Okay, it’s not a ‘stunner’ for CP readers that the NY Times doesn’t get it. Still, it’s nice to see independent confirmation. What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t say, “I told you so”?
In an otherwise silly article criticizing efforts to improve climate science messaging, John Horgan, a former Scientific American staff writer who directs the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology, reports:
I teach at an engineering school, and about one third of my students identify themselves as global-warming skeptics. They tend to know more about global warming than students who accept it as a fact. Two sources at the Science Times section of the New York Times have told me that a majority of the section’s editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity.
And this guy argues that just telling people the science is all that is needed to persuade them!
Anyway, I would say it’s been a open secret for a long time that the NYT‘s science writers and science editors don’t get it (see “And the 2009 “Citizen Kane” award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to “¦“). The mere fact that they keep anti-science writer John Tierney on staff tells you everything you need to know (see “Tierney makes up stuff “” does the NYT employ several know/do-nothing fact checkers” and “John Tierney IS the country’s worst science writer“).
The science could not be more clear cut that staying anywhere near our current path of unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases poses a multitude of threats that go far, far beyond serious – as can be seen from even a brief glance at the recent peer-reviewed literature and/or reports from leading scientists (see links below). So if you don’t understand that, it’s because you don’t know the science or you have been persuaded by the rhetorical strategies of the anti-science crowd.
Horgan is uber-naive if he thinks how one articulates a message has no serious impact on how it is received. As a 23-year-old Winston Churchill wrote in a brilliant, unpublished essay, “The Scaffolding of Rhetoric.”
Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king”¦. The subtle art of combining the various elements that separately mean nothing and collectively mean so much in an harmonious proportion is known to very few”¦. [T]he student of rhetoric may indulge the hope that Nature will finally yield to observation and perseverance, the key to the hearts of men.
And yes, one can use rhetoric and still be scientifically accurate. Indeed, repetition is the core strategy of rhetoric, something most scientists simply don’t practice (see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1“).
Horgan repeats the tired pejorative that trying to explain science to nonscientists in a manner that they might actually understand and remember means you think they are “ignorant, irrational idiots.”
As na¯ve as this may sound, I believe environmentalists should try to influence public opinion by laying out the facts as clearly and honestly as possible and refraining from rhetorical trickery. Inconvenient Truth was a framing masterpiece, but Al Gore’s linkage of global warming to Katrina, however qualified, has made it easier for wackos to claim that single weather events, like the big blizzards that struck Washington, D.C., this winter, contradict global warming.
Yes, it does sound naive. Scientists have been telling us the science (poorly) with the proper qualifications for years. The “wackos” simply make persuasive-sounding stuff up and repeat it endlessly, no matter what scientists do. Even the prestigious journal Nature editorialized: “Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.”
The fact is, rhetoric works. And it works not on “ignorant, irrational idiots,” but all people. Indeed, a rhetorician will always out debate a logician (see Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 2: Why deniers out-debate “smart talkers”).
In his dialogue, Gorgias, about the master rhetorician, Plato gives him a speech that dramatized the awesome power of rhetoric over two millennia ago:
If a rhetorician and a doctor visited any city you like to name and they had to contend in argument before the Assembly or any other gathering as to which of the two should be chosen as doctor, the doctor would be nowhere, but the man who could speak would be chosen, if he so wished. And if he should compete against any other craftsman whatever, the rhetorician rather then any other would persuade the people to choose him: for there is no subject on which a rhetorician would not speak more persuasively than any other craftsman, before a crowd. Such then is the scope and character of rhetoric
A rhetorician could persuade any audience, no matter how intelligent, that he was more of a scientist than a real scientist!
To point out the irony (a rhetorical figure of speech), it is precisely because rhetoric works on everybody that Horgan’s attempt to pigeonhole good messaging — “to help the dim-witted public see the world in the same enlightened way that environmentalists do” — is completely backwards.
How is that “a majority of the [NYT Science] section’s editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity”?
They aren’t dumb. So either they they have been convinced by superior messaging (by the anti-science crowd and others) or they don’t actually know the science:
- M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F
- Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year “” and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!“
- Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path
- Ocean dead zones to expand, “remain for thousands of years”
- Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred
- U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm
- Science: CO2 levels haven’t been this high for 15 million years, when it was 5° to 10°F warmer and seas were 75 to 120 feet higher “” “We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in CO2 levels of about 100 ppm.”
- Nature: “Dynamic thinning of Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheet ocean margins is more sensitive, pervasive, enduring and important than previously realized.”
- Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100
- High Water: Greenland ice sheet melting faster than expected and could raise East Coast sea levels an extra 20 inches by 2100 “” to more than 6 feet.
- Science stunner: “Clouds Appear to Be Big, Bad Player in Global Warming” “” an amplifying feedback (sorry Lindzen and fellow disinformers)
- Study: Water-vapor feedback is “strong and positive,” so we face “warming of several degrees Celsius”
- Ocean dead zones to expand, “remain for thousands of years”
- UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”
- “The Copenhagen Diagnosis” warns “Without significant mitigation, the report says global mean warming could reach as high as 7 degrees Celsius by 2100.”
- NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe
No serious threat there.
Brad Johnson has more in his Wonk Room post, “New York Times Science Desk ‘Doubts That Human-Induced Global Warming Represents A Serious Threat’,” including this chart:
He notes: “The editorial positioning of the stories was even more biased, as 28% of the Page 1 Science Times stories on climate were skeptical. The vast majority of climate science stories were buried, with two-thirds of the stories appearing either on Page 3 or Page 8…. In contrast, over 15% of stories on ScienceDaily.com, which produces a stream of science stories on all topics based generally on press releases from scientific organizations, were about climate science.