No Escape From "ClimateGate"

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 4, 2009 11:44 am

I’ve been quieter on the blog this week while in Texas–where I must say I’m impressed at both the hospitality and barbecue. But that doesn’t mean I can escape the PR mess that is “ClimateGate.” Out at a local pub last night, surrounded by cheering basketball fans and $2.25 pints, it wasn’t long before a friendly new acquaintance inquired, “So what’s all this stuff on tv about scientists and data?”

I continue to believe that despite however many editorials are published in academic journals, however many science journalists come forward playing defense, and no matter how many scientists calmly (or not so calmly) explain that this email kerfuffle probably only serves to demonstrate that scientists are people too, the damage has been done. The entire episode is an unfortunate case study of our increasingly Unscientific America–an example of how the media distorts a story, partisanship spins the details to suit a particular agenda, and scientists are ill-equipped to manage the PR fallout.

I am saddened to observe the state of broad perception of climate science, but not surprised. Further, this is not “the public’s” fault. It’s up to us in the scientific community to figure out how to stay on message. If we aren’t prepared to speak up for ourselves in a united voice about the state of the planet, others with less noble intentions will. And we won’t like the result.

Comments (86)

  1. Pete

    Yes, I have been thinking it played out much like the anti-science forces you described in UA too. Media, politics, selling a story, and scientists without the training to fight for the truth. Sad indeed.

  2. bilbo

    As long as scientists have the “publish it and hope the public finds it” attitude, we’re going to get misrepresented and run over by people with other intentions.

  3. Dana H.

    Bad advice. Worrying about staying “on message” rather than about understanding nature and critically evaluating their own hypotheses is what got the Climategate scientists in trouble in the first place.

    As a scientist (not a climate scientist), I am extremely pissed off by how poorly the behavior of climate “scientists” reflects on the broader scientific enterprise. It simply gives ammo to kooks like creationists who claim that the methods of science are no better than their own.

  4. Fred C

    Wow, your statement, “It’s up to us in the scientific community to figure out how to stay on message.” is very telling. The scientific community should NEVER have a goal of “staying on message.” That is a clearly POLITICAL approach. Scientists should be constantly questioning each other (i.e., staying OFF message) until all of the bugs are flushed out of a theory to where it becomes solid – even to previous skeptics.

    Clearly, the leaked e-mails and the code that models the climate has been proven to be very compromised. There is absolutely no doubt about this. Your “stay on message” comment indicates that you have an immovable conclusion in your head no matter what is discovered after some arbitrary point in time (maybe somewhere around the release date of “An Inconvenient Truth”) beyond which nobody was allowed to question the theory, or even see the data from the theorists!

    I think you need to recalibrate your mindset about what “being a scientist” really means.

  5. peppanicky

    “It’s up to us in the scientific community to figure out how to stay on message.”

    Yes that wacky public is so stupid that it requires the scientists to keep preaching the “message” so that they will understand the massive complexities that only scientists understand.

    Newsflash..the public is tired of being lied to and manipulated. Lies, Damn lies and statistics. The public wants TRUTH. They deserve TRUTH. That is the only thing a true scientist should be looking out for. At the very least, the email and the code from the hack/stolen files proves that this is not always the case. End of story.

    The public is not anti-science, they are pro-truth.

  6. It doesn’t matter how clearly we state things, commenters will always misinterpret what’s said. Sigh.

    By “staying on message”, Chris means that we need to be clear when talking about the science, or else the noise machine will spin what’s said for their own political purposes, and the important message about climate will get lost… just as the commenters above have done.

    Welcome to irony. Population: you.

  7. Fred

    This is all garbage. The message that you should be striving to stay on is TRUTH. Look, if it’s a complicated truth, that’s fine, but what has happened here is that in trying to make a more readable, manageable set of data for all of us plebeians to wrap our miniscule minds around climate scientists actually skewed the data to arrive at an opinion they had already formed. THAT IS NOT SCIENCE!!! The climate of this planet is far too complicated and the models used far too simplistic for ANYONE to be able to say what is gonna happen in the future. And the problem is that these idiots have now screwed it up for everyone. Every single person who had a great idea about how to save energy, or cut the cost and pollution of energy production should be out there screaming for the blood of these charlatans because their success or failure (which is the more probably answer) is tied to these fraudsters and now the whole world is going to turn it’s back on the good things we should still be doing because of the stigma this created.

  8. While CM didn’t pen the post, Phil’s absolutely correct I mean that

    we need to be clear when talking about the science, or else the noise machine will spin what’s said for their own political purposes, and the important message about climate will get lost… just as the commenters above have done.

  9. Timmy

    Phil (#6) explained what you meant by “staying on message”. Is that what you meant?

  10. Oded

    Phil – you meant Sheril. This post is not by Chris

    I’m not sure I understand what you or Sheril means by “staying on message”.. Should scientists be more united in what they say? That’s clearly wrong. You said be more clear when talking about science. I’m obviously totally in favor of that… But what scientists aren’t doing that right now? Are there bunches of scientists mumbling and confusing people with what they are saying? If so, are they doing so because of actual lacking evidence, or are they really just that bad communicators?

  11. Sorbet

    -By “staying on message”, Chris means that we need to be clear when talking about the science

    Absolutely true. And that includes admitting our mistakes, pointing out limitations wherever applicable, and separating the wheat from the chaff. However as Sheril indicates, this is not going to do us any good because the right wingers and deniers will jump on any reasonable admission of limitations as an excuse to debunk the entire enterprise. Exactly like the creationists who point to minor problems with evolution as proof that the basic theory is completely wrong.

