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« Japanese cool | Main | A new hockey team paper »
Thursday
Jan312013

The edge of the academy

Yesterday I had an interesting exchange of views with various members of staff at the University of Nottingham over the limits to academia. At what point does someone teeter on the brink between legitimate academic research and political activism?

I am uncomfortable with the idea of marketing as an academic specialism full stop. I seems to me to be hard to justify taxpayers having to cough up their hard earned cash so that academics can try to find ways of selling them things. Are we really happy with the man who sweeps the floor in the widget factory keeping middle-class boffins in this way?

However, there are situations that are worse still. Work aimed at changing other people's views on any particular issue is entirely illegimate. The particular case we discussed was that of Talking Climate, a website best known for its video extravaganza "How to Talk to a Climate Change Denier". Their website gives this information:

Talking Climate is a UK-based part­ner­ship between the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC), the Understanding Risk group at Cardiff University and the ‘Climate change as com­plex social issue’ research group at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, Nottingham University.

PIRC, is a climate activist group, run by familiar names such as Christian Hunt (of the Carbon Brief), Kirsty Schneeberger of UK Youth Climate Coalition, former Ralph Nader sidekick Charles Medawar, self-declared "climate advocate" Tim Helweg Larsen, and well-known climate academic-cum-activist Adam Corner. COIN is equally well known, and explains its job as trying to change attitudes and behaviour on climate change.

My Twitter conversation took in, among others, Brigitte Nerlich of Nottingham University. She had part-funding the Talking Climate Project out of her research money. She agreed with me that there was a difference between an academic's need to be policy-relevant and the situation in which they used their positions (and presumably public money) to advance particular points of view - a value-judgement.

This being the case seems to me that Prof Nerlich has a problem. She needs to convince us that when she was approached by these two patently activist organisations with a view to obtaining funding, she authorised the expenditure because she felt that together they would produce a website that was not seeking to advance a particular point of view. The chances of anyone being convinced by this are, to say the least, slim. I said I thought her actions represented a misuse of public funds. She protested, saying that she was non-political, a position I challenged, perhaps somewhat mischievously, by asking her to fund me as well. This is not, on the face of it, an unreasonable request, given that this site has become the venue for many important interactions between climate scientists and sceptics.

Unfortunately, that was the last we heard from Prof Nerlich.

I was then challenged by Adam Corner, who as well as being a board member of PIRC is an academic at Cardiff's school of pyschology. He is therefore central to the Talking Climate project. Corner's position was that Talking Climate is a "resource for research on climate change communication" (I urge readers to examine the site themselves to make up their own minds on this question) and that it actively sought engagement with sceptics. Here he cited a comment thread with Geoff Chambers., although I think Geoff visited the site to comment is hard to construe as Marshall et al "actively seeking engagement". 

But that's besides the point. Corner's final take was, rather remarkably, that I was only objecting to Nerlich's funding it because I think climate is contentious. Presumably he thinks climate is uncontentious.

What though, did he mean by "climate"? I couldn't get much out of him on this, apart from "you think AGW is contentious". This of course is not true, since I repeatedly say that mankind affects the climate, not least through CO2 emissions. That much is not contentious - at least not for me.

But the global warming debate is, nevertheless contentious. Estimates of climate sensitivity in the IPCC's draft report vary from a "shrug your shoulders and think about something more important level" of 0.7°C to a distinctly alarming 11°C per doubling. So, no matter what Adam Corner says, the global warming debate is contentious - this is the official IPCC take on the subject. That he pretends it is not puts him in a very small minority and cannot obscure the fact that he and his colleagues are using public funds to advance their view of that debate.

And even if the IPCC gave a single estimate of 11°C based on the output of a single climate model? Would that justify taxes being taken from people who disagree? Do Nerlich and Corner even recognise the right of people to have different opinions? If they do, then how can they justify using public funds to pay people like George Marshall to publish his slime?

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Reader Comments (111)

Work aimed at changing other people's views on any particular issue ....

Careful. You've just about plagiarised Stephan Lewandowsky's entire recent output.....

Jan 31, 2013 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

I think "PIRC" remains one of the most appropriate acronyms circulating for an organisation.

Jan 31, 2013 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

There is something seriously wrong with our academic institutions and their funding,
These people seem to forget that it is the public who are funding them and therefore, the public should be able to see these various links to activists. Public money for "scientific" research needs to be seriously looked at and those who receive it made responsible as to how it is spent (or misspent).

Jan 31, 2013 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

Christian Hunt (of the Carbon Brief), Kirsty Schneeberger of UK Youth Climate Coalition, former Ralph Nader sidekick Charles Medawar, self-declared "climate advocate" Tim Helweg Larsen,

Kirsty, Ralph, Charles, Tim, no doubt and all privately educated - rich kids always feel the urge to "give something back".
Social work is too boring, Charities pay better but battling climate change denial gives them a banner crusade to SAVE THE WORLD and the polar bears - from the 'evil deniers' blah blah.


