Thursday, April 23, 2015

How to Communicate Climate Science to all Three Target Audiences

Do you need to communicate climate science? If you live in today's society the answer most likely is yes, you do. This applies not just to climate scientists and scientists in other fields, but to bloggers, writers, journalists, policymakers, and anyone interested in science and/or has a family.

Scientists in all fields engage in a series of steps to communicate the science.

1) Research: Yes, scientists have to do research. Usually a lot of it. Generally this starts with a literature review to see what other scientists have published before. What are the key questions that need to be asked...and hopefully answered? How and why is this research potentially important? Scientists do the research, conduct the studies, and collect the data.

2) Analyze the Data: In these days of supercomputers, satellites, and "big data," the amount of information may be massive. All of that has to be analyzed. Sometimes this can take years. Generally there are teams of researchers working on a project. This can be especially true when that project consists of data collected from all over the world, from satellites, from oceanic transponders, from ice cores, and from potentially hundreds of other places.

3) Attend Conferences: An integral part of communicating the science is attendance at scientific conferences. Thousands of researchers can gather at some central location - or remotely via online symposium capabilities - and present short papers about their research. In between sessions you'll find scientists discussing the latest research. From experience I can confidently say that scientists are not shy about telling other scientists when they think they are wrong...or may have missed something. All of this helps bring out questions, and identify additional experiments to address those questions.

4) Publish: Science is the totality of all the research. Scientific studies generally examine individual pieces of a very large puzzle, and all of those pieces must be examined in context with all the other pieces in order to draw wider conclusions. Some of that is done at conferences, but mostly this is done by publishing the work in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Once published, the study can be looked at by any and all scientists with the interest and expertise to evaluate it. This usually leads to more questions, more studies, and more publications.

So if you're a scientist and you've gone through all of these steps you can consider your science communication done, right?

Wrong. You've only just begun.

Long gone are the days when scientists had the luxury of doing science in their lab or field site, publishing in scientific journals, and moving on to the next study while letting others communicate the information to the wider audiences. Today, with the ubiquity of internet connection and the prevalence of "Google Experts" (i.e., not experts), the chance of the science being misunderstood by the public is huge. Add in the professional lobbyists who intentionally misrepresent the science and you have the makings of a lot of people being misinformed.

The first step scientists and others must take is to understand that there are three distinct audiences to whom you must communicate the science.

(1) Other Scientists: This is the easy audience. Other scientists, especially those in the same field of study, generally will attend conferences in person and read the full scientific papers in scientific journals. This is how science has traditionally been communicated.

(2) Policymakers: These include everyone from regulators (such as EPA) through legislators (e.g., Congress, states) on up to the President of the United States (and his or her equivalents in other countries and international bodies). The bigger the issue the greater the likelihood that policymakers will have to pass laws or implement policies to deal with the issue.

(3) The Public: While it has always been the case to some extent, in this connected world the general public's role in making policy has grown exponentially. Policymakers (notwithstanding the disproportionate influence of lobbyists and rich campaign donors) are most influenced by public opinion. It is the public who are the real drivers of change. It is they who give policymakers permission (or pressure) to take action.

That is why the aforementioned lobbyists and donors spend so much time and money shaping public opinion. Often they do this by intentionally misrepresenting the science.

Think about that. Not only is the science often incredibly complicated, which can be hard for the public to follow, there are organizations and individuals out there intentionally trying to mislead the public.

Imagine them doing that without scientists standing up for the science. Imagine what happens when the science is misrepresented without any scientist correcting the misrepresentations. How is the public to understand the science when the only "science" they are presented in terms they can understand is misrepresented? And how are policymakers to make informed policy when they have been intentionally misinformed...and themselves intentionally misinform to avoid taking responsibility for action?

That is the take-home point of this particular post. Scientists must ensure that the science is accurately communicated. And that communication must be to all three audiences - other scientists, policymakers, and the public.

Since the methods for communicating to each audience are different, future posts will examine the specific challenges and present specific communication tips for communicating to each audience in ways each can understand.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Open Letter to the 2016 Presidential Hopefuls re: Climate Change

Dear 2016 Presidential Hopefuls:

Climate change will be a significant issue during the 2016 election cycle. It could even be the defining one. I know some of you would rather avoid the topic, but, well, you can't. Part of being President is taking responsibility for the future of America, and that means dealing with man-made climate change, whether you like it not. If you don't want the responsibility, don't run.

The actions the next President takes on man-made climate change are critical. Given that the ramifications of non-action are significant impacts across the entire gamut of executive responsibilities, the choices made may very well be the most important decisions defining our nation's future.

Man-made climate change impacts our health and the environment, which should be enough in themselves to warrant action. But since some of you act like those things aren't important, keep in mind that man-made climate change has dramatic impacts on our economy, our national security, and on immigration policy. We've already seen impacts on our climate, on social norms, and on ecological and economic patterns. Those will continue to get worse.

