable people who in my view often know they are wrong, but are not willing to say so.

  40. John Hartz says:

    Well worth watching…

  41. Victor Venema (@VariabilityBlog) says:
    December 3, 2017 at 3:13 am
    “smallbluemike, scientists will disappoint you. It is not in the nature of scientists to ignore errors for external reasons, especially as a group.”
    December 3, 2017 at 2:24 pm
    “If you do not want to see critiques of doomsday stories getting big: write accurate ones and stop attacking scientists.”
    __________________________________________

    What I don’t understand is why more focus isn’t directed towards exposing, confronting, and dogging contrarian lies – the ones get repeated ad nausea.
    Dissect and expose and dog the bitches to hell. Case in point “science, science, science” ( http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/19555/ )
    _________________________________________________________

    For what it’s worth, I’ve started a new blog, not that different from What’s Up With That Watts – but more direct and to the point (and non apologetic J.H.!). Unfortunately my free time is a limited as ever so it’ll take a while to get into full bloom. Still come on down have a peek, I look forward to listening to some complaints, or critiques.
    __________________________________________________________
    https://confrontingsciencecontrarians.blogspot.com
    “Confronting Science Contrarians”
    This is a learning project dedicated to dissecting, examining, and confronting the deception dependent Republican assault on climate science and rational constructive debate. ~ I’m no scholar or journalist so it’s rough around the edges. What I am is a life-long passionate student of our planet Earth in all her marvelous aspects, along with the humans she created and the evolving society Earth enabled and nurtured. ~ I invite, nay, I challenge, honest debate and discussion.
    ___________________________________________________________

  42. BBD says:

    If you had bought a bitcoin every time you read one, then well, just saying

    One Bitcoin transaction uses as much energy as your house in a week,

    Perhaps all this Bitcoining isn’t such a good idea after all.

  43. Victor Venema (@VariabilityBlog) says: December 3, 2017 at 3:13 am
    “smallbluemike, scientists will disappoint you. It is not in the nature of scientists to ignore errors for external reasons, especially as a group.”
    December 3, 2017 at 2:24 pm
    “If you do not want to see critiques of doomsday stories getting big: write accurate ones and stop attacking scientists.”
    __________________________________________

    What I don’t understand is why more focus isn’t directed towards exposing, confronting, and dogging contrarian lies – the ones get repeated ad nausea.
    Dissect and expose and dog the bitches to hell. Case in point “science, science, science”
    ( http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/19555/ )
    _________________________________________________________

    For what it’s worth, I’ve started a new blog, not that different from What’s Up With That Watts – but more direct and to the point (and non apologetic J.H.!). Unfortunately my free time is as limited as ever so it’ll take a while to get into full bloom.
    Still come on down have a peek, I look forward to listening to some complaints, or critiques.
    __________________________________________________________
    https://confrontingsciencecontrarians.blogspot.com

    “Confronting Science Contrarians”

    “This is a learning project dedicated to dissecting, examining, and confronting the deception dependent Republican assault on climate science and rational constructive debate. ~ I’m no scholar or journalist so it’s rough around the edges. What I am is a life-long passionate student of our planet Earth in all her marvelous aspects, along with the humans she created and the evolving society Earth enabled and nurtured. ~ I invite, nay, I challenge, honest debate and discussion.”
    ___________________________________________________________
    “Dysfunctional Climate Science Communication in 14 verses.”
    https://confrontingsciencecontrarians.blogspot.com/2017/12/dysfunctional-science-communication.html

  44. Example of what I mean by dissecting the debate

    “Responding to malicious slander with a character reference.”
    12/2/17 – ConfrontingScienceContrarians.blogspot.com

    “When confronting science contrarians, we are dealing with people who have no serious evidence or honest science on their side, thus they have no interest in actually discussing these questions seriously. Sowing confusion, divisiveness and inaction are their only goals.

