How to be Engaging

I’ve started writing my promised post on models used in climate science, but thought I’d get this more topical post out first.

I went to an interesting conference session yesterday on communicating climate science, convened by Asher Minns (Tyndall Centre), Joe Smith (Open University), and Lorraine Whitmarsh (Cardiff University). A few people presented their research into different practices, and the speakers and convenors discussed audience questions afterwards. Paul Stapleton has also blogged about the session here.

A good stand-out point was presented by Mathieu Jahnich: research has found that the public prefer hopeful campaigns (in communicating climate science), not shocking images or negative, hopeless campaigns. I think most of us instinctively know this.

Hebba Haddad, a PhD student from the University of Exeter, spoke on topics close to my heart: the effect of communicating uncertainties in climate science, and the effect of the ‘voice’ in which it is presented. The first relates to the amount of information given about the uncertainty in a prediction: for example, saying “60-80% probability” rather than “70% probability”. The second relates to the phrasing: for example, using the warmer, more friendly and open phrasing of “We…” on an institute website, rather than the cooler, more distant “The centre…”.

She pointed out that scientists, of course, often attempt to transfer as much information as possible (the deficit model – a view that if only enough information were given, people would make rational decisions…), highlight the uncertainties, and use technical language. Science communicators, on the other hand, are more likely to understand their audience, understate uncertainties, convey simpler messages, and use a warmer, friendlier style.

Hebba carried out a study on 152 psychology students. The standout results for me were that:

  1. greater communication of uncertainty reduced belief in climate science;
  2. if little uncertainty is communicated, then the tone makes little difference to the level of engagement;
  3. if a lot of uncertainty is communicated, then a warm tone leads to much greater engagement than a distant tone.

This makes sense: if there is a lot of uncertainty, people use heuristics (short-cuts) to determine their trust in information. These particular students responded well to a personal, friendly tone. And in a later session, someone made the distinction between “relational trust”, which is based on similarity of intentions or values, and “calculative trust”, or “confidence”, based on past behaviour. They said that in everyday situations people tend to make decisions based on calculative trust, but in unfamiliar situations they use relational trust: another heuristic in times of uncertainty.

But this is interesting, because I think a large part of the audience who visit this blog (thank you) contradict these findings. Your trust in the science increases the more I talk about uncertainty! And I think you place greater importance in “calculative” rather than “relational” trust. In other words, you use the past behaviour of the scientist as a measure of trust, not similarity in values. I’ve found that whenever I talk about limitations of modelling, or challenge statements about climate science and impacts that I believe are not robust, my “trust points” go up because it demonstrates transparency and honesty. (See previous post for squandering of some of those points…). Using a warm, polite tone helps a lot, which supports Hebba’s findings. But I would wager that the degree of similarity to my audience is much less important than my ability to demonstrate trustworthiness.

Lorraine commented that Hebba’s finding of the importance of a warm tone is a challenge for scientists, who are used to talking (particularly writing) in a passive tone: “It was found that…” rather than “We found…”. To combat this, and increase public trust, Joe urged climate scientists to be “energetic digital scholars”, “open” and “public.” He thought we should not try to present climate science as “fact” but as “ambitious, unfolding, and uncertain”.

A US scientist in the audience asked for advice on how to engage online in such a polarised debate, and another audience member asked if giving simple messages (without all uncertainties) might compromise public trust in scientists. Joe kindly invited me to comment on these social media and uncertainty aspects. I speedily dumped the contents of my brain onto the room about how this blog and related efforts, giving a transparent, warts-and-all view of science as an unfolding process, had been very successful in increasing trust. In fact I had so much to say that I was asked to stop, would you believe (er, perhaps you would…).

For those of you that don’t trust the IPCC too much, I merely note that Jean-Pascal van Ypersele tapped me on the shoulder after I spoke about the importance of communicating uncertainties transparently, and asked me to email him the blog link…

Some tweeting about the session led to some lovely supportive messages from across the spectrum of opinions (thank you) and also some criticisms by people you might expect to be supportive. I’ve Storified these below.

And finally, Leo Hickman welcomes our ‘Rapunzel’ approach to communication. I was one of the invited palaeoclimate scientists at that meeting (actually, I probably invited myself), and can confirm it was very civil and productive.


Storify of the post-session Twitter conversation:



  1. Richard Betts

    Very interesting session – sorry I couldn’t be there. Great to see Hebba involved (hello Hebba if you are here!)

    Ha, Leo’s “Rapunzel” description is quite funny. While I did have long hair in the early ’90s, that was a long time ago and anyone trying to climb my locks now would find it hard to find something to hang on to…. 🙂

    Thanks for joining us for Andrew’s visit, Tamsin, and for bringing Jonty!



  2. mrsean2k

    I’d particularly like to endorse the idea that frankly admitting to uncertainty and / or ignorance makes an enormous difference to credibility. Admitting that you don’t know, or don’t know if you do know, makes assertions that you do know more likely to be believed. You know?

    But I’m puzzled by point 1:

    1. greater communication of uncertainty reduced belief in climate science;

    This seems, on the face of it, bereft of meaning in the same way as using the term “anti-climate” for instance – too imprecise to allow any conclusions to be drawn.

    What specifically are the authors attempting to convey? Belief that “climate science”ists are trustworthy? That “climate science” deserves funding? That certain unstated but implicit “consensus” views are deemed less “true”?

  3. Roddy Campbell

    Faultless analysis imho.

    In different field I debate stocks and shares in financial chatrooms. Clear division between those who “are very comfortable with debating knowns and unknowns, and how these change over time, with people that challenge their views” and those who “are concerned with the message conveyed”, ie their mind is made up and they are ‘fully invested’ in their belief.

    It is absolutely true that a civil and respectful tone, and admission of uncertainties, both improves the quality of debate and increases trust enormously. I’m never going to be head of the diplomatic service, but have productive conversations in these and climate forums that improve my understanding and I hope theirs as a function of exchange of views, and the testing of those views.

    In the realclimate post remembering Sherry Rowland the last large paragraph perhaps should be read by Jo and Dan.

    Brilliant captcha machine! maths I can do.

  4. doug mcneall

    Might it be that trust in *you* goes up, rather than the science, the more you challenge statements about climate science, impacts? The point being, that skeptics are relating to you personally, the more they think your views align with theirs. How to pull that apart?

  5. Steve Easterbrook

    There was a similar session at the AGU meeting in December, with lots of good talks and constructive suggestion for how to improve science communication. But one of the speakers, Nancy Oreskes offered an important counterpoint to the idea that scientists need to be better communicators. She pointed out that all this focus on active engagement and being better communicators is all well and good, but if you don’t acknowledge the political context you’re operating in, then you may end up wasting your time.

    If you look at the history of the idea of doubt about climate change, it’s clear the problem isn’t any lack of communication by scientists; it’s a network of well-funded lobby groups and astro-turf organizations, using the same strategy (and some of the same agencies) who tried to convince people there was no link between smoking and cancer. Nancy has documented some of the strategies used by lobbyists to spread disinformation, and some of the fear-mongering they use, largely connected to people’s mistrust of governments, and dislike of government intervention in their lives. The problem then is that climate change isn’t just a scientific problem, it’s a political problem too, and all available policy responses are antithetical to the dominant neo-liberal ideology of less regulation & less government.

    Now that’s not the same as saying everyone who doubts climate science is a shill for the oil industry. But there is an effective misinformation campaign that’s working against climate scientists, and everyone you reach out to is likely to be hearing information that originates from this campaign, as much as they’re hearing about what the science actually says. So better communication on it’s own is not enough; we have to confront the sources of the misinformation too.

    The message I took from this with respect to the kind of conversations you’re exploring is that you have to take time to understand where the people you’re talking to are coming from, and whether what they say about the science is a genuine attempt at dialogue and learning; or whether it’s just a proxy for a political argument. If the latter, no amount of trying to talk about the science will help.

    • Tamsin Edwards

      Hi Steve, thanks for commenting. I guess the point is that I feel best able to make a useful contribution to the part of the spectrum that are open to dialogue.

    • Roger Otip

      all available policy responses are antithetical to the dominant neo-liberal ideology of less regulation & less government

      Not all. I think nuclear power has support among many on the right, though I’ve heard also that many people aren’t even aware that nuclear power is a low-carbon energy source and hence a potential climate mitigation policy. Perhaps if the link between cutting emissions and increasing nuclear power were made more strongly then you might find that those on the right were more willing to accept climate science – and you might also find that some on the left who oppose nuclear power start denying climate science.

    • Andy Mac


      You clearly believe that there is some kind of cabal who spread disinformation about climate science and scientists. I’m a sceptic ( I’m not a denier – which is the standard response from those who believe in CAGW) and I’m afraid that there are people who spread disinformation on both sides. We could name names, but I’m sure you are aware of who they are.
      From my perspective there are still massive uncertainties in the science and this has been shown time and time again ( I wont debate the science as this is not the place), but there are those within the CAGW fraternity who refuse to acknowledge any uncertainties in their communications or lack of understanding of the subject at hand. How many times do we need to see graphs produced with no error bars, or communications pushed out through friendly outlets like the ‘Gruniad’ and Aunte Beeb that have blatantly veered towards one side of the debate and have completely ignored (and therefore not informed the public) of the uncertainties, potential errors and any dissenting views. I really do feel that the CAGW debate has in part been hijacked by more political green groups who see it as a vehicle to achieve their own political aims. This does nobody any good as it stifles debate and communication. Whilst these groups still influence the IPCC and governments around the world the sceptics will continue to see this area of science more as politics.
      We all want a rational debate and communication which is clear, truthful and representitive of the science as a whole.

      • Archie Steel

        I’m sorry, but the fact that you use the term “CAGW”, which is not a scientific term, kind of identifies you as a denialist.

        If you disagree, please define exactly what you mean by “Catastrophic” – after all, the other words in that acronym (“anthropogenic”, “global” and “warming”) are unambiguous. What you need to demonstrate is what “Catastrophic” means and why you are certain the current warming trend won’t lead to such consequences.

        [Hi Archie, please refer to the comments policy in the Sceptical Compass post – leave the denier/denialist, and assumptions, at the door. I interpret the C as “an unjustified focus on very worst case scenarios that are thought very unlikely or physically implausible.” Of course there is disagreement on what this constitutes. But it helps to keep things civil. Cheers, Tamsin ]

    • Roger Otip

      I perceive the rise in climate scepticism generally as dating (in Europe) to the time expensive policies started being enacted

      It would be interesting to see how attitudes vary across European countries which have very different policies. France and Sweden for instance have already virtually decarbonized their electricity supplies so their situation is very different to that of Germany, which has a long way to go (and now even further since they’re dumping nuclear), Denmark or the UK. And in the UK much of the debate seems to be not just about the cost but also about the aesthetics of onshore wind.

    • Latimer Alder

      ‘it’s a network of well-funded lobby groups and astro-turf organizations, using the same strategy (and some of the same agencies) who tried to convince people there was no link between smoking and cancer’

      I often wonder how this supposed network has operated for so long, involving so many people, so many financial transactions in so many countries without any single piece of hard evidence (invoice, cheque, confession, conversion,, cock-up) ever coming to light.

      If it exists at all it must have expenditures in the billions of dollars annually. And even if the ‘shadowy directors of strategy’ manage to all keep lifetime omerta about their evil deeds, there is no such obligation on the accounts clerks or temporary secretaries or IT guys to stay schtumm five or ten years after the fact.

      Huge conspiracies on an international scale just do not work – simply because the humans involved change their loyalties and perspectives over time. And there is always a big buck to be made if you are the first to reveal its secrets. In thirty odd years nobody – among all the thousands of people involved – has done so.

      The Heartland cock-up showed just how desperate the warmists had become to believe in their own propaganda. They couldn’t find any real evidence, so ineptly made it up. And even that was small beer. The height of their imaginings was only 250,000 bucks from the Koch brothers. You really really really have to do better than this. You cannot run a well-funded international big oil denier network on 250K per day, let alone 250K per year.

      Easterbrook no doubt takes comfort at night with the idea that his message is only not getting through because of shadowy dark anti-science denialist forces. And I well remember hiding behind the sofa when the Daleks appeared in those very early episodes of Doctor Who. But my excuse for childish terror of the unknown is that I was only about seven at the time. I don’t think Easterbrook can use the same.

      • JSmith

        Are you saying that there is no evidence concerning the ‘smoking does not cause cancer’ lobby ? Surely not.
        Assuming that you recognise that there is such evidence, maybe you’re claiming that none of those involved in that lobby are now involved in lobbying against policies with regard to Climate Change ?
        Which is it ?

        (By the way, what is a “warmist” ?)

      • andrew adams


        Are you saying that Heartland is not in fact paying David Wojick to produce educational(sic) material aimed at pushing “skeptical” views as schoolchildren?

    • hunter

      It takes a real kook to offer a conspiracy theory as way of explanation for the implosion of credibilty in the AGW movement.

    • Steven Mosher

      “If you look at the history of the idea of doubt about climate change, it’s clear the problem isn’t any lack of communication by scientists; it’s a network of well-funded lobby groups and astro-turf organizations, using the same strategy (and some of the same agencies) who tried to convince people there was no link between smoking and cancer”

      That myth is one of the principle causes behind climategate.

  6. Liz

    Hebba’s study sounds really interesting, is she working with Suraje Dessai? I don’t think differences between (unengaged) psychology students and those who comment on here are particularly surprising, as I’m sure this blog attracts a very particular demographic (no offence!). A short anonymous questionnaire asking a few background questions about your readership would be quite interesting!

    I think what you’ve commented on fits well within our discussion on ‘saliency’ in our (hopefully soon to be reviewed) paper. A full regurgitation of every aspect of a study might be what readers of this blog require for their needs (for example, deciding what information they will trust), but some users of climate information might need (or be able to use) only a very particular aspect of the uncertainty for their decision making (e.g. estimate of increase in storm surge risk in London). The latter might be happy to trust that this is the best piece of information that is out there for their decision-making needs, and so not need to know how model structural uncertainty etc. has been dealt with.

  7. Ben Pile

    1. greater communication of uncertainty reduced belief in climate science;
    2. if little uncertainty is communicated, then the tone makes little difference to the level of engagement;
    3. if a lot of uncertainty is communicated, then a warm tone leads to much greater engagement than a distant tone.

    The things which I find troubling about attempts to produce ‘effective’ strategies for ‘communicating climate change’ are this. First, it strikes this ‘sceptic’ as a bit of a euphemism. Second, ‘communication’ is a bi-directional process. Third, in order to ‘communicate’, one needs to be able to reflect on ones own perspective. It strikes me that climate change communication isn’t intended as a bi-directional process.

    In any other area related to policy-making we would call discussion about a policy simply ‘debate’. ‘Communicating climate change’ seems to imply that the possibility of discussion of a meaningful kind has been excluded. Similarly discussions about ‘public engagement’ seem to mean simply getting them to engage only to the extent that is necessary for some other purpose – an instrumental use of the public to overcome some problem, in other words. And ditto, discussions about ‘public understanding’ seem concerned only with ensuring that the public believe the right thing, usually so that they behave in the way that is desired of them.

    Worst still are attempts to understand inertia on climate change by recourse to terms such as ‘denial’ (in the psychological sense), ‘cognitive dissonance’, and other ‘ideological motivations’. What these, and the above-mentioned approaches have in common is a somewhat condescending view of — if not outright contempt for — the public and their faculties.

    None of the three observations above refer to ‘communications’ as an exchange of views. This reflects a psychology of its own, which does not seem to be acknowledged by those who author these kind of studies. They do not seem to have reflected on their own motivations, prejudices, or preconceptions. Attempts made by ‘climate change communicators’ to understand the public, then, seem to tell us much more about the psychology of climate change communicators than it tells us about the public.

    • Tamsin Edwards

      A short reply from my phone Ben. I absolutely agree we should have two-way dialogue, discussion and debate, and it’s true that “communicating” doesn’t get that across. I mean it in the “science communication” compound sense of “people that talk with the public about science”. Notice I say with, not to.

      I know you don’t think this is possible, but I do want to make the distinction between science and policy. I want to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of evidence and inference in climate science. I don’t want to discuss the what-to-do and the what-not-to-do. I admit that the distinction might be harder to make in studies that aim to assess public understanding of climate science because it often gets put together with behavioural intention. I noticed this in the conference anyway. Understanding and agreement on science and risk is different to decision-making and I think other areas might be clearer at distinguishing this (eg assessing understanding of probabilistic precipitation forecasts versus decision whether to have a BBQ). Liz Stephens might want to add her perspective on that.

      • Ben Pile

        Thanks Tamsin,

        As I explained to Joe Smith a few weeks ago, wanting science and policy to be distinct is like wanting your boot not to be stuck in mud. To you, the two objects are distinct, but the universe has a different idea. Your intention to be clear about the difference exists in circumstances — i.e. the conference — where there is so much conflation of science and politics. And the conference itself was intended to support the upcoming Rio+20 meeting, where some pretty far-reaching political change is being demanded. As hard as you try to separate science and politics, you were at the epicentre of conflation!

        My point about communication of climate change was broad, wasn’t aimed at you, but was a general criticism of the approach.

  8. Ben Pile

    Steve Easterbrook’s post expresses precisely the kind of mythology about the climate change debate that has led to the isolation of climate scientists and climate change activists: there’s a vast evil conspiracy and we’re all going to die unless it can be overcome. That culture has festered inside a bubble to the extent that a friendly chat between people who disagree slightly is so remarkable, it merits an article in a national newspaper.

