Is Our Scientists Learning?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 15, 2010 11:37 am

In my talks, I often discuss the different groups who came to meet with me when I worked on Capitol Hill with regard to who was most effective. On science related issues, the general breakdown fell into two categories (with exceptions):

  1. Scientists from universities or NGO’s would usually show up in my office with a briefing binder as thick as a phone book. There would be a lot of charts, p-values, figures, and complicated concepts. Most didn’t talk to me, but at me. And the take home message would be different than that of the other scientists I met the previous hour on the same subject.
  2. Special interest groups were frequently very well organized. They spoke with a common theme and brought articulate speakers. Rather than stop in our office, they usually hosted large and well attended briefings, supplying easy to digest hardcover books with titles like ‘climate change conspiracy.’ Typically they were funny and made references to Michael Crichton’s science fiction. Perhaps most importantly, they provided a free boxed lunches and held long Q&As to engage the audience.

Both types introduced themselves as the “honest broker” of scientific information, but the latter often made the stronger impression with staffers. Now removed from the Hill for several years, this invitation recently landed in my inbox:

The Climategate Scandals: What Has Been Revealed And What Does It Mean?
Pat Michaels
Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies, Cato Institute
Joseph D’Aleo
Executive Director, ICECAP and Certified Consultant Meteorologist
Hosted by:
Ben Lieberman
Senior Policy Analyst
The Heritage Foundation
Myron Ebell
Director of Energy and Global Warming Policy
The Competitive Enterprise Institute

The scientific case for catastrophic global warming was already showing signs of weakening when the Climategate scientific fraud scandal broke in November of 2009.  This release of thousands of computer files and emails between leading global warming scientists showed evidence of data manipulation, flouting of freedom of information laws, and attempts to suppress publication of research that disagreed with the alarmist “consensus.”

Climategate has raised many questions about the reliability of key temperature records as well as the objectivity of the researchers and institutions involved, but it is far from the only global warming-related controversy.  It has been followed by revelations that some of the most attention-grabbing claims in the 2007 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report – the supposed gold standard of climate science – were simply made up.  Before laws regulating energy use are enacted that could well cost trillions of dollars, it is crucial to understand the extent to which the alleged scientific consensus supporting global warming alarmism has been discredited by these scandals.  Join us for a discussion featuring two scientists who have closely studied climategate.

Lunch will be provided

I’ve reposted the text because I don’t think most scientists understand the way policy decisions are influenced. We may have a more scientific Washington than when I worked in DC, but science and its allies must fight harder than ever before. Some groups are already effective. Some of us are trying new initiatives. I’m optimistic and realize that change happens slowly, but I hope those working in policy-related areas will take note and become more involved making sure that sound science moves beyond the lab. Because when we’re not explaining what we do and why it matters, someone else is telling the story for us. And we often won’t like the result.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics and Science

Comments (55)

  1. John

    Most of us don’t see these briefings and assume if we’re being funded, things are okay. Which they clearly are not.

  2. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Alarming. Have you seen any particularly well-run efforts to get good climate science to policymakers? I would’ve guessed that some of the enviro groups would have figured this out by now.

  3. Prof Mike

    Does it really matter what the politicians think? I don’t really care if they vote one way or the other, as long as I still get my grant money to study the issue.

  4. @2 Amos,
    There are a lot of efforts to improve science communication in policy and some scientists are great communicators. But I think a large part of the problem lies in the competitive nature of initiatives, particularly when it comes to funding. Everyone wants to carve out their niche so they do not share information and there are a lot of wasted resources and overlapping efforts with different messages–the result being, unfortunately, a lot of noise.

    @3 Prof Mike,
    Exactly. And policy suffers, along with all of us eventually.

  5. David


    Very well phrased. The only thing I think you left out is that the ones bringing the lunches for these talks are generally the more acceptable ones.

    A well-prepped, good speaker with a box lunch is pretty well remembered.

    The ones that fly them out to a retreat, vacation, golf outing, contribute to their campaigns, give their friends jobs, et cetera, are their real best friends.