    That’s why defenders of science will find that contrarian opponents are constantly diverting the discussion away from the issue at hand using amoral tactics such as attacking, belittling, even maliciously slandering the messenger, while ignoring the message. Better yet, they hit below the belt, frazzle their opponent into descending into the mud pit of insult slinging and losing all sight of the original discussion.

    These tactics are intending to demoralize all who attempt defending serious science. …”

  45. BBD says:

    Speaking of science communication and obstruction of it, this made my blood boil somewhat. It’s from today’s Sunday Times (Murdoch) and is therefore paywalled, but I have transcribed the text:

    Coral reefs gone in 80 years, says Sir David

    Attenborough will end his hugely popular Blue Planet II series with a stark warning

    Coral reefs, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, will have died and dissolved away by 2100, Sir David Attenborough will say in the last programme of his Blue Planet II series, to be shown next Sunday. He will warn that CO2 emissions are making the oceans increasingly acidic. As a result, coral and seashells dissolve faster than sea creatures can build them, spelling destruction for reefs across the world.

    […]

    Such statements are understood to have caused some concern in the upper echelons of the BBC, where senior executives are scared of the hugely popular series appearing to become politicised.

    It is understood they ordered that the script be fact-checked, but all Attenborough’s comments were found to be based on solid scientific sources.

    So, here we have Attenborough making scientifically-based statements about climate impacts and the ‘management’ at the BBC immediately start panicking about DA making politicised statements.

    This is what the right has done – it has created a framing where a scientifically-supported position is now widely perceived as political bias and so can be dismissed as such by those who don’t wish the facts to be known.

    It’s okay to show all the pretty fishes and corals, but it’s cause for alarm when you point out that we’ll have destroyed them all by the end of the century if we carry on the way we are.

  46. John Hartz says:

    citizenschallenge:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve started a new blog, not that different from What’s Up With That Watts – but more direct and to the point (and non apologetic J.H.!).

    At the end of the day, we all do what we perceive to be in our best interest,

    Good luck with your new blog.

  47. hey John, you do know that it’s inaccurate to say that “we all do what we perceive to be in our best interest”, right? I think it’s commonly true, but throws out a lot of virtuous, courageous, and generous action by individuals that can easily be shown actions taken that are not in our best interest. Soldiers falling on grenades to save others? Altruism is about doing what is perceived to be best when the action offers no advantage and is not in the best interest of the actor. Maybe I misunderstand your response to CC?

  48. John Hartz says:

    smallbluemike: A soldier falling on a gernade is doing what he perceives to be in his best interest from his perspective, not yours..

  49. izen says:

    @-BBD
    “This is what the right has done – it has created a framing where a scientifically-supported position is now widely perceived as political bias and so can be dismissed as such by those who don’t wish the facts to be known.”

    Reality has a liberal bias.

  50. jacksmith4tx says:

    On the topic of communication. This maybe a insurmountable problem because the way our brains work. Human nature, driven by greed and the pursuit of instant gratification, will overwhelm any sensible, logic based debate. Daniel Kahneman’s research in ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ gave a solid case why we can’t deal with long term problems like climate change or resource depletion. For a real world example just look at the rate of monetary debt the world is creating!
    Our technology created the problem of altering the chemistry of the planet and if the species (humans) plan on outliving the stored energy that is left on the balance sheet it looks like that same (accelerating) technology will have to create a solution. We don’t know what that solution will look like but you can be sure A.I. and genetic engineering will be a big part of it. Sit back and enjoy the show, our destiny was written before we were born.

    Bitcoin seems to have discovered the ultimate power source. Based on the amount of energy (KWH) pumped in to ‘mining’ cyber-currency and the resulting monetary value of the resulting virtual currency I predict they could buy enough electricity on the open market to run the entire planet in a few years. The only downside is that it will one day take the entire planets electrical output to create the last bitcoin+1.
    Or maybe not? This just happened…
    “Just after 430pm ET (12/3/17) bitcoin, and the entire crypto space, tumbled, with Bitcoin plunging from session highs just under $12,000 to a low of $10,600 on what appeared at first sight to be no news…. Moments later this: UK “ministers are launching a crackdown on the virtual currency Bitcoin amid growing concern it is being used to launder money and dodge tax.”

