Of Scapegoats and Minefields

By Keith Kloor | March 3, 2011 5:42 pm

Randy Olson, the scientist-turned-filmaker, dares to depart from conventional wisdom among climate advocates, many who would hang the news media in collective effigy over climategate:

The media were irrelevant and largely blameless in Climategate. The whole incident was a case study in the absence of effective leadership in both the science and environmental communities.

For science, there are no clear leaders, just countless acronymed organizations who stood, stared, and weeks later put out milquetoast statements about how this sort of stuff shouldn’t happen.

In an essay he posted today, Olson also throws down the gauntlet to climate change communicators (but presumably not journalists):

EVERYONE wants to know, “How can we best communicate elements of uncertainty?” My answer is, “Very carefully, if at all.”

What exactly does this mean? I don’t know. The whole essay reads like a Zen koan to me. But he provides plenty of his own caveats:

I’m not saying you can’t do it, or that it won’t work. I’m saying that you simply need to know that EVERY time you enter into communicating uncertainty, you are entering dangerous ground. Basically a minefield. And the truth is, you can go dancing through a minefield and never hit a single mine.

So Randy, for the benefit of the activists and bloggers who want to communicate a clear and consise climate change message with just enough wiggle room to remain true to the various uncertainties of climate change, how about some examples of how it’s done?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, communication
  • ivp0

    One example:
    “Radiative physics tells us that increased atmospheric CO2 must cause increased warming at some level.  How much warming?  We really don’t know.  Climate sensitivity estimates to a doubling of CO2 by experts in the field are found to be anywhere from 0C-10C and anywhere in between.  There is very little empirical evidence to support a better estimate at this time.”

  • harrywr2

    Personally I think Marc Morano prefers Climate Change advocates that don’t communicate uncertainty at all.
    Absolutes that aren’t absolute are so much easier to discredit.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    I’m with harrywr2 for a change.

    Olson’s suggestion is not to be taken seriously. Doing as Olson suggests doesn’t simply facilitate attacks on the credibility of science, it justifies them.

    Like it or not, honest scientists are constrained to tell the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The truth is plenty scary enough. Not only that, but most of the uncertainties just add to the ominousness of the present landscape.

    Not everyone will understand this. You have to use simple language for those who can;t grasp complexity. A third of the population never finishes high school, and you can’t expect them to be Bertrand Russell.

    But you don’t get to pick the part of the story you prefer and hide the parts you don’t, without becoming part of the problem.


  • http://www.hopkinson.net Simon Hopkinson

    Apparently what Randy is saying is that you can’t be both honest and effective in support of environmentalist climate action.

    If you’re honest, and communicate uncertainties, you remove all the impetus for action. The only way to create the impetus needed for decarbonisation (for the sake of world economic restructuring) is through pseudo-science and the hiding of inconvenient data that flags the truth about inherent uncertainties.

    Randy complains that there was no voice of authority after Climategate, but a year has taught us, though, that there is also no descent in the ranks. There is, at best, an awful lot of sticking of heads in the sand, hoping that “this too shall pass” – and even some cheerleading enviralarmijournalists pointing to loaded opinion polls, declaring that, really, more people are convinced than ever that CO2 is the enemy. That’s just a delusional “God is on our side”-style rallying of the troops.

    Like many American observers, Randy has a narrow and partisan understanding of a non-partisan climate issue. He sees the climate debate in shades of blue and red. For that reason, there is much conflation in his analysis of the dissemination of Climategate through the media, but on his point about science’s failure to acknowledge its pseudo-scientific usurping, to clean house, to step up and say that the scientific indiscretions and transgressions exposed in Climategate were unacceptable, he’s otherwise fairly close to bagging the issue.