    (I left out the even worse abuses to maintain at least a bit of dignity.)

    Unfortunately, there are very few politicians who even understand the issues. It goes way beyond just one point of debate such as global warming. It is pervasive. If you want someone who understands people, the politicians are the first place to look. If you want someone who understands science, they are the probably the last you would want to look.

    They have “proclaimed experts” on both sides of a debate that they really don’t even understand. They both come from prestigious groups. They both are telling them contradictory things. When it comes down to a vote on a topic, about the only thing that they have to go on is their political advisers who tell them at that particular vote, go with the one that will drive them down in the polls the least.

    If you want to gain mindshare in getting your agenda enacted, you have to do it through getting voters and not trying to convince politicians. The other side is doing it and they will win if you don’t get more voters on your side.

    The only real ways to get politicians attention is through big blocks of voters or lots of money.

  6. Are? I’m sorry to not be commenting on the content of the article but there is something about that “Is” in the title that is rubbing me the wrong way.

  7. Prof Mike

    @4 Sheril

    Who’s policy suffers? My policy is to get as much funding as possible to survive. We’re not all Michael Mann’s and Phil Jones with the publicity and money that comes with it.

    I’ve found that more controversy and more skeptics has made for more research money. If the public thought the science really was settled, why would they be paying for yet another study, another climate conference or another political body to manage the hype?

    Look what happened with the CFCs. There was plenty of research money for it until the politicians aligned and addressed it globally. The result was a decimation of those studying it as the issue faded from the public eye.

  8. @5 David
    I’d like to see some kind of effective science PAC like ocean champions emerge. And my name’s Sheril, not Chris.

    @6 Josh
    Reference to Bushism #3

  9. David

    Josh, it is a literary technique which makes a point through incorrect grammar.

  10. David


    Regarding my overlooking the byline: My mind was elsewhere, please accept my abject apologies.

    PAC’s are good for one topic but overall it is a general ignorance on the part of the politicians. As soon as someone makes a fuss that will politically embarrass them, they cower and vote to maintain their position regardless of right or wrong. They also all have to toe the party line. If you want a real voice you must get influence with *BOTH* parties, otherwise, you get treated as a partisan issue and it flip flops between whichever party is in power. Every election it is, “Two steps forward. Two steps back.”

    As long as science (in this context environmental science) is treated as a Democratic issue, it will be treated as a second rate issue. It is not in the other party’s platform. It will remain a partisan issue. The people you need to convert are on the other side of the aisle.

  11. Are? I’m sorry to not be commenting on the content of the article but there is something about that “Is” in the title that is rubbing me the wrong way.

    It’s a pretty clear reference to George Bush’s quote “Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?”.

  12. One new initiative that has been launched is the Project on Climate Science, a collaborative NGO effort to proactively defend and promote science.

  13. Nullius in Verba

    “I’ve reposted the text because I don’t think most scientists understand the way policy decisions are influenced.”

    AGW-supporting scientists know perfectly well. Stephen Schneider said it very clearly:

    On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

    But if it doesn’t…

  14. Gus Snarp

    @ProfMike – Are you in the least serious, or are you just trying to paint the picture of the scientist who only cares about money, you know the false stereotype that all sorts of anti-science types believe in.

  15. Gaythia

    If researchers care about money, they need to remember that federal funding depends on votes in Congress and how well that funding is allocated and administered by the Executive branch of the Federal government.

    How Congress votes and how the President acts depend on who gets elected. Thus it is very important to our democracy that we have an educated, informed populace. Over time, this can only be done by honest discussion of real issues. Unfortunately, in the current politically charged atmosphere, this means that a considerable amount of time has to be spent refuting spurious charges by wealthy special interests.

    It is not always true that science is a strictly partisan issue. The EPA was founded during the Nixon administration, with both the President’s support and that of Democratic Congressional leaders such as Senator Gaylord Nelson.

  16. John Mashey

    re: #13 Nullus

    1) “AGW supporting scientists” = credible scientists who actually do research in this topic.
    None of the 4 participants would fit that description.

