Monthly Archives: June 2014

Another report on climate communication

The climate change industry appears to remain convinced that there is nothing wrong with climate science, but there is a problem with “climate science communication”. Or at least this is the line they are trying to maintain.

There was the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on climate communication a couple of months back, to which the government responded yesterday.

Today sees the launch of the latest blockbuster in the field, Time for Change? Climate Science Reconsidered. It’s a glossy 156-page tome written by a team of scientists and social scientists mostly from UCL, headed by Chris Rapley, author of “Time to Raft Up“. I wrote to Rapley following that article, explaining his prejudices, false assumptions and lack of self-awareness, but he does not seem to have improved his understanding very much since then.

The main conclusions of the new report are

  • Climate scientists are not well prepared to explain their work to the public
  • A meta-narrative is required (not sure what that means)
  • Policy is complicated, many factors play a role, not just science
  • Values – what sort of world we want – are important
  • New forum for active discussion needed
  • A professional body for climate science should be set up

Despite the talk of ‘change’ and ‘new’, there doesn’t seem to be much new here.

Chapter 1 tries to deal with the complex science/policy interface, citing Hulme, Pielke, but this is an impossible question to deal with.

Chapter 2 is on how people think, cognition, and values, referring to Dan Kahan and others. There is an interesting discussion of alarmism, an aspect of the report picked up by The Times, with a frank statement that this has contributed to loss of trust.

The remaining chapters deal with communication and blogs,  telling stories,  public opinion, and their proposal to set up yet another organisation and forum for public discussion. It ends with a recognition of the need for self-reflection and humility, but as with the authors of the paper discussed in the previous post, it does not appreciate their own groupthink problem and the need to involve and listen to their critics.

Ultimately, the failure of the document is that it does not seem to realise that this focus on presentation and communication will be seen as spin and propaganda.

 Bishop Hill blog – comments on the bias, the navel-gazing and the dullness of the conclusions.

Carbon Brief – says “Academics urge scientists to do more to engage the public on climate change”.

Update 25 June:

Climate scientists do not seem very impressed by the report. They don’t like the jargon or the dictatorial tone.

The misfiring of the report and the apparent failure to anticipate this illustrates again the lack of self-awareness of the authors.

Climate Change Research and Credibility?

A new paper, Climate change research and credibility: balancing tensions across professional, personal, and public domains, has been published in the journal Climatic Change. It’s a revised version of this freely available preprint, though there are significant differences.

Unfortunately this biased paper from five members of the Tyndall Centre will do nothing to enhance the credibility of the climate clique, and everything to enhance their reputation as one-sided political activists.

A look at the long reference list is instructive. Guardian articles by Carrington, Goldenberg and McGowan are cited, as is an article by Lewandowsky in the Conversation. Remarkably, although claiming to “stimulate and inform debate” and to be “Based on a wide, cross-disciplinary review of conceptions of credibility”, the published paper does not include a reference to a single sceptical source.
Are these ‘researchers’ (sneer quotes are theirs) so terrified of James Delingpole’s articles on climategate, Andrew Montford’s books on the hockeystick and climategate, or Judith Curry’s blog, that they dare not mention them?
Or are they so securely wrapped in their Tyndall bubble, surrounded by groupthink-afflicted fellow activists, that they are blissfully unaware that such things even exist?

In the Introduction, the authors claim that “This paper aims to stimulate structured discussion within and outside the academic community on researchers’ professional, private, and public behaviours” and that they want “To set up fruitful discussion”, returning in the Conclusion to say that they want to provide “open a space for structured debate” and “We thus advocate opening the climate change credibility debate”. But no steps to provide such a space – such as an open online discussion forum – are set up or even mentioned in the paper. This, combined with their failure to even mention any of their critics, shows that their claimed aims are insincere. Rather than providing a space for open discussion with the public, their concern is continue to propagate the one-sided activist climate propaganda of themselves and their supporters (such as “Michael Mann’s ‘hockey stick’ graph engendered assaults on his integrity from ardent denialists (Mann 2012)”).

Having first picked out the worst aspects of the paper, there are some interesting points:
They acknowledge that appeals to consensus are insufficient.
There is a reasonable discussion of the advocacy problem, and an acceptance that there’s little agreement on this.
They also raise the question of the possible loss of credibility of a climate researcher flying to conferences and telling people how important it is to reduce CO2 emissions.
There is an interesting admission that climate researchers may have been attracted to the field “by personal interest and belief in the necessity of curbing emissions”.
But none of these discussions go anywhere, leaving the Conclusions section rather lacking in any conclusions.

Since the authors of this piece have failed to “open a space for structured debate”, I will do so here. I have invited all of them to come here for some “fruitful discussion”.

IPCC needs a rethink, say academics

A new paper, Towards a Reflexive Turn in the Governance of Global Environmental Expertise. The Cases of the IPCC and the IPBES (open access) looks into the organisation of the IPCC. It’s written by a large team of environmental and social science researchers from many countries, including Mike Hulme and others from the UK. It results from a meeting held in Leipzig last year.

The paper makes some criticisms of the IPCC, but some of these are rather odd:
“The IPCC has also largely failed to engage with alternative forms of expertise such as local knowledge, or to evaluate and facilitate more radical forms of civic action”.
I don’t think facilitating radical civic action is really within the IPCC remit.

There are some interesting remarks about climategate, the IAC review and the issues of transparency and public trust. They also comment on the aim for consensus and the consequent exclusion of minority views. This paragraph near the end of the section on the IPCC sums up their concerns:

The events surrounding “climategate” demonstrated that public trust cannot be reduced to a function of the quality of science or the breadth and depth of consensus on science alone, as the IPCC had assumed. They showed that trust in science is related to the performance and persuasive power of the people and institutions who speak for science – and that not all countries interpret or trust the IPCC in similar ways (Hajer 2012). The IPCC’s chosen style of risk assessment and communication has also contributed to a unitary approach to representing scientific consensus as a single voice. Not acknowledging or inviting diverse voices to speak will fail to assuage the sense of mistrust. In response, the IPCC plenary has not yet adopted a process of full public disclosure, and it continues to rely upon its existing knowledge-making processes mediated by national delegations. In addition, current discussions about the future of the IPCC continue to be conducted largely behind closed doors, even if the formal positions of countries are somewhat more transparent. It is very likely that in the future the panel will be exposed to scrutiny from more diverse and lively publics and that it will have to respond to forms of distributed or uninvited public participation”

Unfortunately, although the paper raises some interesting questions, there are no clear proposals for improvement of the IPCC beyond the general suggestion of continuously reviewing its own procedures.