Improving How Scientists Communicate About Climate Change

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"Improving How Scientists Communicate About Climate Change"

The need is urgent for climate scientists to communicate more effectively to policymakers and the public. This article details some of the problems with how climate scientists communicate and offers practical suggestions for improvement. For example, scientists can improve their effectiveness by avoiding jargon as well as words that mean different things to scientists than to non-scientists. They can use appropriate metaphors and re-frame poorly framed questions. As policymakers grapple with the climate challenge, scientists should take the opportunity and responsibility of clearly communicating what the wider world needs to know about this issue.

Saying scientists are not doing a terribly good job communicating climate science is like saying the status quo media are not doing a terribly good job communicating climate science.  But then the media doesn’t suffer the consequences of that failure.  At least not more than, say, the American pika….

Our guest blogger is Susan Joy Hassol, an expert in climate communication. She was lead author of “Impacts of A Warming Arctic,” the synthesis report of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, and helped author or edit many major climate reports in the past decade.  In 2008, she wrote “Improving How Scientists Communicate About Climate Change,” which is reprinted below with her permission:

Science meets policy in the most important challenge of our time: global warming. Yet even the most basic facts of this issue (e.g., that the world is warming and that human activity is the dominant cause) are obscure to some decision makers who need to understand them. How can climate scientists be more effective at communicating what they know, how they know it, and how sure they are of it?

The need for scientists to communicate more effectively about climate change is urgent. For people to take climate change seriously and support appropriate responses, they need to feel sure it is happening and is caused primarily by humans. But while the rise in global temperature is a fact (see, e.g., Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [2007], which calls the warming “unequivocal”), 56% of Americans believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether global warming is even occurring. And while every authoritative scientific body attributes most of the warming of the past 50 years to human activity [see, e.g., IPCC, 2007; American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2006], only 41% of Americans believe that humanity is the dominant cause (42% believe it is due about equally to natural and human causes), according to an April 2007 poll by ABC News, The Washington Post, and Stanford University.

Why is there an understanding gap? There is plenty of blame to go around, from general scientific illiteracy, to the media’s failings, to a disinformation campaign [e.g., see Union of Concerned Scientists, 2007] designed to sow doubt. But the focus in this article is on scientists, who in general have not been effective communicators. It is not your fault. You were not trained for this role and generally are not rewarded for it. In fact, your scientific training tends to work against your ability to communicate simply and clearly to nonscientists, and there are disincentives for popularizing science. But with knowledge comes responsibility, and if you are willing, there are many ways to improve your ability to communicate. As someone who has spent two decades helping scientists improve their communication of global change issues, I have some suggestions to offer.

Recommendations to Scientists

One recommendation is to stop speaking in code. Words that seem perfectly common to scientists are still jargon to the wider world and always have simpler substitutes. Rather than “anthropogenic,” you could say “human caused.” Instead of “spatial” and “temporal,” try “space” and “time.” When you talk about trends in degrees per decade, you are asking people to do math in their heads. Instead, try giving the total change over the full period of time. And know your audience; always use Fahrenheit for Americans.

Clearly state the settled scientific conclusions. Do not overdo “weasel words” and caveats. We know it is warming and we know it is due primarily to human activity. Say so. Saying human activity “contributes” to global warming makes it sound like human activity might be only a minor contributor. It would be more accurate to say “most of the warming”¦.”

Clearly distinguish settled science from the details on which scientists frequently focus their attention. Avoid using the word “debate” in connection with climate change. It reinforces the mistaken notion that there is a debate about basic issues that are settled science. When referring to the whole issue, try something like “the urgent challenge of human-induced climate disruption” rather than “climate debate.”

Words That Mean Different Things to Scientists and Lay People

Scientists use many words that mean something very different to much of the public. For example, scientists frequently use the word “enhance” to mean increase, but to lay people, enhance means to improve or make better, as in “enhance your appearance.” So the “enhanced greenhouse effect” or “enhanced ozone depletion” sounds like a good thing. Try “intensify” or “increase” instead.

