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« Charles Clover's strange gas number | Main | Bjorn Lomborg on the Dara report »
Sunday
Sep302012

Emily Shuck on climate and the public

Emily Shuckburgh, who was much discussed here a year or so ago, has written a report about communication of climate science to the public - how well it has gone so far and what can be done to make it better.

The study shows that while a substantial majority of the UK public believe the world’s climate is changing, many feel relatively uninformed about, or uninterested in, the findings of climate science, and a sizable minority do not trust climate scientists to tell the truth about climate change.

This seems fair enough to me. I wonder though if the report might have been better to say "some climate scientists", since even rabid sceptics like me do not think all climatologists are dishonest.

The difficulties of reporting uncertainty are given a good going over, since the public seem to prefer facts and certainty to worth expressions of doubt:

Participants in each of the focus groups appeared very sensitive to the use of descriptions of uncertainty and were particularly drawn to words such as ‘could’, ‘may’ and ‘suggest’. These were generally used in news reports to signify scientific uncertainty, but were often interpreted by the participants more as expressions of ignorance (i.e. total lack of knowledge)...These terms of uncertainty were picked out and commented upon as the scientists “sitting on the fence”, the news report not being “conclusive” and “lacking facts”. This led to much frustration among the participants who wanted definitive statements.

One focus group participant referred to the use of the term "the finger of suspicion" apparently concluding that the scientists knew nothing. The report's authors are concerned about this attitude, but it seems eminently reasonable to me. If knowledge is a continuum from ignorance to certainty, then fingers of suspicion are to be found very near the ignorance end of the scale. Reasonable people may decide that if we only have a suspicion, then our state of knowledge is insufficiently advanced to justify any policy reaction.

In some ways then the report seems to say as much about climatologists and the report's authors as it does about the members of the public they are studying. Professor Curry noted yesterday that climate scientists seem to have a problem in admitting their ignorance and taking it into account in their assessments of science. It is good that many members of the public see through this.

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Reader Comments (35)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEEZwHX23c0
The Hockey Stick lives !
Nutty professor just back from the Arctic with the Grauniad's John Vidal, (courtesy of Greenpeace) reveals it once again.
Wadhams is so far round the bend that it's no wonder John Vidal removed all mention of Arctic Sea Ice as soon as he got back to the office, and changed the subject altogether.
How embarrassing !

Sep 30, 2012 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered Commentertoad

These terms of uncertainty were picked out and commented upon as the scientists “sitting on the fence”, the news report not being “conclusive” and “lacking facts”. This led to much frustration among the participants who wanted definitive statements.
'could', 'may', 'suggest'... Those *are* the definitive statements!

I agree it is good that the public can see this. I wonder if they also see the gulf between what is being said by climate scientists and how their work gets picked up by advocates and mashed into policy decisions. A lack of support for green politics and green policies may point the finger of suspicion in the direction of the public not being a bunch of mugs.

Sep 30, 2012 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Good morning Bishop Everyone. Im 1st on.
How many years ago did Tony Blair make Climate Change part of the UK National Curriculum.
How old would those kids be now .? Do they still believe it?

Sep 30, 2012 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

When researchers look at the population and find that many are uninformed or uninterested and wonder how they can get their message heard, I would suggest they look at what the general public does on Sunday. In the morning, an ever declining number go to church to be preached at while they try to stay awake. In the afternoon, large numbers go to stadiums or crowd around their TV's to watch football contest where the outcome is never known ahead of time. It seems if you want the general public to take a deeper interest in climate science, forget the preaching and embrace the uncertainty as the uncertainty drives interest.

Sep 30, 2012 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterSean

this doesn't help the CAGW side, bish:

29 Sept: MSNBC: Could asteroid dust counter climate change on Earth?
Sounds crazy: Scientists suggest anchoring space rock between us and the sun
To combat global warming, scientists in Scotland now suggest an out-of-this-world solution — a giant dust cloud in space, blasted off an asteroid, which would act like a sunshade for Earth
The main challenge of this proposal would be pushing an asteroid the size of Ganymed to the sun-Earth L1 point…
The scientists will detail their findings in the Nov. 12 issue of the journal Advances in Space Research
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49226984/ns/technology_and_science-science/

Sep 30, 2012 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

post failed, second try.

this doesn't help the CAGW side, bish:

29 Sept: MSNBC: Could asteroid dust counter climate change on Earth?
Sounds crazy: Scientists suggest anchoring space rock between us and the sun
To combat global warming, scientists in Scotland now suggest an out-of-this-world solution — a giant dust cloud in space, blasted off an asteroid, which would act like a sunshade for Earth
The main challenge of this proposal would be pushing an asteroid the size of Ganymed to the sun-Earth L1 point…
The scientists will detail their findings in the Nov. 12 issue of the journal Advances in Space Research
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49226984/ns/technology_and_science-science/

Sep 30, 2012 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

For me its a long walk from a decline in bees to a warming climate to ACO2 to global catastrophe to what to do about it. My walk is shorter where I see a growing number of unskilled apiarists.

