"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, July 30, 2010

Pielke vs Schneider

The wrongness of the edifice that RP Jr constructs in "Honest Broker" is something that needs to be examined. He suggests that a scientist can be either advocate (for a particular policy) or reporter (neutral among policies; here he distinguishes three rather similar variations, on of which he calls "honest broker") and that any intermediate role is (at least implicitly) dishonest.

(I note that Roger concedes in comments here that one can take different roles on different issues. This is important and somewhat helpful to his thesis, but raises many new questions.)

One fundamental flaw here is that there is no distinction possible in Roger's taxonomy between "scientific advocate" and "pseudoscientific advocate". There is no role for a scientist responding to untruths or misrepresentations posing as science. The "honest broker" simply reports on alternatives, and makes no choice among them. The "advocate" promotes a particular set of choices and makes no attempt at balance. The political process weighs the various evidence streams and chooses a course of action. This is a lawyer's model of how ideas contend, not a scientist's.

Placed up against this is Steve Schneider's infamous quotation:
On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.
There are many who try to twist this into a declaration of dishonesty. (... as if dishonest people had some reason for declaring that they are dishonest!) But clearly, it isn't. It's a description of the ethical tightrope that every scientist walks at every moment he or she discusses science, especially when there are important direct implications for the public.

Roger's suggestion amounts to a claim that some of us should be effective and pay scant attention to honesty, while others should be honest and pay scant attention to effectiveness. Nobody is assigned the role of evaluating claims on a normative basis; implicitly this is for the policy sector and not for scientists. In other words, by obtaining domain expertise, we scientists apparently disqualify ourselves from participating in discussions about values. But surely that is exactly backwards.

I think I have settled on at least a partial answer to this quandary: we must distinguish between expertise and expert advice. Expertise is value neutral; expert advice isn't. But these are types of statement, not roles.

At any given moment, we must try to be clear which sort of statement we are making. But to give people two different hats and suggest that they never change them is simply to shred the communication channel at its most valuable point. If you go to pure advocates for expert advice, you will never be able to trust them. If you go to pure experts for data, you will never have anyone to offer perspective. If you dismiss anyone who does both as dishonest, you have hermetically sealed yourself against the only people capable of offering informed perspective.

If you cannot acknowledge statements from people who have both value-neutral expertise and culturally connected values, then you cannot evaluate the effectiveness of proposed policies in achieving goals. Then you can proceed to develop politically popular policies which are stupidly incompetent, which I suppose is the point of expertise in political science .

You can see this approach in full flower over at Roger's right now. Read the comments.

pix: SantaCruz.com & Cafescicolorado.org.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Authoritarianism Claim

Ken Green and his coauthor Hiwa Alaghebandian have gone out and collected data to support their proposition that science is "turning authoritarian". This is an admirable first step, but let's apply a bit of skepticism and see where it goes.

Here's the data:

Now, the first thing I note is that all the curves are pretty much the same shape just with different scaling. So perhaps the size of the data set grows over time.

Yet G & A proceed to claim that "Some of this may simply reflect the general growth of media output and the growth of new media, but if that were the case, we would expect all of the terms to have shown similar growth, which they do not." But, um, they do. Well, these guys don't look at charts and graphs all that much, perhaps they've never thought about what that might look like. But anyway, the way they eliminate "general growth" is, um, how to put this charitably, "exactly wrong".

Anyway, the next question, of course, is whether the language is being used in the way they suggest. Their own examples are far from convincing on this score.

The climate community is probably the biggest user of the authoritarian voice, with frequent pronouncements that “the science says we must limit atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 parts per million,” or some dire outcome will eventuate. Friends of the Earth writes, “For example, science tells us we must reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent dangerous climate change.” America’s climate change negotiator in Copenhagen is quoted by World Wildlife Fund as saying, “China must do significantly more if we are to have a chance to solve the problem and to arrive at an international agreement that achieves what science tells us we must.” Science as dictator—not a pretty sight.

If science wants to redeem itself and regain its place with the public’s affection, scientists need to come out every time some politician says, “The science says we must…” and reply, “Science only tells us what is. It does not, and can never tell us what we should or must do.
But the example "China must do significantly more if we are to have a chance to solve the problem" is not an instruction, it is a statement of fact: consequence X cannot be avoided without action Y. "For example, science tells us we must reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent dangerous climate change" can at least be read that way. Are these authoritaruan statements? No, they are claims of fact. They don't tell you you must avoid consequence X; they tell you that if you want to avoid consequence X, then Y is required.

So let's look for ourselves. Those of us who don't have Lexis/Nexis kind of bucks are no longer at a great disadvantage; we can ask the Google/Oogle.

And the great Oogle Bird reveals two things. The first, not unexpected, is that there are plenty of other ways you can use the phrases:

"Science requires faith"

"Science requires interpretation"

"Science requires mathematics"

"Lithuanian law on science requires online access for publicly-funded research"

"Computer Science requires critical thinking skills"

"that if the law differs from what cognitive science tells us, we should change the law to conform to the “objective” truth of the human brain"

"The increase in global temperature is consistent with what science tells us we should expect"

"That's what all the science tells us we should expect"

"But Occam's razor (a standard paradigm in science) tells us we should pick the simplest model that is consistent with the data"

So phrase counts themselves don;t tell the whole stories.

But that was to be expected. What I did not expect was how very few hits Google had. On the exact phrase "science tells us we should" (using quote delimiters) Google had exactly 49 hits, perhaps a quarter of them referring to Green and Alaghebandian either directly or at one remove, (and another quarter absurdly off topic in one way or another). So we are looking at two dozen hits from google. I can't see how this is consistent with 1500 per year from Lexis,

Note that the curves are nearly monotonic: you might even suspect that these numbers are cumulative except for the declines in 2003 and 2006. I would like to see these results reproduced (not just replicated) before I would recommend putting much credence into them.

But what is this all about anyway? It's true enough that "science tells us we should" seems to be applied to environmental issues and climate issues in particular, in the rare cases it's used. And it's clear that this is usually expressed by a nonscientist. So the nonscientist may be respecting authority, but there is no sign of an exercise or assertion of power.

Why should there be? The question comes down to the purpose of expertise. Science itself, in the pure form, is and should be value neutral. Science-based advice cannot be. In other words, expertise is one thing, and expert advice is another thing. There can be expertise without expert advice, but there cannot be expert advice without expertise. Exactly what words the expert uses, or even exactly what words the person taking the advice uses, is hairsplitting.