    “Science is a thought process, technology will change reality.”

  51. Love those profound nothings John. It’s real life down here on street level.

  52. John Hartz says:

    citizenschallenge: Life is what you perceive it to be.

  53. Willard says:

    Because it’s been a while:

  54. John Hartz says:

    Life is Worth Living
    Justin Bieber*

    Ended up on a crossroad
    Try to figure out which way to go
    It’s like you’re stuck on a treadmill
    Running in the same place
    You got your hazard lights on now
    Hoping that somebody would slow down
    Praying for a miracle
    Who’ll show you grace?
    Had a couple dollars and a quarter tank of gas
    With a long journey ahead
    Seen a truck pull over
    God sent an angel to help you out
    He gave you direction
    Showed you how to read a map
    With a long journey ahead
    Said it ain’t over
    Oh, even in the midst of doubt

    Life is worth living
    Life is worth living, so live another day
    The meaning of forgiveness
    People make mistakes, doesn’t mean you have to give in
    Life is worth living again

    Relationship on a ski slope
    Avalanche comin’ down slow
    Do we have enough time to salvage this love?
    Feels… Full lyrics on Google Play Music

    *A Canadian.

  55. Ragnaar says:

    Bitcoin.
    It is backed by… I am not sure. Exxon-Mobil shares are backed by oil wells and stuff. Oil underground. And sort of backed by blue sky.
    Greenbacks are backed by a promise inside a locked box in D.C. Perhaps the whole greenback thing is best not thought about.
    On the other hand, when your competition is a promise locked inside a box, why not?
    What’s real estate? Maybe the most backed form of wealth.

  56. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    I just find myself rather irritated by those who seem incapable of communicating effectively themselves, complaining about others they regard as ineffective communicators.

    Consider the beauty of the irony.

  57. Joshua,

    Consider the beauty of the irony.

    There is an element of beauty, but which is mostly overwhelmed by how irritated I am by it.

  58. John Hartz says:

    David Roberts chimes in on what I call the Yin and Yang of communicating climate scince…

    Does hope inspire more action on climate change than fear? We don’t know. by David Roberts, Energy & Environment, Vox, Dec 5, 2017

    Roberts’ conclusion: On climate change communications, the science really isn’t settled.

  59. Joshua says:

    John. Thanks for that David Roberts link. I really liked it a lot.

    And I say that even though he completely fucking stole my “climate-o-sphere.” 🙂

  60. Joshua says:

    Hmmm. I did find a 2012 article where he used the expression. This could be one of those “great minds think alike” situations.

  61. John Hartz says:

    Ben Santer skewers the Red Team/Blue Team charade being banteed about by Scott Pruitt and the inhabitants of Deniersville in…

    Alternative Facts” about Climate Change by Ben Santer, Observations, Scientific American, Dec 5, 2017

    The ball of wax addressed by Santer begs the question: How do scientists convice the general public that the scientific body of evidence about manmade climat change is composed of “real facts”?

  62. Too little time to do any of this justice, but certain points need to be made.

    _____________________________________________
    Read both
    “Does hope inspire more action on climate change than fear? We don’t know.”
    On climate change communications, the science really isn’t settled.
    Updated by David Roberts

    “ One is not a “science denier” if one disagrees with the rhetorical or policy judgments of climate scientists.
    Passing subjective judgments about communications off as hard science only makes it more difficult for the public to identify who can be trusted. It is not ultimately up to scientists how people communicate. …”
    __________________________
    CC:
    What was missing from Roberts’ article and most others is a recognition of the fundamental dishonest nature of one side of this public debate that’s supposed to be a communal learning dialogue.

    Explicitly examine dishonest tactics – stop and confront delusional thinking, rather than constantly giving it a pass.