  • http://jaycurrie.info-syn.com Jay Currie

    Failing to indicate uncertainty in the name of effectiveness is going to blow up in the alarmists’ faces every time.  the poor guy who announced “snow is a thing of the past” in no uncertain terms left a hostage to fortune which, quite rightly, the sceptics have a field day with.
    The problem the alarmists have is that the things about which the science is relatively certain are not very alarming. CO2 is a GHG – well yes, so what? If you double its concentration you get a rise in temperature of between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius. A bit more alarming but obviously less certain.
    From a practical perspective the only way to effectively communicate uncertainty is by having established a track record for scrupulous, disinterested, honesty.  (The revelations in the Climategate emails, the shoddy “investigations” and the over the top reaction of the Team pretty much put paid to that track record.) And it is a good idea not to be seen as engaging in unscientific trickery such as tacking together two unrelated data sets or announcing that the “null hypothesis” should be reversed.
    However, non of this really matters because, politically, the oxygen has gone out of the alarmist cause. Lousy economy, snowy winter, rising fuel prices, Al Gore as buffoon, perceived dishonesty on the part of climate scientists – all have worked together to destroy the rather fragile political consensus which supported claims of CAGW and the need to do something about it.
    That political shift is not going to be reversed any time soon. Especially as we have had a decade without warming and are likely looking at two to three decades of cooling caused by the reversal of the PDO. The high watermark of climate hysteria was roughly 2008. Rationality is slowly returning.

  • Tom Fuller

    Whatever happened to the simplest elements of telling a story?

    Here’s what we know:

    (Ex.) CO2 is a greenhouse gas. As concentrations of it increase, it interferes with the ability of certain wavelengthts of radiation to travel back out of the atmosphere. This tends to warm the planet. A doubling of concentrations of CO2 is calculated by physicists on both sides of the political issue to cause about 1C of warming.

    Human emissions (verified by molecular signatures of the CO2 measured) are causing rapid increases of the concentrations of CO2. It happens that this is happening more or less at the same time that global temperatures have risen by about 0.8C.

    What we don’t know (but are thinking furiously about):

    (Ex): Are there knock-on effects of increasing temperatures due to what humans do? Does an increase in CO2 (or methane, etc.) also cause an increase in water vapor? And if by chance it does, how much?

    What other factors impacting temperature have been changing at the same time? Land use? Aquifer depletion? And what are the effects of those changes?

    Why is this important?

    (Ex): Temperatures have risen and fallen throughout the history of the planet. However, when it happens quickly, it can have a dramatic effect on many species–including ours, which hasn’t been around for too many of the wilder temperature swings.

    Some of the projected impacts of quickly rising temperatures include fiercer storms, harsher droughts and changes to weather patterns that might affect agriculture. We don’t know if that will happen, but some mathematical projections indicate they are possible.

    Worse, some of these bad things may happen in areas where the population is least equipped to cope with them.

    What are we doing to find the answers to these questions?

    (Ex): We are working harder at measuring the temperatures–and it needs a lot of work, as the oceans are tough to measure and we’ve been a bit too casual about measuring land temperatures. A lot of scientists are spending a lot of time and effort trying to pin down causes and effects of climate change.

    It looks like it will take 30 years to get even close to knowing the answers.

    So what should we do in the meantime?

  • http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid Tim Lambert

    Fuller claims: “A doubling of concentrations of CO2 is calculated by physicists on both sides of the political issue to cause about 1C of warming.”
    That’s not true.  The best, most widely accepted estimate is about 3 degrees C of warming.

  • tom fuller

    dipping into the cooking sherry a  it early? oh, wait. what time is it in Oz?

  • http://nigguraths.wordpress.com Shub Niggurath

    Olson says, w.r.t to Climategate: ” If the truth is on your side, then you need to understand that the truth HAS TO BE SHOUTED…”

    But, in order to shout the ‘truth’, you need to know it first. Consensus-supporting journalists, ‘communicators’ and scientists have not looked at the emails and the issues in any depth. They avert their eyes lest they find something damaging to their own cause and involvement. So they have no handle on the issues, no ownership, no foot in the door, no place at the table. They can only stand and gawk…

  • NewYorkJ

    I agree that the scientific community was entirely ill-prepared to handle a politically-motivated onslaught, and still remain so.  Although small steps have been taken to improve this, without an honest media, it’s going to remain fairly insignificant.  It’s not like scientists own the TV networks.

    The media isn’t largely blameless, but I don’t necessarily put the bulk of the blame with them.  They give the public what they want to hear, which isn’t necessarily an honest reporting of the science.  Millions of ideologues want to hear a good dose of global warming denial, and droves will flock to those sources.

    As for examples of good thorough reporting, with careful discussion of uncertainties, Justin Gillis of the NYT did a nice job.  It’s an example of a reporter going the extra mile to get the science right.


  • Dean

    Politicians often overdo certainty to justify policy. On many issues. And there is the other side – exaggerating uncertainty in order to undermine policy. You know – study it some more, and some more, ad infinitum. I think the 0-10*C sensitivity is a good example of this.