“Aerosol” means small atmospheric particle to scientists but means “spray can” to lay people. “Positive” connotes good and “negative” connotes bad to nonscientists. So “positive trends” or “positive feedbacks” sound like good things. Instead of “positive trend,” try “upward trend.” Instead of “positive feedback,” try “self-reinforcing cycle.” “Radiation” is about X rays and Chernobyl for much of the public; try “energy” instead. “Fresh” means pure and clean, like freshsmelling laundry; so instead of saying water will become “fresher,” try “less salty.”

To people unfamiliar with the scientific method, a “theory” is just an unsubstantiated hunch, opinion, conjecture, or speculation. In this usage, theory is synonymous with what scientists might call a hypothesis. To scientists, theory means something very different. Instead of saying “according to theory,” you might say, “according to our physical understanding of how this works,” and refer to the evidence on which it is based. I suggest avoiding the use of the word “theory” to refer to things as well established as the greenhouse effect or the human intensification (not enhancement) thereof.

Scientists use the word “sign” to denote positive or negative values, but to most lay people, sign means an astrological sign or a stop sign. Rarely does it mean the plus or minus sign. So talking about a “sign error,” or “not even having the sign right,” is inexplicable. “Values” means something different too, as in “family values.” And “regime” has political connotations. “Bias” connotes unfair and deliberate distortion or political influence, so referring to “data bias” might be confirming the suspicion that scientists are biased. “Error” means wrong or incorrect, so referring to error bars sends the wrong message.  Manipulation” and “scheme” have negative connotations.

Be very careful in referring to “risk” and “uncertainty.” Depending on the context, a “risk” often connotes a low-probability event, something that might happen but is not likely, such as the risk of one’s house burning down. Thus, in this context, global warming is not a risk but a reality. Similarly, to the public, “uncertainty” generally means we do not know if something will happen, so uncertainty about future warming is taken to mean that it might not warm at all; it might even cool, for all we know. But that is not what scientists mean; they mean there is a range of possible warming, depending on the level of emissions and how sensitive the climate is to those emissions. So instead of “uncertainty,” try using “range.”

Then there are acronyms. SST means sea surface temperature to scientists, but to the public, it’s a supersonic airplane like the Concorde. PDF is a probability density function to scientists, but to the public it’s the portable document format. THC means thermohaline circulation to scientists, but it’s the active ingredient in marijuana to those members of the public who would recognize it at all.

These problems are not limited to  climate science. For much of the public, the word “ecology” means environmentalism rather than a scientific discipline. And “discipline” is about keeping children in line rather than a field of study. “Organic” means grown without chemicals rather than carbon-based. “Nutrients” are always a good thing, as is “enrichment.” “Fixing” nitrogen? Is it broken? And “exotic” generally has positive connotations.

Metaphors

Another way scientists can be more effective in communicating is to use metaphors. For example, when people ask how it is possible to predict climate 50 years from now when we cannot even predict the weather 2 weeks from now, they are obviously confusing weather and climate. You might compare this with what happens when you turn on the burner under a pot of water; while you cannot predict the time or place of any particular bubble, you can say with certainty that the water will be boiling in about 10 minutes. Similarly, while we cannot predict the age of death of any particular person, we can say with confidence that the average age of death for people in the United States is 77. Climate, like the average age of death, is a statistical average that is predictable based on large-scale forces, while weather is subject to chaotic forces that make it inherently more difficult  to predict.

How can scientists respond when people say that climate has always changed, so the current warming is probably also natural? A good metaphor that reveals the fallacy of this thinking is that just because lightning strikes have long caused forest fires does not mean fires cannot also be caused by a careless camper. And of course, there are many lines of evidence that show that the current warming is due primarily to human activity.

The ever popular metaphor of loaded dice provides a good response to the question of how global warming is affecting various weather phenomena. When people ask if global warming is responsible for the recent streak of heat waves, floods, wildfires, and intense hurricanes, you can say that by loading the atmosphere with excess greenhouse gases, we are loading the dice toward more of these extreme weather events. The data show this is already occurring for many phenomena; and models have long projected these changes.