Who, gave these shills the idea that 'climate denial' and whatever that is - shifting to a diagnosis of and some form of a type 'mental' problem? Which must lead one to draw the conclusion, that, in their world, divergence from the accepted post normal paradigm - that 'climate change denial' is seen as some form of 'illness'?

And shouldn't they all be up on the couch?

University psych' departments, are there to [waste taxpayers money] study behavioural traits, opinions and psychology of the human mind - they are not set up to change peoples opinions on anything, or subject.
Changing and reshaping peoples opinions [lives?] and minds is political advocacy of the first order.

The EU climate 'slush fund' is a vast resource, any University department short of a few sponduliks, all you have to do is somehow justify the course and gain funding - just add - climate change/global warming to the mix.

Have these useful idiots any real idea, don't they realise, that they are just cogs in the great scam machine themselves?

Jan 31, 2013 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

The tangled web of CO2-is-causing-a-crisis activists, apologists, opportunists, carpet-baggers, useful idiots, and no doubt many genuinely earnest saviours-of-the-planet that I know about has just been enlarged.

Oh poor mankind that such narrow (if not 'feeble') intellects talk so much and see themselves in heroic roles! It is not very nice having articulate fools intent on 'saving' you' once they graduate from wearing 'The End of the World is Nigh, Repent!' sandwich boards in high streets. You have to watch needless starvation in the poorest countries thanks to bio-fuels. You come across children frightened by the eco-scare stories deliberately pushed at them. You watch precious landscapes industrialised by an ancient technology that merely serves to push up energy bills and taxes, while despoiling hills and forests. You have to listen to low-information instant pundits on the media and in the pub talk about global warming and their prize ailment, their carbon footprint. You see once-more-admirable scientific institutions diverted from science and into an adolescent-level advocacy of fashionable soundbites and grossly irresponsible alarmism.

Meanwhile, the climate system continues to act just as it might if the extra CO2 was having a negligible effect.

Jan 31, 2013 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Not in this case, obviously, but the work "widget" sometimes seems to be used by people who show contempt for industry.

Jan 31, 2013 at 11:37 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

UKYCC pron:/jʌk/

Where to start with these people? - they very clearly have something to hide..

They hide their accounts - but a quick look at Wikipedia shows that they are in bed with a variety of unsavoury outfits who receive an alarming amount of back door taxpayer funding.

That academics use public funds to support any organisation like this - in any way - is professional misconduct and the way funds are divvied out smacks of fraud.

There's a tremendous pong wafting down from the Ivory Towers.

Follow the money - they very obviously don't want their finances inspecting = soiled washing no doubt.

yup... Companies House here I come :-)

Jan 31, 2013 at 11:48 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Yer academia what a crock of failed intellects right their, they produce students that are about as useful to the real world as chocolate tea pots.

Quick mental question name the top 3 academic anythings from Universitys in the last decade. Well at least the grants are still rolling in for these failures.

Jan 31, 2013 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

WEll, let's see.
Kirsty Schneeberger, MBE - no less.
http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/kirsty-schneeberger-mbe/19/1ba/399
Yup, typical climate activist, WWF, other "Green" stuff. Never done a real day's work in her life! Convent school, Law degree.

Christian Hunt
"Christian Hunt heads up Carbon Brief and writes about science and energy in the media. He previously worked as an editor for Greenpeace and as a researcher for the Public Interest Research Centre. He holds an MA in Conflict Resolution, and a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy from the University of York."
Mathematics & Philosophy? Interesting combination and one which I can't see much of a connection between.
Again, never had a real job in his life.

Charles Medawar
"Charles Medawar founded PIRC after working with Ralph Nader in Washington DC. He specialises in medicine policy and drug safety issues, and on matters of corporate, governmental and professional accountability. He is Director of Social Audit Ltd"
"Social accounting and audit is about assessing the social value generated by an organisation."
People get paid to do this?

Tim Helweg Larsen
from his LinkIn profile.
"A visionary systems analyst and educator with one foot in the future and the other planted firmly in today's issues and concerns. A focussed problem-solver with an inventive streak, designing the world using entrepreneurial skills and creative thinking. A leader taking up the challenges of Climate Change and energy, with honed presentation skills, great networking ability, and an unconventional approach to expectations. A self-driver with demanding expectations, still remaining a great people person with a mission to build consensus for change.

Specialties: renewable energy, climate change, peak oil, non-profits, entrepreneurship"
University of Warwick Bsc, Engineering design and appropriate technology.

So another one who's never had a real job.
Parasites, the lot of 'em!

Jan 31, 2013 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Gallon

"....Talking Climate, a website best known for its video extravaganza "How to Talk to a Climate Change Denier"......."

I tried watching their video but lost the will to live at about 2 minutes!