    2) Scientists vary greatly in their willingness, interest, and skill in communicating to policy-makers and the general public. Stephen is at one extreme edge of that spectrum, and is hardly typical.

    3) Of the 4 people listed above,3l appeared in a recent report Crescendo to Climategate Cacophony I did on the machinery of climate anti-science, including funding paths, organizations, people, and tactics. Myron Ebell was especially involved in the 1998-2006 effort to manufacture the “hockey stick controversy”, leading to the Wegman Report, seemingly an organized effort to mislead Congress.

    Misleading Americans: usually no problem… people do it all the time. BUT:

    Misleading Congress, if proved: 18USC1001, felony up to 5 years.
    Misprision of felony (not reporting it): : 18USC4, up to 3 years
    Conspiracy to commit felony: 18USC371: up to 5 years.

    4) For amusement, one might examine this Google Maps display of the anti-science organizations, most of which claim to be educational, science oriented organizations and nonprofit 501(c)3’s. However, as one zooms in, one can see that many of them happen to be located within a block of Washington’s K Street…

    They know how to do this, are cleverly funded, well-located, and well-practiced, and hence are very effective, as Sheril’s article shows.

  17. SLC

    One of the problems here is there are very few scientists in the Congress. Most of the members are lawyers who know bubkis about science. In addition, especially on the Rethuglican side, those few with a scientific background are ignored.

    For instance, when the Democrats took over Congress in 2006, a joint task force on the problem of global warming was instituted. Two Rethuglican Congressmen with a science background, Vernon Ehlers of Michigan (physics) and Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland (physiology, chemistry) both applied for membership on the task force but were turned down by the then Rethuglican leader, Dennis Hastert on the grounds that they might be too friendly toward the AGW side of the discussion because of their background. Can’t have anyone who might know something involved after all!

  18. gillt

    How do we combat the distortions and lies from what landed in your inbox, Sheril? Try being more like special interest communication experts is not all that satisfactory.

  19. John Mashey


    Can you give a date and location for this event?

  20. David


    Science is not a partisan issue. The issues being discussed have been made into partisan issues. How do you expect, in this case of global warming, to get a political consensus when you have people forcing it to be divisive, much like SLC in this discussion trying to be cute calling the Republicans Rethuglicans?

    It is as ignorant and as inflaming as Fox News, Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin, but you give it a pass since they are on “your side.”

    That is precisely one of the big reasons why these issues do not get the bipartisan support that you would like to see them receive. They get swept up in the immature bickering.

  21. Nullius in Verba

    John Mashey,

    “credible scientists” = “scientists who believe as I do”.

    Many of the scientists you would consider credible, I wouldn’t, and vice versa. It’s called an ‘ad hominem’ argument, in which the truth is determined by looking at the person making the case, rather than the case itself. It’s also Argument from Authority – you believe because a credible scientist has told you to, and you know that they’re a credible scientist because he says things that you and people you respect as authorities believe.

    Rather than wasting a lot of time researching the funding and backgrounds of the scientists (and I note in passing that you seem to be very one-sided in your examination), you would have done better to research the science, how precisely does the evidence for AGW work, and is there any validity to the sceptics claims? Where, precisely, do they go wrong?

    For example, you suggest that the Hockeystick controversy was “manufactured”. Can you then explain the mathematical justification for the short-centred PCA that Mann used? Because as far as I can see, the maths is simply wrong, you have to centre on all the data, and no amount of ad hominem smokescreen about the people pointing it out is going to obscure that.

    Consider it a challenge, if you like. What is the reason (besides that it preferentially extracts any Hockeystick shapes) for the use of short-centering in Mann’s PCA? Can you refute my technical argument with some proper mathematics, as opposed to raising ad hominems? “It won’t be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically”, as they say.

    I was interested to see your information on the penalties for misleading Congress. Mann said in his evidence to the NAS panel, when asked whether he calculated the R2 statistic: “We didn’t calculate it. That would be silly and incorrect reasoning.” However, we know that he did, because it’s there in his computer code, and he even said he had in one of his previous papers, although without quoting the full results. The reason it’s relevant is that his reconstruction failed on the R2 statistic, indicating that the regression was spurious, and Mann almost certainly knew it before publishing.

