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Juan Cole’s advice to climate scientists on how to avoid being Swift-boated

By Joe Romm  

"Juan Cole’s advice to climate scientists on how to avoid being Swift-boated"

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“Any broadcast that pits a climate change skeptic against a serious climate scientist is automatically a win for the skeptic, since a false position is being given equal time and legitimacy.”

Climate Scientists continue to see persuasive evidence of global warming and climate change when they speak at academic conferences, even though, as Andrew Sullivan rightly put it, the science is being ‘swift-boated before our eyes.’ (See also Bill McKibben at Tomdispatch.com on Climate Change’s OJ Simpson moment).

This article at mongabay.com includes some hand-wringing from scientists who say that they should have responded to the attacks earlier and more forcefully in public last fall, or who worry that scientists are not charismatic t.v. personalities who can be persuasive on that medium.

Let me just give my scientific colleagues some advice, since as a Middle East expert I’ve seen all sorts of falsehoods about the region successfully purveyed by the US mass media and print press, in such a way as to shape public opinion and to affect policy-making in Washington:

That is U. Michigan history professor Juan Cole writing on his blog, Informed Comment, Sunday.  Cole is “an American scholar, public intellectual, and historian of the modern Middle East and South Asia,” as Wikipedia puts it.

The full title of Cole’s piece is “Advice to Climate Scientists on how to Avoid being Swift-boated and how to become Public Intellectuals.”  I’ll excerpt it below with my comments.  The main issue I take with his piece is that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists don’t want to become public intellectuals, in part because that is perceived as the kiss of death for their scientific careers.

1. Every single serious climate scientist should be running a blog. There is enormous thirst among the public for this information, and publishing only in technical refereed journals is guaranteed to quarantine the information away from the general public. A blog allows scientists to summarize new findings in clear language for a wide audience. It makes the scientist and the scientific research ‘legible’ to the wider society. Educated lay persons will run with interesting new findings and cause them to go viral. You will also find that you give courage to other colleagues who are specialists to speak out in public. You cannot depend on journalists to do this work. You have to do it yourselves.

I agree that climate scientists need to communicate directly to the public, and a blog is a good place to start.

2. It is not your fault. The falsehoods in the media are not there because you haven’t spoken out forcefully or are not good on t.v. They are there for the following reasons:

a. Very, very wealthy and powerful interests are lobbying the big media companies behind the scenes to push climate change skepticism, or in some cases (as with Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp/ Fox Cable News) the powerful and wealthy interests actually own the media.

b. Powerful politicians linked to those wealthy interests are shilling for them, and elected politicians clearly backed by economic elites are given respect in the US corporate media. Big Oil executives e.g. have an excellent rollodex for CEOs, producers, the bookers for the talk shows, etc. in the corporate media. They also behind the scenes fund “think tanks” such as the American Enterprise Institute to produce phony science. Since the AEI generates talking points that aim at helping Republicans get elected and pass right wing legislation, it is paid attention to by the corporate media.

c. Media thrives on controversy, which produces ratings and advertising revenue. As a result, it is structured into an ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ binary argument. Any broadcast that pits a climate change skeptic against a serious climate scientist is automatically a win for the skeptic, since a false position is being given equal time and legitimacy. It was the same in the old days when the cigarette manufacturers would pay a ‘scientist’ to go deny that smoking causes lung cancer. And of course we saw all the instant Middle East experts who knew no Arabic and had never lived in the Arab world or sometimes even been there who were paraded as knowledgeable sources of what would happen if the United States invaded Iraq and occupied it.

d. Journalists for the most part have to do as they are told. Their editors and the owners of the corporate media decide which stories get air time and how they are pitched. Most journalists privately admit that they hate their often venal and ignorant bosses. But what alternative do most of them have?

e. Journalists for the most part do not know how to find academic experts. An enterprising one might call a university and be directed to a particular faculty member, which is way too random a way to proceed. If I were looking for an academic expert, I’d check a citation index of refereed articles, but most people don’t even know how to find the relevant database. Moreover, it is not all the journalists’ fault. journalism works on short deadlines and academics are often teaching or in committee and away from email. Many academics refuse (shame on them) to make time for media interviews.