    • Barry Woods

      plus 1 – Ben

      ie where’s my EXXON cheque.. oh they funded Stanford uni.. 😉

      big oil, became big energy a decade ago, they will make money oil (no substiitute yet ) and sneak a but extra profit in, hidden amongst the carbon taxes. And beg for some sudsidies along the way, and gas industry will attack the coal industry, etc.. nuke will atack both, LOTS of money in wind big engineering companies, who will also fight for the money pot, climate science is almost irrelevant to them, but not climate policies…

      Whilst China & India, etc grow on the back of fossil fuel use. (lots of coal)

      Business can and will follow the money, BUT they also mainly HAVE to follow the political climate, ie Exxon stopped funding Heartland years ago, and anybody else..

      What has led scepticism is indiviuals, not some ‘denoial machine’ Fred Pearce recognised this in his book ‘The Climate Files’. I do not understand why intellegent people like Steve cannot grasp this..
      Additionally, climate policies are where most of the scepticism is at, many of which make no sense whatsoever, whether aGW is 0.5C per century or 6C

      Steve’s comment, made him sound like the ‘conspiracy theorist’.. as do Michael Mann’s diatribes about ‘deniers’ (let not go where Peter Glieck thought). Surely by now most climate scientist cringe a bit when they hear this? I’m unsure whether he believes this or it is just a reflexive response now?

      ie “it’s a network of well-funded lobby groups and astro-turf organizations”

      keep repeating it, maybe Jo Abbess (Campaign Against Climate Change), Greenpeace, etc like activists still believe it..

      PS I know a number of sceptics and we are all skint.

    • Dave H

      I think Steve’s point is that the first item (talking about uncertainty decreases belief) is well known, and has been well known and capitalised on for decades by all manner of organisations – political and otherwise – to further their own ends, rather than as part of legitimate debate. Thus it makes sense to avoid engaging with those who have no interest in rational debate, but rather wish to prolong a discussion about uncertainty for their own purposes.

      Responses such as your blow up a simple statement – a network of organisations exploit human psychology in very basic ways to further their own aims – into the absurd (“vast evil conspiracy”).

      For what Steve says to be true, what we require is more than one organisation that argues against taking action on global warming for ideological, political or financial reasons producing material in concert that emphasises doubt, adopting names that would appear to represent a scientific or environmental establishment to the, and who make an effort to disseminate this information as widely as possible to influence political and public opinion and further an agenda of delay.

      This sounds reasonable, obvious, easily acheivable by a handful of individuals for a relatively modest amount of money, and is actually well-documented and verifiable from easily available information. Your reply is over-the-top and unresponsive.

      • Ben Pile

        If Steve does not hold with the idea of a ‘vast evil conspiracy’, and as you suggest, he is merely referring to ‘more than one organisation’, he merely demonstrates that he has no sense of proportion. My point was that these organisations exist much more in the heads of those of an angry and green persuasion than in reality – it is a mythology, formed out of their isolation from criticism, which also serves to explain their failure (to themselves) to turn environmentalism into a popular political movement. You will have to grant me some poetic licence, and in return, I shall forgive your sense of humour failure.

        My views about attempts to understand the climate change debate in terms of the ‘exploit[ation of] human psychology’ can be found here.

  9. Roddy Campbell

    Steve Easterbrook:

    ‘If you look at the history of the idea of doubt about climate change, it’s clear the problem isn’t any lack of communication by scientists; it’s a network of well-funded lobby groups and astro-turf organizations’

    ‘Now that’s not the same as saying everyone who doubts climate science is a shill for the oil industry. But there is an effective misinformation campaign that’s working against climate scientists, and everyone you reach out to is likely to be hearing information that originates from this campaign, as much as they’re hearing about what the science actually says.’

    As a ‘climate impacts and policy’ questioner, rather than some kind of general climate sceptic or denier, can I raise a couple of issues?

    Firstly, if you want my support for policies / political process designed to mitigate against AGW, then I don’t think it’s wise to immediately ascribe my views to the dark hand of well-funded propagandists, because it might put my back up, and that applies whether or not your surmise is true. I spent a while today browsing through yesterday’s SREX on Extremes today, happy to chat about it.

    Secondly, I perceive the rise in climate scepticism generally as dating (in Europe) to the time expensive policies started being enacted (which they never have been in the US, so it’s a different issue) so people started paying attention. And the amounts are enormous, so it’s legitimate to ask what bang you’re getting for them, as in whether solar in Germany is the best way of cutting CO2 $ per tonne, and whether it will encourage Chindia to follow suit, what about nuclear and so on.

    Thirdly, it’s legitimate to question WGII and WGIII on impacts and mitigation, where the science is self-admittedly much less certain than WGI, eg SREX on extreme impacts. It’s legitimate to examine the Stern Report and the Climate Change Act (sorry, I’m UK-centric), and the economics of adaptation and mitigation.

    Fourthly, it’s legitimate to look at what China and India are doing, which is clearly trying to raise their living standards while knowingly accepting the risks of AGW, and try to understand whether they are being rational in refusing to forgo the g in the IPCC Kaya Identity, at which point Europe mitigating is as much an ethical issue as scientific or economic, and science has no particular locus.

    So please, don’t shallowly ascribe my views to half-baked understanding of Heartland and GWPF propaganda, even though those two certainly work hard at discrediting every aspect of the chain that leads to climate policy. It isn’t, and even if it were telling me so won’t help me listen.

    All the best

    • Steve Easterbrook

      Roddy: Your response is very strangely defensive. I have no idea what your views are, so it seems very odd to say I’m ascribing them to anything.

      I pointed out that any conversations we have exist in a context where there are multiple competing messages, and some of those messages originate from lobbying campaigns aimed as sowing doubt, with the explicit intention of delaying action on climate change. Trying to talk about just the science, with a broad and diverse audience who are exposed the these multiple competing messages might not work very well, if we don’t acknowledge that’s the context we’re in.

      If you get angry and defensive about the fact that lobbyists tend not to respect the scientific evidence, then we’re really not going to get very far.

      • Roddy Campbell

        Steve – I re-read your comment and didn’t give enough weight to your last paragraph, I see your point. You mistake my tone if you think I’m defensive and angry, but maybe I misunderstand myself sometimes.

        I’d still say that the Oreskes line doesn’t work so well in UK/Europe, we haven’t had a tobacco / duPont cfc type history, we don’t have the same idea of well-funded networks of corporate-funded libertarian politically motivated propagandists. It sounds to us like we’re being called stupid, to be honest. The press goes both ways, they’ll hype a disaster scenario and the next week call it a hoax – we’re also used to that and have very limited susceptibility to the press. Our TV media are strictly controlled, there is no Fox.

        Lobbyists respect very little, they’re just not a huge factor here as they are in USA afaik.

        • Liz

          A quick comment; I was in that Oreskes talk at AGU, and she was very much talking about the political landscape in the US not elsewhere.

          • Ben Pile

            Steve’s claim that Oreskes exposes the existence of a conspiracy doesn’t carry much weight. She is much more in the business of myth-making. See here and here.

            Oreskes wasn’t without her critics within the environmental camp, either. I think William Connolly (he of Wikipedia-editing fame) had quite a lot to say about her revision of events, some of which was quite vindictive.

        • Steve Easterbrook

          Wait, what? What the UK lacks in Fox on the telly, it makes up for with the Daily Mail in print. You’re not really going to argue that the UK press is a bastion of truth and honesty are you?

          Anyway, the point is moot, because we live in a globally connected world, where disinformation created in one country travels at lightspeed around the world. We all live in the same information context in that respect.

          I notice that lots of people here have offered rhetoric and insult in response to my argument, and Ben has provided a couple of rather old blog posts from someone who clearly doesn’t like Oreskes, but hasn’t actually done any research on the history of the advertising campaigns that Oreskes studies. People here seem convinced Oreskes’ research is wrong without any actual, you know, disconfirming evidence. Why?

          • Barry Woods

            the point has been made that that work was very USA centric… And seems irrelevant to an EU situation

          • Ben Pile

            The posts offered by me were written by me, at the time Oreskes made the arguments you referred to. It seems obvious that Oreskes was mythologising using the respectability given to her by academic status, and that she takes at least as many liberties with fact as those she criticises – a fact pointed out by her critics on her own putative ‘side’. I suggest you read William Connolly’s posts on the subject over at Stoat – there are quite a few.

            Contra Barry’s comment, I think Oreskes did have a powerful effect on the debate here, which did much to dispel nuance from the debate. What I think you ought to realise, Steve, is that this kind of polarisation of the debate alienates AGW researchers. However robust the science of climate is, it cannot take the weight of the political and moral claims that are being made seemingly on its behalf.

  10. Douglas J. Keenan

    Tamsin Edwards said:

    I’ve found that whenever I talk about limitations of modelling, or challenge statements about climate science and impacts that I believe are not robust, my “trust points” go up because it demonstrates transparency and honesty.

    That is definitely how I (a skeptic) respond to climate scientists who talk about limitations etc.

    Steve Easterbrook said:

    If you look at the history of the idea of doubt about climate change, it’s clear the problem isn’t any lack of communication by scientists; it’s a network of well-funded lobby groups and astro-turf organizations….

    That is false: the amount of money available for skepticism is <1% of the amount of money available for the consensus side; almost all skeptics are working independently.

    • Steve Easterbrook

      Douglas: “the amount of money available for skepticism is <1% of the amount of money available for the consensus side; almost all skeptics are working independently"

      You have to be careful what you're counting. If you by "money available for skepticism" you mean funding for bloggers, investigative reporters, etc, then, sure, it's pretty small.

      If by "money available for the consensus side" you mean money available to do public outreach and communication about the science, then that's pretty non-existant too.

      Let's agree to be precise about what we're talking about. The professional lobbying process I referred to is not the same as skeptics asking questions and probing the science. Please don't conflate the two.
      Similarly, you can't conflate scientific funding for doing basic science in climatology with "money for the consensus side". Every scientist follows her own line of investigation, and is highly motivated to discover things we didn't previously know, and preferably things that overturn previous findings, because that's the kind of thing that makes a scientist's career. No scientist ever gets paid to confirm a consensus view.

      So please be clear when you talk about funding to distinguish between PR budgets, scientific grants, paid lobbying, money for bloggers, etc. All of these are very different things, and can't be directly compared.

      • Ben Pile

        You’re wrong in many respects, Steve.

        The UK government spends £tens of millions a year on climate change communication. See this advert, for instance. The EU spend even more, and go as far as paying green NGOs and renewable energy industry associations to lobby MEPs. It’s not even secret.

        Moreover, there is an imperative in the UK for research to be ‘policy relevant’. The fact is, you’re unlikely to get a research budget to look at ways in which the impact of climate change has been over-stated, especially at a department which has been established precisely to arm policymaking processes. It’s a somewhat toxic side-effect of the demand for ‘evidence-based policy-making’ that in fact deprives researchers of their independence.

        • Roger Otip

          The UK government spends £tens of millions a year on climate change communication.

          Can’t say I’ve noticed. What I do see a lot of though are adverts trying to persuade me to burn carbon. Fly here, fly there, have a holiday in the sun, buy this nice car… When you’re surrounded by that kind of advertizing it’s easy to forget the effect that burning carbon is having on our environment, and anyone trying to remind you of that is going to have an uphill battle.

          • Andy Mac

            I shall remove my horse drawn carriage from storage. Thats after I have finshed my wattle and daub on the house. The oxon have been fed and watered and baby wrapped in pelts for the night. The torches a fading so its off to bed.

        • Richard Betts

          Ben Pile

          The fact is, you’re unlikely to get a research budget to look at ways in which the impact of climate change has been over-stated, especially at a department which has been established precisely to arm policymaking processes. It’s a somewhat toxic side-effect of the demand for ‘evidence-based policy-making’ that in fact deprives researchers of their independence.

          Hi Ben,

          I disagree with you, and I think you are making incorrect assumptions about the purpose of climate research.

          In my experience, climate science projects do not set out to look at impacts of climate change that have either been over-stated or under-stated, they just set out to improve on previous knowledge. Setting out to try to prove “it’s worse than we thought” would be a hostage to fortune because you never know what people are going to do with the information – there are more issues than just whether we need to reduce emissions. There are also issues such as how urgently does new infrastructure have to be built to cope with the changing environment – talking-up the worst-case scenario could then lead to spending billions too early.

          One example of this is the UKCP09 sea level projections for the Thames as part of the Thames Estuary 2100 project (TE2100). This informs development of flood defences / flood management in London and to the east. To avoid wasting money on (for example) building a new Thames Barrier too early, or building a barrage across the whole estuary, it was important to get the best estimate of future SLR and not the scariest. As it turned out, the UKCP09 estimate was lower than the previous estimate:

          The previous worst-case scenario can be revised down from increases in maximum water levels of 4.2–2.7 m. The 2.7 m result relates to the 5-yr return period event.

          With a reduction in worst case scenario for this century, it is even less likely that a tide-excluding estuary barrage will be needed to manage flood risk.

          So there you have it – a clear example of climate science coming out with an “its not as bad as we thought” result.

          I could give others – for example, one modelling result I am known for is the famous “Amazon die-back” projection, in which our old model HadCM3 produced a severe warming and drying climate in Amazonia under global warming. However, our new model HadGEM2-ES (one of our contributions to AR5) does not produce this result, partly because the vegetation model is slightly different but largely because the patterns of sea surface temperature in the Atlantic do not produce the same response of atmospheric circulation as HadCM3. We don’t yet know which result is closer to the truth, but we are perfectly happy to publish the new, less scary, result. The paper is coming out soon, and I can assure you that there has not been the slightest hint of DECC coming down on us and saying “don’t publish that because it will weaken our policy argument”.

          This old idea that “the scientists do what the funders tell them” is just plain wrong, I’m afraid!



          • Ben Pile

            Richard, I’m not arguing anything as simple as ‘the scientists do what the funders tell them’. I said there was an imperative that research be relevant to policy. As I point out in another comment, the unfortunate side effect of another contemporary phenomenon – evidence-based policy-making – is that it deprives researchers of independence. We can’t say that the myriad academic departments and other schools that make ‘the environment’ central to their research focus that have sprung up over the last few decades have done so spontaneously. That’s not to say that they are all under the command of some centralised office, but that the phenomenon is ‘ideological’. Suddenly, every other discipline – economics, ethics, psychology – found something to say about climate change. We can see researchers making claims about climate change, such as that it makes equivalents of using oil and using slaves; that it explains war; that it demands new, special forms of politics and economics and institutions; that it reflects something inherently wrong (and right) with capitalism… I could go on (for a long time). It became a narrative which was much broader than perhaps it could bear. It had political utility.

            The constellation of nonsense that has been produced about climate change — even in academia — needs an explanation. The claim that it is simply researchers, each acting independently, without interacting or responding to some kind of demand for such material is implausible, in my view, and perhaps naive.

            Obligatory caveat: none of the above is to claim ‘there’s no such thing as climate change’.

          • Richard Betts

            Hi Ben

            OK, I see.

            I agree that it is amazing how every discipline has found something to say about climate change. I guess there may be something of a bandwagon going on, but on the other hand, there is some very interesting stuff coming out of all this. I’m not sure I agree with you about independence of researchers being taken away – OK loads of people are working on stuff related to a particular issue, but that not necessarily because they are no longer independent. In many cases people are simply being inspired to look at the issue from new perspectives.

            I must admit I am uncomfortable when I see the physical science being over-simplified when it’s presented as the context or justification for some of this other work. Then again I probably do the same to the other guys’ stuff!


          • Ben Pile

            It’s mainly bandwagon, and it’s trying to push a horse, if I may mix my metaphors. And to put things back on track, that’s why I think the ‘communication of climate change’ is the most interesting area: it’s where we see the ‘ideology’ really start to intervene, and to make implicit statements about people, and about its values, even its metaphysics. On the one hand, it seems benign — explaining science to people. But on the other, it’s using one form of authority to create another. (Again, I’m speaking broadly here, rather than about any particular instance of ‘communication’). Expertise is borrowed from researchers, to create political legitimacy. It’s a phenomenon which is broader than the climate thing; it happens in all areas of public life today, in a way that it simply didn’t happen before. Think about the rise of the TV nutritionist, over-zealous public health initiatives, the emphasis on ‘evidence’, rather than moral arguments in discussions about abortion, drug and alcohol use… This desire for expertise transforms the relationship between the academy and the public; it gives it a political role, while engendering passivity in the public. Ironically, that passivity then becomes the object of study. People try to find out why the public ‘disengaged’, and ways of ‘connecting’.

      • Paul Matthews

        The Easterbrook delusion of a well organised well funded professional network of astroturf organisations is a myth – but a widespread one.
        How do I know it’s a myth?
        Well I used to believe it myself. When I ‘came out’ as a sceptic a couple of years ago, for example in my submission to the ‘independent’ climategate review, I expected, as an academic sceptic, to be contacted by all these organisations. I even considered whether I should accept the funding they would offer me 🙂
        In fact I have had no contact from any such organisation.

        • Steve Easterbrook

          Paul: There are plenty of reasons why you wouldn’t have been contacted by such organizations, most of which will give you no information about whether they exist or not. One personal anecdote is enough to convince you, huh? That’s some strange use of the word sceptic….

          • Mr Potarto


            Perhaps it would help if you offered some evidence that it is true? I’m sure most people reading the Heartland documents were surprised at how little money they had.

          • Barry Woods

            Steve – that sounds like a conspiracy theory to me…

            So what do all these big organisations with lots of money actually do!!!

            inthe UK, there just a bunch of very individualistic bloggers, that would have good fight amongstthemselves if you put them all in a room (civilly of course).