Many of the ideas from our critics have a dreamlike, bizarre quality to them. Apparently, Phil Jones has been doing what he has been doing because that is how to become a modern Napoleon; you collate thermometers. Before you know it you will rule the world.

Right. A good theory, demonstrated beyond doubt by a clever Lexis search. That explains everything except the 99 degree temperature in Helsinki yesterday. That and why Google only got 49 hits on their most prominent phrase.

What it really means is that freedom is just another word for ignoring informed opinion when it suits you. I guess that's why they need those think tanks. If they weren't in a heavily armored vehicle they wouldn't last five minutes in fair combat. But give them some credit. They drew a graph. That's progress...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Misleading Headline Again

I think nobody has ever been fired for a bad headline. The story is important and informative for the informed, though possibly a bit misleading for the uninformed. So it's also bad journalism for America, but not as bad as the headline. It's originally Agence France-Press I think, though the headline was clearly written by somebody who only read the first sentence. So maybe it wasn't bad journalism in the original. I don't doubt the French public could do a better job understanding this:

"Our findings will increase our knowledge on the climate system and increase our ability to predict the speed and final height of sea level rise," said Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, an ice expert at the University of Copenhagen and head of the project.

"If the Eemian was unstable, then the models of future change due to increased greenhouse effect are wrong as they cannot handle sudden changes," she told AFP by email from the site.

But many Americans are far more dauntless and brave than Frenchmen, and so are able to go from "models are wrong" to "therefore the sensitivity is zero" so quickly and with so much zeal and so little thought that it causes spinal injury. Certainly the rest of the context is likely reduced to invisibility.

Anyway, it's a good story. And it's the truth, what Dr. Dahl-Jensen says about the models: if they aren't accurate, then things are more likely to turn out much worse than the models say than to turn better than they say.

But these days, in the English-speaking world at least, you really have to spell something like that out. You have to say "worse than the models predict", which I suppose puts you in the terrain of advocate and not scientist! If you just say "models are wrong" you're pretty much guaranteed to be read as saying "no worries"!

Update 9/1/10: The original link has gone stale. Here is an exact copy. The headline was "Earth's climate future may be etched in Greenland bedrock" .

The inattentive reading by the editor seems to have been limited to the first paragraph, "Scientists hit Greenland bedrock this week after five years of drilling through 2.5 kilometres (1.6-mile) of solid ice, a 14-nation consortium announced Wednesday." Of course, they are interested in the ice, not the bedrock.

Russian Heat Wave and Peat Fires

It's surprisingly hard to find good photos of the smog/heat emergency in Moscow. The best I have found is this set from the Chinese news service xinhuanet.com .

Joe Romm points out that this heat anomaly is part of a global pattern this summer:

Globally nine countries have smashed all-time temperature records, “making 2010 the year with the most national extreme heat records,” as meteorologist Jeff Masters has reported.

This is a serious abnormality. The Russian weather service has never measured such temperatures in Moscow in July,” said Dmitry Kiktyov, Deputy Director of the Hydrometeorological Center of Russia.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Roger at Face Value

I have ploughed through Roger Pielke Jr.'s The Honest Broker. On the whole I cannot recommend it; I'll try to explain in detail soon.

That said, there were a couple of things in the book that I liked a lot. Most important is this. At root, Roger is, in fact, asking the right question, regardless of what you think of his way of answering it. The relationship between science and policy is indeed fraught and not well decided. It is something we need to think about; it's of first order importance in figuring out what to do about climate and many other crucial issues.

I also liked his contrast between Tornado Science and Abortion Science; in the former, science is decisive, while in the latter, science is, if anything, used as rationalization for positions which were fixed in advance of any realistically plausible evidence.

(It would be more fun to talk about this with a different name than Abortion Science, though, please and thanks. Let's just call it science-as-proxy vs. science-as-driver.)

But Roger doesn't go far enough with this distinction; he presumes it is obvious which is which. A good deal of the difficulty we are having in the climate field is in fact that the question of which sort of question it is is in contention. When you hear people saying "global warming is like a religion" they are saying that climate change is about preconceived ethical stances and not about the physical reality of the system. Those of us who think otherwise find ourselves harping on evidence; others see us spouting dogma. We bang the drum about coherence and consistency of evidence; others see signs of closed-mindedness. We try to drive the conversation with facts; they respond with values.

Roger takes no explicit side on which sort of question climate policy debate is, but I think his behavior shows that he doesn't really see the tornado coming. But I thank him for the distinction just the same. I think this disagreement whether science is a proxy or is the real issue is at the heart of why we talk past each other.

Update: Roger responds in a comment "If you think that you are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner through appeals to science, you are wrong."

My first response in comments is somewhat tangential to this key point.

My answer to the key point, emphatically, is that if Roger thinks we are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner without appeals to science, he is more wrong than I am. (I don't think that he does think that, to be fair. But I'm not sure where that leaves us.)

Clearly science is substantially relevant, even if it isn't entirely dispositive. Until the public understands the main practical implications of the science, we will not end up with a sane policy.

While daunting, these implications are not in themselves complicated. Yet, for whatever reason, they are not commonly understood, and this lack of understanding leads directly to a dysfunctional policy. I do not see any segment of Roger's four-part taxonomy as having the competence to respond to this circumstance.

The issue I raise in the comments is a much simpler one, but it may serve as a model, wherein Roger can explain what those of us who are convinced there is a tornado coming (let's stipulate, for the purposes of the discussion, correctly so) can do to overcome those who think our motivation is to sell storm cellars.

The Greenhouse Effect Denied

Science of Doom has a nice simple, fully detailed calculation to set people straight on the part or radiative physics they are bound and determined to be confused about. And no less than Roy Spencer also tried to pitch in.
Probably as the result of my recent post explaining in simple terms my “skepticism” about global warming being mostly caused by carbon dioxide emissions, I’m getting a lot of e-mail traffic from some nice folks who are trying to convince me that the physics of the so-called Greenhouse Effect are not physically possible.
Amusingly enough, Spencer himself gets the full denial treatment:

The physical universe sets the parameters for science. Our theories are either correct or incorrect. What is correct in one branch of science is REQUIRED to apply to all branches of science. No branch of science is allowed to bend or rewrite the Laws of Science to benefit their agenda. Yet this is what one former NASA scientist is doing.

Consider this profound Nouveau Science at work. In his article, “Yes, Virginia, Cooler Objects Can Make Warmer Objects Even Warmer Still”, former NASA scientist, Dr Roy Spencer, attempts to defend AGW and ends up exposing the lie.