    We lose because there is a fundamental difference between the scientific and political process. And while science can stay unstained and pure only if it maintains this difference, it will sadly also mean that science loses the public and political battle.

    Such is the dilemma of our times. In other times too this dilemma played out, but never were the stakes so high.

  12. @10 Oded:

    I’m not sure I understand what you or Sheril means by “staying on message”

    While working on Capitol Hill, I became increasingly frustrated over the number of scientists that would arrive from universities, NGOs, and industry, who ultimately had the same goal regarding upcoming legislation, but a very jumbled mix of presentations with no notion of overlapping efforts. This is an institutional problem–much of which results from competing for limited resources and funding. On top of that, many scientists brought complicated p-values and figures yet did not explain to staffers what they represented. Meanwhile, psuedoscientific groups with a particular agenda were often well organized, articulate, funny, and could pack a briefing room by serving food. Now science, of course, should never be about lobbying. However, it is important to work across institutions and groups if we are to engage decision makers when we share common goals.

  13. Anthony McCarthy

    The scientific community should NEVER have a goal of “staying on message.” That is a clearly POLITICAL approach. Scientists should be constantly questioning each other (i.e., staying OFF message) until all of the bugs are flushed out of a theory to where it becomes solid – even to previous skeptics. Fred C

    Scientists who hope to have some influence on public policy had better be aware of the exigencies of politics or they’ll be at the mercy of those who are.

    How many well established theories of science are bug free?

  14. Gaythia

    I don’t think we should blame scientists for difficulties in facing what are really powerful forces of deliberate misrepresentation. We are facing strong vested interests, much like those who for years tried to convince the public that smoking was not a health problem. As the snippet of Jon Stewart on Fox News shows, you can be one of the best communicator out there and still get misrepresented.

    We live in a time that is on a cusp of great change, with potential outcomes both positive and negative.

    This is going to take our best efforts. We need to both increase overall understanding of science and learn how to do effective damage control. Perfection will not be achieved, and anyhow, misrepresentations will still occur. We do need to be clear, and still, the noise making machine will spin what is said for their own political purposes. We need to learn how to deal with that, and also how to teach the public how to sort through media sources to find the truth.

  15. peppanicky

    “stay on message”

    You still don’t get it….this is a political campaign statement.

    Why would scientists ever have to worry about staying on message? But, alas, I am one of the foolish “public” that OBVIOUSLY is part of the “noise machine” trying to further his political agenda.

    WRONG!!! Just a member of the public who is tired of his middle schooler coming home upset because Leonardo Dicaprio just told him that the world was ending if we don’t change to the correct light bulb.

    Sorry, if I am I want to ask a few questions about the research that MY tax dollars are funding. Sorry to put you elitists out.

  16. FergalR

    These people weren’t doing science. They were reconstructing temperature records and producing climate predictions to order. Now the wheels have come off of their gravy train. Anyone who has an interest in or love for science will be sickened by the alleged destruction of data, criminal conspiracy to evade FOI requests, perversion of the peer review system and willful damage to the careers of legitimate researchers. Discover magazine is going to lose an awful lot of subscribers unless it starts reporting reality or plans to reorganise itself as a science fiction monthly. I hope you enjoy the snow in Texas.

  17. Anthony McCarthy

    — While working on Capitol Hill, I became increasingly frustrated over the number of scientists that would arrive from universities, NGOs and industry, who ultimately had the same purpose regarding upcoming legislation, but a very jumbled mix presentations with no idea they were overlapping their efforts. SK

    When I first heard that the scientists whose e-mails had been stolen, before I had read anything, the first thing I wondered if it was the kind of in-house language that often sounds bad to outsiders, though those used to it would understand the tone. It’s one of the hazards of communicating your ideas primarily within a relatively small group that you forget what it would sound like to people outside of it.

    I’ve wondered about the effects of so much of science being closely associated with a population in late adolescence. A lot of people in universities, no just in the sciences, seem to be stuck in an odd mindset due to that.

  18. Timmy

    Everyone STOP explaining for the author. Whoever penned “stay on message” on this blog, explain what was meant.

  19. Gaythia

    @18 try reading #12 and #8.

  20. Anthony (13), peppanicky (15), you are exactly wrong.

    When science gets politicized, scientists need to sometimes be political. If all scientists do is research, then global warming denialists will run all over them when it comes to legislation and winning the public trust. Most scientists don’t want to have to worry about legislation and showing the public that pseudoscience is wrong, but unfortunately we don’t have that choice. Antivaxxers, alt-med supports, creationists and GW deniers are everywhere, and they’re good at spinning the truth, whereas scientists typically are not.

    If you think scientists should just keep quiet and do research, in ten years there will be none left.

  21. Timmy

    #19 I did…did you?

  22. V.O.R.

    IIRC Sheril has spent some time in Washington. And while this does mean she must be carefully monitored for such danger signs as never going out during the day, fear of garlic and crosses, etc. etc. it’d be nice to get the benefit from whatever political acumen she may have picked up.

    EDIT: I see she’s admitted it. Good for you, Sheril, that’s the first step.

    “Staying on message” *can* mean “Everyone agrees to the same lie and repeats it so often that it sticks.” OTOH, it can also mean that enough voices unite in expressing a key truth that the message sticks. The essential factors are repetition and clarity, not manipulation or lying. Repetition and clarity (call clarity “keeping it simple” if you want) are powerful persuasive factors. Far more than they should be, but that’s the reality.

    Denialst posters, harping on “proven” fraud and lying, are doing a good job of staying on message. “Proven” is a huge lie – or at least mistake. But it’s clear, it’s being repeated, and it’s feeding many people’s prejudices and fears. Thus, it’s persuasive.