            What do you think motivates a Steve Mcintyre, or Andrew Montford, Jo Nova, Donna Laframboise, or someone like myself (quite new to it all) or Prof Paul Mathews, or Prof J Jones (he just wants to have access to data, on principle) or Don Keiller, or Doug Keenan, etc

          • Steve Easterbrook

            Naomi Oreskes (oops, did I call her Nancy above? Sorry!) and Erik Conway have documented much of the evidence in their book, “Merchants of Doubt”. Here’s a snapshot:
            Also, take a look at

            At the risk of repeating myself, I’m *not* making any assertions that anyone who has commented (or may in the future comment) on this thread receives any of this funding.

            My point is we’re working in a context where we’re bombarded with information, some of which is generated by the normal scientific process (which still might turn out to be wrong), and some of which is generated by well-funded industrial special interest groups (and is usually deliberately wrong from the outset). To counter the latter, it’s not enough just to keep talking about the science. You also need to tackle head on the existence of and motivation for such disinformation, and spend time working with people to figure out what parts of their received knowledge originate from disinformation campaigns (and that only works if people are truly willing to be open minded).

            Scientists aren’t immune to believing disinformation either, although a significant part of a scientist’s training is on how to distinguish valid knowledge claims from stuff for which there’s no evidence. Speaking as someone who has supervised a number of young scientists through to their PhDs, I would say this is a long and difficult learning process, and very few people are good at it without lots of practice.

          • Steve Easterbrook

            @Paul: It’s not a belief, it’s a summary of the evidence that I’ve seen. I’ve chatted to Naomi, and examined her research methods, and found no flaws (BTW I teach the kind of qualitative research methods Naomi uses, and I’ve worked alongside some of her research team. They do good research).
            OTOH, I’m happy to be proved wrong, but it has to be done with evidence, not rhetoric & ad homs.

          • Simon Hopkinson

            Steve, can you please give an example of a point which is argued by sceptics like myself, which is a) a falsehood, b) that can be tracked directly to the BigOily Denier Machine, and c) which is clearly distinct from a conclusion that someone might draw for themselves independently from looking at the available evidence?

            I do think this is essential, if we are to establish a null hypothesis from which you might build a compelling argument in support of the existence of an effective Spaghetti Monster BigOily Denier Machine.

  11. Paul Matthews

    There were some good tweets from Hebba, for example I liked this one:

    “Dialogue? Public understanding of science – great. What about scientist understanding of the public?”

    Respectful engagement is a win-win situation. Climate scientists learn that sceptics are not all politically motivated liars, and vice versa.

    Regarding communication and uncertainty, there is an interdisciplinary workshop at Nottingham on 12 April on “Representing and Communicating Uncertainty: Climate Change and Risk”

    • Tamsin Edwards

      Great, thanks Paul. I agree about dialogue (hence the tweeting and replying to comments, when I can). I’m booked up meetingwise but others may be interested.

    • Ben B

      I find this discussion absolutely bloody fabulous. It is really crystalising something for me – and I think one thing you said Paul really sums this up : “Respectful engagement is a win-win situation. Climate scientists learn that sceptics are not all politically motivated liars, and vice versa”
      I work in climate science, and as such most of the people I speak to every day also work in this field. What I have not felt is that climate scientist think ‘sceptics are all politically motivated liars’. There are big conversations going on in the blogosphere, some polarised some less so. With exception of a few examples (Judith Curry, Tamsin, Richard, etc) scientists are largely absent entirely from this conversation, as far as I can see. I guess the warmists (in the more polarised debates) are the science communicators(?) or are they also people advocating a policy response? [perhaps we could define who they are too?].
      I guess I have looked out at some of these conversations, seen some of the aspersions stated by some (a tiny few admitedly) about my supposed motivations, and thought: keep out of that one, get your head back down and go back and do some coding. So I think public-scientist dialogue is really a new thing.

      We have talked elsewhere in this thread about whether the evidence base (uncertainties and all) can be separated from the policy debate. I think if we are serious about wanting interactions with working scientist, then making this separation is really important. If we are able to do this then I think many more people working in the field would be open to openning up on what they do, talking about their results, the limitations, what are the uncertainties and this implications for what can be said.

  12. TheIrie

    Tasmin – I do think your approach is positive. The thing is, no-one can take an neutral position on this issue, and I think you should be open and transparent about your basic views of the science. Objectivity is good, but since no one is truly objective, transparency is also important.

    So, my point is you say “I believe my supporters tend to be those who are concerned with the balance of evidence, and my detractors tend to be those who are concerned with the message conveyed”. Count me as a supporter, but I think we should think about what’s behind that.

    If, for example, you accept the “dangerous climate change” thesis that people such as James Hansen, Michael Mann and Kevin Anderson talk about – i.e. that there is some likelihood that the impacts of climate change are going to be catastrophic, I think you really might want to focus on that message. You might conclude that despite the numerous uncertainties, we can be sufficiently confident that the science is sufficiently robust to conclude action must be taken. This is my view, but I am open minded.

    On the other hand, if you don’t think that is correct or likely, you would feel less urgency and want to focus on refining the evidence. I’ve seen Richard being quite equivocal about the need to cut emissions in various places and I also know he disagrees with the dangerous climate change thesis (there was a discussion on Bishop’s Hill blog). Can I ask – is that your view as well? Do you think that model uncertainties (your academic interest) cast sufficient doubt on the more fundamental aspects of CC to take that later position?

    Or maybe I’m asking the wrong question. I’d be genuinely interested to hear your view.

    For transparency – I’m a hydrologist, working on climate related issues, but certainly not a climate scientist (or what Richard calls a “climate change scientist”!) and looking to people like you and Richard and others to inform me.

    • Richard Betts

      Hi Thelrie

      Looks like I’d better clarify a couple of things…

      I don’t “disagree with the dangerous climate change thesis” – I just think that “dangerous” is not a purely scientific concept, even though we often hear that “the science says” that 2 degrees is “dangerous”. For various reasons we are highly uncertain about the impacts of any particular level of global warming, and anyway, the level of impact which is “dangerous” is a value judgement. So I don’t think there is no such thing as dangerous climate change – I’m just not sure what it is!

      The reason I am cautious about ignoring uncertainty or value judgments in what is “dangerous” is that there is more than one issue to consider. My perception is that some people use the “2 degrees = dangerous” meme to inject a sense of urgency into the debate over emissions cuts, and they don’t particularly worry about the large uncertainties in the impacts because they think / hope that we won’t ever reach 2 degrees. “Dangerous” can of course mean “posing an unacceptable level of risk” but often it is taken to mean certain catastrophe. However, since emissions are continuing to rise, it is clear that we are increasingly likely to reach 2 degrees, and if this does happen we will have to adapt to it (and indeed, the effectiveness of such adaptation will affect whether any given level of warming is “dangerous” or not).

      The reason I bang on about this is because many aspects of adaptation require long-term planning starting now, and decisions on these need to be made in the light of objective information on the estimated likelihood of different outcomes. Over-stating the likelihood of major impacts of climate change in the very near term could lead to some very expensive and possibly counter-productive mistakes on adaptation. It is important to be open and honest about the uncertainties in future climate change impacts in order for such decisions to be made with an appropriate assessment of the risks vs. benefits of different courses of action. Recognition of this uncertainty is not the same as saying that climate change poses no danger.

      The reason I am “equivocal about the need to cut emissions” is because my job requires me to avoid being policy-prescriptive.

      Hope this helps clear up any misunderstandings!



      • Barry Woods

        Policy is the problem

        too often, dangerous means ‘we’ must ‘do something’ because ‘scientists say so’ is used pushing for policy descision, by lobbyists activists or politicians.

        Which, is an emotive way to make mistakes.. ie rush to solar in Germany, which makes rather less sense (eg. hours of sunshine) than Spain or Texas.. then many might consider that technology immature and expensive for the return, lack of storage and variability being other engineering concerns and question the huge subsidies.. thus economic/practical concerns

        Same for wind turbines.

        Then again, many might consider 1C to 2C as the worst case scenario likley to happen, with possible benign effect no need to take any action on emmission cuts at all.. Those who would be practical and say WHY no action on all the low hanging fruit solutions, that whilst we might not be concerned about any of the catastrophic scenarios, make sense anyway..

        ie black carbon – soot.

        to those that say, we must act now, because the poor will suffer more in 50 years time (ie increased disease spread, ie malaria, and dangerous weather)

        I say tackle those issues NOW, and the poor will benefit because all those issues effect them now, whether natural derived or AGW. ie we could eliminate malaria in 40 years, that decarbonise the world to stop the increased spread to to CC (and increased range – although malaria for example allways had a range, that is irrelevant to temp) the poverty of the imagination also concerne me, why should the (relative) poor be suffering the same fate in 40 years time. Do we really accept that 1.5 billion people will still be without electricity that we take for granted in 40 years? DO we really accept that 22,000 children a DAY die from the trials and iseases of poverty in 40 years time. Tackling all those issues NOW, would mitigate against the majority of scenarios that dangerous climate change is supposed to have on these people, IF it were to happen.

        But to even have this discussion with many of the very ‘climate concerned’ is to be a ‘denier’ and dangerous distraction from a total decarbonisation goal. To me, these ‘single vision’ people are not rational, because politically/economically that is just not going to happen. ie China and India will continue to grow thier economies and increase their emission (China has gone from 2.8 tonnes per capita to 6.9 tonnes per capita in less than 10 years – France is 5.8, Italy is 6.8) for the next few decades. Those that do not recognise this actual reality, well I just don’t trust their judgement on any of those issues.

        I might suggest that most climate sceptics’ start off as ‘climate policy sceptics’ (ie think policies makes litle sense,even IF AGW was dangerous) and then they look at the science that is being used to justify the policies ‘ because ‘sceintists say so’ and find that the media/lobbyists/politicians/environmentalists have hyped up the science beyond recognition..

        An example, claiming 150,000, 300,000 climate change deaths now, we must take action, to bulldoze question away as some uncaring ‘deniers’,when this rhetoric is NOT backed up by any rigourous science.. (10:10, Greenpeace do this)

          • Barry Woods

            sorry – just commenting on Richards comment
            My point is though, if people wish to engage, they must engage on some of these points.
            All too often people who want to ‘communicate climate change’, frame the debate to avod engaging on some of these issue.. People who wish to engage, must listen, and not pre-conceive other people reasons, etc

      • TheIrie

        Hi Richard – I appreciate the response! I understand your perspective better now.

        I would completely agree with you w.r.t specific impacts at particular times and in particular places, and for these decisions about adaptation will need to be taken on a case by case basis, looking at uncertainties very carefully.

        However, if we zoom out and look at the overall picture globally, don’t the uncertainties become much lower? Aren’t Mann and the others I mentioned essentially doing that?

        Maybe this is a debate about mitigation vs adaptation. We need both, and realistically I just don’t think we (humans) are sufficiently intelligent as a collective species to take action that is not in our short term interest, so adaptation may well be our only option.

        Thanks again for “engaging”

  13. John Shade

    I share Ben Pile’s reservations about ‘communication’. I have come across politicians dismayed by their buffeting in opinion polls or elections, asserting that they just need to do a better job of communicating their views. This does hint at closed minds and condescension, and dare I say it without losing too much warmth , considerable arrogance.

    There are many complications to consider along with the science in the climate arena. One is the opportunism of groups and individuals who can see advantage in the promotion of doom-laden views – anti-establishment types who can blame ‘the system’, establishment types (such as Al Gore) who seized both political and financial opportunities, financial types who can see (or saw) enormous gains from carbon trading, and the mass media itself which of course has spotted that bad news sells well. A second complication is to do with fear. We do seem readily scared, many of us. And some of that set are also very articulate – for example, Monbiot, Lynas, McKibben, and Flannery. They do seem genuinely frightened, and at the same time keen to share their fears with others. A third complication is, as Judith Curry has so well observed, the sheer messiness of the climate problem. A fourth, is that when tempers run high, and issues become so fraught, polarisation and invective can thrive, and we have seen a fair bit of it around climate. I agree again with Ben Pile (above) in noting the poor state of the debating culture that we all have to endure now.

    My own position has long been one of bemusement. I have not come across anything remotely sufficient to convince me that there is a crisis underway associated with rising CO2 levels in the air. I do not have a deep grasp of the science, but I have had training in physics, atmospheric physics, and statistics, and I do try to study what I come across and look for evidence. If I take ‘business as usual’ in the climate system as a kind of informal null hypothesis, I have not yet found sufficient cause to discard it – the system seems to be behaving pretty much as it might if the additional CO2 was of little consequence.

    On the Unthreaded comments at Bishop Hill today, Lord Beaverbrook put an extract from the recent IPCC material and it included this: ‘The uncertainties in the historical tropical cyclone records, the incomplete understanding of the physical mechanisms linking tropical cyclone metrics to climate change, and the degree of tropical cyclone variability provide only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences. ‘. I replied to the effect that here was a template that might prove useful again and again:

    ‘The uncertainties in the historical records of Y, the incomplete understanding of the physical mechanisms linking Y metrics to climate change, and the degree of variability in Y provide only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in Y to anthropogenic influences.’

    I am thinking here of weather-observables as the Ys – precipitation, storms, sea and air temperatures, moisture levels, and so on, and also ice-extents (glaciers, and icecaps, and sea ice) since these are so readily observed and commented on along with the ‘weather’. I can think of local Ys (impact of cities on temperatures, ploughed fields on fair weather cumulus, lighting fires in vineyards to reduce frosts, and such like) that might show appreciable effects, but on the global or regional scales, I wonder what there could be. Will the IPCC deploy that template again and again, as ‘sceptics’ get better and better at exposing fanciful claims?

  14. GlennCarey

    I think its all about the audience and who you want to communicate with.

    I’m an engineer (degree in Physics), most of my colleagues started off (mid 90s) naturally ‘believing’ in climate change. We had all had significant exposure to science and scientists and didn’t believe any one was lying etc.

    Then the activists and politicians got involved and we started hearing the ‘science is settled’ soundbites and the use of language such as ‘heretic’ and ‘denier’. The appeals to consensus etc. This sounded huge alarm bells for me and many of my peers. On looking at the science there seemed to be significant holes (not that the basic science was wrong but that the key question of feedbacks was (is?) still open).

    Its a catch 22 situation, admit all the uncertainties and the case for trillions of dollars of effort is lessened but claim more certainty than you can legitimately claim and create suspicion/disbelief in your key audience (the ‘lay’ numerate / scientific professional who holds much more influence amongst their peer group than any amount of scientific panels).

    Climate scientists also have to be very, very careful in their outreach not to step over the line into advocacy. The simple fact is that there are a certain band of fairly famous scientists whose work I simply no longer trust, as I believe that they would discount any result which didn’t ‘fit’ their preconceived theory. This is not me being unfair. This is their own fault for getting arrested at coal stations etc. They have sacrificed any notion of impartiality.

    We need climate scientists to stand up and say “We don’t know” more often. e.g. to the question has weather got more ‘weird’ – correct response should simply be “We don’t know, we simply don’t have the fidelity in historical records”. Such a simple, public admission of ignorance would do a huge amount to restore my faith in the scientists involved and by extension in the science itself.

    • RealArthurDent

      I agree with you and my transition to the “dark side” mirrors your own. Until Professors Curry and Betts and Dr Edwards began to communicate in what is to me, a more appropriate manner for a scientist, it seemed that all “climate scientists” had sold out to completely to advocacy.

  15. Jack Hughes

    Do other academic subjects have this obsession about “communicating with the public” ?

    • mrsean2k

      If the results of your research are pressed into service to determine matters of policy and spending on any significant scale, you’ll have to expect that active public interest will extend further and further back through various layers of PR and approximation to the source of analysis and information.

      If you don’t want your results or research to be misrepresented, the safest course is to become adept at communicating them yourself.

      If you’re the equivalent of a 19th Century independently wealthy gentleman (or gentlewoman) scientist, you can avoid this sort of overhead (and many others), pursue whatever interests you, and hang the consequences.

      But this subject is very far from being self-funding; if you want me to continue to pay for it, you’d better be prepared to explain yourself to my satisfaction; if you don’t want that to be through the vector of FOI and related legislation, do yourself a favour and think about building trust through active engagement.

  16. John Russell

    Hi Tamsin.

    I’m interested in your comment “60-80% probability” rather than “70% probability”.

    As writer rather than a scientist, “60-80% probability” sounds somewhat oxymoronic. Surely ‘probability’, by definition, is a rather non-precise quality? Does it not mean — in layman’s terms — ‘a likelihood centred on 70%’? So to say ’60-80%’ probability is giving very precise boundaries to what is intrinsically non-precise?

    I guess there might be a difference between scientific and general usage that may account for this.

    * * *

    As a general thought; based on the discussion above this comment on this thread, it seems to me that the two ‘sides’ come at this subject with a completely different underlying agenda.

    Most climate-change sceptics seem to be looking for, and highlighting, anything that shows the science to be imprecise, uncertain or un-settled. It appears that inherent in this is a desire for climate science to be wrong about where evidence for AGW is pointing. Perhaps this gives them comfort: “see: things won’t as bad as we’re being led to believe”!