Dr Roy: “Back radiation is a critical component of the theoretical explanation for the greenhouse effect”

Direct translation is “if you don’t believe the ‘little lie’ then you won’t believe the big lie.

What a world. (I also like the convenient auto-linking of "Virginia", in case you forgot who she was. Apparently she was a Commonwealth.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tamino vs Montford

Presumably nobody has missed taking note of Tamino's rebuttal of Montford on RealClimate, but maybe, like me, some have put off reading the comments. Don't miss the whole thing; it's fascinating and one of the best RC threads ever.

In the view of keeping on pressing the press, I will leave you with the concluding part of Deep Climate's comment #50:

A rare front-page science feature appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in February, 2005. That report featured an account of the just-published GRL article by Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick.

Which PR disinformation outfit contacted the Wall Street Journal to arrange this prominent coverage? My guess is APCO Worldwide. Or perhaps the Wall Street Journal got the idea from coverage in the National Post, then in the thrall of APCO Worldwide operative Tom Harris. No one knows because the Wall Street Journal has consistently refused to discuss the matter.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The likes of Patrick Michaels and CEI’s Chris Horner are not legitimate sources for “balance” from the “other side”. Rather, they are appropriate subjects for journalistic investigation. At the very least, they should not be allowed access to reputable journalistic platforms until they come close to the same transparency that most scientists have always exhibited.

The “hockey stick” scientific “scandal” has been manufactured from the start on non-existent evidence, and promoted diligently on behalf of powerful interests. “Climategate” is the real hoax, one perpetuated by complaisant media outlets like Fox News, the National Post and the Wall Street Journal.

It’s high time Andrew Revkin recognized that awful truth. His continued silence on the real issues is a disgrace.

(emphasis added)

Yo, Andy! It's not just me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pilfered Emails, Bogus Scandals

Sure enough, the so far only slightly mitigated success of "climategate" has led to imitation.

Perhaps the fact that the latest massive email trawl picked journalists as a target will awaken the journalistic community to the nature of the travesty.

Matt Yglesias summarizes:
I’d encourage everyone to read this Ann Althouse post on today’s bogus Daily Caller story about JournoList. Her bottom line: “The Daily Caller’s article is weak. And I’m inclined to think the material in the Journolist archive is pretty mild stuff.”

What’s maddening about this whole issue is that of course it’s impossible to prove a negative. The closest one can come, however, is reasonable inference. The Caller appears to have access to a very large proportion of JournoList emails and they can’t come up with anything that withstands cursory scrutiny.
Sound familiar? It should.

Thanks to Things Break (in comments) for the pointer, and also to this related item on Salon.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shirley Sherrod's Method vs Organized Smearing

Readers outside the US may or may not hear about the Shirley Sherrod controversy, so I'll summarize.

Ms. Sherrod is apparently a woman of great character. As a black child in Georgia in the early 1960's, she had to cope with the killing of her father, for which the known killer, a white man, was never arraigned. Apparently, in her youth she had resentment toward white people. This is understandable to say the least. She discussed this at a talk at the NAACP which is embroiled in racial controversy with the "Tea Party". A couple of things she said were clipped out of context, leaving the casual viewer with the impression that she, in her current post as an executive in the US Department of Agriculture, currently treats black people preferentially to white people. In fact this was exactly the opposite of the point of her talk. This was picked up by a certain rightwing flak by the name of Breitbart who runs some sort of nasty right wing web site; there is no proof either way whether Breitbart himself had anything to do with editing the file. On Monday, with some cover from NAACP itself, she was summarily dismissed (stricly speaking, her resignation was demanded). It's clear that the Agriculture Secretary was personally involved, and there's some doubt as to how much direct White House input there was.

I don't need to go into any more detail. There must be a million words on this on the net already.

Another innocent career casually destroyed by the right wing, right? Ho-hum.

If you ask why the outrage of "climategate" gets no attention, why the Cuccinelli abuse of power gets a shrug, here's your answer. This is business as usual in America.

So why all the attention to Shirley Sherrod after all? Why the million words? Three reasons:

1) Ms. Sherrod did not take this lying down
2) Ms. Sherrod has some prominent friends
3) Ms. Sherrod tracked down the entire videotape

All of which led to a decisive vindication in a short time.

The first I heard of the story was on NPR Tuesday evening, by which time it was clear that Ms. Sherrod had not just done nothing wrong, but in fact had done a great deal very right. For her to be summarily dismissed by the white house on the word of an iresponsible blogger (who in fact had been responsible for the equally reprehensible, malicious, and misleading destruction of the voting rights non-profit group ACORN) is a bit baffling, but a little bit of panic at the White House and the NAACP is really not the issue. The issue is the reprehensible misrepresentation of well-intentioned human beings by a reputation-destruction industry aimed squarely at responsible decent and talented black people, especially ones from impoverished backgrounds who have had the nerve to actually lift themselves out of poverty and desperation.

Now this particular segment of the reputation-destruction industry is perhaps a bit more sinister than the one aimed at climate scientists, because it preys on old and deep wounds in American society, rather than working assiduously to create new ones.

CNN's coverage of the matter has been surprisingly solid; the first serious bit of mass media journalism I've seen in years. I think they are pissed off, though, precisely because Anderson Cooper is a personal friend of Shirley Sherrod. He said so.

But the similarity of the attack is hard to miss. So one lesson for climate scientists is to have friends in the media; not just contacts (which is easy) but friends. The trouble is, climate scientists live in college towns, not New York or DC. (Notable exceptions: Hansen, Schmidt.) Journalism is like a branch of government, with a pecking order, and the big dogs are in New York or DC; you can't affect national media very effectively from Boulder or San Diego or Woods Hole or Madison. We may have trouble on that front.

But the other lesson is to concede nothing, to take nothing under advisement, to save sensible compromise for honest and decent opposition. They will win some and lose some; when they lose one they will slither away quickly throwing a couple of distracting snarks at side issues. But they will concede nothing. At best they will choose someone else's life to wreck.

This whole phenomenon appears to be a British import, judging from the egregious Mr. Dellingpole and his ilk. Regardless, it must stop.

Human civilization is at risk directly from these people. We won't have time for climate change to destroy us if these people continue to have their way. By the time we start running out of food, at this rate we won't be much worth saving anyway. We'll just have sunk into barbarism.

In a world like this, it's such a relief to have a rare victory for the forces of civilization.

So bravo Ms. Sherrod! Congratulations! My hat is off to you!