Sep 30, 2012 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

Ha Ha Ha.

Emily's team has had 4 TV stations and most of the press on her side. They have force-fed a whole generation of schoolchildren with their apocalyptic views. They have infiltrated a whole range of organisations - from big charities like Oxfam right through to the Girl Guides.

But THEY ARE LOSING GROUND.

And I read their new plan to turn this round - interested to see new tactics outlined or maybe details of a different message. All it says is ... "we need a plan to turn this round".

Sep 30, 2012 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Here's a quick list of failed tactics...

1) Turning the propaganda up to 11
2) Giving people more information
3) Al Gore
4) Blowing up schoolchildren

Here's one idea that hasn't been tried yet (could be difficult)
1) Stop telling lies

Sep 30, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Bish observes:

In some ways then the report seems to say as much about climatologists and the report's authors as it does about the members of the public they are studying.

Quite so. Interesting that the Foreword was written by "Lord Stern of Brentford"

And that Bob Ward is included in the authors' Acknowledgements. So it is not surprising that the paper indicates (p.17):

several recent studies have reaffirmed that there is broad agreement in the scientific community that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing global temperatures41

Can you guess what footnote 41 is all about?! Yep:

41 See Doron and Kendall Zimmerman (2009), Anderegg et al. (2010) and Farnsworth and Lichter (2011).

IMHO, this paper is yet another in a rising tide of "we are climate scientists and we know best" whose authors have conveniently forgotten that until approx. 3 years ago they had the media and communication floor all to themselves, as noted by no less a luminary than Rajendra K. Pachauri, circa July 2009:

[...] AR5 is being taken in hand at a time when awareness on climate change issues has reached a level unanticipated in the past. Much of this change can be attributed to the findings of the AR4 which have been disseminated actively through a conscious effort by the IPCC, its partners and most importantly the media. [emphasis added -hro]

But all of this aside, what is it that these science communication desperados do not understand (as UNEP's Chief Scientist and former IPCC-nik, Joseph Alcamo most certainly did in October 2009) about:

as policymakers and the public begin to grasp the multi-billion dollar price tag for mitigating and adapting to climate change, we should expect a sharper questioning of the science behind climate policy [emphasis added -hro]

I've only skimmed part of the paper, and I will give the authors credit for citing Nisbet. But with Ward and Stern in the advisory mix, I doubt very much that one will find much common sense emerging from the conclusions!

Sep 30, 2012 at 11:49 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

A study would probably show little public interest in the incidence of hemorrhoids in Algerian teenagers.
You are badly deluded if you think that there is importance in every article that includes the pixie dust words of 'climate change'.

Sep 30, 2012 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

General MannChett "Another big push and the denialists will be killed off. Climate Wars won by Christmas!"

Sep 30, 2012 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterAC1

Moving a large asteroid to the L1 point and blowing it up would not create a stationary cloud of dust, or am I missing something?

Sep 30, 2012 at 1:46 PM | Registered CommenterDung

There are a handful of other ways in which the climate people inflate their own bubble. One is by quoting, and believing surveys which are conducted worldwide at regular intervals, in which the question - "Do you think global warming is a serious problem?" - is asked. The answer is always "yes" from impressive majorities of populations.

(for e.g., see Brechin and Bhandari. Perceptions of climate change worldwide. WIREs Clim Change 2011, 2:871–885. doi: 10.1002/wcc.146)

The ancillary and more important question that is never asked *simultaneously* ... ? "Where in your list of serious problems do you place global warming?" The answer is invariably - 'in the last possible position'.

Sep 30, 2012 at 1:48 PM | Registered Commentershub

From the report, which recommends:

...giving thought to how climate scientists might work with others to embed scientific statements in broader messages using diverse communications channels; and encouraging activities that encompass two-way engagement between scientists and the public.

Does that ring a bell?

Sep 30, 2012 at 1:54 PM | Registered Commentershub

In setting up its argument, the report states:

"Just over two-thirds (69±3%) of respondents agreed they would be willing to change their behaviour to help limit climate change

The sheer stupidity of this proposition notwithstanding, it should be evident, that almost *everyone* would agree to be "willing to change behaviour to help limit climate change."

The real question is, 'will you actually do it?' Especially in a way that actually has an impact what you are trying to achieve through such methods, i.e., reduce consumption of energy, change patterns of energy consumption, and give up the standard of life and health presently being enjoyed?

The answer, again available in information indirectly inferred from surveys, is a resounding "No."

