Nine Lessons and Carols in Communicating Climate Uncertainty

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About a month ago I was invited to represent the Cabot Institute at the All Parliamentary Party Climate Change Group (APPCCG) meeting on “Communicating Risk and Uncertainty around Climate Change”. All Party Groups are groups of MPs and Lords with a common interest they wish to discuss, who meet regularly but fairly informally. Here are the APPGCC  APPCCG register, blog, Twitter and list of events.

The speakers were James Painter (University of Oxford), Chris Rapley (UCL) and Fiona Harvey (The Guardian), and the chair was (Lord) Julian Hunt (UCL). Rather than write up my meeting notes, I’ll focus on the key points.

[Disclaimer: All quotes and attributions are based on my recollections and note-taking, and may not be exact.]

1. People have a finite pool of worry

I’ll start with this useful phrase, mentioned (I think by Chris) in the discussion. Elke Weber describes this:

“As worry increases about one type of risk, concern about other risks has been shown to go down, as if people had only so much capacity for worry or a finite pool of worry. Increased concern about global warming may result in decreased concern about other risks…the recent financial crisis reduced concern about climate change and environmental degradation.” — “What shapes perceptions of climate change?”; pdf currently here)

Lessons: We cannot expect or ask people to worry about everything: concern about other issues can reduce concern about climate change, while evoking strong emotions about climate change can reduce concern about other issues. So Chris encouraged talking about opportunities, rather than threats, wherever possible.

2. People interpret uncertainty as ignorance

People often interpret the word “uncertainty” as complete ignorance, rather than, for example, partial ignorance(..!) or a well-defined range of possible outcomes. This may be due to language: “I’m not certain” is close to “I don’t know”.

Just as important is exposure to research science. Science is often presented as a book of facts, when in fact it is a messy process of reducing our uncertainty about the world. At a school this year the head teacher told us about an Ofsted inspection during which they had a fantastic science workshop, where groups of students solved challenging problems using real data. At the end of the day, the inspector said: “Fine, but wouldn’t it have been quicker to have told them the answer first?”

Lessons: Revolutionise the education system.

3. People are uncomfortable with uncertainty

Even when people do understand uncertainty, it can become a convenient rug under which to brush difficult decisions. Chris said that over-emphasising uncertainty leads to decision-making paralysis. When a decision invokes fear or anxiety (or, I would add, political disagreement), uncertainty can be used to dismiss the decision entirely.

“The Higgs boson”, Chris said, “was not a ball bearing found down the back of sofa, but a statistical result”. It was just possible it hadn’t been discovered. But it wasn’t reported this way. The Higgs, of course, does not invoke fear, anxiety or political disagreement (though please leave comments below if you disagree).

Lessons: Decision paralysis might be reduced by talking in terms of confidence rather than uncertainty. But perhaps more importantly…

4. People do accept the existence of risk

Finite worry and the problems of talking about uncertainty need not mean deadlock, James and Chris argued, because people do understand the concept of risk.  They accept there are irreducible uncertainties when making decisions. Businesses are particularly familiar with risk, of course. James mentioned that Harvard Business School is actively viewing climate change in this way:

“It’s striking that anyone frames this question in terms of ‘belief,’ saying things like, ‘I don’t believe in climate change,’… I think it’s better seen as a classic managerial question about decision-making under uncertainty.“ – Forest L. Reinhardt, Business and Environment Institute faculty co-chair, HBS

Viewed in this way, the problem is not whether to make a decision based on uncertain or incomplete information, which is nearly always the case in other spheres (Chris: “Why should climate change be a special case required to have absolute certainty?”). The problem is whether the decision made is to bet against mainstream climate science:

“It seems clear that no one can know exactly what’s going to happen–the climate is a hugely complex system, and there’s a lot going on”….[The vast majority of the world's scientists] may be wrong. But it seems to me foolish to bet that they are certainly wrong. – Rebecca Henderson, Business and Environment Institute faculty co-chair, HBS

Chris pointed out that the Technical Summary of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of climate science uses the word “uncertainty” a thousand times and the word “risk” not at all, so it is not surprising the media focus on uncertainty. And how well humans understand risk is a matter worthy of much discussion. But as James writes:

“There is… a growing body of literature suggesting that risk language may be a good, or at least a less bad, way of communicating climate change to the general public”. — “Climate Change in the Media: Reporting Risk and Uncertainty”, (Executive Summary, page viii)

Lessons: Where possible, talk in terms of risk not uncertainty; see for example the IPCC report on extreme weather and, naturally, our book Risk and Uncertainty Assessment for Natural Hazards.

5. Scientists have little training

Most of us are not well trained – perhaps hardly at all – in science communication. But we must consider how the way we present numbers affects their interpretation. In 2007, the IPCC said the likelihood that most of global warming since the mid-20th century was caused by greenhouse gas emissions was assessed to be greater than 90%. This year they made a similar statement but the likelihood was 95% or greater. Chris said that if a journalist asked, “What does it mean to increase from 90% confident to 95% confident?”, a scientist could make this clearer with “[We think] the chance climate change is natural is now half as likely as before.”

He also pointed out that we don’t have training in how to deal with the “street fight” of the climate debate. In my experience, this is one of the two main reasons why most of my colleagues do not do public engagement (the other being time commitment).

Lessons: For communicating uncertainty and risk, I recommend UnderstandingUncertainty.org. For dealing with the street fight, my advice is first to start with a lot of listening, not talking, to get a feel for the landscape. And to talk to climate scientists already engaging on how to avoid and deal with conflict (if, indeed, they are avoiding or dealing with conflict…).

6. Journalists have little (statistical) training

The IPCC assessment reports use a “language” of uncertainty, where phrases such as “extremely likely” are given a specific meaning (in this case, 95% or greater likelihood). But James said that only 15% of media articles about this year’s report explained the meaning of this uncertainty language.

And in the discussion someone quoted a journalist as saying “The IPCC report says it has 95% confidence – what do the other 5% of the scientists think?” In other words, confusing the idea of a consensus and a confidence interval. There was a laugh at this in the room. But I think this is easily done by people who do not spend all day thinking about statistics. That would be: the majority of the human race.

Lessons: Er, many journalists could benefit from more statistical training. Here is what that might look like.

7. “Newspaper editors are extremely shallow, generally”

Fiona, her tongue only slightly in cheek, gave us this memorably-made and disappointing (if predictable) point.

Just because something is important it doesn’t mean it will get into a news outlet. An editor might go to a cocktail party, talk to their glamorous celebrity friends, hear some current opinion, and then the next day their paper says…

In other words, the social diary – including meetings with high profile climate sceptics – can have a substantial influence on the viewpoint taken. (Of course, she noted, the editor of The Guardian is a profound man, not influenced by such superficiality). To counter this we would need to go to influential people and whisper in their ears too. We would need to launch a prawn cocktail offensive - or more appropriately, as one wit suggested, a goats cheese offensive. You heard it here first. And last.

Lessons: Go to more cocktail parties hosted by influential people.

8. There are many types of climate sceptic

There was generally support of scepticism by the speakers. Chris said it was perfectly valid for the public to ask scientists “Can we see your working?”; in other words, to ask for more details, code and data. All the speakers said they don’t use the word “denier”.

James said we should not generalise, and described four types of sceptic: trend, attribution, impacts, and policy. A trend sceptic would not be convinced there is global warming; an attribution sceptic about how much is man-made; an impacts sceptic might say we don’t know enough about when and how severe the impacts will be; and a policy sceptic would take issue with how to tackle the problem. (Personally, I believe there are as many types of sceptic as there are sceptics, but that would be a longer list to write down). Fiona pointed out that one person can be all these types of sceptic, moving from one argument to another as a discussion progresses. Some thought this would be incoherent (i.e. kettle logic, contradictory arguments) but others thought it could be coherent to be sceptical for more than one of those reasons.

Lessons: Treat each sceptic as an individual (flower); don’t assume they are one type of sceptic when they may be another, or more than one.

9. Trust is important 

What determines people’s views on climate change? As James pointed out, there is evidence that what drives opinions is not science, or even the media (they determine only the topics of discussion), but political, cultural and social values. Fiona had said earlier in the meeting, “Climate change is more politicised than ever before in my lifetime: it is becoming a matter of right or left. This is very, very scary. If you allow this, you lose any hope of doing anything sensible about it.”

All this is true. But I’ll end with a slightly more optimistic quote, which I think was from Chris: “The sea change in the battle with tobacco companies was when the message got across that the adverts were not trustworthy.” I quote this not because I believe it is the same as the climate debate, and not because sceptics are untrustworthy (though some may be), but because I (some might say, choose to) interpret it to mean that trust is important. When people trust the messenger, the message is more likely believed.

Lessons: Other things are important, but sometimes communication is a matter of trust. I emphasise this point because it’s what I already believe; others may disagree (politely, please…).

–/–

I would have liked to add more references supporting the points made by the speakers, but ran out of time. Some are in James’ book mentioned above. Do please add them in the comments if you have them.

The title of this blogpost came from realising I had nine points to make and thinking of this set of shows curated by Robin Ince celebrating science, skepticism, and rationalism. If you’re in the UK this December, do go.

=====

Corrections (9th Dec):

- Chris actually said the word ‘risk’ is used in the IPCC physical science group Technical Summary fewer than 100 times, rather than not at all.

- James said only 15% of media articles about the IPCC 2007 report explained the meaning of the uncertainty language, not this year’s.

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188 Responses to Nine Lessons and Carols in Communicating Climate Uncertainty

  1. aaron says:

    Dr. Edwards, regarding item 1. People have a finite pool or worry, this piece by Bjorn Lomborg is very relevent (some excerpts below):

    http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/bj-rn-lomborg-argues-that-environmental-imperatives-should-not-trump-the-needs-of-the-poor

    “Trade-offs are an inherent part of life. We all recognize this from our private budgets.”

    “Trade-offs also pervade environmental policy: Cutting more of one pollutant, for example, leaves fewer resources to address other issues. For example, coal is phenomenally polluting, but it also provides for cheap and reliable power, which drives development. Over the past 30 years, China has lifted 680 million people out of poverty, mostly through the use of coal. ”

    “Africa, even when likely cost reductions over the next 20 years are considered.” Popular solar lights cost almost $2 per kWh. Using hydro, gas, and oil, the grid cost for the main population centers in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Kenya will likely be $0.16-25 per kWh. In South Africa, where coal powers 90% of electricity, the cost is just $0.09 per kWh”

    “Energy poverty is even more acute for the three billion people – almost half of the world’s population – who burn dung, cardboard, and twigs indoors to cook and keep warm. The WHO estimates that while outdoor air pollution in developing-country cities may be ten times higher than in advanced-country cities, average indoor air pollution, caused by burning wood and dung, is a hundred times higher. Indeed, indoor air pollution kills 3.5 million people each year, making it the world’s deadliest environmental problem.”

    “But global warming will cause damage worth possibly 1-5% of GDP by the end of the century, when the UN expects developing-world incomes to have risen by 1,400-1,800%.

    Poverty is killing millions right now, with an impact on global GDP that is likely an order of magnitude higher. And too many people, however well-intentioned, are unwilling to acknowledge the tradeoffs needed to improve poor people’s lives”

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  2. Mike Mellor says:

    Tamsin this is your second post in a year about a conference you attended where the subject was not climate change but how to spin it. In case you’re not sure whether “spin” is a compliment or an insult, wiktionary it.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      Hi Mike,

      I’d prefer not to be patronised, thanks :)

      I’m interested in how society obtains information about climate science, and what other people think about how best to do this. Isn’t that a useful topic? You may have noticed I don’t always agree with other people about how best to do it…

      Tamsin

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  3. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Gareth Phillips says:
    December 10, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Tamsin, your nine lessons are just about the sharpest comments I have seen for some years in this area of debate. I try and teach my students the subjective nature of issues such as health and point out that we think in a much more subjective fashion than most people will admit to .Clime debates are a classic case. Your lessons will aid my teaching plans!

    Gareth, while Tamsin’s nine points for improving communication are good and worthwhile, the problem is that the leading lights in the climate science world lied, cheated, and even broke laws to push their “science”.

    And once that happened, the “Nine Lessons for Promoting Shonky Science” that have you so impressed are useless, because the problem is that the public was lied to. The trust that people had in climate science is badly eroded, and no “Nine Lessons” will fix that.

    In fact, if you want an example for your students, this is an excellent one, but for a very different reason than you put forward. The “Nine Lessons” are a perfect example of how when you don’t acknowledge the real problem, you mis-diagnose the solution.

    If the real problem were communications, the “Nine Lessons” would be very valuable. But the problem is trust … and as a result, the “Nine Lessons” are not only worthless, they are actively destructive.

    They are destructive because once people have been lied to, sweet talking them with improved communications just increases their suspicion. And they are destructive because when scientists claim that the real problem is poor communications, and not good liars, well, that just makes folks question either their morals or their intelligence.

    Anyhow, you might pass that by your students as well …

    w.

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  4. Willis Eschenbach says:

    garhighway says:
    December 10, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Of the current players on the climate science/commentary scene, who is most likely to be looked at 20 years from now as the climate equivalent of The Tobacco Institute?

    The University of East Anglia would get my vote.

    garhighway says:
    December 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    As a starting, what should we do with the folks who deny even the most fundamental aspects of atmospheric physics (“increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere will have zero effect: the greenhouse effect is a myth”) or those who posture themselves as “reasonable, science-driven skeptics” but sit on their hands when the crazies show up with their wacky statements?

    Thanks, garhighway. Who is the “we” who are going to do something about the people that garhighway doesn’t like? Why do you think you have to do something to them? And finally … who died and left you in charge of scourging those whose ideas you don’t like?

    That’s what most bothers me about the “skeptic” community: they seem to have an implicit rule that says they can never criticize one another. They seem to think that they have to stay united in the face of the common enemy (mainstream climate science) no matter what nonsense any of them spouts.

    Until that changes, until they start standing up for real science, they deserve no credibility.

    Not sure which skeptical sites you are reading. At the two blogs where I post, ClimateAudit and WattsUpWithThat, criticism is the order of the day, as it should be. Perhaps that’s why WUWT has been voted “Best Science Blog” three years now, and RealClimate and Open Mind and the like haven’t … because RealClimate and many of the alarmist sites not only discourage questions, they censor them without notice and without revealing that they’ve been censored.

    Unlike folks at the echo chamber at RealClimate, I spend a lot of time criticizing the ideas of both the skeptics and the alarmists, as do many other people who post on both ClimateAudit and WUWT. Given that, I know who is standing up for real science, and who is standing up for the Climategate kind of “science”, where you don’t show your results and data for fear someone might try to find fault with it.

    Finally, if you read the Climategate emails, you’ll see that many of the alarmist scientists were witheringly critical of e.g. Michael Mann in private emails, but not a single one of them ever had the balls to speak out against Mann in public … and you think skeptics don’t criticize each other? What planet are you inhabiting?

    I believe you are suffering from what is called “projection”. This is the condition you project the faults of your side (alarmists are famous worldwide for not criticizing each other) onto your opponents, and accuse them of what your side is doing.

    Best

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    • Willis Eschenbach says:

      Grrr … the close tag on the final quote should be after the paragraph

      Until that changes, until they start standing up for real science, they deserve no credibility.

      The rest of the comment after that paragraph is my own words, not gar’s words.

      w

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    • Garhighway says:

      Willis, my observations come from reading WUWT principally. It is rife with the crazy and those that consider themselves serious just look the other way. Until that changes, any pretense at being principled skeptics is just that: pretense.

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  5. ATheoK says:

    More communication related news at the Guardian. Check the notes about Luxury-journal editors, their fields of knowledge (sexy subjects), experience (make waves) and ability to recognize good science (fashionable fields). Well, I might’ve stretched a few meanings…

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/how-journals-nature-science-cell-damage-science

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  6. James Evans says:

    To sum up:

    We think the world has a problem, and we think you politicians should act on that. It’s true that our models are looking totally inadequate at the moment, and it’s true that we based this entire scare on the models. So… we want you to realise that the reason that the models are looking totally rubbish is because there is always uncertainty in this type of science. We want you to understand that this uncertainty, which is making our models look bad, should not under any circumstances be taken as an excuse to not do what we think you should do. In order to emphasise that point we are going to say the word “RISK” a lot. And we’ll say it louder and louder.

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    • garhighway says:

      More accurate version:

      Physics says the world has a problem, but the climate system is really noisy, so it doesn’t manifest itself in a smooth and predictable way. But the physics is very solid.

      We are very careful to express the uncertainties in our models but many people don’t appreciate that.

      The science and the models make it clear that there are real possibilities of some very bad outcomes, and we think rational decision makers would take those risks very seriously.

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      • James Evans says:

        “Physics says the world has a problem,”

        No, it doesn’t. It says that in the absence of feedbacks we’ll have a gentle warming, which could well be beneficial.

        “but the climate system is really noisy, so it doesn’t manifest itself in a smooth and predictable way.”

        We just forgot to say that earlier, when we were trying to blame all the warming in the eighties and nineties on CO2.

        “But the physics is very solid.”

        The physics of how CO2 behaves is solid. But that’s a tiny piece of the puzzle. The feedbacks in the system are all-important. And we don’t have a solid grasp of those at all.

        “We are very careful to express the uncertainties in our models but many people don’t appreciate that.”

        We spend ‘x’ amount of time correcting the press and the NGOs when they ignore our careful expressions of the uncertainties. ‘X’ very closely approximates zero.