    If the scientific community doesn’t have enough spokespersons simply contradicting that message with its own easy-to-understand message – even “Nuh uh!” helps – the denialist message is likely to gain more traction. And while most of that increased influence will be with people who’ve already made up their minds and are simply looking for more rationalizations, I don’t want to cede those bogging down the discussion any more influence at all.

    If securing the public’s opinion, and thus the ability to do something about AGW, was simply a matter of sufficiently good and plentiful research, it would have been secured by now. (Note that I’m not saying the research is perfect, but if it was for something without political ramifications I don’t believe there’d be significant controversy.) And, actually, you could argue that it had been secured. But IIRC a recent poll showed belief had dropped. A little bit among Democrats and Independents, and a LOT among Republicans.

    For those saying politics should be kept out of science: Well, yeah. But look to that poll. Politics is heavily involved in some science, and arguing that it shouldn’t be does very little to help or change the situation. What’s persuasive and useful at a scientific conference is not necessarily either outside it, especially when politics are involved. And yet sometimes there’s a need to communicate and even persuade. Thus Sheril and her “on message” black magic…

  23. FergalR

    @21 and 11
    Using that ‘d’ word is disrespectful to the victims of the Holocaust.

  24. Sorbet

    @25: Huh? How is it disrespectful to victims of the Holocaust? This has nothing to do with that. We are calling them global warming deniers because they…deny global warming.

  25. andrew

    @25… seriously? We’re trying to ‘stay on message’ here.

  26. FergalR

    Sorbet, either you are deliberately lying or you are a historical ignoramus.

  27. andrew

    @28… seriously… explain what you’re talking about or go away… but don’t stay around confusing people.

  28. ER Johnson

    I think this is what FergalR was indicating about the implications around the label “denier” ==>

    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/1782/

  29. FergalR

    Millions of Jew and homosexuals and gypsies and disabled people were killed in an extermination in the middle of the 20th century.

    Someone who tries to downplay this is called a “Holocaust Denier”.

    That word and it’s variations are already taken. Make your argument without it please. And tell your children about what happens when people become convinced that they are better than others.

    Don’t use that word.

  30. Oded

    Phil – I guess this is the plight of being the bearer of bad news. Scientists have the bad news. The public doesn’t want to hear it, and will do anything to prove that they are wrong.

    The reason alt-med and other silliness ARE so powerful is not just that they are better at spinning and propagandizing, but also that the public wants there message. The spinners don’t NEED to work so hard on getting evidence, being 100% accurate always, and never screw up, because nobody is chasing them! (at the very least, the majority isn’t)

    The scientists on the other hand have an impossible task – on the one hand, they have to “stay on message” and be loud and heard, unambiguous and passionate – but on the other hand, they must ALWAYS be 100% correct, never wrong, completely backed up by evidence – because even if they have the tiniest kink, the public will be so critical of them that they will claim that they are nothing but propagandizers and fundamentalists!

  31. the public is tired of being lied to and manipulated. Lies, Damn lies and statistics. The public wants TRUTH. They deserve TRUTH.

    Oh yeah, sure, that is why he’s believing what he’s hearing on Fox News.

    The public does not want truth. The public want simple solutions, simple messages, 5-seconds bits of information. Between two explanations, one probably true but complex, and the other-we-don’t-know but very simple, he will choose the second.

    That is the secret between the huge popularity of the climategate. You don’t want to hear about things that will happen in 50 or 100 years. You want something simple, clear, no thinking necessary, ,like “those bad scientists” or “those damned liars”.

  32. andrew

    Which word… you used many…

    I didn’t hear/read anyone downplay the Holocaust!

    Is it OK to use that word too… the H word. What about ‘killed’ or ‘extermination’… can we use those…

    What you wrote is beyond ridiculous — but not above ridicule.

  33. FergalR

    Pascal, if that’s true, why isn’t the main-stream media (owned singularly by the most polluting companies on the planet) reporting this bombshell of a story? Newsflash: the majority of humanity is not stupid. In other news: people with high IQ’s are easier to scam that drug dealers who spend their whole day doing it to others.

  34. FergalR

    Andrew, drop it, just don’t use that word.

  35. ER Johnson

    “staying on message” may mean something like this:

    “We need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination… So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts… Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” – Stephen Schneider, Stanford Professor of Climatology, lead author of many IPCC reports

  36. andrew

    I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. I’ve used the word ‘deny’ and the many variations that come from that word and nobody has ever said anything. Also banning words because it was used before is just bizarre. People call Holocaust Deniers “Holocaust Deniers” because they deny something specific. If I just used the word Denier, nobody would have any idea what I was talking about until I qualified it.

    Either way though… we are using it in a derogatory manner, so if anything, we/I’m insulting Holocaust Deniers by using the word Denier in this context. By defending the word denier it sounds to me as if you are a H Denier and are offended by my different use of the word (labeling people you don’t like with same word you use yourself). I know that’s probably not the case… but I can’t make any sense of your reasoning otherwise.

  37. ER Johnson

    “but on the other hand, they must ALWAYS be 100% correct, never wrong, completely backed up by evidence”

    Not if they are researching the mating habits of a toad and having it published in Toad Journal Monthly.

    But if their research is being used by governments to make policy decisions about the global economy…yep, I think they need to be closer to 100% accurate.

  38. Anthony McCarthy

    —- If you think scientists should just keep quiet and do research, in ten years there will be none left. Phil Plait

    You didn’t understand what I meant. What I said was in line with what you said. If scientists want their work to inform public policy they have to know how to do it effectively and not counter-productively.

    I’m in favor of scientists presenting their information effectively, not to be quiet.