  • toto

    Tim: IIUC he was talking about the no-feedback sensitivity, which can be calculated from pure thermodynamics, but has the drawback of being utterly irrelevant.

    ~3degC is indeed the best current estimate of the actual climate response, including feedbacks. It does have significant uncertainty (because it must be estimated rather than calculated), but the “0-10degC” range is exaggerated.

    I’ll assume that the ridiculous “sherry” comment #8 was not actually written by the real Tom Fuller.

  • steven mosher

    Thanks Micheal Tobis.
    If I could sum up climategate in one sentence it would be this.
    Some guys on the Team tended to be more like Olson and less like Tobis than I would like.
    If Lambert could second that, it would be progress.

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    If you look at what Olson sais in a bit less binary way (should we communicate/admit uncertainty at all, yes or no?), I think it makes a lot of sense.

    In communicating complex topics to the general public, what we know with confidence is most important to convey. Highly uncertain details that aren’t very important for the big picture are better left out when the goal is to communicate the big picture. Of course they will be dealt with in the scientific literature and conferences, and increasingly so also on topical blogs. It’s not about shouving anything under the rug; it’s about recognizing that there’s a right and a wrong time and a place for anything.

    Basically, Olson’s advice is opposite of that by Judith Curry, who says we should focus more on uncertainty (though I think she has the technical and climate interested audience of technical blogs in mind, where this is probably good advice indeed; there’s a time and a place for anything) 

    When a message about the big picture is laden with qualifiers about tangentially related details (“smoking is bad for you, but these lab results of this and this university are not conclusive about the exact way this and this compound enters the intercellular blah blah”), the message will be entirely lost.

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    Hmm, I think I may have misinterpreted Olson in my previous comment.

    He seems to say that even admitting that some prediction is not set in stone, but rather is in the realm of probabilities (coral reefs “MAY BE Gone by 2050”; “suggests that”) is a no-no. That seems pretty much unavoidable if one still wants to communicate scientifically defensible statements, and I disagree with Olson on this.

    My point was rather to emphasize what’s well known (the big picture), rather than what’s not well known, at least when communicating to the masses (for specialized audiences of course it’s different).

  • Pascvaks

    It’s a paradigm-thing problem; you can’t have your cake and eat it too.  Today, any amout of uncertainty opens an infinite range of possibilities in the minds of the people out there just trying to get by and make a living.  Can “science” become so organized as to speak with a clear voice?  Yes, sure, but why?  And what does such a new system cost us?  (Nothing is free!)

  • Tom Fuller

    Of course, the first rule of really bad storytelling is to take something that is uncertain and represent it as certain.

    That way you trash your own credibility without even necessarily being wrong.

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    I’d share Michael’s concern if Olson were telling us to communicate dishonestly in the interest of having greater impact; but I don’t thing that’s what Olson is saying. What he’s saying, at least in part, is ” focus more on certainty (namely the past) than uncertainty (the future),” which I would extend as: Don’t talk about predictions; talk about the past and leave your audience to make the connections to the future.

    Thus, instead of saying, “Global warming MAY cause devastating droughts in the US,” say, “The last time temperatures North America were 1 C or so warmer than today, most of the places where we get our food from WERE hit by century-long droughts far more severe than the dust bowl.”  Instead of saying, “The Greenland ice sheet MIGHT melt, raising sea level will rise 25 feet,” say, “The last time the atmosphere had as much CO2 as today, the sea level WAS 80 feet higher.”

    Since Olson is a filmmaker, think of a movie. The camera tracks through the darkened house. There are pools of blood on the floor, bloody handprints on the walls, and an axe hanging from a door jamb, into which it was driven with great force. From behind a closed door we hear the sound of a shotgun racking a shell into the chamber.  The protagonist, walking through the mayhem, reaches for the door handle…

    This is not the place for a narrator or protagonist to turn to the camera and say, “There MAY be a deranged murderer behind the door.” No. We show the viewer what happened and leave it to his or her imagination to fill in what’s behind the door and what’s going to happen when the protagonist opens it.

    Olson seems to take for granted, at least in this essay, that scaring the public is the most effective way to translate knowledge into political will and action, and thus that climate communication ought to focus on the most effective ways to scare the public. However, as is often discussed here at C-a-S, empirical evidence suggests that alarmism may not, in fact, be all that effective.

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    On the other hand, there is an iconic scene in American cinema that hinges on emphasizing uncertainty: “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

  • Tom Fuller

    I certainly don’t think ‘packaged’ scares with slick scenarios prepared by PR professionals are effective. (If you did want to scare people, why would you want some 20-something to do in a half-assed way what peoples’ imaginations can do so much better?).

