"Will You Shut Up Just a Second?" "Will You Stop Shouting?": Hard Lessons in Science Communication

By Chris Mooney | August 18, 2010 10:53 am

The Scripps “Communication Week” continued yesterday with a screening of Randy Olson’s Sizzle (my review here) and a discussion between Randy and myself about the pitfalls of climate science communication.

There was much focus on “ClimateGate,” and vigorous agreement about the unfortunate but also undeniable effectiveness of climate skepticism howitzer Marc Morano. On that front, Randy cited a BBC clip featuring Morano that I’d never seen before, but that truly makes the point.

In the interview, Morano successfully baits a British scientist, Andrew Watson, into making a fundamental media mistake–getting angry. Over the course of the 6 minute debate (it starts at about minute 3:20 in the video below), Watson grows increasingly annoyed with Morano–rolling his eyes, saying things like, “Will you shut up just a second?” and “Will you stop shouting?”

And then something happens at the very end that is, well, pretty stunning. I won’t spoil the surprise, so watch the video:

For the most part, when talking about science communication I like to stay positive and highlight examples of things that are successful–examples like that Phil Plait clip. But sometimes, it is also important to highlight the unsuccessful–and this is a very clear example of it.

At Scripps, Randy pointed out that Morano has since been able to use this BBC episode to his advantage. And thus he scores twice: 1) he wins the live TV “debate”; 2) he gets an outrageous quote that he can use to reinforce his attacks on those nasty climate scientists, and to paint “skeptics” like himself as the victim.

At first, your gut instinct may be to get ticked off about Morano and what he says. But I think it’s ultimately wiser to try to understand how he works, and why he succeeds.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: science communication

Comments (57)

  1. David

    This is really an example of the whole problem with the media in general. All discussion has devolved into a battle of who can put out the slickest spokesman, who can shout the loudest, and who can get in the best sound bite. Watson certainly wasn’t up to the task of a no holds barred “American TV” type interview.

    I would hope that this type of interview and debate would die off here in the US and abroad but I am not too optimistic. Something intelligent and thoughtful just doesn’t get the ratings up for the media.


  2. Count Nukem

    David #1:” I would hope that this type of interview and debate would die off here in the US and abroad but I am not too optimistic. Something intelligent and thoughtful just doesn’t get the ratings up for the media.”

    Hmm….Anyone would certainly expect someone like Watson to be intelligent and thoughtful. If he failed the common expectations and disgraced himself should we blame the media?

    I think the contrary: as media’s job is to show us the truth, something which we do not know, so the interview is good because it exposes something unexpected. Who would expect indecency from a top British scientist? But now we see him in action and after that we know from what stuff those top scientists are made.

  3. TinyCO2

    Mark Morano may be the trigger that starts a person looking sceptically at climate science but he certainly doesn’t sustain it. If he didn’t exist sceptics would still emerge. For me the turning points from casual believer to angry sceptic were Al Gore’s movie, Prince Charles’ hypocrisy and the black and white picture the media bombarded us with.

    Mark Morano is too much the politician for me to take him seriously. Fortunately there are plenty of earnest intelligent sceptics out there for me to listen to. Perhaps if you started listening to them you might come up with a way of counteracting their influence? Of course what they ask for is the raw truth and not something that has been sexed up to persuade a wayward public. Hmmm, tricky.

  4. Have a glance at the video to see the FUTILITY of MAN-MADE CLIMATE CONTROL

  5. So what does a scientist do? Morano will continue to lie and distort AND play the victim from those big bad scientists who insist on honesty. Since giving facts and getting angry don’t seem to work, what does?

    So much of the debate about science communication has focused on “how scientists can better communicate.” Clearly many (most? all?) scientists could use some media training. But it isn’t so much that scientists can’t communicate as it is they can’t effectively counter the lies and distortions of those like Morano who are intentionally being deceitful.

    I’m looking for tips, here! Thanks

  6. Idlewilde

    Even if the climate isn’t changing, cleaner cars, re-usable bags, and alternative energy are still a better way to go. We should be moving toward a less wasteful future, and fossil fuels aren’t going to last foreever. In my mind, the climate debate is secondary to changing our lifestyles.

  7. V.O.R.

    “But now we see him in action and after that we know from what stuff those top scientists are made.”

    You tell everybody. Listen to me, Hatcher. You’ve gotta tell them! Scientists are people!

  8. Schiller Thurkettle

    For believers in AGW, the topic is highly emotional. Prof. Watson was merely behaving like his peers, which makes this video quite unexceptional.

  9. Tom Fuller

    Mr. Mooney, you are the media. You are communicating in the medium of choice for exchange of information on this issue. Do you take your own advice? Are you setting an example for others to follow?

    Are you talking about the science or the media? Which should you be discussing?

    Do you recognize that there is a debate worth having, even if we have seen very few examples of it to date? Morano vs. Watson is unedifying–Lindzen had a good discussion with a Canadian climatologist last year that was civil and informative. Why aren’t you discussing that?

    Have you chosen–and carefully vetted–your trusted sources? Are you open to new sources and new information that doesn’t dovetail with what you’ve heard to date?

    I’m not a skeptic–although I routinely get labeled as such by Joe Romm and his ilk. I’m concerned that many journalists get embedded within a worldview, especially on this issue, and pretty much take on an impermeable black and white vision of climate change that has a lot more grey in it than some will ever be willing to admit.

  10. For me the turning points from casual believer to angry sceptic were Al Gore’s movie, Prince Charles’ hypocrisy and the black and white picture the media bombarded us with.

