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Discussion > Helping beleaguered climate scientists communicate

From Adam Corner's report on the recent seminar on "Communicating Risk and Uncertainty".

In a sen­ti­ment that seemed to be widely shared by the cli­mate sci­ent­ists present, Myles Allen argued that the forth­coming 5th Assessment Report should be the IPCC’s last. Allen’s view was that a mono­lithic state­ment of cli­mate sci­ence know­ledge every five years was no longer the most helpful way to com­mu­nicate cli­mate change. Instead, smaller, more focused reports aimed at spe­cific target audi­ences would make not only a more useful state­ment of cur­rent know­ledge, but a less vul­ner­able target for cli­mate sceptic attacks.

This is an interesting observation from Myles <The IPCC or us scientists, so to speak> Allen, don't you think?!

Allen seems to be an adherent of the "trust us, we're climate scientists" school of "communication". From his "interactions" (for want of a better word) here and on CA last May, I would guess that he operates from the very mistaken belief that any question, from one outside the inner circle who might not share all his views, is an "attack".

In my view "reports aimed at specific target audiences" overlooks the fact that the IPCC has been doing this all along. One only has to compare the content of an IPCC formulated "press release" with the underlying Summary for Policymakers (not to mention the underlying report!) to see this. And, if Pachauri is to be believed, they were very successful, at least until July 2009:

[T]he IPCC 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. Expectations are, therefore, at an all time high as far as the AR5 is concerned.

Recent revelations strongly suggest that there can be absolutely no question that the BBC has long been going above and beyond the call of duty in this regard (even to the extent of casting aside - or perhaps "redefining" - its charter obligation to be "impartial").

Even though these poor beleaguered climate scientists are not in the habit of actually listening to those who question their pronouncements and pontifications, perhaps - even if only for the record - we should help them out with some suggestions as to how they could more effectively "communicate".

What do you think?!

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:13 PM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Hilary, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that for this group of scientists and their acolytes, 'communication' is a one-way process. As is often the case, this strategy works well in the short term, but over time, one of three things tends to happen with regard to the audience:

- they just get bored and tune out;

- they try to respond, and when nobody listens they tune out; or

- they try to respond, and when nobody listens they get annoyed.

Until they grasp the fact that communication is an interactive process, not much can be done to help them. A great example of how it should work was Anthony Watts and his colleague's presentation about their surface stations paper on WUWT TV yesterday. After they released their draft paper, they got a lot of criticism about a particular issue (TOBS - see WUWT for details). So, they went back and painstakingly redid the work to address the issue. Doing this not only dealt with the criticism, it actually strengthened their results, and improved the paper.

Time and time again alarmist scientists have shot themselves in the foot with their arrogance. Someone like Judy Curry is much more credible and compelling for being prepared to deal openly and constructively with comments on her work.

I realise your request was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but other than asking Heartland for the name of a cheap billboard supplier, I can't think of anything they have not already tried. I thought of hot air balloons, but then remembered that at our last local balloon festival there was one in the shape of an 'endangered' poley bear ...

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:53 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Hilary

As with the EU; introspective questions as to how better they can communicate their message totally misunderstands the problem. What they need help with is finding a way to make people accept the message but they can not accept that the message is the problem not the attempts to communicate it. Solution.....get a better message ^.^

Nov 18, 2012 at 3:49 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Hilary

Climate scientists aren’t even listening to each other, why do they expect anyone else to listen? They ignore whoppers told by people like Trenberth on things like hurricane Sandy and expect us to trust the rest of them?

Like Dung wrote, they need a new message not a new method. They’ve given it their best shot and the public have collectively said ‘what-everrr’. It doesn’t mean they didn’t understand, they just weren’t impressed.

A good start would be to look at those pressure sales techniques that typify con men and stop using them eg limited time offer, changing their story, telling half truths, glossing over inconvenient details, etc.