Reframing

Rather than accepting the premise of a poorly framed question, reframe it. When people ask if global warming can be blamed for a particular hurricane, heat wave, fire, or flood, a simple “no” does not respond to the essence of the question. What they really want to know is whether global warming is having an effect on such events, and the science suggests that it is. You can reframe such questions to explain that global warming is increasing the chances of such events occurring, and you can also explain some of the connections.

Policy makers are finally grappling with the climate challenge, and they require comprehensible scientific input to inform their deliberations. Clear communication from scientists has never been more critical. Will scientists rise to this challenge and meet their responsibility to society?

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40 Responses to Improving How Scientists Communicate About Climate Change

  1. Ivy Bear says:

    This is a rather micro look at communication strategies. The issue is much more complex than this. Sure, using her tips will make climate scientists better speakers. So there is nothing here I disagree with. But we need to expand this article to look at a couple other factors;

    1. Volunteer amateurs vs. paid professionals – the climate scientists are highly qualified, and very well meaning communicators. But they are really amateur communicators using their own resources to get out the message. The climate deniers are well funded professional communicators, backed up with large budgets for advertising and extensive ideological think tank support. The climate scientists need to move beyond amateur non-institutionalized volunteer communications, and develop a well funded and institutionalized effort, and hire numerous climate change communicators, like Susan Hassol, to spread the message. Al Gore tried this, but these folks are also unpaid volunteers. They don’t even have their own projectors. End the amateur hour and get some institutionalized activities going.

    2. Communcation follow-up Here I use the effort by Al Gore & Co. to carry out a large scale communications campaign. To his credit, Al Gore brought in a bunch of climate communicators, and trained them how to do his presentation. OK – so the communicators go out and present a well done presentation on climate change to a community. Then what? Any follow-up to try to capitalize on the results of the communication? Are there connections to local activists groups? None in the climate change presentations I’ve seen. So the climate change communication is a one time shot, where an individual drops in, talks about climate change, and then moves on. Talk about missed opportunities! If anything, the lack of political will to address climate change has to be partially attributed to the lack of political mobilization over this issue. So the question is how communication strategies fit into a larger approach to social, economic, and political change. A rhetorical approach alone will not provide that. So we need to expand our thought on communication strategies.

    Ivy Bear

  2. mike roddy says:

    Thanks, Susan Hassol, this is really enlightening. A lot of us sensed that scientific language was turning off the audience, but your specific suggestions were very well thought out. I especially liked the examples that showed that scientists’ instinct toward precision sounds like hedging to a lay audience.

    It also struck me that the simplified version in some of your examples actually conveys the truth much better. A lot of us, including myself, had become used to words that just do not click with most people.

    I would advise that only a minority of scientists be chosen to communicate the science to the public. Most are not gifted speakers, and are not comfortable with the need to communicate facts to a popular audience.

    This effort is also going to take more than remembering to choose the right words. Chosen speakers are going to have to be capable of speaking the language of the people, which is direct and intuitive, and just as clear in its own way. Joe here is very good at this, but we need many more scientists who can easily slip into common patterns of syntax and expression, as well as words.

    Then, they need to be prepared to get out there and fight against the demagogues who are belittling them, and to confront hostile questions forcefully when necessary. This will show conviction, which is the other apparent missing element so far, and something that political opponents and fossil fuel companies who lie to us exploit very well.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    Excellent article. Bravo!

    That said, I’d like to emphasize and amplify one point: with knowledge comes responsibility.

    We all know what that means. The author put it well. No tricky or ambiguous words, these.

    And, although I realize that the author’s focus was on the communication of scientists, that sentiment — with knowledge comes responsibility — applies to the media as well. There is no “internal convention” or “conventional ideal” trump card, somehow enjoyed by the media, that overrides that basic sentiment: with knowledge comes responsibility.

    If The New York Times, for example, believes its own editorials, then it has an immense responsibility — immense — to do a much better job in its NEWS reporting of the climate change and energy issues. There is no “journalistic ideal” or “justified convention of journalism” that can justify the immense gap between what The New York Times says is important and the way it is covering the news of the matter. If anyone thinks there is, please let us know — get it out on the table, clearly stated — so we can evaluate it and point out the problems.

