Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Climate science and the media

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  • Marcus Turner,

    This seems apposite. I came across it in the Futility Closet this morning:

    “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” — William James

    Since Nov 2006 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Jo S,

    At the same time, of course, it is only fair to expect the critics of the mainstream scientific views on climate change (and other contentious areas of science) to adopt an equally transparent approach with their own information, and with their own use and re-analysis of data entrusted to the public domain. They should also subject their findings to rigorous peer review. Opinion, however forthrightly expressed, will not change the laws of basic science.

    And this is what I find most difficult about discussing topics like this with people critical of science and scientists in general - that they don't feel they have to have any _actual_ data to support anything they say. But feel free to question the integrity of scientists - "you're only supporting their point of view because they're scientists too!" Frustrating to say the least.

    "Show me the data!!!!"

    (I have been driven to multiple exclamation marks)

    is it autumn yet? • Since May 2007 • 80 posts Report Reply

  • pete_g,

    Here, the customary styles are reversed. The RealClimate writers aren't shy of invective, and are frequently accused of quashing awkward comments. McIntyre is, on the other hand, quite measured and specifically forbids ad-hominen argument on his site.

    I take it you haven't read much of McIntyre's site. If you know what to look for, every post is packed with passive-aggressive accusations. He does them all with read-between-the-lines insinuations so he can maintain plausible deniability, but it's pretty clear that his commenters can hear the dogwhistles.

    A group of statisticians reviewing McIntyre's paper for the US Congress found its contentions "valid and compelling".

    A group of statisticians handpicked by a denialist Republican representative's staffers reviewing McIntyre's paper for the US Congress Energy and Commerce Committee found its contentions "valid and compelling".

    More info here.

    A small group that has been making climate measurements and conducting research for two decades increasingly found itself at the sharp end of a big argument and frankly did not cope ... The CRU chief, Phil Jones, put up the shutters, doesn't seem to have delegated well. His university didn't provide the communications resources the situation demanded.

    An uncritical media is hoodwinked by denialist PR, and of course blames the scientists for having poor communication. What about the role of gullible journalists in putting scientists in the position where every insignificant error is magnified into the collapse of climate science?

    Since Apr 2010 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Jimmy D,

    Anyone that went into advertising after leaving school can have a laugh at the expense of the nerds that went into science, because they finally have enough data, from internet message boards, to strongly contend that perception and opinion are a more valid basis for decision making than truth.

    When will scientists finally get frustrated enough to publish a paper simply entitled, 'because we're smarter than you, you infantile morons.' :)

    This sincerely feels like a war of Jocks v. Nerds writ large.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • slarty,

    And, from there, what had begun as a reasonable discussion unwound to the point where, it seemed, almost no authority could be trusted if it did not conform to the critique of a retired mathematician with a blog. Scepticism, if it was ever present, had been replaced by something else

    There's a good TED talk on the loss of trust in science that appears to be permeating our society here.

    I experienced it watching some bizarre behaviour by a bunch of people on Waiheke around cellphone towers recently - the conspiracy theorists have all been out!

    And I have some sympathy for the ignorant masses (!) when they inflict magnificent journalism such as can be found at the Daily Mail on themselves...

    Since Nov 2006 • 290 posts Report Reply

  • Cecelia,

    Remember the recent Close Up where Sainsbury (or was it Hosking) interviewed both Gareth Morgan and Ian Wishart. At the end the online poll declared that the majority went along with Wishart (who had started to spout about one world govt) and agreed that climate change was not man made and wasn't happening anyway. That was never given any context. It was just there.

