The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Journalism

Journalism at its most irresponsible. There really ought to be a law. At least there ought to be consequences.

The BBC interviews Phil Jones:
B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.
The Daily Mail headline:
Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995
Right.

but the text is more reasonable, if also, well, wrong:
He also agreed that there had been two periods which experienced similar warming, from 1910 to 1940 and from 1975 to 1998, but said these could be explained by natural phenomena whereas more recent warming could not.

He further admitted that in the last 15 years there had been no ‘statistically significant’ warming, although he argued this was a blip rather than the long-term trend.

As is common, the most egregious behavior is by the anonymous headline writer. The journalist, Jonathan Petre, can claim innocence, except for the peculiar use of the word "blip" showing a mind boggling lack of understanding of statistics for someone reporting on science, but at least an attempt at fairness.

Defenders of the press, explain this one. And explain where the world gets redress from this.

With a hat tip to a hostile correspondent.

Update: Excellent discussion and useful links on this subject at the Bad Science Forum

Update: Tamino has an excellent analogy.

Update: RealClimate gets into some detail

Update: Nice piece on the subject by James Hrynyshyn

Update: Excellent, related item at Climate Safety, herewith added to the blogroll. Highly recommended.

61 comments:

Kees said...

To prevent this sort of manipulation, it might be better to answer such a question in a slightly different way. The rigid application of 'statistical significance' is not something the general public is familiar with. An attempt:

B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Well, the trend for the period 1995 to 2009 was rising temperatures. The trend (0.12C per decade) is quite in line with expectations. However, over such a period, there is always a chance that the increase would be due to given natural variability. To be really sure that it's not, statisticians often demand that this probability be below 5%. In this case that chance is just over 5%, leaving almost 95% chance that it is significant.

The Blob said...

To the daily mail article I wrote the comment:

"He didn't say there had been no warming since 1995, he said there had been no *statistically significant* warming since 1995. There is a big difference there. By statistically significant he's talking about the 95% confidence level. So confidence in warming since 1995 doesn't reach the 95% confidence level. But he does say "only just".

Which to my mind means that the warming since 1995 (0.15C of it according to hadCRUT, which Phil Jones must be referring to), is only significant at something like a 90% level. Not enough to say statistically significant, but 93% confidence of warming since 1995 certainly doesn't mean no warming since 1995 does it?

Phil Jone's should have phrased it better and not assumed everyone would know what statistical significance was. But really this news article is based entirely on a statistical misunderstanding."

We should really start leaving correcting comments on these news articles so that at least some people will hopefully read them. Perhaps if we are lucky even the authors might read them and think twice next time they rush to a headline. Perhaps.

I don't think leaving these articles standing with only bad commentary is a good idea. Not when it takes only 5 minutes to type out a quick comment.

bigcitylib said...

His comments re the MWP seem to have been misinterpreted as well. I'm not sure "sceptics" like Peiser are the ones to determine whether Jones is strayng from the IPCC consensus or not. Looks to me like Jones is suggesting there is not adequate evidence to determine that MWP was 1) warmer than today or 2) global in nature.

...which just the consensus, AFAIK

Alex said...

I think that you, along with all the other AGW advocate bloggers, are rather missing the point. Which is that, whatever the real facts are, the media (UK, at least) have decided that AGW is dead in the water, and they've turned 180 degrees from their previously unquestioning posture. Even the BBC (the BBC!) have considerably softened their hard-line AGW message.

This isn't surprising - the media (in the UK, at least) have listened to more than a decade of scare stories about the climate, and faithfully passed them on. They were in danger of looking very silly indeed and, in a very smooth display of synchronized messaging, switched to a version that fitted with what the public would accept.

So when Prof Jones delivers an exceptionally muted message, it's hardly surprising that it's fitted into the prevailing zeitgeist. Prof Jones can hardly be surprised - he must be fully aware of the way the media works (now, if not earlier) and the interview has every appearance of being written responses to written questions. Plenty of time to pass it in front of the UEA's press people. One can only assume that he was fully aware of how his words would be taken.

What is actually more revealing is the summary that Roger Harrabin, chief of the BBC's tame AGW advocates, gave on the flagship "Today" news program on Friday. The tenor of his words suggested a real change in the beliefs of Prof Jones and far more humility - public recognition of great uncertainty. I parctically fell off my chair - couild hardly believe what I was hearing.

So it's somewhat naive of you to ask plaintively "Defenders of the press, explain this one. And explain where the world gets redress from this." Rather, you should be asking why climate science made a nonsense of all its predictions, and alienated a huge proportion of the press, which for years was on its side. It's a spectacular own-goal, and climate science should be searching its soul. Starting with the IPCC.

guthrie said...

Alex, perhaps you could explain where climate science has made nonsense of all its predictions?

From my point of view, it looks exactly like the media hyped up the dangers of climate change, (aided by a few non-scientists looking for stories to get people interested in their topic of interest) and now are switching around in order to play both sides and maximise headlines.

The uncertainty has always been there, in the science, but the reporting of that science has not been straighforwards, because the media do not play a straight game, and the public simply do not and cannot understand the science, and seem resistive to proper scientific talk. Or at least the media have so trained them to be, many people get the idea once it has been explained to them, but it takes a great deal of time and effort.

27183 said...

It's been a long time since I studied statistics, but I don't think you're supposed to do your experiment, analyze the results, and then pick the significance level you want post facto.

If the scientific consensus amongst climate scientists is to perform these studies at a 5% confidence level, it's disingenuous to explain how they were significant with a 10% confidence level.