Jan 31, 2013 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterDougS

Dr Adam Corner is also Policy Advisor to COIN..
and has been working with them for a number of years (see their website)

Adam recently came a director of PIRC, and has been working with them before,
ie (the PIRC Climate Safety blog)

COIN also employs Alex Randall, who is a co-author of Adam's and was a fonder of UnFairplay - speaking on behalf of Kiribatti at Copenhagen. Alex also Co founder of Christian Hunt's - Cheat Neutral project (small world) - no doubt waving his banner alongside Adam's at Copenhagen.

Selling climate change? Corner, Randall
The limitations of social marketing as a strategy for climate change public engagement
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378011000793

I have suggested to Adam that he persuade George Marshall to use his influence to stop the 'denier's - Halls of Shame - especially as George Marshall created the first a decade ago at the organisation he founded - Rising Tide. and George is also a board member of the Campaign Against Climate Change - which has 'Hall of Shame' and 'Sceptic Alerts'

surely as a psychologist Adam can see that calling other deniers and putting up photos, is not good sci comms.. Surely Nottingham, CArdiff and any other university can see how they compromise themselves by working with COIN and PIRC?

Adam was also very unsceptical of the activist Prof Lewandowsky sceptics are conspiracy theorists paper,(still not published) perhaps his own motivated reasoning and ideology. see comments for why..
http://talkingclimate.org/are-climate-sceptics-more-likely-to-be-conspiracy-theorists/

What concerns me, and I have spoken to Brigette about it, is Nottingham and Cardiff publically funding COIN, George Marshall's organisation and the PIRC, as both are campaigning activist organisations, that lobby against skeptics and are anti nuclear, and lobby for energy policy:

to quote George Marshall (h/t Jo Abbess)

"Look at the word “sceptic”. It’s a very carefully chosen word.
I rather use “denier” – and I’m delighted to say it works."

http://www.joabbess.com/2010/04/17/sceptic-backlash-questions-answered/

Jan 31, 2013 at 12:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

'Engagement' and 'communication' don't mean what they say when 'public' and 'climate change' are put in front of them.

'Public engagement' is intended to address the perceived problem of public disengagment. And 'communication' generally means 'telling'. These points have been made often enough to Corner et al. And Marshall has spoken proudly of his refusal to to 'engage' with sceptics at his own blog. They cannot claim to be interested in either engagement, communication, or a debate about their own ideas and agendas. They don't have to be interested.

But we should look beyond the climate debate to understand why this is happening. After all, it's not just in the field of climate change that the government is recruited the academy in its 'nudge' policies -- "gently coercive" techniques that encourage us to behave in the desired way.

The academy is recruited into a political agenda, which in turn speaks about a transformation of the relationship between the public and public institutions/the state.

No doubt we all have different ideas about how things should be funded. I have no real problem with the state funding of universities, including allowing mouldy old Marxists (or whatever) developing (or failing to develop) theories about how society works, and making their case for change. What really grates is the arrogance that has developed within such institutions that have sought to be relevant to the policy-making process. Rather than speaking truth to power, or holding political authority to account, they increasingly market their services to political power, and will brook no dissent. To criticise either the compact between the academy and the state or the thinking behind it, is to be a victim of some kind of illness of the mind, per the Lewandowsky paper promoted by Corner.

Ultimately the non-negotiability of the agenda is entirely counter to the spirit of the academy in which ideas can thrive.

Jan 31, 2013 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

I suspect that when they say the whole AGW/CC/EW thing is not "contentious", this is another way of saying that there is an agreed concensus that negates any need to argue over the details. Only a person who is unable to see the perfect clarity of the concensus would contend the concept. It is very likely that such a person has some sort of disability that prevents them from understanding the concensus, some sort of mental disability.

Jan 31, 2013 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Norman

A visionary systems analyst and educator with one foot in the future and the other planted firmly in today's issues and concerns. A focussed problem-solver with an inventive streak, designing the world using entrepreneurial skills and creative thinking. A leader taking up the challenges of Climate Change and energy, with honed presentation skills, great networking ability, and an unconventional approach to expectations. A self-driver with demanding expectations, still remaining a great people person with a mission to build consensus for change.
Occasionally, when the wolf strayed too near the door I used to take money to write that sort of shite. I didn't believe it then and I don't believe it now.
It always brings to mind two great users of the English language: Churchill's phrase, "... containing every cliché known to man with the possible exception of 'Prepare to meet thy God' and 'Please adjust your dress before leaving'" and Tom Lehrer paraphrasing Shakespeare, "... full of words and music and signifying nothing."
Indeed I wouldn't be surprised if whoever wrote that had his tongue so firmly screwed into his cheek that it stuck there. Either Hansen is so dim he doesn't realise he's been sent up or he wrote it himself in which case he's sending himself up (though none of these eejits appear to have enough of a sense of humour to know how to do that) or he really believes it, in which case Lord help us!