And to the rest of the world, and to the press, and to other targets of intimidation and slander, and to the White House, and especially to responsible, rational conservatives, please, for God's sake, grow a spine. Shirley Sherrod can show you how it's done.


Update: Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo:
as disappointing as Tom Vilsack's first crack at this was, the idea that he or Obama is the bad guy in this story is not only preposterous but verging on obscene. It's like the NYPD as the bad guy in the Son of Sam saga because they didn't catch David Berkowitz fast enough. Or perhaps that the real moral of the story is that the woman with the stalker should have been more focused on personal data security. Not for some time has something so captured the essential corruption of a big chunk of what passes as 'right wing media' (not all, by any means, but a sizable chunk along the Breitbart/Fox/Hannity continuum) and the corruption of the mainstream media itself as this episode.
I highly recommend the TPM article. This is yet another recounting that, if you read it with climate politics in mind, goes a long way toward putting our own problems into perspective in the contemporary political/journalistic disaster.

Energy Infrastructure

How unpleasant and impractical that these things are $200 a pop. Just the coarse view is interesting.

National Crude Oil Production Sites and Crude Oil Pipelines

Central Gulf Coast Natural Gas Pipelines Wall Map

Well, if anybody owns copies of these things, the University of Texas has to. I wonder how to track them down. Maybe they are next door at the Bureau.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Steve Schneider

I write to mourn the passing of Steve Schneider.

My own participation in the climate field was inspired by reading an article of Schneider's in Scientific American in the late 1980's, as I was casting about for something meaningful a mathematically oriented person might do for the world.

I was privileged to spend a day and an evening with Steve in the company of Paul Baer the summer before last. It was a memorable day. So, while I can't claim to have been close to him, I can personally attest to the fact that Steve's was a vivid, rational and highly ethical mind. He was the quintessence of the modern intellectual, both bon vivant and a dedicated servant of the common good, an excellent model for the post-scarcity life well and consciously lived.

To those who were close to him, this must be a great tragedy indeed. For what it's worth, they should know that the thoughts and best wishes of many like myself are with them.

Although his health was not terrific, this is still an unexpected and harsh blow to the community. Let us rise to the occasion and redouble our efforts both in understanding the dimensions of the climate problem and related sustainability issues, and in communicating their scope and urgency to the public.

Resources, via Nick Sundt of WWF:
· Stephen Schneider Home Page.

· Stephen H. Schneider. Wikipedia.

· Interview: Climate Science, Policy and Public Opinion. WWF Annual Report, 2008.

· Interview with Stephen Schneider on climate science expert credibility study. Climate Science Watch, 12 July 2010.

· The Passing of a Climate Warrior. By Andrew Revkin, New York Times blog, DotEarth, 19 July 2010.

· Remembering Stephen Schneider. By Joe Romm, Climate Progress, 19 July 2010.

· Climate Change Expert Stephen Schneider Dies. All Things Considered, National Public Radio, 19 July 2010. Listen to what President Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, says about Schneider.

· A Eulogy to Stephen Schneider. RealClimate, 19 July 2010.

· Stephen Schneider, a leading climate expert, dead at 65. Press release (19 July 2010) from Stanford University.

· TNR Q&A: Dr. Stephen Schneider. The New Republic, 9 November 2009.

· Dr. Stephen Schneider, Climate Warrior . By Peter Gleick in the Huffington Post, 19 July 2010.

To that list, I'd like to add an item and especially to draw it to the attention of those who think the climate science mainstream is closed-minded. Please look at the annals of Climatic Change, the journal that Steve Schneider edited from its inception.
Climatic Change is dedicated to the totality of the problem of climatic variability and change - its descriptions, causes, implications and interactions among these. The purpose of the journal is to provide a means of exchange between those working on problems related to climatic variations but in different disciplines. Interdisciplinary researchers or those in any discipline, be it meteorology, anthropology, agricultural science, astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, geography, policy analysis, economics, engineering, geology, ecology, or history of climate, are invited to submit articles, provided the articles are of interdisciplinary interest. This means that authors have an opportunity to communicate the essence of their studies to people in other climate related disciplines and to interested non-disciplinarians, as well as to report on research in which the originality is in the combinations of (not necessarily original) work from several disciplines. The journal also includes vigorous editorial and book review sections.

. Climatologist Stephen Schneider calls for cooler heads as temperatures, and tempers, rise. Stanford Magazine

. Steve on Johnny Carson's Show, 1977

Greenland Eemian Ice Core Nears Completion

I received a tweet apprising me of the near-completion of the field work of NEEM, the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling project. This will give us new information about the previous interglacial, when most of Greenland in fact melted.

Fair warning, though, there's an embedded auto-play movie of no real interest on the "about" page that is obnoxiously loud. The page is otherwise interesting, but either turn your sound down or turn Flash off altogether.

Huitres aux Petrole

Oysters love crude oil! It's true!

Actually, the thing I found most interesting (among several interesting things) about this oddity is the distinction between "business" and "industry" in the concluding statement.

I think that "business" has been bamboozled into thinking they are the same thing as "industry" and that it's "big government" that is the enemy. The enemy of small, local, human-scale socially beneficial businesses, of course, is "government" largely to the extent that it is under the thumb of "industry". Now that coffee and cheeseburgers, haircuts and oil changes are "industrial" processes it's easier to lose track of that.

via reallyseriously.org h/t @sejorg

Monday, July 19, 2010

Schneider, 1979

Thanks again to greenman Peter Sinclair and thanks always to Steve Schneider.

Resources, via Nick Sundt:

· Stephen Schneider Home Page.

· Stephen H. Schneider. Wikipedia.

· Interview: Climate Science, Policy and Public Opinion. WWF Annual Report, 2008.

· Interview with Stephen Schneider on climate science expert credibility study. Climate Science Watch, 12 July 2010.

· The Passing of a Climate Warrior. By Andrew Revkin, New York Times blog, DotEarth, 19 July 2010.

· Remembering Stephen Schneider. By Joe Romm, Climate Progress, 19 July 2010.

· Climate Change Expert Stephen Schneider Dies. All Things Considered, National Public Radio, 19 July 2010. Listen to what President Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, says about Schneider.

· A Eulogy to Stephen Schneider. RealClimate, 19 July 2010.

· Stephen Schneider, a leading climate expert, dead at 65. Press release (19 July 2010) from Stanford University.

· TNR Q&A: Dr. Stephen Schneider. The New Republic, 9 November 2009.

· Dr. Stephen Schneider, Climate Warrior . By Peter Gleick in the Huffington Post, 19 July 2010.