f. Many journalists are generalists and do not themselves have the specialized training or background for deciding what the truth is in technical controversies. Some of them are therefore fairly easily fooled on issues that require technical or specialist knowledge. Even a veteran journalist like Judy Miller fell for an allegation that Iraq’s importation of thin aluminum tubes in 2002 was for nuclear enrichment centrifuges, even though the tubes were not substantial enough for that purpose. Many journalists (and even Colin Powell) reported with a straight face the Neocon lie that Iraq had ‘mobile biological weapons labs,’ as though they were something you could put in a winnebago and bounce around on Iraq’s pitted roads. No biological weapons lab could possibly be set up without a clean room, which can hardly be mobile. Back in the Iran-Iraq War, I can remember an American wire service story that took seriously Iraq’s claim that large numbers of Iranian troops were killed trying to cross a large body of water by fallen electrical wires; that could happen in a puddle but not in a river. They were killed by Iraqi poison gas, of course.

The good journalists are aware of their limitations and develop proxies for figuring out who is credible. But the social climbers and time servers are happy just to host a shouting match that maybe produces ‘compelling’ television, which is how they get ahead in life.

Can’t argue with any of that.

Item ‘c’ above is one more compelling argument for minimizing the staged debates one agrees to with those who make a living both spreading misinformation and attacking scientists.

3. If you just keep plugging away at it, with blogging and print, radio and television interviews, you can have an impact on public discourse over time. I could not quantify it, but I am sure that I have. It is a lifetime commitment and a lot of work and it interferes with academic life to some extent. Going public also makes it likely that you will be personally smeared and horrible lies purveyed about you in public (they don’t play fair– they make up quotes and falsely attribute them to you; it isn’t a debate, it is a hatchet job). I certainly have been calumniated, e.g. by poweful voices such as John Fund at the Wall Street Journal or Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute. But if an issue is important to you and the fate of your children and grandchildren, surely having an impact is well worth any price you pay.

I agree with the highlighted lines 100%

I made a decision myself in 2005 to “go public” as Cole puts it with a similar response (from the anti-scientist disinformers in my case).  But the issue is most certainly too important to the fate of my children and indeed all of our children and grandchildren, so it is a small price to pay.

That said, what I don’t think Cole appreciates is that scientists perceive that becoming a public intellectual has a higher price than simply being publicly attacked, as I discussed in my post, “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1.”  I quoted from Jared Diamond’s 1997 article on scientific messaging (or the lack thereof):

Scientists who do communicate effectively with the public often find their colleagues responding with scorn, and even punishing them in ways that affect their careers.

Scientists can take the most intense criticism — as anyone can attest who has been through the oral defense of their thesis or even the presentation of a new scientific paper in front of leading authorities on the subject.

But scientists are reluctant to jeopardize their careers and suffer the “Sagan” effect by being seen as a public intellectuals and popularizers, which is not a problem faced by the disinformers.  And that still leaves us with the question I posed in January: With science journalism “basically going out of existence,” how should climate scientists deal with well-funded, anti-science disinformation campaign?

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30 Responses to Juan Cole’s advice to climate scientists on how to avoid being Swift-boated

  1. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Just now in Nature:

    http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100303/full/464028a.html

    World view: Curing climate backlash p28
    Effective action on climate requires better politics, not better science, explains Daniel Sarewitz.

    Pete Dunkelberg

  2. david freeman says:

    In reference to “f. Many journalists are generalists”, most journalists are afraid of mathematics and have absolutely no understanding of statistics. My career as a research geophysicist ended with a head injury that primarily affected my mathematical abilities and memory. I went back to graduate school at one of the top journalism departments in the country. My fellow students’ understanding of the scientific method was pitiful but their understanding of probablities was even worse. Despite my limitations I was frequently called on to assist students with elementary statistics. These otherwise very intelligent and talented individuals had great difficulty with the most simple concepts. If asked the probablity of any outcome, the typical response was 50% since it will either happen or it won’t. For many of them, the deniers seem as likely to be right as the scientists – it’s always 50 – 50.