If you want to get rid of confidence levels due to all the variously reasonably complaints about them, I'm okay with that. But that also needs to take place before you start analyzing data.

guthrie said...

Even that BBC interview confuses things - Harrabin calls the increase in temperatures in the last few decades the hockey stick, whereas we know it as the resulting shape from all these paleoclimate studies, with the modern temperature record added to demonstrate the changes.

"Clearly there is a great debate"??
I disagree profoundly. There is a scientific debate about where to put the decimal point. There is a non-scientific shouting which seeks to use that uncertainty to cast doubt on the findings as a whole.

Jones was simply being scientifically accurate when he agrees there were warming periods in the past. I see nothing to suggest any chance in Jones view or science.

TimChase said...

bigcitylib said..., "His comments re the MWP seem to have been misinterpreted as well. I'm not sure 'sceptics' like Peiser are the ones to determine whether Jones is strayng from the IPCC consensus or not. Looks to me like Jones is suggesting there is not adequate evidence to determine that MWP was 1) warmer than today or 2) global in nature.

"...which just the consensus, AFAI."

As I understand it the mainstream view at this point is Mann's, namely that the "medieval Warm Period" was warmer locally, but likely took place at different times in different locations. There is some indication that periods of warmth took place in the southern hemisphere at roughly the same time, but overall the average global temperature, while roughly equal to the earlier part of the 20th century was easily surpassed in the modern period of global warming (1975 and beyond). But I don't think that it is entirely settled as of yet. A moderately strong consensus if you will. A bit like his "not at the 95% level."

Douglas Kubler said...

I wonder what Jones really said. The subtitle states
"The questions were put to Professor Jones with the co-operation of UEA's press office."
What is definition of co-operation?

The BBC interview ends with the caveat "Some brief answers have been slightly expanded following more information from UEA."
The UEA filtered the input and the output!

I'll have to tag it as "Hide the answers."

Alex said...

Guthrie asks "where climate science has made a nonsense of all its predictions?"
Well, just as a couple of for-instances: in its predictions that the Arctic ice would be gone in n years, where n became smaller and smaller. And that hurricanes would grow in frequency and intensity.

Both nonsense and, as time has proved, completely wrong, but nicely calculated to catch the attention of the media. The sort of thing that may have caused Dr Vicky Pope, PR head honcho at the UK Met Office to ask her colleagues across the world that "apocalyptic scare stories" (or some such words) be toned down. Except that she and her cronies were responsible for half of them.

It's no good blaming the media - they were simply playing climate science's game, all too well, for well over a decade. But now the game's up and, if the science hasn't got its message across now, with the willing collusion of a previously compliant media, it's unlikely to do so for another decade as things stand at present.

I think Prof Jones has seen the light, and is throwing in the towel. The strain of trying to maintain such a precarious scientific position for all this time can't have been much fun and, no matter what spin the AGW advocates want to put on the interview, his words - and the way they've been communicated to the British public (and probably the rest of the world) - suggest disillusionment with the whole AGW story.

But I bet most of the contributors here will still blame the media.

TrueBlue said...

Global warming and alcoholism share a similarity: they are slow-acting. Before the damage becomes apparent, the sufferers, and those around them, can be completely unaware of what's going on.

I've seen it up close and personal with an alcoholic. For 20 years, he drank 15 to 20 ounces of vodka a day, in secret. I only knew this because I would, from time to time, surreptitiously measure the consumption.

I would tell him that his drinking was going to kill him. I'd patiently explain the three stages of the disease, and point out that the third stage, so called "wet brain," also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, would arrive suddenly, and by that time death would be virtually inevitable.

My friend the alcoholic laughed it off, told me I was exaggerating. And for years, he appeared to be correct. He drank heavily, and appeared to be completely functional. Then, one spring, he had trouble walking, speaking, and thinking. A year and a half agonizing years later, he was dead.

This is what the scientists are telling us about global warming. They have been measuring not our consumption of alcohol but the output and concentrations of carbon dioxide. They are pointing out other signs, like shrinking glaciers and changing weather patterns, especially near the north pole, and warning that if we reach a tipping point, we will crash.

People with an interest in the status quo are laughing and saying it's all a hoax, or an exaggeration. The difference, of course, is that alcoholism kills people one by one. Global warming will be different.

Eduardo Ferreyra said...

guthrie:

"Alex, perhaps you could explain where climate science has made nonsense of all its predictions?"

Just watch AR4 TC Figure 26 and see how climate "scientists" did with predictions.

But climate science does not make predictions: as they state clearly, they only make projections that in the real world have become mere "prophecies" rivaling Nostradamus.

duffandnonsense said...

It's over, Michael, I mean really over, dead as the millenium bug, swine flu, AIDS, mad cow disease, whatever. Make for the life boats now and paddle like mad - but fear not, yet another "The end of the world is nigh" movement is underway and if you're quick you could get to carry the banner:

Exploding meteorites hitting the earth! Coming to a university near you any minute now.

Remember you read it here first!

David Duff

David B. Benson said...

I scanned in the decadal averaged global temperature anomalies from GISTEMPT down two or three threads. Go look at it so I don't hafta do it again.

It is plain as could be that global temperatures continue to rise; no fancy statistics involved.

Alex said...

David Benson, you think you know better than Prof Jones? No statistically significant warming since 1995 (to the 95% confidence level) and cooling for the last 8 years (which he claims is not statistically significant to 95%.)

When the UEA throws in the towel, you know you're wasting your time.

mkfreeberg said...

Prof. Jones was caught red-handed trying to slant the peer-review process.