Jan 31, 2013 at 12:34 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Timothy Helweg Larsen is also a director of Quarries as batteries LLP who have submitted a plans for a £100m scheme in Snowdonia. I don't know how much of this would be publicly funded.

Jan 31, 2013 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

OK - UKYCC Annual Accounts...

fwiw 2011 filing here

Looks rather thin to me given my perception of their Doha travel budget and other stuff.

Maybe what you see is what you get and I'm being unduly cynical - but they don't seem to want you to see very much at all. Shell game anyone?

Given that the rules allow them a balance sheet of £3million and a turnover of £6million before they have to file more detail than the single isolated balance at the end of the accounting period they actually show - I'm suspicious. Possibly somebody over there is watching this - c'mon boys n girls a little transparency?

Jan 31, 2013 at 12:39 PM | Registered Commentertomo

""Tim Helweg Larsen
from his LinkIn profile.
"A visionary systems analyst and educator with one foot in the future and the other planted firmly in today's issues and concerns. A focussed problem-solver with an inventive streak, designing the world using entrepreneurial skills and creative thinking. A leader taking up the challenges of Climate Change and energy, with honed presentation skills, great networking ability, and an unconventional approach to expectations. A self-driver with demanding expectations, still remaining a great people person with a mission to build consensus for change.""

To sum up in one word: Tim Helweg Larsen : Bullshitter

Jan 31, 2013 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterDisko Troop

So it's ok for a university to take tax payers money and hand it over to an activist group, but it's not ok for a private company to fund climate related work aimed at

"accessing the new temperature data from NOAA’s web site and converting them into easy-to-understand graphs that can be easily found and understood by weathermen and the general interested public"
- work that NOAA should be doing anyway?

Jan 31, 2013 at 1:19 PM | Registered Commentermangochutney

"designing the world using entrepreneurial skills and creative thinking" (Larsen)

Clearly one who, in the words of H H Munro (Saki) could "learn humility from a Duchess".

Jan 31, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

First, apologies for calling Larsen Hansen! I can't tell these Nords apart you know!

Disko Troop
Your use of the word bullshitter sums it up quite nicely but there are several giveaways that the expert observer of the breed will instantly recognise.
"Visionary" is the first one, followed fairly rapidly by the phrase "one foot in the future and the other planted firmly in today's issues and concerns". "Focussed" is always good, especially in the context of being a "problem-solver" with any sort of "streak", inventive or otherwise. Being "a leader" and "taking up the challenges" are essential qualifications along with "honed presentation skills, great networking ability, and an unconventional approach to expectations". Being a "self-driver with demanding expectations" is essential but if you really want to win the Big Prize at Bullshit Bingo being "a great people person" will do it every time.
The whole thing reads like a parody of a 1970s job advert for a junior salesman with a high-flown title and crap "remuneration package"!
Been there; done that; still got the scars.

Jan 31, 2013 at 2:30 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"Simplistically, it’s just name calling and they need to do it for reasons of catharsis. Psychologically, it’s a form of self-indulgent displacement activity. Giving us what they think is a bloody good kicking, makes up for their feeling of helplessness in the face of the grim reality of their situation. We’re their hate objects, the ones they totally blame for the collapse of their cult."

http://thepointman.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/an-assessment-of-current-alarmist-propaganda/

A site like Talking Climate is a complete and satisfying waste of money and effort on their part. The average Joe wouldn't go near it, it's merely a source of fun for the skeptics and only visited by the true believers. Do they seriously think the opinion of someone they've just compared to a holocaust denier, will turn in their direction?

The story, as they say in the market, is all in the price, or in this case, the number of hits it gets.

Pointman

Jan 31, 2013 at 2:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

how can they justify using public funds to pay people like George Marshall to publish his slime?
I thought it was agreed at the last meeting with Big Oil that we do the rude stuff, while Your Grace remains unfailingly polite?
The reason I haven’t made a fuss about this (and am in amicable disagreement with Barry Woods and others on the subject) is that when you start looking at financing of green pressure group sites, ALL roads lead back to the taxpayer. The fact that some of them lead via academia seems to me just one knotty strand in a very tangled web.
For example, when Cambridge Professor and Microsoft employee put on a one-man show at the state subsidised Royal Court theatre, it was financed directly by the European Union. Money from DEFRA, the British Council, the EU etc. turns up everywhere. WWF and Greenpeace take zillions from the EU, then use it to finance supposedly autonomous groups like UKYCC. It’s endless.
You’ve probably stirred a hornets’ nest there, which may be useful thing to do, provided the rest of us use the occasion to observe and act to the best ofour limited (and sadly unco-ordinated) abilities.

Jan 31, 2013 at 2:41 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

It was Gilbert and Sullivan, not Shakespeare, who could be relied upon,for a finale full of sound and fury and signifying absolutely nothing.