    On the other hand most of those who trust the overwhelming number of climate scientists warning us of the danger of where our actions are taking us (I include myself in this number) are uncomfortable with uncertainty, because that means there’s a chance things can be worse than predicted. This is why we are so keen to see scientists pin down the uncertainties. We are hoping for certainty, not because we want there to be climate change (as climate sceptics seem to think), but because we would like the scientific truth to be, as near as damn it, unequivocal (yes; I know nothing in science is ever 100%). Then at least the human race will become serious about the action that becomes increasingly clear is necessary.

    • Simon Hopkinson

      John, you say that most climate-change sceptics seem to be looking for the imprecise, unsettled or uncertain in the science. I can’t imagine that anyone could fault this approach from a scientific perspective. The advancement of science is about recognising and working to reduce uncertainties.

      But it must be noted that concealing, understating, downplaying and dismissing uncertainties is actually not the way to advance science. Rather, this is the way to advance ideology and policy.

      Scientific advancement, rather than the advancement of an agenda, is about the open and honest recognition of uncertainties and the process of reducing those uncertainties through experimentation and observation, until they are reduced to the extent that scientific discovery can be stated legitimately with good certainty.

      Nobody argues that AGW is not real. It is a straw man to claim that sceptics argue this. What sceptics question is the extent to which AGW is a problem which needs to be addressed. This is far from being certain.

      To compound the issue, there is a growing body of evidence that indicates that many important elements of the scientific research purporting to underpin the impetus for action to counter AGW has been tainted by scientists behaving inappropriately as ideological activists rather than appropriately as scientists in the strict sense.

      Accordingly, not only is there concern with climate scientists over a failure to properly reflect uncertainties, but also confidence in the entire subject itself has been severely undermined. With many position statements on climate change from scientific establishments betraying similar departures from traditions of scientific impartiality, confidence in the broader scientific and academic communities is being continually eroded.

      Your last paragraph, John, I think properly betrays the activist agenda problem. You want the science to tell us that things are bad, so we can get on with action. That is to say that you want science to advocate action that you have already decided is necessary.

      Sceptics, conversely, want science to tell us the truth – warts an’ all – because it’s the truth. Then we’ll decide whether action is necessary or not. This is because sceptics are science-led, not ideology-led.

      • John Russell

        You claim that no sceptic argues that “AGW is not real”. Really? You mean you’ve never heard or read someone claiming that, “AGW is all a hoax”? Then I think you must live in a parallel universe, Simon.

        As evidenced by this and most of the rest of your comment, clearly what you write is driven by a self-justified world view. I’ll say no more as this is all rather off-topic.

        • Simon Hopkinson

          The conflation between CAGW and AGW is incessantly made by those seeking action, such as entirely futile unilateral mitigation (like the UK, for example). When challenged on framing, the “AGW is all a hoax” claim invariably boils down to this conflation between the actuality of AGW and the illusion of CAGW. Though it might be better phrased “CAGW is not supported by empirical evidence”, or more simply “CAGW is a fraud”, this, or a variant, is essentially the intended statement. And I rather think you know it.

          • John Russell

            Human-caused global warming is what we’re experiencing (I’m glad you agree, Simon, because — in spite of your protestations — many don’t) which science tells us is highly likely to lead to catastrophic consequences at some time in the future (probably 50-100 years away) unless we start serious action to curb emissions.

            By confusing the effects up to now (so far quite minor) with the cumulative effects in the future (potentially catastrophic if we continue with business as usual), I suggest you’re playing down the likely results of human actions. Don’t forget the 20-30 year lag that exists between cause and effect when it comes to climate change. Within a range of probabilities this is what climate models tell us.

            Sure; as Tamsin’s blog suggests, ‘all models are wrong’ — but they do provide us with useful indications of where we’re heading. And as far as I’m aware, none of them indicate a ‘don’t worry’ scenario.

            [As you said John, you and Simon are going off-topic. Lucky the nesting stops here 🙂 — Tamsin]

          • Simon Hopkinson

            No, John. Warming is what we have been experiencing. You cannot support, scientifically, the assertion that the warming is wholly attributed to anthropogenic CO2 – 4% of the increase in CO2, versus the 96% natural. The human-cause case is weak; tentative at the very best. Again you conflate AGW and CAGW, CO2 and anthropogenic CO2.

            Now, to bring it back on topic, what you claim science tells us regarding future impacts is actually in the main what models tell us. As well as conflating CO2 and ACO2, CAGW and AGW, you conflate model data and real data. Model data is not actually data. Its product is not “hard”, scientific evidence. I am not suggesting that they are not useful, but I cannot perceive that a model run generates scientific evidence (in the spirit of Scientific Method), and am gravely concerned that some “scientists” actually don’t seem to recognise this.

            Confusing model data and real data is simply unacceptable, but not only appears to be commonplace among activist scientists, the conflation seems purposeful.

            It is this serial conflation which I believe is a major player in the disillusionment of many. Each conflation is interpreted as a dishonesty. Tamsin’s deliberately provocative URL and the response she received from Gleick (an activist if ever there were) very much bears this out. What sceptics respond positively towards is honesty and frankness. And why not?

            Why “the public” loses confidence in climate science broadly, the more uncertainties are acknowledged, I believe resolves to the level of control that activist scientists have had over the publicly-presented “Message”. The message is doom and gloom, and is always linked with a political and socio-economic solution (because activists can’t resist betraying the urgency of their ideological goals). The public recognise these as political messages, and recognise their distinction from scientific “fact”. The reason the public, therefore, doesn’t “believe” in climate science is because it recognises it as overtly political but simply doesn’t share its ideology.

            An oversimplification, of course, but one result of our secular, tolerant society (I’m being more UK-specific here) is the willingness to accept that other peoples’ beliefs, whatever the heck they are, are their own and they are perfectly within their rights to believe them… but god help anyone who tries to impose them on the rest of us. The climate-catastrophic projections (or predictions, as the MetOffice has at times described them) are increasingly being identified as soft-science – more astrology than astronomy.

            Sceptics, more familiar with the intricacies of the ongoing climate debate, are able to identify a more granular landscape within climate science, and latch on to overtly scientific (as directly opposed to overtly political) scientific commentators such as Curry. The cry of “heretic” from the “religious” climate science ranks as Curry began her journey into engagement with the sceptical community, of course, merely served to confirm the scientific vs ideological perception, and hardened sceptics’ resolve.

  17. mrsean2k

    On what do you base your “overwhelming number of climate scientists” remark?

    My own fear is that inappropriate, pointless and ruinously expensive action will be taken without sufficient justification.

    • John Russell

      I mean, mrsean2k, that for every Singer or Happer there are a dozen Hansens or Manns. If we take the IPCC reports, for example, there are hundreds of authors. There is no contrarian equivalent. That makes the consensus pretty overwhelming for me.

      As to your other point: since when does the cost of mitigation alter whether something is a reality? Since when has the cost of fighting a house fire influenced the intensity of the flames? Almost seems like the definition of denial to me.

      • mrsean2k

        Hundreds of author saying what? On what specific points do you claim there is a consensus that makes “…the action that becomes increasingly clear is necessary” a fact rather than a simple (although doubtless sincerely held) belief?

        Your second point is something of a strawman, but I’d accept it’s inadvertent. The point for me is that you can only expend your efforts once. You need to be certain whether you’re mitigating, adapting or a combination of both. The assumption seems to be that effort is expended in an identically fashion regardless

        Determing what mix any action should take is a question of attribution, and that issue simply isn’t settled,

        When you move beyond that, the question of magnitude of change and net effect comes into play. Again, by no means settled.

        • BBD

          Determing what mix any action should take is a question of attribution, and that issue simply isn’t settled

          You have evidence for the mystery forcing or forcings energetically sufficient to account for warming since the mid-1970s? You have evidence that the painstakingly calculated forcing from CO2 (radiative transfer equations) is incorrect? You have evidence that the climate system is somehow insensitive to RF from CO2 but very sensitive to the mystery forcing(s)? Or do you perhaps have nothing whatsoever? Leaving us with nothing whatsoever vs the scientific consensus on CO2-forced AGW that has been examined in forensic (and truly sceptical) detail by many hundreds of researchers for decades.

          • mrsean2k

            You have evidence that the extent of heating predicted matches the observational record?

            You have convincing evidence that the observed increase in anomaly in the post-industrial period is unprecedented?

            You have empirical evidence that cloud feedback is net-positive?

            You’ve found the tropospheric hotspot or have you given up, abandoning the missing heat to the deep ocean, where it may have been modelled, but it hasn’t been measured?

            The tipping points and death spirals we have been warned of have failed to appear; the empirical data fails to accord with the models.

          • BBD

            Evasions. Then this:

            You have empirical evidence that cloud feedback is net-positive?”

            You are arguing for an insensitive climate system mediated by negative cloud feedback. So how does minor variation in forcing get us an LIA or an MWP? Surely nothing much should happen? An insensitive climate system doesn’t do what you need it to do.

            [This sub thread is off topic but luckily you have runout of indents — Tamsin]

  18. Roddy Campbell

    Steve Easterbrook

    I completely agree that the question ‘where are you coming from’ is interesting and valid. In your experience of teaching young people perhaps especially so, and you have had a lot of exposure to people with pre-conceived notions from background, education etc, and I’m sure part of your job is ‘where do you know that from, and how do you know it’s valid’ – that’s good teaching.

    I have no problem with Oreskes analysis of how the far more aggressive and knock-about system of US lobbying works, and you have examples like tobacco and DuPont which we don’t have also.

    I think an assumption of misinformation driving peoples’ views is a communication mistake, and that is how I think you came across early on this thread to many. Everyone is misinformed to an extent, everyone’s views are coloured by ideology in some way, and staying off motive, playing the ball not the man – as you correctly say phrases like ‘the Easterbrook delusion’ are hardly endearing – gets one a lot further.

    The extent to which ‘warmists’ might think opponents are likely deluded conservatives and ‘sceptics’ might think ‘warmists’ are probably watermelons is a horrible distraction from discussions of the whole spectrum of debate from feedbacks to policy impacts and costs. I find it reasonably easy to ignore on both sides.

    If you take the generous view that Heartland are an ideological libertarian outfit who essentially oppose climate policies on what they consider rational grounds but also go over the top in attacking science right up the chain on dodgy grounds and peddle misinformation AND accept that Greenpeace are a worthy ideological outfit who also go over the top (eg their non-science portrayal of civil nuclear) in peddling misinformation it all gets a bit easier I find.

  19. BBD

    Tamsin says:

    But this is interesting, because I think a large part of the audience who visit this blog (thank you) contradict these findings. Your trust in the science increases the more I talk about uncertainty! And I think you place greater importance in “calculative” rather than “relational” trust. In other words, you use the past behaviour of the scientist as a measure of trust, not similarity in values. I’ve found that whenever I talk about limitations of modelling, or challenge statements about climate science and impacts that I believe are not robust, my “trust points” go up because it demonstrates transparency and honesty.

    The reason for this is that a subset of your audience mistakes discussion of uncertainty for an admission that the scientific consensus on AGW is ill-founded. So when you discuss uncertainty they ‘trust’ you more.

  20. BBD


    You ask:

    On what do you base your “overwhelming number of climate scientists” remark?

    The scientific consensus on AGW is real. There are various illustrations. This one is recent and gives you the general idea – do please read all the way through to the end.

  21. John Costigane


    Rather than focusing on the communication of science, which may have value for the general public, I would prefer to see adaptation of computer models to cover all aspects of climate variability, in the light of new, and previously disregarded, knowledge.

    What steps have you, and your colleagues, taken to cover the developing effects of oscillations, ENSO included, and their development over the months and years of each distinct event?

  22. James Pope

    I find the “warm tone” element interesting. It’s also the greatest challenge, I have had many a conversation over time how texting, tweeting, e-mail etc struggles from lack of visual and vocal cues, it is so easy to read the same statement in 2 different mental states and get a different opinion whether you are in a negative (grumpy, angry, tired) or positive (fresh, happy, cheerful) frame of mind.

    How to promote an engaging tone over a ‘silent’ medium is the real challenge and while viewing previous statements of someone may allow some idea to develop, it’s very hard to ensure clarity. With more and more communication (especially outside of the field) drifting that way, it’s an interesting point to think about for people wishing to engage in debate and discussion.

  23. Dan Hodson

    Interesting post – thanks!
    Very interesting about the differences between calculative and relational trust. The former is costly and hard to do – does that mean we normally use the latter as a proxy? What do politicians (Who have their trust engendering methodology routinely tested) do to engender trust? It seems to me they use the latter, rather than the former. We, as scientists, want to communicate dispassionately, but maybe that is just an oxymoron?

    Somehow, I often feel that the uncertainty debate is on it’s head – we feel the need to communicate how uncertain a result might be, but an alternative (bayesian?) viewpoint is how much less uncertain our knowledge has become. When we conduct an experiment, or make a measurement, we reduce our uncertainty from +/- infinity (uniform prior?) to some more finite range. Maybe we should be emphasising this way of thinking, rather than stating a value (2 degrees) and then qualifying it with an uncertainty? Hmm..

  24. Ian Blanchard

    An interesting set of throughts and comments. I do though wonder about the focus that climate science seems to have on communication rather than on simply focussing on making the science as solid as possible – what other areas of science (with the possible exception of medicine) have PR men like Bob Ward and such close links to certain journalists?

    As someone with a background initially in physical sciences and a PhD in Earth Sciences, I’m obviously part of a different audience from that you describe, and I think my responses to the various modes of communication may be significantly different (then again I, as with most geeks, probably have a little bit of Asperger’s). What I don’t want to hear are:
    1 -Something that sounds like a sales pitch
    2 – Appeals to authority / consensus
    3 – Over-confidence in things that are celarly uncertain (in particular, to swing this comment back to the main theme of the blog, an over-confidence in the output of models especially with regards to predictions of the future).

    What I do want:
    1 – Details, quantification and a reasonable explanation of the certainty or uncertainty of a particular conclusion
    2 – For the scientist to be bold enough to simply say ‘I don’t know’. This is particularly the case for things where there simply isn’t yet sufficient data to allow a reasonable conclusion to be reached – satellite temperature data, answering the question of whether North Pole sea ice changes in a cyclic manner relating to ocean currents, and particularly palaeoclimate reconstructions – there simply aren’t enough reliable proxies known at the moment to make a Mannian type (i.e. high resolution) reconstruction possible over more than the last 300 years or so.

  25. Swiss Bob

    “(See previous post for squandering of some of those points…).”

    Ah, very cunning 🙂

    I posted over on the Bish a comment thanking you for your engagement (inc Prof Betts), I hope you continue to do so, however trying it may be some times!

  26. Alexander Harvey

    If climate is so important why isn’t it interesting?

    I am rather fond of climate and would miss it. It interests me. I should like to know more about it.

    Given the perceived importance given to one particular climate perturbation, it must puzzzle me how little in the way of popular presentations on the nature of climate have aired on television. The number of documentary series on our world’s climate that I can recall could be counted on the thumbs of one hand.

    Climate has been around for a long time and frequently gave rise to causes for concern but is not only about the floods and droughts of biblical proportions. It is also about what is commonplace. It is about change whilst staying the same and occassionally change that persists.

    I am surprised by many things amongst which is that I have seen precious little about the art and science of climate modelling in the documentary form. Given their importance I should like to know a lot more about climate models, their nature, their foibles, their strengths and weaknesses. Just as puzzling is why nobody seems desperate to inform me.

    Why no thirteen part series on Carbon Dioxide? Is it not that important? Can we live with it? Could we live without it?

    It is said that the deficit model has failed, I wonder if has really been tried. Perhaps I have previously misunderstand what is meant by deficit.

    The communication of climate science, may necessitate going long, going deep and being brave. Climate carries no obvious message. By science communication do we mean messages or substance? There seems to be no deficit of messages so is it simply a perceived failure to get a required message over? I think I can say with some confidence that most have recieved the message. We have been led to water.

    “the deficit model – a view that if only enough information were given, people would make rational decisions”

    Consider it done! In so far as anyone has decided anything many different rational decisions have been made. If the desire is for all to make the same choice then information is a poor shepherd.

    If the object is to allow people to make well informed rational choices then only the best information will do and there is some benefit in the communication of the science. The risk is that it might not be a specified outcome. If rational choice must lead to some required outcome, it would not be knowledge that needs updating but goals.

    So what by metric is climate communication judged? That people make informed rational choices or make the required choice?


    • John Shade

      Interesting observation. Other curiosities include the lack of government-funded auditing of the analyses, computer codes, and data sets deemed crucial for the case for alarm over CO2 – despite the breathtaking financial and societal commitments of such as the Climate Change Act. I’m also puzzled by the apparent lack of funding for intensive observational studies of CO2 levels in different regions and altitudes, radiation regimes ditto, and indeed of ground-truth temperatures in areas deemed important such as the Arctic (where the paucity of ground stations has allowed remarkable leaps of interpolation to come up with global temperature means). A third puzzle is how little experimentation over such things as the greenhouse effect (even the 100-year old demonstration of the disconnect between greenhouses and the greenhouse effect could do with being repeated in high schools throughout the world), and radiation emissions from air molecules at various levels but probably especially in the first 50 metres or so above sea level, perhaps addressing directly the controversy about heat transfer and ‘back-radiation’. It is almost as if the computer models were good enough by themselves, supplemented occasionally by confident assertions that more CO2 must mean detectably more warming, in for example the upper troposphere and in the oceans, and not just that, but major ‘weirding’ according to some polemicists. Given the squillions at stake, surely a lot more data collection would be in order. Faith moves mountains, you say? Faith in ‘climate science’ has certainly moved mountains of money, produced acres of windfarms, lakes of bio-fuels, uncounted numbers of frightened children and reams of resolutions and grand declarations all over the place, often including the word ‘sustainable’. On a smaller scale, in Australia desalination plants were built to deal with the great droughts that were to be the new normal, but the locals have been too distracted by floods to have time to switch them on. On even smaller scales, snow was to be a thing of the past in the UK, and local authorities and airports alike saw little merit in stocking up on salt and de-icing fluids, until the snow and the ice persuaded them to doubt the faith just a little bit, and buy more of each in later years. There are indeed many curiosities about climate, and many questions to be asked about it.