So let's start with the basics:

The climate system is warming, and

human activity is the dominant cause of that warming, and
          impacts are serious and already occurring.
These are unequivocal facts. Denial is not an option. Some of you think that playing politics with our future is just another parlor game of no importance. But guess what; being President means you have to deal with the hand you're given. And that means dealing with man-made climate change. Oklahoma's drought doesn't go away because an 80-year-old Senator tells his 20-something-year-old aid to run outside and bag a snowball in the middle of winter. Denial is a slap in the face to your constituents, and when you're President, all 320 million Americans are your constituents.

Luckily, some people have been taking responsibility and providing leadership. The current administration has been taking steps despite Congressional inaction. We've already seen carbon emission reductions and shifting toward renewable energy sources. In 2014 the President signed a landmark agreement with China to move both our countries forward. Other actions between the US and India and with Europe continue the trend in a year that could end with a significant global climate change commitment in Paris. That Paris agreement is going to put pressure on all the US presidential candidates to explain how they will address man-made climate change.

Most options for dealing with climate change involve reducing carbon emissions, both here at home and, through our leadership, in the rest of the world. There are many ways that this can be accomplished, so rather than irresponsibly and dishonestly deny the science, feel free to propose your preferred option.

But be honest about it. The last time there was an effort to reduce carbon emissions, the two parties offered up their preferences. The Democratic party generally favored a carbon tax option, while the Republican party favored a cap-and-trade option. John McCain, George W. Bush and other Republicans actively lobbied for cap-and-trade and managed to convince the Democratic party to support it. But guess what; as soon as everyone was behind cap-and-trade the Republicans started attacking it. Yes, they attacked their own proposal. Touted as a "market-based mechanism" (which it is), suddenly it became a "socialist agenda" as soon as Democrats agreed to it.

Sorry, but that's just not honest.

As a 2016 presidential hopeful, it is incumbent upon all of you to be honest with your proposals. And since the president is president for all of the country, not just the party he or she belongs to, this means having the honesty and leadership capacity to keep your own party honest. That isn't always possible, as the recent Congresses have aptly demonstrated, but your obligation will be to the entire American people, not to one party.

Being president isn't an easy job (as George W. Bush will remind you), but it is a critical one. If you can't handle the responsibility, don't run for the position.

But hey, there is plenty of time between now and election day, so you have the opportunity to be a leader. That starts with taking responsibility for your actions and the actions of your supporters. And it means being honest. Some of you haven't started off too well in that regard.

We'll be watching.


The Voters

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why Climate Deniers Desperately Need "The Pause" in Warming; And Why The Pause is not a Pause

A new article by scientists Dana Nuccitelli and Michael Mann reiterates the fact that the climate system continues to warm. Their opening line begins "over the past 17 years, the Earth has warmed rapidly." This continued rapid warming is borne out by the overwhelming science during the period climate deniers often claim there to have been a stoppage in warming (and even more bizarrely, a "cooling").

The climate is warming rapidly, so how can climate deniers claim it isn't?

Nuccitelli and Mann explain it quite nicely in their article, which I urge you to read in full. To begin with, deniers always ignore all the data sets except their preferred single set of satellite data, which deniers claim shows cooling. With that in mind, Nuccitelli and Mann note:

First of all, it is wrong: the satellite data clearly show ongoing warming over the past two decades.

Secondly, the satellite data in question only estimate the temperature of the atmosphere above Earth's surface. We, and most other living things, reside on Earth's surface, and the data tell us that surface warming continues unabated.

Finally, warming of the atmosphere accounts for only about two per cent of overall global warming; more than 90 per cent goes into heating of the surface and the oceans. That heating contributes to the melting of the ice sheets, and the acceleration of global sea level rise.

Clearly the "pause" is not a pause at all. One of the best ways to see the fallacy of deniers claiming a pause is to look at the following global land-ocean temperature record:

Global warming yearly averages
[See larger]

As is evident to everyone, temperatures vary from year to year due to short-term influences like El Nino and La Nina events, volcanic action, aerosols, and natural variability. Just as evident to everyone is that the overall trend is one of warming. There are short periods of time where the rate of warming is slower or faster, and even a period where warming seemed to have stopped (this was a temporary condition when toxic aerosols from unregulated air pollution were masking the warming effects of CO2), but clearly the trend is warming.

In short, it's clear human activity (mostly burning of fossil fuels) is warming the climate system. The rate varies due to short-term influences, but the main driver of the warming is increased CO2 in the atmosphere. The science on this is unequivocal (i.e., clear and undeniable). In recent years, even more of the warming has been going into the oceans (where most of it goes anyway) as the lack of El Nino, the recurring La Ninas, the increased volcanic activity, and the increased aerosol emissions from rapidly growing China all have contributed to a slower rate of increase in the warming of the atmosphere. That heat is still there; it's just that more of it is in the oceans. This is temporary. El Nino's return and other indicators helped 2014 become the hottest year on record, and 2015 is already on pace to surpass that record. The evidence supports the idea that the rate of warming is actually increasing, and will likely speed up rapidly.