    So you were convinced by your political ideology, not by any scientific evidence. That’s pretty much par for the course with most climate skeptics.

  11. William Furr

    Could you please ruin the surprise for me so I don’t have to sit through that hellish interview?

  12. Andrew Watson got what he deserved – he was being a pr*ck.

    In science, skepticism isn’t or shouldn’t be a crime.

  13. Tom

    Morano for the most part just runs a new aggregate. Much like matt drudge the left wing hates him because he effects their control of information. They would much rather the public have to wade through Google searches than have all news that supports the skeptics point of view right at their finger tips.

    It has nothing to do with him being a political bomb thrower. It is entirely about the inherent leftwing desire to control all information.

  14. Doug from Dougland

    Count Nukem,

    So top scientists get angry when arguing with people who refuse to argue with them in favor only of talking louder and restating the same position over and over? In other words, top scientists are human beings?!?!?!?!?! What?!?!?! Hold the presses! Next thing they’ll tell me is the sky is blue……

    Perhaps, and this is just a thought put forward by the scientist from the video, it’s because there aren’t legitimate arguments against AGW that haven’t been debunked, so the opposition has to go for ad hominem. Here’s a link that could help anyone who doesn’t believe in massive world-spanning scientific conspiracies intent on…. doing…. something… Something that certainly has everything to do with global warming.


  15. All discussion has devolved into a battle of who can put out the slickest spokesman, who can shout the loudest, and who can get in the best sound bite.

    Which is exactly the point. This is what you need to win in broadcast media. Print is different, but in broadcast, how you say something matters arguably more than what you say. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but that is how it works and it’s something that scientists and skeptics are going to need to cope with if they are to successfully engage with their detractors on national broadcast media.

    In the clip, Morano comes off as an ass, especially by laughing in the middle of Watson’s bits. Watson really ought to have had the upper hand but he utterly loses it by getting angry and being too slow. Neither of the men do well out of this but while Morano looks like an ass, Watson looks weak. And in terms of getting the general population to listen to your message, the latter is far worse.

  16. David

    Count Nukem:

    Yes, we should blame the media. The people that orchestrated that interview knew their guests. They chose not to create an environment for a civil discussion and sure enough, they got what they wanted. This particular segment was doomed from the start. They just pushed a pretty milquetoast academic in the ring with Morano sat back and counted punches and looked the other way when Watson was on the floor. It would have been much like me walking into the ring with George Foreman. I wouldn’t have stood a chance either.

    Almost the entirety of the media has been lowered to the common denominator of this kind of free for all garbage. Any real discussion is pretty much impossible to find. It doesn’t get ratings. It is not about anything being truthful or accurate, they want to just sit around scoring how many punches landed. That way they don’t have to actually check the facts that either side is putting out and just let whoever gets the most hits in be declared the winner. The news has become a spectator sport.

    What? Are we going to decide science by whoever makes the slickest presentation or scores the most points . I can see it now, “Jones vs. McIntyre: Two men go into the Thunderdome, only one leaves.”

    Is that how science should be decided?

  17. Sean2829

    The premise of the debate set up by BBC is the problem. They took a legitimate British climate scientist and set him against a political hack in Mark Morano. I’m sure it was intended as an asymetric battle where the really smart guy Watson was supposed to wipe the floor with the political hack. It was simply asymetric warfare and I’m sure the BBC knew who would win. The participants were mere actors to lend support to the conclusion that the BBC wanted to present. Unfortunately, Morano knew how to work the limited camera time frame and how to get under Watson’s skin which he did quite skillfully. No one remembers any technical details now but they do remember the petty put downs. Nothing was accomplished. The BBC should have had a scientist like Mike Hulme, Lindzen from MIT or Fred Singer on to argue the skeptic side. The piece would have been arguments over the science (and I’ve seen Fred Singer in one of the on the BBC). There also would have been some enlightenment. So just as good scientists uses data for enlightenment rather than support (as opposed to the way a drunk uses a lampost) the BBC needs to set up honest debates between competent individuals to enlighten its audiences as well.

  18. Nullius in Verba

    Morano wasn’t baiting him, just using a fairly standard interview technique for handling a rigged interview. The interviewer kept interrupting him before he had finished his question or his point, didn’t pass across the more significant questions, and allowed Watson to make several incorrect or ridiculous statements without challenge or allowing Morano to challenge. Morano responded by simply insisting on finishing the question, and interjecting noises to signal the contentious statements that he wasn’t being allowed to respond to. You’ll often see politicians doing it when facing a hostile interview, although they’re usually smoother.

    Watson makes the mistake of mildly insulting Morano early on (our excited colleague in the States being way over the top) says sceptics can’t attack the science (incorrectly) so resort to character assassination (also incorrect). Morano starts trying to answer that but is interrupted and asked a question about the Climate Secretary before he can say more than a few words. Watson then interupts the start of Morano’s reply with an “Of course it doesn’t”.

    Morano isn’t about to get diverted, and repeats his main question from earlier that was ignored. Before he finishes he gets interrupted by the interviewer again. So Morano carries on talking to finish the point.

    At this point Watson comes out with the “Will you stop shouting?” comment, just after Morano has finished. Presumably this determination to finish the point is the “baiting” of Watson, but I don’t think it was directed at him or intended to have that effect.

    Watson answers the question with nothing more substantive than an “I don’t agree”, so Morano starts to move on to his next point. It didn’t seem to me any more than the usual false start in a normal conversation, but evidently it annoys Watson who had more to say so we get the “will you shut up a second?” comment. Then Watson repeats his point about character assassination and the interviewer moves things on.