Jan 31, 2013 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered Commentermikep

tomo

Possibly somebody over there is watching this - c'mon boys n girls a little transparency?
When I posted about UKYCC I got 500 hits the next day via Facebook, and just one intervention. You can bet an awful lot of people are watching this. Those who are financed with taxpayers’ money are wondering what the politicians know, and what their constituents think. Civil servants dread the idea of Questions in the House.
Just one awkward question in the right place could screw things up for a lot of very happy people. This could be big.

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:08 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

geoff the issue for me is when *psychologists* start pathologising sceptics.. Lewandowsky being the worst example.. that Greenpeace gets more money.. is less dangerous than Marshall/Lewandowsky

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Mighty polemicist for truth and goodness, James Delingpole has a relevant post (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100200580/its-time-we-stood-up-to-the-vicious-bullies-of-the-caring-liberal-left/)

Pick any issue – the environment, education, healthcare, the economy… – and time and again you'll find the agenda has been successfully hijacked by a handful of zealots who are not remotely representative of the broader public interest. Why? Because politicians will do almost anything for a quiet life and find it much easier to buy off noisy troublemakers by capitulating to their demands, however unreasonable, than to take a principled stand.

The environment zealots are very well organised and supported these days, and have been so successful in achieving that that they can be regarded as ‘establishment’. But that is not good. To quote from JD again (same link):

All those environmentalists, for example, telling us that they're acting in the interests of future generations. No they're not – and it's time we stopped letting them get away with pretending otherwise. Every new economy-sapping tax or regulation they introduce, every acre of rainforest or farmland they divert to biofuels, every percentage point of extra cost they add needlessly to the price of energy in their pointless quest for renewables, is like a boot in the face of our children and grandchildren. "No you can't have a job. No you can't have as high a standard of living as recent generations. Yes you will have to endure an era of low growth, increased government meddling in your life, and – quite likely – a period of riots, hyperinflation, possibly even war."


What kind of person is attracted to eco-alarmism?

Bullies for sure – it provides all sorts of opportunities to abuse others, e.g. mentally by producing scary scenarios for the young and vulnerable e.g. physically by imposing idiocies such as windfarms or bio-fuels by means not of the market place, but by means of coercive legislation.

Apocalyptic millennialists for sure – they seem part and parcel of the human condition. I’m reading about them again at the moment, this time in Richard Landes’ book ‘Heaven on Earth’. He writes in a somewhat staccato style on page 17:

Millennialists are prolific in what they do. They lie in an enchanted and exciting world, and they want nothing more than to bring the rest of us into it. Or, if we refuse, they will bring it to us. And if we still resist, alas too often they will strike us down as the apocalyptic enemy or force us to strike them down.
Believers have varied careers. Apocalyptic time is always in the offing, although disasters certainly encourage it. But rarely do they give birth to millennial movements, still more rarely do those movements make a lasting mark on the public consciousness, and still more rarely do millennial movements, like most under study in this volume, take power.
Moreover, no movement that takes power can sustain the hallucination that the new world is indeed messianic for more than a short while. Most burn out quickly, in months or years; in rare cases, in a decade or two.

When did the alarmist take power? In the UK, we might date it from the Climate Change Act of 2008, which is a piece of millennial madness the likes of which no parliament may have ever seen before. Is it burning out already? The climate has, to say the least, not cooperated. Nor has the ice, nor the seas, nor the polar bears and nor have many other things the movement made forecasts about (to see about 200 of them, scroll down at http://climatelessons.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/climate-scaremongering-teach-your.html) before and since that date. We may be near peak-turbines. We may be near peak-carbon tax. We may even be past peak-scaremongering since ‘catastrophism’ seems well out of fashion.

This remains a disgraceful episode for both science and politics, and of course it is not yet over by a long shot. But maybe it will burn out within a few more years rather than decades. We can but hope.

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Dang! The first line of the quote from Lands should say 'live', not 'lie'.

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

I’ll try and answer some of the points in the post. These are my personal views and should not be taken to represent any of the organisations I work for. I think Andrew has raised an important issue in this blog, but there are not objectively correct answers to his questions.

1) Research Councils (who fund most university research) increasingly encourage/enforce researchers to be able to demonstrate ‘impact’ of their work. Impact is typically taken to mean showing either economic or social value to research, beyond publishing in journals. When people apply for research funds, they must demonstrate that they will be able to produce impact from their research. Talking Climate is exactly what the Research Councils are constantly pushing for – an active, interactive resource for non-specialists to be able to find out about the latest research on a topic. Furthermore (look up schemes like ‘Knowledge Exchange’ grants), the Research Councils encourage linking with industry and civil society, which includes charities like COIN and PIRC. This is not some rogue project, but a consequence of the direction that academia is moving in, and I am proud to say that I am part of this. Nick and Brigitte are doing exactly what their funders expect of them.