    I am astounded by scientists who think they can get by without being politically astute, considering how much of their work is funded by the government. I can’t imagine they’re as politically clueless about their funding and within their departments.

    In light of these hacked e-mails, they should be a little more cagey about how they communicate with each other from now on because I’ll guarantee you every right-wing presstitute will be trying to get hold of something like this from now on.

  39. Gaythia

    @39 That is an unrealistic expectation when dealing with any complex system, the economy being a case in point. Decisions, if they are to be made at all have to be made with regards to the available data, the robustness of that data, and the level of importance of the decisions that need to be made. Doing nothing is a decision too, and not necessarily a good one.

  40. ER Johnson

    “That is an unrealistic expectation”

    So what is a realistic expectation of model accuracy over time?

    If the accuracy of models (which failed to predict the last 10 or so years, and which can’t recreate our past climates) doesn’t improve markedly — doing *something* is tantamount to flipping switches in a 747 in an effort to set it down gently.

    I’m not sure the 747 is crashing anyway.

  41. Anthony McCarthy

    —- The scientists on the other hand have an impossible task – on the one hand, they have to “stay on message” and be loud and heard, unambiguous and passionate – but on the other hand, they must ALWAYS be 100% correct, never wrong, completely backed up by evidence – because even if they have the tiniest kink, the public will be so critical of them that they will claim that they are nothing but propagandizers and fundamentalists! Oded

    A lot of that is due to the misunderstanding of what science produces and a lot of the blame for that can be laid at the feet of the media which presents science as if it was the business of finding hard truth that is absolutely reliable. But a lot of the rest of it can be laid at the feet of scientists who oversell their profession and its results or who neglect to correct those who do that on their behalf.

  42. Anthony McCarthy

    The huge popularity of “climategate” is the same kind of illusion that “travelgate” or the other phony “Clinton scandals” were, creations of the corporate media to cow politicians into doing stupid things. It’s driven by the shills for the oil, coal and other industries, it has nothing to do with the facts of the case or anything to do with what was actually said in the e-mails, this is the result of having a media that is first and foremost the servants of their corporate masters.

  43. andrew

    @ER Johnson: So your position is ‘if we die we die’? If you’re on a plane and someone, more knowledgeable than you, says there is a 95%… no, lets say 10% chance that the plane will crash, you’re willing to bet against expert opinion and not take any simple precautions that would in the end, make you safer anyways? Why?

    You’re either suicidal or clairvoyant… which is it?

  44. ER Johnson

    I’m saying I don’t feel anywhere close to 95% certain that we are heading for a catastrophe that will doom mankind if we don’t do something RIGHT NOW. And those that say they are 95% certain have been way wrong in the past — Hansen is a great example. As an earlier poster said, the climate is just much too complex of a system to be able to model and claim 95% accuracy. Common sense says that a claim of that magnitude is rubbish.

    I don’t know of any “simple” precautions being recommended to avert this supposed catastrophe that is looming. Cost / benefit / probability of success has been pulled into this discussion once it became connected with global policy decisions.

  45. andrew

    What about 10%?

  46. Carman

    Why does “staying on message” always have to be equated with being deceptive. And why on earth shouldn’t scientists be able to discuss their findings simply, effectively, and unequivocally? It’s the attitude that scientists have to be completely divorced from the dissemination and implications of their research that has given anti-science whackos the opportunity to get a foothold. If the people that best understood climate science had been out there discussing their work with in a clear, concise, and unified manner, there wouldn’t be enough uninformed people left for the anti-agw camp to confuse.

    It’s like herd immunity against stupidity.

  47. ER Johnson

    Hmmm 10% certainty = almost zero certainty. (I’m an optimist)

    If you are asking me to recycle on a 10% certainty — that is a willing trade off on the risk. If you are saying we need to reorder the world economy and give up part of our sovereignty to the UN — I’ll take my changes on the 90%.

    Let’s take it to a logical extreme then. How about .1% certainty? How about .001% certainty? At what point to you “do something” — it becomes an economic / political question.

  48. Dave McK

    Please allow me to stay on message:
    HOAX.
    I just read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear –
    Sheril is either a plagiarist or life is recapitulating art.
    So now I’m watching State of Fear on the news and in the blogs.

  49. Sorbet

    -Sorbet, either you are deliberately lying or you are a historical ignoramus.

    I am none. Either you are being deliberately diverting or rather thin skinned, probably the latter. I was using “denialist” and “denier” alternately. I was not thinking of the Holocaust in the slightest until you brought it up. Are you saying that we eschew the use of a legitimate word just because it was used to describe something horrible earlier? It’s silly to say the word has been “taken”. Come on, I think you will agree that’s not exactly rational…can we move on now?

  50. Tom Johnson

    While working on Capitol Hill, I became increasingly frustrated over the number of scientists that would arrive from universities, NGOs, and industry, who ultimately had the same goal regarding upcoming legislation, but a very jumbled mix of presentations with no notion of overlapping efforts. This is an institutional problem–much of which results from competing for limited resources and funding. On top of that, many scientists brought complicated p-values and figures yet did not explain to staffers what they represented. Meanwhile, psuedoscientific groups with a particular agenda were often well organized, articulate, funny, and could pack a briefing room by serving food. Now science, of course, should never be about lobbying. However, it is important to work across institutions and groups if we are to engage decision makers when we share common goals.

    You’re dead-on here, Sheril. I see the same thing when talking about evolution with the public. If you spend your time scoffing at the public for not understanding the finer points of genetics and statistics, you’re fighting a losing game. That’s because the anti-evolution side (e.g. creationists, IDers, whatever) are very prepared at dealing with the public and know how to talk the talk. It doesn’t matter how solid your statistics are and how logical your arguments are – if you come into the game (and that’s what it is) with a holier-than-thou attitude and an inability to communicate, you’re going to get whipped by the people who don’t. And the science is what ends up suffering….even though it’s right.