    The failure was quietly acknowledged in the post-deadline Amman and Wahl paper. (You may recall, Amman and Wahl replicated Mann’s Hockeystick study to prove McIntyre wrong. McIntyre as a reviewer told them to report the R2 statistic, Amman and Wahl refused, the journal insisted, and the paper was held up for years. But since the IPCC desperately needed it to refute McIntyre’s and McKittrick’s demonstration of its flaws, they persuaded Schneider to provisionally accept it, so they could get it into the IPCC review through the back door without the R2 statistic, and then after the IPCC had met, Wahl and Amman put the failed R2 statistics in an appendix and published it.) So that’s one provable example of misleading Congress on a material issue.

    We know now from Climategate that Mann knew the numbers were bad. Here’s what he wrote to Tim Osborn, when passing along some of the results that McIntyre had been asking for. (When he speaks of “redness”, that means the difference between data and the fitted curve has more variance at low frequencies than high. That’s universally seen as a sign that the model is mis-specified.)

    “Attached are the calibration residual series for experiments based on available networks back to: AD 1000, AD 1400, AD 1600. I can’t find the one for the network back to 1820! But basically, you’ll see that the residuals are pretty red for the first 2 cases, and then not significantly red for the 3rd case–its even a bit better for the AD 1700 and 1820 cases, but I can’t seem to dig them up. In any case, the incremental changes are modest after 1600–its pretty clear that key predictors drop out before AD 1600, hence the redness of the residuals, and the notably larger uncertainties farther back… You only want to look at the first column (year) and second column (residual) of the files. I can’t even remember what the other columns are! mike

    p.s. I know I probably don’t need to mention this, but just to insure absolutely clarify on this, I’m providing these for your own personal use, since you’re a trusted colleague. So please don’t pass this along to others without checking w/ me first. This is the sort of “dirty laundry” one doesn’t want to fall into the hands of those who might potentially try to distort things…”

    Or the hands of law enforcement?

    I notice, incidentally, that you didn’t say Schneider was wrong.

  22. Karl Magnacca

    “I’ve reposted the text because I don’t think most scientists understand the way policy decisions are influenced.”

    As a biologist, I can assure you that most scientists know full well how policy decisions are influenced – by presentations from groups like the Cato Institute and AEI that cut to the point, are authentic-sounding, and completely false. I have yet to hear a solution. What’s yours, Sheril? That scientists should lie and obfuscate as much as corporate hacks? Sorry, but I’m not willing to sell my soul, even to save the earth. It goes against the whole principle of being a scientist, for crying out loud.

  23. Karl Magnacca

    David said @21: “Science is not a partisan issue. The issues being discussed have been made into partisan issues. How do you expect, in this case of global warming, to get a political consensus when you have people forcing it to be divisive, much like SLC in this discussion trying to be cute calling the Republicans Rethuglicans?”

    It was made into a partisan issue BY Republicans. It’s forced to be divisive when Republicans IGNORE THE SCIENCE. It’s funny to look back and remember that the Endangered Species Act was signed by Nixon. Now *every* environmental protection measure is virtually unanimously opposed by them, regardless of the science. Under Bush the people put in charge of environmental protection were not merely conservatives, but actual polluting-industry executives, and many of them have now “burrowed in” as civil service employees. Go read up on Julie MacDonald, a lawyer who was place in the Fish & Wildlife Service specifically to override the judgement of science panels (including one that I was involved with). With that kind of record, what kind of do you expect???

  24. @20. John Mashey

    Can you give a date and location for this event?

    It took place yesterday. James posted the details.

    @23 Karl Magnacca

    Sorry, but I’m not willing to sell my soul, even to save the earth. It goes against the whole principle of being a scientist, for crying out loud.

    Huh? How about if more of us with a science background engage in politics or run for office? How about a change in curriculum to prepare more of tomorrow’s leaders in science with the skill set to be public speakers and writers as well. There are plenty of solutions that combined, will serve to improve the state of things.