So why do climate deniers keep insisting that "the pause" means climate change isn't happening or has stopped?

Because they have no science to back up their denial. If you look at the history of climate denial you'll see deniers hop, skip, and jump from one false interpretation to another. They must ignore the vast majority of data, extract one factoid, and create an entire fictitious story line that is contradicted by the actual truth. That is why you see deniers argue that a single paper is the "death knell" for man-made climate change, only to have the author of any legitimate study come out to explain it does no such thing. Deniers must ignore the science and fabricate conclusions that are divorced from reality. And that's what they do every single time.

Which begs the question, how do scientists and the honest public deal with climate denial? I'll have more on that in future posts, but the first thing that scientists can do is be careful about adopting the language of denial lobbyists. The "pause" or "hiatus" language is denial language. It was created by lobbyists to falsely throw doubt on the continued warming. As denial lobbyists intended, the denialosphere of paid, ideological, and conspiratorial bloggers quickly saturated the internet with the two misnomers. That was to be expected. But scientists started using the terms in their own blogs and conversations, thus playing into the lobbyist's intended deception.

Instead, scientists should have clearly explained that short-term influences routinely cause short-term variations and that the overall trend continued. Perhaps a more accurate term should have been used by scientists ("faux pause" was belatedly adopted by some climate scientists, but even that mimes the lobbyist-preferred misdirection). The problem here is that scientists are not always very good at communicating with the public, whereas lobbyists have ample experience in that regard since the very job of lobbyists is to manipulate public opinion and provide cover for political allies. While I can't recommend scientists become more political, I can recommend scientists spend more time reaching out to the public and communicating the science accurately.

In that regard, there is much more work that needs to be done.

Source of graphic: "Warming since 1880 yearly" by DHeyward - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Galileo Delusion - How Climate Deniers Create Alternate "Realities"

A recurring tactic of climate deniers is to liken themselves to Galileo bravely standing up to the "alarmists" dogmatically pushing the "hoax" of man-made climate change. Tea party and Koch-funded Republican Senator Ted Cruz recently did exactly this in a delusional response to an interviewer's query. The following divorced-from-fact fabrication (as discussed by Chris Mooney) distinctly illustrates the Galileo Gambit (aka, Galileo Delusion):

On the global warming alarmists, anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate. What do they do? They scream, ‘You’re a denier.’ They brand you a heretic. Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

Like virtually everything climate deniers say, Cruz's entire statement is false. Egregiously false. Buffoonishly false.

Why so false? Because he made it up. Or more accurately, he parroted the lobbyist-written talking point without having any understanding of what he was saying, nor any desire to know. It's a sound bite intentionally invented by the climate denial lobby. Like most sound bites, it has no actual meaning, and the insinuated meaning is usually the opposite of reality. Politicians like Cruz are taught to say it and count on their ideological followers to accept it as having the implied meaning even though everything in it is false.

To illustrate this same sound bite/talking point in another way to demonstrate the fallaciousness of it, take a look at this equivalent logic:

Dead Elvis Denier: "Elvis is alive!" [Provides no evidence, but states this EMPHATICALLY! and repeatedly.]

Honest people: "Um, no, Elvis died in 1977." [Provides voluminous evidence, including coroner's report, photos of dead Elvis, estate papers, weeping widow, and boxcars worth of empirical data that prove Elvis's unequivocal deadness.]

Denier: "See, I'm right and you can't prove otherwise so you will just call me a denier! I'm Galileo!" [Still provides no evidence, but states this with even greater paranoia and breathlessness.]

Honest people: [Rolls eyes]   

And so it goes.

By now it should be clear that the mention of Galileo by climate deniers is much more akin to a Delusion than a Gambit. Frankly, it demonstrates that fact is irrelevant, and even hinders the preferred message of climate deniers. They don't care that what they say is gibberish because they know that their amateur denier followers don't care about fact and that most journalists won't challenge them on the lack of fact.

The basic falsehoods and fallacies in Cruz's statement can be summarized as:

First, he implies that climate deniers have "pointed to evidence that disproves apocalyptical claims." That is absolutely false. No climate denier has ever pointed to any legitimate evidence disproving man-made climate change. None. Zilch. Nada.

Second, his statement that "alarmists" (i.e., the world's climate scientists and 100+ years of published data) "don't engage in reasoned debate" is ridiculously false. His entire statement is 100% false. He's doing the same as the the Dead Elvis Denier. Try having a reasonable debate when one person is rattling off false talking points and delusions while dismissing all the actual science.