  3. Lore says:

    I’ll say one thing for Al Gore, he has never fallen into this trap of being tied up in a climate change debate with skeptics. I’d often respond to those who would question why he wouldn’t by pointing out that Gore has said repeatedly that there is no debate among scientists so why would he then enter one only to acknowledge that a debate does indeed exist. The logic of which eludes many deniers.

  4. mike roddy says:

    Thanks for this, and I agree with Cole too, with one quibble: Yes, the fossil fuel companies have poisoned the public discourse, meaning that it’s not scientists’ fault, but they still need to step up more. And yes, there are some excellent climate blogs on the subject run by dedicated and entertaining writers- such as right here on CP.

    But… scientists need to get a little more pissed off in public about the way that they and their work are being demeaned and twisted by people who have neither integrity nor knowledge. It’s not enough to gripe about it to their friends, and even blogging is not enough.

    Instead of signing professional organization statements, they need to appear more often on television, radio, and in OpEds. Scientists with the ability to do it should communicate in simple language, and to not balk at a little emotional overlay. They should lace their remarks about charlatans with sarcasm and humor. I agree that this should not be in a debate format, since the deniers do not deserve this implicit legitimacy.

    Scientists know very well where the earth’s climate and ecosystems are headed, and what the likely impacts will be. This should translate into passionate public appearances much more than it has been. If scientists can’t get booked on network TV, have them barnstorm, and address whatever public audiences will listen. The times call for it, and their knowledge creates this obligation. Hansen shouldn’t be out on a limb here.

    I greatly respect Mann’s courage and equanimity, but I take issue with his remark (common among climatologists) that if you roll with pigs you get muddy. That’s true, but if you don’t, they take over your house.

  5. Mark Shapiro says:

    Stephen Walt has similar advice, top ten things to do when you are being smeared — worth reading twice:

    http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/02/22/on_grabbing_the_third_rail

    My favorite: Never get mad.

  6. Mark Shapiro says:

    Regarding the cyberbullying, Bob Somerby has a useful post at the DailyHowler today about Broder’s front page article in the NYT: “Scientists Take Steps to Defend Climate Work.”

    Somerby’s key observation: Broder never mentions who is viciously attacking climate scientists. Why not?

    Joe — I’m sure you’ll post on this — it is a key question.

  7. lgcarey says:

    Great post … but who’s the author?

    [JR: Me. Sorry about that!]

  8. Per #4 and “Never get mad.”

    I get the point that Walt wants to make here, though I’m not entirely convinced it is true. The Denial-sphere is boiling over with frothing-at-the-mouth outrage; just whisper the name “Gore,” and watch the public delamination commence with promiscuous abandon. Yet somehow this has not rendered them less credible in the media or the various denialist echo chambers. It seems not entirely unreasonable to wonder when does our sanguine equanimity begin its triumphal march to victory?

    At the very least, while it is indeed almost certainly correct that we should “never get mad,” we should also never interpret that phrase as being anything less than relentelessly aggressive. We need to be taking our plan of action from the “General Patton Business Model” and be — metaphorically but mercilessly — squeezing the deniers by their squishy bits until they say “daddy.”

  9. toby says:

    It is hard to know sometimes which way to respond …

    When John Kerry faced the Swift Boat allegations, he was first advised to ignore them. Then they seemed to get a life of their own, and he ended up chasing the game .. though, people tend to forget that he only lost the election by a narrow margin. Opinions differ as to the impact of the Swift Boat smear.

    Obama was very circumspect when he was attacked for being uncomplementary to Sarah Palin (remember the “lipstick on a pig” furore). Obama seemed to have deliberately decided to “not feed the trolls”, and it worked for him.