  25. David

    Karl Magnacca:

    No, they are not ignoring THE SCIENCE. They are ignoring the issues which are based on scientific research that you want them to act on. Those are two different things. The issues that you want them to act on are not the entirety of science. Drop two politicians off a building, which one will hit the ground first, the Republican or Democrat? Sounds pretty non-partisan to me.

    Many of the “Polluting industry executives” that are “burrowed in” are people that had backgrounds in science and only went into the polluting industries because, with a science degree, you have basically 3 choices to get a job: Academia, Government, and Polluting Industries. Look around, you will find people with “Polluting Industry Backgrounds” in Academia, and even environmental organizations as well. I was stupid and had a job in one of those polluting industries as well. One of the most miserable experiences of my life.

    Both sides partake in the bickering. As long as you get sucked into the partisan nastiness, you are doomed to not have any voice when the other party is in power. BOTH sides are wrong in that.

  26. I have yet to hear a solution. What’s yours, Sheril? That scientists should lie and obfuscate as much as corporate hacks?

    You could make a start by not getting overly defensive and reading what she actually wrote instead of substituting your own interpretation for it.

    Scientists from universities or NGO’s would usually show up in my office with a briefing binder as thick as a phone book. There would be a lot of charts, p-values, figures, and complicated concepts. Most didn’t talk to me, but at me

    Your reaction is a perfect example of that last observation. Scientists need to learn how to present complicated concepts to a lay audience and that starts by finding out what the audience’s concerns and level of understanding are. If that is what you consider selling your soul, maybe you could at least refrain from making the rest of us look like arrogant asses.

  27. David

    Karl Magnacca @ 23:

    [regarding getting different view points out] “I have yet to hear a solution”

    Here is one for you: You want to get the other side involved, you have to get out there and educate the other side. Just like the people you are opposed to are doing.

    If you think you can just wave a scientific paper in their face and say, “SEE? Do what I am telling you to do!” you will have a problem. You just want to bully or scare them into submission. You may need to work with people you may disagree with on other issues. You will not convince the Republicans that it is a non-partisan issue as long as you only work with the Democrats. If it is a non-partisan issue, you will only succeed if you are non-partisan in your discussion.

  28. Nullius in Verba

    “I have yet to hear a solution.”

    The one I suggested some time ago was to improve science education to avoid the use of argument from scientific authority, and teach the general public how the scientific method works.

    The problem is the perception that most of the public are too dumb to understand proper science, so educators have taken to simplifying complex ideas to the point of incoherency and then relying on their authority as ‘the voice of science’ to push it through. But as authority is an anti-scientific political method, it’s vulnerable to a political counter. Somebody simply has to simplify slightly less, and thereby don a mantle of even greater authority. And because people only have a vague, over-simplified idea of what it’s all about, they have no way of verifying which of you is telling the truth. So they go with whatever heuristics they’ve got.

    There is no way to teach science except to teach science.

    It’s not about better spin and presentation. It’s not about running for public office, either. Those are using political tools again. The strongest weapon you have for locating the truth is the scientific method. Why do you persist in messing about with those shoddy political tools when you have such a force in your arsenal? The answer is simple – teach (and then use) the scientific method.

  29. SLC

    Re David @ #21 @ #26

    Mr. Magnacca at #24 I think stated it well. The Rethuglican Party that existed in the 1960s and early 1970s no longer exists. At that time, one could find conservatives who were also environmentalists, e.g. James Buckley, James J. Kilpatrick, and, to some extent, Barry Goldwater. Unfortunately, that is no longer true, as my example of what happened to 2 Rethuglican Congressman with scientific backgrounds who asked to join a joint task force on climate change shows.

    The Rethuglican party was hijacked by religious conservatives in the 1980s, whose attitude toward science is that any science that in any way, shape, form, or regard disagrees with their interpretation of scriptures is wrong.