So one cannot help but wonder if we'd be hearing this admission, were it not for the e-mail scandal. After all, for a whole lot of years running-up to the EA e-mail scandal, the "science was settled" that the earth's mean global temperature was out of control, or at least headed there.

Fun question: What in the world is an "earth mean global temperature" anyway? It's a fair question since that's what all the fuss is about. Let's just remember, Earth is a 3-dimensional object with a relatively cool surface, and a v-a-s-t-l-y warmer interior. AGW is based on the premise (among many others) that a variation in the mean temperature of the surface, by so much as half a degree, portends an apocalyptic scenario. Obviously, whatever exchanges take place between the interior and the surface (volcanic eruptions, and others) must be controlled to the point that the findings can be statistically adjusted -- or else mean-global-temperature is a two-dimensional reading of a three-dimensional object, uncontrolled, immeasurable, and any so-called "science" based on such data is fruit from the forbidden tree.

Think on it.

whispers said...

"Fun question: What in the world is an "earth mean global temperature" anyway? It's a fair question since that's what all the fuss is about. Let's just remember, Earth is a 3-dimensional object with a relatively cool surface, and a v-a-s-t-l-y warmer interior."

You're really thrown off by the common usage of "Earth" to mean "surface of the Earth"?

Sounds like this science stuff is just too hard for you.

Michael Tobis said...

mkfreeberg, Another fun question. Do you suppose that nobody thought of this before you did?

The geothermal heat flux is many orders of magnitude below the solar radiation flux.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_gradient#Heat_flow

These sorts of things are not missed bt tends of thousands of specialists only to be brought up by some random correspondent on a blog. The world just doesn;t work that way.

Prof. Jones was not "caught" trying to "slant" the peer review process, he was trying to keep the peer review process working. Also, and this was my point here, he did not "admit" or concede anything in the interview that he would not have said before.

27183, see Kees' comment above.

King of the Road said...

So, David Duff, AGW is as over as, among other things, AIDS? It doesn't appear that HIV/AIDS is over looking here. And at WolframAlpha this inquiry indicates that almost 13% of all deaths in Africa are from HIV/AIDS. So I don't think that AIDS is over.

And as I discussed here, Y2K was an epic disaster exactly because of the predictable phenomenon of people assuming that all warnings could be disregarded because of the failure of the millenium bug to bring society to its knees. Unfortunately, "they said Y2K would bring down society and it didn't, therefore any urgent warnings issued by those claiming specialist knowledge can be safely ignored" makes no logical sense.

But actually, I'm sure you're aware of that.

Michael Tobis said...

Linked by Atrios! Cool!

C'mon back y'all. That bookmark thing is your friend.

Pangolin said...

Well whatever the "statistical significance" of the surface temperature record the normal arctic sea ice continues to be absent. So who are you going to trust; the BBC? Or are you going to trust several million tons of sea ice that seems to have taken a permanent walk.

Look here: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

My opinion is that somebody at the BBC carefully crafted a sequence of questions designed to make Phil Jones specifically, and climate science in general, look bad in the face of a statistically ignorant public. It worked.

The redress we will get will be watching The Fens flood and the Thames Barrier get bypassed by rising sea levels. Immediately there is the cold comfort that Gulf Stream changes consistent with some of the AGW worst-case hypothesis are freezing the British Isles into an economic mess while the coast of Greenland gets a relatively toasty winter. Of course the usual blather about specific weather events not being proof or disproof applies but it's fun to watch from California.

Pangolin said...

MT_MT_ I'm finding all this banging on the surface temperature record drum rather tiresome and uninformative. Could you please provide a link to an explanation of why surface temperature records are not the be-all and end-all of AGW data sources. I think a reminder that other data streams confirming ongoing and continuing climate change might be relevant. I can't get Google to help me here.

Thanks in advance

The Evil Reductionist said...

Fascinating what this innocent factual comment by Dr Jones has been turned into. The end of CAGW theory trumpeted in triumph again. And again. And again.

And yet ... the world still warms.

Kees said...

Alex,

On Arctic sea ice disappearing in summer: In 2007 the IPCC reported that “the projected reduction [in global sea ice cover] is accelerated in the Arctic, where some models project summer sea ice cover to disappear entirely in the high-emission A2 scenario in the latter part of the 21st century.″

Unfortunately, developments in the real world go much faster. Decay of Arctic sea ice is clearly accelerating, summer first, as one would expect. Professor Maslowski (Naval Postgraduate School) has even predicted that 80% of summer sea ice may disappear as early as 2013. Other scientists hold other views, 2030 and 2040 are often stated now for 100% disappearance. Fact is that the structure of the Arctic sea ice has already rapidly deteriorated, see e.g. http://bit.ly/ArcOutl09.

IPCC has made a cautious summary of pre-2007 knowledge. I apologize that 'n is getting smaller' now, but that's what's happening out there!

skanky said...

That's actually quite mild for the Mail's poor science reporting. However, in general, it (like most other UK newspapers) is known for just making stuff up.

Warrior L.A. said...

Nice try. The evidence just keeps mounting. And now it sounds like a bunch of dopes just can't find it in their hearts to admit they've been lied to and fooled. Global Warming is a tool for power and money, just like everything else govt gets involved with.

guthrie said...

Alex - no, you're completely wrong. The prediction was not a monotonically decreasing sea ice extent, but for a decreasing trend, which oddly enough is what we have observed...

Hurricanes have in fact shown greater intensity in the last decade, as even Pielke jr admits, although fewer of them have hit land, fortunately.