    There’s a tacit assumption that we are dealing with people of good faith and honest exchange of ideas in the market place of ideas. But that is decidedly and tragically not true! Many have even evolved to resent learning for its own sake. Expose the lopsided dishonesty of that “market place of ideas” – stop accepting that lies have become a respected free speech right for one side of this politicization of politics – expose the obscenity of that.

    Why not repeatedly expose the trail of lies and deceptions and worse, like the many instances of malign intent and character assassination. Etc. What do we have to lose?

    _________________________

    Then you included that article by Ben Santer, bless you my friend. 😉 That is a piece of gold! Should be read by everyone.

    “Alternative Facts” about Climate Change”
    The Trump administration’s proposal to re-evaluate the science is really an attempt to muddy the waters
    By Ben Santer on December 5, 2017

    “… Reality is not fungible. It is not partisan. It cannot be altered by denying its existence. Yet another RT/BT process—a process that was already tried three years ago, but failed to undermine the basic findings of climate science—will not change the reality that humans are affecting global climate. Human actions have contributed significantly to warming oceans and land, rising sea level, retreat of snow and ice, and changes in extreme events. Nature will not save us from the consequences of these actions. Only human wisdom and intelligence can do that. …”
    ______________________
    CC: Now that’s I something to work with. Wish I could dive into it right now. but alas need the sleep, more floor area to level, gonna be a long week in a dirty old house.

  63. John Hartz says:

    citizenschallenge: You wrote;
    Why not repeatedly expose the trail of lies and deceptions and worse, like the many instances of malign intent and character assassination. Etc. What do we have to lose?
    A number of prominent websites have been doing just that for years, e,g,, DeSmog, InsideClimate News, ClimateNexus, etc.
    Are you calling for every article on the topic of manmade climate change and/or what to do about it to include a section that exposes the trail of lies and deceptions and worse created by the folk inhabiting Deniersville?

  64. John Hartz says:

    ATTP/Willard: Please delete the first of my above duplicate posts. Thanks.

  65. John Hartz says:

    citizenschallenge: Here’s an example of an expose article recently commissioned and posted by DeSmog UK.

    Mapped: The Brexiteer Climate Science Denial Network Beneath the Tory-DUP Coalition Pact by Mat Hope, DeSmog UK, June 15, 2017 

    Does this article meet your criteria?

  66. John Hartz says:

    citizenschallenge: Here’s an example of an expose article recently commissioned and posted by InsideClimate News:.

    Instrument of Power: How Fossil Fuel Donors Shaped the Anti-Climate Agenda of a Powerful Congressional Committee by Marianne Lavelle & David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News, Dec 5, 2017

    Does this article meet your criteria?

  67. enricouva says:

    There are indeed many scientists who are effective communicators. CBC’s Quirks and Quarks has been interviewing several scientists on a weekly basis for over 40 years. If you compare what they say to the content of their their research papers, you will likely agree that they generally present simplified views of their research without distorting the science. Another example is the magazine Scientific American. Although in the past decade they have been publishing more articles by journalists, their best articles have always been those written by researchers themselves, and those are clear and well-illustrated.

  68. enricouva,

    There are indeed many scientists who are effective communicators.

    Indeed, which is why I find myself frustrated by generalisations about scientists being poor communicators.

  69. John Hartz says:

    I highly recommend that everyone following this thread take a few minutes to read:

    Myth and Dystopia in the Anthropocene by Mark Kernan, Open Democracy/Reslience, Dec 6, 2017

    It is a thought-provoking article on many fronts. Its central theme is that the most effective communicators are storytellers.

    In my opinion, Richard Alley and Klatharine Hayoe are two examples of climate scienitsts who are excellent storytellers. Elizabeth Kolbert is an example of a science journalist.who is an excellent storyteller.