    On balance, my gut tells me Cole and Gore are right. The Evolutionists decided long ago to let the Intelligent Design crowd wither on the vine, and it as worked for the main part.

  10. Seth Masia says:

    Missing from this discussion is the role of serious consumer magazines. Newspapers and television — the short-deadline media — have never done a good job covering any very complex subject (health-reform advocates take note). Smart lay people get their energy and climate education from Scientific American, The New Yorker and other long-deadline magazines willing to devote 5,000 words (even 15,000 words sometimes) to a serious issue. A scientist need not fear talking to, or writing for, one of those outlets.

  11. Wit's End says:

    Does anyone but me remember “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”?

    I just got a lecture from a well-meaning friend. Why do I bother to rant and write about climate change, since there’s really nothing I can do about it? Why don’t I forget about it and take a nice vacation instead?

    I asked him, if I lived in Nazi Germany, and I realized the government was planning the Holocaust, and that there was really nothing I could do to prevent it, should I just ignore it and go shopping?

    Should Miep Gies have bothered to hide Anne Frank considering after two years she died in the concentration camp anyway?

    To me the answer is obvious – it’s a moral choice. You do the right thing, regardless of the outcome.

  12. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe wrote: “… the overwhelming majority of climate scientists don’t want to become public intellectuals, in part because that is perceived as the kiss of death for their scientific careers.”

    Well, I guess those scientists just have to ask themselves whether their careers are more important than preserving the capacity of the Earth’s biosphere to support human civilization.

    I suppose that’s a tough call.

    Perhaps the truth of anthropogenic climate change is “inconvenient” not only for the fossil fuel corporations, but for scientists who find it inconvenient to leave the safety and comfort of their ivory tower in order to fight for the survival of the species as only they can.

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    The Answer to a Question Depends on The Question

    I would agree that responsible journalists, organizers of discussions, and so forth should not (under many situations anyhow) “set the stage” as if a reputable scientist, holding a view supported by nearly every bona fide scientific organization on the planet, is presenting views with no more or less credibility than “Tom” from the street corner who has consulted his oujee board (spelling?) on the matter in question.

    Credentials, context, and expertise are important for audiences to understand, in most cases anyhow.

    But, that’s not quite the same as saying that the reputable scientists should stay away from equal-time debates and discussions. Context should be given, and a good debate can be had, if the conditions and time allotment for discussion are sufficient and healthy.

    Of course, scientists can’t waste their time by debating every nutcase who comes around. But, if a prominent nutcase comes around, seeking debate, and if lots of people are following the matter, then (under conditions that are conducive to reasoning, sane discussion, sufficient explanations, and so forth) the credible scientist might help the matter by agreeing to the debate. Sometimes, under the correct conditions.

    The bottom line is that normal everyday humans understand one thing much better than they understand climate science or any other scientific matter, and that’s this: It seems more likely — all else equal — that someone who isn’t willing to debate a matter, when his opponent is willing to debate with him, doesn’t have facts and reasoning on his side. Of course, this is not a “proof”, and it’s often an incorrect assumption, but (nevertheless) it IS natural human intuition.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  14. lgcarey says:

    Re Wald’s “don’t get mad” advice, while it’s good advice, an extraordinarily frustrating aspect of the climate debate is the obvious difference in the standards to which the press hold the respective “sides”. Denialsaurs can froth at the mouth, impugn motives, allege criminal behavior and allude to physical assault (e.g., “flog them in public”) and the press gives them a free pass (righteous indignation, maybe). But if a climate scientist says anything critical about a pseudoskeptic (even in a stolen “private” email for example), the press trumpets it as a prime example of “advocacy” and “unprofessional behavior” and “loss of scientific objective”. Hence, in this case, Wald’s assertion that “it always works to your advantage when opponents act in an uncivil fashion, because it causes almost everyone else to swing your way” just doesn’t seem to apply in the Bizarro world of climate policy.

