"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thanks to Joe Romm

Thanks to Joe Romm for displaying my schematic of the distribution of informed opinion from the podium at the Schneider symposium during his excellent (scary) talk.

I can't repay the favor in any comparable proportion but let me at least display my favorite slide from his talk.

We need to talk about what the infamous "deficit model" means. Does it mean there's not enough science for people to act? If it does, I agree with the critics. We don't need more journal publications, more text, more explanations, per se.

Does the "deficit model" mean that people don't understand the science well enough to make decisions? If it does, then hell yes. I support the deficit model that says, obviously people don't get it.

So we need to talk about the science. Not about peak oil. Not about solar power. About climate. About ocean acidification. About how uncertainty is not your friend.

Let's talk about science to the people who need to hear it. And if and when they don't hear us, (and many of them won't) let's do it again.

Anything less amounts to holding the world and its future in contempt. Science is about the best evidence about the truth. Politics and journalism are about winning and losing. Alliances and rivalries make sense. But about the emergence of truth there should be no rivalry. Science can hold us together and move us forward. Contention is necessary, but contention is only useful when it is based on a shared respect for truth among the contenders.


David B. Benson said...

Mark me down as on the C.

Paul Kelly said...

The criticism of the deficit model is not about how one defines it, but that it is irrelevant - or better put, unsuited - to the task at hand. This criticism is supported by social science research. Accept the science.

Michael Tobis said...

Oh come on. That makes absolutely no sense at all.

David B. Benson said...

?? First time I've heard of the deficit model, whatever that is...

Michael Tobis said...

It's a hobby horse of a certain school of thought of public communication and is especially recommended to the climate community.

As far as I know, it means waving your hands frantically and avoiding quantitative arguments for fear of coming off like some unhip nerd creature. Which is sort of ancient history at best. But I agree with Joe that is is profoundly disrespectful.

Paul Kelly, I think, thinks we can solve the carbon problem by selling ultra-cool ultra-cheap non-carbon-driven things and hoping the carbon-driven things quietly shrivel up and go away. This is not inconceivable, but somebody had better come up with the alternatives first. It amounts to the Breakthrough Institute/Lomborg position.

There is some silly argumentation that seems to claim that one should not bother with facts that are unpalatable in promoting a policy that one believes is necessary.

The origin of the phrase appears to be Sturgis and Allum here and the actual proposition at hand is that attitude is important in setting opinion and that argument alone is an insufficient predictor, something that no climate scientist would disagree with.

Sturgis and Allum: The “deficit model” of public attitudes towards science has led to controversy over the role of scientific knowledge in explaining lay people’s attitudes towards science. In this paper we challenge the de facto orthodoxy that has connected the deficit model and contextualist perspectives with quantitative and qualitative research methods respectively. We simultaneously test hypotheses from both theoretical approaches using quantitative methodology. The results point to the clear importance of knowledge as a determinant of attitudes toward science. However, in contrast to the rather simplistic deficit model that has traditionally characterized discussions of this relationship, this analysis highlights the complex and interacting nature of the knowledge— attitude interface.

Some people go from "rational arguments from facts are not the sole determinator of opinion" to "you might as well not bother with unpleasant facts". How they manage to do that is something you'd best ask a proponent of that position.

David B. Benson said...

Michael Tobis --- Thanks, I think, but my eyes started to seriously glaze over.

I'll stick to facts, but also agree with it is absolutely immoral not to.

Paul Kelly said...


I appreciate your description of my position and that it at least rises to the level of conceivable to you. The task is daunting. 50 to 75 years hence we'll wanting to either produce with alternatives or eliminate the need for a whole bunch of terawatts. So it is important that we start right now.

For the record. I visited the Breakthrough website once or twice several years ago. I didn't think they were on the right path. I never bothered to read Lomberg.

Since you don't seem too attached to the deficit model, you may agree there could be another model of communication that is better for achieving mitigation. I advocate a focus communications model. In this model, the topic of discussion is actual mitigation. It helps eliminate delay.

Michael Tobis said...

It is impossible to calibrate the correct mitigation strategy in the absence of a realistic sense of what one is mitigating.

Of course, that doesn't matter in the magic pixie dust scenario.

But to say "focus on actual mitigation" it seems to me requires some consensus on what it is that is being mitigated. Have I missed something?

(not expecting a meaningful answer)

Paul Kelly said...

Oh my. Are you really saying there isn't a consensus about the meaning and intent of mitigation? There must be some very large rocks in Texas for you to have crawled under that one. But seriously, the amount of energy required in the future and the mix of sources of that energy needed to satisfy climate concerns has been described in detail by folks at MIT, Yale and Stanford among others. The focus model simply says let's concentrate on how we get there rather than why. about

Steve Bloom said...

Trying to sum up why most in these parts think your views are peculiar, PK, I'd say your argument boils down to saying that if trying to fix a problem while explaining why it needs to be fixed isn't working, just drop the explanation and added impetus will appear. It doesn't compute.

Paul Kelly said...


You're not that far off. Does it compute? Well if I'm spending time, effort and money on two different tasks (fixing a problem or explaining why I am), and I spend less of it on one, I will have more for the other. It provides an opportunity. The impetus comes from within every individual who desires mitigation.

Steve Bloom said...

But the problem is a lack of sufficient individuals. Education and outreach are needed to recruit more.

Michael Tobis said...

Also career paths for the people interested in doing the educating.