        “The science and the models make it clear that there are real possibilities of some very bad outcomes,”

        The models have failed. Again and again. And strangely, the science communicators “make it clear that there are real possibilities of some very bad outcomes” but they don’t make it so clear there are many real possibilities that we’ll be just fine.

        By coincidence, it’s harder to get a grant to study a non-problem than it is to get a grant to study a purported imminent catastrophe.

        “and we think rational decision makers would take those risks very seriously.”

        We have all taken them seriously. We have looked at the data. We understand.

        We’re not less informed than you. We’re not more stupid than you. We’re not more evil than you. We’re not more selfish than you.

        We just think you’re wrong. Disastrously wrong.

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    • Jaime Jessop says:

      Haha. Nicely summed up – and very accurate. I like that.

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  7. garhighway says:

    Here’s a nice example of claimate communciation done well, I think: Steven Schneider with a roomful of skeptics.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWgLJrkK8NY&feature=player_embedded&list=PL4229AB98829E25EB

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    • mk says:

      None of whom changed their minds … just as with the ones Tamsin talks to.

      [You might be interested in my comment here about changing minds. I also have quite a lot of quotes from sceptics about re-evaluating their scepticism, and improving their views on the robustness of climate science and the competence of climate scientists. Keep meaning to put them online... -- Tamsin]

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  8. garhighway says:

    Of the current players on the climate science/commentary scene, who is most likely to be looked at 20 years from now as the climate equivalent of The Tobacco Institute?

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  9. annG says:

    Tamsin,

    I’d really like to hear some honest scientists – one talking about how they’re worried for their Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandchildren’s future when the globe is too hot. And another complaining that the environment will be too polluted to be able to grow food long before then, so why worry?

    The more that “Catastrophic Global Warming” advocates talk about concensus, the more we know that there is no consensus. The public is wiser than it’s being taken for, and senses very clearly that the climate science is not “settled” – just the “real physics” of molecular carbon-dioxide.

    Not only that, our country is still a home for great engineers whom the public trusts. It’s all long enough away for us to believe that the boffins will have worked out a solution by the time it’s too hot outside – great big air-conditioned bubbles, for example.

    The whole AGW scare took off when we had a Government full of bullies. The Chief Scientific Advisor was sacked for telling the science instead of what the Governmant wanted to hear. The BBC lost its’ top management because they reported the truth about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. (BBC still mentions GM or GW in every nature programme whether appropriate or not.) Are scientists still reeling? Is that why normal, ordinary “ they don’t know enough about climate processes to be able to forecast” academics won’t put their ‘head above the parapet’?

    Aren’t we lucky that there are still some good, old-fashioned, bolshie engineers around?

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  10. Gareth Phillips says:

    Tamsin, your nine lessons are just about the sharpest comments I have seen for some years in this area of debate. I try and teach my students the subjective nature of issues such as health and point out that we think in a much more subjective fashion than most people will admit to .Clime debates are a classic case. Your lessons will aid my teaching plans!

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  11. Tom Forrester-Paton says:

    Hi Tamsin, and thank you for this post.

    You quote:
    “As worry increases about one type of risk, concern about other risks has been shown to go down, as if people had only so much capacity for worry or a finite pool of worry….”

    It’s true that people have an upper limit to their ‘worry pool’, and that worries are ‘traded’.

    Just as important, though, is the LOWER limit to people’s worry pool. I find it significant that climate alarmism is only rife in societies and amongst folk who ostensibly have the least to worry about – the bourgeoisie of the West. I suspect that human psychology has evolved in such a way that the extremely low levels of existential risk really faced by most of us result in an uncomfortable deficit, which we tend to repair by subscribing to a series of eschatological beliefs. CAGW is but the latest scare to fill this worry vacuum.

    For an amusing look at its predecessors – which all look as batty now as climate catastrophism will in a year or so, see:

    http://kestencgreen.com/green%26armstrong-agw-analogies.pdf

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  12. A C Osborn says:

    Dr Tamsin Edwards, can this retired grumpy old git ask you a personal off topic question?
    Why did you move from the Hard Science of Physics, your PHD, to being Climate Scientist?
    Oh alright more than one question, was it because you saw more “opportunities” in climate science or thought you could “serve Mankind” better in climate science?

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  13. James Evans says:

    “Chris said that over-emphasising uncertainty leads to decision-making paralysis.”

    Who is this “Chris”? Is it this chap?:
    Prof Chris Rapley (UCL)
    Professor of Climate Science
    Dept of Earth Sciences
    Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

    There, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with this entire fiasco. Why is a professor of climate science talking about “decision-making”?

    This meeting beautifully highlights the problem with climate science – not by what was said, but by its very existence.

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  14. genemachine says:

    You lose trust when you scheme to “talk about opportunities, rather than threats, wherever possible” in an attempt at emotional manipulation. As a scientist your aim should be to communicate honestly and clearly.

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  15. Manniac says:

    Doug McNeall:
    “All that matters is some kind of public denunciation. And after that happens, climate science will magically become a real subject in your eyes?”

    The only people who don’t make mistakes are children and dictators…

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  16. Alan Emery says:

    Dr. Edwards, I am glad to see you are continuing the conversation. Ensuring the science is accurate and defining the limits of our understanding is important. Communicating science and the limits of that understanding accurately in lay terms, however, is not that difficult. If an average person asks you if global warming is real, how do you answer? I would say yes. If the same person asks what causes it. I would say in recent times it is almost certainly caused by people burning fossil fuels faster than nature can absorb the resulting greenhouse gases. If the same person asks how I know that, I would say that so far no other known factor seems to be able to explain the increase in global temperatures and rising sea levels. At this point, the average person might ask how I can be sure it is human caused. My response would be that I can’t be 100% positive but so far there is no substantial contradictory evidence. From here on, my experience is that the average person wants to know if it is a serious problem and if it is what should be done about it.

    Can a climate scientist answer either of those questions? Probably not without drawing on knowledge that is not strictly related to climate science. However other scientists and experts can certainly answer both of those questions. Assuming human impact is the key factor in the question, changes in distribution of pests, disease vectors, potential for agriculture, salt water incursions in freshwater aquifers, disappearing shorelines in low-lying areas are all observed impacts already. Are they serious problems? In my area, a couple of beetles threaten to wipe out massive populations of trees, essentially threatening to deforest much of the pines and ash trees in southern Canada. So yes, they are serious problems if you are in the way and they will be worse for future generations if the trends continue.

    The question about how to fix the problem can also be answered in simplistic terms – stop burning fossil fuels. The practical implications of this answer and the costs associated with it are the realm of policy makers working with experts on how to expand or generate alternate sources of cheap energy. That is a fruitful and important discussion amongst a wide spectrum of people both experts and non-experts.

    If the person is not an average person, but instead has a real interest in the scientific evidence, then the discussion can delve into the details. Can a scientist address the criticism of the scientific methods used? Of course a scientist can respond to that type of criticism, it is inherent in all presentation of science. But if the critique is based on a conspiracy theory such as scientists are faking the data or misrepresenting the conclusions from the data, the conversation is not going to be productive. If the person has a profound belief that global warming or that human-caused global warming is not real, then no amount of evidence will be convincing. If the person has an intrinsically important reason not to accept the scientific evidence, such as not wanting to spend money or to lose financial opportunities, then the debate shifts to a cost benefit analysis.

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  17. G. Karst says:

    Thank-you for having the courage to publish, a wide range of opinion, on this subject. Kudos GK

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  18. Latimer Alder says:

    Best way for cliscis to communicate with sceptics?

    Listen to the criticisms we raise and do something to fix them. They’re in your control, not ours.

    But dismissing/avoiding/evading all less than fulsome comments as invasions of your nice cosy little world is doing you (pl) no favours at all. It might boost the spirits of those still within the stockade (who still seem to be the only ppl you (pl) talk to), but it’s ruining your reputation in the big big world outside.

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    • If climate scientists want to communicate with sceptics then they would do well to heed your advice.

      But actually my advice to most climate communicators would simply be to ignore climate sceptics, who are very atypical people, in that they are actually interested in climate change, and think instead about the general population. The current bizarre theory, popular among climate communicators, that they would have triumphed by now if it wasn’t for all those pesky sceptics poisoning the political-media well with their “manufactured mistrust” stemming from “fossil fuel funded denialism”, has led them down a hopeless blind alley.

      Pielke Jr has been explaining this to them for years: there is a huge amount of good will towards solving the climate problem as long as the solution is cheap and effective (about $100-$200 per year seems to be the limit of most people’s generosity). Most people (not unreasonably) just want the climate scientists to solve the problem (at modest cost) and then shut up and leave them alone to get on with problems they perceive as more pressing, and certainly more interesting; they absolutely do not want to be harangued all the time.

      Less time spent insulting sceptics and more time spend reading Pielke, Rayner and Helm would get them a long way. But I suppose that wouldn’t be half as much fun.

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      • Jaime Jessop says:

        I don’t agree that man-made climate change sceptics are terribly atypical of the general populace. Yes, they probably have an interest in climatology and meteorology, yes they are probably more scientifically minded and analytical than your average Jo or Joe Public, but they are motivated primarily by the desire to take politicians and climate scientists to task for the exceptionally damaging mitigation measures which are being imposed upon them and their environment supposedly in order to head off ‘catastrophic’ global warming.

        The penny is dropping and those pioneering CAGW sceptics are finding resonant voices in the community at large as people finally wake up to the impact that the push to decarbonise our industries and energy production is having upon them personally. When they are shivering in their homes through the cold, they naturally echo, in a less sophisticated fashion perhaps, just what the mainstream sceptics have been saying for years.

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      • Steve Fitzpatrick says:

        I agree, people do not want to be harangued all the time. But ‘solving the climate problem’ for US$100 to $200 per year is not possible, since a ‘fundamental change in how people live their lives’ is what is being called for by many climate scientists and their green organization colleagues. The changes they want are draconian, costly, and both economically and personally disruptive… nothing like $100 or $200 per year. So climate scientists and green organizations continue to ‘demand’ solutions which are politically impossible and so will never be adopted. Reading the sensible suggestions of Pielke Jr. is unlikely to change their minds on this; theirs is a philosophical/moral belief system which is not easy to compromise on.

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    • andrew adams says:

      Latimer,

      You say scientists should

      “Listen to the criticisms we raise and do something to fix them.”

      And JJ echoes your view

      “If climate scientists want to communicate with sceptics then they would do well to heed your advice.”

      But what if scientists think your criticisms are largely unfair and inaccurate?

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      • Nullius in Verba says:

        “But what if scientists think your criticisms are largely unfair and inaccurate?”

        Then they won’t have the effect on opinions about climate science that they think they’re going to.

        It’s two separate questions: ‘how can we fix the public’s mistrust?’ and ‘are the accusations fair?’ Climate scientists keep asking the first question and being told the answer, but reject it because they don’t agree that the accusations are fair. Well, ok, so far as answering the second question goes you can do that, but it’s still the answer to the first question. If you want to rebuild trust, that’s what you’ve got to do. If you don’t, you won’t. It depends on what you think is more important.

        That said, I’m not entirely convinced it would work now. There was a period immediately after ClimateGate when scientists could have plausibly said “we didn’t know” and done something about it. Judith Curry kept building bridges and encouraging others to hop on. When nobody did, I think their fate was sealed. It will take a new generation, and new evidence, before anyone over here will listen again.

        Nor do I think it matters. The block to political action was never the climate sceptics, but was always the insistence on mixing redistributive political economics into the international solution. The Byrd-Hagel resolution explains that to be effective *every* nation has to cut emissions, including developing ones, and they will not agree to any economy-destroying cuts unless they are actually going to be effective. And the developing nations very obviously have absolutely no intention of doing so, and are clearly only playing along in the hopes of being paid.

        Thus, from a practical saving-the-world viewpoint it doesn’t matter in the least what sceptics think, or what effect they have on public opinion.
        As for the climate scientists, history will judge.

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        • Steve Fitzpatrick says:

          “As for the climate scientists, history will judge.”
          And rather harshly I expect.

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      • Latimer Alder says:

        Then they could try persuading us that that is indeed the case. And that the criticisms are ill-founded. I stated elsewhere ‘communication’ is a 2-way process.

        But stonewalling about criticisms isn’t persuading. There are far too many well-documented cases of misbehaviour by the bad apples to be ignored or dismissed as ‘out of context’ or ‘just an isolated incident’.

        And until they begin to do that, the stench of the rotting barrel will be overwhelming.

        Climos may feel very uncomfortable about such an examination of the way they and their ‘peers’ have conducted themselves. But that’s the penalty they pay for being in the public eye. You cannot have your cake (political influence, public funding) and eat it (complete unaudited autonomy).

        Remember TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

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    • garhighway says:

      As a starting, what should we do with the folks who deny even the most fundamental aspects of atmospheric physics (“increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere will have zero effect: the greenhouse effect is a myth”) or those who posture themselves as “reasonable, science-driven skeptics” but sit on their hands when the crazies show up with their wacky statements?

      That’s what most bothers me about the “skeptic” community: they seem to have an implicit rule that says they can never criticize one another. They seem to think that they have to stay united in the face of the common enemy (mainstream climate science) no matter what nonsense any of them spouts.

      Until that changes, until they start standing up for real science, they deserve no credibility.

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      • Nullius in Verba says:

        We require no credibility. ‘Credibility’ implies the idea of taking somebody’s word for it – the old ‘argumentum ad verecundiam’ that Locke wrote about. But every sceptical argument has to stand on its own merits. We don’t ask that you trust us and take our word for it because we’re ‘experts’, so the idea of ‘credibility’ doesn’t have any meaning for us. The only problem occurs when we acquire ‘incredibility’ – the tendency of other people to disbelieve what we say simply because of who we are – which is the product of ad hominem argument.

        Also, the idea of sceptics “sitting on their hands” when bad arguments show up assumes that sceptics seek to portray themselves as a single coherent body with a consistent ‘consensus’ position, alternatives to which ought to be suppressed. But this is not how scientific debate works.

        Sceptics are a disparate collection of individuals, each of them arguing only their own personal position. We disagree with one another. We often argue with one another. (As Willis says above, I don’t know what sceptic blogs you’ve been visiting if you think we don’t.) But so long as they don’t annoy everyone by peppering every thread with repetitive off-topic rambling on their pet theory, sceptics tolerate contributions from all viewpoints, even those they think are wrong. The idea of holding a scientific debate is that everybody can show up with their arguments, trying to shoot the theories and claims of others down, and those arguments stand or fall on their merits. (And people with pro-AGW arguments ought to be equally welcome.) But neither is there any compulsion to do so. You can argue if you’re interested, or annoyed, you think it is important, or you know something you think would be useful to others, or are hoping to persuade people to your position, or you simply want to test your own idea out against some decent competition, to see if it survives. But you could equally well think something somebody says is wrong but not care enough to argue about it.

        We don’t *have* to correct every instance of every wrong idea on the internet! :-) And quite often, arguing only encourages them.

        I will grant, if we could not find examples of sceptics calling out other sceptics for putting out wacky ideas, it would be hypocritical to complain about climate scientists failing to call out other climate scientists. But we can. I’ve spent many hours arguing with other sceptics – and I’ll express my disagreement with what they say (though not their right to say it) any time it’s required of me. I will agree it’s not always my main priority, though.

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    • aaron says:

      Don’t over-reach in conclusions.
      Don’t suggest/project outcomes on bad assumptions.
      Don’t use emotive language to describe observations and analysis. Don’t characterize trends/observations as good or bad.
      Don’t be misleading.

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  19. Antonio (AKA "Un físico") says:

    The All Parliamentary Party Climate Change Group (APPCCG) before dealing about “Communicating Risk and Uncertainty around Climate Change”, should read my document “Refuting IPCC’s claims on climate change” located at:
    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4r_7eooq1u2VHpYemRBV3FQRjA
    Overthere they can check that, at present, the climatic risk is only in the imagination of certain “scientist”. And that the uncertainty, at least during the next centuries, is all what climatologist will get from a honest climatic change study.

    [Whether there is a climatic risk is not the subject of the post... -- cheers, Tamsin]

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  20. Tamsin:  It’s just a statement that climate scientists tend not to describe their results in terms of risk, and that it might be useful if they did. That’s all.

    As I pointed out in my first comment; once a realistic assessment of model uncertainty is made, you’re no longer in a position to say anything about risk worth betting a ships peanut on, let alone national economies and energy blackouts in hospitals.

    So if the debate is to be reframed in terms of risk, (and the word counts on the early draft of the AR5 synthesis report I have just made available at my website indicate it is), then the uncertainty issue will have to be dealt with more honestly, or the perception will be that it’s another attempt to ‘move on’ from unfinished business and gloss over the cracks in the argument’s foundations.

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    • Stephen says:

      Isn’t uncertainty about risk, especially when the tail end of that probability distribution would lead to catastrophic consequences a good reason to insure against that eventuality, at least until it has been shown otherwise?

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      • Nullius in Verba says:

        That type of argument is sometimes known to logicians as a ‘Pascal’s Wager’.

        Pascal (famous mathematician) argued that one should certainly choose to believe in God, because if God exists then the rewards and punishments are infinite, the probability is non-zero, and the risk, which is the probability times the difference in costs, is therefore infinite too.

        Unfortunately, the argument works just as well to justify making sacrifices to the Aztec Climate God Tlaloc, because He is a God You Really Do Not Want To Be Angry at you. It indicates a major problem with the logic.

        Essentially, the argument works by saying that no matter how small the probability of a theory being right, it can always be outweighed by a big enough threat. It’s a very neat way to get round a lack of evidence.