    Thank you for the great article, Susan Joy Hassol. Bravo!

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  4. “I would advise that only a minority of scientists be chosen to communicate the science to the public.”
    I agree. I think we need an effort on the scale of the disinformation campaign effort, or we won’t survive. I am sure there is adequate funding at NASA, etc, for someone who can do the science presentations to the press.

  5. Good points all. Thanks for posting great suggestions.

    Keep in mind the inevitable media storm that will unfold in the near future when the world suddenly realizes how bad it is going to become. The phrase will be “Why didn’t anyone warn us?!” and “Where were the scientist with the warning?” How should that be answered? And finally “What good is science if they didn’t tell us this would happen?”
    (In short – it will be a blame game)

    We may know the answer, but these kinds of questions will come up. And the more ruthless the reality, the more harsh the questions.

  6. Leif says:

    Even the term “global warming” in itself is misleading in that “warming” while correct focuses on the hardest aspect to “See.” ~0.5C, correction, ~1+F degree over fifty years. Big deal! However the energy needed to raise the temperature of the top ~2,000 feet of the worlds oceans that one degree F is enormous. The energy of ~190,000 Nuclear power plants dumping all their out put each day directly into the oceans. With about 10 NEW ones coming on line each and every day.

    http://climateprogress.org/2010/02/15/the-climate-science-project-global-warming-is-happening-ocean-heat-content/

    Energy drives weather! Look at the effects that a modest flow of water, that is only a degree or two warmer than normal, can have on localized weather patterns. El Nino! Now transpose that awareness to the whole of the earth’s oceans being a degree warmer. That warmth evaporates about 4% more water vapor, (~equivalent to 1.5 times Lake Superior) to fall as additional rain, floods, or even snow in the winter. Recall one degree means that if your average winter temperature was 20F it is now 21F. See still cold enough for snow. The Arctic will still get cold enough to freeze in the winter even with 10 degrees warming!. However the “energy” is there for stronger weather system enhancement both winter and summer!

  7. Wit's End says:

    Brilliant! A tour de force!

  8. James Hardy says:

    Thank you Ms. Hassol. I agree with your suggestions, and indeed we need to incorporate them into our writings and speakings. I’d like to add an important item to the list. That is, we should show some (more) respect for those with whom we disagree, whether they are casting stones or not. “Deniers” is a pejorative term. Treating others with respect gives us a stronger position. How we should refer to participants in this debate is problematic, though.

    One suggestion is to agree (how?) that there are those who believe climate change is not real, or is not man made – (scenario I);
    those who are convinced that climate change is real and is most important – (scenario II); and
    those who are not certain or have yet some questions – (scenario III).

    I’m certain you can suggest some far better approaches. But the important point is that some respect is needed. We need to take the higher ground.

    The movie, “Flock of Dodos” depicts the failure of scientists dealing with the public, in this case the issue was ‘Intelligent Design.’ The message is the same. Act and believe that “we’re all God’s children” and deserve to be treated with respect. Even those with whom we disagree and who choose to cast stones.

  9. joe1347 says:

    Article by Juan Cole today on the same topic.

    “Advice to Climate Scientists on how to Avoid being Swift-boated and how to become Public Intellectuals”

    http://www.juancole.com/2010/02/advice-to-climate-scientists-on-how-to.html

    My two cents worth of advice to the climate scientists is to immediately stop using the phrase ‘very likely’ when describing whether human activities are causing the planet to warm. Are we – or aren’t we? “Very Likely” sounds as if there’s still a reasonable chance that humans aren’t to blame. So why worry – let alone do anything about it – such as pay a little more for electricity or drive a more fuel efficient car.

  10. Jeff Huggins says:

    “Very Likely” / “Why Worry”

    joe1347 (see Comment 9) raises an interesting and difficult point about the use of the phrase ‘very likely’. Of course, that is a phrase that scientists can’t really get rid of, unless they (we) want to literally OVERsimplify and cross a rather important line.

    We can explain (hopefully simply!) what we mean by “very likely”. And/or, we can say “very very very very likely”, but to get rid of the phrase or notion altogether is “very likely” going too far!