  15. The problem with climate scientists confronting deniers is the same as faced by evolutionists confronting creationists. It is a lot easier to spread misinformation than it is to accurately and effectively educate an uneducated and uninterested public about science. Given that the religious, political and economic motivations for denial have nothing whatsoever to do with science all of the scientific arguments are easily dismissed, mocked, misunderstood or rejected.

    For example, I was engaged in just such a discussion about the Bible and evolution with a preacher a decade ago and at the very beginning of the discussion the preacher demanded that the argument concern itself exclusively with the Bible. Since science was excluded from consideration at the outset it is quite easy to understand why the preacher continues to deny evolution and the ancient age of the Earth even to this day.

    In a similar way, climate scientists can describe at whatever level of detail precisely what is happening on the Earth right now and they can describe however boldly they wish how horrible things could become in the future but none of these things would matter to those who believe either:

    1. God gave humans the right to dominate the planet in whatever manner humankind wishes. God either guarantees the survival of humankind or provides a happy exit via eternity in Heaven.

    2. Capitalism and humankind’s status as the apex of evolution as given humankind the right to do whatever it wishes with the Earth. Technology either guarantees the survival of humankind or it will provide a space ship for humans to find another hospitable planet to replace the Earth.

    But to assume that either of these reasons motivate the deniers and the polluters assumes that they engage intellecutally in thinking about the future. There is always an unintellectual escape clause for those who wish to treat the planet like a sewer:

    “Who cares … I’ll be dead by then.”

    I’ve heard this argument on behalf of pollution, environmental destruction and the extinction of species expressed in various ways. It is the ultimate expression of absolute callous indifference which thoroughly excludes any consideration of science.

    Addressing scientific arguments to these sorts of people is a waste of time for scientists or anyone.

    When I observe the Earth and its dominate species I can find very little reason to imagine that the human tragedy can escape from its inevitable tragic ending.

    There are times in which it is best to allow an illness to run its course so that the ill might escape from their suffering. Humankind appears very much like a lost cause not because of what humankind continues to do but because of those things which humankind has already done.

    Extinction happens.

    Life didn’t come to an end with the extinction of the dinosaurs and life won’t come to an end just because humankind has gone extinct.

    Scientists have no choice except to spreak carefully. Thankfully I am not a scientist and therefore not subject to that sort of restriction.

    Billions of species have already gone extinct. Humankind’s closest ancestors have all gone extinct. Given the behavior of humankind and the extent to which humankind has already trashed the Earth it is quite certain that humankind will also go extinct.

    No one is going to save humankind from extinction.

    But there is life after humankind. The sun kept on rising even after the dinosaurs went extinct. The sun won’t stop rising simply because humankind has gone extinct.

  16. Prologue to any debate should be an honest discussion of the question.

    The real dispute is about whether or not to trust science. Followed by a harangue that humans should never willingly acknowledge reality if it is painful.

    With that, it really does not matter what issue is being debated. This resembles a medieval squabble over Angels on the Head of a Pin.

  17. David Smith says:

    An Idea – I propose a revised version of the Truman Doctrine, from the cold war days. Then the doctrine involved the containment of communism. I am proposing the containment of the denier/skeptics. Box them in. They don’t have the credentials to participate in the scientific discussion. Why do you let them in.

    Establish a policy for those who chose to participate of blocking their participation on climate science blogs. Just cut them out. Make them invisible to the technical debate. If people receive Hate mail, foreward it to the FBI or someplace more appropriate.

    Every once in a while invite one of the prominent denier/skeptics to a debate on science turf. Don’t debate at Fox News. Debate at the national academy of science. The scientific community is a huge institution with thousands of years of history and knowledge. Science has brought us the modern world. Bring its power and dignity to bear on this issue.

    Science has tremendous power in this world. Figure out how to use that power.

  18. paulm says:

    Totally agree.

  19. Steve O says:

    @David Matthews
    “When I observe the Earth and its dominate species I can find very little reason to imagine that the human tragedy can escape from its inevitable tragic ending.”
    I often share this pessimism. . unfortunately.

    “Life didn’t come to an end with the extinction of the dinosaurs and life won’t come to an end just because humankind has gone extinct.”