      • BBD

        John Shade

        It seems as though you are implying that the entire multidisciplinary field of earth system sciences is engaged in systematic and co-ordinated misconduct. Or do I misunderstand you?

        • mrsean2k

          I don’t want to add to Tamsin’s thread sprawl irritation any further but on-topic and apropos communication, it’s helpful to cite the terms or words people actually use as opposed to substituting terms of your own.

          Happy to continue previous discussion on an “unthreaded” if one is available.

          • BBD


            What conversation? I was attempting to get you to apply some rigour to your thinking and you were being evasive. Not much future there, unthreaded or not.

        • John Shade

          You got me there, Tamsin. Sorry about that – it is but the tip of an iceberg of grumbles, but it doesn’t really belong on this thread. You were very generous to leave it in place – although I see below that you too were also moved by Alex’s main observation. I’ll resist rising to BBD’s bait by way of penance.

        • BBD


          Sorry for the OT – I usually manage to let the woolly, contradictory thinking and thinly-veiled smearing of scientists go these days, but sometimes… 🙂 I’ll blame the wine at supper.

          Incidentally, I’m having fun with Cronin, Paleoclimates at the moment – have you had a look? Any thoughts? It was well reviewed, but I wouldn’t know if there were flaws (or I wouldn’t be reading textbooks 😉 ). Do you have any recommendations for similar texts?

    • Tamsin Edwards

      Alex, hello. I’d love to make a TV show. Brian Cox is also interested in climate science and I’m hoping once he finishes his current filming we can sit down and hash out some idea.

      For me: informed choices, not particular choices.

      • Bary Woods

        I hope he look a bit more closely in to why people are sceptical, instead of why he might pre-conceive, why they are sceptical…He has not come across well in the past.

        Maybe a chat with Prof J Jones (also physics) and Prof Paul Matthews (Mathematics),
        or even Prom Ross Mckitrick, or Steve Mcintyre or Don Keiller, or Doug Keenan

        If BBC wants a ‘sceptical’ advisor my rates are very good 😉 !
        No Exxon cheques have ever materialised and my overdraft is very large… 😉 🙁

        I could just imagine it, hours spent ‘proving’ that the earth has warmed in the last 150 years (assuming really sceptics dispute this)

        ie EVEN James Delinpole says this (which is more nuanced that the cliche thought of him/others)

        “In his Radio 5 interview, James Delingpole correctly framed the argument over AGW as being over (a) how large the effect is (b) how much warming there will be and (c) how much of a problem it is.”

        most of the consensus approcah in the media, seems to be stuck at sceptics don’t think the earth has warmed at all…

        A Watts:

        “My position has been that there is no debate that the earth has warmed over the past 100+ years, but that the magnitude of the measured warming and the cause(s) remain in debate. The question of whether such warming is beneficial or detrimental depends on who you ask. I’ll also point out that it took our modern society about 150 years of science and technology advances to get where we are now. Doing it cleaner and better won’t be an overnight solution either.

        There are also other pressing environmental issues which have been swallowed whole by the maelstrom of this worldwide climate debate and are getting the short shrift. The sooner we can settle it, the sooner we can get on to solving those”

      • Swiss Bob

        Dr Edwards,

        Aaaaghh! Not Brian Cox, please!

        How about some of the more rational ‘sceptics’ and ‘warmists’ and maybe a debate if there’s more than one programme, because I’m sure you could get at least a dozen programmes out of all the different areas of study i.e WUWT reference pages.

        • Tamsin Edwards

          Hey 🙂 I know Brian’s style is not to everyone’s taste. But he’s a superb physicist and his primary concern is data – he is interested in evidence, not opinion. I’m kind of his climate science hotline 🙂 If there is something he wants to be more informed about I send him a brief summary.

          Andrew Montford and I talked about whether a conversation between the two of us would make good TV. With these things it’s hard to start from cold in pitching / convincing people to make it. I’m having an increasing number of conversations that might help, but right now it’s much more likely they’d fund something with Brian presenting than relative unknowns like us.

          • Barry Woods

            Ask icey about what he would have liked to be in the Frozen Planet, that the BBCwere not so keen on.., just a concern that the BBC might approach it with policy agendas in mind (ie all down to the edit) with the program to show something must be done approach..

            I agree he a known face would be good…. if he has seen the broad range of views (not heard on the BBC) it could be very worthwhile, this would be an improvement… (on Global Wierding’ stupidity from Horizon)

            Met Office – Dr Gareth Jones (bio)

            “being part of a team examining the possible reasons for the lack of substantial warming for the 10 years after 1998”

            sadly you would never know the scientists are looking at this, from the BBC’s output (or even Met Office Press Releases)

  27. dave souza

    Hi Tamsin,

    Nice to hear that you found Andrew Montford very civil, and you stuck up for his book a few times. More detail would be of great interest. Since you consider some of his criticisms of statistical methods valid, did you also consider whether they had any significant effect on the outcome, and whether they have any relevance to more recent climate reconstructions?

    Given your interest in increasing trust in science, did you also raise with him the issues of plagiarism and misrepresentation in the social network analysis in the Wegman report (see doi:10.1038/473419b) which he features prominently in his book? I’d also like to know if you’ve noticed his misrepresentation of views about the medieval warm period as publshed in the 1990 IPCC first assessment report.

    [I think you’re referring to my comment under Leo Hickman’s article. I intend to post on reconstruction uncertainties, yes. I can’t promise to cover every topic but try to balance the interests of myself and the readers — Tamsin ]

    • dave souza

      Thanks, I did indeed follow the link here from Leo Hickman’s article. Will watch out for your post on this topic, it will be interesting to learn more about reconstruction uncertainties. As you’ll appreciate, my hope is that these can be shown in context, and in a way that does not legitimise the deceit which is evident in Andrew Montford’s book.

      • dave souza

        Judith’s comment 102 is indeed informative. As she has “said before, I don’t take everything in this book at face value, but I have not spotted any inaccuracies.” Given the blatant misinformation in the book about the medieval warm period as described in the 1990 IPCC first assessment report, perhaps she didn’t look very hard? That would explain her rather disastrous responses a few days later to Tamino’s commentary on the book on the RC blog.

        While she wanted a point by point rebuttal to Montford’s accusations of “corruption and bias and flouting of rules”, a much more informative approach would be to read Mann’s recent book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”, and compare and contrast it with Montford’s “The Hockey Stick Illusion”. Do take care to check the references carefully.

        For Tamino’s analysis, and Judith Curry’s comments in the long thread, see The Montford Delusion.

  28. Jack Hughes

    “60-80% probability” rather than “70% probability”

    Are these numbers the result of a calculation? Stats formulas give a single answer and it’s never a round number like 0.70.

    Maybe the numbers come from a panel deciding what the number should be ?

    • Nullius in Verba

      Good question.

      While stats formulae usually give lots of decimal places, you shouldn’t quote more than are justified by the errors. If it’s 0.7103187 plus or minus 0.9812365, for example, there’s no point in quoting more than one decimal place: 0.7. The other digits are meaningless.

      Stats formulae can also give a range. Say you toss a coin 10 times and it comes up heads 7 times and tails 3 times. Estimate the probability of it coming up heads on some future occasion.

      If you don’t have any background knowledge, the best single answer is 0.7, but had the real probability been 0.75 the result wouldn’t have been surprising. For that matter, if it was a fair coin with probability 0.5, a 7/10 result would not be that unusual. On the other hand, if the true probability was as low as 0.01, and you got 7 of them in such a short interval it would be very surprising, so this is unlikely. So you can use statistics to narrow the probability down to some range, the evidence is not surprising for probabilities in this range, and surprising for probabilities outside it. Actually calculating the range also depends on your prior belief – if it’s just any old coin picked at random, you’ll need strong evidence to shift your views far from 0.5, as finding a strongly biased coin is itself surprising. If it’s one offered to you by a gambler, experimental evidence is more strongly weighted.

      I agree it’s important to know how the numbers were calculated; on what evidence. Expert judgement (for example) is notoriously bad at estimating probabilities.

  29. Alex Harvey

    Dear Dr. Edwards,

    (Note I am not the same Alex Harvey as above. To that other Alex Harvey I should say hello; the two of us are doubtlessly merged in the minds of many readers!)

    Since this is my first comment I’d like to thank you for engaging with the public. I’d also like to thank you for your hard work in understanding the climate problem that faces us. I read your paper Edwards et al. 2007, and found it most enlightening.

    The point about greater engagement following a warm tone is a point that many science communicators could do well to understand. I have often made the point that nothing undermines the public trust in climate science more than the vitriol directed at those who are not convinced. Usually when I make even this point I am rebuked as a denier, so it is gratifying to see that psychologists are studying the matter scientifically and coming to the same conclusion.

    In your post you have noted an apparent contradiction between Hebba’s findings and your own experience here at this blog. I don’t, however, think there is a contradiction. Hebba’s subjects are likely lay people who previously knew nothing about the uncertainties in climate science – because these are never communicated in the mass media or by politicians who try to sell their climate change policies. Thus, all uncertainty is supposed, in the mind of the completely uninformed public, to stem from climate change deniers trying to muddy the waters. If the same members of the uninformed public then learn that much of the uncertainty is in fact real, their trust in climate science decreases – they start to wonder if some of the things the so-called deniers have been saying are in fact true. Shortly, they discover that in fact, yes: quite a few things the deniers say are true, and this discovery leads to disillusionment and skepticism.

    It takes a while, though, before members of the public know enough that they feel confident enough to start commenting on blogs – especially here at the blog of an actual climate scientist. Commenters here are typically an entirely different class of lay people. Most of us have quite a bit of knowledge about the actual debate and for those of us leaning to skepticism, we are so used to seeing activist scientists denying the uncertainty to lay audiences and asserting that the science is settled. Thus when we see a good scientist like yourself come out and be up front about the uncertainty, it has the opposite effect as it does on the novice; it works in fact to restore our trust.

    It may be, as Roger Pielke Jr. has said, that the argument for action on climate change was made dishonestly in the first place, and this is the root of the problem. If the argument had always been, “despite uncertainty, the best course of action is to act” rather than, “there is no uncertainty, and the science is settled; we must act”, I suspect both Hebba’s findings and your own would be completely different. Indeed, perhaps we would already have acted.

    • dave souza

      Oddly enough, Alex, I’ve found that quite a few things the deniers or self-styled “skeptics” say are untrue, and this discovery has made me very sceptical about the arguments they put forward.

      As for being up front about the uncertainty, may I commend to your attention “Northern hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: Inferences, uncertainties, and limitations”, doi:10.1029/1999GL900070 which has of course been followed by more recent work examining these uncertainties in the light of a great expansion in available data.

    • dave souza

      p.s. Alex’s comment “we are so used to seeing activist scientists denying the uncertainty to lay audiences and asserting that the science is settled” shows his preference for inactivist scientists, but is rather inaccurate: see Unsettled Science. .

      • Alex Harvey

        Dave, thanks for the comments.

        I note that you still prefer calling others “deniers” and “self-styled ‘skeptics'” rather than allowing them to be simply not convinced. Do you have any thoughts about Tamsin’s post that suggests people don’t listen when you do this? The benefit may be that it makes you feel better to berate people who disagree with you, but if the cost is that it creates even more people who disagree with you, have you chosen to be part of the solution, or part of the problem?

        It may be that some of the things skeptics believe are not true, but you miss the point that if a particular lay person has believed for the last 20 years that it is certain that humans are causing global warming, and then discovers that many, even if not all, of the points that people like, say, Lindzen are making are actually true, this is going to cause confusion, and almost certainly, at least initially, some skepticism.

        When I first read Lindzen’s paper, ‘Understanding Common Climate Claims’, it came as a big surprise to me to find that most of it was true. I didn’t know that the dispute was not about whether CO2 causes warming, but about whether net ‘feedbacks’ are positive or negative. Then I learnt that the sign on the net cloud feedback is uncertain, and that serious scientists, aside from Lindzen, still discuss the possibility that the net cloud feedback is negative.

        Unfortunately, I had been told that skeptics deny the physics, and deny that CO2 causes global warming. That this was not true led me, initially, to wonder if the whole thing was indeed a fraud. Many years later, I have a more balanced view, but I suspect that very few lay people would have spent the next six years trying to really understand it all, as I did. Many more would simply have left it at that – decided it was all exaggeration, and gone off and told all their friends the same.

        Note that I am talking about the average citizen here, not someone with a prior concern for environmental issues. Regrettably, I think that most people rate concerns about the environment way down in their list of worries, after paying the mortgage, paying the bills, concerns about the economy and job security, and so on. This is just the way it is. You need to forget you are a climate change activist and put yourself in the mindset of the average citizen.

        Regarding the much-discussed Mann et al. 1998 paper you referred to, you are presumably making the point that they deserve credit for their treatment of the uncertainty. But we are talking about communication with the public, not with the scientific community. The question is was the uncertainty communicated clearly to the pubic, or was it hidden?

        • dave souza

          Oh dear, Alex, you don’t seem to have noticed that the term “deniers” came from your statement that “quite a few things the deniers say are true”. As a sceptic myself my understanding is that all scientists are sceptics, so using the term for those opposing mainstream views is rather contradictory: perhaps you’d prefer “contrarians”?

          You refer to Lindzen, who seems to object to the term skeptic at the end of his recent presentation in a room at the House of Lords.

          Tamsin will no doubt be interested to learn from Lindzen’s opening statement that “The usual rationale for alarm comes from models. The notion that models are our only tool, even, if it were true, depends on models being objective and not arbitrarily adjusted (unfortunately unwarranted assumptions).” A graph allegedly supporting that accusation which appears on page 12 has been much discussed, and apparently Lindzen has withdrawn that graph.

          As an example of misrepresentation, page 11 of that presentation says “As Phil Jones acknowledged, there has been no statistically significant warming in 15 years.” Lindzen seems not to have noticed that the reply by Jones to a loaded question, though technically correct at the time, has since been superseded and Jones has announced that warming has now reached statistical significance. Lindzen’s statement “However, Jones’ statement remains correct” is false.

          • Alex Harvey

            Dave, thanks for reading my comments carefully and offering such thoughtful responses.

          • dave souza

            Alex, glad to assist. On a minor issue, you’re not quite right in referring to a “much-discussed Mann et al. 1998 paper”, my citation is to Mann, Bradley and Hughes 1999 which clearly showed estimated uncertainties in a reconstruction going back 1,000 years. Showing uncertainties in this way was an innovation in their 1998 paper covering a shorter period.

            Tamsin, sorry my formatting of the link went horribly wrong, I’m not up on HTML and will be grateful if you can correct it. As an additional reference, Lindzen’s February 2012 seminar as linked above somewhat misrepresented the answer Phil Jones gave to the BBC in February 2010, but ignored the update Phil Jones gave to the BBC in June 2011, here.

          • dave souza

            Thanks for fixing the link, that exposes my error: the seminar was given in a committee room of the House of Commons, not the House of Lords. Got mixed up with an earlier presentation Lindzen made to the House of Lords.

  30. John Shade

    ‘How not to be engaging’ can be illustrated using Vicky Pope’s recent Guardian piece. See this thoughtful essay by Ben Pile: It begins ‘My last post here discussed the belief held by Met Office senior scientist, Vicky Pope, that climate change is a matter of ‘evidence, not belief’. It turned out that, in spite of evidence, one of the most vilified climate change sceptics and the public at large had a more sophisticated understanding of the debate about climate change than Pope herself. ‘

    There is surely a range of ways of sharing our knowledge, and lack of it, of the climate system that would seek to inform and not alarm as the primary objective. People don’t like being ‘got at’!
    I hope that if you do do a tv programme on climate, it will treat the general public, including those unconvinced by the case for alarm over CO2 (such as me), with more respect than is commonly found in the writings of others agitated by their alarm over this vital gas.

  31. Pharos

    I see this new thread is titled ‘How to be Engaging’. As suggested in Tamsin’s quoted tweets the trailblazer par excellence is Judith Curry. A while back, she had a thread, one of many on this theme, from which I would like to quote:

    ‘Let’s wipe out dogma from climate science. I look forward to the “insiders” who don’t like my use of the word dogma convincing me that this no longer exists! Why is this so hard for “insiders” to see?
    The word “dogma” isn’t a pretty one, its about as ugly as the word “denier.” Dogma is about how you treat disagreement and dissent. A reminder from Charles Sanders Peirce on the ways of settling disagreement:
    1.the method of tenacity (sticking with one’s initial belief) and trying to ignore contrary information.
    2.the method of authority, which overcomes disagreements but sometimes brutally.
    3.the method of congruity or “what is agreeable to reason,” which depends on taste and fashion in paradigms.
    4.the scientific method whereby inquiry regards itself as fallible and continually tests, criticizes, corrects, and improves itself.

    The IPCC’s defenders engage in all four. Engaging particularly in the first two is not to the credit of the IPCC’s defenders. With regards to #4, input from outsiders is commonly ignored or trivialized.