The report is therefore a waste of time.

It is interesting however as an academic epiphenomenon to see how many variations of the same theme researchers in climate 'communication' keep coming up with, under the same false inference, namely, that 'the climate problem is real, lots of people believe in it, and they are all willing to make big sacrifices for it'.

Sep 30, 2012 at 2:10 PM | Registered Commentershub

I have yet to have formal correspondence with an honest climate scientist.
To date, each and every one has been a lying chalatan.

Sep 30, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Dung, the asteroid paper is available online at http://strathprints.strath.ac.uk/39705/ if you're interested. They do consider the effects of solar radiation pressure and the instability of the L1 point if that's what's worrying you.

Sep 30, 2012 at 3:13 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Shub, the most interesting question is "How much would you be willing to pay to fix climate change?" Various numbers that Pielke Jr has reported suggests that in the US the answer is about $100/year, and I would expect the UK number to be of the same broad order of magnitude.

Sep 30, 2012 at 3:15 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones

My unsophisticated, uneducated worry is that if you blow something up in space then the debris will move away from the source of the explosion and keep going?
My second worry would be that however hard it would be to move an asteroid to this position and anchor it, it will be a hell of a lot harder to remove a large dust cloud should they happen to create one and it does not have the required effect.

Sep 30, 2012 at 4:22 PM | Registered CommenterDung

During recent years there have been a flood of alarmist papers, cherry picking of data, poor analysis of data, attempts to smear or discredit sceptics, corruption of peer review, intimidation of journal editors, selective presentation of facts, manipulation of raw data, etc.

It is no surprise that some people view this “science” with suspicion. I accept that a proportion of climate scientists may be honest, but some of these appear to be indoctrinated in the faith rather than open-minded and objective.

Sep 30, 2012 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Dung, the paper itself doesn't mention blowing asteroids up. It assumes that the dust cloud is initially fairly static, and mostly calculates the subsequent dispersion and motion due to the instability of the L1 point and the effects of solar wind. There is a discussion of how to create the cloud with low initial velocities, but it is not detailed or terribly convincing.

The cloud actually disperses quite rapidly, so removing it won't be a problem. It seems to me that it falls down to earth as it disperses, and if that's true then there would seem to be a major danger to satellites, but they talk about ow this is less bad for satellites than other proposals so perhaps I have missed something.

This isn't really a serious proposal, more a back of an envelope sketch that suggests that a bit of proper thought might be worthwhile.

Sep 30, 2012 at 5:23 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

The study is one of dozens from Pidgeon and co. looking for better ways to convince the public that climate change is a big problem, yet 2/3 of Brits already accept that CC is a problem big enough for them to be willing to change their behaviour - a remarkable proportion given the recession and that Britain will mostly benefit from climate change, with any major suffering being visited on distant foreigners. What more do these people want? Unanimity?

It's also very odd that the Pidgeon team stays well away from climate science when it evaluates the public's understanding of climate science. The team simply assumes that science says that climate change is one of the greatest problems facing mankind and the planet. If a portion of the public expresses doubts about this then, according to Pidgeon and co, the 'climate science' isn't being communicated adequately or motivated reasoning is getting in the way - yet they appear not to have checked what the science actually says. (I'm not thinking of this particular paper, which, apart from the fact that it exists at all seems pretty harmless.)

Sep 30, 2012 at 6:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterVinny Burgoo

Their basic problem:
The better they communicate, the more interested we become;
The more interested we become, the more we find out;
The more we find out, the less effective their communications.

The solution:
Try more honesty about the considerable uncertainties.

Sep 30, 2012 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve C

In some ways then the report seems to say as much about climatologists and the report's authors as it does about the members of the public they are studying.

Absolutely.

I read through this report genuinely open minded and looking for any possible information offered that may exist outside the minds of the creators.

There's none here.

I have read a few of these things now and they are always the same, woolly purpose, no focus, no conclusions- I can't see who or what this is for really except as some extra lubricant to smooth the mental chafing that must belabour the class of parasites that live in the sector that both creates and consumes this garbage.

Surely now the policy-makers must begin to see this? The scientists must see it too?

Apparently they think we are all at the level of idiot as we don't believe the decline in bee population is fully climate related

"This could be a simple graphical description, a straightforward explanation of a mechanism, or an ‘indicator of change’ such as the decline in the number of bees. "

or that

"Few people spontaneously think of everyday gas and electricity use as a contributor to climate change."

Weird eh? I'm guessing the lack of climate angst when we light the odd gas ring heating a tin of beans arises 'cos maybe we have heard of India and China who account for a bit more than that, and we wonder why aren't these focus group geniuses trying to persuade those guys.