        The problem with the argument is that the unknown risks are not entirely one-way. There is a risk that if you *do* take action, that things could still go wrong, and having held back economic development we would no longer have the resources to cope. We can invent catastrophes and disasters just as easily, that follow from taking action on climate, and we can make the same ‘never mind the unknown probability just look at the risk!’ appeal to justify it. That’s the trouble with fallacious arguments – once constructed, they can be adapted to prove just about anything!

        So just as a matter of principle, we still require solid evidence for something before believing in it.

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        • aaron says:

          It also ignores that uncertainty already exists and doesn’t decrease with GHG concentration. Risk is as at least as likely to decrease with warming as it is to increase. An increase in temperature may prevent unknown catastrophes from happening. It may have already do. It may have cause all kind of benefits we simple aren’t aware of. That’s uncretainty.

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          • aaron says:

            Sorry for the typo and editing mistakes.

            I’d fix them and repost, but I often make things worse in editing (that’s how the big one happened).

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      • aaron says:

        The kew word there is “insure”.

        You insure, you set asside the resources respond and create excess capacit. You create mutiple production and distribution lines to respond to the eventuallity. You reduce risks where it is known. You develop adaptability to be able to endure the specific, unpredictable events.

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  21. Tamsin Edwards says:

    I’ve added two corrections to the end of the post, and am working my way through replies (between editing code)…

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    • ATheoK says:

      Editing code pays bills; so edit code comes first. We off the clock folks can wait till you’re off the clock and caught up on your personal stuff too.
      The climate’s not in a rush, so why should we be.

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  22. Jaime Jessop says:

    4. “Viewed in this [risk-based] way, the problem is not whether to make a decision based on uncertain or incomplete information, which is nearly always the case in other spheres (Chris: “Why should climate change be a special case required to have absolute certainty?”). The problem is whether the decision made is to bet against mainstream climate science:”

    This is just so wrong and goes straight to the very heart of the seemingly intractable disconnect between ‘mainstream climate science’ and the sceptical ‘general public’ (including, of course, a good few other earth scientists – among them, geophysicists, meteorologists, atmospheric physicists etc.). It is this assumption that mainstream cli-sci, not being a ‘special case’, does not need to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that its conclusions are valid. It must only show that there is a ‘risk’, not even a demonstrably, measurably very high risk. WRONG. When billions of public money are being poured into funding for research and mitigation measures, when people’s lives are being dramatically affected by such measures, when landscapes are being blighted by industrial scale renewables projects, it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that cli-sci can demonstrate a very significant high risk, based not on climate scientists’ expert opinions – however well informed those opinions may be – but on real world data. We have a glut of expert opinion but a dearth of really conclusive real world data. Therein lies the problem.

    Sceptics do not ‘bet against mainstream science’ – they question the lack of data upon which mainstream cli-sci supposedly gets its authority to make risk-based announcements. I noticed a blog post yesterday which neatly demonstrates what the cli-sci hierarchy of authority SHOULD be:

    1. Data (empirical evidence)
    2. Climate scientists
    3. Other scientists
    4. Lay people

    The PROBLEM is that 1. has regularly been superseded by 2. in the drive to get the world to act on climate change.

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    • Latimer Alder says:

      +a googol! Spot on Jaime.

      I’d add that one of the reasons many sceptics are sceptical is that the ‘standard of proof’ accepted by climate scientists to be absolute fact is so ludicrously low.

      The only requirement to pass ‘peer/pal-review’ seems to be that a paper is not obviously bonkers, that nobody has done it before and that it is ‘interesting’. And also that it does nothing to harm the current or future career of the reviewer or his/her tribe.

      Once this extremely low ‘hurdle’ has been overcome, it seems to take on a new and overwhelming mystic significance. It has been placed in the sacred canon of ‘The Literature’ and becomes Unassailable Truth. It can be quoted from and cited and have all sorts of honours bestowed upon it. But nobody ever seems to worry about the elementary question of ‘is it right’? No academic ever got to fame and fortune (or the next grant) by proving another one wrong or mistaken

      Out here in reality-land, the first thing that a good researcher would do before relying on such a paper is do their level best to kick the sh*t out of it. To try to break it. That’s what engineering types (and many sceptics have some form of engineering background) do all day every day. its in their DNA. They accept something as true only when they (or others) have done their utmost to find the flaws. When engineers ignore stuff, bad things happen…bridges fall down, aeroplanes crash, shuttles explode, people’s careers end suddenly and in disgrace.

      But clisci and academe rewards only novelty and originality. Not correctness. The well-documented sad case of Mann’s hockey stick is a perfect example. It was new, different, had a beneficial effect on people’s careers and status, so nobody within the academic system bothered themselves about whether it was right. Either in its conclusions or its method. It was accepted without question. And not until outsiders began to look in detail at the ‘original and novel’ methods did its flaws become obvious.

      So it is no wonder that we look at clisci through jaded eyes. We see standards of work that we might just accept as being a good start from a fresh graduate trainee…but needing an awful of more investment before we could bring it into the mainstream of thinking. And yet these are portrayed to us with the certainty that only a True Believer can muster as absolute truths. And we are labelled as shills or deniers for our raised eyebrows and lack of faith.

      If you want to communicate clisci, you might start by telling us not what steps were taken to ‘prove’ a paper right..but what were taken to try to show it is wrong, and how it overcame those obstacles A cursory ‘review’ by a possibly interested party is absolutely no substitute for a proper engineering-quality shakedown.

      So, please don’t pretend to yourselves or us that the academic method is the premier way of understanding the climate. It isn’t. It’s own methods and structures are pretty unfit for the purpose we the public need it to achieve. Since it’s the best we currently have, I guess we need to live with it. But you all need to be aware of its flaws…and not present as purveyors of anything better than a flawed vision arrived at by inadequate methods. You fool nobody but yourselves if you do otherwise.

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    • andrew adams says:

      Well there’s tons of data out there for anyone to look at and play with. Whether they have the necessary skills to interpret it and work out what it is actually telling us is something else.

      But we don’t have data for the future and it’s what might happen in the future whihc we are largely concerned with.

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      • Latimer Alder says:

        And not having the data for the future means that we need to be sure that everything we think we know about today is of the highest quality and tested to the most rigorous standards.

        Not allowed to wash around in a sea of mediocre unchecked untested vague models supposedly based on shonky data where the criteria for acceptance is not ‘its right’, but ‘its novel’.

        I’d hazard a guess that if you were required to make a long journey by air you’d prefer to travel in a plan with a good track record of safety, a great reputation and a reliable service history.

        But if your choice would instead be a ‘novel’ and ‘interesting’ untested aircraft, go right ahead. But don’t expect me to join you. Especially if the design team has been composed of characters who find Excel and competent record keeping beyond them.

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      • Jaime Jessop says:

        There’s tons of data and it shows conclusively that climate change has happened, is happening and probably will continue to happen, much of which we can positively attribute to natural climate forcings. It’s just that little bit of rather minor climate change (warming) occurring since the Industrial Revolution that is in dispute, i.e. with regard to the degree (if any) contributed by the combustion of fossil fuels.

        The data can be interpreted, as we have seen, in many different ways, however there are no really conclusive studies which demonstrate that fossil fuels have been predominantly responsible for 20th century global warming, despite the proclamations of the IPCC. The climate models which were supposed to predict future global warming based on CO2 emissions have all failed miserably in the last 30 years, therefore the logical inference is that, as has been the case for the last billion years, climate is being forced naturally and human CO2 emissions have at best only a modest impact or are negligible.

        There is a huge amount of geological and historical data which suggests very strongly that climate changes with variable natural forcings. All we have to ‘prove’ AGW is a simple physics experiment, a continuous increase of atmospheric CO2 and a very discontinuous general upward trend in temperatures since the 1880′s, much of which looks suspiciously natural in origin (including the discontinuities – ‘pauses’/coolings which AGW models fail to explain but which natural variation can account for). You don’t have to be the Einstein of cli-sci to appreciate these facts.

        AGW climate scientists continue to throw all sorts at the global warming frying pan in order to show that we are altering the climate detrimentally and dangerously, but the pan is Teflon and none of it sticks, it just slides off and lands flat on its back on stony ground.

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        • andrew adams says:

          Yes, of course there is plenty of evidence that climate has changed naturally in the past without any assistance from humans. There is also plenty of evidence that one of the factors which can cause climate to change naturally is the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The well established existence of the greenhouse effect itself is powerful evidence of this.

          Therefore we have an increase in global temperatures coupled with change in the composition of the atmosphere pf a kind which has not only been demonstrated to affect temperatures in the past but has a well understood physical mechanism behind it.

          If the increase in GHG levels was “natural” then people would have no problem whatsoever attributing the recent rise in global temperatures to it but somehow because it’s human in origin they put up a virtually insurmountable burden of proof.

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          • Latimer Alder says:

            ‘Insurmountable burden of proof’??

            Most of the ‘climate science’ literature isn’t even checked for arithmetic, let alone approaching an insurmountable burden of proof.

            Here’s Prof. Jones before Parliament

            ‘The most startling observation came when he was asked how often scientists reviewing his papers for probity before publication asked to see details of his raw data, methodology and computer codes. “They’ve never asked,” he said.

            Phil Jones has published over 200 papers and was the ‘curator’ for the CRU datasets. And yet nobody has ever looked in detail at his work.

            Even when I was a wee schoolid, our exams were independently checked. Not self-marked.

            But it seems climos are so infallible and so incapable of error that The Literature on which predictions of imminent doom are based..and the our models which supposedly back those up..have all been produced without those elementary precautions being necessary.

            To return to my air journey analogy, Anthony. you are now sitting in your seat at the end of the runaway and the Captain announces: ‘Welcome to Climatology Airways. We think we’ve probably got enough fuel to get across the sea, but we didn’t bother to check. The guy who filled it up has a fancy title and we’re really sure that he knows how to convert between kilos and gallons and pounds and gets the temperature corrections right. He normally has a guy called Harry to help him with the sums but Harry’s off beating his head against a wall today. Oh – and the left hand tank gauge might be playing up a bit but we’ll not bother with that either – will only give ammo to those who dislike CA. Happy flying’

            Insurmountable burden of proof? I don’t think so. Fails to achieve the rigorous scrutiny expected in a primary school maths class more like.

            Ref: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/cif-green/2010/mar/01/phil-jones-commons-emails-inquiry

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          • Jaime Jessop says:

            Andrew, you say;

            “There is also plenty of evidence that one of the factors which can cause climate to change naturally is the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The well established existence of the greenhouse effect itself is powerful evidence of this.

            Therefore we have an increase in global temperatures coupled with change in the composition of the atmosphere pf a kind which has not only been demonstrated to affect temperatures in the past but has a well understood physical mechanism behind it.

            This is probably not the best place to get into an in-depth discussion on the ‘evidence’ for atmospheric CO2 – natural or man-made – ‘causing’ global warming. I would briefly point out the following though:

            1. CAGW hinges on theoretical, unproven feedback mechanisms from the far more powerful greenhouse gas, water vapour, as you well know. CO2 is weakly contributory to global warming and its effect diminishes exponentially with increasing concentration, hence CO2 concentrations in the past have been ten times what they are presently and the oceans have not boiled off the face of the earth either as a direct result of CO2 or w.v. feedbacks. How you can say that the demonstrable radiative greenhouse warming from CO2 is powerful evidence in itself that CO2 causes climate change, I really don’t know.

            2. Evidence for natural CO2 concentrations causing CC is tentative to say the very least. A correlation between atmospheric CO2 and temperatures can be demonstrated but the cause/effect relation cannot be teased out of this with any real scientific certainty. Increasing global temps will naturally lead to enhanced plant growth which will naturally drive increasing CO2 release. There is also evidence throughout the geological record that CO2 lags temperature increases in many cases.

            3. There also remains the rather thorny problem of explaining why, with greenhouse gases supposedly the highest they have been for several hundreds of thousands of years, temperatures have not responded accordingly. During that period, global temperatures have been much higher than they are today with CO2 around 100ppm less than it is today, or are you disputing this?

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  23. In surveys conducted in the United States, only 36% of respondents indicated trust in the mainstream media on the topic of global warming (see Leiserowitz et al 2013). It is an abysmal figure.

    The surprisingly low figure indicates not just apathy but active resistance in the general public when it comes to being educated or communicated to on the topic of global warming. Skepticism and a superficial concern for the environment are more widespread and run more deeper than currently acknowledged.

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  24. manacker says:

    Good post, Tamsin.

    Thanks.

    Max

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  25. Chief Hydrologist says:

    Hi Tamsin,

    I have belatedly added you to my bookmaks toolbar. A very limited set of climate sites – you and Judith Curry.

    ‘Finally, the presence of vigorous climate variability presents significant challenges to near-term climate prediction (25, 26), leaving open the possibility of steady or even declining global mean surface temperatures over the next several decades that could present a significant empirical obstacle to the implementation of policies directed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions (27). However, global warming could likewise suddenly and without any ostensive cause accelerate due to internal variability. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the climate system appears wild, and may continue to hold many surprises if pressed. ‘ http://www.pnas.org/content/106/38/16120.full

    A ‘significant empirical obstacle’ presumably means that should the near term evolution of climate not accord with the standard model then the public and politicians might conclude that they had been sold a lemon and pull faces at climate scientists accordingly. The new paradigm of a wild climate system implies that it is not merely possible but probable that surface temps will be constrained for another decade to three.

    This is the worst of all possible outcomes. A wild climate that may shift unpredictably into a new and potentially catastrophic configuration combined with policy paralysis. The human condition is occasionally a total hoot that way.

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  26. Ulric Lyons says:

    “It seems clear that no one can know exactly what’s going to happen–the climate is a hugely complex system, and there’s a lot going on”….[The vast majority of the world's scientists] may be wrong. But it seems to me foolish to bet that they are certainly wrong.“ – Rebecca Henderson, Business and Environment Institute faculty co-chair, HBS”

    Foolish to bet that they are certainly wrong about what? a heap of uncertainties and very little understanding of natural variation forcing, and illusory notions about Arctic amplification. Moreover the mainstream ignore those who have been predicting this weaker solar activity and its immediate regional impacts of severe cold outbreaks (including the means to say when they will occur). The most foolish thing to do would be to put ANY trust in them.

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  27. Tamsin Edwards says:

    Thanks for your comments so far, and sorry to others frustrated that theirs were stuck in moderation over the weekend (I was moreorless offline). Looking now, on intermittent wifi…

    Tamsin

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  28. Since Tamsin has given us nine lessons, I thought I should structure my reply around the nine carols she sadly forgot to include: responses to her versicles

    1. God rest you merry, Gentlemen.
    The most important thing to remember in climate communication is that the general public, for the most part, simply don’t care. Climate scientists spend far too much time talking to other climate scientists, green campaigners, and climate sceptics, and all three groups are very atypical, in that they think climate change is interesting and important. Most ordinary people don’t.

    2. Jesus Christ the apple tree.
    People have no problem with uncertainty; they deal with it all the time. They get confused only because people say silly things like “the science is settled”, or “snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”, especially when such over-confident predictions are swiftly proved false. Most climate scientists are sensible enough to avoid saying such obviously silly things, but they seem more comfortable than they should be when green campaigners say them.

    3. Hush! My dear, lie still and slumber.
    The Higgs boson was (and indeed still is) a statistical result, but I ask you to imagine how physicists would have reacted if CERN had announced that “based on expert judgement” the existence of the Higgs boson had gone from very likely (90%) to extremely likely (95%): both the inadequacy of the error model and choice of such strong language for marginally significant (by physics standards) conclusions would have had people rolling in the aisles. The comparisons, frequently made, between climate science and particle physics/quantum mechanics/gravity are frankly laughable.

    4. In the bleak mid-winter.
    Risk is indeed a good way to frame the problem, but I don’t think things will end the way you expect. The standard human heuristic is to deal only with “real” risks, that is risks which are immediate and serious, and currently normal people don’t think the risk of climate change is immediate or serious. For distant risks people usually adopt a “wait and see” strategy. This may or may not be sensible, but it is how people work.

    5. A virgin most pure.
    The day climate scientists decided to enter the climate communication battleground was the day they lost the war. Not because they are bad at street fighting (though frankly most of them are utterly terrible), but because it’s simply the wrong thing to do. It is part of our job as scientists to explain what we do to anyone who will listen; it is not part of our job to preach that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and society must repent and believe in the gospel to avoid being damned for all eternity.

    6. The first Nowell.
    Journalists have little statistical training, but to be brutally frank most climate scientists have little statistical training. (Neither do I, but at least I know that I don’t.) A field that thought (and apparently still thinks) that the MBH hockey stick was statistically valid, and where many practitioners apparently don’t understand the difference between uniform and uninformative priors, is in no position to preach to anyone.

    7. Here we come a-wassailing
    Editors are shallow, generally, because people are shallow generally, see 1.

    I have friends who really believe that climate change is imminent and dangerous, and who have greatly altered the way they run their lives to reflect this fact, but they are rare indeed. If you go to cocktail parties, most of the guests will, of course, tell you that they believe in global warming, but don’t make the mistake of asking them what they personally have done about it, as you are likely to get the answer “I do my recycling”.

    I was once on a university committee intended to assess medium term threats and opportunities facing Oxford, and climate change was suggested by one of the organisers. I put it as my number five concern (largely based on worries about energy security and prices), and was the only person among two dozen leading academics and senior administrators who put climate change anywhere in their top five. Remember, this is the home of the Smith School and the Martin Institute, based in one of the greenest cities in England.