Nov 18, 2012 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Let me get this straight. You lot, a community that cannot agree between yourselves which parts of climate science you believe and which you don't (except that you want nothing whatsoever to be done), presume to offer climate scientists advice on how to communicate! This should be fun...

Nov 18, 2012 at 11:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

“perhaps - even if only for the record - we should help them out with some suggestions as to how they could more effectively "communicate".”

Interesting question Hilary, the first thought that springs to mind is that expressing “uncertainty” does not constitute communication. Uncertainty is not a good starting point for any communication.

Enough certainty had been communicated to the UK and EU legislators that they reacted almost to a man to pass some of the most wide ranging legislation ever. Who could have provided such a degree of certainty?

Why should scientists now have a need to communicate and promote awareness to the masses? If they are scientist such action is not their remit. They have done their job and communicated with the legislators. Surely it is now the legislators that communicate and be held responsible for their actions?

Thereby lays the conundrum for this poor foot soldier, why do the scientists feel the need to communicate directly with the masses and why are the politicians more than happy to let them do it?

My wild two cents, by promoting a hypothesis based on an inadequate time period the scientists gave the politicians an opportunity that answered their need, how to raise tax levels without being held responsible. This situation now leaves the scientists between a rock and a hard place. The data, the cycles, call what you will are turning against their hypothesis, but the legislation is enshrined, the politicians, reluctant to loose face and being street wise and are more than happy to leave the “communication” to those who they know will be the least capable of carrying it out. Sort of an unwitting reactive quid pro quo following the establishment managed “investigations”?

Nov 18, 2012 at 11:26 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

BitBucket - disagreement is an honest effect. The consensus silence on the pronouncements of certain climate scientists is the real perversion. By keeping silent when something is demonstrably wrong they corrupt all of their work.

Nov 18, 2012 at 11:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

BitBucket,

Yes, you’re right. The beliefs here are wide and varied. Just as they should be amongst a group of people who prefer to think for themselves and form their own opinions. The one thing we all have in common, those of us who consider ourselves sceptics, is that we have all heard the attempts at “communication” and found them wanting. We remain unconvinced. So who better to tell them where they are going wrong?

But seeing as you obviously think we have nothing to offer, bearing in mind that we are only playing around here and couldn‘t really give a toss what they do, perhaps you can help them out on how to “communicate” the “science” yourself. What would you say to them? Do tell.

Nov 19, 2012 at 3:19 AM | Registered CommenterLaurie Childs

Do you imagine climate science to be one homogeneous whole, a living entity that thinks and schemes and researches and communicates as one? Do you see them in your mind's eye gathering together in their thousands, forming a collective like the Borg, thinking as one for a single objective: assimilation of non-believers? It seems so.

But they are individuals, working alone or in small groups because it interests them, even fascinates them (lucky people, in my opinion). They don't by and large care about you or your opinions or about me and mine. They do their research and they publish if and when they can. Then they do more research. You can't tell them how to communicate that research to the public because the research is neither aimed at the public nor intelligible to the public. It is aimed at their peers, who might understand it.

Sorry, but you are just barking up the wrong tree!

Nov 19, 2012 at 4:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Johanna, yes, you're quite correct, my post was at least partially tongue-in cheek.

Dung, To the extent that - for all intents and purposes - they long ago decided to put all their eggs in the CO2 as "primary cause" basket, I agree with your assessment that:

they can not accept that the message is the problem not the attempts to communicate it

To which I think we could add TinyCO2's observation to the effect that in their "interactions" outside the inner circle they are never wrong (but if they are it "doesn't matter, anyway")

I also agree with Green Sand's:

Why should scientists now have a need to communicate and promote awareness to the masses? If they are scientist such action is not their remit.

But unfortunately many of the most vocal long ago stepped over the line from "doing science" to becoming activists.

Their preferred mode of "response" to questions (which they choose to view as "attacks") has often been "sneer 'n smear" - which strikes me as being a very poor way to win friends and influence people.