  30. Jon

    Somewhat related, check out Bruce Barlett’s Forbes piece about think tanks and his fellow movement conservative outcast David Frum:

  31. David


    Regardless of the history of the Republican party, the current composition is the one you have to deal with. Wistfully remembering the halcyon days when the party dealt with issues in the way you liked is a waste of time.

    Want to change the composition and platform of the Republican party? Join it.

    Just being an outsider complaining about it is pointless.

  32. David

    Jon @ 31:

    Good find and interesting article. A really good breakdown on how the think-tanks work for better or worse.

  33. “Is Our Scientists Learning?”

    No. Them Two Stoopid………..they are mostly post modern gibberish shoveling buffoons who add ‘science-like’ talking points to pre-paid political agendas. The real question should be: Is Our Politicians Learning? After all, they are the ones who bought the ‘science’ in the first place……

    You can tell that Hank got what he paid for. Scary stuff that island capsizing problem. We should probably research ways to stop Anthropogenic Island Capsize-ation . All peer reviewed scientists who study it say it’s real, and an imminent threat!!! It’s worse than we thought!!!!!

    ……meanwhile, our intrepid post-modern Keystone Klimate ‘scientists’ at NCAR are busy looking for “missing” heat. The models say it is here somewhere, so it must be hiding somewhere they thinks. A sort of boogey heat……..when we least expect it, it will jump out and fry us like a pork rind!!!! Scary stuff……like Godzilla scary!!!!!

    I imagine spooky climate conferences held in big dark tents —–each ‘scientist’ grabs the flashlight in-turn, holds it under his chin, and in hushed tones, tells his scary global warming story —– in a lab coated, Blair witchy sort of way. Lots of crying. Lots of screaming. Lots of stumbling in the dark.……and the Big Media are all there to Tweet the new, “breaking science” to the dumb-ass’s in fly over country.

    Pass the Kool-Aide the other way please.

  34. David

    Hunter Cutting @ 12:

    Definitely a prettier website that the competitors but it doesn’t do much other than provide links to the same stories carried elsewhere. The bottom line is that these same stories have not done much to capture the hearts and minds of the people that disagree. It just presents the same information to people that already have decided in their favor.

    What does that gain?

    It is pretty much just preaching to the choir.

    I will be impressed when someone sits down and develops a program that will win over the other side.

  35. The return on investment in Congress is astonishing.
    Look how little it has cost to obtain 20 years (and counting) of delay in health regulation for the formaldehyde industry.
    The names Inhofe and Koch will be familiar

    Note the Zeno’s Paradox approach is alive and well. You can never get absolute certainty.
    And that’s what they say they want.
    Spokesman for one of the delayers: “… we need to get absolutely reliable information to the public about formaldehyde risk as soon as possible.” — so they’ve managed to put the regulation off again, at least until after, oh, how about after the midterm elections? Yeah, that makes sense.

  36. SLC

    Re David @ #32

    Want to change the composition and platform of the Republican party? Join it.

    Want to change the composition and platform of the KKK? Join it.

  37. David


    “Want to change the composition and platform of the KKK? Join it.”

    I do not want to put any words in your mouth.

    Which are you inferring?

    That you have the right to set the platform for all political parties, and no political parties except your own have a right to exist and as such have the same political standing as a hate group?

    That the Republicans are as bad as the KKK?

    Please be specific so I can answer appropriately.

  38. Marion Delgado

    I’ve decided Poison Ivy and Dr. Freeze were the real heroes, and Batman was just a henchman for the powers-that-be.

  39. Nullius in Verba

    “I’ve decided Poison Ivy and Dr. Freeze were the real heroes”

    And I guess Hugo Drax, in the film version?

  40. David

    Nullius and Marion:

    The original characters were too tragic and locked into such a never ending battle outside reality for any to be heroes. The television series with the guest appearance actors was able to add that tongue in cheek humanity to all the villains that gave batman the appearance of the heroic.