  70. John Hartz says:

    ‘Tis the Season to promote storytelling…

    The Desirability of Storytellers

    Among Filipino hunter-gatherers, storytelling is valued more than any other skill, and the best storytellers have the most children.

    by Ed Yong, The Atlantic, Dec 5, 2017

    Once upon a time, the sun and moon argued about who would light up the sky. They fought, as anthropomorphic celestial bodies are meant to do, but after the moon proves to be as strong as the sun, they decide to take shifts. The sun would brighten the day, while the moon would illuminate the night.

    This is one of several stories told by the Agta, a group of hunter-gatherers from the Philippines. They spend a lot of time spinning yarns to each other, and like their account of the sun and moon, many of these tales are infused with themes of cooperation and equality. That’s no coincidence, says Andrea Migliano, an anthropologist at University College London.

    Storytelling is a universal human trait. It emerges spontaneously in childhood, and exists in all cultures thus far studied. It’s also ancient: Some specific stories have roots that stretch back for around 6,000 years. As I’ve written before, these tales aren’t quite as old as time, but perhaps as old as wheels and writing. Because of its antiquity and ubiquity, some scholars have portrayed storytelling as an important human adaptation—and that’s certainly how Migliano sees it. Among the Agta, her team found evidence that stories—and the very act of storytelling—arose partly as a way of cementing social bonds, and instilling an ethic of cooperation.

    Click here to access the entire article.

  71. John Hartz says: December 6, 2017 at 3:43 pm and 7:03 pm “Does this article(s) meet your criteria?” Those are fine articles indeed. Now can you show me where those articles are being wielded to good purpose? That would be interesting. Though I’d like to note that deliberately attempting to misunderstand me – will lead to misunderstanding.

    Now this evening I was finally able to do my reading assignments, I appreciate the many offerings, my hope is to have tomorrow for me and CSC and hopefully I can come up with a more lucid go at explaining myself. Thanks for the feedback.

  72. John Hartz says:

    citizenschallenge: You ask:

    Now can you show me where those articles are being wielded to good purpose?

    Did you know that the articles existed before I posted links to them?

    Regardless, how are you going to wield the articles to good purpose?

  73. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: As you acknowlege in the OP, you have, over the years, posted numerous articles about various aspects of communicating the science of climate change. In the main, those articles have framed the isue in terms of scientists communicating to non-scientists. There are other framings that must also be adressed (not necessarily by you on this venue). A prime example would be parents communicating the science of climate change to their children, or vice versa.

    The following article prompted me to post this comment.

    How to Help My Daughter Face Climate Change With an Open Heart, Book Review by Chris Moore-Backman, Yes! Magazine, Dec 4, 2017

    In the interest of transparency, Moore-Backman’s article is primarily a review of the new book, Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, by Peter Kalmus who, according to Moore-Blackman, “… shows why, on the cusp of climate catastrophe, we are neither choiceless nor powerless.”

    Moore-Blackman’s article prompted me to purchase a copy of Klaus’s book.

  74. JohnH: “Does this article meet your criteria?”
    My criteria. Hmmm. Right now my criteria is all about trying to define my impressions of decades worth of being witness to science communication backsliding. I don’t have the luxury of time to acquire the sort of breath you possess and appreciate all serious reading suggestions I receive.
    I’m doing the best I can with what I got.

    Today I not get near the time I’d hoped, but enough so here are some thoughts about the Map vs. Territory Problem I’ve really been struggling with trying to enunciate –

    “Exploring the Map vs Territory Problem – via the Brown Ocean Effect and Dr. Trenberth”

    “On November 9th Dr. Trenberth visited our local Fort Lewis College and was the featured speaker at an afternoon climate change symposium.
    As a self-taught Earth and climate science enthusiast I’ve been familiar with his work for decades and have learned a great deal from his articles and in past years talks on YouTube and I was glad to finally have the chance to see and hear him in person. …”

    https://confrontingsciencecontrarians.blogspot.com/2017/12/exploring-map-territory-problem.html

    cheers

  75. John Hartz says:

    citizenschallenge: Yes, I have the advantage of being retired and the support of my lovely wife.
    Peace!

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