I was reminded of this not too long ago when I had questioned IPCC-nik Richard Klein's apparent decision (notwithstanding personal communications to the contrary) to abandon a conversation" in which he had agreed to participate.

Rather than admit that the Guardian's Damian Carrington had erred in asserting (and Klein equally wrong in insisting that Carrington was "correct") that:

The SPM is discussed and then approved by all 194 countries

Klein chose to, well, silently run away - rather than acknowledge that by the IPCC's own numbers delegations from only 91 countries had participated in the discussion and approval of the Summary for Policymakers of the SRREN report.

Fast forward from July/Aug 2011 (I had decided that if Klein was a grown-up, he would eventually respond as he had promised), to June 23 of this year when I spotted a tweet from Klein:

My response to @newscientist's article on IPCC finally posted. The article has been reworded but parts are still wrong. http://bit.ly/KU5kAJ

So I took advantage of the opportunity to observe:

@rjtklein @newscientist Glad you found time to do this. Considering that you found no time to correct your & Carrington's July 2011 claim...

@rjtklein @newscientist ...myth that all gov'ts had "approved" IPCC's SRREN report and "actual consensus" for which "IPCC is famous"....

@rjtklein @newscientist which might lead one to conclude that your "wrongs" are, well, always "right"

Klein "responded" by accusing me of "rhetorical trickery" and (by iimplication) "lack of good faith". He concluded with the following (impressively unsubstantiated) claim:

As I gathered from your other blog posts, in your world the IPCC is always wrong or evil or stupid, so no need to discuss anything.

At this point I'm not sure if Klein has a reading comprehension problem or if he is afflicted with a severe case of intellectual dishonesty.

Yet for the better part of three years, they have been wringing their hands wondering why they are losing so badly on the "communication" credibility front.

As Laurie says, we skeptics (and an increasing number of the general public who prefer to think for themselves) "remain unconvinced".

Nov 19, 2012 at 6:24 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Nov 18, 2012 at 11:06 PM | BitBucket

Let me get this straight. You lot, a community that cannot agree between yourselves which parts of climate science you believe and which you don't (except that you want nothing whatsoever to be done), presume to offer climate scientists advice on how to communicate! This should be fun...


Mmmm. I see a derogatory statement about non-collective thinking by sceptics, apparently they can't be pinned down to one homogeneous group think and they don't agree on everything.


Nov 19, 2012 at 4:48 AM | BitBucket

Do you imagine climate science to be one homogeneous whole, a living entity that thinks and schemes and researches and communicates as one? Do you see them in your mind's eye gathering together in their thousands, forming a collective like the Borg, thinking as one for a single objective: assimilation of non-believers? It seems so.

Mmmm now I see a statement implying the concept of climate scientists being a homogeneous whole with a single group think as ridiculous and laughable.

I guess it could be one rule for one group and another for the other. No really.

But BitBucket why don't you address your concerns about the pressure on climate scientists for homogeneity and group-think to the people who actually have more success and influence and directly push that idea onto climate scientists?

Have you done that?

Take a look at what is discussed on sites like Adam Corner, and the lectures of Myles Allen - not to mention the oft quoted 97% of climate cats believe meme - I think the response you deride here is only a response to that.

I mean for a start, thinking that climate scientist *need* to communicate something at all is hint that sounds like it can only require pressure for agreement they *need* to communicate a single political idea. Personally I think they should just be scientists myself and not worry about PR (I know naive).

Maybe you should pop over to Adam Corners' site and tell them your concerns? ;)

Nov 19, 2012 at 9:04 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

BitBucket

"Do you imagine climate science to be one homogeneous whole, a living entity that thinks and schemes and researches and communicates as one?"

No, they're a homogeneous HOLE into which good science vanishes and bad science emerges. Josh and Mike's visit to the Royal Society demonstrates that. All that uncertainty has been removed once it is presented to the public. That's not the sole fault of the media. The climate science bretheren know that if they expressed the true picture to the public they'd wonder what all the fuss was about. Scientists would say that they're jumping ahead to what they will be able to prove in a few years. When those few years go by and the evidence is still unavailable, what then? Give them another 5 years trust? Don't they know the tale of crying wolf? The moral of that story wasn't about keeping people alert to the issue of wolves.