    The same goes with climate change, conservation, vaccinations, you name it. You were correct in saying that we shouldn’t be lobbyists….but we should be ready and able to communicate (and those are two very different things). Just today I heard some colleagues talking about how stupid it is that the NSF makes people focus on “broader impacts” nowadays. Welcome to the real world – if we don’t focus on the broader impacts, someone else (without science and truth as a motivator) will do it for us. It’s time for science to grow up and learn how to communicate without sacrificing the theory.

  51. Sean McCorkle

    Pascal @33

    The public does not want truth. The public want simple solutions, simple messages, 5-seconds bits of information. Between two explanations, one probably true but complex, and the other-we-don’t-know but very simple, he will choose the second.

    That is the secret between the huge popularity of the climategate. You don’t want to hear about things that will happen in 50 or 100 years. You want something simple, clear, no thinking necessary, ,like “those bad scientists” or “those damned liars”.

    I completely agree. You make a very important point. Actually, I think that all of us, especially scientists, certainly engineers and programmers, value clarity in thinking. We value it a lot. On a Richard Dawkins video recently (I can’t remember where I saw it) he actually chastised a creationist questioner for not thinking clearly.

    The difference is that scientists often have to wade and sift through mounds of information to try to reach the satisfaction of a clear explanation. Often they don’t get there at all, and get used to working hard dealing with the complexities (maintaining mulltliple working hypothesis, etc.). On the other hand, charlatans (fox news, science-deniers) etc take advantage of the general public by offering them what appears to be “clarity”. Why is it that the clarity is more important than truth? or rather, why is it that clarity is taken to be truth?

  52. Dana H.

    “In light of these hacked e-mails, they should be a little more cagey about how they communicate with each other from now on…”

    Jeezus, if this is the main message of the CRU emails, I think I’ll just turn in my scientist card and become something respectable like a prostitute. Aren’t there any remaining scientists in the mold of Richard Feynman, who wrote, “if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it… Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them”? (More good Feynman quotes here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Richard_Feynman.)

    The goal of science is to understand nature. This requires scrupulous honesty and bending over backwards to question your own conclusions. If as a result, some slick shyster from the Discovery Institute out-manipulates you in the political realm, so be it. Rest assured that “nature cannot be fooled.” If your goal is not to understand nature but to influence policy, then become an activist or politician, not a scientist. Science will lose all its credibility if it whores itself out to politics (as has already happened to a large extent).

  53. I am very Pro-Science. I am not pro-“fudge the facts so we can make a buck”. You know they found remnants of a 1/2 million old forest under a glacier in Greenland, right? It flies in the face of “climate science”, because this is too complicated to study for a few years and make any conclusion. The earth is much older than that, and so is the climate.

  54. Woody Tanaka

    “Newsflash..the public is tired of being lied to and manipulated. Lies, Damn lies and statistics. The public wants TRUTH. They deserve TRUTH.”

    What planet are you living on? The public wants celebrity gossip about Kate Goselin and Tiger Woods and simple heartwarming stories that make them forget their shitty lives.

    This public you are talking about contains an inordinate number of people who don’t have the brains to come indoors if it was raining rocks. A significant percentage of the American public believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and nearly 60 million American adults voted to put a woman who has no business running a newstand one aged-heartbeat away from the Presidency. “The public” is a dumb, panicky, dangerous animal. It doesn’t want the truth; if it did, a mental lightweight like Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t attract 13.5 million people a week.

  55. Carman

    Can we stop blaming the freaking public? This kind of talk is exactly why the “public” thinks that liberals are elitist assholes. Blaming the “public” for the fact that they don’t know anything is a particularly snide was of releasing ourselves from our personal responsibilities. *We* need to do a better job of education and outreach. We need to step out of our labs and figure out how to explain things — not just our research, but basic science. We need to do a better job explaining what the scientific method is and why we call things we know to be true “theories”, what statistics are and how to look at them and say “this is reasonable” or “this is crap”, how to look at a claim and critically examine the logic and evidence behind it.

    Blaming the other guy is useless, irresponsible, and fatalistic. Hell, even if the appalling amount of scientific illiteracy in this country isn’t our fault, we still need to be the ones out there trying to fix it.

  56. wagdog

    You cannot absolve the public of all responsibility and ask scientists to make up for all the work of a failed education system. Should we be expecting M. Mann to give elementary lessons in how to convert temperature scales? I see this as a variant of the Ultimatum Game. If the public are not willing to meet the climate scientists halfway, the climate scientists will simply not play and let the Earth burn.

  57. bilbo

    I think that’s the argument, wagdog: scientists have responsibility, as well as the public. The public shouldn’t expect scientists to do all the reaching out, just as much as science shouldn’t rely on the public to come groveling for information. We really do need to meet halfway.

  58. sinz52

    In the 1950s, Immanuel Velikovsky wrote “Worlds in Collision,” a book espousing his crackpot theory that the orbits of the planets and moons changed in Biblical times and accounted for the various miracles described in the Bible.

    Scientists organized a boycott, threatening to boycott the publisher’s textbooks if it published Velkovsky’s manuscript. The publisher caved. But Velikovsky found another publisher, and the publicity to him over this boycott turned his book into a best-seller.

    What I found disgraceful about this incident and the similar boycott tactics revealed in the leaked climate emails, was that scientists were prepared to suppress ideas they didn’t endorse. That is not how science is supposed to work. And as with Velkovsky’s best-seller, it’s self-defeating anyway.