    8. The holly and the ivy.
    There is indeed a huge range in climate scepticism, and James’s classification is only a beginning, but it is a good beginning. It is also useful to recognise that vociferous opposition mostly comes from the policy end of the spectrum, not the pure science end: if people weren’t proposing to spend billions of pounds on tackling the “problem”, then most of us wouldn’t care whether or not you were exaggerating it. But because people are proposing to spend billions of pounds, other people would like to be sure that the problem is real and not exaggerated, and the proposed solutions might actually have a whelk’s chance in a supernova of helping.

    9. A spotless rose.
    The second great error of climate communicators (after thinking that ordinary people care) is to fail to realise how badly they are distrusted by climate sceptics: if advocated by a climate communicator then even motherhood and apple pie would come under suspicion. This is not because you are all bad apples, but simply because you share a barrel with some horribly rotten ones. Until the rotten apples have been cleared out there will be no true progress; it really is as simple as that.

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    • Steve Fitzpatrick says:

      Great reply. Maybe someone named Martin could nail it to the front doors of climate science centers and ‘green’ organizations.

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    • andrew adams says:

      It is part of our job as scientists to explain what we do to anyone who will listen; it is not part of our job to preach that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and society must repent and believe in the gospel to avoid being damned for all eternity.

      If scientists’ work leads them to believe that here is a potential threat to human life or civilisation then they should certainly speak up and try to bring this to wider attention. Science does not exist in a moral vacuum.

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      • john F. Pittman says:

        andrew adams: As the author stated “”The standard human heuristic is to deal only with “real” risks, that is risks which are immediate and serious, and currently normal people don’t think the risk of climate change is immediate or serious.”"

        Many people believe that there is a racist part to the policy of CAGW. The persons we are not helping are dying and denying them the benefits of modern electricity is a moral issue as well. Both CAGW and moral obligation to help are beliefs.

        At present, we seem to be able to afford neither.

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        • andrew adams says:

          john F. Pittman,

          I’m not sure exactly what “the policy of CAGW” is, I’m guessing you mean the view that it is necessary to adopt policies to mitigate the threat of AGW. Given that this view is predicated on AGW being a global problem which will is likely to impact people in developing countries more than those in societies like ours it is absurd to depict it as “racist”. Nor are we advocating that people in developing countries should not have access to electricity or be given whatever kind of assistance they need to improve their lives.

          I don’t know where you are based but here in the UK there is quite a large overlap between those arguing against policies to prevent AGW and those arguing against the government’s policy of protecting overseas aid from wider spending cuts

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      • Latimer Alder says:

        If that were to occur, then maybe you might be right.

        But you’d have to be a very odd scientist indeed (or not a scientist at all) to look at the evidence gathered so far and come to that conclusion.

        I note also that a ‘potential threat’ covers a multitude of sins ..from imminent annihilation to some possible minor inconveniences many generations away. Those who take your view seem to be incapable of distinguishing the latter from the former. I bet they’re fun at parties!

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        • andrew adams says:

          Well that has occurred, and a large number of scientists have looked at the evidence and come to that conclusion.

          And of course ‘potential threat’ covers a multitude of sins – there are a lot areas where climate change is likely to have an impact to a greater of lesser extent. Given the uncertainties involved and the different impacts in different regions I guess it’s likely that in some cases the effects might be quite manageable. But equally in other cases they are likely to be more serious.

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      • manacker says:

        I’d agree with Latimer Alder.

        Scientists should “do” science.

        Let advocates “do” advocacy.

        These are two different job descriptions and is especially true for scientists, who are being funded by taxpayers.

        Max

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      • Steve Fitzpatrick says:

        andrew adams,
        “Science does not exist in a moral vacuum.”
        For sure not, but neither do the rest of us, and more to the point, no matter how much they may believe it, climate scientists most certainly do not stand on a higher moral level than everyone else (see the UEA emails for plenty of evidence of this).

        If climate scientists are truly alarmed about the down-stream potential for catastrophe from GHG driven warming, then they should lay out the data and analysis clearly and without exaggeration, warts and all, and let the public judge if the risk is currently worth the cost of acting upon it. Publicly active climate scientists should start acting with a lot less arrogance, a lot more humility, and a lot less claimed technical certainty. Those changes would go a long way toward starting the reasoned public debate that is needed. And that debate is needed, but not if it is based on exaggerated claims of risk, exaggerated certainty, and endless Schneiderian ‘scare stories’ of future doom.

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        • andrew adams says:

          Steve Fitzpatrick,

          Who’s claiming that climate scientists stand on a higher moral level than anyone else? I’m certainly not claiming they are any better or worse than the rest of us.

          As for laying out the evidence for the public to judge, well that’s what the IPCC does and so do a lot of individual scientists as well. I don’t accept that in general they either understate the uncertainties or exaggerate the risks – I think they portray the science as they see it, which is exactly what they should do. “Skeptics” are entitled to take a different view of the risks and uncertainties if they wish but they don’t get to dictate to scientists what conclusions they should draw from their own science.

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          • Steve Fitzpatrick says:

            And what do you make of the endless scare stories? The claims of two meter sea level rise by 2100? The ‘much of Earth’s land area will soon be uninhabitable’ claims? The extreme weather claims? Do you think that Schneider was having a bad day when he suggested ‘frightening scenarios’ are needed to motivate the public, or do you think he was being oh-so-very-honest with his colleagues about striking a balance between honesty and effectiveness? (See above “9. A spotless rose.”)

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          • RayG says:

            I recommend that you read Donna Laframboise’s two recent books on the IPCC as well as her commentary on the activists who play large roles in drafting the IPCC’s SPMs before you put forth the IPCC as a “Gold Standard.”

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          • andrew adams says:

            I think Schneider’s remarks have been wilfully misinterpreted. I think he was honestly trying to discuss the difficulties in communicating honestly but effectively.
            Of course you will always find people making exaggerated claims, but I see very few coming from scientists themselves. The best example I can think of is the “methane bomb” which a lot of other mainstream scientists have been quick to pour cold water on. Of course there are a range of views within the mainstream and some scientists are more pessimistic than others about likely outcomes.

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          • Steve Fitzpatrick says:

            andrew adams,
            OK, here is what Schneider actually said:
            “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”

            It is hard for me to see a lot of room for misrepresentation there. He talks of “scary scenarios”, the need for media coverage, and no surprise, what we get from climate science is, well, scary stories and breathless press releases. He says clearly there needs to be a balance between being ‘effective’ and being honest. Hard to see how that means anything other than sacrificing clear honesty to achieve the desired public reaction.

            Actually, if there is a single statement that outlines the basic problem I see in climate science it is that by Schneider… sacrifice honesty for achieving ‘what is right’. Ends justifies means. We are absolutely right and you are absolutely wrong, so anything is justified. Obnoxious, arrogant, and morally infantile. Zero respect for the rights of fellow citizens to make their own decisions. Once again, see “9. A spotless rose” above.

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    • Doug McNeall says:

      Lots to agree with here Jonathan, but I think your final point is a bit off. I’ve made public my thoughts that focusing on policy is an error, but I don’t think it is the primary reason that people loudly distrust climate science. I think plenty of people have motive to manufacture mistrust in climate science (indeed, your own point 8 suggests this), and the idea that “clearing out a few rotten apples” would restore trust amongst climate skeptics is just wrong.

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      • Ahh, the old “manufacture mistrust” canard. What’s next? “Fossil fuel funded deniers”?

        The primary reason why people distrust climate science is that some climate scientists have behaved very badly, and other climate scientists have reacted to this not by clearing up the mess but rather by giving the malefactors prizes and awards. The refusal of climate communicators to understand this simple point is beginning to look willful.

        The primary reason why people express this distrust loudly is that the solutions currently being proposed are extremely expensive and almost certainly ineffective. There’s no great mystery or subtlety here.

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        • Doug McNeall says:

          Ah no, those are the reasons that *you* have for not trusting climate science, and I fear that no amount of open publication and data availability, open review, or public engagement is going to change that.

          All that matters is some kind of public denunciation. And after that happens, climate science will magically become a real subject in your eyes?

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          • I really don’t have anything to add, beyond pointing you to Paul’s comment below. There’s none so blind as those who will not see.

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          • Steve Fitzpatrick says:

            Doug,
            No, those are the reasons that *lots* of people have for not trusting climate science.

            Open data availability and access to publications is nice. But utter scientific honesty, integrity, and sincere respect for those who in good faith disagree with you is far more important. Not trying to block publications that you think provide ‘ammunition to the enemy’ is far more important. Insisting that reasonable standards of behavior be adhered to as a *minimum requirement* for climate scientists is far more important.

            You seem like a very reasonable fellow. But I do wonder if you can appreciate just how badly some climate scientists have behaved (think Gleick, many UEA emails). Or how little has been done by climate science organizations (or individual climate scientists, for that matter) to denounce the ‘bad apples’ and publicly insist that such behavior is absolutely unacceptable in climate science, *just as it would be in any other field of science*. These are people who should not be involved in climate science… hell, they shouldn’t be involved in science at all. When climate scientists recognize this, progress on reestablishing trust will be almost automatic.

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      • Thanks Doug – you make J’s point for him. You fail to realise the mess you (plural) are in, and you fail to listen to the simple point about rotten apples made time and time again.

        Originally I was planning to comment on this thread, but there’s no point because the people who ought to listen aren’t listening. But congrats to all those who have written excellent comments.

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      • geronimo says:

        “I think plenty of people have motive to manufacture mistrust in climate science (indeed, your own point 8 suggests this), and he idea that “clearing out a few rotten apples” would restore trust amongst climate skeptics is just wrong.”

        I wonder why you have reason to believe there are people who want to manufacture trust in climate science? Take a step back and think about what you’re saying. Who are these people who want the world to go into heating overload and see their grandchildren left ravaged by the effects of AGW?

        I don’t believe there are many people who support the mainstream who aren’t convinced that they’re trying to make the world a better place for their grandchildren, ( Although there are quite some who don’t for one minute believe in the apocalyptic scenarios on the IPCC report who have spotted an opportunity to move vast sums of taxpayer’s money in their own direction), so why do you believe in evil people trying to de-rail the science and kill the planet for their own grandchildren, why don’t you take it that they just don’t believe you can foretell the future.

        If you want to improve communications, by which I’m taking it that you want people to believe what you’re telling them, then why not try to understand their position rather than give them one that is easy for you to make look “immoral”?

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        • garhighway says:

          Are there people who consciously wish for the worst projected effects of AGW to come to pass? I doubt it. Are there some who, in their desire to make next quarter’s or year’s numbers, are willing to allow themselves to be perusaded that AGW isn’t real? Of course there are. As was once said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

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  29. Jaime Jessop says:

    I have much that I could say in response to the above, which would probably go on a bit, so I will try to keep this brief.

    1.”Chris encouraged talking about opportunities, rather than threats, wherever possible.”
    4. “Where possible, talk in terms of risk not uncertainty”

    If one interprets a threat as a risk, then the above two comments would appear to be incompatible with one another.

    In relation to the latter comment, surely the whole issue of climate change/anthropogenic global warming has, for some twenty five years now, been very forcefully expressed in terms of risk (future threats), with the IPCC stating increased certainty with respect to that risk in successive Assessment Reports? To my view, the expression of ‘uncertainty’ – rather than degree of confidence – is a relatively recent phenomenon brought about by the failure of the real climate to behave as the models have predicted.

    “3. People are uncomfortable with uncertainty”

    I think not. The general populace live with uncertainty on a daily basis. It is an integral part of life. I would venture to suggest that scientists and policy makers are most uncomfortable with uncertainty, the former because scientists, quite naturally, require quite high levels of certainty in order to formulate theory, the latter because, if uncertainty is significant, it makes it that much harder to sell policy to an increasingly sceptical public.

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  30. Ruth Dixon says:

    Thanks, Tamsin, for this article. It is a pity, though, that what the IPCC said about the attribution of global warming in AR4 and AR5 is not reported correctly.

    You wrote: “In 2007, the IPCC said the likelihood that most of global warming since the mid-20th century was caused by greenhouse gas emissions was assessed to be greater than 90%. This year they made a similar statement but the likelihood was 95% or greater.”

    In fact, in AR5 the IPCC did not change the attribution confidence level on the role of greenhouse gases from that in AR4.

    AR4 (2007) Chapter 9: “Greenhouse gas forcing has very likely caused most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years.”

    AR5 (2013) Chapter 10: “More than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST) from 1951 to 2010 is very likely due to the observed anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

    And in the AR5 Technical Summary the comparison with AR4 was made explicit: “Consistent with AR4, it is assessed that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 is very likely due to the observed anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”.

    The IPCC definition of very likely has not changed, (AR4 Chapter 1: Very likely > 90% probability; AR5 Chapter 1: Very likely 90–100% probability).

    The ‘extremely likely’ (95–100% probability) statement in AR5 refers to ‘human activities’ (chapter 10) or ‘anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together’ (SPM) and I don’t think that there is an exact parallel statement in AR4 (though please let me know if I am wrong on that). It may not be possible to make this comparison, as the IPCC itself cautions:

    “The AR5 Guidance Note refines the guidance provided to support the IPCC Third and Fourth Assessment Reports. Direct comparisons between assessment of uncertainties in findings in this report and those in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risk of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) are difficult, because of the application of the revised guidance note on uncertainties, as well as the availability of new information, improved scientific understanding, continued analyses of data and models, and specific differences in methodologies applied in the assessed studies. For some climate variables, different aspects have been assessed and therefore a direct comparison would be inappropriate.” (Technical Summary of AR5 (TS-4))

    I am sure that the IPCC authors were very careful indeed with the language that they used in these crucial attribution statements, so I don’t think I’m just being pedantic pointing this out. In an article that expects accuracy and statistical insights from journalists, I would like to see equal precision in reporting the scientific statements.

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    • A C Osborn says:

      I am surpriseded that you cannot see the difference between

      AR4 (2007) Chapter 9: “Greenhouse gas forcing has very likely caused most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years.”

      And

      AR5 (2013) Chapter 10: “More than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST) from 1951 to 2010 is very likely due to the observed anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

      How do you interpret “Most” just “More Than Half” or 60%, 70%, 80%, 90% or 100% of the Increase?

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  31. Christopher Shaw says:

    I am still not clear what it is people are meant to do, what it is that is meant to happen, once everyone has the same understanding of uncertainty as climate scientists.

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    • Perhaps once everyone has the same understanding of uncertainty as climate scientists they will be inspired to raise their carbon foorprints to match the climate scientist norm?

      As Michael H. Kelly memorably wrote

      But a few mails later Phil Jones is off to Delhi and Seattle. This makes me unhappy again. No, it makes me laugh. People flying all over the planet on an urgent quest to stop other people flying all over the planet always do.
      Shit, now Keith is going to Austria in a few days, after having just returned from some other unspecified travels. I am happy for him. All right, I resent it. I shouldn’t be reading this. This is like one of the books my mum reads about glamorous people going to glamorous places.

      Next, Phil Jones goes to Madrid, Pune, Chicago. His interlocutor Kevin Trenberth one-ups him with Beijing, Hawaii, New Zealand. I am finding this kind of thing amusing again. Laughter is really God’s way of making up to us for the scarcity of ground-to-air missiles. Pune? Pune? They are going to places I have literally never heard of. They have invented a whole country just to be able to go somewhere I never will. A special country that only climate scientists can go to. Maybe Pune is the country where all the predicted sunny weather is happening.

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      • Latimer Alder says:

        What sort of a grant should I apply to the public purse for in order to receive a round the world air ticket a la Jones & Trenberth? I have a few months to spare, could probably knock up a .ppt or two with a couple of graphettes and enjoy hanging around on exotic beaches and propping up equally exotic bars

        It seems that – in a surprisingly counter-intuitive demonstration of the Law of Unintended Consequences – the major beneficiaries of the boom in ‘climate science’ and ‘climate science communication’ are the international airline companies, and the BigOil companies who supply their fuel.

        Mother Gaia sometimes reveals her hand in very strange ways.

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      • Steve Fitzpatrick says:

        Hilarious, cutting, but most of all, true.

        ‘You little people simply must reduce your carbon footprint. I figured that out at a climate conference in Tahiti, which I flew to First Class, paid for by public funds.’

        I would have thought it difficult to find a less sympathetic person than Leona Helmsley…. until I learned about the behavior of outspoken leaders in climate science.

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  32. To whoever’s moderating this thread: You know that there are lots of people active in the public discussion of climate change-related issues on an ongoing basis. Bumping off contributions in this fashion doesn’t look good and does disservice to the PLOS ethos and brand name.

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  33. Peter Melia says:

    “Lessons: Decision paralysis might be reduced by talking in terms of confidence rather than uncertainty. But perhaps more importantly…”
    I like the American tv weather people who will explain that they are uncertain as to whether it will (say) rain tomorrow, by saying…”There will be a xx percentage of rain tomorrow”.
    The British weather persons will quite cheerfully say that it might rain tomorrow.
    Can we say then that there are three ways of representing that which is not fully known, as “uncertainty”,”confidence” & “percentage of”?

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  34. G. Karst says:

    I am fed up with the idea that CAGW’s propaganda failure is a failure to communicate. The fact that most people have swallowed the evil of CO2 and regard it as the most pressing problem, speaks loudly, at the success of the CAGW agenda. There has been NO failure to communicate.

    What has happened, is that the terrible science, exaggerations and falsified data is catching up to the people, who thought fear could usher in a new socialist utopia. Using climate as a proxy for social change was the error and morally wrong.