    I am getting inundated with requests from reporters who are doing a report on Climategate, one year later. They want to know about my interactions with skeptics, like I was the first person to walk on the moon or something. Why is a scientist interacting with skeptics news? It is because that the public and reporters perceive such a great intolerance for disagreement and dissent by the IPCC’s defenders (e.g. dogma).’

    I could not agree more. The adoption of aggressive, dismissive and censorious tactics to stifle and suppress debate with sceptics has been and continues to be inflammatory and self defeating.

  32. DR

    A previous version of this comment disappeared, so apologies if it reappears later.

    I was unimpressed by this on the Planet under Pressure conference website (main page, right-hand side):

    An example of how not to engage, I think. And it appears to have been commissioned by the conference Director of Communications, as he says on his blog, The Anthropocene Journal.

  33. Mad Scotsman

    It is not about communication, nor denialism/scepticism, nor uncertaintity. It is about public rejection of a controversial hypothesis.

    It may well be that science in order to protect itself from sustained public criticism and long term damage may too in the course of time have to reject this hypothesis.

    The question that should be asked, “Is the AGW hypothesis worth fighting for?”

  34. Ian Blanchard

    One further thought on how to be convincing – don’t waste your time being too vociferous in your defence of the flawed, regardless of whether it comes from your ‘side’ of the argument. Remember not everyone on your side is motivated by the scientific facts – some are more keen on political advocacy and ‘the Cause’ and are prepared to manipulate the data to tell the story that best fits their preconceptions. Also, some people are simply wrong (and I’m sure I am about many things, although hopefully not anything in the following comments 😉 )

    The examples from the cAGW side is the on-going defence of the hockey stick. Good statisticians have looked into the details, and it just is not the ‘robust’ figure it was claimed to be (noting that the original paper is somewhat more honest about the uncertainty than most of the later publicity of the paper makes out). Similarly, Prof Mann’s defence of the use of the Tiljander sediment sequence in the opposite orientation to that advocated by the original workers on this site – the ‘flipping’ was an artefact of the statistical process and occurred because the later parts of the sequence (within the calibration period of his reconstruction) were contaminated by human activity in the area rather than reflecting a response to temperature, and therefore gave a spurious and incorrect calibration. It seems fairly straightforward to just accept that the ‘proxy’ shouldn’t have been included because of this and to correct the paper accordingly. The overly strong defence of these issues is actually harming the credibiilty of the wider group of climate scientists, and over issues that don’t carry that much significance in the global warming debate.

    Obviously for the more skeptical, there are some things that are significant and worth further discussion (solar effects especially the secondary effects on clouds and sunshine hours, ocean circulation effects, feedbacks and climate sensitivity generally, observational data quality to some extent), but there are other arguments that are foolish – for example the ‘sky dragons’ argument that because heat can only flow from hot to cool areas the GHG effect cannot be real. This just appears to be a wilful misinterpretation of the difference between what is happening at a quantum level (photons exchanging in all directions) and what happens at a macro scale (heat transfer in bulk being from hotter surface to cooler upper atmosphere, with this rate being possibly slowed by the absorption of photons at specific wavelengths relating to CO2, water vapour and other trace GHGs). If their argument was correct, insulation would not have any effect…

  35. Barry Woods

    Dave said:

    “Lindzen’s February 2012 seminar as linked above somewhat misrepresented the answer Phil Jones gave to the BBC in February 2010, but ignored the update Phil Jones gave to the BBC in June 2011, here.”

    Given that 20110, since then was a much cooler year than 2010… has anybody asked Phil to redo those figures, as basically it will have dropped below any significance again… A number of people asked the BBC and Phil Jones how he had come up with that calculation,and as usual no answer.

    I wonder what he will say, if we get a couple of cooler years 2012-2013,(bit of natural variability, not disproving agw) and get significant cooling (statistically of course) this sort of calulation on a year by year basis, to get a bbc headline, must annoy mathematicians..

    • dave souza

      Phil Jones already covered that point in the June 2011 BBC article linked above: “It just shows the difficulty of achieving significance with a short time series, and that’s why longer series – 20 or 30 years – would be a much better way of estimating trends and getting significance on a consistent basis.”

      It may be of interest that future estimates will be based on the updated and expanded dataset of HadCRUT4.

  36. John Costigane


    In your website you mention John Cook of SkS. Have you any concern about their rewriting of history, as in 1984? This is in regard to the altering the text of sceptics comments to suit the SkS agenda. I personally believe in science, the scientific method and objective truth, and find this kind of thing an affront to science.

  37. pouncer

    Steve Easterbrook sez: ‘ we’re bombarded with information, some of which is generated by the normal scientific process (which still might turn out to be wrong), and some of which is generated by well-funded industrial special interest groups (and is usually deliberately wrong from the outset). To counter the latter, it’s not enough just to keep talking about the science. You also need to tackle head on the existence of and motivation for such disinformation, and spend time working with people to figure out what parts of their received knowledge originate from disinformation campaigns (and that only works if people are truly willing to be open minded).”

    I agree 100% with this statement. My own personal experience as a minor elected official responsible for wisely spending local public money on local needs strongly inclines me to disagree with Mr Easterbrooks earlier comment “there is an effective misinformation campaign that’s working against climate scientists, and everyone you reach out to is likely to be hearing information that originates from this campaign”

    I am beset with salesmen, representatives, and lobbyists for what I can best describe as the “SNAKE OIL” industry. These people want me to vote for spending on “extras” for my core projects. Meeting code, even at the top end of the range, is, I’m routinely told, not enough. I am encouraged to put in more, greener, expensive-er “features” in every possible decision. Many of these features are as “scientific” as putting cow-magnets on the fuel lines of the agency vehicles. All of these proposals and suggestions are made in the climate or environment which absolutely takes for granted the “green” agenda — pay ANY price to “save” any erg or watt; or emit less carbon, or otherwise label our activities organic, sustainable, and “good for our grandchildren”.

    I’m offered little gifts and inducments to vote this way. (I do, I confess, make a sharp point of refusing)

    I have never been approached by an actual oil company, or electrical utility, or ordinary architect or construction company, arguing I should buy their product or service for any other reason than good value.

    I am ALWAYS offered low-economic-value experimental demonstration model proposals on the strength of my (assumed) desire to save the planet, thinking globally while acting, locally, to spend locally collected tax money.

    I deeply deeply resent that my objections to this sort of snake oil lobbying, and my prioritization of real mission-essential projects over “green” initiatives somehow marks me as “stupid.

    Mr Easterbrook, what sort of lobbying or advertising materials can you show me from the well-funded “anti-climate” conspiracy that is presented to conferees at events or conventions for,say, the North Texas Council of Governments, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Society of Government Procurement Professionals, etc?

  38. John Stephens

    Dr. Alice Roberts communicated well on climate change in her recent programme about Woolly Mammoths without even referring to the subject. She said it was getting easier to obtain preserved mammoths now that the permafrost is melting. Just that.

    However, if you absorbed that point and you know that when permafrost melts methane is released then that should set you thinking. Methane is 20 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Perhaps there will be a more rapid increase in temperature than before. If there isn’t then that will be even more interesting.

  39. Swiss Bob

    Dr Edwards,

    Over at the Guardian a well known poster (to sceptics) for Skeptical Science has an article with a chart up re Hansen’s projections (The article is in response to the NASA ex employees letter). I checked over at Real Climate where I remembered Dr Schmidt had a similar chart and there appear to be some differences that make Hansen’s projections more accurate than they would appear to be based on the ‘original’ projections.

    The article states:

    Figure 2: Observed temperature change (GISTEMP, blue) and with solar, volcanic and El Niño Southern Oscillation effects removed by Foster and Rahmstorf (green) vs. Hansen Scenario B trend adjusted downward 16% to reflect the observed changes in radiative forcings since 1988, using a 1986 to 1990 baseline.

    So there is an explanation but I’d like to ask what does it mean and why is it necessary to ‘correct’ projections?

    • Tamsin Edwards

      Hi Swiss Bob, and others.

      I’m sorry, I’m under deadline…I do try to keep a note of these things though, to look at them again when I get the chance or when people remind me.


    • Paul S

      A projection is a conditional prediction. Making a projection means saying ‘I predict x will happen if relevant events transpire according to y scenario’. For climate projections relevant *events* include GHG emissions, aerosol emissions, solar activity and volcanic eruptions.

      We can give this setup a simple equation so we can think about what’s going on:

      model * scenario = projection

      Let’s say our model = 2 and our scenario also = 2. Our projection = 4. Now we’ll forward-wind past the real event to find that the actual outcome was 8. What went wrong? Given our equation, there must be a problem with the model or the scenario, or some combination of errors in both. We can’t find out whether the model is right by any other means but we can, to some extent, check against reality what the actual scenario was. Let’s say we found it was 4. Plug that into our equation with the original model and you get 2 * 4 = 8. Our model was perfect! It just needed the right scenario.

      (It’s worth noting here that there’s a flip side to this. Say we have another model which = 4 and we use the forecast 2 scenario. We get a projection which matches the result (8) perfectly, but only because both the model and scenario had errors which compensated for each other.)

      The adjustment in the article you’ve linked is performed as an attempt to scale the projection scenario to what actually happened. For example, methane and CFC concentrations turned out much lower in 2010 than in the scenario B *2010*. Looking back at our situational equation we have now plugged in the result (global surface temperature observations) and, theoretically, the real world scenario over the projection period. This means any residual discrepancy must be caused by the model: the adjustment is performed in order to isolate the sources of error, enabling reasonable evaluation.

      As a footnote I think the graph could be improved by acknowledging uncertainties in the actual scenario, which mostly comes from aerosol forcing.

    • dave souza

      For the explanation of “why it is necessary to correct projections”, try clicking on the link in “which has turned out to be remarkably accurate (Figure 2)” above the graph clearly labelled “Hansen Scenario Reflecting Actual Forcings vs. Observations”. Swiss Bob appears to want a graph of “Hansen Graph Based On Original Projections vs. Observations”

      As the linked article explains, it responded to Pat Michaels continuing to defend a graphic used in his 1988 Congressional Testimony which only showed Hansen’s emissions scenario A, which was not the one closest to reality. So unfortunate that Michaels creates distrust by such misrepresentation of the work of scientists.

      “In Michaels’ case in his 1998 Congressional testimony, that should have been Scenario C. Currently, Scenario B is closest to the actual forcing, according to Skeie et al., but running about 16% too high (since 1988). Figure 1 reproduces Hansen’s Scenario B with a 16% reduction in the warming trend, to crudely correct for the discrepancy between it and the actual radiative forcing.”

      See Patrick Michaels Continues to Distort Hansen 1988, Part 2

  40. Bishop Hill

    This touches upon the main conclusions of The Hockey Stick Illusion. The IPCC’s desire to hold on to the Hockey Stick in the face of overwhelming evidence that it was flawed created distrust. I know many people on both sides of the debate think we are stuck with the IPCC, but without trust it is nothing.

    • Swiss Bob

      Mr Montford, I think you’re saying I’m correct in being sceptical of the graph in the Guardian, if so, thanks!

    • dave souza

      Andrew Montford, I presume? And how are all the other Lomond Hills? Do give my regards to the Paps of Fife.

      Such certainty in your rhetoric, don’t you think that creates distrust in your “side of the debate”? You say “The IPCC” when what you mean the AR4 consensus reached by 16 lead authors of the paleoclimate section as well as the participating authors, and the summary wording agreed by representatives of all the participating governments. You allege they all had a “desire to hold on to the Hockey Stick” which is ludicrous: their clear desire was to show the current state of science on the subject, and show the 12 relevant reconstructions. Once of which is the MBH99 study you’ve spent so much time attacking.

      Your assertion of “overwhelming evidence that it was flawed” isn’t supported by the peer reviewed literature. This magnification of small flaws sits ill with the flaws in your own book: why do you so desire to hold on to the medieval warm period as shown in a graph based loosely on a 1965 paper, nominally representing central England? And why did you misrepresent the discussion of that period in the 1990 IPCC First Assessment Report?

  41. Disko Troop

    I read your post with interest as a non scientist and search as I might, the one word that is missing is the word; “TRUTH”. I think you could try dropping the words “trust”, “warmer”, “friendlier”, “hopeful”, etc etc. The word “trust appears a dozen times..You do not get trust without first telling the TRUTH with all its nuances and uncertainties.
    People are not stupid, as you “scientists” seem to believe.

    • Tamsin Edwards

      Disko Troop, I meant truth with words like “transparency” and “honesty”. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

      The whole point of my blog and this post is that I try pretty hard on not assuming people are stupid! Back me up, people 🙂

      • dave souza

        Tamsin, I back you up fully. Your post is clear that scientists are trying to communicate the truth about findings in an area where there is considerable uncertainty, and how best to convey that truth. Unfortunately it’s an area where lay people are commonly ill-informed or misinformed, and where expertise is needed to understand the nuances.

        The media have an important part to play in conveying the truth about uncertainty. An example being the MBH99 “hockey stick graph” which set a higher standard than previous graphs in conveying uncertainty, but which was seized on by contrarians who ignored that uncertainty in claiming that it was flawed and showed that climate science was a “hoax”, to quote Senator Inhofe.

        There’s also the problem of those opposing scientific findings presenting untrue statements as though they are The Truth which all those scientists are conspiring to hide. Then attacking strawman versions of the science, and claiming scientists are responsible for creating distrust.

        • Barry Woods

          I would prefer the communication if ‘facts’ not truths. Truths are interpretations of the facts…

          And truths can be very subjective.

          Ie history tends to warn us of people proclaiming ‘truths’ with no argument allowed by people that end up labelled as Deniers

          • J Bowers

            “Ie history tends to warn us of people proclaiming ‘truths’ with no argument allowed by people that end up labelled as Deniers”

            You mean, as a solid example in relation to science, HIV/AIDS deniers? Not convinced you have any historical case.

      • Disko Troop

        If I may copy your use of the words as follows: “my “trust points” go up because it demonstrates transparency and honesty.” I am afraid this is the problem. The words are there but the meaning is Political such as one might expect from Boris Johnson releasing his tax return to “demonstrate” transparency and honesty. Simple truth does not need to be demonstrated, it simply needs to be stated. The majority of normal decent reasonably educated human beings are quite capable of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Unfortunately climate science is largely chaff but no one is prepared to admit it. Today we had ” The AMO is caused by aerosols from industry”(Ben Booth) Really? We have recently had a paper tracing the AMO back through ice cores.(Chris Folland) Funnily enough, both papers have authors who work for the met office. Are your office doors locked or something? This statement: “One would expect the Arctic to be more sensitive to climate models, because of the geography in the magnetic poles of the Earth,” added Prof Beddington.” (Farmers Weekly) Is he off his trolley? Need I even mention Gisstemp going down faster in the 1930’s through “adjustments” than it is going up now, or upsidedown tree rings, that the central England temp is virtually constant since 1910 as is a large part of the Central USA. Yet climate””” disasters”””!! in England like the occasional 200 year flood are all because of AGW. I am afraid the credibility is already gone and however much you try to bring truth back the memory of the Apocalypse Now doomsayers will spoil the party.

        • dave souza

          Oh dear Disko Troop, you’ve badly damaged your credibility by several of your statements. You allege that “climate science is largely chaff but no one is prepared to admit it” and imply that there’s something wrong about publishing scientists working for the MET, but you seem to be quoting newspaper reports to support those extraordinary claims. Can you back that up by citing peer reviewed publications? Similarly, no published science I’ve seen says disasters “are all because of AGW”. Your exaggerations do you no credit.

          It does underline the basic issue, of how to communicate science to lay people: perhaps journalists should be held to higher standards, but some people will still get it wrong.

        • Ben B

          Hi Disko Troop,
          Perhaps I could reply to part of your post as an author of the Atlantic Variability paper you mention. I am bemused by your constrasting of our paper with the Chris Folland paper. Chris’s paper (the lead author is Petr Chylek) looks at evidence from ice core records of Atlantic Variability (AMO) over a long, 660 year, period. These results are new information from ice core records, but the evidence from land based proxy data data for long term AMO variability has been established for some time (e.g Delworth and Mann). It is worth pointing out, also mentioned in this Chylek paper, that climate models do capture similar variability when you run simulations without any changes to greenhouse gases volcanoes, solar changes, aerosol, etc. This is also true of the model we use and we note this in our paper.

          What is new in our study is that we find evidence to suggest that in the more recent observational record (last 150 years) that a large part of the observed variability may have driven by human emission of aerosols and volcanic activity. We do not suggest that ocean internal variability on longer timescales does not exist, nor that these two factors explain all the changes in the last 150 years. Incidently large volcanic events have previously been linked to Atlantic Variability, which is common to both changes in the recent period and during the longer paleo-timescales.

          What does this mean for how we communicate science? I have seen the same thing you have just said, else where in the blogosphere – I guess this is where you are picking this up from. Someone wrote a piece conflating two unrelated things. I assume that they did not like the work or they did not like the implications(?). Either way, because of this it is used as evidence of “chaff”. No one bothered to get back to us for comment and it generates a life of its own. The point is that this isn’t a good example of an engagement with the science (not picking on you but as a wider comment). It feels like it has become a political object and in doing so it looses its connection with what the study actually says. Personally I find this very frustrating, but I am not sure what we should do about this as a scientist. I don’t want to engage in a discussion if it feel that those making these statements are doing so for ideological reasons (right hand side of Tamsin’s compass). However if engagment is possible with people on the sceptical side of Tamsin’s compass then I agree this is important to do.