Third, the idea that deniers are randomly called deniers is silly. Deniers are called deniers because they deny. They deny 100+ years of published science. They actively must ignore, dismiss, or concoct some elaborate conspiracy of "fraud" encompassing thousands of scientists from all over the world going back more than a century. Even well-known and demonstrated basic physics is on on this grand conspiracy. When you have to deny the entire body of published science and replace it with something off a conspiracy blog or a climate denial lobbyist website then, well, you're a denier. By definition.

Fourth, they can't even get the basic facts of Galileo correct. Cruz and all climate deniers like to ring the "Galileo" bell alongside the "flat-earth" bell (when they aren't inducing Pavlovian responses by screaming "Al Gore!!"). But Galileo had nothing to do with flat-Earth, as it was well established scientifically that the Earth was round (hence Columbus sailing the ocean blue long before Galileo was even born). What Galileo did was show that the Earth revolved around the Sun rather than the opposite. Copernicus had suggested this long before, but Galileo had the audacity to 1) demonstrate it through measurement with his telescope, and 2) publish it in Italian (instead of the less-accessible Latin) so common people could read it. It was Galileo the scientist who went up against the dogma of the Papacy.

Therefore, if Cruz and his fellow Koch-funded deniers would like to get their roles correct, Cruz would be akin to the dogmatic church protecting their doctrines of faith by edict. It would be today's climate scientists in the Galileo role, diligently measuring and documenting the science.

And this is what is so amazing about the Galileo Delusion; the perpetrators of climate change denial don't even care that they don't get the facts right. To them this is all about political expediency. Making stuff up to them is an adequate substitute for accurate facts, especially if it fits in a bumper sticker sound bite.

Scientists, on the other hand, have to do actual scientific research, publish it, and have the science stand up to scrutiny. Which climate science has done. If anything, man-made climate change is proceeding at a pace faster than what we anticipated. The delusional pontifications of Ted Cruz and his denier colleagues are to blame for the lack of more substantial action. Which is why the climate denial lobbyists spend so much money on false sound bites for the Ted Cruz's of the world to dishonestly parrot. It blocks policy action.

By the way, it should be noted that lobbyists routinely adopt language describing their own actions and accuse their adversaries of doing it instead. It's reminiscent of George Orwell's "doublethink" from his dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Future posts in Exposing Climate Denialism will address this cynical misuse and abuse of language.

[Photo credit: Wiki: "Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636" by Justus Susterman]

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review - The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner

Communicating science to the public is one of the goals of this page. To accomplish this we include a variety of articles, including reviews of books on scientific topics.

One such book is The Beak of the Finch written by Jonathan Weiner. The book won a Pulitzer Prize for its ability to communicate evolutionary science in language that most people can understand.
Published in 1994, The Beak of the Finch blends the ongoing work of evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant with the historical work of Charles Darwin.

Author Jonathan Weiner knows how to write a story. Beginning with the Grant's work on Daphne Major, a desolate "minor" island in the Galapagos archipelago, Weiner interweaves their exciting findings regarding beak variability in Darwin's finches with insights from Darwin's own writing and the work of other researchers. For the then 20 years (now 40 years) the Grant's and their rolling cadre of graduate students have investigated how the finches came to evolve into their varied niches. They painstakingly measured and identified every individual finch on the island and tracked them through generations. Importantly, the book explores how the birds continue to evolve in a dynamic process that sometimes pushes them in one direction, then the opposite.

For example, a once in a century drought favored those species and variants with larger bodies and beaks as only they can crack the limited hard-to-eat seeds. With vast numbers of birds dying, the survivors pass along their genes and ensuing populations show the larger sizes. But then a once in a century flood during an El Nino year reverses this trend, with mostly the smaller bodied and/or beaked birds were favored. The dynamics revealed by these two opposite extreme events  dramatically furthered our knowledge of the life histories of these birds and how speciation works in real time.

Interspersed with the historical records of Darwin and the current measurements of the Grants are side examples of other research work, some done by former graduate students who are now professors in their own right. The examples show that these processes can be observed not only in other birds, but in fish and various flies and other insects.

The penultimate chapter acknowledges that even 25 years ago scientists were already understanding that human activities were causing the climate to change. The unique location of the Galapagos - half the year warmed by the North Equatorial Current and half the year cooled by the South Equatorial Current - puts the islands in the cross sights of man-made climate change.

Despite the technical nature of the material, the story and writing are very accessible to the interested general public. I highly recommend everyone read it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How the Media Enable Climate Denial and Misinform the Public

The media have played a critical role in climate denialism.  In some cases it is overt, but in most cases the role is more subtle and a function of the differences between how the media works and how science works. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most media outlets have cut back on professional journalist staff, in particular on dedicated science reporters. Which means people who cover politics – or travel – one day are covering science stories the next. Thus, there is a tendency to have limited expertise in science topics, limited deadlines (so no time to learn), and an inclination toward “balanced” reporting (which, as we shall see, is not balanced at all).