    Social change should be discussed on it’s own merit and not camouflaged by invented catastrophe. There are plenty of dangers in the universe. Some may even be extinction events. WE must face and adapt to them all. Reality IS a bitch. Weather (climate) control science is not a delivered technology yet… and those who think it is… are sadly deluded. GK

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  35. Steve Fitzpatrick says:

    Hi Tamsin,

    Good post. I especially appreciate noting that all ‘skeptics’ are not the same creature, because they really are not.

    It makes little sense to just say that some people are skeptical “trend, attribution, impacts, and policy”, because sound policy, including a rational risk versus cost assessment, requires the multiplication of probabilities of these things. While many ‘skeptics’ accept a high probability of reasonably accurate measured trends, the probabilities of accurate attribution, accurate projected warming, consequent dire impacts, and the adoption of effective public policies to reduce warming are much lower, and generally decline in the order given. Many projected negative impacts have great uncertainty in magnitude (eg sea level increases), and some appear to be little more than wild speculation (eg catastrophic tipping points) with miniscule probabilities. All positive impacts (eg increased crop yields from higher CO2, more rapid economic growth/prosperity, and consequently lower future rates of population growth due to inexpensive energy) no matter how certain, seem to never make it into the discussion of policy.

    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, everything I have read and seen suggests there is very little chance the costly ‘energy solutions’ so often proposed (and sometimes imposed!) in wealthy countries, like wind farms, solar cell subsidies, burning wood chips, bans on fracking for recovery of natural gas, etc. can make a meaningful impact on the trajectory of global CO2 emissions. China, India, Latin America, Oceania, and Africa simply are not going to accept expensive energy that throttles desperately needed economic growth, at least not until they are a lot more wealthy than today, and by that time, atmospheric CO2 will likely be pushing 500 PPM. The more those who are concerned about global warming from CO2 insist on impractically costly ‘green’ alternatives and taxes on carbon instead of pragmatic policies (like a rapid global expansion of nuclear power, fracked natural gas instead of coal, and energy efficiency incentives instead of carbon taxes), the less likely there will be a significant reduction in global CO2 emissions.

    Many skeptics reason, and rightly I think, that implementation of useful policy has a very low probability: accuracy of measured trends: 0.9 probability, accuracy of attribution: 0.7 probability, accuracy of sensitivity and warming projections: 0.33 probability, dire consequences if warming projections are right: 0.2 probability, chance of actually adopting sensible and pragmatic public policy: 0.05. So overall: 0.9 * 0.7 * 0.33 * 0.2 * 0.05 = ~0.2%. Please note that the lowest probability is adoption of sensible and pragmatic policies which will actually make a difference. Those concerned about global warming can have a big influence on that very low probability value by accepting policy compromises which actually will reduce CO2 emissions. Those who favor only ‘green solutions’, which are far too costly, have to stop blocking the kinds of practical alternatives which will actually make a significant reduction in global CO2 emissions.

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  36. ferd berple says:

    Anyone that studies climate science should be aware that there are widespread areas of northern Canada and Russia with tree stumps further north of the current tree line. These trees must have grown since the last ice age 20,000 years ago. And it must have been warmer for quite a long period of time for the forests to get established so far north.

    Yet this simple evidence is completely ignored by so called respectable scientists that tell us that current warming is “unprecedented”. How can warming be unprecedented if it was warmer in the past? Unprecedented means it never happened before.

    un·prec·e·dent·ed
    adjective: unprecedented
    1. never done or known before.

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  37. John West says:

    I’d like to point out that not only are there different types of skeptics and that an individual can be more than one type consistently but also there are various degrees of skepticism. For example I’m skeptical that the trend is perfectly measured but have little doubt of the overall veracity of the conclusion of 20th century warming; I’m more skeptical of the attribution but not so much that I’d object to conceding the point until further data is acquired; I’m even more skeptical of consequences or rather what I consider the over dramatization of consequences considering the 4.5 billion year “history” of the planet; and finally I’m extremely skeptical of a successful worldwide cooperative effort to reduce CO2 emissions.

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  38. Andrew Pattullo says:

    A very nice summary of an interesting discussion. One might replace the term “worry” with “attention”. Clearly we humans can attend to only a limited number of stimuli at one time and so a new high volume signal must displace other signals for us to attend, and one might in addition add in the concept of time proximity of risk as the most immediate threat will clealry dominate over the longer term risk. This is how nature made us and with good reason.

    I must declare that I am one of those sceptics who after following the science and with no particular political or sociological bias has come to the conclusion that there is no balance of evidence supporting the theory that human industrial activity is the main driving force of climate change or global warming, though of course it may well contribute to some degree. In my reading of what is in the public domain from AR5 WG1 it appears the evidence concludes much the same in spite of the 95% confidence statement about human attribution, however my issue is with the way the term “sceptic” is referenced and categorized in the discussion. In my simple view if I am a proper scientist then I must be a sceptic, and my job is no to try and prove, but rather disprove my or any other persons theory. Failure to disprove is strong evidence, finding supporting observations is only of minor assistance without the former.

    I agree that discussing uncertainty alone without the balance of opportunity and risk in view is both confusing and intimidating to many. I am a physician and my patients and I deal with uncertainty continuously. My duty is to honestly declare my uncertainty but also to explain how I have balanced risk and opportunity in the decision making of how to investigate or care for a patient, and to address the issue of contingency. The latter is clearly of high import when managing risk and uncertainty. It is like a chess game where one must think several steps ahead and decide if “x” occurs how will I respond or mitigate?

    I have not seen contingency thinking employed honestly in much of the conversation promoting the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Rather the “precautionary principle” has been applied in a manner that appears to only see risk on one side and value on the other. That is never the outcome of an honest risk/benefit analysis. We can already see some of the uncalculated losses accumulating in terms of the decimated landscapes to grow biofuels, erect windmills and solar farms, the destabililzation of electricity supplies in developed nations and in the rapid escalation of food prices which is most impactful on the vulnerable through the diversion of food crops to fuel. What will be the impact of denying the poorest access to cheap electricity that fuelled the comfortable life we all enjoy?

    I am always apprciateve of Dr. Edwards open minded commentary and the opportunity to participate in this thoughtful type of discussion. I am also very appreciative of any venue that is respectful and is all about science rather than personalities.

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  39. Communicating risk and uncertainty in climate science isn’t such a big problem if it is approached with honesty and humility.

    “We don’t know why our models are so far out of step with climate data, we might have made a mistake with theory, or parameterisations, or data inhomogeneity, or missing variables. So we can’t say much about risk, since currently the ‘projections’ we make contain so much uncertainty.”

    The perceived problem arises because so much money has been poured in, and previously strong claims are hard to back down from without loss of face, and funding.

    The climate science community should be mindful that the most important thing is the integrity of the scientific process. If that is subjugated to the need for ‘keeping up appearances’, trust won’t be regained.

    A good example is the exoneration of the climategate crew by inquiries which were headed by team members like Oxburgh. Being whitewashed by pals is the kiss of death in terms of regaining trust.

    Another is the Briffa hockey stick which relied on a single tree 5 sigma deviant tree ring sample (YAD06) to boost the modern end of the curve skywards. A Realclimate.org post recently claimed it wouldn’t make any difference if it was removed from the series. My comment which showed it made over 1C difference was censored from the discussion.

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    • Andrew Pattullo says:

      Very eloquently put and to the point. There is both a debate about an issue regarding degree, risk, causality and perhaps even future direction attached to global warming/climate change and a parallel and likely more important conflict over the integrity of science and science communication. The latter must be resolved for the benefit of all and in support of the proven tennets of truth finding and dissemination.

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    • aaron says:

      Another problem is the common practice of putting unqualified statements and conclusions into research papers. And the characterization of observations as good or bad. Emotive language in scientific papers isn’t trust inspiring.

      There is also the problem of scientists seemingly willfully ignoring their biases. There is a natural tendency for humans to focus on costs (as the author hints). This trait probably served us evolutionarily, but the author’s assumption that this way of thinking likely served us in the past means that it is appropriate for this novel situation which operates on time scales far beyond it’s evolutionary function is poor.

      There is also the poor assumption that unintended change is bad. And that preventing change reduces uncertainty rather than simply the perception of uncertainty.

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  40. andrew adams says:

    Barry,

    Those points from the Gaurdian piece seem reasonable and pretty uncontroversial. I would just make one point about point 8:

    People know that policy-makers and scientists are human

    Well yes, obviously, and leaving policymakers aside it’s a point often made by climate change “sceptics” about scientists. But it strikes me that when we’re asked to consider this point we’re only asked to consider the negative aspects of human behaviour. So of course scientists can, like the rest of us, be subject to biases, conflicts of interest, the need for self-advancement etc, but they also tend to be driven by curiosity, a passion for their subject and a love of knowledge for its own sake and (again like the rest of us) can display honesty, integrity etc, even if there may be temptations to do otherwise. And most of us are actually capable of exhibiting both the best and the worst human characteristics in different circumstances.

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  41. andrew adams says:

    Hi Tamsin,

    Thanks for an interesting post. I like number 3 in particular – a lot is made of the issue of “uncertainty” in climate science communication nut it’s important that scientists also make clear where they have confidence (and to what degree). Uncertainty and confidence are two sides of the same coin and have to be discussed in tandem.

    I think that no. 9 is right to point out that the issue of trust in sources of information does not apply just to scientists but to sceptics to, given that they are also trying to influence the wider public.

    No. 8 is fine up to a point, of course it’s true that all of us (not just climate “sceptics”) are different and have our own way of approaching complex issues with our associated biases but scientists can’t address everyone individually so they have to an extent make generalisations if they want to communicate with a wide audience.

    My main beef is with no. 1 – I really don’t buy the “finite pool of worry” argument. Obviously people are going to prioritise certain concerns over others and especially in the current economic climate many people are mainly focused on their own and their families’ wellbeing, and don’t have much time to devote to “worrying” about climate change, or they may prefer to devote what time they have to other important areas of concern. But they can still recognise climate change as a genuine concern and accept the need for political action – it doesn’t mean that they have to spend lots of time “worrying” about it. Even I don’t do that and I’m as “hawkish” on the issue as anyone.
    It would be great if everyone had the time or inclination to take a deeper interest or become engaged in the wider political arguments around the issue but that’s obviously not the case, it doesn’t mean though that it’s a waste of time to draw their attention to the problem. And of course climate change has an impact on other issues where people may already have concerns.

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  42. Nullius in Verba says:

    Understanding the IPCC’s uncertainty statements is further complicated by their use of a technical distinction between ‘likelihood’ and ‘confidence’. Likelihood is the probability of an event assuming the current understanding of how things work is correct. Confidence is the probability that the current understanding is correct.

    So, for example, if you have a fair coin that you have extensively tested to make sure it is fair, then you can say that the likelihood of heads coming up is 50% with a confidence of 99%. Confusing eh?

    So you have to watch the IPCC carefully to see if they’re saying ‘likelihood’ or ‘confidence’. The 90% up to 95% thing is *likelihood*. That means that given the current understanding of the physics, as expressed in climate models and so on, during the period 1950-2000 there’s a 95% chance that more than half the observed warming was due to AGW, and a 5% chance that sensitivity is low enough and the natural background variation was high enough that it was less than half due to AGW.

    It basically means that it is very difficult to get the climate models to show even *half* the observed amount of warming without including anthropogenic CO2.

    Note, that says *nothing* about the scientists confidence that the current understanding of the physics is correct, and it therefore isn’t *necessarily* the probability of AGW being true. Unfortunately, that’s what everybody seems to be interpreting it as – sceptics and scientists included. Whether the above was what the IPCC actually intended by it, I don’t know. It’s what they say.

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    • Paul S says:

      Read section 11 of the AR5 uncertainty guidance. The attribution statement fits situation E, which states: ‘Assign a likelihood for the event or outcomes, for which confidence should be “high” or “very high” (see Paragraphs 8-10). In this case, the level of confidence need not be explicitly stated.’

      The fact that no explicit level of confidence is given means you should interpret the statement as enjoying “high” or “very high” confidence.

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      • Nullius in Verba says:

        How high is ‘high’?

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        • Paul S says:

          Confidence levels in AR5 don’t appear to be explicitly quantitative, though AR4 referred to “high” and “very high” as 80% and 90% respectively. The uncertainty guidance link I posted contains a description of how confidence is supposed to judged in AR5.

          Essentially the judgement of “high” or “very high” confidence is based on the existence of multiple independent lines of evidence which are near-unanimous in supporting a contribution within the stated range (>50% since 1950).

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          • Nullius in Verba says:

            Quite so.

            So if you multiply the possibly 80% confidence that the models are correct (which I find hard to figure since we know for a fact that they’re not) by the 90% figure for GHGs causing most of the warming assuming the models are correct, we get an *actual* probability of GHGs causing most of the warming of 72%, yes?

            Sounds a bit different, doesn’t it?

            (It would probably be higher than 72%, since the numbers are lower bounds, and there is some probability of the claim being true even if the models are wrong, but it’s an unknown. Conversely, that 80% is probably just gut feeling, which is notoriously unreliable as a method of scientific calculation.)

            Personally, I think the claim is more likely than not true. 50% of the observed post-1950 warming is not a lot, and implies a low sensitivity that I think many/most ‘lukewarm’ sceptics would not argue too much with. I think the claim is remarkable not for how bold it is, but for how very cautious. I think many sceptics oppose it out of reflex, because of the rhetoric. Nevertheless, it still doesn’t mean quite what people think it means.

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  43. A C Osborn says:

    One of the biggest problems with Climate Change Communication is some of us have good memories and have been around long enough to have seen it all before.
    You were wrong before and you are wrong now.
    Try reading some history instead of gazing at Computer Models, try looking out of the window and realize that what is out there does not match the current Adjusted Temperatures let alone the “Predictions” of the last 20 years.

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  44. BranginH says:

    This looks like another vain attempt to blame communication skills when the real problem is much deeper.

    The ‘science’ is currently unassailable, not because it is in any way well-founded, but because it is a morass of unfalsifiable ever changing assertions.

    The policy response to the science is equally bad. Vast sums of money have been spent in combating the chimera of climate change with no tangible benefits. As far as the UK is concerned we have simply exported our emissions to other countries and imposed financial penalties on every business and citizen in the land in the name of saving the planet.

    As the issue of energy costs climbs the political agenda, the politicians who stampeded to support the Climate Change Act are beginning to see that going green is a vote loser. In contrast to the propaganda spewed out by the BBC and other organs of the MSM, there is now a growing band of journalists who are starting to ask the questions to which the ideologically driven inhabitants of DECC have no answer. The massive cost of renewable energy is a complete and utter waste. There has been, and there is no prospect of, any benefit to the citizens of the world from the enormous sums spent on energy sources that require vast amounts of public subsidy.

    Recent events underline the simple fact that wealth is the best defense to the worst that the weather can throw at us and, as we all know, wealth is built on cheap energy. So the rest of the world will have their energy and they will have it in the way that costs least and in most cases that means burning coal. That is the reality of the global energy story. The wishes of the misguided politicians of the West will simply be ignored. Atmospheric CO2 will continue to rise. Whether that will lead to global warming is moot but within the next 5 years or so science based on observations will answer that question.

    If warming takes off, then climate scientists will no doubt feel justified in the stance they have taken but may well seek to distance themselves from the policy response which will remain ineffective and damaging to mankind irrespective of what temperatures do. If, on the other hand, the period of non-warming continues for 20+ years, the politicians of the day will blame the need for the disastrous mitigation policies on the scientists.

    We live in interesting times.

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  45. Barry Woods says:

    Hopefully people realize that Tamsin is broadly reporting the conference..

    Lots to disagree with:

    However, there is an excellent article in the Guardian, that I think should be essential reading for all the Speakers there and adresses many of the criticisms above

    extract from:
    Guardian: 12 things policy-makers and scientists should know about the public
    http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2013/dec/04/12-things-policy-makers-and-scientists-should-know-about-the-public

    1. There is no such thing as ‘the public’

    There are many different publics which create, form around or can be shaped by different issues. For a thoughtful analysis see Which Publics? When?. That means that there are no simple recipes for engagement, but it is not rocket science either.

    2. People are perfectly capable of understanding complex issues and technologies

    Time and again policy-makers and scientists are surprised by what the ‘average person on the Clapham omnibus’ can grasp when necessary, from the complexities of energy options to the principles of synthetic biology. It requires good expert input and it requires time for reflection and discussion, but it is worth doing.

    3. People want to be able to participate in decisions around policy involving science and technology

    That doesn’t mean we all want to, or that anyone wants to all the time, but people like to know it is happening and many would like to participate directly. Once people are involved, they want to know they are really being listened to and they want to be informed about the outcomes of their involvement.

    4. People are not ‘anti-science’ or ‘anti-technology’

    On the whole people are hugely appreciative of, and excited by the opportunities presented by science and technology. That is balanced by concerns about such things as priorities, alternatives, control and ownership, safety, equity, regulation and governance. So, people may object strongly to specific technologies in some circumstances, and may on occasion seem to treat them as proxies for wider debates. GM being a classic example. If that’s the case, it is the wider debates that need addressing too.

    5. People can be experts too

    People often have knowledge that particular specialists may lack; it may be of local context, it may be a ‘practical’ knowledge that complements academic analysis and it may be highly specialised. People can provide expertise alongside the values and beliefs they bring to any discussion.

    6. People may ask questions which do not occur to experts

    It is very easy to become trapped by one’s expertise and to fail to see the wood for the trees. Indeed this very ability of non-specialists to ask the ‘obvious’ questions and to open up a different way of looking at things is one that recurs in reports of public dialogues.