    Hibiscus Coast • Since Apr 2008 • 506 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth,

    A couple of points regarding the post: To characterise Climate Audit as being a haven free from ad hominem arguments, while painting Real Climate as invective-laden is a travesty. McIntyre is past master at the art of sly digs. Nor is McIntyre a disinterested party making only valid criticisms: the few valid points he has raised have been minor, but blown up out of all proportion by the denialist echo chamber. Canadian blogger Deep Climate has done a very good job of tracking and tracing McIntyre's links with the right wing think-tanks coordinating the campaign to do nothing (here and here). Note that McIntyre coordinated the campaign of FOI requests that caused Phil Jones so much bother, and that the selection of emails to release from the huge number stolen must have been made by someone very familiar with the themes McIntyre promotes assiduously at his blog.

    Deep Climate has also shown that the Wegman report (the report commissioned by a Republican-dominated Congressional committee into the "hockey stick") was designed from the outset to boost McIntyre's position. DC has also been able to show that the report plagiarised a textbook on tree ring work, and altered parts of the text to change its meaning. You might fairly describe it as an attempted "blackwash".

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 195 posts Report Reply

  • wendyf,

    Who do we have to *** to get a full hour for Media 7 round here? Well an hour less 10 minutes for the news.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 76 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Remember the recent Close Up where Sainsbury (or was it Hosking) interviewed both Gareth Morgan and Ian Wishart. At the end the online poll declared that the majority went along with Wishart

    Yes, Sainsbury. Here it is. Now, look, I mean... what rubbish.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • horse,

    I find it increasing difficult to accept the "honest criticism" argument from any AGW skeptics.

    Palmerston North • Since Feb 2007 • 32 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    An uncritical media is hoodwinked by denialist PR, and of course blames the scientists for having poor communication. What about the role of gullible journalists in putting scientists in the position where every insignificant error is magnified into the collapse of climate science?

    I'm not disagreeing with you. But the reality is that someone should have realised the CRU was not equipped to deal with what was going on. The FOI requests were vexatious, but that doesn't mean the solution was to actively frustrate them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Note that McIntyre coordinated the campaign of FOI requests that caused Phil Jones so much bother, and that the selection of emails to release from the huge number stolen must have been made by someone very familiar with the themes McIntyre promotes assiduously at his blog.

    Yes. I don't have the link with me right now, but someone analysed the highlighted emails and worked out the search strings used to find them. Whoever did it knew what they were looking for.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    the loss of trust in science

    grrrr

    I used to believe it was our fault (I'm a scientist). People told me it was our lack of skill in communicating/arrogance/whatever.

    I now don't believe that anymore at all. There is a strong vested interest from those who would like to control the money in making sure that scientists are not allowed to make, or contribute to, decisions. Thus funding must be allocated by MBAs because scientists can't be trusted to do valuable science - they will simply "play at the bench". That's an actual phrase from an actual bureaucrat.

    There is an even stronger vested interest from policy makers in making sure that scientists and science itself has no role in policy - because if science had a role you'd kind to need to understand it to have a job in policy making - instead of of just wearing a nice suit. Bitter moi?

    Scientists can't even be trusted to run scientific research.

    So many people have been actively undermining the value of science and the trustworthiness of scientists that yes the public now think science isn't anything important.

    If we scientists have failed at anything it is that we've failed to adopt the culture of misinformation that is so often used against science and you know that's not something I'm not interested in changing. Some solutions are just not worthwhile.

    It isn't that we are smarter than anyone else (well maybe smarter than a couple of folks) it's mostly that we've spent 5, 10 , 20 years learning everything we can about a particular field. It is simply that knowledge that lets us see some things that others don't see. The same way Emma knows more about Star Trek than most folks.

    That's no different than expecting your electrician to know things you don't. Would you let your accountant rewire your house? Of course you don't want your house rewired even by an electrician without a safety inspection - by an expert electrician not by an accountant.

    By all means have oversight of science. By all means ask questions of scientists and question the science if your are interested. But if the experts come back and say yes this is real then listen to them and yes trust them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3221 posts Report Reply

  • pete_g,

    I'm not disagreeing with you. But the reality is that someone should have realised the CRU was not equipped to deal with what was going on. The FOI requests were vexatious, but that doesn't mean the solution was to actively frustrate them.