Why not try answering Laurie Childs? How do you think climate scientists should communicate the science?

Nov 19, 2012 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Cat, "I guess it could be one rule for one group and another for the other." Hoist by my own petard, eh?

Or perhaps not. What you imply is that homogeneity and group think are indeed a characteristic of climate scientists. I assume this is because the scientists come to generally similar conclusions about the science. That the data does indeed lead to those results is inconceivable to you because to you the results are unacceptable. Therefore they must have been pressed into these positions by the collective.

In other words, it is your assumptions about the results that scientists should obtain (ie no evidence of climate change, etc) and the mismatch with the actual findings that leads you to conclude there is external pressure.

Group-think can certainly occur and one can't rule it out without thought. But it is hardly likely to apply to developing world governments. They have every interest in producing research that disproves the consensus, don't you think? So where is the Chinese research that contradicts western results? Don't tell me China's government respects science too much to interfere.

Accusations of group-think and pressure to conform are a useful means of attack. Once individual scientists names have been blackened it makes sense then to go after the body as a whole, the institutions and societies, the science itself. It is a good plan and when there are so many willing foot-soldiers like yourselves, cheap too!

How should they communicate? With the science, uncertainty included. Will society and politicians understand? No of course not, so somewhere there has to be interpretation; translation of science language into common terms. That is a loose and messy process and is open to distortion and misinterpretation and all the rest. And there are many who will try to muddy the waters...

Nov 19, 2012 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Nov 19, 2012 at 1:34 PM | BitBucket

What you imply is that homogeneity and group think are indeed a characteristic of climate scientists. I assume this is because the scientists come to generally similar conclusions about the science. That the data does indeed lead to those results is inconceivable to you because to you the results are unacceptable. Therefore they must have been pressed into these positions by the collective.

No, I can't see how you can infer I imply that. I have never said anything like that, or said what is inconceivable to me. Sheer wishful thinking and imprintation (new word) on your part. But I note it allows you to riff on that imprinted belief system of mine to make further points.

Good for you! ;)

From what you say I think I have a good idea of what your belief system is. I think you think that everything we read is nearly all the information there is. That any further enquiry about the beliefs and methods of certain privileged groups is unnecessary. I on the other hand think at this time that we don't see much of the reality - we only get selected snippets - it is badly reported through a combination of reasons - laziness, ignorance and bias, are a few. I think the fuller picture will require many years to emerge.

So when the story is easy and trite like the slogan "97% of climate scientist believe" and, "we all must just do something now!", this becomes the trite mantra for the lazy minded people who are pleased with the resultant political landscape that emerges from this mantra, and want no further questioning.

When the information gets investigated and the story gets complicated then it is often too easy to see the underlying PR. I.e. the 97% has been investigated by sceptics, such as Barry Woods, as to be an almost meaningless concept - merely a fetishized number (for both sides I think sometimes).

However showing this gets described as "muddying" the message and even "disinformation".

Making things less trite and easy becomes "disinformation" and even ridiculously, as you imply, an "attack".

I think there are likely to be quite disparate views amongst the scientists who would label themselves climate scientists - even if they all have some degree of belief in human effect on climate - however we mostly only hear from the group that have a certain disturbingly alarmist homogeneous view - the view that you seem to think exists only because there is some scientific set of imperatives and data that predefines that view.

However, I think when most lay people look at this projection of single minded certainty they can easily see the simple minded propaganda without recourse to an idea of an "invisible hand" of scientific data that just makes a single alarmist view naturally emerge as a consensus.