Intentional denialism for ideological reasons

Let’s start with the role of media outlets that most easily fit into the meme – the intentional denialist media. For now, this does not include amateur blogs, though as we've seen, amateur blogs are the primary mechanism for spreading “the word” of thedenialist industry. What I mean in this section are the “mainstream media” outlets that have a decidedly denialist bent.  

There are some media outlets that intentionally push the denial of man-made climate change. They choose stories that have been placed in other outlets and ensure that they get disproportionate coverage on the most watched programs and most read online venues. The most obvious example of this is Fox News, which not only selects stories based on their “denial-appeal,” but employs pundits to feed the obfuscation machine. Suddenly some stolen emails are a constant drumbeat of largely false information in which a few words or lines are taken out of context and force-fit into the preferred narrative. And some obscure (and usually misrepresented) paper is suddenly the hot topic of conversation on every program from the sports guy in morning to the rabid political ideologue at night. Fox isn’t the only media that does this, though it certainly serves as the poster child for the practice. Joining Fox are other non-science news outlets around the world that, not surprisingly, often have a connection to the Rupert Murdoch media empire (e.g., NewsCorp, The Wall Street Journal, The Mail Online, The Daily (and Sunday) Telegraph, etc.). Bloggers and journalists on these and other venues seem to have a never ending supply of stories that just don’t pass the smell test when given even the most rudimentary scrutiny for factual, or even logical, content. But these media outlets run with them anyway and are even instructed to highlight anti-AGW viewpoints. Their intent is to present the science and scientists in the worst possible light. In other words, manufacture doubt.

Professional denial bloggers, e.g., James Delingpole (formerly of the Telegraph, now with Breitbart), Christopher Booker (Telegraph), and David Rose (Daily Mail), constantly beat the drum of false talking points fed to them by the denialist industry. They are part of the media collusion with denier lobbyists to mislead the public.

Accidental denialism

Not all media intentionally try to push the denial of man-made climate of course. In most cases the failure of the media is less about ideological bias and more about the way “journalism” works. To begin with, since most of the denialist industry comes from the realm of political lobbying, the media tend to treat climate science as if it were some sort of political philosophy. This is in direct conflict with how science itself works, where everyone’s goal is to advance our knowledge and taking that knowledge wherever the data will defensibly take us. So while science normally moves slowly and incrementally as scientists do studies to address small aspects of the bigger picture, the media are likely to treat each new paper as if it defines the science in a vacuum. The media then actively seek "the other side" to provide "balance."

This desire to provide balance almost always, in practice, leads to massive imbalance and misinformation

Consider a scenario in which a news anchor wants to discuss the state of climate science. The show's producer calls up a climate scientist well-known as an expert on at least some facet of climate. The producer will then call someone else willing to "debate the other side." Since virtually all climate scientists agree that 100+ years of published scientific data unequivocally demonstrate humans are warming the planet, the "other side" is usually some spokesperson for a lobbyist organization or one of its front groups.

You can can imagine how this debate goes. Normally the climate scientist will state the facts as have been defined by that 100+ years of science and summarized by thousands of climate scientists. Then the lobbyist spokesperson will rattle off a dozen sentences, all making false statements about a dozen topics. Since it's easier to misrepresent in bulk than it is to debunk each individually, the lobbyist will generally look more media-adroit to the viewing public. As such the viewers will 1) assume both "sides" are equally valid, and often 2) feel like the lobbying guy "did a better job" communicating than did the scientist.

And the public gets misinformed.

Lobbyists, of course, are very familiar with how to manipulate the media and the public. That's their job every day of the year. And they do it well. They don't worry about the fact that most of what they say isn't actually true; their goal is to reach the best result for their membership and swaying public opinion (and giving cover for political allies) is how they accomplish this goal.

Scientists, on the other hand, are good at science, but few scientists are as good communicating to the public. This isn't surprising since scientists historically communicate the science with other scientists through publishing their research in peer-reviewed journals. The information tends to be highly technical and hard to communicate to the public.

So the media actually aids and abets misinforming the public, perhaps not intentionally all the time, but routinely. This is exactly what the denialist industry wants.

Semi-accidental denialism

There is one more way the media misinforms the public. I've labeled this “semi-accidental,” for lack of a better word. What I mean is that the media give credence to the denial of the science simply by allowing deniers to fabricate the illusion of controversy. The creation of controversy itself isn’t accidental. Media outlets in the highly competitive 24-hour, insta-tweet “news” cycle are always looking for ways to boost ratings (which boosts ad revenues, which boosts profits). And controversy is the best way to boost ratings, even if the controversy has to be invented. Fox News has built its entire political-entertainment-oriented programming on the idea, and it has been a financial gold mine for them. Journalism be damned, we're getting ratings!