    This is sufficiently serious that the major climatological research societies should pledge never to do that again. Sometimes a paper is accepted for peer review that you find is poor. You can write a letter to the editor, demand a chance to publish a rebuttal, or even write your own entirely new paper. What you should not do is threaten the editor to stop publishing any more such papers or else.

  59. “This public you are talking about contains an inordinate number of people who don’t have the brains to come indoors if it was raining rocks. A significant percentage of the American public believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and nearly 60 million American adults voted to put a woman who has no business running a newstand one aged-heartbeat away from the Presidency. “The public” is a dumb, panicky, dangerous animal. It doesn’t want the truth; if it did, a mental lightweight like Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t attract 13.5 million people a week.”

    Right. And the real Einsteins are those who think the right approach to this whole thing is a simple and straightforward message: “Hey public, F*CK YOU! We’re scientists!”

    Pure genius.

  60. Roadtripper

    –Sorbet, either you are deliberately lying or you are a historical ignoramus.

    -I am none. Either you are being deliberately diverting or rather thin skinned, probably the latter.

    I’m gonna vote for the former mainly because I’ve seen AGW denialists use this tactic before:

    http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2008/11/cranks_cry_persecution_nisbet.php

    It’s not gonna work here, FergalR. Bugger off.

    Rt

  61. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Jeezus, if this is the main message of the CRU emails, I think I’ll just turn in my scientist card and become something respectable like a prostitute. Aren’t there any remaining scientists in the mold of Richard Feynman, who wrote, “if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it… Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them”? Dana H

    There’s a heck of a large difference between being honest about possible invalidation and discussing those in terms like the e-mails I’ve read. One not only is but sounds honest about the research, the other one sounds like a conspiracy to distort the truth, especially given the atmosphere that has surrounded the science of climate change from its inception. Sounding like you’re trying to fudge the figures as a means of expressing your dislike of what they say might be honest but it’s certainly turned out to be a bad idea.

    Like the other discussions about the intersection of science and politics, it’s always surprising to see how politically astute so many otherwise smart people are not.

    There isn’t anything ignoble about not shooting your science in the leg by giving those who want to distort it the material they want. You should at least give them the work of generating the material they’re going to turn into lies by themselves.

    —– “The public” is a dumb, panicky, dangerous animal. It doesn’t want the truth Woody Tanaka

    So democracy is impossible. Just which form of autocratic government do you favor instead?

  62. Also, honesty works best when both ways are honest. Let’s assume a huge number of scientists would take all the time necessary to answer all questions and all complaints of the public.

    And let’s assume that, as it is the case right now, an important part of this public is repeating the same questions, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over… and never listening the answers (for example, Oh, the Groenland was green; how do you explain that, you lazy scientists?). How many time will it take for some of those scientists to say “oh, shut up”, I’m going back to my lab… ?

  63. wagdog

    There isn’t anything ignoble about not shooting your science in the leg by giving those who want to distort it the material they want. You should at least give them the work of generating the material they’re going to turn into lies by themselves.

    Actually, in trying to follow the above (tripled-negative) advice is what got Phil Jones into more trouble. He didn’t want to feed the denialism movement more fuel of the raw data, but in discussing his defensive intentions with Mann, he ended up feeding the denialism movement more fuel of raw emails.

    If we followed a StarTek-like science driven value system: Phil Jones could have kept his post.

    In the real world, we are political creatures.

    So democracy is impossible.

    I’m with Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

  64. Anthony McCarthy

    wagdog, I assumed people would have realized I was being sarcastic in that point about democracy in response to Tanaka’s assertions about The People being hopelessly stupid. It was the most dangerously anti-democratic regime in our history, Bush II, that has been the worst government and the worst for science. I guess the misunderstanding of my intentions could serve as an example of why it’s important to be explicit and plain spoken.

    I think the problem was that the e-mails were assumed to be eternally confidential and the expression in them sounded worse than the substance warranted. I hope that at least those scientists involved in this will have learned that those who are mindbogglingly, obscenely wealthy from the industries that cause global warming can get into their e-mail accounts – I’d imagine hiring computer science savvy folk to do their dirty work – and distort its meaning. That should be no surprise as they’ve been quite able to buy scientists in other fields to spout their lies for as long as the science of climate change has existed. Scientists are not more reliably honest than anyone else, but the ones who are honest should also be wise to how this works or their knowledge isn’t going to do us much good.

  65. ERJohnson

    “I hope that at least those scientists involved in this will have learned that those who are mindbogglingly, obscenely wealthy from the industries that cause global warming can get into their e-mail accounts”

    Has an investigation revealed the source of this email disclosure yet Anthony McCarthy? You seem to have some inside conspiracy-like information that I’m sure the MSM would like to hear about. I’ve heard others indicate that this was an inside job. Please cite your source.

  66. Anthony McCarthy

    ERJohnson, I said they could do it, you think the mindbogglingly, obscenely, rich are unable to find computer hackers for hire who would do it for money? Or that, once reading about this theft of e-mails, that they wouldn’t twig onto that possibility?

    I’ve got utter contempt for the corrupt rich, but I’ve never imagined they were stupid as well as psychotic.

  67. Woody Tanaka

    “Right. And the real Einsteins are those who think the right approach to this whole thing is a simple and straightforward message: ‘Hey public, F*CK YOU! We’re scientists!'”

    That’s not my approach, but it’s a hell of a lot better message than to listen to the media noise machine generated by political whores and pro-corporate suckers who are repeating the company line of a number of trillion-dollar-per-year industries who don’t give a damn about the environment (or the suckers they get to repeat their message) but are only interested in further filling their already overstuffed pockets at everyone else’s expense.