    The next question is about Copenhagen, but the interviewer interupts Morano’s answer again to interject an irrelevant point about Obama attending. Morano deals with that and carries on, before being interupted once again by the interviewer.

    It’s at around 9.02 that you get to see Watson rolling his eyes. This is a professor?! He then repeats his point about character assassination, accuses “our colleague in America” of obscuring the important issue which is that the world has warmed over the past hundred years. Morano tries to answer but gets cut off by the interviewer.

    So Watson gets the first word and the last word, dodges most of awkward questions, is allowed to make his contentious assertions unchallenged, and generally without interruptions from the interviewer. Morano gets constantly interrupted and diverted, and is insulted on at least three occasions by Watson before that final absolute classic.

    Morano’s technique was crude but workmanlike, and reasonably effective. However, he was playing on the opposition’s home turf with the referee against him. But even with all the advantages – of reputation, of manner (Morano’s American brashness does grate on English nerves), of trying to convey an incredibly complex subject succinctly, of the BBC interviewer’s favour – Watson apparently couldn’t stand it that Morano was allowed to put up any defence at all, and so “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” with his childish display that proved to be a spectacular own goal.

    Yes, Morano’s performance is a study in interview technique. Not the best, and not entirely successful, but in some ways that makes it easier to see what he’s doing. But Watson’s performance goes beyond bad technique out into the domain of plain stupidity. You don’t require any media training to know that the things he did were a catastrophically bad idea. That much is just common sense.

    You never, ever say anything or do anything in front of live cameras or microphones that you don’t want seen or heard. You don’t throw away your strongest advantages. You don’t pick on the personal characteristics of an opponent. You avoid as much as possible being directly insulting or contemptuous – it’s extremely unpersuasive.

    They did at least go in with a point to make, and stick to it. Watson went in with “it’s all character assassination” and Morano with “UN scientists themselves are criticising it”. That’s an important rule. But generally speaking, it was a shabby performance all round.

  19. well, in the context of the news program, morano fails miserably, since that audience is comprised of rational people who are aware of the context in which the quotes were made and who rely on critical thinking to make their conclusions.

    however, in the USA, where (unlike the UK), there is a STRONG anti-education bias, he fails because he indulges himself in being a human reacting to a man who has already decided to attack him and anything / everything he says. this is just another example of the curious dichotomy that exists in the USA: scientists are criticized for expressing any emotions, but are criticized for not feeling enough emotions (or for not feeling “appropriate” emotions — meaning religious feelings).

  20. It’s amazing. Anyone who is a proponent of industrial release of CO2 causing warming invariably concludes that – somehow, even though wrong and misinformed – Morano wins the debate.

    This can best be explained by taking the time to understand a bit about climate. See, for example, the climate tutorial (a “google document”) written by your humble correspondent at:


    Be sure you read it carefully. There’ll be a quiz.

  21. Tom Fuller

    denis at #20,

    1. I do not favor industrial release of CO2.
    2. I believe Morano won that debate–primarily because he understood the medium far better than his opponent–and quite possibly the moderator.

  22. GM

    5. David Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 1:11 pm
    So what does a scientist do? Morano will continue to lie and distort AND play the victim from those big bad scientists who insist on honesty. Since giving facts and getting angry don’t seem to work, what does?
    So much of the debate about science communication has focused on “how scientists can better communicate.” Clearly many (most? all?) scientists could use some media training. But it isn’t so much that scientists can’t communicate as it is they can’t effectively counter the lies and distortions of those like Morano who are intentionally being deceitful.

    Exactly. The only thing that scientists haven’t tried is applying the other side’s dishonest tactics, and I am sure we can all agree that we don’t want to go there. But in a fight where one side has to adhere to some rules while the other is allowed to use every dirty trick available to them, the odds will always be skewed.

    In fact, in this interview, Watson does something that every scientist should be doing when debating a representative of the anti-science crowd, and exposes the tactics used, repeatedly pointing out that the denialists are using character assassination techniques to advance their agenda. However even those words have too many syllables for your average TV viewers, and the very rules of having a proper discussion are so foreign to them, that it backfires.

    There is simply no solution to the problem as long as there is media run by journalists on which we rely to properly inform the public about science and media is commercialized and for profit. Both things have to change – it is clear that commercial media will always cater to the lowest common denominator, that’s what the market dictates, but even in a supposedly more serious media like BBC, the education level of the journalists is so low that we end up with one scientific communication disaster after another.

    So basically, if we are to have serious and visible to the public discussion of scientific issues (and really, every important issue, the problem isn’t exclusive to science), we need to disband the commercial media and have the scientists, and not the journalists, report to the public directly. Not going to happen of course, but unless we have the problem clearly stated (and no, it is not scientists being unable to properly advertise their positions in the media, it is the media being set up in such a way that the only thing it does is serve as a catalyst for the conversion of dumb people into even dumber people as opposed to a way of communicating things to the public in a serious and informed manner) we will keep fooling ourselves about what can be done to change things.

  23. Anthony McCarthy

    Science is all about presenting the best evidence, the media is all about coming out ahead, politics is about who wins and gets to make law and policies. You can have all of those motives towards the same end but if you’re going into the media sewer in order to win in politics you’d better go into it knowing what you’re doing.

    Standing on principle is just fine but winning in politics often has little to do with standing on it instead of pushing it ahead.