To that list, and especially to the attention of those who think the climate science mainstream is closed-minded, I'd draw your attention to the annals of Climatic Change, the journal that Steve Schneider edited from its inception.

My own participation in the climate field was inspired by reading an article of Schneider's in Scientific American in the late 1980's, as I was casting about for something meaningful a mathematically oriented person might do for the world.

I was privileged to spend a day and an evening with Steve in the company of Paul Baer the summer before last. It was a memorable day. So I can personally attest to the fact that Steve's was a vivid, rational and highly ethical mind. He was the quintessence of the modern intellectual, both bon vivant and a dedicated servant of the common good, and excellent model for the post-scarcity life well and consciously lived.

Although his health was not terrific, this is still an unexpected and sudden blow. Let us rise to the occasion and redouble our efforts both in understanding the dimensions of the climate problem and related sustainability issues, and in communicating their scope and urgency to the public.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


In case you missed it, Joe Romm has a great David Horsey cartoon up considering how things might look in the case of an alternative cause for global warming.

In honor of that, here's a snippet from Throb's that I'm fond of:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

DC Media Event

There's been some enthusiasm on some activist lists about this "ice sculpture" event. I wonder what my readers think of it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Consequences of Wishful Thinking

Expertise is worth something. To ignore expertise is to court disaster. For instance:

Before (June 25):

After (July 7, less than two weeks later):

Bobby Jindal's sandbars are an instructive example. These berms were constructed at the insistence of the Louisiana governor and popular pressure over the advice of scientists, the DoE, and the Obama administration, to hold back BP oil from the beaches. They appear to be spectacular failures.

The last thing we need is Dunning-Krugeritis victims in positions of power. To quote Dr. Leonard Bahr, author of a not-to-be-missed short blog article on the subject "these artificial sand ridges, planned in a science vacuum, will not survive the 2010 hurricane season".

According to Amy Wold in the Baton Rouge Advocate:
The gulf between science and policymaking — as it relates to Louisiana’s coastline — continues to widen, with the new push for sand berms and rock jetties being the latest example. ...

The plan for berms — as well as rock barriers — to serve as lines of defense for fending off oil pollution has been widely supported by coastal parish representatives, the governor and state officials.

However, science team members expressed their concerns about risks associated with the sand berm project, Twilley said, and they told state officials that in their opinion, the risks outweighed the benefits.

“But there are so many more things that go into a political decision,” Twilley said. He said he’s learned through experience that science has to be kept separate from political decisions and that science very often is just one consideration in forming public policy.

So when concerns about the sand barrier plan were presented to the state, Twilley said, those raising the doubts didn’t go public with their concerns because he expected the policy would be set and then publicly discussed with an acknowledgment of the risks and benefits of that decision.

It was never anticipated that science would be the only factor considered in making the sand berm decisions, he said.

"It was never anticipated that science would be the only factor considered in making the sand berm decisions." I like that.

Science is not "the only factor". No, it shouldn't be and it can't be. But it can't be just one constituency among many. The real actual world is an absolute constraint. As Dr. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber puts it: “Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it's completely useless.” The more complicated we make our world, the more we need to rely on genuine expertise about it. Outvoting science is not a recipe for success.

Images: anonymous photographer via Leonard Bahr. h/t Joe Romm

Climategate and Guantanamo

Still not keeping up... I have a long piece about the burden of proof in climate policy that's been in my mind since 1994 and never been done justice. And now there's this huge Breakthrough Institute push taking shape... all the oh-so-reasonable journos are on board... it's soaked in Broderism... it's going to set back sensible policy another decade. Somebody has to take the literally skeptical literally realist view of this.

Meanwhile Monckton is eagerly grabbing the limelight in blog world for his unseemly attack on John Abraham. They don't make Tories the way they used to, that's for sure. With all due respect to John Abraham and his troubles, though, I wonder if this isn't all coordinated as a timely distraction somehow.

Anyway, I've got to try to get yesterday's main insight on the table before I lose track of it.

Ackerman: "Charlie Savage reports that a federal appeals court has reversed a lower court’s order to free a Yemeni national detained at Guantanamo on suspicion of being a member of al-Qaeda. Here’s his description of the reasoning employed:"
Judge Kessler examined each piece of evidence and found each insufficient to declare him part of Al Qaeda, arguing that flawed accusations cannot be assembled into a persuasive mosaic.

But Judge Randolph criticized that logic as “a fundamental mistake that infected the court’s entire analysis.” He argued that the evidence should be piled together as mutually corroborative because it is probable that a person with many suspicious indicators was part of Al Qaeda.
Spencer Ackerman comments:
From an intelligence perspective, that’s probably persuasive. From a law-enforcement perspective, that’s probable cause. (I guess. I’m not a lawyer.) But for evidence justifying indefinite detention without charge?
I share Ackerman's doubts, though before last November and the "climategate" pseudo-scandal I probably would have gone the other way. (I suppose there's no reason to hope for the present Supreme Court to improve on this. Rather, they will likely align as authoritarians with no thought for principle.)

The issue, fundamentally, is whether a "burden of proof" type decision vs. a "balance of evidence" type decision is indicated in any given case. As a person of Bayesian inclinations, I am generally inclined to a balance of evidence, and am frustrated by demands for "proof", a beast which, it seems to me, exists either only in pure mathematics at best, or possibly not at all.

I think this question has a lot to do with how we respond to climate change and other sustainability questions. I think in matters of strategy, one uses a balance of evidence, but I now see that in matters of justice, one requires near-certainty.

Now, from a Bayesian perspective, twenty independent measures roughly indicating the same thing are collectively compelling even if no single one is. But we can't use that standard in matters of justice, and the so-called "climategate" fiasco shows us why: prosecutors, law enforcers, or plaintiffs can trump up twenty misleading trails of evidence almost as easily as they can put together a single one. In a courtroom, at least there is a balance of effort on each of them. When the battle takes place on the battlefield of public opinion, though, it's asymmetric warfare; the defense has far more work to do than the prosecution. However, even in the courtroom, it's often the case that a committed prosecution has more resources to bring to bear, and the prosecution itself is not always ethical. When your opposition is a motivated person rather than indifferent Nature, the apparent "balance of evidence" can be totally misleading. That is why a burden of proof is necessary in a criminal court.

It may be hard for a scientist to understand the definition of "proof" that is needed in a courtroom; it's certainly difficult for me to understand. But the standard of "beyond reasonable doubt" on any single thread of evidence, rather than "looks fishy" on a bunch of them, is there as a matter of justice.