    A frank admission that no realistic scenarios resemble apocalyptic fantasies would pave the way for a listing of what we do know about the present and the past and what they might hold for the future.

    We are not strengthening coastal infrastructure today because every time someone says let’s prepare for half a meter of sea level rise, some yahoo says it will be 3 meters.

    Bad story telling paralyzes any hope for action.

  • keith kloor

    Jonathan (18):

    Indeed, on your last point, there is a growing body of social science literature that suggests scary stories is not the best way to go.

  • http://rustneversleeps.wordpress.com rustneversleeps

    What if a story actually WERE scary. What then?

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor


    Didn’t we get stories like that with An Inconvenient Truth and The Day After? Did they win the day then?

  • Tom Fuller

    Really scary we can deal with. We dealt with the Cold War, AIDS, WII.

    Phoney scary not so much. And the consensus has delighted in propagating phoney scares.

  • Marlowe Johnson


    Keith, the question is what do you do if the truth is scary.  If you downplay it and focus on aspirational messaging (ala TBI) then you’re comprosing ‘the truth’ to a certain extent.  OTOH if you stick with honesty then you’re left with a message that doesn’t ‘win the day’ as you put it.  Because the truth is scary, and scary doesn’t work with the public.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Tom you were doing so well earlier.  Ah well I should have known it couldn’t last.  Can you remind what ‘phony scares’ the ‘consensus’ has delighted in propogating?

  • Tom Fuller

    Oh, things like 3 meter sea level rise, 10 degree temperature rise, increasing spread of malaria… oh, just check out that website with the list of all the disasters predicted due to global warming.

  • Randy Olson

    Interesting discussion here.  Lots of good points.  I like Tom Fuller’s plea for simplicity — which is exactly what’s needed for broad communication.  And by the way, all of my essays, comments and my book are directed at trying to reach the general public, not the hard core aficionado crowd you get on serious climate blogs — it’s two different modes of communication. I also love Jonathan Gilligan’s Dirty Harry idea — as a simple PSA it would be better than the vast majority of the dull offerings of the NGOs in their efforts — the sort of Russian Roulette we’re playing with the planet, which is another variation on the loading the dice metaphor that is often used.

    As for Michael Tobis (#3), I don’t think you quite get my comment about scientists being “mumblers.”  That’s what they are, in essence, when it comes to broad communication.  They are the guy at the party over in the corner mumbling the truth as the loudmouthed fools in the middle blabber on and on about topics they know nothing about but have read of on blogs.  Specifically there is no excuse for me to hear Bill Maher last September say that Climategate revealed scientists “fudging” their data when 5 investigations had already shown nothing of the sort.  The problem occurred because all the science world had managed to do with the 5 investigations was mumble about them (meaning tout them on blogs that few people read).   I wrote about it at the time here:  http://thebenshi.com/2010/09/29/73-bill-maher-shows-how-poorly-climate-science-has-been-defended/

    The science world has never had a need to engage in large scale public relations, but that’s because the world has never been like it is today.  This is not your father’s science world.  This is not just the world of Twitter, it is also the world of magazine articles written last fall by journalists (Andrew Freedman in the Atlantic, Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker, you can Google them both) who have nothing against the science world, but are pointing out there are major psychological flaws in the brains of all humans, including scientists, that lead to high levels of false positives and other significant sources of noise.

    All of which means the time has come to take a deeper interest in understanding these basic dynamics of storytelling that we are all burdened with.  And that is the key point of my essay on uncertainty.  Your audience is defective to begin with — we are ALL defective.  That’s what the two articles point out.  People don’t respond to “just the facts” in the way you wish they did.  But there are ways to deal with this that do not involve dishonesty or distortion.  One of which is making certain the public is aware of how much certainty you have provided them in the past.

    Last month I published this editorial in The Solutions Journal:  http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/861

    One of my suggestions/complaints/observations is why in the world isn’t the climate science community taking credit for the amazing amount of benefits they have brought our society through an understanding of El Nino.  Twelve years ago in California the term was a blank slate.  Today it is part of the way of life.  That is a huge amount of certainty climate science has provided.  That certainty builds public trust, but only if the public is made to realize who is responsible for it.