    "What was going on" was a media climate where every insignificant and incorrect contrarian talking point was exaggerated into a falsification of global warming.

    The CRU wouldn't have needed to be "equipped to deal" with that if journalists were doing their job properly.

    You're holding different groups to different standards. Denialists are allowed to be mendacious, journalists are allowed to be incompetent, but scientists have to be paragons?

    Since Apr 2010 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • cindy baxter,

    The FOI requests were vexatious..

    they certainly were. 40 submitted over one weekend.

    I liked the way the economist summed up the different sides of this "debate":

    In any complex scientific picture of the world there will be gaps, misperceptions and mistakes. Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. Jigsaw types have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down. When it comes to climate, academic scientists are jigsaw types, dissenters from their view house-of-cards-ists.

    I say "debate" because that's all that the denialists want to do - continue to create doubt in the minds of the public, so they don't put pressure on governments to take action.

    Recommended reading (also a shameless promotion of my work), "Dealing in Doubt" - which chronicles SOME of the attacks on the IPCC, climate scientists and the science over the last 20 years.

    auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 76 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    the public now think science isn't anything important.

    I have this rant some of you may have been subjected to about the importance of scientific literacy. I know it's no longer a "core competancy", but understanding the very basics of science is really important to, y'know, living. Daylight saving doesn't fade your curtains. Most cleaners are basic, hard water film is basic, you need to clean it with an acid. How the water cycle works. Wouldn't it be nice to have a Prime Minister who understands the water cycle?

    I don't know if it's universal, I only have two kids, but most of the questions little kids ask are science questions. And my two are still going - just last night I was trying to explain to my daughter why the Earth has magnetic poles and the Moon doesn't. Somewhere along the line, "Why is the sky blue?" is turning into "Pff, well you can't believe what scientists say."

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4328 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth,

    I don't have the link with me right now, but someone analysed the highlighted emails and worked out the search strings used to find them. Whoever did it knew what they were looking for.

    I think it was The Guardian. The selection of emails also appears to have been done on a computer with its time zone set to be somewhere in the eastern USA...

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 195 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I think distrust of "speaking in the name of science" is inevitable. It is not a unified political organization. It doesn't have an official mouthpiece. It doesn't even really have a clear philosophy. Most likely, if it had all of these things, it would also not be as productive.

    That said, what else do we have by which to make decisions about scientific matters? As laypeople, who do you believe, and why would you believe them? This is the perennial problem of all specialist knowledge. Without becoming a scientist, there is really only the words of scientists to go on. Even most scientists have only got that to go on WRT any subject outside of their actual specialization. If you're not a scientist, how do you know which people who claim to be scientists to trust? You certainly can't apply the "scientific method" to this decision, because you don't even know what that is.

    Most of the average person's knowledge about science does not boil down to reason/rationality/experiment/scientific method at all. It comes down to trusted authority. We choose to trust that someone else has done all of these wonderfully reasonable things. If you're really, really honest about why it is that we trust scientists, how many people are going to base that on "because I myself did a bunch of experiments to confirm it"? How many will be "because I was taught to think that way by my parents/school/television"?

    It's not something to blame on anyone. It's a sad fact about human knowledge, and it becomes worse the more knowledge we have, rather than better. The more knowledge there is, the less of a proportion anyone can know of it. If you seek to broaden your knowledge, you also tend to make it shallower as well, and when the depth of the knowledge is increasing all the time, this means people are more and more out of their depth about anything outside of specializations. We're stuck with trust for almost everything. The only question is: Who to trust?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Kate Hannah,

    the importance of scientific literacy

    YES! this is a major rant of mine too - and a familial intergenerational rant, as my father is a scientist. I'd say it is universal, Emma - most kids I've ever hung out with (my own three included) are eager to have an adult offer up explanations - or, as I do when my scientific knowledge is trumped (I'm a historian)- go and look at a book with them, or google the question. When "science" in schools is limited to "technology" ie. make a soap with no discussion of acid/alkaline/base, or the chemistry of soap making; or else is provided through studying insects or plants - where is the physics? where is the chemistry? We do all we can at home - use the language of science, provide opportunities for experiements, attend university open days. currently all three kids want to be scientists of some description. Phew. I'm ranting. Sufffice to say, scientific literacy is essential. and lacking in our education system, and our culture.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2010 • 106 posts Report Reply

