"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Outsiders Getting It Right

This is Walter Russell Mead, from a couple weeks ago in The American Interest
The scientific case for anthropogenic global warming is pretty much what it was three months ago. But the prospects for effective US action to do anything about it have drastically changed. If Congress tries to go forward with cap-and-trade, a volcano of public resistance and Tea Party rebellion will erupt now, and in the current political climate, the environmental side will not be able to prevail.

That is news and it is important news, whether human action is causing dangerous global warming or not.

Readers of the New York Times don’t need to know about all the brouhaha in the British press because a bunch of reporters are trying to bring down the science behind global warming. What they need to know is that a bunch of reporters have succeeded in making the leading figures in the climate change movement look like incompetent, unreliable self-promoters whose evidence cannot be trusted.

Blake writes that I’ve linked ‘uncritically’ to these overheated press reports. I am not linking to endorse the journalistic attacks on climate science; more than once in these posts I’ve restated my own conclusion that the ‘revelations’ don’t affect the core scientific case. But I link to these press reports as evidence of what happens when science meets journalism — especially when the scientists are clueless about the nature of the game being played.

The science hasn’t broken down, but the interface between the scientific process and the political process has broken down completely. The Times needs to report on this not to protect itself against charges of liberal bias, but because it’s an important development on a major issue of great concern to its readers.

The problem, I think, is that like Blake, the Times can only see the story in scientific terms. If an interview like Phil Jones’ interview with the BBC doesn’t break scientific ground, then it’s not newsworthy. If there are a few embarrassing snafus in the IPCC report, that is unfortunate but it is not intellectually serious enough to be a major story.

But climate change has moved beyond the ivory tower. It’s a political issue now and believe me, from a political point of view, Phil Jones’ troubles and his troubled interview have made the news. If you don’t believe me, go watch Fox News and see how the interview is being used.

Let me say this again one last time: the story here is that the movement to stop climate change is being swift-boated right before our eyes. And just as Senator Kerry and the journalistic establishment failed to see the importance of the swift boat attacks and develop a counter strategy early, so the Times along with the climate change establishment is, yet again, missing the boat on a major piece of news.
Unfortunately, seeing the disaster for what it is doesn't seem very common outside the trenches.

Meanwhile, Juan Cole addresses those of us in the trenches:
  1. Every single serious climate scientist should be running a blog. There is enormous thirst among the public for this information, and publishing only in technical refereed journals is guaranteed to quarantine the information away from the general public. ...
  2. It is not your fault. The falsehoods in the media are not there because you haven't spoken out forcefully or are not good on t.v. ...
  3. If you just keep plugging away at it, with blogging and print, radio and television interviews, you can have an impact on public discourse over time. I could not quantify it, but I am sure that I have. It is a lifetime commitment and a lot of work and it interferes with academic life to some extent. Going public also makes it likely that you will be personally smeared and horrible lies purveyed about you in public (they don't play fair-- they make up quotes and falsely attribute them to you; it isn't a debate, it is a hatchet job). ... But if an issue is important to you and the fate of your children and grandchildren, surely having an impact is well worth any price you pay.


David B. Benson said...

Ok, how to we drum up more supporters like that?

[Word verification suggests "refully".]

bigcitylib said...

I agree with Mr. Cole. But then the media has to move beyond its standard list of contacts. Too much good work (from Eli, Donner, MT, Lambert, Connelley and etc) kind of dies in the blogosphere. Yet Pielke Jr. is quoted once again.

Deech56 said...

Juan Cole's words are of particular interest, since he is an academic in a subject (Middle Eastern Studies) that is in the public. He's also attracted his share of brickbats over the years. My pet peeve is the lack of a link in press releases or articles that cover published work. That might make it easier for reporters to find, oh, say, the corresponding author of the study.

Michael Tobis said...


Yes, the PRESUMPTION of the press that I don't want to follow up by looking at the original publication is, well, I don't have an adjective for it that captures totally contemptible and extremely comtemptuous at the same time. Let me settle for, yeah, why don't they do that?

Sometimes you can't even determine who the PI is! It's like having no information at all, only irritating!

Phil said...

We really should make science more open. Too many important papers lie behind paywalls, alas.

Deech56 said...

RE Michael:

Sometimes you can't even determine who the PI is! It's like having no information at all, only irritating!

That's exactly it. So many times I've been presented with an article in the popular press and want to at least go back to the abstract (not wanting to assume that a given poster or the journalist got the information right).

And then it ends up being a sleuthing operation. Find a mention of the author, go to his or her web site, find out that the author has several recent papers that are similar enough and then try to figure out which one is it.

Fortunately scientist-bloggers do link to the actual manuscript. Note that some bloggers *cough* Watts *cough* refuse to quote from the actual article if it's behind a paywall, and will instead base a whole post on the someone's interpretation of the publication. Incredible. All those fans and they cannot spring for subscriptions to Science and Nature (let alone pay for data).

BarbD said...

One of the things that keeps occurring to me as I read your posts is the need to "influence the influencers."

When it comes to changing public opinion, it's hard to do it with a fire hose. But if you identify the people whose skeptical opinions are newsworthy to the masses of disbelievers, maybe you (as in the scientific community) can have a series of conversations with them. Or at least some of them.

And include the science press.