Creation of controvesy is often the primary motivation behind having two opposing views being interviewed at the same time. The interviewer intentionally seeks to create conflict so that the viewing public doesn’t doze off in the middle of the segment. While this may not reflect very well on the viewing public, it is the nature of our modern “give it to me in 140 characters or less” attention span. The media cater to it by setting the stage for conflict and ensuring that any controversial sound bites are played over and over as ticklers going to commercials. All day long.

And denier lobbyists use this to their advantage as they seek to manipulate public opinion. All day long.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Collusion Among Climate Denial Lobbyists and Their Spokespeople

An interesting thing happened as the professional climate denier industry tried to suppress the release of Merchants of Doubt, a movie based on the book by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. They accidentally proved that climate denier lobbyists are in collusion to misrepresent the science - exactly what the book and movie document.

For those not familiar with Merchants of Doubt you can read my review of the book or watch the trailer for the movie:

Oreskes and Conway carefully documented the science denial tactics of one of professional denier lobbying group, the George C. Marshall Institute. The Institute was started by Ronald Reagan appointees as lobbyist selling his lasers in space defense system dubbed "Star Wars." That program never got off the ground (let alone into space), so the Institute turned to denying whatever science issue was causing their paying customers grief, like smokestack emissions causing acid rain, CFCs causing ozone depletion, second hand smoke causing cancer, and now, greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming. In all cases the Institute knew it was denying the science, and in all cases they were wrong, but they did it to service their corporate benefactors. You may have missed these previous episodes of climate denial, but you probably know that one of the denialist industry's favorite "skeptics" is Roy Spencer, who just happens to sit on the Board of Directors of the George C. Marshall Institute.

So you can see why the professional denial industry would be eager to suppress the movie, which features blunt interviews with professional denier spokespeople Fred Singer (who previously denied smoking caused cancer) and Marc Morano (a political operative with a long history of far right wing attacks on politicians, the science, and scientists). The book and movie note that both, along with others, have received substantial support from the denial industry lobbyists.

Which gets us to an interesting revelation as these deniers scrambled to attack the movie. Take a look at the following email distribution list:

The list comes from an email string in which Fred Singer asks his buddies in the climate denial industry how to attack Naomi Oreskes and/or the movie director Robert Kenner. The emails themselves are revealing in that they show how they plan to harass the principals - remember that Singer and Morano and others agreed to be interviewed for the movie. But even more revealing is that all the major "independent" climate deniers are in collusion with each other.

This isn't actually a surprise. While deniers claim that there are many people who dismiss the overwhelming scientific consensus, the truth is that there are a very small number of lobbyist-associated scientists and political operatives that are the focal point of denial - exactly as the book and movie document. You can see that the list includes the handful of scientists who act as skeptics, along with the people on whose behalf they act - paid lobbyists like Morano, Horner, Milloy, Ball, Taylor and Bast, and key disinformation outlets like Monckton, Delingpole, D'Aleo, Goddard, and Watts. They work together to create falsehoods and misinformation about the science, feed it out onto the media at all levels, and then encourage the amateur deniers to unskeptically plagiarize the misinformation so that it saturates the blogosphere.

In fact, these people and the lobbying organizations and their front groups are closely linked in collusion. The following shows just a subset of the supposedly "independent" scientists who act as "skeptics" for the lobbying industry. All have multiple connections to lobbyists and front groups.

But it doesn't stop there. The key players are actually connected to a web of front groups and secretive funding lobbyists.

And what is the goal of this network of denial? To "manufacture doubt." As Marc Morano admits in the Merchants of Doubt movie and others have documented repeatedly, the tactics of climate denial lobbyists, the ones they have used for every episode of science denial going back to the tobacco companies denying smoking causes cancer, are:

The email distribution list demonstrates that this denial network works in collusion to misinform the public and provide cover for policymakers (most of whom are already receiving substantial campaign donations from fossil fuel and libertarian/conservative interests directly). The denial lobby network routinely communicate with each other and plan their attacks, which is why when the lobbyists seed a particular misinformational talking point into the blogosphere it immediately saturates the internet with the same misinformation. It's an intentional strategy.

More on Exposing Climate Denialism in future posts.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How peer-review works...(Part 4: Using the internet to bypass peer review)

Part 4 of this series on how peer-review works...and doesn't work focuses on the power of the internet to rapidly spread the message of published papers to the public - and why that often elevates inconsequential papers to a level of importance that isn't warranted. Click on these links to read Part 1 (basics of peer review), Part 2 (when peer-review goes wrong), and Part 3 (abusing the system) of the peer-review series.

As noted in Part 3, sometimes the peer-review system can be abused. Two big examples are the outright fraud of Andrew Wakefield and the "pal review" scheme of Chris de Freitas that allowed Willie Soon to get his start fronting papers for oil industry lobbyists. Another abuse of the system is the creation of a "pal" journal for skeptics called Energy & Environment in which their Editor-in-Chief admits following her "political agenda" rather than scientific veracity.