    So perhaps the correct approach to that part of the population that includes corporate shills like James Inhofe or those that say, “we shouldn’t protect the environment because that’s what that nice Sarah Palin thinks, and the liberals picked on her and called her mean things,” is not pretend that their corporate-paid talking points somehow constitute legitimate scientific opinion but, in fact, to just say, “F*uck you. We’re scientists.”

  68. Woody Tanaka

    McCarthy:
    “—– ‘The public’ is a dumb, panicky, dangerous animal. It doesn’t want the truth Woody Tanaka”

    “So democracy is impossible. Just which form of autocratic government do you favor instead?”

    You’re not foolish to think we have anything like a functioning democracy in the US, are you? Try putting people power against corporate money and see how powerful the “dêmos” are in our system…

    As for the form of government, we could improve things tremedously if we eliminated the insane nonsense of “corporate personhood,” put strict limitations on lobbying by corporations, industries and their shills, and have public financing of all politicial campaigns. Get corporations out of politics and maybe, maybe, we could have democracy again.

  69. Anthony McCarthy

    Woody Tanaka, you’re not trying to change the subject, are you?

    Having written many a blog post on the absolute necessity to abolish “corporate personhood”, reverse Buckley vs. Veleo, and a myriad of other atrocities against the possibility of democracy, I’m kind of sensitive to the issues involved.

    However, the belief that The People (and I always try to remember to Capitoline the most important and entirely essential part of government), that The People are hopelessly unable to be informed is to give up on even the reason that democracy is preferable. Democracy is good because The People are better able to act in an effectively beneficial manner than an oligarchy. But that’s only possible when they have accurate information.

    I have no faith in people who start out thinking that The People are hopelessly idiotic because they have such a record of turning into right wingers.

  70. Anthony McCarthy

    That should be “capitalize”. Spell check in haste, repent at leisure. Though in this case it’s rather an ironic mistake, isn’t it.

  71. ehmoran

    In the late 1800’s, Arrhenius built upon Fourier’s assessment of atmospheric properties by plotting CO2 and temperature data collected in industrialized England. Arrhenius’ plots and calculations showed a relation between CO2 and ambient temperatures. In 1930’s, Callendar extended the analysis using long term observations from 200 stations arguing that there was a link between CO2 and climate warming. Keeling began collecting atmospheric CO2 samples from the Mauna Loa Observatory site in Hawaii in the late 1950’s and is the most complete record.

    The USGS reports that all volcanic activity produces nearly 200-million tons CO2 annually; much less than that produced by human activity. Mauna Loa, near the Observatory and the world’s most active volcano erupted 39 times since 1832, had major eruptions in 1950, 1975, and 1984. Atmospheric CO2 levels measured at volcanoes indicate the degree of activity and estimates of heat flow from one volcano have been reported at140-mW/m2. Correlating CO2 and temperatures from data collected near an active volcano should be significant but not show a cause and effect relation; however, correlating world-wide data significantly shows CO2 lagging temperature by approximately two years. The data analyzed by Arrhenius and Callendar also could be significantly biased similarly owing to the urban heat-island effect and extensive coal burning at the time, as CO2 is an abundant byproduct of burning.

    Apparently, no laboratory control experiment to date, such as in a biodome, has shown CO2 levels influencing ambient temperatures. Tyndall (1861) measured the absorptive characteristics of CO2 followed by more precise measurements by Burch (1970). Absorbance is a measure of the quantity of light (energy) absorbed by a sample (CO2 molecule) and the amount of absorbed energy can be represented as specific heat of a substance. Specific heat of CO2 ranges from 0.791-kJ/kgK at 0-degrees F to 0.871-kJ/kgK at 125-degrees F and average atmospheric concentrations 0.0306-percent. As revealed, the specific heat of CO2 increases as ambient temperatures increase showing CO2 likely is an ambient temperature buffer.

    The atmospheric generally consists from 4-percent water vapor in the troposphere to 40-percent at the surface. The specific heat of water vapor is relatively constant at 1.996-kJ/kgK. Water absorbs energy (heat) and evaporates to water vapor. During condensation (precipitation), latent heat is released to the atmosphere thus increasing ambient temperatures. Water vapor holds the majority of atmospheric heat and regulates climate and temperature more than any compound. Historically, however, the characteristics of water vapor related to climate were much less appreciated but investigations into the significance that water vapor plays in global climate-dynamics are just beginning.

    The amount of energy not stored in the atmosphere is released into space through radiation. Re-radiation is the emission of previously absorbed molecular radiation. The specific heat of molecules of water vapor and CO2 shows that water vapor reradiates significantly more energy back to the Earth’s surface and the atmospheric quantities for each compound further justify this case. Thus, this and other publicized reports suggest that the minute variability in atmospheric CO2 concentrations likely results in an insignificant affect on climate change; whereas water vapor is the significant factor.

  72. Woody Tanaka

    McCarthy:

    Rather than fetishizing (or would it be mytholizing) “The People,” I prefer to look at what the people actually are and actually do. I’m not saying that they are unable to be informed, I’m saying that they are unwilling to be informed. Rather than being informed, huge swaths of them prefer to be teabaggers and birthers and anti-vaxxers and tarot-card readers and creationists and climate change denialists.

    Nor am I calling for an oligarchy, because the same plutocrats who now run things by manipulating the suckers and the boobs would be even more entreanched. What I’m calling for to strip the moneyed class of their political power, by eliminating their ability to legally bribe the people’s “representatives” coupled with a call for those representatives to work to the benefit of the public at large, and not for the benefit of corporations making massive donations to the politicians.

