Thursday, May 21, 2015

How Climate Scientists Can Communicate the Science to Policymakers

Last week we took a look at how climate scientists can communicate the science to scientists in other fields. That was Part 1 of a three-part series on how to communicate climate science to all three target audiences - other scientists, policy-makers, and the public.Today in Part 2 we'll look at how scientists can communicate with policy-makers.

Why this is so important should be self-evident. Policy-makers - Congressmen, Presidents, Executive Agencies (like EPA), and their equivalents at state and international levels - are the ones charged with determining the correct policies needed to address the unequivocal science of man-made climate change. Sure, virtually all the candidates from a particular party who want to be president have offered up various versions of denying the science and/or have argued no action is necessary, but the fact is the science is so unequivocal that even that particular party will have to take action. So how do scientists adequately communicate the science to these policy-makers and policy-maker wannabes?

Obviously this starts with having a clear understanding of the science, something we've talked about in previous posts. Let's assume that's the case. Here are some things that climate scientists can do in an effort to reach out to policy-makers:

1) Write white papers: But keep them short, preferably bullet points. Despite the conventional wisdom, policy-makers are busy people who spend many hours keeping up with debates with colleagues on the Hill (for example) while maintaining contact with constituents back home (not to mention all those fundraisers with lobbyists and supporters). They are not going to be reading any actual scientific literature, nor would they likely understand it if they tried. [Note: by "they," I mean their staffs.] So write shorter white papers, again with a lot of white paper and bullet points, that succinctly summarize the main points and gist of the science. As much as you think policy-makers need the details, they don't. All they need are the basics so that they can grasp the unequivocal nature of the data and conclusions.

One caveat on this point. Some policy-makers, e.g., regulators or science-trained legislators, will want more detail and will ask tons of pertinent questions. When you find one of these by all means be ready to devote significant effort to accurately and clearly keep them informed of the science. As I write this the name Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator (D-RI) immediately pops into mind.

2) Comment on relevant legislation: There are several facets of this that I'll lump into one line item. State and Federal legislators often propose bills or make speeches (see "Sheldon Whitehouse" above) that may or may not ever make it into law. Get your comments on the record. At the federal level there is a docket for most legislative actions so as a scientist you should look for opportunities to put the science on record. This also holds true for proposed regulatory actions. The USEPA, for example, has various rules and regulations related to climate-influenced action; put your comments and a summary of the data in the record.

3) Reach out to legislative staff: While each legislator (especially US Congressmen/women and Senators) have their own staffs, they each also sit on several committees, and those committees each have a staff. Speak to them. Send them comments. Offer your expertise. Last year a group of climate scientists offered to give a briefing to Florida Governor Rick Scott, and after some public pressure, he let them come in and explain the basics of climate science (which he promptly ignored). In a similar vein, both the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and the Society of Toxicology arranged for briefings with Congressional committee staff charged with modernizing the nation's top chemical control law (TSCA). Will staff always pay attention? Not always. But they won't know at all if you don't offer.

4) Testify at hearings: This is easier said than done since you have to be invited by one of the party's in order to get on the agenda. This is where making the effort to get information in front of key regulators, legislators, and their staffs pays off. But here's the kicker, once you get an opportunity to testify, don't waste it by simply rattling off the science they should already know. Certain legislators will "play dumb" or make statements that are miming the usual talking points provided by lobbyists. Don't let them get away with it - tell them when they are wrong, and do it directly. [Secretary of State John Kerry did it right, for example, when he explained to Senator Marco Rubio that Rubio's much stated beliefs about the Iran talks were "absolutely wrong." (see about 2 minutes in)]

A note on this point as well. There is a certain decorum expected in all legislative and regulatory proceedings, so I'm not advocating yelling "you lie" when someone, well, lies. But as scientists and citizens we all have an obligation to make sure policy-makers understand the science correctly, and that means calling them out when they repeat known falsehoods. They simply don't repeat the same talking point verbatim over and over by accident, so don't let them get away with it. The danger of directly calling them on such things brings with it the likelihood that you'll find it hard to be asked to testify to that committee again, but if that is what you're worried about then you will be doing a disservice to the science and the public.

5) Reach out to their constituents: Legislators are supposed to act in the best interests of their constituents, but all too often they conflate "lobbyists/campaign funders" with "constituents." Sadly this is a result of our current political system, but if enough of their constituents press them for action, they will be forced to take action. So reach out to the public in those states, for example, where Senators or Representatives are hurting the voters due to their denial of the science and subsequent need for action. An obvious example, one of many, is Oklahoma, which faces increasing drought risk and economic instability from climate-related changes even as their senior Senator pitches snowballs and quotes scripture in his denial of the science. If you live in Oklahoma and your area of expertise is impact of climate change on drought, or conversely, understand how wind or solar can be employed in Oklahoma, then make sure Oklahomans know it.