So thats your argument sunk without trace. As for the compliant media, I must have missed all the times that denialists were banned from the Mail, the Telegraph, the Times and other newspapers for being against the science...
Oh, wait, Delingpole, Booker and others have been going on about climate change for years in their columns. Not to mention the letters to the editor which get printed, the itnerviews which treat minority or wrong views with the same respect as the actual scientific consensus.

The rest of your comment on Jones is a brilliant example of wishful thinking, since the science has not been affected by anything you or anyone like you has come up with in the last decade.

Eduardo, your reference makes no sense to me, do you have a page number?

Duff - you are wrong, again. How about you wait a few years before commenting again?

Alex said...

Guthrie, do you not follow the reports of changes in things like ice and hurricanes? I guess you must cherrypick what you hear about these things ... but it's well established that global hurricane activity is at a 30 year low while Arctic ice is following the same well-established pattern that it has for the last 10 years at least. Sure, different wind patterns during the summer blew the ice into warmer waters a few years ago, but things are back to normal.

I know it's very hard for you to accept these things, because global warming apologists have a lot of emotional involvement in their case. I'm sure that's the case with Prof Jones, which is why there was a discernible amount of weariness in his interview. It must have been tough to acknowledge that yes, it's true there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995.

As for my "wishful thinking" - well, that's your own interpretation. It sounds to me like you're doing your own wishful thinking, along with the rest of the AGW camp.

But - my original and first point - the real problem is that whether or not there is any remaining validity in the AGW case, the argument has been lost. The media have comprehensively turned against you (in the UK) and 98% of the population get their AGW opinions from the media. QED. So what you should be doing is trying your damnedest to win back some degree of trust. Disband the IPCC. Show some humility about the uncertainties and where much more research needs to be done. Constitute a panel of real statisticians who can try to regain the original basis of the "adjusted" data, and derive some transparent temperature curves. And so on. It'll be hard. But unless you take some drastic action, the AGW cuase will sink without trace.

guthrie said...

I'm not seeing any complaints or such from CRU. There damn well should be, preferabky a press release that begins something like "Yesterday the Daily Mail decided to lie to its readers."

Alex, clearly I didnb't emphasise the trends thing clearly enough. INdividual years up and down don't show much, but the long term trend is important. And it is most obvious in sea ice, where the trend is downwards, as expected. That you deny this indicates that you lack engagement with the science. Suggesting a 7 year period for ice extent, never mind the loss of older ice and subsequent thinness shows no scientific knowledge whatsoever. The correct graph to use is something like this:

http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/trends-in-arctic-sea-ice-extent-in-march-maximum-and-september-minimum-in-the-time-period-of-1979-20
Which has a longer time period in question.

As for disbanding the IPCC, why? How else will you co-ordinate the work of thousands of scientists across the globe? By all means imnprove its workings, and there are various suggestions to do so, but disbanding it leaves us without any central clearing house of relevant information, and would only be the work of an anti-science demagogue. You certainly seem to be obsessed with 'real' statistics anbd curves, but unfortunately lack the background to put them in their proper framework of understanding.

Finally, the media do what they want. Most people know the media lie, and since we've only lost a few percent on the polls, there is no point reacting precipitately. What we need is more pointing out of the liars for what they are, and the organised screaming campaign for what it is.

guthrie said...

I'm not seeing any complaints or such from CRU. There damn well should be, preferabky a press release that begins something like "Yesterday the Daily Mail decided to lie to its readers."

Alex, clearly I didnb't emphasise the trends thing clearly enough. INdividual years up and down don't show much, but the long term trend is important. And it is most obvious in sea ice, where the trend is downwards, as expected. That you deny this indicates that you lack engagement with the science. Suggesting a 7 year period for ice extent, never mind the loss of older ice and subsequent thinness shows no scientific knowledge whatsoever. The correct graph to use is something like this:

http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/trends-in-arctic-sea-ice-extent-in-march-maximum-and-september-minimum-in-the-time-period-of-1979-20
Which has a longer time period in question.

As for disbanding the IPCC, why? How else will you co-ordinate the work of thousands of scientists across the globe? By all means imnprove its workings, and there are various suggestions to do so, but disbanding it leaves us without any central clearing house of relevant information, and would only be the work of an anti-science demagogue. You certainly seem to be obsessed with 'real' statistics anbd curves, but unfortunately lack the background to put them in their proper framework of understanding.

Finally, the media do what they want. Most people know the media lie, and since we've only lost a few percent on the polls, there is no point reacting precipitately. What we need is more pointing out of the liars for what they are, and the organised screaming campaign for what it is.

dhogaza said...

"Sure, different wind patterns during the summer blew the ice into warmer waters a few years ago, but things are back to normal.

I know it's very hard for you to accept these things, because global warming apologists have a lot of emotional involvement in their case. "

No, we have a hard time accepting this because it's false.

Ice extent is no where near "back to normal". Ice volume is even worse.

Alex said...

Oh dear, Guthrie, I said you cherrypicked data, and here we go again. Obviously you couldn't find anything to refute the rather awkward fizzling out of hurricanes, so you select a graph that you think shows something awful happening in the Arctic. For a rather more realistic view that goes back over the whole of the last century, look for instance, here, where you'll see that things were much worse back in the 1940s. I know you'll complain about lack of peer review, but there's lots of references in a Google search - I just took the first one.

As for the IPCC, why not disband it? The lead authors that aren't discredited could be co-opted onto a new panel, and the rest, from 160+ countries and a motley bunch they are too, could simply be dropped without anyone noticing the difference. And we'd get rid of all the government lackeys, bureaucrats, camp followers and hangers-on. And good riddance.