  • slarty,

    I have this rant some of you may have been subjected to about the importance of scientific literacy. I know it's no longer a "core competancy"

    I have a very similar rant - to the extent it has turned into a policy. I very rarely recruit people now who cannot demonstrate a grasp of the scientific method: ideally through having a completed a formal, peer reviewed research project.

    And yes, it means I'm constantly recruiting (due to the high standard) and perpetually fighting off reviews of employment decisions along the lines of:

    "But I have years of experience."

    "That isn't in dispute: but you couldn't construct an argument in your work sample or interview. And your experience was of turning up, not actually delivering stuff."

    "Yes, but I have all this experience..."

    I can see why people give in... competency based recruitment mutter mutter...

    Since Nov 2006 • 290 posts Report Reply

  • David Cauchi,

    When you have Oppenheimer saying things like 'I am become Death, destroyer of worlds', it's not hard to see why people don't trust scientists.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2007 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I was trying to explain to my daughter why the Earth has magnetic poles and the Moon doesn't.

    Oh FFS. You can't put that here and not answer it. I had to go use google and everything!

    (Apparently the moon does have a magnetic field, it's just very very small)

    Since Nov 2006 • 6147 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    As laypeople, who do you believe, and why would you believe them?

    Ask a scientist. Really you are no more than 2-3 degrees of separation from a genuine expert, who is a real friend of someone you really trust. Most scientists will absolutely answer genuine questions.

    It's not something to blame on anyone.

    Yes and No Ben.

    You make good points. If you take my advice on new surgical methods well lets just say I have this bridge I'd like to sell you.

    And yes when I step even slightly outside my speciality I rely on finding papers from people I know/trust and if I'm further outside my field I find reviews.

    But that isn't the same as reading a web page because my sources are from scientific journals where the papers and the reviews are peer-reviewed. Which simply means checked by experts for accuracy.

    If I'm so far outside my field of expertise that I can't understand the language any more eg organic chemistry then I'm forced to find a real person who I can talk to who will explain it to me. That person will be a scientist, it won't be the manager of the institute or the CFO or the COO because none of those people are actually experts in the science. They might be good at their jobs but still not qualified to make decisions or comment about the actual science.

    The analogy is you don't ask the electrician's accountant how best to set up your garden lights, you do however hope the electricians accountant is making sure the electrician's suppliers are getting paid.

    BUT

    Some of this loss of trust is not accidental. There are people who benefit if scientists are not trusted, they benefit if policy is not based on the best science, they benefit if research is directed into areas that are not the best science. Some of those people are actively undermining science credibility.

    So yes there is some blame to get chucked around.

    And there are simply some people who can't bear the thought that someone else knows more than they do about something and they react by attacking the person. It would be like me saying Emma is just a geek because she knows more about Star Trek than I do and you can't trust geeks can you?

    Note no offense to Emma intended in the above statement, I am of course a certifiable geek myself, I just know Emma Star Trek knowledge exceeds my own.

    Apologies another wall of text :(.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3221 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    I have come across an awful lot of people who really struggle to separate scientific facts/theories from personal criticism of the choices they make so passionately hold onto incorrect beliefs that allow them to remain in their comfort zone.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 702 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Ask a scientist.

    There's a circularity problem here. How do I know someone is a scientist? You'd have to be a scientist not to see it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

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