These examples occurred early in what is now the ubiquitous presence of blogs where anyone can post anything they want. As noted by science authors Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum in their book Unscientific America,"There's tons of information available [on the internet], but much of it is crap."

Blogs, of course, are not peer-reviewed, but some blogs can be reliable sources of discussion about the science. See here for how to tell reliable from unreliable blogs. But blogs have also been used to intentionally elevate inconsequential published papers to an undeserved iconic status, often to spread misinformation.

The recent publication of a paper in the Chinese Science Journal is a good example. An unknown journal with unknown standards of peer-review published a paper ostensibly about climate science by the fake "Lord" Christopher Monckton, the now infamous Willie Soon, David Legates, and William M. Briggs, all four of whom are well-known climate deniers who do little actual climate research. The paper argued that their simple model (despite deniers always dissing models) with arbitrarily restricted parameters that essentially gave them the results they wanted was used to declare that all the other more sophisticated models used by real climate scientists were "wrong." The paper was laughable on its face, completely unsupported by its own data, full of errors, and wildly over-interpreted. In the past, most such papers would simply be ignored because they don't stand up to scrutiny. More on why this time was different in a moment.

Another paper that got more attention than it deserved was one by Roy Spencer and William Braswell published in the journal Remote Sensing in 2011. Again a simplified model with questionable parametization dramatically over-interpreted results into some unjustified damnation of all the other science to date. The paper didn't stand up to scrutiny. In fact, the Editor-in-Chief resigned, stating that the paper had been sent out to reviewers best known for denying the science than doing it. Similar work by the authors had already been found lacking. Ironically, the paper Spencer is best known for is one in which he and co-author John Christy made major errors that, when corrected by others, reversed their initial conclusions. Like Willie Soon, Spencer and Christy are associated with oil-industry and libertarian lobbying groups.

There are other examples of seemingly inconsequential published papers, but many many more examples of papers that were never published, that somehow take on a life of their own in the blogosphere. Suddenly a paper that doesn't stand up to scientific scrutiny is hailed as "blowing gaping holes in global warming alarmism" in an Op-Ed by a paid lobbyist lawyer. To any educated and informed person the immediate response is something akin to "huh??"

Sometimes the oddest things go viral in the Facebook and blogosphere world. Often we don't understand how something "caught on" (like the gold vs blue dress meme), but in the case of climate denial the virality is intentional and a product of public relations/lobbyist networks designed for exactly that purpose. The process is the same as used by the tobacco industry to deny smoking causes cancer. It goes roughly like this:

1) Professional denier lobbyists seed their network of media transmitters.

These are often Forbes, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and various other right wing media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch and like-minded media moguls. Often the pieces are written by other lobbyists (e.g., lobbyist/lawyer James Taylor of the Heartland Institute). These outlets usually have a "go-to" guy who will write up intentional misinformation about the paper (or a blog); such "go-tos" include Christopher Booker, David Rose, Matt Ridley, and James Delingpole who essentially relay the lobbyist talking points into the main-stream media.

2) Professional front groups further saturate the blogosphere.

Industry supported blogs like Climate Depot, Watts Up With That, Climate Audit, JoNova, and others make sure the professional lobbyist talking points get out to the ideologically motivated amateur climate deniers. Often these professional front groups will print verbatim what was seeded by the paid folks in step 1. These front groups also may pay people to be "sock-puppets," that is, commenters on Facebook and other blogs to insert and reiterate denier misinformation into the public discussion.

3) Amateur climate deniers plagiarize and completely saturate the blogosphere

The reason the professional lobbyists and front groups spend so much time putting out misinformation is that they know the amateur climate deniers won't understand it enough to see how obviously bogus it is. Professional deniers also know that most amateur deniers simply don't care that so much of the information is so blatantly, and laughably, false. Professional deniers, in fact, count on this willful ignorance. So amateur deniers simply parrot and plagiarize the talking points fed to them and repeat it ad nauseam no matter how many times the falsehoods are corrected.

This process can take an insignificant paper and make it the most important thing on Earth. The fact that most papers usually only examine a small piece of a huge puzzle is either ignored or lost to ignorance. In the past, insignificant or faulty published papers would simply fade away; today those same papers may be given a false level of importance. These are joined by papers that aren't even papers - blog posts, propaganda pieces, opinion pieces, and even random quotes taken out of context and given an entire story line completely divorced from (and often opposite of) the actual story.

And this is done intentionally by the climate denier lobbyists.

[Note: Peer-review graphic can be seen larger at]

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What the Rajendra Pachauri Harassment Accusations Mean to the IPCC and Man-Made Climate Change

In a word - nothing. But let me explain for those unfamiliar with the IPCC and how Rajendra K. Pachauri became its chair, and why the current accusations are irrelevant to man-made climate change.