And the media? You don't get it, and neither did they on RealClimate either. The unworldliness still amazes me. Go back and read what I said again. But climate science has had nearly two decades to get its story straight and its presentation tuned, and it's blown it. That's going to take a lot of retrieval.

Michael Tobis said...

There's no question that we have been set back over the last few months.

Unfortunately for everybody, the climate system itself is on the same side of the science questions as the science community is. I wish it were otherwise.

It is really a very small consolation that we will win the argument the end.

dhogaza said...

"I know you'll complain about lack of peer review, but there's lots of references in a Google search - I just took the first one. "

Not only do we have to suffer blog science, but apparently google science, as well ...

Google for "iron sun", you'll "prove" the "theory" is true ...

guthrie said...

Alex, I didn't see anything on that page showing sea ice extent being less in the past? Maybe you have some other explanation for the downwards trend, which is as expected?

Then we have the temperature. You do know its called "global warming" for a reason? a 1 degree increase in the last 30 years during a global increase of something like 0.5 or 0.6 is nothing to be sneezed at. Especially when it will keep going. Thats the important, scientific bit - that we know why and how it will keep warming. We've got nearly a degree global average to warm for the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Your suggestion for the IPCC is equally ludicrous, since you need a large number of people to cover all the various specialties. Also, can you list the hundreds of horrible bureacracts you claim are wasting our money? Maybe they have gold plated bathrooms in New York? Possibly they fly business class every week passing briefcases of the true hidden data which shows we're cooling between their hideouts in volcano's?

AS for your fantasies about the media, the science is all set up, but people don't want to play the science game, hence all the think tanks and lies being promulgated. Oddly enough you don't want to comment about them, do you? The saying "A lie goes around the world before hte truth has put his boots on" and various variations thereof, is substantially correct. Against an enemy who lies in the mass media scientists have very little ability to fight back. This is well known, but doing something about it is tricky.

David B. Benson said...

Alex --- Well, it seems that I know better than Prof. Jones than to directly answer such a loaded question. My response would be along the lines of climate is 30 or more years of weather data. The trend since 1980 CE is about 0.16 K per decade and is statistically significant. Briefly stated, the globe is warming rapidly and has been for over 30 years.

Frank O'Dwyer said...

Michael,

This is par for the course for the Daily Mail, which is at odds with reality for much of its output. Reality has a liberal bias after all. :-)

As far as communication goes I think there is a very different lesson to be learned here. Even once you correct the errors, the perception the public gets is still that Phil Jones has said something different than climate scientists have been saying all along, when this is patently not the case. Notwithstanding the disinformation campaign, both organised and organic, the conclusion must be that climate scientists have been really poor at communicating what they are actually saying.

The comparison of denialist arguments with creationist arguments is very apt. But the problem is not in general a lack of easily understood rebuttals to these arguments - I think it's lack of an easily understood version of what the climate scientists are really saying in the first place.

In fact I'd like to turn that creationism comparison on its head. Evolution theory has fabulous communicators of science in layman's terms. Where is the climate science equivalent of Richard Dawkins and Steven Jay Gould, indeed Darwin himself? Perhaps this comparison is unfair, since these aren't just the best communicators in the evolutionary field, but some of the all time best in any scientific field whatsoever. Still, I see no equivalent for climate science. I think it needs them, badly. Maybe I've missed them - do they exist? I'd really love to know.

The reason that some of these bogus arguments (e.g. short trends, it's snowing in wagga wagga) work so well is not that people are stupid but that they presume, successfully, that people are working with a strawman version of the theory. And they are - but whose fault is that? Again to draw a comparison with the evolution 'debate', Dawkins in one of his books talks about the notion that natural selection is somehow like a wind in a junkyard assembling a jumbo jet. And that argument does have a superficial appeal. It is instructive to see how Dawkins dismisses it - not only explaining what the theory really says but by presenting analogies to drive home that understanding.

I'm speaking here as a layman with a general interest in popular science and as someone who, I think, has made some reasonable attempts to find out what the science says. Enough, for example, to see that Jones' comments say nothing that I hadn't heard before. I've picked up what I've gleaned so far mainly via rebuttals to the denialist arguments - in fact I think one of the best arguments for AGW is that these arguments are so inconsistent and so poor. Though lately I've begun looking for the argument itself - I've looked at the IPCC reports, Spencer Weart's book, video presentations, many other books and blogs, I've even downloaded David Archer's course on climate science and looked at some of the primary literature. But it's not enough and it still leaves huge areas unclear - for example what the models are about, how they work, why are estimates of climate sensitivity are all over the place, how much we need to believe in models to believe in CS, why certain values of CS are constrained by paleo evidence, where are the real uncertainties, what is really known, etc etc.

It's not enough to convince the public that the denialists are full of it and that climate scientists aren't criminals. I want to see the equivalent of 'the selfish gene' or 'the blind watchmaker' that sets out the stall for climate science and makes that argument clear and accessible to laymen. I know it's not a simple topic but neither is evolution.

Anyway hopefully this is some food for thought.

David B. Benson said...

Frank O'Dwyer --- Here is a recent review regarding climate sensitivity:
http://www.iac.ethz.ch/people/knuttir/papers/knutti08natgeo.pdf

Rattus Norvegicus said...

Frank, although I agree with you in toto that climate science needs "great communicators", the fact that only 40% or so of the US population accepts the evolutionary consensus should be telling.

Pangolin said...