BTW I think you are just subscribing to the deficit model here i.e. implying that the current knowledge and data in climate cannot be understood by the public, and it is only something we should be expected to pick up via the proxy of looking at the faces of concern on the scientists and hearing their alarm and calls for "action". Something that Dan Kahan has debunked in his latest work, you should check it out. ;)

Adam Corner and all the other “climate communicators” are self-evidently applying group think and single beliefs to the concept of climate science - not just to the people they communicate to - and they have more mainstream traction than anyone here - I ask again why aren't you more concerned about that?

Let me imprint my answer on you - You are not because you are happy with that specific brand of conformity.

Nov 19, 2012 at 2:34 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Cat, when you said, "Mmmm. I see a derogatory statement about non-collective thinking by sceptics, apparently they can't be pinned down to one homogeneous group think and they don't agree on everything.", I took this to be ironic: "of course they can't be pinned down", etc...

When you said, "Mmmm now I see a statement implying the concept of climate scientists being a homogeneous whole with a single group think as ridiculous and laughable." I took it to mean that you did not agree. In other words, that you thought it not "ridiculous and laughable" that climate scientists could be a "homogeneous whole with a single group think".

It really didn't occur to me that this is not what you meant. So maybe I did imprint my view of what I thought you "naturally" would think onto what you actually said. I'm not aware of having made this mistake before (although as it was unconscious, I might well have done), but will be alert to it in the future :-)

Just to be clear though, are you saying that "group think" is a characteristic that sceptics never attribute to climate scientists?

I haven't come across Adam Corner before, so I can't comment on his reporting.

On, "Let me imprint my answer on you - You are not because you are happy with that specific brand of conformity." - probably true anyway :-)

Nov 19, 2012 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Nov 19, 2012 at 3:04 PM | BitBucket

I took it to mean that you did not agree. In other words, that you thought it not "ridiculous and laughable" that climate scientists could be a "homogeneous whole with a single group think".

No I was only enquiring about what I saw as a possible contradiction in what you say. I.e. you seem critical about one group not being homogeneous - you seem to think it a detrimental aspect of sceptics their lack of homogeneity in thought. Yet on the same page you seem critical of the idea of the concept of climate scientists being said to be a homogeneous thinking group.

Note, no one here had said either of those ideas. They were solely your creations.


Most people would be happy to merely correct my misapprehension if you actually meant something more meaningful. I noticed you haven't but rather went straight on to something more esoteric like imprinting a certainty about my beliefs without any justification I can see.

Just to be clear though, are you saying that "group think" is a characteristic that sceptics never attribute to climate scientists?

Hah! No. For the simple reason I can't speak for *all* sceptics and I have not got full knowledge of the universe and can't say "never". I mean it is quite easy to hunt around and show some commenter saying that explicitly - e.g. Joe Bloggs says "Group think is a characteristic of *all" climate scientist" That would be boring and uninformative don't you agree?

Showing that some sceptic at a more elevated level said that may be interesting, so long as the context justifies it, but I don't recall seeing anyone say that. Maybe you could find someone?


As I said you seem to be riffing on something of your own creation here and then imprinting your interpretations of the responses on your interlocutors as a defining characteristic of them.

I find that ironic. That kind of behaviour is quite revealing ;)

Nov 19, 2012 at 3:35 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

I think Hilary's second post

Nov 19, 2012 at 6:24 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov
In which she said

for all intents and purposes - they long ago decided to put all their eggs in the CO2 as "primary cause" basket

nicely reunites the current discussion with the thread title. It is not hard to think that climate alarmists engage in group think when one sees that they certainly believe in group message. Politically the message is slightly diluted by the new sustainability message but that is in reality disconnected from climate change.
The message has been 100% focussed on CO2 as the cause of global warming, virtually every other conceivable influence on climate is ignored. I have no idea what climate scientists think unless they tell me. There are sceptic scientists producing papers on ice core records, Ozone, Water Vapour, Solar Radiance, Solar activity, Cosmic rays and the unreliability of land based weather records; the only message coming out of the other camp is CO2, CO2 and CO2.