  24. Yeah, um… ok. I need to take deep breaths and then write about this myself. but in short, blaming the media is not productive. I show videos like this all the time when I do media trainings for my clients. (I also show videos of people testifying before congressional committees getting absolutely destroyed by members of congress.)

    I have to chuckle at all the PR experts here. Just a question – how many of the folks on this thread have a background or substantial experience in communications or PR?

    Not trying to call out anyone specifically, but I find it odd that this really is a discussion about public relations and there don’t seem to be any PR professionals here. (it actually is a profession, you know.) Arguably Chris has some experience here but I’m not sure he considers himself a PR guy.

  25. frank verismo

    Excellent analysis, Nullius.

    At the heart of which is the reason I threw out my tv set some 4 years ago. It’s simply not possible to hold any kind of useful micro-debate of this kind, given the way in which tv news operates now.

    It seems it does take an academic to remind us how groomed and tv-savvy most other talking heads we witness now are. Given the depth of perception most of the above posters show, it leaves me wondering: why do you bother continuing to watch tv at all? For me, both its importance and usefulness have long since passed.

  26. frank verismo

    “It’s amazing. Anyone who is a proponent of industrial release of CO2 causing warming invariably concludes that – somehow, even though wrong and misinformed – Morano wins the debate.”

    Denis –

    Are you seriously saying that the debater who was openly and consistently rude should be declared the winner simply because he has the ‘correct’ beliefs? Really?

    Unfortunately, no amount of understanding ‘a bit about climate’ can expunge the unpleasant stain left by Prof. Watson.

  27. Hitch

    I think the professor handled himself fine enough for someone who is not trained to engage with PR spinsters.

    Yes, the lesson should be to put PR professionals up and shield the poor scientists from political smear campaigns. But it’s sad that we have this world where the news media does not do independent reporting, and them gives smear merchants the platform to do this kind of stuff.

    That’s not the fault of scientists, it’s the fault of the media, and politics. And yes, we do need PR experts to handle the response and not scientists who rather than wage PR battles and try to look pretty on TV should be doing what they are trained to do: Science.

  28. Chris Winter

    Count Nukem wrote: “Who would expect indecency from a top British scientist? But now we see him in action and after that we know from what stuff those top scientists are made.”

    Yeah, Count — you see one scientist blow his top, and from that you know all top scientists are irascible nitwits.

    Overgeneralize much?

  29. Count Nukem

    David #16: “Yes, we should blame the media. The people that orchestrated that interview knew their guests. ”

    It sounds like a conspiracy theory. But, how could it be? BBC is far the most AGW friendly network. So, why would they go against their own credo to expose the indignity of Watson? I would be more willing to agree with Sean #17 about their possible intentions: “the smart guy is expected to wipe the floor with a political hack”. Yet, to assume that BBC journalists a.k.a political hacks could underestimate the fact that Morano has better presentation skills like e.g. he can work in limited time being just like them, being merely a professional journalist and a political hack just like them … Sorry, Sean #17, I lost you at that point.

    So, in any case I can’t see how this was a setup or how it was orchestrated and how Watson’s reaction, especially his last phrase could have been expected by anyone.

  30. Paul in Sweden

    The discussion between Watson & Morono centered around the divergence problem of the MBH hockey stick graphs and Climategate inquiries. Watson did a terrible job on all accounts, even admitting that he was unaware of the majority of the aspects of the climategate inquiries. Why was he even chosen to sit in that interview?

    We have not moved much futher on climategate since the Watson/Morano segment. Here is a summary of where we stand today:

    1. The scientists involved in the email exchanges manipulated evidence in IPCC and WMO reports with the effect of misleading readers, including policymakers. The divergence problem was concealed by deleting data to “hide the decline.” Even the Muir Russell panel concurred, as was fitting, since the evidence was clear. The ridiculous attempt by the Penn State Inquiry to defend an instance of deleting data and splicing in other data to conceal a divergence problem only discredits their claims to have investigated the issue.

    2. Phil Jones admitted deleting emails in order to prevent disclosure of information subject to Freedom of Information laws, and asked his colleagues to do the same. But the inquiries have largely fumbled this question, or averted their eyes. Despite being asked y Parliament to conclusively resolve this issue, Sir Muir Russell did no attend the interviews with Jones and, as reported in UK media, his inquiry did not ask Jones if he had deleted emails.

    3. The scientists privately expressed greater doubts or uncertainties about the science in their own professional writings and in their interactions with one another than they allowed to be stated in reports of the IPCC or WMO that were intended for policymakers. Rather than criticise the scientists for this, the inquiries (particularly the House of Commons and Oxburgh inquiries) took the astonishing view that as long as scientists expressed doubts and uncertainties in their academic papers and among themselves, it was acceptable for them to conceal those uncertainties in documents prepared for policy makers.

    4. The scientists took steps individually or in collusion to block access to data or methodologies in order to prevent external examination of their work. This point was accepted by the Commons Inquiry and Muir Russell, and the authors were given gentle admonitions and encouragements to do somewhat better in the future.

    5. The inquiries were largely unable to deal with the issue of the issue of blocking publication of papers, or intimidating journals. These get into subjective, he-said-she-said disputes, and in some cases the documentation was too sparse. But academics reading the emails could see quite clearly the tribalism at work, and in comparison to other fields, climatology comes off looking juvenile, corrupt and in the grip of a handful of self-appointed gatekeepers and bullies.