2) Psychology deals in the currency of attitudes and behaviour, and it always has done. Given that a big part of why we do the research in the first place is to understand behaviour, and to contribute towards some eternally fuzzy notion of ‘societal good’, then of course we are going to be asking questions about not just what people are doing, but what factors affect their behaviours, and what methods might be used to influence them. If you don’t like it, fair enough – you don’t have to. But this wasn’t invented in the last five years by covert climate campaigners posing as psychologists. Health psychologists try to change attitudes and behaviour around obesity, or malnutrition. Orgaisational psychologists ask how to make workplaces more efficient. How about the psychologists who work with firms like Qinetiq, making fighter pilots more ‘efficient’ (!?), The point is, because ‘society’ defines these things as in the societal good, governments fund research into them.

3) Creating a website where you can learn about this research, along with some comment and analysis from relevant people on the blog, does not constitute ‘advancing a political view’. Talking Climate has no policy goal, no vision of how the world should be (beyond that fuzziest of aims, ‘more sustainable’, or ‘more public engagement with climate change’). When I say that the underlying issue of climate change is not contentious, I mean that there is sufficient broad-based societal agreement – through science, wider academia, government, public, civil society – to warrant public funds being spent on research to find out how to make the country more sustainable, which will include some amount of behavioural change/public engagement.

4) If you don’t agree with this broad societal consensus – or some aspect of it – you may see the work that myself and my colleagues do, or Talking Climate, as contentious. But few do, and this is important: the line that demarcates ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ use of public research funds is socially constructed, and it always has been. I honestly and wholeheartedly believe we are on the right side of it.

Adam

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Corner

Adam George Marshall deletes points of view that he doesn't like..

He started Rising Tide, he and Lynas created the first list of fossil fule funded deniers.

having George communicate about climate is akin to having Dracula run a bloodbank

and the fact that you and George are perceived (and are) activists give others in your field huge problems with credibility. And dare I suggest you are blind to your own motivated reasoning and ideology.

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Adam

"I mean that there is sufficient broad-based societal agreement".

Let me ask you again. Agreement on what?

I find it very amusing that you are unable to define sustainability but think there is enough agreement on (something about) climate change to justify spending money on it.

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:42 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

"Talking Climate has no policy goal ...", if that were true, why's it called talking about Climate? Why not just be more honest and call it Talking Taurus Droppings?

Pointman

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

to quote George Marshall (COIN, Campaign Against Climate Change, Board member (h/t Jo Abbess)
at a Campaign Aganinst Climate Change meeting about how to deal with sceptics..

"Look at the word “sceptic”. It’s a very carefully chosen word.
I rather use “denier” – and I’m delighted to say it works." - George Marshall

at the same meeting: Ben Stewart - Greenpeace - George is also Veteran Greenpeace, Rainforest Foundation)

We need to re-tilt the balance of legitimacy in the newsroom back to where it was before November [2009].

"We have to make “brand sceptic” toxic.
We need a new, compelling narrative, and pull together a community of activists determined to hold journalists to account.
We have to launch a campaign so these people are scared of us." - Ben Stewart Greenpeace

http://www.joabbess.com/2010/04/15/ben-stewart-greenpeace-stalking/

Marshall and others try to deny and stopany debate occurring, Marshall and people like him have poisoned the debate for decades, turning even Bjorn Lomborg (who is totally in agreement with agw science consensus) just his economics that activists don't like, was made a 'denier' by George Marshall and Mark Lynas

http://web.archive.org/web/20031212105309/http://www.marklynas.org/wind/document/11

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

@Bishop Hill there is sufficient broad-based societal agreement – through science, wider academia, government, public, civil society – that climate change is enough of a risk (as is obesity, smoking etc) to warrant public funds being spent on research to find out how to make the country more sustainable and less 'at risk' from climate change, which will include some amount of behavioural change/public engagement.

I can't say it any clearer than that

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Corner

Adam Corner: " Talking Climate is ... an active, interactive resource for non-specialists to be able to find out about the latest research on a topic."
.
The topic of the blog is not climate, but climate change communication, which appears to be synonymous with PR for governmental initiatives putatively aimed at reducing climate change. I can't see this as anything but political activism.
.
Where is the discussion of several recent scientific papers which have the clear suggestion that "it's not as bad as we thought"? Or is cost-benefit analysis not relevant?

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:51 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

and should society say, ok lets go for gas and nuclear and dump windturbines, and wait and see for a bit. Develop fast breeder nuclear, and thorium for long term, and massive R&D in fusion, and next gen solar, and storage technology.

COIN and the PIRC won't have a problem with that?

or even do nothing, replace existing coal with new coal, and just adapt (in face of China's/India's growth).

those are two of many possible policy decisions, that the 'climate science' does not dictate, that society might choose to follow.

COIN and PIRC lobby for policy.