It can't be because Sutton Coldfield outstrips BRIC on its own in CO2 emissions can it? ;)

Sep 30, 2012 at 9:22 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

As long as the ''Skeptics'' confuse big / small climatic changes with the phony GLOBAL warmings - they are just as guilty as the Warmist. Warmings / coolings are ALWAYS localized / NEVER global; the laws of physics don't permit warming of the whole planet!

Selling the phony GLOBAL warming as '' climate change'' is the mother of all con. Climate is in constant change; it's essential - to keep the genes for adaptation and diversification alive (use it or lose it) (most of the genes in every critter have become junk genes, but not the genes for adaptation - which proves that climate never stopped changing); Some places climate changes for better, other place / places for worse. Therefore: if somebody doesn't believe in climatic changes, needs a shrink : http://globalwarmingdenier.wordpress.com/climate/

Oct 1, 2012 at 1:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterstefanthedenier

"This led to much frustration among the participants who wanted definitive statements."

People understand that they are being asked to make sacrifices, to give things up, to perhaps accept a diminished standard of living. Schuckburgh seems perplexed that they have the gall to demand a level of certitude from the scientists who are providing the scientific justification for policies that portend economic discomfort or are themselves advocating such policies as necessary.

The science of AGW is inconclusive and people have a visceral understanding of this.

Oct 1, 2012 at 4:53 AM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

I’m half way through the report, and this seems to be the best survey of its kind that I’ve seen. The mix of statistics and focus groups is the only possible way to get at public opinion in any meaningful fashion.
Figure 2 p14 on trust in different groups to tell the truth about climate change is most interesting. Trust in all groups has fallen over the past five years, except business, which was already at rock bottom around 3-5%. Trust in government and the media is around 8%. Only independent scientists (51%) and environmental groups (32%) are trusted by signficant numbers, and both are down from just 5 years ago - scientists from 68% and environmental groups from 45%. At this rate, environmentalists will be registering the same degree of trust as governments in about 6-7 years’ time. No more huskies for Cameron, or snuggling up to Sandbag for Miliband, I think.

Oct 1, 2012 at 7:35 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

JJ

"the paper itself doesn't mention blowing asteroids up"

Shame. I was looking forward to hearing assorted greens trying to argue in favour of the venture. What could possibly have gone wrong? :-)

Oct 1, 2012 at 9:12 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

'The study shows that while a substantial majority of the UK public believe the world’s climate *is* changing ... ' (my emphasis)

Nice bit of linguistic sleight of hand there - notice the use of the present tense, to implant the subliminal message that this is a new and different sort of 'change'.

Oct 1, 2012 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

@GeoffChambers

Reading the whole piece qualifies as a "cruel and unusual punishment". I started off then I recognised the format. It's auto-produced by an automated madlib-style program that used to be available at boilerplate-lefty-downloads.com. You enter the desired length plus a few keywords and choose a style: the style can be academic/lawyerly/officious/pompous (you can select more than one). It then generates the pdf file.

I'm surprised we haven't heard from Shuk - she popped up here last time round. Hope she's doing some science as well as this tosh.

Oct 1, 2012 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Yes, this report is encouraging.
The number of people at least 'fairly concerned' is down from 76% (2009) to 71% (2010) to 63% (2011).
The number who say CC is exaggerated is up from 40% to 44%.
Most gratifying is the clear decline in trust of environmental groups shown in fig 2,
32% in 2011, 37% in 2009, 40% in 2008, 46% in 2006.

It's interesting that the authors can't bring themselves to say in the abstract what the survey really shows. "..current approaches to communicating climate science have not produced a clear understanding of the current state of knowledge.." translation: "The public aren't falling for the propaganda".

Oct 1, 2012 at 10:15 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Jack Hughes
It’s not that badly written, as “boilerplate lefty tosh” goes.
What I find interesting is the comparison between the focus group stuff (the softest of “soft” social science) and the “serious” statistical stuff.
In “proper” science, you can repeat any old rubbish, as long as you put a reference to a peer reviewed paper underneath (Doran and Zimmerman is a good one. It proves that everyone who doesn’t agree with you is wrong - now and until the end of time). In “qualitative” social research, every statement has to be backed up with a quote from a real live human being, however dim or ill-informed they may be.
It may not be science, as BH readers understand the word, but at least it’s a guarantee that the research results maintain some link with the real world.

Oct 1, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

From the report;


Focus group participants were looking for definitive statements and were very sensitive to the use of words such as ‘could’, ‘may’ and ‘suggest’.

The report itself contains...
33 'coulds'
79 'mays'
4 'suggests'
4 'perhapses'
18 'likelies'
23 'indicates'

Oh dear...

Oct 1, 2012 at 11:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Oct 1, 2012 at 9:53 AM | Jack Hughes

For more cruel and unusual punishment, try this:

http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

Oct 2, 2012 at 11:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

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