As Einstein said, the Lord is subtle but He is not malicious. On the other hand, we have this word, "malicious", so it must apply to somebody.

In doing science, we have, in Weiner's sense, an Augustinean devil as opponent; chaos, confusion, disorganization. As such, we can and should operate on the basis of a balance of evidence.

Unfortunately, we confront a culture which expects a Manichaean devil; the opposition is expected to be full of trickery and shabby false promises. Indeed, even our allies within the political culture can also be expected to be full of trickery and shabby false promises, trickery which the opposition will say reflects on ourselves. What the political culture demands is not constant adjustment to prevailing evidence but victory. Evidence is merely among the weaponry, and probably not key among the weapons.

The rational consequence for us scientists is to split the question:
  • decide the science on the basis of a balance of evidence, and then
  • contest policy as a matter of proof, arguing that the balance of evidence is as we state.
(As an aside, Anderegg, Prall et al directly addressed the latter question. Once we get to the latter sphere, we encounter as a matter of course brazen trickery of a sort that as scientists we are careful to avoid and reject within our own sphere. Which is why Anderegg, Prall et al was immediately and vociferously splattered with mud. Fortunately, the attack was so ludicrously overdrawn that the mud didn't stick very well.)

We need to sort out the two types of debate, which for practical purposes (and to keep devils out of the picture) we can call frequentist and Bayesian. It's totally obvious that what we are collectively doing on sustainability questions is excruciatingly far from the Bayesian optimum; that is, the rational expectation is that the result we are apparently headed for is far worse than the best we can do.

How to explain this to the public is stubbornly problematic. I am among those who believe that some of the more committed and sophisticated opposition is quite willfully and deliberately promoting a misunderstanding of the facts.

When they demand "proof" of this or that, they are applying an inappropriate model. We are stuck with a single-subject experiment; there is only one Earth (though there are many models that may or may not be suitable for purpose, they are not perfect) and so the pursuit of "proof" cannot be undertaken in the manner of a clinical trial.

When they engage us under the guise of pursuit of truth, they are exploiting a key weakness - that we are traditionally obliged to take all challenges seriously until proven otherwise. Unfortunately, that obligation needs to be rethought once we are dragged into the world where discourse is replaced by debate and balance of evidence is replaced by "victory". We need to be aware of the tricks.

One of the key tricks of the opposition is a demand for a sort of "proof" that the problem itself cannot yield. As long as legislatures are dominated by lawyers and not scientists, this meta-issue itself requires understanding and careful handling.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Monckton Urges Harrassment of Abraham

Gareth writes:

Monckton has now posted at WUWT asking for people to flood John Abraham's university with calls for disciplinary action.
As a consequence, I have posted this:
We the undersigned offer unreserved support for John Abraham and St. Thomas University in the matter of complaints made to them by Christopher Monckton. Professor Abraham provided an important public service by showing in detail Monckton’s misrepresentation of the science of climate, and we applaud him for that effort, and St. Thomas University for making his presentation available to the world.
If you support Abraham, please visit Hot Topic and leave a comment in support.


My comment with my vote of support is as follows:
Abraham’s rebuttal of Monckton is based in science and on scientific argument. For Monckton to appeal to the university as if misconduct is involved is grotesquely misguided, and continues the process of degrading the scientific search for truth. Any institution with any regard for science should and will reject it soundly.
Please add your own.

: On a lighter note, see also Eli's Lord Christopher Monckton Viscount of Benchley Limerick Contest

And Still Going

I'm still not sure exactly what UAH AMSU channel 4 actually tells us (click for higher resolution)

but it just set a new record, exceeding the record set just about a year ago. Hard to blame it on El Nino anymore. Is this meaningful?

Oh, That'll Work

Head spinning, as on most mornings, with the bizarreness of the world I awaken to. I suddenly have two new items I need to share with y'all. Here's the first, for a Bastille Day lagniappe:

While IPCC is being flamed for trying to limit contact with journalists to people with the skills to manage the out of control press, for instance by Revkin at Dot Earth "
But any instinct to pull back after being burned by the news process is mistaken, to my mind. As I explained to a roomful of researchers at the National Academy of Sciences last year, in a world of expanding communication options and shrinking specialized media, scientists and their institutions need to help foster clear and open communication more than ever. Clampdowns on press access almost always backfire.
and Charlie Petit at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker :
Now the IPCC is in the bunker mentality game, telling scientists working on its next round of reports to “keep the press at a distance.” Oh, that’ll work. A better bet is that at best it would only increase the ignorance and deviltry quotient of the news. It only gives a more solid reason to believe the UN-sponsored climate investigation, despite the underlying solid foundations of its summary reports, is tone-deaf to how the world outside the academy works. It is a replay writ large of the mentality behind those carping, whining, self-pitying, bar-talking (and ultimately empty) e-mails among climate scientists that triggered so-called climategate. But instead of keeping its anger at press and bloggers and all other ignorati to itself, as the e-mailers thought they were doing, IPCC has taken its defensive crouch public.
Meanwhile, Sarah Palin (an attractive and charming religious fanatic and narcissist, likely of less than median intelligence) looks prepared to make a plausible run for the US presidency by avoiding contact with the press altogether, and the trend spreads (h/t Patrick Appel at the indispensible Daily Dish)

Michelle Cottle in The New Republic:

In the midst of this aggressive visibility, however, Palin keeps a tight grip on her time in the public eye. She rarely sits down with non-conservative interviewers and eschews mix-’em-up formats pitting her viewpoint against that of a more liberal counterpart.

....It’s an unconventional media strategy, to be sure....Yet it’s hard to deny that Palin’s p.r. approach has not only succeeded but succeeded brilliantly. How? The most obvious element at work here is that Palin operates not as a politician but as a celebrity. “Most politicians can’t get on the cover of People,” sighs another GOP campaign veteran. “She’s on the cover almost every week.”

Kevin Drum in Mother Jones:

The other example who comes to mind (since I live in California), is Meg Whitman, who just ran a high-profile primary campaign in a big state with virtually no interaction with the mainstream press. She gave speeches, she ran ads (boy did she run ads), and she spoke to friendly reporters occasionally, but that was about it. And guess what? It worked. She proved that you really don't need the press anymore to run a successful campaign. ... I'm putting my money on the Palin-ization of politics. Partly this is because the mainstream press is dying anyway, and partly it's because Palin and others are demonstrating that you really don't need conventional press coverage to win.
So which is it? Is it the age of openness, or the age of closedness? Or does it depend whether Rupert Murdoch likes you?