  41. SLC

    Re David @ #38

    The point of my comment was that Mr. Davids’ advice to join the Rethuglican party in order to change its position is seriously in error and is no different then suggesting that people join the KKK in order to change its positions. The way to change the positions of the Rethuglican Party is to see that they keep losing elections so that, eventually, either the party goes out of business and is replaced by a real conservative party or the sane people give the nutcases the boot and restore the party to what it was in the 1950s and 1960s. There is precedence for this; the Whig Party went out of business in the 1850s and was replaced by the Rethuglican Party. The current Rethuglican Party is the party of the insane, given that its spokespersons consist of whackjobs like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, et al.

  42. David


    I will grant you that your statement comparing a hate group to a legal political party was hyperbole trying to make a point.

    My point was not that you should join the Republican party. My point is that it is pointless to try to change the platform and composition of a group of people that you are not part of.

    Quite bluntly, they have not outlawed stupidity.

    I am not a fan of the current Republican party either. I don’t sit around unhappy that that group does not do as I wish. I also do not agree with the platform and composition of the Democratic party either. I am not bashing them either. It is pointless.

    As I said before: A long as you keep making it a partisan issue, you will always lose out when your party is not in power.

    Republicans, Democrats, and every other party you can name, has to live on this planet. If you want to effect change, you will have to teach them why they need to fix things instead of just trying to eradicate them. That has been tried before and we have had several wars to get that point cleared up.

  43. John Mashey

    re: #25 Sheril

  44. Marion Delgado

    One of the reasons the environmental movement is not the agency getting the good info out is that they have less funds, of course. And getting more funds has strings attached.

    But there’s a more serious reason. Whenever one of these entirely false shill groups presents something, it’s TYPICAL for people promoting the science to say “of course, Greenpeace, etc. etc. are just as bad (say, because they occupied an oil rig 15 years ago).” In other words, to bash the environmental movement, highlight groups like Earth First! etc. to SHOW HOW BALANCED YOU ARE. The media demands that, but you don’t have to supply it.

    Chris Mooney did have the courage to say, in the Bush years, that it was largely a Republican War on Science (I would add that Libertarians represent richer people than average and have influence ideologically out of proportion to their membership, and they’re at war with most science, just not all of it). Right now, what’s the situation? On two issues – whether there’s a connection between vaccines and childhood diseases like autism, and on the issue of whether animal testing is effective, there are more so-called left of center people staged against genuine science than right-of-center. On basically all other issues, it’s a right-wing war on science, still. There’s no balance, and when you pretend there IS you get disgusting spectacles like Dr. Judith Curry elevating a mining geologist with a BS in Math to his credit over Phil Jones at CRU. Moreover, there’s at least as much anti-science from the market fundamentalists as there is from the Christian, Moslem, etc. fundamentalists and the whole New Age movement combined.

    A huge part of the science community supports things like the Breakthrough Institute with its obvious shilling for the same corporate institutions that Cato, Heritage and CEI represent and its vicious and unfounded attacks on the environmental organizations. Did it escape people’s attention that they were pushing the Freakonomics non-scientists’ denialism?

    In general, in fact, the dominance by ant-science shills like Michael Shermer, that Chris here touts, means you’re not going to get much help from the environmental community presenting science.

    At some point, you’re simply going to have to choose between worshipping at the market fundamentalist churches and science. Science had to work around the divine right of kings, the superiority of your own nation, the primacy of the dominant church, etc. Now, it’s having to work around a closed-loop pseudoscience that tells the people who have the money and power in various societies that Nature and Science got them there and keep them there. What’s the scientific forecast there?? How likely is a system of thought like that to dissolve from within the system?

    I’ll let Michael Shermer, Monsanto shill, on John Stossel’s show, have the last word about a skeptic’s attitude to whether there are any environmental problems, ever, under our benevolent, magical, all-powerful, all-benificent, all-knowing Market God:


    The fear is there because if your goal is to raise funds, you have to scare people. You can’t tell people things are getting better and here’s the data. You have to tell people things are worse, you have to scare people.

  45. David

    Marion Delgado:

    But where the environmental advocacy groups trip over themselves is when they use half truths to make their points. It makes them vulnerable to attack. The scare tactics that are not totally true make them lose credibility when they get debunked.