    I don’t share your opinion that humans will go extinct (at least not soon because of climate change). Humans are very adaptable. I believe we can destroy the underpinnings of civilized societies and kill off a lot of us in the process, but I have a hard time imagining total extinction (notwithstanding some sort of nuclear holocaust, which I think is fairly unlikely).

    Not a happy scenario in either case, however.

  20. sHx says:

    “I greatly respect Mann’s courage and equanimity, but I take issue with his remark (common among climatologists) that if you roll with pigs you get muddy. That’s true, but if you don’t, they take over your house.”

    So what is really true? Rolling in the mud with pigs or not rolling in the mud with pigs? Logically, they can’t both be true at the same time, equanimity or not.

  21. MarkB says:

    The science communication issue was a topic at the recent AGU convention.

    Jared Diamond touches on what I was thinking when reading Juan’s nice post. Scientists who speak out publicly are seen by some as compromising scientific integrity. Contrarians have no such qualms and are not held to such standards. What contrarian isn’t pushing their stuff in the public realm? Lindzen can rant all he wants about “alarmists” and unsupported assertions of government plots to deny skeptics funding while previously getting paid $$$ in Exxon money and being a member of industry-funded political organizations

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Richard_S._Lindzen

    and Judith Curry thinks he’s a serious scientist. In contrast, James Hansen simply speaks out forcefully on policy and he’s no longer a serious scientist. There seems to be this double-standard. If contrarians want to play with the serious scientists, shouldn’t they be held up to the same level of scrutiny?

    I understand the need for scientists not to want to go the Sagan route. Some scientists draw the line at policy. The scientists at RealClimate avoid policy discussions. Obviously, they still are the target of cyber-bullying and smear campaigns, as will be the case as long as they are presenting science inconvenient to the denial crowd.

    Research scientists are usually pretty busy too – working at universities or government organizations – teaching classes, writing papers, and attending conferences.

    If scientists are willing to step up and face the public scrutiny, perhaps going the RealClimate route is a good idea. Creating a blog simply to provide layperson summaries of their research is a good idea. Note the rise in popularity of SkepticalScience, which has presenting blog-style summarizes of recent peer-reviewed scientific studies. The more of these, the better.

    But ultimately, the winner of the public debate is the one who presents a more clever argument, not necessarily a more correct one. That’s why deniers do so well. What they lack in substance they make up in style and repetition. Delivered to an audience who badly wants to believe them, this is a relatively easy sell. Remember – the U.S. is a country that tends to believe in creationism for the simple reason that evolution interferes with deep beliefs. My cynical side says only a long-term effort in improving science education and critical thinking is the answer, which is a daunting challenge for society.

  22. President Obama has to make anti-science debunking a priority. Hire a person with a scientific background and who is a good communicator. This person will troll the media and blogs to find the lies and misleading statements, correct them, and then forward the corrections to the major news outlets. I assume that with the White House signature, the news will report these corrections.

    I volunteer and I will work for free. :)

  23. It is quite obvious that scientists don’t usually want to become public intellectuals but that is also true of most scholars. My background is more like that of Juan Cole’s and I can assure everyone that other academics can also pay a professional price for operating in the public arena.

    Nevertheless there are still plenty of scientists who do have the personality skills to work with the media and a willingness to play that role. The challenge for the rest of the profession is to support their efforts as much as possible and their own employers to do so as well. Often it comes down to recognizing a broader definition of scholarly and professional work for promotion purposes. For a very important discussion of this vital topic please see the book _Unscientific America_

  24. Dennis says:

    I like what David Matthews and David Smith have to say. Scientists should shut the non-scientists out of the debate. A simple exercise is to ask them a straight-forward scientific question that the non-scientist is incapable of answering, and then state that they aren’t qualified to talk about the topic. The follow up with something like “I wouldn’t trust a person to perform surgery who can’t identify my spleen, and I can’t trust you to identify basic science correctly.”