    That said, joe1347 adds this point, in the context of the phrase ‘very likely': “So why worry — let alone do anything about it — such as pay a little more for electricity or drive a more fuel efficient car.”

    In essence, he’s raising the point that, if the public thinks that human activities are (only) “very likely” causing climate change, then why do anything about it?

    I’ve written and submitted, to Joe, what I hope would be a good “guest post” on that very subject. It’s simple, non-technical, thought-provoking, and (hopefully) clear on that matter. I think it’s one of the most important aspects of the conversation that is still not very well represented in climate change dialogue.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  11. Chad says:

    I don’t think it is scientists’ communication abilities that are the problem. It is the media, who insists on treating the two “sides” it needs in order to have good drama as if they are equal. They quite clearly are not. Indeed, they tolerate brazen hypocrisy and outright lies in order to get ratings.

    Take, for example, this article today by denier Christopher Booker.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/7332803/A-perfect-storm-is-brewing-for-the-IPCC.html

    The point of the article is to condemn IPCC errors. Yet Booker makes more distortions and lies in each paragraph he writes than have been found in the entire 3000+ page IPCC report. How much more hypocritical could one be? Why is the Telegraph publishing this garbage, and why isn’t the rest of the media pouncing on the opportunity to demonstrate how their competitors are publishing lies? We need to push the media towards exposing how the prominent deniers have been wrong again and again, and continue to spew the same lies even after they have been refuted.

  12. Michael T says:

    “Fierce storms in Europe kill 51, mostly in France”

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100228/ap_on_re_eu/eu_france_deadly_storm

    “A violent late winter storm with fierce rain and hurricane-strength winds ripped across western Europe on Sunday, battering France and four other countries, leaving at least 51 people dead.”

    “The storm, named Xynthia, was the worst in France since 1999 when 90 people died.”

  13. Excellent ideas. If climate scientists used these strategies not all but some of the public “uncertainty” about the reality of AGW will diminish. Adopting this type of language tools would isolate the hard-core of ideologically or financially motivated deniers more.

    Thankfully, they are also not at all manipulative, as are the Frank Luntz variety. They simply focus listeners and readers on the intended meanings of scientific language rather than on the distractions of more common connotations or alternate definitions of the same words.

  14. Leif says:

    Very Likely; On the one hand science depends at it’s core that everything can change given enough time so some qualifier is required. I would suggest “most likely” as a painless alternative until something better comes along. Perhaps, “it is a fact.”

  15. louise says:

    Excellent recommendations! It’s imperative too that ‘responsible’ media employ journalists with scientific backgrounds — or a thorough understanding of the jargon — so they can write stories the public understands.

  16. Gerda says:

    Very Likely; “Almost Certainly”.

    Great piece, thanks. I pride myself on not using jargon, but have fallen into a few of these traps.

  17. Leif says:

    While it is “very likely” that sea levels will rise 6 feet by 2100, it can be stated as: “it is a fact that sea level will rise to levels that will have destructive impacts on humanity”. The very first evidence is visible today. It is important to remember that come 2100 the seas do not stop rising and will continue far into the future. With a 200 foot potential should “run away” effects take over.
    When people ask questions from scientists, they want facts not probabilities. Give them the facts. Reframe the question so you can give a fact and nothing else.
    Mitigation must start NOW…

  18. fj2 says:

    (Posted again)

    This is excellent and would be an important initiative the President must start to provide complete scientific transparency to the climate change crisis.

    This could happen in news OpEds and articles (hint, hint, Susan Joy Hassol), workshops and media pieces at grade school through university levels, included in MIT’s Opencourseware program, and to media and news institutions; perhaps, even requiring a level of compliance and competence in dissemination of extremely important information by scientists, where misinformation and misunderstanding about these issues will be life-changing and even life-threatening.

    Of course, some of the inane (one of Joe’s seemingly favorite words) extremes of politically-correct usage and practice should be avoided.

  19. Joseph says:

    Makes sense. I guess the same is true of most of us bloggers in the way we use terminology.