    Nor am I opposed in principle to right wingers. There used to be a defensible (if, in my opinion, wrongheaded) intellectual tradition on the right. It’s not my fault that they’ve thrown that tradition in the trash in favor of the likes of Glenn Beck and Joe the Plumber. (Although I find it odd that you seem to defend the right wingers at the same time as decrying corporate personhood, seeing as how, if there is any serious debate in this country to eliminate the latter, the forces to opposed to doing so will come from the former.)

  73. Anthony McCarthy

    I fail to see how you propose to do all those laudable things without resorting to democratic politics, especially since you recognize that the oligarchs aren’t going to generate them.

    I think you are over estimating the percentage of the population who are Beck-Joe the (phony) plumber fans.

  74. TTT

    The media’s treatment of this has been beyond shameful. Probably worse than their lead-up to the Iraq War just because it’s just as stupid, slanted, and credulous, but now all crammed into two weeks instead of a year. The report is always the same: There’s a CONTROVERSY, then at least two CRITICS (denialist conspiracy loons) get to use the strongest and most aggressive terms possible, then the anchor returns with “But scientists say the emails were out of context,” and then just ONE scientist is there and all they play is the most milquetoast, unimportant quote that, yes, the emails were taken out of context.

    Once again the media has shown that it considers only 9/11Truthers to be truly deserving of a freeze-out, and that anybody else with a conspiracy theory about anything else will be welcomed with equal time. Heck, Pat Buchanan is still allowed to argue that Hitler didn’t really want a war.

    And once again, M&S, I wish you would stop blaming the scientist victims of this. It has nothing to do with “how scientists frame their message.” The message itself is so complicated that there is no quick, easy, friendly way to “frame” it. The liars are lying quickly, and the media is letting them get away with it. If you want to talk “framing,” tell a news anchor that they themselves are acting as a megaphone for fraud and are complicit in the lies of the radical fringe. Put THEM on the defensive. Ask THEM how they judge an issue to be worthy of having “two sides.”

  75. Anonymous Coward

    “It’s up to us in the scientific community to figure out how to stay on message.”

    Sheril, I hope you’ll consider that the folks who strayed off message were the scientists at CRU.

    The message they strayed from is succinctly described by Feynman in “Cargo Cult Science”,

    (and less succinctly by Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend and the collective works from Newton, Gallileo through Einstein, Watson, Crick, Franklin and beyond. The behavior of the CRU has shamed all of these people and set the public perception of science back decades.)

  76. Brian Too

    Is it possible that this issue has raised a fundamental concern: Does Science (grandly) attempt to enter the political fray and fight what is at essence a political fight? Or does Science retreat to it’s stronghold and stick with publications, studies, facts, and so on?

    Pro for Politics: The deniers were never arguing the science. The facts don’t matter to them. Skeptics may be won over but deniers never will yield.

    Pro for Science: It’s home turf for the scientists and the comfort zone. Politicians really cannot dominate this world because it’s alien to them. Scientists can take home court advantage and carry the day at will.

    I suspect that the political battlefield will prove too daunting for most scientists. Politics rewards those who are quick with a joke, who play (pander) to their audience, who are slick and successful and are worthy of envy.

    The problem with this is that Science can win every battle and still lose the war. It’s politics that prevails at the national (and international) level. Therefore I suggest that science needs to ally with willing and able politicians, but not itself become political.

  77. tj10

    Well, the climategate e-mails show us just how Unscientific Britain and all the top level climate scientists are. I think it is the scientists who are unscientific as opposed to “America”.

    New Zealand is dealing with it’s own Climategate too. One of it’s top scientists, Dr. Jim Salinger, has also been cooking the books it seems. http://nzclimatescience.net/images/PDFs/global_warming_nz2.pdf

    And now, besides the top level scientists involved in Climategate here in the US, NASA itself is hiding the data they used to come up with their claims. ” Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said NASA has refused for two years to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act that would show how the agency has shaped its climate data and would explain why the agency has repeatedly had to correct its data going as far back as the 1930s.”

    In light of what we now know about Climategate, I think it would be quite prudent for NASA to come forward with the uncooked data. This might help to rebuild trust with the public if their data hasn’t been cooked. However, the fact that they are refusing to release it doesn’t bode well for the Global-warming clan. Perhaps they would be better off it if wasn’t revealed. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/03/researcher-says-nasa-hiding-climate-data/

    Kirshenbaum has aptly entitled her blog “Unscientific America”. Nasa’s actions here provide hard evidence to support that claim. The film “Expelled” also provides hard evidence for that claim. It seems that dogma rules and opposing opinions are squashed in the name of “science”. “Let’s stay on the message and not allow anyone or any facts to derail us!” Is this what Kirshenbaum wants? How unscientific! How is that going to help anything? There you have it. Just more of the same old thing. If that is what she means by staying on the message, she still has a lot to learn. “Squash the dissenters! Fudge the data! Stay on the message!” If these science type people like Kirshenbaum really think that is the right approach, then she and her “Big Science” cronies must think the general public is extremely stupid and gullible. Granted she does admit that this is not the public’s fault, but her solution is not for more accountability among scientists, not for more openness, not for a re-evaluation of the real data or anything like that. She doesn’t even question that one iota it seems. She simply says the media distorted it. And that politicians have used it for political purposes. And that scientists stink at PR.

    I agree that scientists have not done a good job handling the fallout. They should be up in arms about this. They should be calling out these scientists on the carpet and heads should roll. They should be calling for more accountability. They should be petitioning NASA to open their books. They need to be open to the truth even if it might go against their dearly held beliefs.

    Perhaps, in light of these recent scandals around the world, she should expand the name of her blog, changing it to “Unscientific World”.

    tj

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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