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Academics have been neutered for a very long time. They know the official Zeitgeist and not to oppose it. The official line on global warming is that the scientists universally believe in it. The only ones who oppose it are oil company sponsored right wing loonies. That's why, what I regard as right wing loonies, such as Ridley, Monckton and Lawson are playing right into their hands. Especially Lawson who has open ties to the oil industry.

Same with Delingpole who is a comedy writer who has simply created a right wing loony persona like Anne Coulter.

Global warming is an oil company scam and both the right and the left, stuck in their limited intellects cannot admit it.

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

George Marshall does NOT accept that there is a debate.

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Mikep

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Macbeth, Act V Sc V

Jan 31, 2013 at 3:57 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Adam Corner

I had a friend was an extreme Marxist sociology professor. Now he is deputy principal of the university in charge of development and marketing. He is a good little boy and I'm sure he now believes in sustainability, climate change, Thatcherism and anything else he is told to believe in.

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Barry Woods
I agree entirely about the moral and intellectual worth of Marshall and Lewandowsky. I still maintain the usefulness of maintaining polite contact with those like Adam Corner or Alice Bell who are willing to engage in dialogue. Otherwise it’s we who will come over as the nutters to the general public.
On the thread at Talking Climate following my dialogue with Adam Corner, which His Grace refers to, and then again on the Lewandowsky thread, there were several dozen comments from BH regulars which were infinitely more enlightening than the 1000+ comments at Curry’s or the 1300+ comments at Guardian Environment on the same subjects. And they will have been seen by people who affect not to understand what we’re on about. This can only be to the good.
The bish may have stirred up something interesting here. Let’s keep monitoring reactions.
Greenpeace etc have millions to play with, which Marshall and Lew haven’t. And they’ve got credibility and public sympathy, which politicians don’t have and want. Psychologists certainly don’t have either. For that reason alone I think they’re less dangerous than the big green greasy NGOs.

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Adam you state:

"there is sufficient broad-based societal agreement – through science, wider academia, government, public, civil society – that climate change is enough of a risk (as is obesity, smoking etc) to warrant public funds being spent on research to find out how to make the country more sustainable and less 'at risk' from climate change, which will include some amount of behavioural change/public engagement."

Yet I wonder if you are just reflecting the views of an echo chamber of some scientists, politicians and other bureaucrats when according to most public opinion polls only a minority of the public think climate change comes anywhere near the top of the environmental agenda, and even lower when put in the context of their concerns over the economy, fuel poverty, health etc.

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

Adam Corner:

there is sufficient broad-based societal agreement – through science, wider academia, government, public, civil society – that climate change is enough of a risk (as is obesity, smoking etc) to warrant public funds being spent on research to find out how to make the country more sustainable and less 'at risk' from climate change, which will include some amount of behavioural change/public engagement.

If it were the case that a broad societal agreement exists, there would be no need for climate change communication or public engagement projects.

A party-political consensus, and even an establishment consensus certainty exists. But a societal consensus... no.

The priorities of research funding reflect political need. There is a democratic deficit mirrored in the priorities of research funding priorities. The 'economic or social value [of] research' is a mealy-mouthed shorthand for policy-relevance.

Ironically, this is a consequence of trying to make Academia useful.

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Marshall - after deleting my comment at his blog suggesting his linking to a Hall of Shame (of his own creation) is not helping..

extract:

"I have been deluged with comments from people who do not accept human generated global warming This is entirely their right, but it is also my right to keep my blog on the topic that I choose and also care passionately about, not as a sounding board for a debate that I do not accept- " George Marshall

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Adam Corner

the line that demarcates ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ use of public research funds is socially constructed, and it always has been. I honestly and wholeheartedly believe we are on the right side of it.
I agree about the social construction of reality, but I believe we’re on the right side of it.
Although the idea of there being a “right side” and a “wrong side” to a debate which comes down largely to a personal opinion of the likely range of values for climate sensitivity is an odd one.
If politicians or their constituents ever find out what social scientists mean by “social construction of reality” you’ll be in big trouble, and so will the concept of academic freedom.

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:13 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

As unpleasant as the task appears to have been, you did good, Your Grace.

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterbob's delicate, like a flower

Paul Dennis

Adam is echoing the vision of the anointed.

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:23 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Adam: "the line that demarcates ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ use of public research funds is socially constructed, and it always has been. I honestly and wholeheartedly believe we are on the right side of it."

Geoff: "I agree about the social construction of reality, but I believe we’re on the right side of it."

What is most striking about Adam's claim to be on the right side of the debate about the legitimacy of the use of public funds is that they seem to end up in projects that deny or undermine the legitimacy of any other perspective. So we see discussions from Adam about i) the funding of the development of other perspectives, ii) the expression of criticism being the result of special interests, iii) the inadequacies of the brains that would hold a non-mainstream view on AGW.