    In my view, there’s also too little of “this is how we know stuff” and too much “trust us – it’s complicated – we are the experts.”

  20. Excellent article. Whenever I post content on my site I am keenly aware that the language must be “real” and not “peer-reviewed” so to speak.

    To add to the suggestions, I think it is critical that we use the latest vehicles such as Facebook, Twitter, iPhone apps, etc. to get information to the younger generation that relies on these vehicles for their information.

    Kudos to John Cook at Skeptical Science for leading the way in this area. He has all three set up nicely.

    I just recently signed on to Facebook so that I could create a Facebook Group called Global Warming Fact of the Day where I will post an interesting tidbit about climate change (global warming) each day.

    I see that my students are using Facebook to get their information so this is a great way to push the science to them automatically. We cannot assume that they will come looking for the information.

  21. James Newberry says:

    There is nothing wrong with the climate, it is responding to human behavior.

    Behavior in the US is due to the religion of weaponeering capitalist economics, locked in by World Wars and the agenda of Atomic Bomb power, including secrecy and propaganda. Weaponeering is powered by the destruction of four primary material resources (coal, underground methane, petroleum and uranium) all based on mining. These are called “energy resources,” which is, of course, pure scientific and eco-nomic fraud. Call them “material resources.” Their federally backed corporate agendas are pervasive throughout Westernized global economics and statehouse policies.

    Although a source of power when fossils are fired or fissiles are fissioned, they distribute permanent poisons (including carbonic acid gas and radiological poisons) throughout the biosphere and, more generally, the ecosphere. Numerous contaminating affects include destroying the planet’s delicate hydrologic cycle, affecting present sea level and storms. Beginnings of societal collapse due directly to fossil/fissile finance are evident in every economic sector, such as draught in agriculture, every aspect of nature, and world geopolitical turmoil.

    How’s this for practice Susan?

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Well, it becomes even worse.

    Newton’s laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics from Rumford and all…

    Then repeal those!

    Uh, those are nature’s laws,; we but discover how nature actually works…

    Maybe Newton and Rumford and all are wrong!

    How to answer this? Yes, in some sense Newton had it wrong and even knew that he did. But absolutely nothiing can possibly ever now overturn the discoveries so neatly explained in the laws of thermodynamics.

    Which means then just adding Arrhenius’s reseearch and indeed, the world must warm. It is more that just very likely, it is as certain as anything we know, such as the sun rising every morning.

  23. Mark Tang says:

    awesome piece here. its true that the words do matter a lot. i like the examples on “positive feedback” and “enhancement”. here’s wishing the scientists success on their continued pitching against the deniers!

  24. Roger says:

    What fj2(@18)supports:
    Obama must message on climate;
    Susan must offer to help him;
    Obama must lead on climate!

  25. Roger says:

    Someone once said, “Americans always do the right thing–once they’ve tried everything else!”

    Same could be said of those concerned about the future of our climate. Don’t make me count the things we’ve done–ranging from (a) Nothing, to (b) Writing and talking about our concerns……to (w) “Shutting down” the coal plant that powers Congress (1 year ago tomorrow!)……to (z) Bill McKibben’s/350.org’s heroic Global Day of Climate Action on 10/24/09.

    These things were great (except for the “Nothing” phase) but, according to my reading of the science, our rate of progress relative to Mother Nature’s timetable leaves us skating on ice that’s far too thin.

    So, it’s time to get serious. It’s time to focus. It’s time to cooperate.

    Who is the most powerful person upon whom we could focus?

    Who is the one person who could initiate meaningful change with a few pen strokes (executive orders), or a few words (“Rush, can I see you in the Oval Office, please?)

    With so many military experts up in arms, who is the one person who could martial meaningful forces, calling for a “War on Climate Change?”

    Does anyone out there have any ideas?

    Could that person have initials BO?

    Could he save our climate?

    Could we focus on him?

    Let’s give it a try!

    It’s do or die!!

    Cheers,

    Rog

  26. Roger says:

    Putting our moneys where our mouths are, some of us our going to visit BO in front of the White House on Earth Day, April 22, at 1PM, to ask him to (a) Educate and (b) Lead on climate change. (More at http://www.gwenet.org.)