The general public simply doesn't get to have it both ways. Al Gore presented the basics of the Climate Change problem in An Inconvenient Truth. No surprise, the paid denialist camp combed through it and found some generalizations that weren't entirely precise and claimed that Al Gore was presenting a falsehood on all counts.

Since then the public has been presented with carefully phrased statements by scientists that are then distorted by those same paid deniers because the public doesn't have the capability to understand undergraduate science.

When does the academy get to close ranks and refuse to respond to proven sophists?

Marion Delgado said...

dhogaza:

if it weren't for the University of Google, people would still be sticking big evil needles in little tiny helpless babies and injecting them with mercury and DISEASES!

We'd probably all be autistic by now, and the most insidious part is that we wouldn't care all that much.

Mark said...

Alex claims:

"Well, just as a couple of for-instances: in its predictions that the Arctic ice would be gone in n years, where n became smaller and smaller. And that hurricanes would grow in frequency and intensity. "

Arctic sea ice is your top example? Yikes! Talk about making a claim 180 degrees from reality. Arctic sea ice extent has been decreasing much faster than the mean model prediction. At one point, it was beyond the uncertainty bounds, and now is at the edge, even with a relative rebound from the anomalous 2007 low.

http://nsidc.org/news/images/20070430Figure1.png

http://nsidc.org/news/press/20091005_minimumpr.html

Global warming's link to hurricane frequency has never had anything close to a consensus. Thus, a strawman on your part. There are projections that the most intense hurricanes will increase, particularly in the Atlantic basin. The most category 5 Atlantic hurricanes on record were in the last decade.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Category_5_Atlantic_hurricanes#Listed_in_chronological_order

Still, the IPCC was quite cautious about the historical record on this, using phrases like "more likely than not" (> 50%).

I kindly suggest you take a break from political soap box and lecturing of the scientific community and begin reading the science. Start with a subscription to a few climate science-related journals.

As far as the press goes, the mainstream media has always given voice to the fringe. As long as there is a demand for it (and there's a big demand for global warming skepticism, for political and ideological reasons), the press will meet that demand. Facts don't matter.

Neven said...

Alex wrote: "For a rather more realistic view that goes back over the whole of the last century, look for instance, here, where you'll see that things were much worse back in the 1940s."

That was a very interesting read indeed. I particularly liked this bit:

"We've already hit bottom on the ice extent for 2005, and started back up. Which makes this, not the most ice-free year on record, nor the second most, but ... 2005 is in a dismal tie for sixth place in a small field of 27 years, out of the medals altogether.

[...]

But let's get real, folks. For about a decade (1979-90), minimum ice coverage averaged around 6 million sq. km. Since 1990, minimum ice coverage has averaged around 5.5 million sq. km. This year, last year, the year before that, and the year before that have all been stultifyingly normal, at around 5.5 million sq. km."

And then came September 2007 with its 4.25 million square km sea ice extent.

Great stuff in retrospect, as most of the inactivist assertions are.

AMac said...

My earlier remarks got eaten by Blogger or moderated, oh well.

On communication. A Denialist would be someone who believes or pretends to believe that the Earth hasn't warmed in the past 50-100 years, or that human activities haven't caused any warming that has taken place.

Were I one, I'd be delighted by the way this term rolls off the tongue of proponents of the AGW Consensus. It seems to come up in rebutting any argument that displays any degree of skepticism or caution about any part of the Consensus. Sometimes accompanied by references to Creationism and other discredited causes.

For most skeptics, myself included, "Denialist" is an offensive label.

The fact is, you're stuck living in an open society, where you lack the power to coerce others to conform to your beliefs.

Ad hominem plays well inside the tent. For many on the outside--undecided as to the urgency of the AGW threat--not so much.

Here's a link to Eli Rabett's Betroffenheitstroll post, to spare you the effort.

Neven said...

AMac, I believe that you are of the very few in the skeptic/lukewarmer/denialist camp who will consistently admit that warming is real, that it's most probably and mainly caused by human greenhouse gas emissions AND that this has the potential (however small) to cause significant damage to society and the economy. A lot of the skeptics are not so consistent, because of their motives to delay action on AGW.

Two things are happening I believe: A lot of the skeptics/lukewarmers/denialists do not clearly state what it is that they're denying (the warming? the role of co2? the human factor? the potential damage/catastrophe?). The other thing is that skeptics and lukewarmers hardly criticize denialists, making the other side of the AGW debate looking suspiciously homogenous. I have the feeling this might change now because of "Climategate".

I still believe it could be useful to categorize skeptics, lukewarmers and denialists with the definitions you gave on Lucia's blog. The same goes for warmists, alarmist and catastrophists.

In fact, I would like it if there were some kind of "global warming certification label" on blogs (where the blog owners all answer the same questions wrt AGW) which makes it easier to discern the denialists, alarmists, lukewarmers, skeptics, warmists from each other.

EliRabett said...

Most who call themselves skeptics ARE denialists. A few are delayers. And if you act like a clown, expect to be called on it. Your feelings are not of great concern when you are misleading others. OTOH Eli enjoys watching the three stooges perform.

Neven said...

Eli wrote: "Most who call themselves skeptics ARE denialists."

What is your take on this, AMac? It is true in a sense, isn't it? It would almost compel me to tell you to go complain to the denialists who hide behind the term 'skeptic'. Most of the time because they genuinely believe they are a skeptic when claiming there is no warming, humans have nothing whatsoever to do with it, it's all a scam by scientists and Al Gore, etc.

I believe this is the main reason that warmists lump denialists, lukewarmers and skeptics together. But again, this is also because perhaps the real skeptics are not doing enough to distance themselves from the ideologues, shills and conspiracy fringe?