Next week's post will take a more in-depth look at how scientists can reach out to the public.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How Climate Scientists Can Communicate the Science to Scientists in Other Fields

A few weeks ago we talked about how to communicate climate science to all three target audiences - other scientists, policy-makers, and the public. We touched on how scientists "do science," i.e., through research, data analysis, conference attendance, and scientific publication. Today we'll take a closer look at how scientists can communicate climate science to other scientists, including those scientists who specialize in other fields.

1) Publish the Research: As already noted, the main way for scientists to communicate the science to other scientists is to publish it in peer-reviewed journals. Doing so allows scientists to carefully lay out the premises, the methods, how the data were analyzed, the results, and the conclusions, all so other scientists can evaluate - and recreate - the work. I've discussed peer review in depth in previous posts. [Click on these links to read Part 1 (basics of peer review), Part 2 (when peer-review goes wrong),  Part 3 (abusing the system), and Part 4 (using the internet to bypass peer-review) of the series.] Once published, the research is further scrutinized, which may confirm or refute the work, and usually leads to more studies...and more publications. Many climate researchers, for example, have hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers (whereas most climate deniers have few, if any, peer-reviewed publications).

But think about the scientific publishing process for a moment. Like physicians, for example, where individual doctors may specialize in endocrinology, brain surgery, dentistry, or podiatry, scientists may specialize in astrophysics, archeology, biology, chemistry, mathematics, geology or dozens of other specialties. The more specialized the professional training and expertise, the greater the likelihood that a given scientist won't be keeping up to date on advancements in other fields. A biologist is likely to have memberships and subscriptions to several biology-related organizations and journals, but may not be reading a physics journal discussing heat transfer in atmospheric systems.

This presents the dilemma that while journal publication is critical, it is largely focused on communicating with other scientists within your own field. That said, despite the tendency toward greater specialization, there is also a greater need for multidisciplinary collaboration. For example, ecologists looking at migratory patterns will see that those patterns are being modified by climate changes.

So how does one reach out to scientists in other fields?

2) Presentations at Universities: We've already said that scientists attend scientific conferences to find out what other scientists are doing, but here we have the same problem as with journals. With limited funds, scientists are usually only able to attend one or perhaps two conferences in their primary area of focus. One way for climate scientists to reach out to scientists in other fields is to give presentations at Universities, especially if it can be arranged such that all relevant scientific departments have the opportunity to attend. We all have friends in other universities - set up a brown bag or evening talk next time you're in town.

One key point for presenters to remember is to avoid scientific jargon that may not be understandable to scientists in other fields. This is less of a problem than it might be when communicating to the general public (more on that later), but try talking about quantum flux to an ecologist and you'll see some glassy eyes nonetheless. The goal is to get the gist of the information out to other scientists so they can have informed discussions with others in their fields (and with their non-scientist friends). They won't need all the details, but as scientists they will want to have enough detail to feel comfortable that the science is sound. Make the time to present to them.

3) Explain the IPCC Process: This can be done as part of item #2. With so much disinformation floating around out there (much of it intentionally wafted onto the winds of blogs by lobbyists), it's important other scientists have a sense of how the scientific consensus was arrived at, including how the IPCC and other organizations assess all the scientific literature. Bottom line, all the science from more than 100 years by thousands of scientists published in more than 100,000 peer-reviewed papers unequivocally demonstrates that human activity is warming the planet. Make sure other scientists understand how that unequivocal conclusion was obtained.

4) Call out Misinformers: Let's face it, there are people and organizations out there who are intentionally misinforming the public. Most misinformers are lobbyists and political operatives, but a handful of those misinformers are scientists. It is important to call them out on their misrepresentations, errors, and in some cases, outright falsehoods. This shouldn't be as hard as it sounds - scientists are not afraid to question methods and conclusions at scientific conferences and in publications; this is no different. As professionals we have an ethical obligation to call out people who are repeatedly misreporting the science. Do it.

5) Explain "science" in terms of the big picture: Yes, scientists are encouraged to narrow in their research question so that it can be tested. That's the focus of your peer-reviewed publications. But when reaching out to other scientists, especially those in other fields, it is more important to give them the bigger picture.Your study looked at melting of glaciers? Explain how melting glaciers affects overall global warming, or drinking water sources, or tectonics. Don't just tell them your study conclusions; tell them what your study conclusions mean to our overall understanding of the big picture science. And tell them how your findings are relevant to their field of study.