    7. People are not necessarily interested in science and technology per se

    They often are, as the popularity of the likes of Brian Cox, Alice Roberts and many others attests, but when it gets to policy it is the issues that count.

    8. People know that policy-makers and scientists are human

    That means that they are rightly concerned about potential bias, conflict of interest and all the fallibilities that affect the rest of us, and will expect to see acknowledgement of all those and transparent ways of addressing them.

    9. It is important for policy-makers and scientists to be clear about when they are telling and when they are listening

    Both are important, and true communication is a two-way process. What particularly winds people up is lack of clarity about what is open for influence and what has already been decided.

    10. Public deliberation can help reduce the risks that proposed policy will fail

    Quite apart from saving possible embarrassment, finding out in advance that a particular policy may meet with unexpectedly strong opposition or may not have the effect intended may also save large chunks of money. In other words, if you think dialogue is expensive try conflict.

    11. Re 10 above, public deliberation can also help give confidence to policy-makers

    There will always be differences of view, especially where matters of ethics and beliefs are concerned, but in-depth deliberation which gets to the root of people’s values and beliefs may (or may not indeed, depending) give confidence that a potentially controversial policy is acceptable with appropriate safeguards and governance arrangements.

    12. There are many different and valid ways of engaging people

    People have a huge variety of means open to them to make their views heard, from the formal democratic process to direct action. Publics with strong views or special interests tend to be particularly visible, but there are useful means of engaging more diverse publics and ensuring that often unheard voices are able to be expressed and to contribute.

    —————-
    well worth a read.

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  46. Adam Gallon says:

    What determines people’s views on climate change?
    We take note of what “The Experts” say.
    ie
    “Hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters ”
    Google that phrase, it throws up About 489,000 results.
    Many are from UK local authorities, based upon a Met Office paper.
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2009/warmer-future
    Let’s go back to their 2007 forecast.
    “2014 predicted to be 0.30° ± 0.21°C [5 to 95% confidence interval (CI)] warmer than the observed value for 2004″
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/317/5839/796.full
    Now we compare that to reality.
    http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/image16.png
    All this money we’re paying on climate change levies, fuel duty accelerators, renewables obligations and the like a certainly working in preventing this horrible warming of the UK!
    Some of us took great interest in the release of the “Climategate” e-mails.
    We saw how the system is gamed to prevent publication of papers running contrary to the approved view, the outrage expressed by the publication of just one paper questioning the orthodoxy, the comments about “losing control” of journals, blacking them by refusing to submit further papers, trying to get editors sacked and the internal admission that some papers from the “Stars” were as flawed as their detractors said, but the craven refusal to say so in public.
    Some of us take note of the way that anyone who raises doubts about the consensus science are treated, labelled as “contrarians” & “deniers”, we see how blog comments are censored, mildly doubting comments are at the least consigned to “The Bore Hole” others are swamped by ad-hom attacks.
    The whole lot has been subverted as a method of transfering money from the less well-off in rich countries, to the rich in poor countries.

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  47. geronimo says:

    Tamsin:

    What does “winning” look like to the climate science community? Who are you trying to convince?

    You have the field to yourselves, governments all over the world have adopted reckless energy policies which plan to deliberately double/treble/quadruple the price of fossil fuels. Policies that will lead to blackouts, fuel poverty and the “green dream” of energy rationing. From the outside looking in, whether you science is wrong, and I don’t believe it is, or whether you can foretell the future state of the climate, and I don’t believe you can, you are acting as propogandists in the war on humanity being waged by the environmentalists. That may be a cruel interpretation of your intentions, but unlike science, life is about perceptions rather than truth.

    The science is being communicated loud and clear, those that challenge even parts of it are gagged, and we are told senior scientists are telling younger ones that they shouldn’t publish papers which give succour to the sceptical case. But for the internet there is a complete blackout on any contra views, indeed there’s a complete black out on the IPCC’s work if it suggests that the problem is marginally less dangerous than thought (Imagine the press reports if the SREX had concluded there was a human fingerprint in extreme events, now look at how it was reported. Well it wasn’t I suppose).

    To sum up, nobody who matters is challenging the scientists in public. The press is 99.99% on the side of the angels. Governments are implementing the suggested policies. Environmentalists are allowed to attend UN meetings to express the views of the 3% of the world’s population that would vote for them. So what does “winning” the communications battle look like to you?

    I’m baffled, and understand you’re not personally responsible for this navel searching, but would appreciate your opinion.

    Last question, which I know you can’t answer so it’s rhetorical, I wonder why the committee didn’t invite the heretics and apostates to tell them why they weren’t convinced of the science? It would surely be more illuminating than having others interpret the reasons. Wouldn’t it?

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  48. See - owe to Rich says:

    I find it interesting that the meeting apparently did not even take note of the biggest issue in climate change, which is the cessation of global warming since 1996/1998/2001 (take your pick dependent on data series).

    So this talk of influencing people through cocktail parties seems like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic of climate alarm which is sinking from the holing by the iceberg of that data. Non-globally, but important to British constituents, it is less than one month now until we can note that the decline in CET max from 2002-2013 is statistically significant at the 3% level.

    When Fiona of The Guardian publishes that then we shall know that they are telling it like it is, and >that< is what trust is all about.

    Rich.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      I didn’t report every detail of the meeting, only (as I said) the key points.

      James did say, I think, that he thought scientists or media didn’t do a good job of communicating about the hiatus a few years ago.

      There is certainly a lot to discuss about (a) what the pause means in terms of the science, i.e. your point; (b) how well, in the past, we communicated the possibility of such pauses occurring, particularly to the media; (c) how we can improve communication about all this in the future. For now I’ll just say: watch this space… (am working on something).

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      • geronimo says:

        Tamsin,

        Take a look at your reply above and try to see it through the eyes of a sceptic:

        1. The “pause” if it just that, a pause, wasn’t reported in the media, nor addressed by climate scientists except for 2. below. In fact it has all but been ignored in IPCC AR5. Why would that be since communicating the science is a priority in climate science?

        2. You are indulging in the post hoc justification by implying that the scientists expected pauses, which they clearly didn’t else they’d have spelled it out. They appear to have been on some sort of high because of the strong correlation between CO2 and temperature in the late 20th century.

        3. If they had indeed expected the pause they would be able to explain it which they can’t.

        In summary you appear to be suggesting that the climate science community knew that there would be pauses (forgive me if I’m wrong) but didn’t communicate it.

        Well the lady on the Clapham Omnibus could easily figure it out for herself that if they expected the pause they’d have an a priori reason for it. You don’t need a doctorate in physics to figure that out. So as an example of poor communication telling the public you expected a pause when you didn’t forecast it is right up there with shooting yourself in the foot.

        Fortunately, as I commented before the press is on the side of the angels and hasn’t torn the scientist to pieces for underestimating the average intelligence of the populace.

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  49. Latimer Alder says:

    A longer version of some points I made to Tamsin and PLOS by Twitter.

    1. ‘Communication’ is a 2 way process. That means listening as well as declaiming. The academic world is great at telling , but awful at listening.

    It pretends to assume that anyone who cannot spend two full-time years writing a peer-reviewed paper can have nothing at all of interest to say and can/must be ignored. It also assumes that – for all practical purposes – a published paper is unchallengeable truth.

    And the strapline of a once famous blog ‘Climate science from climate scientists’ epitomises the ‘Listen up, shut up and obey, ye great unwashed, while we tell you the way it is. No awkward questions tolerated’

    These ideas are great protectors of academics enormous sense of self- importance, but are far disconnected from the way the rest of the world works.

    ‘Ordinary’ people do not think about climate change by sitting in a library and reading the IPCC reports, or dipping into the latest copy of Nature. They don’t have time or inclination to do so – their understanding and decisions are based on far more fragmentary things…a chat at the bus stop here, the weather for a picnic there…a guy on the telly (esp if they make a huge fool of themselves), the headline in the paper , the electricity bill….a whole host of ideas and impressions. Academics may decry the lack of rigour in what ‘we’ do, but it is a grave presentational error to condemn it as wrong or inadequate. Even thinking such a thing will affect the way you communicate.

    2. ‘Trust’ is a precious commodity. See here for a discussion by another

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/12/06/nine-lessons-and-carols-in-communicating-climate-uncertainty/#comment-1493902

    Good salesman – of anything from used cars to political ideas and everything inbetween – recognise that they have to ‘earn the right’ to be listened to. They do this in many ways, but for scientific ideas, I’d suggest that the right is earned by being knowledgeable and clear and demonstrably correct. In the public’s eye acting as they expect a scientist to do also helps – calm, mature, well-judged, grounded and objective.

    But too many ‘science communicators’ take it for granted that because they wrote a paper or serve on the IPCC or won a prize, then it somehow becomes our duty to listen to them and arrive at the same conclusions they do. Big mistake. Until they’ve ‘earned the right’ then they are no more than just another nobody with a scare story to push – and no doubt a begging bowl to fill.

    3. This is especially the case for future predictions. The public are quite happy with the concept of risk..we can go to the bookies, play cards, take out insurance without any difficulties. But when it comes to believing future predictions, we need to see a track record of success. The newspaper racing tipster who never tips a winner very rapidly becomes just another broke unemployed punter.

    So turning up on TV with a model showing that the world will end in 50 or 100 years – or next Tuesday fortnight – is pretty counter productive unless you can show that the model has already got a decent track record of successful predictions. But since it seems to be written into the Oath of The Climate Modeller that no model shall ever be tested against reality on pain of excommunication, then this strategy is never going to work. We’ve had 30 years of the same. The world has not ended. We just don’t believe you.

    4. The last few years have heralded a steep loss in climos credibility. The way back is to spend the next five to ten years rigorously and vigorously cleaning your own house….Here’s my action plan…others will no doubt add their own ideas:

    Get rid of those who sacrificed their integrity for fame and fortune. Make sure that their malign influence has gone.

    Go through and challenge/reject all the bad papers out there.

    Reform your QA system from the woefully inadequate and slipshod ‘peer/pal review’ to something with teeth and rigour.

    Produce your models so that they can be tested and chuck the ones that fail – let evolution take its course. Natural selection is a great idea.

    Be open – don’t wait for FoI requests or journal prompting to provide data and methods, Do it as a matter of course…get them ready from the very first day you begin work on your paper

    Listen to people…even those outside of academe. If you don’t know what our objections/questions will be you’ll never get to answer them satisfactorily. Stop talking just to each other. Manchester United don’t win the Premiership by playing practice matches with their own reserves behind closed doors…

    Remember that it is academe that is odd. Your conventions and shibboleths and all the trivia you get so excited about are just strange and pretty irrelevant to the rest of us. We don’t care about them, so don’t beat us with them or bring them into the public debate.

    If you can do all these things, then in a decade there may be a way back to credibility. But it’s a long hard road. It is good that Tamsin is taking a lead in trying to walk some way down it. But unless other young and vigorous climos follow her, I see very little future for academic climatology – and all its many hangers-on – both in credibility and in funding.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      1. ‘Communication’ is a 2 way process. That means listening as well as declaiming.

      I completely agree! I said about getting involved in engagement: “my advice is first to start with a lot of listening”. I guess I could have made it more prominent.

      It pretends to assume that anyone who cannot spend two full-time years writing a peer-reviewed paper can have nothing at all of interest to say and can/must be ignored.

      Not at all, the speakers emphasised that the public have plenty of interest to say.

      It also assumes that – for all practical purposes – a published paper is unchallengeable truth.

      Not at all, the whole meeting was about uncertainty, i.e. the ways in which results are not unchallengeable truth and can contradict each other.

      These ideas are great protectors of academics enormous sense of self- importance, but are far disconnected from the way the rest of the world works.

      I agree there is a lot of self-importance and disconnectedness around, and a deficit of listening…

      ‘Ordinary’ people do not think about climate change by sitting in a library and reading the IPCC reports, or dipping into the latest copy of Nature. [...] their understanding and decisions are based on far more fragmentary things…a chat at the bus stop here, the weather for a picnic there…a guy on the telly (esp if they make a huge fool of themselves), the headline in the paper , the electricity bill….[...]

      Yes! Good list. Could be a woman on the telly though ;) (please excuse the over-smiling…I was trying to look approachable and enthusiastic…). But I think there is a certain amount of Googling, and a certain amount of asking interested/informed friends for their opinions. I hope to improve the debate in terms of (a) content and conversations online (b) ripple effects of engaging with numerate sceptics.

      Academics may decry the lack of rigour in what ‘we’ do, but it is a grave presentational error to condemn it as wrong or inadequate. Even thinking such a thing will affect the way you communicate.

      One person asked “What can we learn about communication from sceptics?”, so people do think many sceptics communicate well.

      2. ‘Trust’ is a precious commodity. See here for a discussion by another

      http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/12/06/nine-lessons-and-carols-in-communicating-climate-uncertainty/#comment-1493902

      This is moderated now (Willis Eschenbach, Dec 7, 1:50 am)

      Good salesman – of anything from used cars to political ideas and everything inbetween – recognise that they have to ‘earn the right’ to be listened to. They do this in many ways, but for scientific ideas, I’d suggest that the right is earned by being knowledgeable and clear and demonstrably correct. In the public’s eye acting as they expect a scientist to do also helps – calm, mature, well-judged, grounded and objective.

      But too many ‘science communicators’ take it for granted that because they wrote a paper or serve on the IPCC or won a prize, then it somehow becomes our duty to listen to them and arrive at the same conclusions they do. [...]

      I agree. Being interesting also helps. You can be all the things on your list and dull, and not many people will choose to listen :)

      3. This is especially the case for future predictions. The public are quite happy with the concept of risk..[...] But when it comes to believing future predictions, we need to see a track record of success. [...] But since it seems to be written into the Oath of The Climate Modeller that no model shall ever be tested against reality on pain of excommunication, then this strategy is never going to work.[...].

      Yes about track record. But no about testing. The models are tested extensively with both the recent past and various past climates. However, as I say in another comment, climate science has fewer opportunities to test the models than many other areas of science (though it’s not the only research area that cannot have repeated controlled experiments).

      I’m getting a bit tired (10pm) but I’ll just say that I agree data, code and publications should be open. I moved to open software from proprietary, I publish in OA journals where possible, I make non-OA manuscripts available, I blog plain English versions of my papers whenever I can.

      And thanks for calling me young and vigorous :)

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      • Tamsin Edwards says:

        P.S. Of course there are discussions to be had about model testing – what can be inferred, where it can be improved – but you implied there were no tests done at all.

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        • Latimer Alder says:

          Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. No doubt the models are tested against test data. It’s difficult to imagine how anything coherent could ever be written without some such.

          But the true test of a model that claims to have predictive skill is surely that it makes successful predictions. Not that it can handle test data.

          It may be that I have missed a big point in the last five years, but I do not recall ever seeing a single one – of the multitude of models – making a testable prediction then waiting to see how reality pans out – and judging the success or failure of the model by that criterion.

          Some claim that Hansen’s 1981 model was a great success because on important variables like temperature changes he was only out by a factor of 2. This is a laughably poor success criterion, and shows the weaknesses of climate forecasting on which so much of policy rests.

          But since then, nothing that I have seen. No modelling team has had the guts/chutzpah/cojones/confidence to stand up and be judged against their results within a reasonable (10 years??) period of time. And yet a whole industry of clisci has been built upon the back of modelling predictions that have no verified foundation of being any good at anything at all. It’s turtles all the way down. Model A feeds on model B feeds on model C who then writes a paper about effect D – no doubt suggesting Doomsday by next Wednesday and suggesting more research……

          A racing tipster by contrast (whose career lives or dies by his/her predictive skill) is tested many times each day, and judged by the accuracy of their forecasts. Its a harsh world and natural selection weeds out the poor ones very quickly. Only the good ones survive.

          I think that such a process would be very helpful to the public. 100+ models that are never tested add nothing other than 100+ poor quality modelling teams. You (pl) have no way of sorting the good from the bad and or the strong from the weak. No other scientific field that I can think of allows such a huge proliferation without some attempt to discriminate between them. And of course in commerce the weak would have disappeared years ago…starved of customers and funds.

          If you really want to improve ‘climate communication’ with the public, start by publishing the track record of each model against its forecasts. Then we can decide which of the many models to place some faith in.

          In the real world we do this without thinking. Not only do I know in my heart of hearts that Manchester United have been better than Aldershot Town in recent years..but I can show some stats that (to my chagrin) show it. Doesn’t mean that the positions will never be reversed (one can always live in hope). But if the bet were on which team was going to win the European Cup within the next twenty years, I don’t think my head would let me put a lot on the Shots. Even if my heart told me otherwise.

          But for climate models – nothing of the sort. Climactivists want us to restructure the world economy in part because of the output of climate models. And yet there are precisely no objective criteria we can use or measurements we can look at to tell us if any of them are any good at all in predictive skill.

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          • Nullius in Verba says:

            It’s not just a matter of doing the tests, but of paying attention to the results.

            If the climate model output *doesn’t* match reality, what happens to it? Is it binned? Labelled ‘unreliable’ and not used until it gets it right? Or do people just shrug, say ‘close enough’, and use it for multi-trillion dollar policy decisions?

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          • RayG says:

            There exists a substantial number of papers in the archival literature on the subject of model verification and validation (V&V). (“In the archival literature”= peer reviewed and published on scholarly journals but not necessarily replicated.) The U. S. Federal Aviation Administration has a department dedicated to establishing standards for V&V of computer models touching any aspect of aircraft and aircraft performance.