Why aren't they?

AMac said...

Neven,

I think you're right about bona fide denialists not being generally challenged by lukewarmers. Though you do see it, e.g. at Lucia's. And "Denialists" hardly get a free pass. Alarmist/Denialist cage matches are a regular feature of the blogosphere.

I don't carry a torch for engaging in discussions where the chances of either learning something interesting or changing somebody's opinion are very low.

- - - - -

EliRabett,

Thanks for sharing your insights on the sociology of AGW advocacy.

AMac said...

Neven,

>"Most who call themselves skeptics ARE denialists."

> What is your take on this, AMac?

It's a good question, but hard to answer. "Most" who I discuss this with in person? No, but that's a small sample size. "Most" who I am exposed to offline, e.g. in print? Probably not, but I largely read Consensus supporters (no cable TV, no talk radio, no Tea Parties for me).

Online? People generally seem to affinity-sort themselves by blog. At lowbrow Consensus-questioning blogs, a plurality to a majority of commenters might be "denialists". At general conservative (U.S. politics-oriented) blogs, probably more. At climate-oriented sites like Lucia's, the Air Vent, Climate Audit? There, "Denialists" are a very small minority.

Does "Denialist" map to anti-science and "Catastrophist" map to science-accepting? Sometimes, but I wouldn't say that it's generally true; there's more going on than that. Lucia has expounded on this topic; I think she's generally about right.

guthrie said...

Frank O'dwyer - Spencer Wearts book makes a very good start at what you want. But explaining the models will require another book; explaining the likely results of AGW properly are another book (Which would bring in ecology and other topics), and so on.

Various campaigning journalists have had books out, from George Monbiot's "Heat" to Mark Lynas' "six degrees".

By comparison, the selfish gene which I read years ago, is pretty short and to the point.

Personally I have some ideas as to why there are so few scientists involved in communication. Firstly, doing it well requires a skillset a little different from what you need to be a good scientist. Secondly, with all the budgetary stress and so on that scientists have experienced the last decade or two, do enough people really have the time?

And the other issue is that a factual book will sell a few thousand copies, or maybe a few tens of thousands. We are up against lies which are repeated weekly and monthly to an audience of hundreds of thousands. Mere repetition makes things stick.

Nick Palmer said...

It's true we desperately need a media star Dawkins type to counter the "sceptics". We need a Green Rush Limbaugh who shouts down the lies and BS, who can humiliate the media savvy denialists.

When a climate scientist, no matter how smart, faces up to a Monckton or a Plimer they will always lose the "debate" and thereby reduce the credibility of the AGW camp.

The only person I have seen "debate" a denier and come off best is George Monbiot, the British journalist, who slaughtered Plimer live on Aussie TV enjoy the spectacle. I doubt if Monbiot could take on Monckton though.

An example - if in a "debate" the denier brings up heavy snowfalls to show that global warming is bunk the scientist may say (if we're lucky) that the sceptic is confusing weather and climate. More often we just hear that the trend is still up and that they have a 95% confidence level that we're responsible. Nowhere near good enough. That'll never cut the mustard. Monckton would wipe the floor with wishy washy (but accurate stuff like that).

Both the scientist's view and the rhetoric monster's view sound "sciency" to the public. The public will judge whose view seems stronger (aka right!) on who is more confident, more articulate, more knowledgeable, more easy, more common sense'y in their presentation - the one who stumbles, and pauses to think, who hesitates in their answers, no matter how scientifically rigorously correct they may be, is lost. When Monckton performs his Gish Gallop, the audience is swept along with him.

If the Glen Beck like sceptic does the "its freakin' cold" thing we need people who would shout back that they were being stupid - that they were looking at a wave on a beach gong back out 30 feet in a few seconds and yelling that the tide was going out, meanwhile the tide is rising at a foot an hour. We need orators who would say "listen to the science and you might get wet feet - listen to this clown and you're gonna drown - it's virtually certain folks! Do ya feel lucky punks?! This moron is gambling with our economy, your children's future - maybe even life on Earth as we know it"

Michael Tobis said...

Well, Deltoid seems to have held his own against Monckton. But we won't "win" "debates" unless we have a hand in setting up the rules.

Nick Palmer said...

Hi Mike,

I've been warning against climate change since the 80's so I really, really wish the public would be more convinced by a fully rational, well evidenced case. But the swine are only human and mostly favour the views put over by the best orators - 'twas ever thus.

Scientifically, of course, Tim Lambert floored Monckton but, from media reports, the audience thought the opposite - which is the big problem facing us. It's the audience that vote, the businessmen in there who will go away and make decisions as to whether they feel it worth it to bother making changes to their operations, the movers and shakers who'll talk in their golf clubs to their fellows scathingly about AGW and the "gravy trainer's" who've cooked it up etc.

The Chinese whispers will continue to grow.

Frank O'Dwyer said...

" the fact that only 40% or so of the US population accepts the evolutionary consensus should be telling."

Indeed. Similar picture here in the UK. And some proportion of those will never be able to accept AGW due (I think) to a basic belief that god/providence is in charge of the weather. This type generally announces themselves by referring to belief in man's ability to change the climate as 'arrogance'.

"Here is a recent review regarding climate sensitivity:
http://www.iac.ethz.ch/people/knuttir/papers/knutti08"

Thanks - actually this very paper is the source of my confusion :-) Maybe I need to read it again. I find the Arrhenius-type calculations of CS or the ones derived from paleo evidence conceptually easier to understand - also more persuasive as they don't seem to rely on a model, not a complex one anyhow. Also the paleo efforts are persuasive in so far as they must include the real behaviours of the system and the physics exactly. This is my simplistic understanding anyhow. What I do not understand is how much uncertainty comes from the involvement of models, nor how the uncertainty ranges come about.