6) Write a Blog: And set up a Facebook group. And produce videos for YouTube. And teach a MOOC. These will be especially useful when communicating to the public, but they can also be directed at a more technical level to other scientists. Don't be afraid to experiment with social media (have your kids show you how).

7) Teach Students How to Communicate: While most of the focus of this piece is on scientists communicating to other scientists, don't forget that your students are the scientists of the future. It is imperative that they know how to communicate to other other scientists. Again, this goes beyond just publishing in journals and presenting at conferences. All the above applies to them as well.

While there are likely other points that can be offered on how to communicate the science to other scientists, these seven points cover the most critical. The goal is to broaden your field of vision so that others can understand the meaning of your work. In this age of limited resources, it's important to make the effort.

Future posts will explore how scientists can communicate to policy-makers and to the public. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

An Open Letter to Media Matters about How to Interview a Climate Change Denier: Marco Rubio Edition

Dear Media Matters:

The media routinely enable climate change denial and misinform the public. A recent article by Media Matters of America touted "how to interview a climate change denier," using two media interviews of Marco Rubio. Media Matters suggested that Jorge Ramos's interview was effective while Bob Schieffer's was not. I disagree. In fact, both represent profound failures in journalism.

Take a moment to watch the two videos in the Media Matters article here. Each video is less than a minute.

Media Matters correctly notes that "Schieffer allowed Rubio to again deny the science of climate change with no pushback." However, Media Matters then suggests "In contrast...Ramos emphasized that '97 percent of the studies on climate change say that you are wrong.'"

Somehow to Media Matters the Ramos interview constitutes "pushback." Here is why Media Matters is absolutely wrong, and that it does a disservice to the public by suggesting Ramos's interview is a model for future interviews.

Schieffer clearly lets Marco Rubio sling his talking points without any kind of challenge, then races to the next topic - gay marriage - to presumably do the same thing, and then to the next topic to do the same thing. Politicians like Rubio (and all the other candidates) count on never having to support their talking points...even when they clearly are as dishonest and illogical as Rubio's.

But Ramos does exactly the same thing as Schieffer. Sure, Ramos in his question does state that 97% of climate scientists say Rubio is wrong, but then Ramos goes right ahead and lets Rubio rattle off his almost verbatim talking points. Ramos doesn't challenge Rubio to support the false statements just made; he simply rushes off to the next topic (again, gay marriage) to give Rubio a chance to spout his meaningless talking points on that one too.

I'm sorry, Media Matters, but you've failed here as much as did Schieffer and Ramos. In both cases the reporter gave Rubio a set up line and then didn't bother to critique the veracity or logic of Rubio's well-rehearsed falsehoods and platitudes.

Here's what should have happened:

Schieffer/Ramos: Asks question.

Rubio: Rattles off talking points.

Schieffer/Ramos: "But Mr. Rubio, 97% of scientists say you're wrong. Also, your statement that 'the climate is always changing' is a platitude with no meaning. What scientists have clearly stated is that more than 100 years of science unequivocally shows that human activity is warming the climate system. As someone who wants to be president, you would be obligated to deal honestly with the policy implications of that science. Now, Mr. Rubio, are you saying you deny the science that 97% of climate scientists agree shows unequivocal human drivers of man-made climate change?"

[Later, after Rubio has tied his tongue in knots trying to pander to science deniers without actually blatantly lying, Schieffer/Ramos would ask how Rubio can be so uncertain about the unequivocal science while simultaneously being able to say a policy on climate change originally pushed by conservative Republicans would 'with certainty' result in 'economic devastation.' The illogic and contradiction of his responses could be further explored in additional follow up questions.]

By touting Ramos's simple statement of fact during the preamble to the question as "how to interview a climate denier," Media Matters misses completely the need for journalists to challenge the talking points of the candidates, not simply let them read them off their memorized cue cards without having to support anything they've said.

Instead, I would suggest the following few points for journalists and Media Matters to consider for the ubiquitous interviews and debates with climate deniers seeking the presidency (or any political office):

1) Challenge falsehoods: This may seem obvious for journalists, but in this age of corporate-owned, ratings-driven, news-entertainment, most journalists are not even journalists at all. While we can't expect partisan pundits to honestly evaluate the candidates, the public has a right to expect news networks and news-evaluation websites to challenge obvious falsehoods and misdirections.

In the "what should have happened" example interview above, Rubio's platitude about the climate always changing should be called out as exactly that - a platitude with no meaning. His statement that he/we don't know how much warming is due to human activity should be called out on two aspects: a) for contradicting his "climate always changing" platitude, and b) for being blatantly false. His bait-and-switch to disagreeing with policy implications should also be called out on two aspects: a) for being an obvious attempt to deflect from his denial of the science, and b) an utterly ridiculous statement unsupported by any facts. Rubio should than have been asked to provide some evidence for his obviously false statements, along with what sources he is relying on.