It seems to me that the press selectively goes after people with some authority but a small constituency, whether they deserve it or not, and takes a hands off attitude toward people who who have a substantial following, whether they deserve it or not.

Oh, that'll work.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Columbia Journalism Review Gets It

Curtis Brainard at CJR :
On Sunday night, CNN’s Howard Kurtz seconded CJR’s call for more coverage of the series of inquiries and investigations rebutting recent controversies stemming from minor errors in an international climate report and e-mails leaked from a British climate research center. (Kurtz did not mention CJR.)

Last Wednesday, we pleaded for reporters to pay more attention to five recent reviews reaffirming the integrity of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the scientists involved in the so-called “Climategate” affair.


Then, on Sunday, the Times’s editorial board expressed its hope that the British report, as well as a Dutch report debunking Climategate, would “receive as much circulation as the original, diversionary controversies.” Three cheers for the editorial—but given the paper’s own low-profile coverage of the story, it seemed ironically shallow.

Several interesting links at the CJR article.

Update: Deech56 in a comment points to this revealing brief interview with journalist Sharon Waxman linked by the CJR article (note: scroll down if you follow the link). Emphasis added.
KURTZ: A British panel this week cleared a group of scientists of the controversy known as "Climategate." This group had charges of hacked e-mails that they had manipulated their research to support their view on global warming. The British panel didn't completely let them off the hook, but basically said they didn't cook the books.

So, why has that received such scant coverage this week?

WAXMAN: I think that's just extremely complicated, A, for readers. And B, for journalists to comprehend.

First of all, this kind of thing gives scientists a bad name and it gives journalists a bad name, because for years now there's been this really politicized battle, as we all know, over global warming. And these Climategate e-mails have given those who are skeptics a reason to say, you see, it was a plot from the beginning and the liberal media has bought into it, and they're selling us a bill of goods, and et cetera, when there had been, or there has been -- and I believe there still is -- wide agreement on the science.

So when you find out that the scientists are not giving access to the other side, to the research, or that maybe the data that involves the temperature rises might not be so solid, I think it puts journalists who are trying to report on this in a weird position because they don't really know what to believe exactly. It becomes very complicated.


KURTZ: And yet, "The New York Times," to its credit put this British report on the front page. Most of the major papers I looked at stuck it inside. CNN's "SITUATION ROOM" did a full story on it, but there was not many mentions on cable news, nothing on the broadcast networks.

And here's my favorite. Glenn Beck didn't report on this at all. Last fall, when the e-mails were leaked, he called global warming a big hoax and he said, "Why has no network covered this global warming fix?"

Why has Glenn Beck and others not revisited it? And you're saying it's the complexity.

WAXMAN: I do. And what would be the headline for you? It says "Climate Scientists Cleared of Cooking the Books," but.

You know, it's a very mitigated kind of situation. And when there's complexity like that, I think that, you know, journalists, or editors, anyway, put stuff on the front page, are inclined to say you know what? We'll punt, which isn't necessarily the right thing to do.

KURTZ: Yes. Well, if I was one of those climate scientists, and I felt my reputation had been unfairly damaged, I certainly would not like anyone to punt.

We've got about a minute left. And I want to hold up a couple of New York tabloids here.

As you can see, Lindsay Lohan. There was a lot of coverage on cable when she had her court hearing this week and got a 90-day sentence, essentially for blowing off alcohol treatment classes. Why is this worthy of a lot of attention? Is this a significant story?

WAXMAN: Oh, I see. It's a juxtaposition between the entire planet melting down versus Lindsay Lohan going to jail for 90 days.

KURTZ: That's a very shrewd observation.


WAXMAN: Are you asking why we care about this?

KURTZ: Why do the media care?

WAXMAN: It's exactly for the reason why -- because it's easy, for the exact reason that the Climategate decision got almost no coverage, as you pointed out.
In other words, journalism is about what's easy, not what's important. From the horse's mouth.

Also, I think, there is the question of what makes the audience feel superior rather than what makes the audience feel challenged.

Anyway, obviously, melting planet, no! Melting irresponsible young celebrity, si! The future generations of mankind (if any) thank you sincerely for the entertainment.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Denialism, Informational Conformity and New Coke

Do you remember when the Coca-Cola recipe was updated, and how that almost destroyed the Coca-Cola company's flagship product? There's a brilliant retrospective of that story; go read it, I promise it's relevant.

The article compellingly argues that the bizarre sequence of effects was due to a phenomenon that can be called informational conformity.
Informational conformity was first formally documented by Dr Muzafer Sherif in 1935, when he placed a group of subjects in a dark room with a single point of light in the distance. He asked them to estimate how much the light moved around, and although each person perceived a different amount of movement, most of them relinquished their own estimates to conform to the predominant guesses within the group. In reality, the light had not been moving at all; it only appeared to move because of the autokinetic effect, a quirk in visual perception where a bright point of light in complete darkness will appear to wander. It is thought that this imagined movement occurs due to the lack of a fixed visual reference point, and it may be the cause of many nighttime UFO sightings.
In short, groupthink. In a way it's the "nobody ever got fired for buying from IBM" phenomenon: holding an opinion in isolation is much harder than holding an opinion in common with a social group with which you identify. The PR industry learned its lesson from the Coke debacle; whether mainstream journalism understands it or not is another matter.

I think David Brin's focus on Mr. Murdoch is apropos. I think Mr. Murdoch understands informational conformity, whether the rest of the press understands or not. Whether Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin are harmless buffoons or real dangers to civilization depend on whether they reach a critical mass of people who think they are something other than harmless buffoons. People like Mr. Murdoch, who hold a large fraction of people's attentions, are the people who make that decision.

This sheds some light on the Sarewitz quandary:
A dangerous idea has taken hold in modern politics, and the sooner it is discredited, the better. The idea is that political disagreements can be resolved by science. Its basic logic seems sensible: As good children of the Enlightenment, we should turn to science to establish the facts about problems such as climate change before deciding what policies to implement. Yet the types of things that scientists are good at figuring out don't have much to do with the types of things that politicians need to decide.
I objected (see link above) but John Fleck backed him up:

When I entered the profession of journalism nearly three decades ago, it was with the idea that it gave me a chance to help civic processes by helping the body politic better understand hard or complex issues, so political/policy decisions could be based on the best available information.