    It’s called positive public relations.  Corporations understand this dynamic.  But the science world simply does not.  And I’m now telling you this from down in the trenches.  The public health and medical science worlds have connected with my book and the basic message of “Don’t be such a scientist,” and are reaching out to me now for lots of workshops with doctors, epidemiologists and medical researchers.  They understand this need to be accountable and connect with the general public.

    But the climate crowd is still back in this philosophy of, “the truth is plenty scary enough.”  Just spouting the facts no longer works.  There has to be an understanding of how NOISY our society has become, and what needs to be done to deal with it.  It’s not impossible, but it requires an acceptance that the world has changed.  And that’s a hard thing for a lot of the older generation of scientists.  I know.  I’m talking directly to these old guys.  They don’t appreciate my message.  But they are on a sinking ship.  Something needs to be done.

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    @Tom Fuller (20): “A frank admission that no realistic scenarios resemble apocalyptic fantasies would pave the way for a listing of what we do know about the present and the past and what they might hold for the future.”

    But, as Marlowe says (25), there are real plausible scenarios that keep me awake at night.

    I’m just going to speak for myself. This isn’t what I think we ought to do for public communication or how I imagine other people think, but just one of the big things that makes me, personally, want to push for more radical action on climate than I might otherwise. Sherwood and Huber’s paper in PNAS finding that there is a very low-probability, but very plausible chance that a global average temperature rise of 12 Celsius or so (which is possible, although unlikely, under BAU emissions) would cause sporadic heat waves over most currently inhabited regions that would kill everyone caught outdoors without air conditioning in a matter of hours.

    My argument is that even if there were only a 1 percent, or even one tenth of a percent probability of this, it should be a significant driver of climate policy. My personal preference is to drive climate policy based on Weitzman’s paradigm of buying insurance against the low-probability but truly scary tail of the distribution.

    Others can agree or disagree on whether this is a desirable way to choose policy priorities, but it’s how I feel and it’s what I’d vote for. But that’s a political/normative issue, not a scientific/descriptive one, and I agree that the public does not seem to feel as I do.

    @Keith (21): I see that body of literature (on the futility of alarmism), but what I don’t see is a clear description of what would be more effective. Rather, I tend to see a dismal result that NOTHING would be effective at stimulating radical decarbonization, so we might as well all give up, go home, and hope either for a geoengineering deus-ex-machina to save the day or for a cornucopian break through in cheap clean energy technology.

  • http://www.realclimategate.org Barry Woods


    None of the inquiries looked at the Science..
    Not one, yet somehow the message is ‘spun’ that the science was exonerated…

    http://climateaudit.org/2010/07/01/oxburgh-and-the-jones-admission/ :
    >>>>”4. The[Muir Russell] Review’s remit does not invite it to re-appraise the scientific work of CRU. That re-appraisal is being separately commissioned by UEA, with the assistance of the Royal Society.
    [Thank you for your message. What you report may or may not be the case. But as I have pointed out to you previously the science was not the subject of our study.
    Yours sincerly,
    Ron Oxburgh ]
    Read it again. The “science was not the subject of our study”. Why would anyone have expected that science would be the subject of study of the Science Appraisal Panel?”<<<<

    The UK parliament was fooled.. one enquiry was going to look at the science, then the enquiry  team changed the remit..

    All of ocurse paid for by UEA, how is that perceived…

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Folks, hold your fire on Randy’s comment, cause there’s lots to discuss. I’m going to break it out into a new post, for a new thread.

    Jonathan, after sitting in on a conference this week that was specifically all about that literature, I’m not feeling so dismal as you. More on that on Monday. But see my Biotech bogeyman post for the reference. 

  • Tom Fuller

    If you look at what people worry about, it’s things like getting a job, keeping a job, buying a house, taking care of their kids, hanging on to their healthcare, getting ready for retirement.

    If you look at what the societal infrastructure we have built over the past 70 years wants us to worry about, it’s smoking, obesity, climate change and terrorism.

    Bridging that divide is difficult. Smoking showed that it could be done. Both sides of the debate learned the wrong lessons and are applying those mistakes to the climate change debate. Hence the animosity.

    You guys are lamenting the dearth of storytellers. To the best of my limited knowledge, no storytellers have been invited to the dance as of yet. The only ones who popped up on their own were people like Crichton and the recent few novels set in a warming world, and the earlier travesties such as Waterworld and Day After Tomorrow. Crichton wrote arguably his worst book about an issue he could have nailed had he chosen to do so.