            If the general public is expected to accept that our societies may have to be turned on end and substantial amounts of our tax dollars must be transferred to the under-developed world because climate models lead to the conclusion that CO2 is the climate control knob, then we are entitled to expect that these models will be held to standards that are comparable to those of the FAA of the ASME standards for bridge building, etc.

            [Model testing is a topic close to my heart and the subject of past and future posts..but not of this one -- cheers, Tamsin]

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      • geronimo says:

        You are young and vigorous, and indeed charming, but I do think you’re missing the point a little bit:
        “It also assumes that – for all practical purposes – a published paper is unchallengeable truth.

        Not at all, the whole meeting was about uncertainty, i.e. the ways in which results are not unchallengeable truth and can contradict each other.”

        No, I don’t believe that, the purpose of the meeting was to try to understand why the climate catastrophe pills aren’t being swallowed as ordered by the doctor. If it had been about open communication and uncertainties why didn’t they invite sceptics to put their views.

        Why won’t climate scientists (a la Fellows of the RS) discuss the science in public with sceptics? I’ll tell you what I believe, it’s because the huge uncertainties in the science will be aired in front of the public that hitherto hasn’t heard one word of uncertainty from the climate science community. And they will draw their own conclusions about why they’ve been told that “the science is settled”.

        It seems to me that the whole purpose of this introspection on climate science communication isn’t to be more open but to appear more open while getting the relevant message across.

        Of course I don’t accuse you of such base motives because you haven’t got them, but there are other, more senior, scientists who’ve pinned their flags to the CAGW mast and stand to lose a lot of face if the public the last thing they need is for the public to find that what they’ve been presenting as fact is riddled with uncertainties.

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  50. ATheoK says:

    A number of times during my career, I attended presentations that were supposedly full of promise, new ideas, new beginnings, new methods, new understandings and so on. Often during the presentations I would also be caught up in fervor about what to do next.

    Much of that fervor would quickly dissipate when attempts to use that knowledge during the harsh light of reality revealed the truths.

    All too often, the ‘new’ knowledge and understanding are simply the same pig’s ears with new paint, glitter and what have you. All too often these pig’s ears are complex unwieldy interpretations and require far more ‘work’ than the plains ears ever did with just a pitiable results.

    Reconsider the nine points:

    1. People have a finite pool of worry
    Revelation? Seriously? People have always risen to whatever challenge faces them. Worry is unhealthy, period. Deal with the challenge when it becomes a challenge; especially if undefined, shrouded in mystery and perhaps just as worrying as the bogeyman.

    2. People interpret uncertainty as ignorance
    Oh? And why do Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, sky divers, deep sea explorers, submariners, and … prosper? It isn’t from the idea uncertainty is ignorance.

    Now tell people about failures to be accurate unless one throws in some nebulous uncertainty bars. Those people wouldn’t call that ignorance, not without some modifiers that insinuate their real thinking about ignorance.

    3. People are uncomfortable with uncertainty
    Again, no. People thrive on uncertainty. People fear change, especially change that forces them from their comfortable ruts;
    e.g., Our company has been sold, what will happen to my job? Yeah, one can call that uncertainty; but it is a very shallow interpretation.
    e.g. 2, Tornado warnings are posted. That’s normal this time of year. The tornado has just destroyed my house and car! What do I do? Or rephrased, what will change in my life to cope?

    4. People do accept the existence of risk
    Do tell… Doh!

    5. Scientists have little training
    This is a flat out whine. “It’s my lack of training.” Yeah, that goes over well.

    The point behind this and several following ‘points’ are the inability of ‘scientists’ to take the time and break their communications down to a level suitable to their audience, not somebody else’s audience! Personally, I could only techno-speak to my peers; all others required careful use of common language with big words removed.

    People are also tuned to the ‘weasel’ words of ambiguity. They may not pay attention to the words when spoken, but their subconscious notes the words and allays or mitigates anxiety based on them. Ambiguity is a sure way to tell someone, not them personally.

    6. Journalists have little (statistical) training
    ??? Seriously? Any journalists you know that are interested?
    Just another whine and whimper.

    The example cited above is about 95%. Gold is sold as ‘pure, 22kt, 18kt, 14kt and 10kt’. Not as 95% certain that gold is there. Get real, when people are told 95% they automatically register that the speaker doesn’t know and they are hedging their responsibility. You wouldn’t buy anything on a 95% certainty level! If some one says they will, they’re betting on winning the uncertainty.

    7. “Newspaper editors are extremely shallow, generally”
    There’s another lesson to take to the bank… Well, maybe not the part about their editor. Everyone, everyone wants to do their job, not yours. Is that shallow? A rude sound belongs here.

    David Niven in a move “Please, don’t eat the daisies” had a classic line; “I shall yell tripe loudly, whenever tripe is served!”

    Those important people? Yep! Especially yep! Help them do their job or plans. Otherwise, get out of the way. Better have some caviar and champagne to go with those prawns; and how the message benefits them personally.

    8. There are many types of climate sceptic
    ??? As many types as their are types of people? Infinite?

    As soon as somebody tries to generalize ‘others’, tune them out! Treat people as humans! Especially treat them as individuals and worthy of respect!

    9. Trust is important
    Something must have been typographically omitted. I see nothing of ‘trust’ under the trust point.

    I am especially repulsed by the “…there is evidence that what drives opinions is not science,… ” inference. This is following a belief about generalizations. Generalizations that have been floated because of the CAGW failure to sufficiently ‘scare’ people into blind obedience. This definitively not trust.

    Not that trust couldn’t be a genuine point, just that what is claimed as trust is not.

    As I started this; put lipstick on a pig and it still a pig.

    Tamsin; you are one of the AGW associated scientists that people listen to, especially by us unconvinced types. Please stick to your guns on why you can communicate when so many others can not.

    You are honest, forthright, detailed and specific! That builds trust, understanding and certainty. Certainty that your opinion is of value and should if not must be listened to.

    Please do not be ‘educated’ by the Neanderthals on how to be human.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      Thank you for your detailed and emphatic support at the end. I will definitely quote you on that :)

      I agree with you that meetings can seem constructive at the time, but leave you with nothing useful or tangible at the end. That’s exactly why I approached writing this blog post asking what lessons I (or other attendees) might have learned, rather than a line-by-line report.

      Going offline now but will try to do a point-by-point in a bit…

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      1. People have a finite pool of worry
      Revelation? Seriously? People have always risen to whatever challenge faces them. [...]

      Well, they didn’t claim it was revelation in the meeting! Have a look at Elke’s paper. It’s only a short but but it does discuss some evidence for this statement. And dealing with the challenge when it becomes a challenge doesn’t work so well for a time-lagged system…

      2. People interpret uncertainty as ignorance
      Oh? And why do Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, sky divers, deep sea explorers, submariners, and … prosper? [...]

      Not *everyone* interprets *all* uncertainty as ignorance! And people who frequently have to deal with risk understand it better than those who don’t…

      3. People are uncomfortable with uncertainty
      Again, no. People thrive on uncertainty. People fear change, especially change that forces them from their comfortable ruts; [...]

      As I said, I didn’t catch or write here all the references supporting these statements. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that people don’t like uncertainty, though.

      4. People do accept the existence of risk
      Do tell… Doh!

      I know it’s obvious, and I may not have phrased it quite the way the speakers did. It’s just a statement that climate scientists tend not to describe their results in terms of risk, and that it might be useful if they did. That’s all.

      5. Scientists have little training
      This is a flat out whine. “It’s my lack of training.” Yeah, that goes over well.

      The point behind this and several following ‘points’ are the inability of ‘scientists’ to take the time and break their communications down to a level suitable to their audience [...]

      Time, yes, but don’t you agree training would help in breaking their communications down? Not only formal courses, but also getting talking to colleagues for advice, reading lots of good science writing, doing lots of public events, and getting lots and lots of practice.

      People are also tuned to the ‘weasel’ words of ambiguity. They may not pay attention to the words when spoken, but their subconscious notes the words and allays or mitigates anxiety based on them. Ambiguity is a sure way to tell someone, not them personally.

      Which kind of words? Things like “may” and “could”? If so, how could we avoid them?

      6. Journalists have little (statistical) training
      ??? Seriously? Any journalists you know that are interested?
      Just another whine and whimper.

      Oh I don’t know, how about the BBC, The Times, The Press Association and Reuters? (Martin is a friend of mine):

      [...] when people are told 95% they automatically register that the speaker doesn’t know and they are hedging their responsibility. You wouldn’t buy anything on a 95% certainty level! If some one says they will, they’re betting on winning the uncertainty.

      To clarify – are you really saying that (a) expressing scientific statements as probabilities is hedging responsibility, and (b) no-one ever spends money on something described with a <100% probability, unless they are seeking to exploit it?

      7. “Newspaper editors are extremely shallow, generally”
      There’s another lesson to take to the bank… Well, maybe not the part about their editor. Everyone, everyone wants to do their job, not yours. Is that shallow? [...]

      But don’t people hold some (naive?) ideals about the media reporting important issues, and reporting them accurately? They must be, otherwise why all the outbursts about examples that contradict this ? We all need reminding occasionally.

      8. There are many types of climate sceptic
      [..] As soon as somebody tries to generalize ‘others’, tune them out! Treat people as humans! Especially treat them as individuals and worthy of respect!

      I already said this myself :)

      9. Trust is important
      [...] I am especially repulsed by the “…there is evidence that what drives opinions is not science,… ” inference. This is following a belief about generalizations. Generalizations that have been floated because of the CAGW failure to sufficiently ‘scare’ people into blind obedience. [...]

      Surely it’s not controversial to say that our opinions about issues often depend on other things than (only) the evidence base about those issues? This has been said in many other areas of science than climate…

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      • Barry Woods says:

        finite pool of worry..

        maybe the public are just not worried, and are not in denial about climate change risks, that the psychologists love to think, as the only explanation?

        that they’ve looked, thought hype (and just got on with things)

        Maybe they are wrong to think hype, but the problem is that so many groups (mainly environmental groups, some scientists) have hyped, exaggerated and the public can just sense this..

        climate science is not in isolation for decades the public have been reading/hearing/watching ‘science says’ articles in the media about every topic under the sun, and have become cynical.

        or as JJ said are largely indifferent, just not on the radar, beyond the level do you believe in god (subsitute a similalry vague definition of climate change), random question in a survey held on the street (lots of yes’ but never attend church) level

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      • ATheoK says:

        Tamsin Edwards says:

        December 8, 2013 at 9:42 pm

        1. People have a finite pool of worry Revelation? Seriously? People have always risen to whatever challenge faces them. [...]

        Well, they didn’t claim it was revelation in the meeting! Have a look at Elke’s paper. It’s only a short but but it does discuss some evidence for this statement. And dealing with the challenge when it becomes a challenge doesn’t work so well for a time-lagged system…

        Elke’s paper seems built upon swampland.

        Sociology is the study of people, not individuals. With a large enough population, attitudes can be tickled out. Interacting or influencing people is back to inducing persons as individuals.

        There are also references to weather influenced by climate change… Any weather absolutely proved to be climate change caused?

        There are references to odd attitudes as if they’re a scientific basis; e.g. “…Economic analysis allows for the discounting of future and distant costs and benefits by some amount (e.g., by the rate of interest offered by financial institutions) as a function of the time delay, a mechanism that is described mathematically by an exponential discount function…” Is this a discussion about economics as practiced by financial institutions or a social group of people?

        Often these references are followed by twisted logic; e.g. “…However, contrary to the assumptions of rational economic discounting, people are inconsistent in their discounting, applying different discount rates to outcomes in different domains (e.g., financial, health,or environmental outcomes 59,60), showing a strong present bias (i.e., strongly preferring immediate benefits and disliking present costs relative to delayed options), and discounting future benefits far more than future costs. 61,62 Whereas the costs of actions that could lead to a mitigation of CO2 emissions are incurred immediately, their uncertain and future benefits are heavily discounted, making the deliberative consideration of such actions unlikely to arrive at socially responsible and long-term sustainable behavior…”

        All right, there are how many financial views using discount rates on Climate Change? How many people, the common types not employed by a major financial institution that read actually these things and make their decisions based on them?

        Taken further, the author is apparently dissatisfied that there are financial scenario’s out there using discount rates not to the author’s satisfaction. Odd, since many firms and governmental institutions prefer to use published standards, not someone’s estimates. When someone does use rates not in the standards they’re often caught. Not illegal, but the tricks do not fool financially trained folks.

        This whole series of chewy paragraphs are supposed to lead to a ‘proposed finite pool of worry’. Why? Is this finite pool of worry definitive? In a sociological sense or psychological? In any result, worry is a function of people and another word for it is anxiety. A state that can be perceived and tested. It is also a definitive health damage cause resulting in hypertension, disturbed sleep and deeper effects.

        Some people worry about everything, some worry to the point of fear. Some people take things in stride, others worry when they perceive the need and recognize that their personal worry will help them cope. The question is cope with what? Cope with mitigation? Cope with costs? Cope with…? Worry is useless unless someone can derive a benefit from their worry.

        Yet, the author states, “…IF THERE IS INSUFFICIENT WORRY OR CONCERN, SHOULD WE GENERATE MORE?

        One might conclude that the research reviewed in the previous section suggests that we should find ways to evoke stronger affective reactions toward the risk of climate change in citizens, managers, or public officials, by making expected climate change effects more vivid or concrete…”

        Clearly the author is intent on this concept as a solution, whereas the research presented becomes ever more questionable as an open mind is not present. How can the author reach an independent viewpoint when climate change is the author’s deep worry?

        2. People interpret uncertainty as ignorance Oh? And why do Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, sky divers, deep sea explorers, submariners, and … prosper? [...]

        Not *everyone* interprets *all* uncertainty as ignorance! And people who frequently have to deal with risk understand it better than those who don’t…

        Which is it Tamsin? People, many people, some people, or …

        The point about people who have to deal with risk understand it better. Is there anyone who doesn’t deal in/with risk? Risk reward is a common feature of a human’s life from birth through finis. Many people do try to minimize their risk or risk caused to others, but risk pervades our lives.

        Uncertainty is not risk. Certainty may be a lack of risk or at least minimized risk, but uncertainty is in doubt, confusion perhaps, nebulous.

        Now about climate uncertainty; climate change is not uncertain. Climate change is absolute until the world’s end or at least until earth’s atmosphere is fully gone. Climate has always changed and as far as people, will always change. What is uncertain is that any part of AGW is disastrous or deadly.

        Which leaves us with, anyone who is convinced they should find ways to scare worry into people about climate change is not a person who understands risk or uncertainty.

        3. People are uncomfortable with uncertainty Again, no. People thrive on uncertainty. People fear change, especially change that forces them from their comfortable ruts; [...]

        As I said, I didn’t catch or write here all the references supporting these statements. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that people don’t like uncertainty, though.

        As in the previous point, uncertain is uncertain, nebulous, diffuse, doubtful. People may not like specific uncertainties like, ‘will they go to a heaven’; but the truly uncertain things rarely get in their fields of view for any length of time.

        4. People do accept the existence of risk Do tell… Doh!

        I know it’s obvious, and I may not have phrased it quite the way the speakers did. It’s just a statement that climate scientists tend not to describe their results in terms of risk, and that it might be useful if they did. That’s all.

        Then I would agree with that statement. However risk is a result of proof, observations and calculations (confidence factors). Risk is not the view nor opinion of someone out to inflame the masses.

        5. Scientists have little training This is a flat out whine. “It’s my lack of training.” Yeah, that goes over well.

        The point behind this and several following ‘points’ are the inability of ‘scientists’ to take the time and break their communications down to a level suitable to their audience [...]

        Time, yes, but don’t you agree training would help in breaking their communications down? Not only formal courses, but also getting talking to colleagues for advice, reading lots of good science writing, doing lots of public events, and getting lots and lots of practice.

        Tamsin, I can not disagree with any of your examples. As a point of fact I have several author’s, whose books I keep nearby just because, I try to emulate their writing; still, I regret being a poor imitator. Practice is always useful and friends who will read and advise are necessary. I also had several bosses who insisted their kids, (one boss), or their backwoods relative ‘Uncle Louie’, (the other boss) had to be able to understand any papers I wrote.

        Formal courses are a slightly different matter. Rare is today’s English/prose/literature/technical teacher who teaches individuals to write better. Late in life I learned from a colleague to sign up for class and then attend all of the teacher’s classes and then transfer to the one I thought best. Though it doesn’t always work.

        As an innate introvert, I always try to avoid public presentations and I have been mean enough to hire specialists to make public presentations for me. :> In house presentations can be tough enough if the audience is up to speed.

        People are also tuned to the ‘weasel’ words of ambiguity. They may not pay attention to the words when spoken, but their subconscious notes the words and allays or mitigates anxiety based on them. Ambiguity is a sure way to tell someone, not them personally.

        Which kind of words? Things like “may” and “could”? If so, how could we avoid them?

        Those are two definite weasel words. For how to avoid, we’re back to the previous point. Almost any technical writing or business writing course teaches people to form solid sentences with subject, action verb and object. For those of us who are supposed to be trained, one can not fail to read over the writing and remove incorrect or wrong terms phrases or usages. Prepositions, modifiers, auxiliary verbs, sentences that start with ‘the’ or ‘I’, sentences that end with prepositions are all word instances that should be carefully scrutinized and somehow scrubbed.

        When in doubt turn to the newspaper writer’s motto, “who what where when why” in writing. Nebulous uncertain indirect writing is not to anyone’s real benefit unless one is trying to avoid responsibility, culpability and understanding.