    The idea of the Republicans waging a War on Science.

    That is a half truth. The Republicans want to spend a lot of money on science. It is just not in the areas that you want them to. You don’t think Monsanto has a huge number of scientists working for them? They spend huge amounts of money for pharmacology research, weapons research, oil and gas development, coal development, civil engineering research, and many more areas. These are science as well. Just not the science that you want them to spend money on.

    The Republicans and the Libertarians are rich and outspend getting the word out. Another half truth. The Democratic party has a huge number of the rich as well. They have just made a pretty good PR campaign convincing people that they are the “anti-elitists”. They have their own private jets and trust funds to play with as well.

    You have to educate the people and not talk down to or try to bring out bogey men to haunt their dreams.

  46. GM

    25. Sheril Kirshenbaum Says:
    April 17th, 2010 at 8:38 am
    Huh? How about if more of us with a science background engage in politics or run for office? How about a change in curriculum to prepare more of tomorrow’s leaders in science with the skill set to be public speakers and writers as well. There are plenty of solutions that combined, will serve to improve the state of things.

    See, when you suggest a solution to a problem, it is usually useful to ask the following questions:

    1. How much time do we have to solve the problem?
    2. How much time until the proposed solution has the desired effect?
    (3. Is the proposed solution implementable and is it going to have an effect?)

    If we are talking about global warming, the answer to the first question is probably a decade, two at most.

    The answer to the second question if we take your proposed solution is many many decades. So we have a problem here.

    And not only is your “solution” not matching the timescale required, question #3 can not even be answer positively in this case. How exactly are scientists going to run for office if nobody is going to vote for them? They can still run, but if the majority of the population has a deeply rooted mistrust for scientists, very few if any will ever get elected. The same goes for the scientists-communicators – you aren’t going to reach the 50% fundies in this country no matter how good communicator of science you are because they aren’t going to listen at all. And once you look a little bit broader then the US (after you realize that these are global issues and not to be solved in the US only) you would see that it is even worse in about half of the globe.

    Of course, once you actually look a little bit in depth at the issues, you realize that AGW is only a part of the sustainability problem, and that the sustainability problem as a whole can not be solved within the framework of the current sociopolitical system, dominant world view and set of values, so it will take a complete and radical reform in all of those to actually do something about it. Which I have no illusion that it’s going to happen, but at least we shouldn’t fool ourselves.

  47. See, when you suggest a solution to a problem, it is usually useful to ask the following questions:

    Maybe you should ask yourself why your arguments always lead to the conclusion that we shouldn’t bother doing anything at all, and why you feel the need to scold anyone who thinks otherwise.

  48. GM

    48. Jinchi Says:
    April 19th, 2010 at 7:45 am
    See, when you suggest a solution to a problem, it is usually useful to ask the following questions:
    Maybe you should ask yourself why your arguments always lead to the conclusion that we shouldn’t bother doing anything at all, and why you feel the need to scold anyone who thinks otherwise.

    I always reach this conclusion because that’s what the data says. Wishful thinking can not change the data

  49. I always reach this conclusion because that’s what the data says.

    No, it’s not what the data says. It’s what your gut says. They’re different.

  50. David


    RE 51,52,53:

    Help me out with this, I am really confused.

    Someone else has an opinion blog and they are blasting you, saying that you don’t have any business posting your opinion in your own blog?

    From what I read of his blog, I really wouldn’t worry about it. His blogging style appears to the be the liberal version of the worst of the conservative talk show hosts. I can see why he blogs anonymously.

  51. I was fortunate enough to recently attend the Communicating Science Workshop sponsored by Stony Brook University Center and Brookhaven National Laboratory where Alan Alda gave the keynote address. I came away from this workshop with many valuable tips and tricks to be a better science communicator and I will use this blog post to share these gems with you. See:

    Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences
    Selden, NY
    Global Warming: Man or Myth?
    My Global Warming Blog
    Twitter @AGW_Prof
    “Global Warming Fact of the Day” Facebook Group


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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.comFor more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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