Nov 19, 2012 at 4:42 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Cat, as you say, blow-by-blow coverage of who uses the term "groupthink" is not too interesting. But it is not a word/expression I had come across much before frequenting sceptic blogs, so it must have picked it up on the blogs. A quick Google search of BH shows 70 hits and of WUWT, over 500. That is rather weak evidence, as some of these may be accusations of sceptic groupthink.

As exhibits from mainline blogs, there is A Study In Groupthink on BH and
Why climate science is a textbook example of groupthink
on WUWT.

Still not conclusive of universal accusations of groupthink but it does support me somewhat :-)

Nov 19, 2012 at 5:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Nov 19, 2012 at 4:42 PM Dung "...the only message coming out of the other camp is CO2, CO2 and CO2."

That applies to warming in the positive direction.

However, the other camp is far from agreed on what has, for the past decade and more, been acting in the negative direction and neutralising the positive warming due to CO2. So their overall message, in explaining the warming in the negative direction, amounts to "buggered if we know".

Which pretty much nullifies their CO2 message.

Nov 19, 2012 at 5:33 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Nov 19, 2012 at 5:30 PM | BitBucket

Still not conclusive of universal accusations of groupthink but it does support me somewhat :-)

Please! Don't waste the rest of your life picking up the "support" breadcrumbs for your hypothesis like that!

Let me give you some advice that will save you some time in your search for a conclusion about "universal accusations of group-think". You need only find one sceptic who does not accuse climate scientists of group think to disprove it ;)

Nov 19, 2012 at 5:51 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Cat, I was intent on not giving it another thought, but since you bring it up... You did ask me whether I could find some examples, "Showing that some sceptic at a more elevated level said that...". Perhaps AM is not at a sufficiently elevated level. Or you are keen not to pursue it ;-)

Martin, do you really buy into this "no warming for the last x years" trope? I always think it is just a rhetorical device used two score points in arguments: show a graph of the last x years', preferably starting on a high, draw a line through it and hey presto, no warming! Many people will be easily convinced by such tricks as long as they are not shown a longer-term graph with many ups and downs. I could understand Dung buying it, but not you.

Nov 19, 2012 at 5:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Nov 19, 2012 at 5:57 PM | BitBucket

Or you are keen not to pursue it ;-)

Mmm, I think you missed my "so long as the context justifies it".

You offer no evidence that you did anything more than Google "group-think" on sceptic sites.

I'm not the one who should be challenged about the desire for "pursuing" this. These are your ideas and your backup is shown to be clearly very sketchy once you are challenged. It is you who should pursue your ideas a little more closely and try and develop some better grounding for your prejudices rather than hope you can wing it ;)

Nov 19, 2012 at 6:18 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Actually, I think I'll just stick with my prejudices and admit defeat on the subject...
Bye for now :-)

Nov 19, 2012 at 7:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

BB

Glad to know I am worthy of special attention ^.^

Nov 19, 2012 at 7:07 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Oh, he's gone.

I was going to say...

BB - having (years ago) attempted to do spectral analysis of time series known to have been generated by nonstationary processes, I am in complete agreement with Doug Keenan who pointed out that attempting to draw conclusions from a time series, without having a model for the process that generated it, is a fruitless and meaningless exercise.

But I think a simple visual inspection of the "global average temperature" graph shows that, after around 1998, it has dickered around the same value, rather than following the skyward trajectory we were promised.

Even if I believed that "global average temperature" actually had any physical meaning, I would not draw conclusions about where it was going without having a model for whatever is generating it - which we certainly don't have. So I would not apply any predictive value to recent flatness just as I would not for the period of mostly-positive slope that preceeded it. Does that answer 'Martin, do you really buy into this "no warming for the last x years" trope?' ?

However, the flattish appearance of the graph for the past 1x years seems to have caused the warmists embarrassment and they have come up with a host of explanations for it. Whereas their one and only explantion for the previous bit of positive slope was, as a commenter said, "CO2 CO2 CO2 ".

Nov 19, 2012 at 7:37 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A