And what is more frustrating is that, in spite of it being pointed out, Adam doesn't seem to have understood the range of arguments. The arguments from engagers/communicators seem to return, in spite of any amount of 'engagement' and 'communication' to the view that the unorthodox argument consists of no more than the claim that "climate change is not happening".

It must be the case, then, that the real object of the research in question is to sustain an orthodoxy.

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Clearly, only the anointed are perspicacious enough to see the impending catastrophe!

On a serious point Ben Pile is absolutely right when he points out that impacts of research as measured by economic or societal value is just shorthand for policy driven research relevance. The adoption of measures of impact by the REF exercise and the Research Councils has drawn widespread criticism from a wide range of scientists and academics.

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

Surely the libertarians here can agree that Adam Corner or George Marshall (or Dr. Crippen for that matter) are free to spend any money the government chooses to shower on them in any way that isn’t illegal?
Governments can legitimately spend money promoting social policy which is enshrined in laws, but also in what Adam calls “broad-based societal agreement”. And we’re all free to complain - libertarians about anti-obesity campaigns, pacifists about the use of psychologists for improving the efficiency of fighter pilots etc.
But who can complain about government-financed campaigns to promote sustainability? Only a tiny number of crusties who have enough respect for logic, the English language, and/or the scientific method to point out that the consensus around sustainability and the dangerosity of climate change is an error, an example of collective delusion, and that academics who attempt to delegitimise dissent are prostituting their academic freedom. That’s all, I think, that libertarians can legitimately do. And it doesn’t really come down to much more than name- calling.
The price of academic freedom is allowing George Marshall to grab his slice of the pie.

A loud hear hear to Bob's delicate

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Greetings Adam Corner! Your comment makes me think you might be able to help the poor benighted sceptics - disorderly and ragamuffin collection of disparate individuals that they are. You could help transform them into something befitting the broad societal consensus that is weary of alarmism, not really alarmed about climate, cynical about governments, resentful of subsidising such as idle windfarm operators, and with goals that would make a sustainability buff shiver.

Would you be willing to put together a proposal and a funding package for an institute dedicated to radically reviewing and academically criticising the science and the politics and the economics and the psychology and the sociology of climate alarmism? A place where ideas could be freely exchanged without participants being labelled deniers or such like, and where lobbying organisations such as Greenpeace, the IPCC, WWF, and European Union and UN bodies would be classed as so partisan that the Institute would manufacture large grains of salt to help 'civic society' respond to them. They are part of a remarkable event - the railroading of whole societies by a modest number of activists leaning on a rather frail hypothesis that more CO2 will bring catastrophe with a few decades, a hypothesis buttressed by more maybes, mights, models, mays, and make-believes than you could shake a stick at. How come? That's sure got to be interesting and important.

Where would the funding come from? I hear some shout as with one voice 'Big Energy', but their grant money seems mostly to go elsewhere - CRU, Sierra Club, etc etc. You might well get some yourselves - worth a try. They don't seem to have anything much to spare for those outwith that side of things.

There is one modest venture that might be worth comparing notes with if you do decide to help with a proposal - the Heartland Institure in the USA. Of all obvious targets for Big Bad X to fund in that land, this institute looks surprisingly poor:

Perhaps you can imagine my relief to learn that Heartland didn’t get any ExxonMobil money after all…that I wasn’t the only one they overlooked. In fact it turned out that most of Heartland’s budget was provided by innocuous and rather boring private donations and grant sources. You gotta admit that it’s pretty chintzy for Exxon not to give at least something to them…an organization that according to the Associated Press is “one of the loudest voices denying human-caused global warming, hosting the largest international scientific conferences on climate change.”

Wouldn’t you expect Exxon and other fossil confederates to be at least a little charitable to a not-for-profit entity that has been dubbed “the ideological center of the denial movement”? Geeze, they sure are providing a great deal of bang for the buck in what …as Al claims to be…manufacturing a lot of doubt about what is true and what is false.

Consider that about one-quarter of their total $4.4 million 2011 budget that Heartland devoted to climate research dissemination activities is barely a rounding error in what other opposing-view non-profits spend. For example, compare this with Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection which reportedly netted more than $88 million in 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which reportedly took in more than $95 million in 2011 operating revenues, and the World Wildlife Fund that raised more than $238 million last year.


[http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2012/03/06/how-can-i-get-some-of-that-anti-global-warming-big-oil-money/]

I think we need to be thinking of 100s of millions of pounds for our new institute in the UK. Lots of visiting professors. Lots of residential summer schools in nice places. A journal or two of its own. A dedicated staff of some brilliance. (Bishop Hill might take job adverts for it the way The Guardian does for the BBC?). Maybe a covert special forces team to insert the right stuff into the BBC, a document extraction and forging unit, a set of lawyers to threaten and cajole, a generous budget for international jollies, a dramatic graph and poster design team with a hockey stick over their office door, and and ...well, maybe not - you can take learning from the other side too far.

How about it Alec?

Jan 31, 2013 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

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