"But we won't "win" "debates" unless we have a hand in setting up the rules."

Dawkins and Gould came jointly to the conclusion that such debates with creationists were a waste of time. Maybe they are right.

Some time in the 1980s when I was on a visit to the United States, a television station wanted to stage a debate between me and a prominent creationist called, I think, Duane P Gish. I telephoned Stephen Gould for advice. He was friendly and decisive: "Don't do it." The point is not, he said, whether or not you would 'win' the debate. Winning is not what the creationists realistically aspire to. For them, it is sufficient that the debate happens at all. They need the publicity. We don't. To the gullible public which is their natural constituency, it is enough that their man is seen sharing a platform with a real scientist. "There must be something in creationism, or Dr So-and-So would not have agreed to debate it on equal terms." Inevitably, when you turn down the invitation you will be accused of cowardice, or of inability to defend your own beliefs. But that is better than supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science.

Though what is happening now is more like on all-out assault on science and scientific authority in general.

At the same time it was until recently true that deniers would puff up their credentials by noting stuff like 'IPCC reviewer' on their CVs. I guess they have now snookered themselves on that one though I doubt their audience will notice.

And they still love it when some genuine scientist appears to be on their side, they still mention any credentials they can no matter how irrelevant. So despite claiming to hate argument from authority, they crave it for themselves.

That was one of the things that Tim Lambert did really well in his debate - he introduced himself as 'just as much an amateur at this as Lord Monckton'. :-)

guthrie said...

By analogy with the creationism fight, it is clear that firstly you don't need the majority of the population to agree with you, and neither should debates be encouraged. However the propaganda has an effect, and becuase AGW requires more and greater action than merely teaching evolution in schools, our response is vulnerable to public pressure on politicians. Of course ideally people would make the changes themselves, but it is clear that we need both people making their ownm changes, and various forms of mild coercion, in the same way that smokings badness is signaled by a large amount of tax on it.

On the sceptics/ denialists thing, I've seen people who I would class as genuine sceptics, ie they ask for evidence and weigh it up etc, never label themselves as sceptics. By contrast, people who self label as sceptic are out to prove something, and use it as a badge to make a rhetorical point. That they mostly turn out to be denialists (i.e. deny the evidence we present to them, deny the science, and so on) confirms that it is a rhetorical tactic.

Nick Palmer said...

Attention deniers...
Eppure riscalda!

AMac said...

A prominent scientist is quoted in today's Wall St. Journal.

"It's important to say that the scandals we've had don't change the fundamental point that global warming is man-made and we need to tackle it."

That sounds about right to me.

Marion Delgado said...

AMac:

Anyone saying "Alarmist/Denialist cage matches are a regular feature of the blogosphere" comes off at least a delayer seeking to create confusion.

It's not "alarmists vs. denialists." It's the people playing the odds and concerning themselves with the ninety and nine vs. those that foster all of the conflicting, mutually contradictory, mostly fringe theories of the 1% of climate-related scientists who don't support the consensus.

It's "supporters of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming and its grossly predictable consequences" vs. denialists.

Also:
As time goes by, staying as far behind the scientific consensus as you can plausibly stay and still fool the public is indeed denialism.

If denialism changes slowly under duress to most efficiently catapult the propaganda, it's still denialism.

If it demonizes some parts of the scientific process - models, peer review, etc. - and says people should compromise with denialism, arbitrarily agree with the demonization, because not all of science at the exact same time is being attacked, that's still denialism.

And the biggest scandal in climate of the last decade is that the denial industry or its acolytes are like Nixon's Plumbers. The next biggest scandal would be the collective of completely ignorant people like Monckton propped up as foils for scientists. A medium-high scandal would be Steve McIntyre making formal and public complaints about his requests for data not being filled while secretly having the data all along, and making his demands to the wrong people while the fact that he got the data proved he knew where it should come from all along, also.

And that real scandal in part led to the pseudoscandals trumpeted in various media outlets.

AMac said...

Marion Delgado --

> Anyone saying "Alarmist/Denialist cage matches are a regular feature of the blogosphere" comes off at least a delayer seeking to create confusion.

I try to back up important assertions with links. I didn't bother with "Alarmist/Denialist cage matches are a regular feature of the blogosphere" because its truth is obvious.

Want citations? Here you go. The comments threads of most posts at: RealClimate, ClimateAudit (look for the word "snip"), Rabett Run, WUWT, Deep Climate, Bishop Hill, OIIFTG. That's from memory. Want more? Check those blogs' blogrolls.

You've indulged a penchant for mindreading, rather than reading what I wrote.

Hey, let me play. "Marion Delgado, you prefer debates where the focus is on whether your sparring partner 'still beats his wife.'"

Is that true? Meh, probably not. Should you devote your next comment to rebutting that proposition? Probably not. Annoying, though, isn't it.

What I think (cf. what-you-think-I-think) is what I wrote yesterday in <a href="http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/real-climate-spin-and-facts/>this 'the Air Vent' thread</a>.

AMac said...

Oops.

... in this 'the Air Vent' thread.

pagesincolor said...

A 95% confidence interval is equivalent to 3 standard deviations. One standard deviation is only 67% confidence, which is the minimum needed to report a result. Why he stuck with the necessity of 3 std deviations is beyond me.