The genius of academe
Sep 16, 2013
Bishop Hill in Climate: CRU, Climate: Sceptics

Ivory Tower by Sue Barnes (Click for details)Google Alerts advises me of a new paper in the journal Research Policy entitled 'Boundaries, breaches, and bridges: The case of Climategate'. Penned by Raghu Garud of the Business School at Penn State and colleagues from the University of Alberta and MIT's Sloan School of Business, it examines the aftermath of Climategate, looks at efforts to restore the credibility of climate science, and considers why people still doubt.

The authors have a bit of a problem though. While they claim to have read Watts up with That and Climate Audit, neither blog is cited in a meaningful way. Similarly, The Hockey Stick Illusion is named in passing, but this blog and Hiding the Decline don't even warrant a mention. Garud and his colleagues have learned about Climategate and global warming sceptics from tomes such as Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand by Haydn Washington and John Cook (cited seven times), J.L. Powell's The Inquisition of Climate Science (cited ten times) and Mann's Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars (seven times).

You can see where this is leading. Our dogged detectives learn that 'deniers' (a word used throughout the article) are so-called because they 'deny the truth', and that they use 'multiple tactics ranging from "conspiracy theories" to “logical fallacies"'. They also discover that those implicated in Climategate were exonerated without a stain upon their honour. Then, however, the headscratching begins. How can it be then that people still don't trust the utterances of climatologists? What can be done?

The answer to this conundrum is - you will never believe it - to be found in the realms of communication. Although Garud and his colleagues note that some observers think that communication is not enough, and point to such initiatives as the Climate Science Rapid Response Team (seriously!) that are already in place, they suggest that something called a 'narrative approach' might also be a part of the solution.

A narrative approach recognizes that “facts” must be categorically embedded within the cultural symbols in currency and rendered relevant by contextualizing them into stakeholders’ lived experiences...

...narratives convince by ringing true (or what Bruner, 1986 calls “verisimilitude”). In this way, a narrative approach shifts the conversation from issues of uncertainty to plausibility, without succumbing to the problem of “overselling certainty”.

If you are still not entirely sure what they mean by this (and before you ask, yes the whole paper is written in that style) you are in good company. However, the authors go on to discuss Judith Curry's comments about fiction as a vehicle for explaining the complexities of climatology to the lay public and so they seem to be saying that the public can be brought into line with a whole lot of novels based on scientifically plausible scare stories.

It's a plan I suppose, but it has something of familiar ring to it in my humble opinion. I wonder what conclusions they would have reached if they'd read just a teeny bit more widely before they put pen to paper?

It's rather extraordinary that a group of academics from top universities could go careering off into a field in which they seem to have no apparent expertise, read a hopelessly biased selection of the literature and come up with precisely the same ineffective plan that everyone else has come up with in the last three years. Rather surprising too that a journal would publish it. It's even more amazing that students pay good money to receive the benefit of an education from any of those involved.

But in terms of entertainment value, you can't knock it.

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