2) Don't switch topics: In both interviews the journalist spent less than a minute on climate change, then switched topics without challenging Rubio's statements. That is exactly what the candidates want, and the media is glad to oblige because they want to cover as many topics as they can squeeze into the sound bites they believe their viewers are only capable of handling. The result is that the media allow the candidates to intentionally misinform the public while supporting nothing they say with any factual evidence. Which gets us to what really needs to happen.

3) Do focused interviews: Believe it or not, most Americans are capable of listening to more than 40 seconds on any given topic. Rather than squeeze six topics into a five-minute interview, spend the entire interview on one topic. There will be dozens of opportunities for any network to interview each of the more viable candidates, so why repeat the same meaningless interview dozens of times? If you have only five minutes to interview a candidate, focus the entire five minutes on climate change. If you can get 15 minutes on climate change, even better.

For longer interviews, say, for an hour, perhaps invite two or three (or ten) candidates at the same time and have a discussion on climate change. Other topics would also be given focused attention in subsequent interviews, which candidates are always willing to do because it is free advertising for their campaign.

As I close this open letter I note that it is mostly directed at journalists, non-journalist interviewers (the now ubiquitous "on-air personalities"), and journalistic watchdog groups such as Media Matters. But here is another suggestion - involve scientists in the interviews. Not just as interviewees, but as interviewers. Let a climate scientist interview Marco Rubio. I don't mean "debate him," I mean interview him. Or let other science journalists/communicators (e.g., Chris Mooney, Sheril Kirshenbaum) interview the candidates.

This latter idea isn't new. In 2008 and 2012, and now again for 2016, there is something called ScienceDebate. Touted on their Facebook Page as "a nonpartisan, nonprofit dedicated to raising the profile of science and technology policy issues along the U.S. presidential campaign trail," ScienceDebate is one way in which climate deniers running for president would be compelled to support their positions - and have their platitudes, falsehoods, and intentional misdirections challenged with actual facts.

With critical action on man-made climate change necessary, the media will have to do better when they interview climate change deniers running for the highest political office in America.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Making Sense of Climate Denial - An Online Course

The Dake Page is focused on communicating science and exposing climate denialism, so we are happy to see the presence of an online course by John Cook entitled "Making Sense of Climate Denial." The course begins today (April 28, 2015), so there is still time to join up and participate.

And participate you should. Designed as a MOOC, a "Massive Open Online Course," the course can be taken for free from any computer accessing the internet. It runs for seven weeks and includes a variety of informational videos, quizzes, and supporting materials. It's a must for anyone who wants to understand both man-made climate change and how some folks remain in denial of climate science.

It's originator is John Cook, best known for his website Skeptical Science, one of the most valuable sites out there for debunking climate denial. For the MOOC, Cook has brought in a great cast of science communicators, as well as interviewed many climate scientists. The MOOC even has its own Facebook community page.

The first week went online April 28, 2015 and focuses on introducing both the course and climate denial. Cook and others examine the consensus, the psychology of denial, and the spread of denial. Through the ample use of video, each section delves into the science, ways to examine the science, and how deniers misrepresent and misunderstand the science.

For example, in the first section on Consensus, there are a series of videos that look at:
  • Consensus of Evidence
  • Consensus of Scientists
  • Consensus of Papers
  • Knowledge-Based Consensus

The Knowledge-Based Consensus video delves into three important components of scientific consensus - consilience of evidence (i.e., different lines of evidence lead to the same concluson), social calibration (i.e., everyone uses the same language and standards of evidence), and social diversity (i.e., evidence comes from a variety of people and regions). The sum total of all of the evidence, when it unequivocally leads to a conclusion, is what becomes the consensus.

The section on Psychology of Denial examines ideological biases, the five characteristics of science denial, and how deniers attempt to block any action. The Spread of Denial section examines the manufacture of doubt, the history of misinformation campaigns, and various ways deniers use the media to misinform the public.

All of these topics have been discussed here on The Dake Page in various forms. John Cook's MOOC addresses them in an organized and highly informational way. I strongly recommend everyone interested in climate science sign up for this course.

Making Sense of Climate Denial

Feel free to wander around The Dake Page for more information and background on Exposing Climate Denialism.

[Note: Because John Cook's MOOC starts today, this issue of The Dake Page is being published on Tuesday. It will return to its normal Thursday publishing schedule next week.]

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.