  25. anotherhopefulmoderate says:

    I am going to have to say this. When Juan Cole, and a fortiori, Steve Walt, make parallels between their own situations and climate change, it is not to boost the case for climate change, but to try to take our justified anger at climate deniers and aim it at their own rather more sensible critics.

    There is a vast coalition of people who want action on climate change. You will not help maintain that coalition by citing people whose expertise is not in that area (actually in the case of Cole, his academic expertise is in Bahaism and mideastern history, not in the contemporary politics he blogs about)

    [JR: Juan Cole offered some advice on messaging based on his experience. I occasionally cite non-climate experts on messaging.]

  26. DS says:

    I understand the sentiment that “scientists should shut the non-scientists out of the debate,” but as someone who speaks with the public on this and other emerging science issues as part of my regular work, I can say that that kind of framing is causing a good deal of the problem and feeds the ongoing disinformation campaign.

    People want to be consulted about the policy implications of the issue, because those social and ethical implications are not and should not be the exclusive provenance of the scientific community. When people feel disempowered or ignored on the policy discussions, they then turn to attacking the science, which they are, as people on this thread are implying, uninformed (even disinformed) about. I see it happening every day as part of my work.

    The strategy to head this off, in my opinion, should be to engage the public in substantive discussions about what to do about the problem. In support of my argument, I’d put forth the results of the first-ever global citizen deliberation on international policy: http://wwviews.org/. When we asked 4,000 demographically selected citizens in 38 countries to engage in a day of policy-related discussions of what should be done about the climate issue, the unanimity expressed by participants for urgent action was overwhelming.

    We should not be cutting regular people out of the debate; instead, we should be engaging them in constructive conversations about what to do about the problem. We live in a world where people think their comment on a message board not appearing quickly enough is a sign of censorship. The way to deal with that in my mind is to be inclusive in fostering discussions rather than restricting them.

  27. David Smith says:

    I wasn’t suggesting that we shut non-scientists out of the debate. Good ideas often come from unexpected sources. There is, however, a group of contributors who are not trying to advance the conversation, but to shut it down or discredit it. These types of comments could be eliminated and the effect on the debate would be positive.

    I am not refering to those who might present science that conflicts with other science presented here. I would like to contribute to the Climate Scientists doing their best work, and getting it right, whatever right is.

  28. aimeew says:

    All of these are problems which, to be honest, seem to be being felt by scientists the world over.

    With regards to your points about journalists not being able to find experts and being generalists (both of which are absolutely true), there’s a growing number of what are called Science Media Centres popping up around the world (NZ, Aus and the UK currently, with 3 more opening internationally this year). Their function is, in fact, to address precisely those issues but putting journos in touch with the correct experts, and also by holding briefings where journos can get background info and speak to experts, and putting out releases with comments from experts on topical science-based issues.

    And they appear to work :)

  29. Tracy Elsen says:

    The nuances in science and scientific communication are so different from the way that language is commonly used that scientists who enter the public debate often find their words twisted no matter how hard they try to put them into plain language– ie Phil Jones on the BBC qualifying his ‘no stasticial warming since 1995.’ Despite his careful efforts to qualify this statement, all the deniers heard or wanted to hear and repeat was the no statistical warming since 1995 excerpt.

    How to tackle one-sided spin with the measured rationalitity that scientists must use (and are attacked yet again if they stray from)?

    However, deniers build trust in themselves through their public profiles– it is easier to trust someone whose face one sees and identifies with every day on the television (the weatherman, Glenn Beck, and so on) than a distant scientist who is heard of only in name and overwhelming information. Climate science needs a couple of scientist champions who can speak the language of the public and appear on behalf of the scientific community– a few that can be trusted by the public as much if not more than any denier but have the real facts and research to back their message up.

  30. MikeB says:

    Perhaps its best if climate scientists get some media training first, before they start their blog? Phil Jones please note. And make sure that no one from the UEA climate dept. ever goes near a microphone or journalist. Phil Jones, etc please note.

    Apart from that, excellent post.