    He needs to educate because most Americans are seriously misinformed about climate change, for reasons that readers of CP fully understand.

    He needs to lead because that’s what heroic leaders do when their countrymen, women and children are blindly sitting in harms way.

  27. Sou says:

    The Nusa Dua forum in Bali, while reinforcing the importance of the IPCC, announced a review of the IPCC, with the report to be presented at the IPCC meeting in Korea in October this year.

    Hopefully the terms of reference will include how to best communicate to the broader public. The report might even recommend a budget allocation to the IPCC for professional public relations and communication – using specialist PR and specialist science communicators. This would help make sure consistent and factual messages about climate change are conveyed, using language that the general public can understand.

  28. Sou says:

    anne @27: You made me spurt my cup of tea all over the keyboard!

    Some children are taught that God is the giver of life, some are taught that the fun their parents have creates babies, some are taught that carbon is the ‘life’ atom, some are taught that CO2 is one of the essential gases for plant photosyntheses. And some are taught that breathing is designed to automatically expel CO2 from our body or we die! And at least four out of these five things children are taught happen to be true.

    These days, most children everywhere know that too much CO2 in the air makes the earth heat up, and because the earth is heating up too quickly, they’ll have to deal with more drought, floods and seaside towns under water – within their lifetime. This happens to be true as well.

  29. anne says:

    Sou, you can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. A rise in temperature would be more than benificial to mankind, whereas a drop in temperature would be devastating, more CO2 is what we need, not less to feed all of the people all of the time. You may think scaring our children is a bit of fun, I think it is appalling.

    Just tell me that none of you are making any profit or any pension credits, not driving or flying at all, walking everywhere, not using public transport, and I might just believe you really believe in AGW

  30. Whatshisname says:

    Remember too that you are dealing with the greatest organized crime scheme ever known to Mankind. They never tell the truth and don’t worry about answering to their maker. Their only fear is having the law catch up with them before they can dump their financial debt on their own children. The average person recognizes evil. Show it to them.

  31. Söve says:

    I agree Sou.Thanks a lot.

  32. DreamQuestor says:

    anne snarked:

    Sou, you can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. A rise in temperature would be more than benificial to mankind, whereas a drop in temperature would be devastating, more CO2 is what we need, not less to feed all of the people all of the time. You may think scaring our children is a bit of fun, I think it is appalling.

    Beneficial, eh? Would you mind telling that to Australian farmers who are watching their fields dry up and blow away? They certainly benefited from higher temperatures. Or you could travel to Peru and tell that to Peruvians who are forced to ration water because the glaciers that supply the rivers and lakes are disappearing. Or, if you happen to live in the US, you could just visit some of our foresters and let them describe how millions of trees are being killed by pine mountain beetles whose range has dramatically expanded due to rising temperatures and milder winters. Have you ever watched your house and property flood when six inches of rain fell in a single day?

    I think we need to worry less about scaring children and start scaring the adults instead. We are, after all, the people who actually have the power to change whereas our children are just the victims or our own greed and apathy.

  33. DreamQuestor says:

    Er, that last line should read “our children are just the victims of our own greed and apathy.”

  34. David Smith says:

    #28 Anne; Interesting claim, Rising temperature being good for the planet. Can you back it up with more than an emotional impulse. What is the basis for making such a claim?

    Why do you make such comments annonymously? Why do you hide the truth of who you are?

  35. Christopher says:

    Whilst i agree with the principle that scientists need to communicate their message more clearly to the general public. I disagree that improving their “press relations” skills would be the primary method of achieving that.
    Imagine the media seizing the “dumbed down” statements and, as they have all too often recently, turn it around to cast doubt on the science itself by inferring that scientists are hiding the real data.

    No, the best, though somewhat right wing method would be some form off ‘bull*** tax’ for disseminating disinformation. A fund that could be used to directly subsidize renewable technologies – combined with a group of spokespeople dedicated to providing manageable scientific summaries this would make the science accessible to the public instantly.