For those living in a vacuum, the blogosphere has been saturated with reports that now-former IPCC Chair Pachauri has been accused of harassment by a woman employed by his unrelated energy institute called TERI. Pachauri has denied the allegations and the case is likely to take some time to reach a conclusion. As such, Pachauri resigned from his position at IPCC and apparently is on leave from his position at TERI.

The first thing to keep in mind is that all of this involves TERI, not the IPCC. As we all know, the IPCC is the climate organization that all climate deniers love to hate, attacking it constantly because they don't like the state-of-the-science summarized in its periodic reports. This is yet another irrelevancy they will use to attack the science. You can read more about how the IPCC works and the denialist attacks on it here. Pachauri's term as chair was due to end this year anyway, and given that the most recent set of reports just came out and the next aren't due for nearly 7 years, his somewhat early departure isn't particularly meaningful.

By let's take a look at how Pachauri came to be chair in the first place, which explains why climate scientists aren't so unhappy to see him depart. Pachauri was elected to the chairmanship in 2002. That date is important to the story, the gist of which is the following.

Prior to Pachauri, the IPCC was chaired by Dr. Robert T. Watson, an actual atmospheric scientist who had been chair for about six years. Then George W. Bush was elected President of the U.S., and consistent with his long-time family oil interests, appointed Philip Cooney as the head of his Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ). A lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, Cooney would seem an odd choice for the CEQ, but his purpose would soon be evident. Cooney left the administration in 2005 after being caught doctoring climate reports to downplay the science in favor of his oil industry handlers. Upon resigning he immediately took a job with oil giant ExxonMobil.

But Cooney's dishonesty wasn't the only Bush administration attack on climate science. There was the matter of Robert Watson, who was up for renomination as the chair of IPCC, but the oil industry wanted him out. President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, both deeply indebted to the oil industry (Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton prior to VP), willingly acted on industry behalf to remove Watson. After all, who wants an actual climate scientist to chair the organization summarizing climate science, right?

Enter Arthur Randol III, a senior adviser for ExxonMobil. As detailed in a 2002 article by noted science columnist Andrew Revkin, Randol, in a memo directed to the Bush administration, issued his instructions and asked whether Dr. Watson could "be replaced now at the request of the U.S." Not long after, Watson was out and Pachauri was in as the new chairman of the IPCC.

Pachauri is an industrial engineer and economist, not a climate scientist, so was thought by the oil industry to be more amendable to the industry position. That turned out not to be the case, as the science speaks for itself no matter who is nominally in charge of the process. As described earlier, the IPCC has a very small staff charged mostly with "herding cats," i.e., an administrative function focused on coordinating the volunteer work of thousands of climate scientists around the world as they work unpaid for up to 7 years collating, evaluating, and summarizing the tens of thousands of new climate research papers since the last IPCC review. These thousands of scientists work in teams to summarize the data. Their drafts are then reviewed by other scientists, as well as anyone else who requests to review the reports prior to publication. All comments (yes, even from climate deniers) are addressed, and each set of reports receives thousands of comments (which is why the reports take so long to be finalized).

The chair of the IPCC merely oversees the coordination process while the reports are being prepared, and then serves as a central spokesman for the results reported. The chair can only reiterate what the science says. So in essence, it isn't particularly relevant who chairs the IPCC, only that the process of compilation and summarizing of the state-of-the-science is completed by relevant climate scientists. Which is what happens.

One more point to keep in mind is that the IPCC merely reports on what has been published, i.e., the IPCC itself doesn't conduct new studies. Most of it comes from the peer-reviewed literature, though some government and non-peer-reviewed data and analysis are also cited when relevant and reliable (not surprisingly, this gray literature is more common in the policy-oriented volumes of mitigation and economic impact, whereas the vast majority of the physical science volume is comprised of peer-reviewed scientific studies). In addition, while IPCC compiles all the scientific literature worldwide, specific scientific climate research organizations such as NOAA, NASA, CRU, and others conduct their own research, and all agree that more than 100 years of data unequivocally demonstrate that human activities are driving the warming of our planet. The science stands on its own, no matter who the IPCC chair happens to be. So Pachauri's departure is essentially, meh, in meaning.

That said, the United States and the world now have an opportunity to support the appointment of a real climate scientist to take over the chairmanship of the IPCC. Most critical is the ability to accurately communicate the state-of-the-science and to manage the process such that governments feel confident taking action to deal with the challenge of our lifetimes.

The science says that action is necessary, and now. It's time the U.S. and others move forward on that action.

[Note: This post appears a day earlier than the normal Thursday posting schedule; next week will return to the normal schedule. Also, next week will return to Part 4 of the series on how peer-review works and doesn't work. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 can be read by clicking on the links.]