At every city council meeting, the training ground of many young reporters, technical experts deliver to decision makers their best available data on issues such as traffic engineering. Week after week, I saw political actors seek out their own alternatives to what I reasonably viewed as the best available data when that data conflicted with their values. In the years since, I have seen this happen across scales, from issues as local as whether to install stop signs or speed humps, to regional and state issues like the water supply in New Mexico, to national issues like the appropriate disposal path for various types of nuclear waste, to the current global discussion we’re all so engaged in regarding greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

I have seen liberals side with what I regarded as the best available data on some issues, conservatives on others. In some cases, environmentalists have had what seemed to me the best available data on their side, while in other cases industry has. At the local scale, I saw many issues that didn’t break down on any sort of liberal-conservative spectrum, but instead fell along geographic lines (rural/urban, this neighborhood v. that one, etc.).

My experience with the pattern is sufficiently consistent that I believe Sarewitz has correctly described not a specific problem found in specific situations, but a general principle.

Michael might wish it were not so, but my decades of experience in the midst of political fights large and small suggests otherwise.

I suggested it was cultural and contingent. Perhaps Canadians are more accessible to reason than Americans, and perhaps Swedes and Dutchmen more than Canadians. And I still think that is true. Certainly, scientists and engineers and doctors are more accessible to reason than, hmm, bankers and accountants and real estate brokers. (No offense if you happen to be in the latter category; there are exceptions both ways.) Cultures can change. So the job, it seems, is to change the culture.

In the light of informational conformity, though, a new theory arises. While scientists and engineers and doctors embrace skepticism as part of their identity, others embrace this or that belief. ("oil companies are bad", "Obama is Kenyan", "cell phones give you cancer", "vaccines cause autism", "climategate reveals awful things about climate science"...) These are not generally evidence-based decisions, but cultural cohesion decisions, like identifying with the Packers or the Bears. There's no rational reason for it; one team winning makes your friends happy, the other makes your friends unhappy, that's all there is to it.

The New Coke piece also explains how this is achieved: enthusiastic allegiance by someone perceived as part of your peer group is worth far more than mere agreement.
When participants were asked whether they would drink Coca-Cola if it were modified to use this new formula, most responded positively. However about 11% of the samplers– even some who preferred the new flavor in the blind tests– were hostile to the idea. They were astonished that the soft-drink juggernaut would have the audacity to tinker with the American-as-bald-eagle-pie beverage. This indignation was so potent that it exerted indirect peer pressure within the focus groups, thereby contaminating the results; but Coke experimenters were quick to detect and correct the effect. ... At first, Goizueta’s surly synopsis proved accurate. The company’s stock went up upon the announcement, and sales improved by 8% in the first few weeks. Surveys indicated that an impressive 75% of consumers were happy with New Coke, and would buy it again. ... Within a few weeks, however, unpleasant sentiments began to ooze from the unpredictable public. There was a segment of the population– about 11%, strangely enough– who disliked New Coke with such enthusiasm that their complaints and harsh editorials began to disintegrate public approval. New Coke became a vehicle for large-scale informational conformity, the human tendency to unconsciously adjust one’s opinions to correlate with the outspoken views of the social group.
On this model, the loss of confidence among conservatives for what they can easily interpret as extremist green evangelism as opposed to science, is going to be very persistent. Perhaps only a small proportion strongly holds this belief, but they are regarded as peers in a larger section of the society, and their belief is expressed adamantly and enthusiastically. It fits in neatly with and reinforces many of their beliefs, and it offers entertainment and delight in mocking the dour and gloomy predictions which they find far-fetched.

The conservatives aligned in this way in part because of the American press's cowardice and in part because of the British press's blind belligerence, but in any case the press firmly included the "hoax" model of climate change as a socially acceptable theory. Some people picked it up with enthusiasm, and they in turn won over their demographic. We already dropped the ball; it will be very hard to win it back.

Unless and until conservatism goes away, reversing this is both necessary and, on the New Coke model, nearly impossible.

I think that our best hope is to address conservatives who are also scientifically inclined skeptics. These people will still be amenable to reason. While we may win them over to the ranks of the reasonable, though, it will be difficult to win them over to the ranks of the enthusiastic, especially in the USA. The conservative culture in America, albeit self-proclaimedly freedom-loving, is immensely conformist and rejects anyone who steps out of line on matters of allegiance. The social pressures to keep a lid on global environmental concerns, now that those are considered disreputably leftist, will be immense.

Nevertheless, the facts are on our side. In this regard if perhaps in few others, Steve McIntyre is right. He advises us to create an "engineering-level" description of "the whole argument"; this is in fact impossible because engineering texts take an omniscient voice and simply don't stress facts they use without a full elaboration. (A and B showed (ref) that (equation 4.17) etc. etc. is not really going to fly.)

This is not an easy task, but it's something we ought to have done anyway. How to acquire the resources for such a massive task is an issue. But it's what we need to do; essentially to build an entire reference network for the many bits of science that go into our understanding of the climate system. In the end, probably nobody will read all of it, but it should provide a compelling resource for anyone digging into any corner of it.

Each of us should go digging in our souls for our inner conservative. Those of us who come up empty-handed should probably just work on something else besides outreach. We should be especially kind to people who are conservative but sane, who understand and appreciate the science, people like Tokyo Tom or even Jim Manzi, even if we disagree with their understanding of economics and politics. And we absolutely need to cherish people like Katharine Hayhoe who speak up for climate science within conservative communities.

What is crucial is to get people to understand that this is real, that it is interesting, that it raises difficult questions. Even convincing them that it is a big deal is secondary. We have to make it permissible to be conservative and to respect the climate sciences.

Our main advantage is that the science is absolutely fascinating. Thank goodness for that.

What we can't do is just shallow, preachy outreach. That has reached everybody it's going to reach, and offends the people we most need to reach. The choir is already singing.

We have to really spread the science out on the table, give people knobs and levers, and let them get the picture in detail for themselves.

Of course, that does not mean capitulating to harassment. Scientists have enough burdens already without being subjected to legal wrangling for their lab notes. Demands for openness at the level of research can reach impractical extremes, but openness about established science is both possible and needed. And we have a long way to go.

The only alternative I see to this sort of detailed outreach, which of course is both difficult to do and not guaranteed to succeed even if done well, is to just wait until the climate system starts causing major damage. Maybe the conservative culture will turn around at that point, not to admit that they were wrong in the past, but to admit that finally, the evidence is in and it's time to act.

Unfortunately, at that point, it will probably be too late. All bets will be off. Predicting the climate becomes difficult at that point, but predicting the way history will twist around is simply impossible. I think we're better off not finding out. Call me conservative.