          I guess my bigger question, and why I am so interested in Tamsin’s experiment with this blog, is is this dialogue possible? I am following with interest

          [as an aside, I avoid using the word “truth”. Gravity is not truth, but a theory for which we have a lot of empirical evidence. I am more interested in the balance of evidence, and what we can or can not say about it].

          • dave souza

            Thanks for your measured response, Ben. It provides a valuable example for considering this topic of communicating science and engaging with those dismissing climate science.

            Judith Curry has been described in several posts as an exemplar in this kind of polite and civil engagement, showing considerable patience and sympathy towards contrarians. She’s also written a great deal about the importance of showing uncertainties in a clear and open way.

            As you point out above, your study provides carefully measured evidence that a large part of the observed variability may have driven by human emission of aerosols and volcanic activity. Somehow Judith Curry thinks the foremost implication of your paper is “that the AMO does not exist, in the sense that the temperature variations concerned are neither intrinsically oscillatory nor purely multidecadal”, and dismisses your paper in her blog post:
            “Color me unconvinced by this paper. I suspect that if this paper had been submitted to J. Geophysical Research or J. Climate, it would have been rejected. In any event, a much more lengthy manuscript would have been submitted with more details, allowing people to more critically assess this. By publishing this, Nature seems to be looking for headlines, rather than promoting good science.”

            Judith Curry is a published scientist, and is using that to give authority to her blog dismissing your findings. Has she bothered to get back to you for comment?

            It’s much easier for scientists to deal with arguments made in the scientific literature, but ill-informed blogging creates an alternative reality avidly taken up by contrarians. See the comments at Judith Curry’s post about your paper.

          • Ben B

            dave souza, you asked about Judith Curry’s post on our paper. If our study proves to be correct then it will have big impacts on how we view the world. It is really important that as a scientific community we challenge and hold up current work to scrutiny. This kind of challenge and questioning is the bread and butter of science and, I am in no doubt, will occur in the forthcoming literature as people dig into these results. The strength of science is that this does happen. Judith’s blog entry in a large part, is just a snapshot of what kind of discussion is likely to go on behind the scenes, in every day science. I have no axe to grind with her on her piece.

            I guess what is unusual is that this is publically visiable. I suspect that many people outside science interpreted this post as ‘this paper is wrong’. Instead I think it is a window on how a scientist responds to new papers, from someone who is prepared to put the time in to presenting this. If more scientists did this, perhaps more of the public also see it in this way.

            I will try and illustrate what I mean with two examples. She asks where do the historical emissions come from (noting ‘no error bar in sight’ in her reference). What we’ve done: Current climate simulation are done, for the historical and future, using a common scenarios for emissions. They are common so that we can compare results from our simulations, with those done by the Japanese, or US institutes, etc. The new results from our paper is that using these same set of emissions as previous studies we find (unlike most of the previous simulations) a forced response (partly due to these aerosols). What is different is the inclusions of aerosols interactions with cloud microphysics. I think this makes our study an important result. [Background: computational costs (our simulations, typical of other state of the art simulations, took around 200 days to simulate the last 150 years – this means most centres can only afford to run a handle of simulations even on some of the world’s fastest supercomputers). So there are reasons why we use single emission scenario. This does not, however, mean that Judith does not have a point. Because we have shown that historical emissions of aerosols may well have been important for the Atlantic response (and all the implications of this) then we should ask the question how well constrained are they? Demonstrating that we do find this link in our simulations provides a very strong motivation for those research communities providing this data to go away and quantify this. I am sure this will motivation future work.

            Picking up another example, Judith spends some time discussing indirect effects (which she correctly notes is key to our result). There is a lot of uncertainty in the magnitude of the indirect response. This is quantified and documented in the IPCC sources she mentions. The point it that we would not expect all simulations that do represent aerosol-cloud microphysics to capture the same magnitude of response in our study. Our results, like all new papers, are important not because they tell use the final answer but because they provide new insights which enable to see the world in a new light. In our case this is illustrating that, acting via aerosol indirect effects, past aerosol emissions could have helped drive a significant part of historical Atlantic variability, I think it is an important result. This study does raise significant questions about how we understand these indirect effect (aerosol-cloud interactions), the answers to which will tell use whether we are getting the response to aerosols right, too large or too small. So papers of this kind, really motivate further research. In this case focusing greater attention on how we understand indirect effects [which is already happening to some extent] and focusing attention on the regional details over the Atlantic [were as previous work has all been done globally].

            So to sum up. Judith raises some good questions. These are the kind of questions that I would expect to hear from my colleagues. If you haven’t already read her post, I would encourage you to do so. The way I interpret them are: what are the big scientific questions which arise from this new work? I think the only one where I think there is room for mis-understanding is where Judith Curry refers to “I suspect that if this paper had been submitted to J. Geophysical Research or J. Climate, it would have been rejected. In any event, a much more lengthy manuscript would have been submitted with more details, allowing people to more critically assess this. By publishing this, Nature seems to be looking for headlines, rather than promoting good science.” She picked up on J. Geophysical Research and J. Climate as too ‘long format’ journals. These are journals which allow much more detail to be explored and more aspect to be documented (my colleague just submitted an 89 page paper to J. Climate. I am very glad I am not the reviewer for that one!!). Nature, like Science and Geophysical Research Letters, are ‘short format’. This means that you are restricted to a limited number of figures and text (4 figures in our case). This is not ideal (as a result our supplementary information contains 7 figures which you’d really want space to explore in the main paper). The only aspect that I am slightly upset about is that she states that it would not be published in long format – I would agree that if we had done so we could have provided greater detail. The reason we went for Nature is it is cross-disciplinary. Publishing in J. Climate or JGR would have been great to communicate with scientists interested in the Atlantic but the aerosol micro-physics guys (who’d want to flag this to, so they can kick on to explore the question Judith asks above) more typically hang out in a journal like Atlmospheric Physics and Chemistry. I have no idea which journals the guys who work on past aerosols emissions (who you’d want to starting thinking about past emission uncertainties) hang out but I do know that they all read Nature.

            Do I think it is a good thing that Judith wrote what she wrote. Yes [I think in the longer turm science gains from more people seeing how it science works].

            [Thanks for this Ben – I’ve linked to this comment from the Climate Etc thread so you may get some responses from there. — Tamsin ]

          • Disko Troop

            Hi Ben, Great to see you on this Blog. As I have said ( April 12, 2012 – 8:20 pm ) I am a non scientist, My interest is in the communication aspect which is the actual topic of this post. I do not debate science nor do I vouch for the veracity of references, I simply show where information lies. I assume that you have read the spin placed on your paper by Nature: I can only describe this editorial as a “gloat”. Now it may represent or misrepresent your findings I have no way of knowing. All I can do is read and interpret the editorial as: “The AMO exists because of human caused aerosols”. Again I have to repeat myself as some posters here seem incapable of grasping the concept of a post on communication, I do not know about the veracity of the editorial, but I see the impression it is designed to give of your paper. I may think it is a gross distortion. You may think otherwise. The problem of communication as I see it is that Scientists do not “call out” these editorials. They do not “call out” the distortions seen in press releases from major Universities and research establishments. They allow them to stand and as a consequence the chaff grows. The distortions and the ambiguities grow and are seen by the public as inconsistancies in the science. (I personally think that the science is subservient to the politics and no amount of confirmation or refutation of the science will have the slightest effect on the rampage of the political herd of elephants around the room. But, hey, we’ve all got to make a living somehow.)
            As to your “aside”. Truth is indeed subjective, however the “truth” of gravity is that it keeps us from floating off into space. Not one member of the public will care in the least whether it is a theory, a hypothesis, a conjecture, magic, or a hard fact as long as it keeps them on the ground.

          • dave souza

            Ben B, thanks for your clarification and detailed comments. I’m glad to hear that Judith Curry has pointed to legitimate challenges to your paper, and agree that it’s good for such debates to be made public. However, on the topic of communicating science to the public, her wording saying that she was unconvinced by this paper, implying it would have been rejected by reputable journals, can readily create misunderstanding, as does her suggestion that Nature “seems to be looking for headlines, rather than promoting good science”. In my view it’s important to take care not to inadvertently support contrarian claims, but she seems to be comfortable with such activities as wearing a t-shirt suggesting that climate science is garbage.

            You previously said that you were bemused by Disko Troop contrasting your paper with the Chris Folland paper. I’ve read Judith’s blog article and found no reference to Chylek, Folland et al.
            On the day before Disko Troop raised the comparison, Dr. Patrick Michaels of the libertanian Cato Institute made it the topic of a post at the “Watts Up With That?” blog, quoting Judith Curry’s blog post to support his argument that “the latest whopper, by Ben Booth and his colleagues at the UK Met Office indeed signals the death of Nature in this field.”

            Michaels has been dismissing the work of climate scientists for a long time, and also claims in the post that it took himself and his colleagues “about three hours to completely destroy” a 1996 paper by Ben Santer et al. which compared climate records with then state of the art climate models. For his blog post, see Pat Michaels – on the death of credibility in the journal Nature | Watts Up With That?

  42. Frank

    There is a lot more to scientific uncertainty than experimental/observational variability. We have systematic error and investigator bias.

    Consider a “survival of the fittest” theory of model evolution. If I understand correctly, Stainforth has shown with ensembles of model that the IPCC’s models probe only a small fraction of realistic “parameter space” within his simplified model (and he didn’t explore parameters for oceans). If a scientifically reasonable set model parameters existed early in the model development process that gave reasonable output today’s earth (like many of Stainforth’s ensemble), but didn’t reproduce 20th century warming or show an equilibrium climate sensitivity within the range of the early estimates (2-4), would the developers have continued optimizing near that set of parameters or made more radical changes? If they explored models that deviated from expectations, would they have had difficulty publishing? Would government agencies have continued funding such models that didn’t reproducible the historical temperature record? Would the IPCC include the results of such models in their reports? Is it possible that the major models actually evolved to meet expectation?

    • Disko Troop

      Tamsin, “How to be engaging” was the title of your post and the content was all about how to communicate with the lay person so I ran a little experiment, my apologies. Only one “Scientist” fell for it so I suppose I was not completely successful, however I have “Oh dear, Disko Troop”. Condesention. I have a: “damaged your credibility” i.e. an attempted “put-down” An appeal to peer review which does not impress the public, and one insight which was that I was indeed quoting Newspaper reports. As someone who was into sociology not science I have to tell you that whilst you are going to the conferences about communicating science your fellows are still falling into the same traps. If you have to address misinformation, do it with the TRUTH not with ad hominems and snide remarks. There was a very good book written once called “How to win friends and Influence people.” by Dale Carnegie in the 1930’s. Perhaps you should see that a copy is issued to every one in climate science. (
      Best wishes and I do enjoy your blog. (illegitimi nil carborundum)
      P.S. Can you make the anti spam sums a bit easier…I am only a layman after all! [ 🙂 ]

      • dave souza

        Hi Disko Troop, so now you want us to believe that you were trolling, or perhaps a Poe. The problem is, by making false or misleading statements about scientists, you’ve damaged your credibility so we can’t take that on trust.

        A correction, I’m not a “Scientist” and make no claim to be one.

        When questioned on the substance of your assertions, you could of course have shown your sources, which is usually the best way to gain credence.

        Interestingly to me as a layman, Ben Booth et al. have recently published “Aerosols implicated as a prime driver of twentieth-century North Atlantic climate variability”. Not “The AMO is caused by aerosols from industry” as you said: perhaps some news report oversimplified and misrepresented the careful wording about the uncertainties in this model based study.
        Perhaps your next reference is to a March 2011 paper by Chylek, Holland et al., “Ice-core data evidence for a prominent near 20 year time-scale of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation”, questioning the statistical significance of a longer multidecadal variability of 45–85 years shown in previous studies.
        You sarcastically remarked “Funnily enough, both papers have authors who work for the met office. Are your office doors locked or something?”, but as a layman these papers seem to me to be complementary. My understanding is that science works by research which can question or disprove previous studies, and these look perfectly valid.

        Your third example was from Farmer’s Weekly, and the sentence you quote does indeed seem to be very muddled. Perhaps the reporter didn’t get the statement right? It does certainly show the pitfalls of trying to communicate science through popular media.

        • Disko Troop


          I do apologise for calling you a scientist. Here are the references as you seem to feel such a strong need for them.

          Booth, B., et al., 2012. Aerosols implicated as a prime driver of twentieth-century North Atlantic climate variability. Nature, doi:10.1038/nature10946,

          Chylek, P., et al., 2012. Greenland ice core evidence for spatial and temporal variability of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Geophysical Research Letters, in press,

          • dave souza

            Thanks for the references, you’ve still not shown any source for your claim that Ben Booth said that “The AMO is caused by aerosols from industry”.

            Ben’s commented above about the ice cores paper. I’ve already commented about the Farmers Weekly article. The graphs look very dubious and don’t have any clear relevance.

            The blog alleging that the central England temp is virtually constant since 1910 seems to come from a crank, and the allegation is contradicted by Jones et al (2009). “High-resolution palaeoclimatology of the last millennium: a review of current status and future prospects” doi:10.1177/0959683608098952

            You write “Yet climate””” disasters”””!! in England like the occasional 200 year flood are all because of AGW.” but seem to be misreading Monbiot’s blog which makes the much more nuanced statement, that a “paper, by Pardeep Pall and others, shows that man-made global warming is very likely to have increased the probability of severe flooding in England and Wales, and could well have been behind the extreme events in 2000.” Your version is overblown, but then you’ve already admitted you were trolling.

            For no apparent reason you’ve linked to a copy of Mcintyre, S.; McKitrick, R. (2005). “Hockey sticks, principal components, and spurious significance”, a paper that’s been criticised in several peer reviewed publications.

            Thanks again for providing these references, it does give an indication of where you may get your views.

        • Disko Troop

          Hi Dave, I have replied to you but it seems to have been “disappeared” by the spam filter or something. As I am not prepared to write out all the references again you’ll have to do it yourself.

          I do apologise for calling you a scientist.

          • Disko Troop

            April 13, 2012 – 3:14 pm dave souza
            “Not “The AMO is caused by aerosols from industry” as you said: perhaps some news report oversimplified and misrepresented the careful wording about the uncertainties in this model based study.”
            Perhaps you do not believe that Judith Curry is a good source of comment on this paper:
            This is her comment:
            “And finally, if this paper is correct and there is no AMO other than aerosol forcing, this is going to overthrow a very substantial body of work by oceanographers on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation . At best, the period in this paper covers 2 oscillations.”
            Need I add my own comment?

          • dave souza

            Disko Troop, you don’t seem to have read either Judith Curry or the abstract of the paper very carefully, and indeed she also may be exaggerating a bit.

            Not “The AMO is caused by aerosols from industry”:
            As Judith shows in her extract from the abstract and as shown in the abstract itself, “Here we use a state-of-the-art Earth system climate model to show that aerosol emissions and periods of volcanic activity explain 76 per cent of the simulated multidecadal variance in detrended 1860–2005 North Atlantic sea surface temperatures.”
            Volcanic activity can’t be blamed on industry, and 76% is not 100%.

            Both papers question the multidecadal variability of 45–85 years known as the AMO, further studies will show whether they are right or whether there is a significant oscillation of that period. That’s how science advances. If it overthrows a very substantial body of work by oceanographers, then that work will have to be reexamined. If not, then scientists can hope to learn from that and improve their understanding. As it says at the top of this page, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

            I do hope you find this engagement on the basis of facts helpful, my knowledge of the detailed issues is of course limited but the abstract seems pretty clear.

  43. cui bono

    Hi Tamsin,

    Congratulations on the blog! I can’t predict the climate (and don’t believe anyone else can either) but I’d give odds on you winning a Bloggie within 5 years.

    On communications, we know (irrespective of some conspiracy theorists upstream) that the ‘orthodox’ view of GW predominates in the media. With Greenpeace, WWF and others getting hundreds of millions of dollars, and
    sceptics getting the contents of tip jars, it’s hardly surprising that PR companies have money to push the warming message. Add lobbyists from energy companies, wind, solar and anyone else on the scrounge for taxpayer subsidies, and sceptics rarely get a look in.

    So why are so many still sceptical? Most people judge things that are beyond their judgement (such as the arcanery of climate science) by personal experience, not by propoganda and communication from scientists or shrills. There was a decline in GW belief in the UK after we were buried under 10 feet of snow a couple of winters back. There has been an increase in support for GW in much of the USA due to the exceptionally mild winter.

    Folks will look around and survey the evidence in their lives and in their back yard, not on slides or in soundbites. And so far Nature hasn’t favoured any degree of alarmism.

    • Jonathan Jones

      The problem is not so much the effects of weather, but rather the effects of weather on minds which have been sensitised to make such deductions by alarming pronouncements. When you have been told that “winter snowfall will become a very rare and exciting event” and “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” it’s hardly surprising that people interpret heavy snowfalls as evidence against AGW.

      Crying wolf is a very foolish thing to do: men bileve not lyghtly hym whiche is knowen for a lyer. Quite why “climate communicators” don’t understand this trivial point is a mystery to me.

    • Disko Troop

      Hi Dave,
      I obviously need to remind you of a couple of things:
      1. The title of Tamsin’s blog post is “How to be Engaging.” You don’t seem to be very good at that. I get the overwhelming impression that you post simply to boost your own ego. Not a good start in communication.
      2. The article is about communicating with the public. Your scientific shenanigans can be posted elsewhere. I simply demonstrate where informatioon can be obtained, I do not vouch for the veracity of it.