  31. David

    Count Nukem:

    Yes, it was a conspiracy… of sorts. The BBC hosts planned to have Watson come on and calmly say everything is all right and climategate was a tempest in a teacup and let Murano prattle a bit as a non-scientist so the other side would look foolish and give the appearance of a debate. They wanted Murano to be a poster boy for “ignorant deniers.” Unfortunately for them, he didn’t lie down and behave as they had wished and instead made Watson look petty and condescending and finally drove him to really embarrass himself.

    Murano had a really good tactic of focusing on the inside people who had supposedly broken ranks and gained traction when all Watson said was that he disagreed with them. Watson also made a big mistake when he kept repeating the character assassination line without substantiating it with any examples or at least names. It made it sound like the people that grasp at straws and throw out names of fallacies that don’t even match what was said.

    People that are not used to getting up in front of an audience for that kind of slugfest will always come off looking bad against the professionals. Politics completely aside, if you want to emulate someone’s handling a debate or the press, look back at video of Ronald Reagan. Otherwise, you would have to go back as far as Disraeli.

  32. Tom

    I cant believe the alarmists take on this as being a failure of the media. It was a total set up with the media on your side and you still lost. The moderator was doing everything she could to keep Morano from getting a word in edge wise, she didn’t even allow him to finish his questions. Yet your scientists still lost. It not a failure of the media. Its your own. The media did their part in this corrupt sham of an interview. Your scientist simply couldn’t beat Morano in a rigged debate.

  33. GM

    33. Tom Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 12:02 pm
    I cant believe the alarmists take on this as being a failure of the media.

    The very existence and scale of denialism means that the media has failed society in the worst possible way

  34. Chris Winter

    Well, Professor Watson, with his precise and somewhat halting delivery, was not the best possible spokesman to take on Morano. But then he did step up to the plate, and he did a fair job in my opinion. The worst thing he said was at the very end: “What an asshole…” (referring to Morano.) The BBC should have edited that out.

    Morano won on style, Professor Watson on substance.

  35. The establishment “scientists” are losing their war because they are trying to sustain careers built on nonscience Piled high & Deep . Even the very first equation upon which they issue the scare that without the “greenhouse” effect we would be over 30 kelvin colder is a mathematically amateurish , physically irrelevant , coldest possible computation . The “climate science” community has so retarded the understanding of even the most basic physics that this computation is the first and often only equation in many textbooks .

    Simply summing up the energy impinging on our planet , which is the simple way to calculate the temperature of any uniform gray ( flat spectrum ) ball , no matter how light or dark , in our orbit , gives a temperature 3 times closer to our observed temperature than the “climate science” community’s grossly biased null hypothesis . No wonder you never see any precise quantitative predictions , or even a simple quantitative , equation by equation , explanation of the “greenhouse effect” from them . And you get such nonscience fictions as temperature “runaways” with NO quantitative explanation .

    It’s not surprising that numerate freedom loving individuals are battling to the death this Global Statist Lysenkoism which tried to imprison humanity in a profoundly authoritarian anti-scientific attack on the molecule which is the “green” half of the respiratory cycle of life .

    That anybody can have spent a career in academia in this field without ever bothering to understand the most basic century old physics disgusts but does not surprise me .

  36. David

    Chris Winter:

    “Morano won on style, Professor Watson on substance.”

    I am sorry, but that is just wishful thinking. He said:

    He thought that the people involved in climategate did not misrepresent anything.
    He thought that the emails were taken out of context.
    He could not say anything regarding the FOI requests.
    The skeptics were using character assassination.
    His opinion of Morano. (Actually, the one point I really agree on.)

    Where was any substance? None of this was new. The only reason that he seemed to be picked to interview was the fact that he worked at the same university and was not even part of the CRU. In effect, rather than having someone with any particular insight to the issue, they chose to bring on someone that knew some of the people involved and say that they were nice guys and that he didn’t think that they did anything wrong. They might as well have asked the head janitor from East Anglia to come on and tell his take on things as well. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a Monty Python sketch.

  37. Perplexed in Peoria

    David@37: Your analysis is dead on. Losing his temper was the only thing Watson did right. Other than that he was boring, and unable to say anything of substance at all except to keep returning to his prepared talking point – that this scandal is just character assassination and has nothing at all to do with whether the temperature is really rising.

    Nullius@18 argues that the journalist was somewhat unfair to Morano. Well, yeah, a little, but that is nothing compared to the huge favor they did to the denialist side by matching Morano against Watson.

    Actually, if you have any sense, you have to see this exchange as evidence that there is not a conspiracy to promote a “myth of AGW”. Because no self-respecting conspiracy would put forward such incompetent spokesmen. Nor would it put forward no spokesman at all and thus allow an incompetent one to self-select.

  38. Steve

    AGW proponents argue from a faith in models, implying that we can only postulate what will happen because a real experiment cannot be run. Sadly for AGW proponents, Earth has run the massive atmospheric CO2 experiment. Proxy data shows that atmospheric CO2 has been 10 – 20 times what it is today. The result? The planet survived. It even thrived. Was it warmer than today? For certain periods, yes, it was. But, for other periods, it was colder. These facts alone should be enough to educate an open mind that CO2 is NOT strongly correlated to temperature and catastrophic global warming is impossible.