    May i nominate JR for head of the committee – and as a perk he can hand out the tax to disinformers for their libel.

  36. David B. Benson says:

    Did drive-by anne just make a few bucks?

  37. Given what has happened to the public discourse on climate change between 2008 and today, I hereby declare myself…skeptical 8-) of any “expert in climate communication”.

    [JR: Amen! But that’s why I am trying to publish a variety of different perspectives on this.]

  38. No small part of the problem scientists face is the “Dunning-Kruger” effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

    People can interpret their very lack of basic competence in a subject — such as critical reasoning, scientific methodology, or climate science itself — as evidence and confirmation of their comprehensive grasp of the topic.

    Before deniers will listen to anyone who does not confirm their pre-existing biases, they must first be convinced that they actually ought to listen to someone other than their own echo chamber.

    I have no idea how one achieves that sort of break through.

    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens
    — Fredrich von Schiller

  39. Nick Palmer says:

    Susan Hassol’s call is very welcome. The AGW case desperately requires people of equal communication skill, or greater debating skill, than the Monckton’s and Limbaugh’s and Becks of the world.

    Scientists in public are rubbish at putting over their points and countering the pseudo-science of their opponents. They seem to believe that the output of a Monckton is just poorly understood or incorrect science. They need to shout out that these misleaders use cleverly cherry-picked information selected for rhetorical purposes to be the most convincing to the average person in the audience. The demagogues are not mistakenly pushing science which they don’t understand, they are deliberately using the techniques of rhetoric and fallacious arguing to sway the minds of the public. These techniques have been known for 2000 years and are very effective. The last thing we need are champions who attempt to counter this propaganda with dry science stated in a scientific way. Such scientists’ main tactic to deal with the Gish Gallop of garbage seems to be to just state what the science actually says. This will lose any debate. Fast.

    As far as the public are concerned, demagogues like Monckton and Limbaugh are just coming out with different (or covered-up!) science and arguments to the scientists. But they are coming out with them in a forceful, articulate, extremely self-confident sounds-like-science way.

    The very few times I have ever seen an anti-scientist beaten in a straight debate is in these following clips

    Monbiot slaughters Ian Plimer

    Part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBQCsMJm3Zg
    Part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7y6xJbcW4A
    Part 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPdhUdF6SJ4

    Monbiot slaughters David Bellamy

    Part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjH3FOMskLs
    Part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLs839exKxM
    Part 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPeqQ1eYiQU

    For contrast, how about this one which is a “munkdebate” http://www.munkdebates.com/index.cfm between Lomborg, Monbiot, Lawson and May. This one is a formal debate and is less successful. What wins the arguments are face to face fights.

    Monbiot is a journalist, not a climate scientist. In the first clips, he absolutely eviscerates Ian Plimer. This is how the denialist motor-mouths should be handled. Susan Hassol’s excellent points about the language of science being a major obstacle to accurate communication with the public cannot be lauded enough.

    Perhaps the biggest “problem” with the science that interfers with the public accepting it, is the underlying philosophy behind it. The concept that no scientific statement or theory can be made unless they are falsifiable lead to extreme linguistic tiptoeing around concepts such as settled, uncertain, likely and risk. Scientifically speaking, theories are never finally proved, they’re just not disproved yet. This mode of speech sounds vaporous to the public. Anyone attempting to put over the global warming science case should speak in the ordinary language and metaphors that Susan Hassol delineates above and avoid speaking in highfalutin’ philosophy. Unfortunately, scientists seem to think that they will gain extra credibility in the minds of the public by speaking as scientists, but virtually none of the public understands the philosophy behind scientific language. Speaking in that way is a waste of time – indeed is actually harmful. To the public, this extremely accurate speech and presentation sounds like little more than guessing and speculation. The science needs to be over in ordinary language however the proponent of the science also needs to state that they are speaking in a normal, none rigorous, way to accurately communicate the situation to as many people as possible.

    We need a whole pack of Monbiots to go out and fight back.

  40. Nick Palmer says:

    Right at the end, I left out a word. This is what it should have said:

    “The science needs to be put over in ordinary language “