    For my money the most compelling visual representation of what climate change will look like consists of the exterior shots of Bladerunner.

    For my money, the lessons societal structures need to learn for animating and reinforcing change on climate change (and the other topics they deal with) could largely be learned from the book ‘Nudge.’

    But I might be wrong about the storytellers–anybody know of a writer, singer, artist, director who has been asked to actually depict climate change?

  • Sashka

    @ Tobis(3)

    Telling the whole truth is a toll order because there is no such thing in many cases. In application to climate, a big part of the “whole truth is that we don’t know what the truth is. Communicate that.

    @ Lambert (7)

    I suspect that despite the sherry you knew that Tom Fuller meant direct heating without feedbacks. Which begs the question: why did you have to say it?

    @ toto (12)

    3 degrees is just the median of the garbage generated by the models. The fact that this number is widely accepted doesn’t make it any better than 2 or 4 degree.

  • Pascvaks

    Randy Olson Says:
    March 4th, 2011 at 12:43 pm
    …”Something needs to be done.”

    Unfortunately, your assuming.  But it is so very human to do so.  You have convinced yourself, fine.  To say “something needs to be done’ to everyone else you must have absolutely sufficient  proof.  The dumbest moron on the planet should be able to understand.  When anyone transitions from science to psyence they move to the beat of a different drummer.

  • Tom Gray

    Tobis writes in 3)


    <blockquote>Not everyone will understand this. You have to use simple language for those who can;t grasp complexity. A third of the population never finishes high school, and you can’t expect them to be Bertrand Russell</blockquote>


    Seriously, how many published climate scientists are Bertrand Russell? How many tenured professors at Harvard are Bertrand Russell? Of the climate scientists that I have read, I would emphatically say none. Of the Harvard professors, maybe one in a generation. However, it should be noted that Russell spent most of hus life trying to find a formal basis for mathematics. Godel proved that this goal was not viable.

    Everyone deals with uncertainty. People cope with it daily in their lives. They understand uncertainty. Should I get a fixed or variable rate mortgage? Can I take the vacation trip or should I save the money because the factory may cut back if the economy does not improve. Should I hedge this crop at eh current rate or wait a few month? Climate scientist should disabuse themselves of any delusion that they are specially gifted or specially suited to understand uncertainty. They are not. They are not Bertrand Russell. And as a matter of fact, with the failure of his life’s goal in mathematics Bertrand Russell was not Bertrand Russell. Climate scientists are just human beings like the rest of us. And human beings will not believe people who regard them as stupid. Perhaps the climate scientists could learn a degree of humility

  • Tom Gray

    On this blog thread  and elsewhere, I have read pronouncements on policy by climate scientists. The level of sophistication of these comments is very low. They are at the level of “some bloke down the pub” or “some guy told me”. Climate scientists may know details of climate science but on policy I can say forcefully that they are not “Bertrand Russell.”

    Why  don’t climate scientists jsut keep quiet on topics of policy and leave the field to people who konw what they are talking about?

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Randy’s comment is featured on a new post, where I hope it stirs a productive thread of it’s own.

  • http://nigguraths.wordpress.com Shub

    I don’t know what KK saw in Randy Olson’s comment that it became a post by itself.

    It is only filled with marketing advice and some links to other Randy Olson articles.

    I’ll take Tim Lambet and Eli Rabett over Randy Olson any day. At least they believe in what they write.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    More blame the victim.

  • allenm

    RO said:
    “One of my suggestions/complaints/observations is why in the world isn’t the climate science community taking credit for the amazing amount of benefits they have brought our society through an understanding of El Nino.”
    Perhaps its because there is not an amazing amount of benefits to take credit for.
    GCMs do not provide meaningful information at the regional level with regard to duration, peak and intensity of El Nino and La Nina events. The fact  weather for an unknown period will be dominated by hotter/dryer or cooler/wetter conditions of unknown intensity and which will vary in different geographic regions leaves me less than amazed but what would I know, I’m just a farmer.

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    One more thought about communicating uncertainty: Think of the Red River flood in Grand Forks ND in 1997. Retrospective analyses of the disaster have concluded that a lot of the problem was the National Weather Service issuing a flood forecast without adequately emphasizing to the public the uncertainty of the estimated flood crest (i.e., the large probability that the flood could crest several feet higher than the forecast and thus overtop the levees). See, e.g., National Research Council, “Communicating Uncertainties in Weather and Climate Information” (National Academies Press, 2003).


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Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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