    Lest one think that the proxy data cannot be trusted, we have evidence within recent history of the same result. First, however, a primer. It is well known that temperature follows a logarithmic function in the presence of rising CO2 levels. That is, temperature rises more at a lower CO2 range increase (say, from 100ppm to 150ppm) than at a higher CO2 range increase (say, from 300ppm to 350ppm) . From roughly 1940 to present, CO2 has been increasing. If AGW theory is correct (i.e. CO2 is THE major variable controlling global temperature), then there should be a strong, logarithmic correlation between temperatures and rising CO2 levels after 1940. That is, a larger temperature increase between, say, 1940 – 1950 as opposed to 1990 – 2000. What we see, though, is that global temperature actually decreased slightly between roughly 1940 – 1970 (culminating in the ice age scare) before beginning a roughly 3 decade increase (culminating in the AGW scare). In addition, over half of the global temperature increase of the 20th century occurred BEFORE 1940, when CO2 levels were fairly constant. An open mind that follows data to arrive at a conclusion would rightly conclude that CO2 is NOT a major variable in global temperature.

    Frankly, I don’t care if any kind of cap-and-trade system passes. Energy use will not dissipate. And since fossil fuel holds the most energy density, it will be used. Cap-and-trade will simply increase the cost of everything. People will either: 1) demand more money for their labor in order to maintain their standard of living or 2) get poorer. In the period of economic instability, several individuals and companies will get VERY rich.

    By 2100, CO2 will have increased even more. If the trend of the past 200 years continues, global temperatures will increase steadily with 20 -40 year modulations that follow the warm and cold phases of the oceans. Our understanding of bioshpere mechanics will have increased immensely and enough data will have been gathered to know that CO2 is not the boogeyman that grant-seeking “scientists” thought it was. If fossil fuel usage is not declining, it will be much more costly (even in inflation-adjusted terms). If we are smart, nuclear energy will be much more abundant. If we are even smarter, we will have found a way to reprocess the waste for re-use. Energy storage technology will have increased to the point that wind and solar energy can provide a steady stream of power around the clock. They will, however, still be a niche technologies.

    Our great-grandchildren will look back on this time and wonder what the f*#k we were thinking and curse us for putting politics ahead of common sense and sound science.

  39. AMR1960

    The Ecco-Mobsters have co-opted environmental Science. There is/was an unspoken covenant between Lay-people, and the practitioners of Science on Society’s behalf. The Scientists dispassionately compiles and distills the data, and Society charts how Humanity integrates that knowledge into the fabric of our lives. Stepping away from the the climate issue, and just looking at the actions & behavior, of those the public would normally trust, what I see is the entire issue ENCAPSULATED by Collectivist & Socio-Political agendas, forcing me conclude that powerful elements have sized upon these issues as a way/method to sequester more than just our Carbon.

    I frankly don’t trust them…It’s a condition they have brought upon themselves, with the series of duplicitous actions regarding how they established their so-called consensus. The “Warmest” community then further aggravates, and “poisons the well” by calling us “Flat Earthers”, and “Paleo-intellects”. Setting aside their elitist disdain, I have found myself ample evidence that the deconstruction of our carbon based society, along the radical time-table advocated by the likes of: Hansen, Mann, Cueller, et al…poses a greater risk of war, famine, and governmental tyranny, than the disruption and risk imposed by having to move 150 yards inland, when lower Manhattan floods in the next 200-300 years…

  40. I hate it when scientists turn out to be human! Why can’t they all be as emotionless as Mr. Spock?!

  41. First, the models Steve refers to are based on the physical and chemical laws that govern all of matter. If you wish to debunk those models, you must show either that the models are incomplete or that the laws are incorrect. He has not.

    Second, Steve does not specify when the CO2 levels were 10 or 20 times higher than today. Indeed, we can be certain that the Earth’s atmosphere was full of CO2 about four billion years ago, just as Venus’ atmosphere is today. The critical difference between the two planets is that Venus is closer to the Sun, and it has no oceans like Earth does to absorb some of the CO2 and lock it away. It also does not have life, including plants to absorb even more CO2. The reason the Sun did not burn us up hundreds of millions of years ago when the CO2 levels were much higher than today was because the Sun was also much less luminous, as you would expect with a star that had less helium and more hydrogen in its core (Helium is at least four times denser than hydrogen and helium is also what hydrogen fuses into to produce its sunlight. Denser concentrations of gas in the cores of stars will indeed be hotter. Strange that Steve overlooked that). And at most geologic periods, Earth WAS warmer than today and the sea levels were much higher. But that was not a problem because our civilization did not exist. The concern today is that our civilization is so highly adapted to the specific global climate of the late 20th Century that ANY significant deviation from that will do great damage to that civilization.

    Third, Steve ignores that fossil fuels are nonrenewable and when they begin to grow scarce, the price of them will skyrocket anyway. Indeed, the best way to lower the price of fossil fuels at present is to REDUCE DEMAND FOR THEM! Which is a compelling reason to switch to renewable sources; the only reason we haven’t yet is because the fossil fuel companies have rigged our so-called “free market” economy to support their perpetual dominance. That has to be stopped, or we will end up with fossil fuel companies only getting richer and richer at the expense (literally) of the rest of us, global warming or no global warming. That’s why we need governments to step in and use some kind of force to stop them.

    Fourth, CO2 is not THE only factor in climate change. The drop in global temperatures between 1940 and 1970 could have been a temporary halt in global warming, not a sign of cooling, due to factors such as the advent of nuclear energy which largely replaced fossil fuels for a time before accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl lessened public support for the use of nuclear fuels, making fossil fuels more popular once again. And since we have had reliable CO2 measurements only since the 1950s, we cannot say for certain what global CO2 levels were prior to that decade. So his claim that “over half of the global temperature increase of the 20th century occurred BEFORE 1940, when CO2 levels were fairly constant,” is unfounded.