      3. As I said in my post of April 12, 2012 – 8:20 pm I am a non-scientist. I have neither the desire, the knowledge, or the time to debate pointless details about scientific papers. If you cannot see the spin on Ben Booths paper then I am sorry that you lack the necessary cognitive powers. I will give it one last shot. Read the nature editorial: Note the reference to human activity, to the burning of coal. What do you think they are saying? Try the words “Industrial aerosols” it fits the meme. If you think that Judith Curry is “exaggerating a bit” I suggest you e-mail her and tell her. I am sure she will go back and take another look on your say-so.

      4. You also, cannot legitimately comment on science, so why would I be interested in debating with you anyway.

      You may wonder about the premise upon which I base my point 4. I draw your attention to Dana’s article in the Guardian.
      Attacks on climate science by former NASA staff shouldn't be taken seriously | Environment |

      You may be aware that he is the Guru of SkS and if you read this post you will see that as a self confessed non-scientist you can have no legitimate opinion and no right to debate anyone with regard to climatology. That is reserved for the privileged few who have somehow designated themselves as the Gods of a science which is just a conglomeration of atmospheric physics, meteorology, statistics, solar sciences, geological sciences, etc etc etc. So you see you have no voice just as I have no voice.
      You may ask who will carry the most weight with the general public. Dana, who has shown by using every insulting term that he can think of including deniers, contrarians, inexpert retirees, plus every kind of ad hominem attack he can include that he has no idea about “How to be Engaging” Happily he posted this diatribe in the Guardian which is the greenies equivalent to the Sun newspaper. It is no wonder that SkS is only viewed by the faithful few.
      On the other side are the Heros of the Great Adventure into Space. The Giant Leap for Mankind, The Reclamation of the American Dream, The Men seen in Apollo 13 (Not Tom Hanks). I capitalise these men because they were the ones who capitalised my youth. I watched these unique, brave awesome human beings take the giant step into the unknown.
      So who to believe? A bitter backbiting climate scientist or an all American hero. Tough one huh?

      My next point: Who’s opinion to take between yourself or Professor Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology? Why neither of you of course. Out of the 50 million or so sentient adults in the UK hardly a thousand will ever have heard of Judith Curry or any other genuinely accomplished climate scientist. Without there being any statistics to assist us unfortunately I would say off hand that fewer than 0.05 % will ever have read a scientific paper, fewer than 0.5% will ever have read the press release associated with such papers, fewer than 1% will have read the Guardians uniquely biased report on the paper, fewer than 5% will have seen the BBC’s report as most of them will have gone to make a cup of tea while the boring bits are on. Most people will accrue their information from social interaction, from personal experience and from anecdotal evidence.
      It is important not to be “caught out”. You may see that in Dana’s article he shows a graph and delares that Hansen’s model was right, when clearly, to the naked eye, the graph shows a 30% drift away from correlation. The single glance layman will see that. With your unerring ability to get straight to the periphery of an argument please don’t try and start a debate about Hansens predictions. He is, after all the second biggest liability to “the cause” after Al Gore.
      My next point is that there is already a well recognised qualification in communication. No it is absulutely NOT a degree in media studies! It is the PGCE ( ) We already have all the tools that we need to communicate with the layman but scientists do not have those tools, teachers do.

      My next point comes back to my original concept. That of truth. Scare stories scare no-one. Whether the GAGW adherents or the Natural Variability advocates are right is irrelevent. There is no chance of a global agreement on ANY premise. There has never, in the 4,500 years of written history, been a single day, hour or even minute during which there has not been a war, let alone a universal agreement. The idea of “setting an example” is a purely philosophical concept. If you stand out in front, someone will kick you in the ass. Humanity is programed to seek advantage. It is the method by which an individual advances within a species and hence advances the species itself. Popularised as natural selection. If we cripple our economy by chasing rainbows, and tilting at windmills, others will fill the gaps that we leave. Notably from the Indian sub continent and the Chinese.

      Thus this whole argument is purely political. The Science is irrelevent and has been since Agenda 21 was conceived. ( Scientists should get on with the science and not concern themselves with its communication other than to ensure that their findings are reported accurately.

      Finally. What is truth? This is also subjective. For example: 100% of the people on this earth today will be dead in 120 years time. That is the truth. Can we derive from that that the world will end in 120 years? It is the job of scientists to get the facts, narrow down the truths, publish the research and leave the communication to others. When they become embroiled in advocacy they become sooth sayers not truth sayers.

      [ Thanks for the apology at 2:56pm and by email Disko. Please both of you do try to avoid snark – give each other the benefit of the doubt, as misunderstandings and assumptions so easily occur.

      This description of the job that I love made me smile: “most of them will have gone to make a cup of tea while the boring bits are on”.

      You said “not concern themselves with…communication other than to ensure that their findings are reported accurately […] leave the communication to others”. It depends how you define communication, doesn’t it? Does a blog count as “ensuring findings are reported accurately” (assuming I find time to write about my actual work at some point…!)? Does talking to friends? Or do you feel we should only be ringing up the media with any complaints and doing no other “communication”?

      — Tamsin ]

      • dave souza

        Hi Disko, you’ve said a lot there that I can’t agree with, including your lack of interest in the science.

        On a minor point, my statement that Judith Curry *may* be exaggerating stands. As you quoted earlier, she wrote “if this paper is correct and there is no AMO other than aerosol forcing” implying that the second part is a conclusion of the paper. However, the paper attributes 76% to aerosol forcing, suggesting it makes a major contribution but leaving 24% as possible oscillation. If she meant “if this paper is correct and *in addition* there is no AMO other than aerosol forcing” then my comment is withdrawn. The more significant point remains, that you’ve misrepresented Ben B’s paper and the Nature editorial.

      • Disko Troop

        Hi Tamsin. With regards to communication I am afraid that some scientists have elevated themselves above the rules, both implied and written, that apply to the majority of people who work in areas beyond academia. I am sure that you will argue that The Met Office is not “Academia” but allow me the leeway to expound my argument.
        I draw your attention to Gerald Ratner [ ] as an example of a person stepping beyond their expertise into communication.
        I will draw your attention to Dr. James Hansen and his use of his title as head of the Goddard Space Institute yet he makes statements referring to coal trains as “Death Trains”, Talks of “Boiling Seas” Stands outside congress protesting about the Keystone pipeline etc. [Don’t ask for peer reviewed references, Dave, Google it) I am sure he feels that his science is sound but he is making a complete ass of himself in terms of communication and using his official title to do it. Hence the Astronaut letter. Now Nasa has and will use their weasel words to explain that Nasa does not say these things, and indeed, there is a coda in their contract which allows declared outside speaking. But “the impression” is clear and permitted, that Dr Hansen speaks for Nasa and that the Astronauts are correct in that he is advocating a political stance not a scientific one. Therefore it is very important in scientific communication that those doing the research do not stray into political positions. You may say that freedom of speech is a given right but it is not. Some people have a responsibility beyond freedom of speech. Ratner spoke out of turn and wiped £500 million off the value of a successful company overnight. He destroyed the jobs and livelyhoods of his work force, of the share holders, in 20 words. A research scientist speaking out of turn may have the same effect but sadly, they seem to be insulated from the consequences.
        Sorry I have not got time to further examine my theme but I am struggling to get some new moorings in for my boat and the weather is awful. You would expect me to be moving my moorings further up river with the sea level rise and Al Gores warnings but I am not. I am moving down river because of the silting in the river bed. Sometimes (!) climate science is not the most important thing in peoples lives. Who would have thought that! Hope you have a wonderful weekend Tamsin.

        • J Bowers

          Dr. Smith Dharmasaroja used his position as a state scientist to warn of a very likely disaster scenario, based on years of studying the paleo record and scientific literature, for which he was attacked y the public, commerce and politicians. On Boxing Day 2004 he was tragically proven to be very right, but only at the cost of 200,000 lives.

  44. hunter

    Perhaps this has already been pointed out, but it seems that the credibility of a given position is inversely related tot he amount of time and effort needed to clarify communication of that position, unless one is selling soap in a competitive market.
    The amount of time spent on communicating ‘climate science’ when the real goal is apparently to sell an apocalyptic vision of the future is extremely high.

    • dave souza

      I’ll fully agree that it’s difficult to convince people of complex findings that take a lot of explaining, simple beliefs are superficially much more credible to the unwary.

      However, what evidence do you have for your assertion that “the real goal is apparently to sell an apocalyptic vision of the future”? That looks rather like a presumption of bad faith, and an insult to the scientists studying the topic. Do you think that’s the goal of Tamsin Edwards, and that your accusation is a way to improve dialogue?

      • Sashka

        I’d say it’s the real goal of some people who are most actively engaged in climate (mis)communication. The list includes but is not limited to Hansen, Gore, Romm, Roberts etc. Certainly not everyone.

        • dave souza

          Sashka, i didn’t ask what you’d say, I requested evidence. Your unsubstantiated opinions about the “real goal” of communicators do nothing to help with the sort of constructive dialogue being sought here.

          • Barry Woods

            May I ask what you goal is here.. as by your Wiki activities (Assuming the same Dave Souza), you come across as trying to control the debate (or even to close it down,) to a specific viewpoint..

            Ref – Hockey Stick Controversy (and ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion)
            an example:

            As an involved editor, my comment is that mention and the appearance of endorsement of this book has WP:WEIGHT problems: it’s an unreliable source, with blatant factual misrepresentation, promoting a fringe view. As such, it should be shown in context. I’m open to including a mention of it as one of the efforts of those promoting the hacked emails to attack the science of the hockey stick graph, but it should be shown in relation to mainstream views of the book and its author. . dave souza, talk 20:11, 10 December 2011 (UTC)
            Dave, I think you should note that these are your opinions, which are shared by some RS reviewers. The majority of the reviews I’ve seen (see The Hockey Stick Illusion#Reception are positive, and Montford writes well. Have you read the book? Best, Pete Tillman (talk) 21:45, 10 December 2011 (UTC) Most of the reviewers may be proponents of Montford’s fringe views, but the book itself shows clear misrepresentation and is not a reliable source. . dave souza, talk 12:56, 12 December 2011 (UTC) In your opinion, Dave — don’t you get it? –Pete Tillman (talk) 18:02, 12 December 2011 (UTC)


            Engagement needs goodwill, on everyones part, I’m not sure that Dave is a good example of that.

  45. Disko troop

    Hi Tamsin, As my comment containing all my references has been disappeared I am not prepared to comment further on your site. It is impossible to mount a coherent discussion if things disappear.

    Best wishes.

    • Tamsin Edwards

      Apologies that your Saturday morning post was pending for a long time, Disko, I was at family events all weekend in the countryside with little reception. Comments that did go through over the weekend were from pre-approved email addresses (i.e. have been approved once). If you post more than once with the same address it goes through. It’s up now anyway. Please come back! 🙂


      • Disko Troop

        I have apologised for being so impatient and I now make that apology in public. There is so much pressure when you are at the top. (Even more when you are at the bottom, where I reside!) { 🙂 }

  46. Robert

    Ben B,
    if I can ask, why do you choose to use detrended SSTs rather than Trenberths definition for example? I see a lot of reason to not use detrended SSTs to be honest. I should mention that I read the article and thought it was interesting but I think there’s a lot of strong evidence for AMV that will need to be rebutted if this paper is to be accepted. There’s a new paper (Journal of Climate) that’s in press by Lohmann that’s also of interest:

    Wei, W., and G. Lohmann, 2012: Simulated Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation during the Holocene. J. Climate (in press), JCLI-D-11-00667

  47. dave souza

    David Appell, a science journalist, points to both the potential of engagement, and some contrarians devoted to “creating at alternative scientific reality”.

    His main point draws attention to an interesting essay by Scott Denning, which very much chimes with this idea of engagement. Denning writes regarding those “doubtful or dismissive about the human role in climate change” that “strong and persuasive engagement of that audience by more bona fide experts articulating the scientific consensus is essential.” while cautioning that “Communicating climate science to nontechnical audiences is not for everybody, and overcommitted scientists may well choose to spend precious time in other ways.” The whole of Denning’s essay is worth reading.

    [Sorry for the delay in moderating – Friday was rather hectic — Tamsin ]

    • Barry Woods

      I hasd a little disagreement with Scott Denning recenttly (especialy after he misquoted Andergg) see Paul Matthews comment in the comments.

      Some good bits though, ie sceptics not ‘evil’ (or words to that effect)

      My experience has been that a lot of pleasant, decent people are predisposed to doubt the science. They’re not evil. They care deeply about their children’s and grand children’s’ futures, and genuinely want to do what’s right. These people are reachable, there are thousands of times more of them than there are climate scientists, and a lot of them vote. Not surprisingly, they often find unpersuasive an arrogant attitude that dismisses them as anti-intellectual fools.

  48. dave souza

    Ben B’s post above at APRIL 17, 2012 – 8:47 AM makes a very good point: “It is really important that as a scientific community we challenge and hold up current work to scrutiny. This kind of challenge and questioning is the bread and butter of science and, I am in no doubt, will occur in the forthcoming literature as people dig into these results. The strength of science is that this does happen.”

    He suggests that if more scientists blogged showing their responses, this would inform the public about this process. Blog comments by scientists on Ben Booth’s paper, some of which have been linked above, are interesting as an example of this process. They also give an idea of the potential and pitfalls of using blogs to engage a those with varying views on the science.

    The paper itself was published in Nature, as was a commentary by Amato Evan which is hidden behind a paywall, not good for wider participation. A Nature editorial outlined the significance of the paper as “the kind of surprising result that shows why research must continue apace”, in the context of moves towards possible environmental controls on coal-fired power stations in the U.S. and the recent Shakun et al. paper on the relationship between CO2 increases and global temperature increases as Earth emerged from the last ice age. The editorial is careful to say ” if correct”, Disko Troop above describes it as a “gloat”.

    Judith Curry’s blog raises good points about the paper, while saying that she was unconvinced, implying it would have been rejected by reputable journals, and that Nature “seems to be looking for headlines, rather than promoting good science”. She says of the Nature editorial, “I’ll be nice and just ask who writes this stuff? It can’t be a scientist.”

    Pat Michaels in a post at the “Watts Up With That?” blog quoted Judith Curry’s blog post to support his argument that “the latest whopper, by Ben Booth and his colleagues at the UK Met Office indeed signals the death of Nature in this field.” Michaels claimed that the paper was contradicted by a forthcoming paper by Chylek, Folland et al..

    A blog by Tamino, who apparently is the publishing scientist Grant Foster, discusses the argument put by Michaels. On reviewing the Chylek, Folland et al. paper Tamino concludes that they “have committed one of the most common mistakes in time series analysis, one which convinces them of the existence of oscillatory behavior when no such claim is justified by the data.” An educational post, with links that are worth checking. See

  49. Rupert

    wow Tamsin, your blog is so active! Excellent.

    On topic: You mention the seperation between people who are ready to enter into discussion/constructive argument about climate science and people whose view are set in stone and are not open to discussion. Of course there are some people with fixed opinions who are still ready to enter into debate. Perhaps Nelson Mandella is a good example.

  50. Pouncer

    How well do you believe Miles Allen engaged the skeptical blogosphere this past weekend?

    I had the impression that most of the critiques fell within the range of fair to harsh … the supportive comments were clearly outliers and the outright attacks clearly likewise. He seems unwilling to actually give and take the way, say, Judy Curry has. I’d be curious about your own take, especially in view of your own experiences.

    • Tamsin Edwards

      I’m aware he’s been heavily criticised at Bishop Hill and on Twitter (in fact, I emailed to check he knew, and to show him Josh’s cartoon), but I’m afraid I haven’t had time to watch the video(s) or read the criticisms.

      I’d love to be spending more time on this blog! But things are only getting more hectic as we approach the IPCC journal submission deadline (31st July). My spare time is getting taken up with the palaeoclimate analysis of my recent post, as it’s not part of my funded work.

      If I do watch the video(s), I’ll comment under here about it.


      • Jonathan Jones

        But Tamsin, Myles has told us quite clearly that paleo is of no real importance in studying climate – not that that stopped him from publishing on the topic with Juckes et al. – so who should I believe? Help!

      • Barry Woods

        probbaly best to read all about it at Climate Audit, a bit calmer, and Myles hung around longer.
        Myles does not come across well (also as a co-author with Briffa, and Greenpeace legend Bill Hare, he’s not looking disinterested party..)

        All in the comments (Lucia’s thoughts are good aswell.)

        IF you have the time, I would recommend reading all the comments, (Don Keiller, Lucia, David Holland, Steve Mcintyre, all there)

  51. PeteB

    [ This is an old comment that languished in moderation – apologies. — Tamsin ]

    Don’t know without seeing Myles exact quote, but the ‘standard response’ (which seems convincing to me) is that the ‘hockey stick’, tree rings and the climate of the last 2000 years are pretty irrelevant to estimates of climate sensitivity (because the temperature didn’t change that much and the error bars in the known forcings are quite large compared to the temperature variation. (indeed more variation would suggest a larger climate sensitivity because the most of the “feedbacks” which amplify forcings apply to all forcings not just CO2).
    Even the recent changes over the last 100 years are of limited used in constraining climate sensitivity because of uncertainty in forcings (primarily aerosols).
    As I understand it, some of the most useful (from a climate sensitivity point of view) are from times when there was a large temperature change (e.g. Last Glacial Maximum), although we have to be a bit careful to extrapolate all the behaviour to the current climate. (see IPCC AR4 WG1 “Observational Constraints on Climate Sensitivity)

    (Jonathan – apologies if I am teaching my grandma to suck eggs – I know you have been an acitve commentator on all this, so I sure you know all this already !)