  42. Sean McCorkle

    Steve @39

    AGW proponents argue from a faith in models, implying that we can only postulate what will happen because a real experiment cannot be run.

    THIS proponent doesn’t have faith in models, THIS proponent has a faith in principles of spectroscopy and conservation of energy, physics well-established for a century or more.

    The Earth’s radiation budget has an input term (absorption of sunlight) and an output term, which is an IR thermal spectrum, and increases in CO2 WILL block the IR term which by itself will cause a temperature increase. For this not to occur, other things must happen to balance the equation, such as a decrease in the input side of the equation, ie. an increase in reflectivity, OR you have to have some sort of global energy sink that can effectively bury the extra energy someplace without raising the temperature, and thats difficult to see how that would work on timescales longer than a couple of decades.

    Both these terms have complex contributions, which we may not fully understand. Yet the temperature HAS been climbing (not steadily, but climbing) at roughly what would be expected from the CO2 increase, so whatever those other contributions and factors might be, they MUST roughly cancel each other out, leaving CO2 term as the residual.

  43. Anthony McCarthy

    It was a total set up with the media on your side and you still lost.

    Sorry, I was laughing too hard to answer for a while. The media is on our side, um hum, I see.

    The media is on the side of whoever pays it and the extraction and polluting industries and the corporations who make money off of them are the ones who pay the most. If it was a question of the evidence, the denialists would get on about as often as the rump neo-Muggletonians do.

    I hate it when scientists don’t use their intelligence to win media wars that aren’t that complex. I especially hate it when sci-guys arrogantly hold themselves to be above that kind of real life necessity. Arrogance makes smart people do the stupidest things, look at the insiders of the present administration in the U.S. for a good case study. Or the last Democratic administration, for that matter.

  44. AI

    Scientists can only win when they have solid evidence, yet there is no such evidence backing the assertion that man-made emissions are to blame for the recent climate changes. It’s no more then a plausible hypothesis.

    The world was warmer in the past, the CO2 was higher in the past, there is nothing unprecedented about the recent warming. The only supposed evidence being offered comes from simplistic climate models which cannot even post-dict the climate of past century, let alone predict future one.

  45. Anthony McCarthy

    “Solid evidence”

    There is no evidence solid enough to cut through the denial caused by self-interest or ideological fixation.

    Climate denialists being able to get away with this style of pseudo-skepticism is a terrible real life example of the damage that it has caused in the real world. Under it denialists are held to be exempt from producing evidence to back up their position when reason places the same level of producing evidence on their denial of the evidence that has been produced. It’s a dishonest ploy to keep the status quo in place, which favors polluters and the extraction industries that fund climate change denialists.

    The ruse of “skepticism” is, actually, dangerous.


  46. David

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Skepticism is not dangerous. It is what keeps things progressing. What you are apparently struggling with is the fact that not everyone sees the same evidence and arrives at the same conclusions. There is no big evil entity sitting around orchestrating some master plan to destroy the environment. We all take risks and establish priorities. If others don’t reach the same conclusions and priorities and you want to convert them, it is pretty self defeating to take the approach of labeling them ideologically fixated or calling them names. That is the whole point of this thread. Unless you have some authoritarian system in place, you will always have to deal with compromise and diplomacy.

  47. Steve

    Both Dale #42 and Sean #43 make some good points. Kudos gents for your civil responses. I do not buy them, but thanks for the civility.

    All I can say to anyone who supports the AGW theory is that if they have read both sides of the debate and continue to believe the AGW theory is correct, then we have nothing further to discuss. Talking louder and name calling resolves nothing and distracts from our ability to work together on those things we do agree on. I tend to read more on the skeptical side because it takes only a single disparity to make the theory worthless. And, based on that reading, I have found numerous flaws with the AGW theory. In my opinion, better explanations of how the biosphere operates are coming from climate scientists who have not bought the AGW theory.

    To Dale, I did not (and will not) supply details of why I believe what I believe. Not because it does not exist but because, first, it would take up a lot of space. But, more importantly, the search for the data is as important as the discovery. I will be forever grateful to Gavin Schmidt (of Real Climate fame) who, when I asked questions 4 years ago, replied, “Go do your own research.” This is the same advice I pass along. Not to be condescending, but simply to note that the data is readily available.

  48. Tom


    Its called the BBC for a reason. Its paid for by the guys who want tax revenue. Nice attempt to obfuscate though. I would have responded earlier but I was too busy laughing.

  49. Anthony McCarthy

    David, I’m talking about the pose of skepticism, not the actual practice of skepticism. Real skepticism is essential to intellectual honesty, pseud0-skepticism, which is what people usually mean when they use the word these days, is a block to honest consideration.

    I have been seeing more of the language of the pseudo-skeptics being used by climate change and evolution denialists. I don’t think that’s accidental.

    I’m not particularly troubled by people arriving at a different conclusion than I do. It’s when the pose of skepticism is used as an excuse to dismiss valid evidence that was the result of honest and rigorous effort. The climate change deniers have produced no evidence to counter it, they just deny that the real evidence isn’t there.

  50. David

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Pseudo-Skeptic or Real-Skeptic? Until you have some magic power to see into a person’s mind or soul, you have nothing to differentiate beyond what they say. On both sides, many have taken it to the level of a religion and it no longer has anything to do with science.

    If many of the AGW people woke up encased in a block of ice at the bottom of a glacier on Tahiti, we would chip them out and we would hear them gasp out “It’s just weather!.”

    If the deniers sitting on deck chairs surrounded by palm trees on the shore of lake Vostok, they would sneer and say that it was a plot for the new world order and a redistribution of wealth.

    No matter how much we wish for people to be educated and make intelligent choices, it will take time to bring them around. No amount of wishful thinking will speed up the process. I don’t think that people are intentionally trying to destroy the world or the economy. Our knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate and people are just lagging behind as it becomes understood and assimilated. Things are actually getting better overall. We know bathing doesn’t cause diseases. Few people still believe the world is flat. We know that germs cause most diseases. We know how to prevent infection with vaccines. We have the ability to produce enough food and clean water for everyone in the world. The list goes on. We work on the resistant people and maybe we have to wait for the next generation. Unless you think that we should roll back the clock to having dictators, the only choice we have is to keep educating people and hoping for the best.

  51. Margaret

    The juxtaposition of the the Professor accusing the skeptic side of using character assassination and his final comment was priceless !!!!!

  52. Nullius in Verba


    I’m not entirely sure I understand what you’re saying. You say: “The climate change deniers have produced no evidence to counter it, they just deny that the real evidence isn’t there.” But if sceptics can show that the evidence really isn’t there, there is no need for them to provide an alternative theory.

    This is like the demand that atheists provide evidence to prove that God does not exist. If no such evidence can be provided, then the default is that God therefore does exist, and the atheists are being pseudo-sceptics. After all, there exists considerable evidence that God does – it was one of the standards of pre-Enlightenment philosophy to construct proofs of God’s existence (Anselm’s ontological argument, Pascal’s wager, Descartes’ ‘cogito’ etc.), many scientific heroes like Galileo and Newton were devout believers, and there are piles of books on the subject of theology that are the result of honest and rigorous effort.

    The thing was, the sceptics were pointing out that all those theological arguments didn’t prove what they claimed to prove, and that part they could back up. Atheists have provided no evidence or proof that God does not exist, they have just denied that any real evidence is there.

    Of course, I may be misinterpreting what you intended, and what you meant was that the sceptics didn’t have any evidence that the evidence for CAGW was doubtful, that they were just saying it was. Well, I’m sure some of them do. But a lot of sceptics do have reasons and evidence for their scepticism. Constantly denying that they do does not make it so.

    Those reasons and evidence may be based on misunderstandings and partial knowledge, just as evidence pro-CAGW may be, but it is for the most part honestly held. You can’t address sceptical concerns and persuade them otherwise by simply ignoring or denying its existence.

  53. Paul in Sweden

    42. Dale Husband Says:
    August 20th, 2010 at 3:30 am

    First, the models Steve refers to are based on the physical and chemical laws that govern all of matter. If you wish to debunk those models, you must show either that the models are incomplete or that the laws are incorrect. He has not.

    “The set of available models may share fundamental inadequacies, the effects of which cannot be quantified.”

    – IPCC, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 805.

    The models are wrong read the paper.

  54. Anthony McCarthy

    Pseudo-Skeptic or Real-Skeptic? Until you have some magic power to see into a person’s mind or soul, you have nothing to differentiate beyond what they say. David

    A pseudo-skeptic isn’t skeptical at all, they know exactly what what you’re supposed to believe and it’s, oddly enough, exactly what they believe is the only true way to think about something. If you want an example, There’s this @53

    “But if sceptics can show that the evidence really isn’t there, there is no need for them to provide an alternative theory.”

    This is exactly the kind of thing that the pseudo-skeptics have always done, denied any evidence that they didn’t like simply by denying that it exists. You can’t counter evidence just by posing as a nullifidian, you’ve got to actually demonstrate that it is wrong.

    It didn’t surprise me one bit when I found out that Randi was flirting with climate change denial. Though I understand he’s backtracked a bit. Shows you how deep it goes.

    I think “skepticism” functions as a materialist religion. I don’t see any great difference between it and much of fundamentalism. Gives genuine skepticism a bad name.

  55. Nullius in Verba

    “This is exactly the kind of thing that the pseudo-skeptics have always done, denied any evidence that they didn’t like simply by denying that it exists.”

    In the statement you quote, I didn’t deny that it exists. What I said was that IF sceptics could show that the evidence wasn’t there, that would be sufficient. Sceptics don’t have to provide a more viable alternative and back it up with evidence to demolish an incorrect hypothesis.

    For me to deny any evidence I didn’t like, we would first have to specify exactly what the evidence was that I didn’t like and was denying.

    We can do that if you like. I would specify some evidence I didn’t think existed (I would pick the R2 verification statistics on MBH98 that Mann said his reconstruction had passed to start off with), and you would show me where it existed.

    But it would just follow the same old path where you quoted some partisan web page and I’d point out it didn’t answer the question or did so incorrectly, and you would change the subject, saying it didn’t matter because there was lots of other evidence, that you was too busy to specify in detail. And you would rest satisfied that your evidence was still unassailable.

    So instead, all I’ll do is point out the essential symmetry – above, you simply deny any evidence of error on the part of climate science that you don’t like. You just made the statement “The climate change deniers have produced no evidence to counter it” without any accompanying back up. Whether you are right or not, whether you have evidence or not, you didn’t present it. You know what we’re all supposed to believe – that catastrophic AGW is very likely – and oddly enough, it’s exactly what you believe is the one true way to think about it. If that’s “pseudo-scepticism” when we do it, why is it not when you do?

  56. Brian Too

    When truth loses, we all lose.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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