        6. Journalists have little (statistical) training ??? Seriously? Any journalists you know that are interested? Just another whine and whimper.

        Oh I don’t know, how about the BBC, The Times, The Press Association and Reuters? (Martin is a friend of mine):

        Martin is taking statistics courses? Or he already has statistics as part of his education? I assume Reuters already employs writers with at least some statistics. Also financial analysis and accounting. I have my personal doubts about authors and writers from the others are interested in independently undertaking statistics.

        [...] when people are told 95% they automatically register that the speaker doesn’t know and they are hedging their responsibility. You wouldn’t buy anything on a 95% certainty level! If some one says they will, they’re betting on winning the uncertainty.

        To clarify – are you really saying that (a) expressing scientific statements as probabilities is hedging responsibility, and (b) no-one ever spends money on something described with a <100% probability, unless they are seeking to exploit it?

        No.

        a) expressing scientific statements as probabilities. First, are they legitimately expressing the probabilities? What are their probabilities based on? Confidence factors, intensive 'what if' scenarios, rigorous testing under controlled circumstances,…? If their probability estimate is based on avoidance of failure, loss of face, climate spin, pontificating, self importance, ego; then yes I believe it is to hedge responsibility and avoid culpability.

        b) I find your statement a bit baffling. As stated it depends on absolute conditions, no-one, ever, <100%, exploit. You might have paraphrased me correctly, but I am uncomfortable with that particular phrasing and under those conditions consider myself wrong…

        People spend money on assurances, gamblers spend money on possible. When someone is willing to spend their money on something, they are taking a risk based on certainties and uncertainties. Smart investors do as much as possible to ensure their understandings and due diligence minimize the uncertainties and maximize their certainties. Their due diligence is knowledge seeking. Whether one buys a house, a car, land, stocks or waterfront property one is personally accountable for due diligence. When a person is told 95%, they're first question should be who arrived at that certainty level and how reputable are they? Their next question will be what about the 5% uncertainty and what can I do to minimize it.

        When one buys a house, one also spends some extra money on things like a title search, radon testing, house inspection. Each of these could be performed by the individual but likely not accepted by loan company. Title search is normally performed by visiting the courthouse and seeking all prior titles and certifying them as 'clean'. This task is not as easy as it sounds and can take hours to days. Title search companies perform the search and then 'guarantee' their results. Because they limit their employee's hours in a search the companies take a certain amount of risk and occasionally must pay to costs required to fully cleanse a title. Their guarantee is usually insured by an insurer who will also require the title search company to adhere to standards. Risk is minimized, Uncertainty is minimized for most with cash involved. Clueless people still fall for the rags to riches promise of buying abandoned houses and many suffer disaster when their house title has prior liens and they've bought the liens with the house.

        We're back to who states a certainty level and how reputable are they? T. Boone Pickens spent a lot of money investing in wind energy. Did T. Boone Pickens invest in climate change? Or did Pickens take a gamble based on his assessment that Congress was going to mandate wind power. After listening to Pickens several times courtesy the business channels, I believe Pickens was basing his investment on government mandates, not climate change.

        7. “Newspaper editors are extremely shallow, generally” There’s another lesson to take to the bank… Well, maybe not the part about their editor. Everyone, everyone wants to do their job, not yours. Is that shallow? [...]

        But don’t people hold some (naive?) ideals about the media reporting important issues, and reporting them accurately? They must be, otherwise why all the outbursts about examples that contradict this ? We all need reminding occasionally.

        Investigative reporters are held in high esteem but are about as rare as hen's teeth. Donna Laframboise is an investigative reporter looking into the climate change world, primarily IPCC. There are a few others, but none that I can think of reporting for the CAGW side. Unfortunately, the greater media is focused on 10-15 second sound bite news and the gloomier more upsetting the better.

        But that wasn't the point of my reply. Right now editors must fill columns with catchy news and topics. As long as it's hot then they're interested. Shallow if one prefers to state it that way. But that is the brunt of their job. Gone are the days of Harold Ross, founder, chief editor and manager of the New Yorker from 1925 – 1951; when every word and picture published met his scrutiny. (I highly recommend "The Years With Ross" by James Thurber). As publishers are bought by larger and larger owners their ability to focus on the quality of writing suffers. When a number of the publishers are purchased by organizations pushing certain messages their quality not only suffers but so does their integrity. Still, editors and writers have jobs that are expected of them by their employers; any work these people can get others to do for them is gravy. It's not surprising so many writers take what they're given normally and when they do have to rewrite the news, it definitely loses the exactness of science. But we're foolish to believe we should blame editors for doing what they get paid for; especially if that means they're not fact checking gift stories, (also known as looking gift horses in their mouth).

        8. There are many types of climate sceptic [..] As soon as somebody tries to generalize ‘others’, tune them out! Treat people as humans! Especially treat them as individuals and worthy of respect!

        I already said this myself :)

        9. Trust is important [...] I am especially repulsed by the “…there is evidence that what drives opinions is not science,… ” inference. This is following a belief about generalizations. Generalizations that have been floated because of the CAGW failure to sufficiently ‘scare’ people into blind obedience. [...]

        Surely it’s not controversial to say that our opinions about issues often depend on other things than (only) the evidence base about those issues? This has been said in many other areas of science than climate…

        Absolutely.

        There is a study and shrink wrapper (generalities) series called Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Each type indicator is four letters, each letter describing a personality slant to a tested individual. Taking only the last letter position for a quick example there are XXXJ and XXXP where the J stands for 'judgmental' and the P stands for 'perception'. Taking personalities to extremes, the judgmental personality is often a person who makes a decision now based on information now and they're done with it. A perception personality is never done collecting more information and tend to make decisions when they're needed as opposed to when the question first arises. Problems arise when the rapid decision makers consider returning to an old decision for reconsideration as failure. Some cultures consider this as a major loss of face.

        Global climate culture with many senior executives making or pushing publicly for their opinions find any change in other opinions as potentially traitorous and adamantly refuse such possibilities. Anyone working around or for anyone like this will be constrained to the published opinion not science. A very similar situation surrounds people dependent on the funds allocated to climate study. When their families and housing depends on continued good grace in the climate science world, their independence is curtailed or imperiled.

        Yes, these and far more situations are not unique to climate science or even science.

        Now about those time lagged situations. How long is the lag? Exactly?

        Good questions and challenging comments Tamsin! Your thread is popular and has gotten a bit long, but much of it is terrific reading! I enjoyed it!

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      • ATheoK says:

        Looks like Martin has been given an extremely difficult job. Far larger than journalists taking some statistics.

        The “scijourntraining.wordpress.com” website doesn’t exist anymore; would you know if there is a replacement site?

        Following up on my comment above about Martin having an immense task; Martin’s responsibilities reach beyond journalists taking some specialized courses.

        Journalists, as we originally discussed, are ideally skeptics inclined towards investigative understanding of all sides surrounding a ‘news’ item. There is a need to understand greater detail so they can present an honest comprehensive yet informative article for audiences.
        Is statistics needed? On a personal opinion basis, I am inclined to state yes. Journalists need enough statistics knowledge to understand the concepts, inputs, initiation, arrays, deliverables, confidence levels. Do journalists need to understand the internals; integrals, derivatives, …? well maybe, but I have a hard time convincing myself that journalists will commit to that depth of statistics. If they do, perhaps they’ll seek jobs as boring actuaries instead of the daily hunt for news.

        I certainly do not envy Martin his task. Not only does he have to build the concepts, but he also has to educate journalists and journalism about the need to again become genuine journalists by embracing deeper knowledge about the news they seek to publish. And I thought I had some tough jobs in life…

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  51. JP Miller says:

    Ms. Edwards, why should I believe a scientist who is an advocate for policy action? I never will. Period. You don’t seem to understand that because you are paid by taxpayers you have an un-remediable conflict of interest between being a scientist and being a policy advocate.

    Just report your science and let others figure out what to do or not do about its implications.

    Beyond that, the 95% confidence interval blather is utter nonsense. I’ve taught statistics and so I know something about what that means. Climate scientists act like they are properly using the classic definition of uncertainty in their policy pronouncements when their use of it is a total distortion and misrepresentation of its meaning.

    So, in the light of the above, you think “communication” is the problem? You are badly deluded, as are all delusionals who cry out, “Why won’t anyone believe me?” It’s bloody obvious why.

    I suggest you stop acting like you know what causes climate change and admit, like most good scientists, that it’s a very complex problem that we are decades away from understanding, even in most general ways… much less to 95% certainty.

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    • Doug McNeall says:

      That’s “Dr.” Edwards to you JP – she didn’t spend 5 years at evil medical school to be called “Ms”, you know ;)

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      • Willis Eschenbach says:

        Doug McNeall says:
        December 9, 2013 at 9:50 am

        That’s “Dr.” Edwards to you JP – she didn’t spend 5 years at evil medical school to be called “Ms”, you know ;)

        That’s “Captain Willis” to you—I didn’t spend five years risking my life learning the intricate knowledge required to stay alive and prosper as a commercial fisherman, while she was in some cushy medical school, just to be called “Mr.” …

        That’s the first curious thing, the idea that some kinds of knowledge are more respectable or honorable than other equally intricate and difficult-to-acquire bodies of knowledge.

        The other curious thing is that I always assume if someone wants to be called “Doctor” or “Minister” or “Councilor” or whatever, they’ll tell me so, and I’m more than happy to oblige them. I called Tamsin Edwards “Ms” myself, because I didn’t know what she preferred, and I don’t offer honorifics unless the person asks.

        When someone else like you tells me how to address some random third party, though, I figure I’ll just wait for Ms./Dr/Senator/Miss/Professor/No Title Edwards to give me the high sign if she cares about an honorific.

        Finally, in my experience, most people with a PhD or a medical degree don’t care much if I call them “Dr. Jane” or “Ms. Austen”, to take an imaginary example … and if they do care, they say so.

        Best regards,

        w.

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  52. Geoff Sherrington says:

    What a load of baloney you report here.
    The bottom line is that much of climate science is done poorly, below the standards found in harder science branches. I can give example after example. The unwashed public have picked up that the goods for sale are faulty – that’s a measure of how bad it is.
    The above gossip about conveying the message is not part of hard, productive science. Conveying the message is not needed, it is not seen. Journalism is a non-invited voluntary extra that gets it wrong, 97%of the time???
    I cannot conceive of an inspection as above by a group of non-involved experts, of the science we did to find a number of new ore deposits in my career. The only messages we had to communicate were “We did the job well as can be seen by the results. We delivered the goods.” (BTW, our science was harder & more exacting.)

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      Do you not see it as a positive that the meeting was about communicating risk and UNCERTAINTY around climate change, not about communicating CLIMATE CHANGE? I believe it was also a public meeting, i.e. anyone that asked to attend could go, though I’m not 100% sure. Don’t those indicate to you that the organisers and speakers are actually rather committed to the message of public understanding of the limitations of the science?

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      • Barry Woods says:

        Fiona Harvey committed to the message of public understanding… you just made me laugh so hard, I spilt my coffee.. look at her track record of Guardian articles.. to see why

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        • andrew adams says:

          Well I’m not familiar with Fiona Harvey’s work so I’ve had a scan through her articles for the last couple of months and don’t see anything particularly contentious.

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      • geronimo says:

        “Don’t those indicate to you that the organisers and speakers are actually rather committed to the message of public understanding of the limitations of the science?”

        Not wearing that one, especially as I’ve just read part of the IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report. The new mot de jour is “risk” and it trumps uncertainty every time.

        Uncertainty abounds in science and can only be overcome to the extent it can by accurate forecasting based upon the hypothesis. The future state of the climate cannot be forecast, unless there’s been a massive breakthrough in the understanding of coupled non-linear chaotic systems that I’ve missed. Yet I’ve just read through paragraph after paragraph of “likely”, “very likely” and “extremely likely” forecasts about the future state of the climate. In fact I would say that, notwithstanding the caveats, the average person could be forgiven for believing that the scientists had no doubts at all about the future state of the climate. And that is just what the average Joe/Joess believes, and is meant to believe, that we have a small coterie of scientist who have the ability to foretell the future and they’re telling us it’s got to be “green” or we die.

        Now that is a massive communication problem.

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  53. Ian H says:

    So the only problem is communication? I strongly disagree. In fact I think the whole “communcation issue” meme is nothing more than a distraction from the real issues. The MSM has given warmists a dream run for the last 15 years with no criticism tolerated, no hard questions asked, and every silly statement parroted verbatim. And you think you have a communication problem?

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      Where did I say that? I said this was a write-up, and thoughts about, a meeting on communication.

      Hard questions are welcome! I was just saying to a colleague the other day that we are lucky as a field to have “free peer review” – a large number of people willing to spend time to critique our work and spot things that are wrong or could be done better.

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  54. David L. Hagen says:

    Tamsin
    Good outline and introduction. Some further thoughts:
    1) Re Trend Sceptic – Recommend differentiating evidence trends vs model trends.

    2) Trend period: Understanding “trend” requires defining a time frame. Temperature trends can be warming, flat, or cooling, depending on the time frame.

    3) Model vs evidence trends: >95% of CMIP5 34 year projections from 1979 exceed current temperatures. See: Maybe That IPCC 95% Certainty Was Correct After All October 14th, 2013 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

    4) > 95% model trend “error” evidences very large but unstated Type B uncertainty, with low confidence in results. See BIPM GUM “GUM: Guide to the Expression of Uncertainty in Measurement“

    5) AR5 doubled the uncertainty range, this is scientifically more realistic considering 3&4) (but was not explained in AR5.) See Steven McIntyre et al. Fixing the Facts 2

    6) Statistical overconfidence: Conventional statistical methods often err, stating P=0.05 while only having a 1 in 3-4 probability. 3) and 4) suggest such serious statistical errors in confidence. See Valen Johnson’s results, as discussed by William Briggs: Johnson’s Revised Standards For Statistical Evidence. Johnson argues for: Revised Standards for Statistical Evidence to reduce the high incidence of false positives etc.

    7) Uncertainty vs Risk: Recommend using Valen Johnson’s Bayesian factors to communicate uncertainty as risk. e.g. for “significant” use 25-50:1, and “highly significant” for 100 to 200:1.

    8) To trust a scientist, show evidence of using the Scientific Method = test models against evidence, and Scientific Integrity = show ALL evidence and arguments for and against hypothesis. See See Richard Feynman on the scientific method and scientific integrity.

    9) Q “increase from 90% confident to 95% confident?”,. . . “[We think] the chance climate change is natural is now half as likely as before.”
    This contradicts each of 2,3,4,5, 6 and 7 = scientific cognitive dissonance!

    PS I look forward to A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Dec. 24, 25. Enjoy.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      You’ve packed a lot in, and demonstrated that scepticism is much more complex than many imagine (those who don’t listen to sceptics) – thanks. Mostly scientific discussions for another time, but here is one brief note.

      As you know, it’s hard to test models against evidence when the models are simulating multiple long-term characteristics of a complex system, because we have (a) limited observations of the past (b) no observations of the future…. We are trying to do the best job we can, given those constraints.

      I also mentioned Feynman already (before reading your comment) below.

      Enjoy the other Nine Lessons!

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      • David L. Hagen says:

        Re “Scientists have little training” – especially statistical.
        Yes I understand the complexity involved. That said, I would still expect long term (>30 yr “climate”) projections of CIMP5 models to be normally distributed about the subsequent temperatures. The 2 sigma difference between predictions and evidence is why i suggest major Type B error – eg systematic error by the “lemming effect”.
        Contrast simpler empirical models such as by Nicola Scafetta with much better performance than CMIP5 models.

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  55. Rhys Jaggar says:

    I think it fair to say that you are postulating the assumption that scientists are selfless saints whose sole aim is to serve the public. It is fair to say that the motives of scientists are as varied as the types of skeptics.

    1. Selflessly serving the public.
    2. Becoming a Professor for reasons of pay, status and power.
    3. Using science as a vehicle for a second career in consultancy, the media, authoring books etc.
    4. Gaining power as a special advisor to Government, with all the lack of rigorous checks and balances which exist in environments mostly free of any scientific training, let alone specialist knowledge of climate.

    Your blog, unsurprisingly, is written from where you sit in the pantheon and assumes that the aim of the game is for the scientists to ‘convince’ people of ‘their truth’.

    What you might like to consider is whether the interests of society are coincident with your narrow interests and this will require a fundamental evaluation of every spoken and unspoken assumption that you community has made since 1990, no matter if it requires the retirement of a great swathe of tenured academics as a result.

    The most important issue for science is the publishing of papers focussing on very narrow data sets and using the age old generalisations in the publications which, misunderstood by the wider world, are nothing more than a ‘we need more research money to keep filling our boots please’.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      We’re not selfless saints, no! I think your list is a bit unbalanced, though, because it groups all selfless things into one, and splits selfish things into three.

      And would “I do science because it’s interesting” count as selfless contibution to the body of human knowledge, or selfish indulgence of one’s intellectual interests?

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      • srp says:

        The obsessedly curious scientists who get up each day consumed with figuring out/debating the correct explanation of X or Y are my favorite selfish people to indulge. Their often complete lack of boundaries between work, play, office, home etc. may make it hard for outsiders to join in, but that all-consuming interest tends to make for good science, in my opinion.

        The only caveat that needs to be stressed is that top-quality curiosity-driven science is rarely secure enough for policy making. I’m pretty confident that the big bang plus inflation plus dark-energy-induced accelerated expansion is the best model of the universe. But there’s no way I’d sign off on a trillion-dollar policy predicated on its accuracy without a top-to-bottom outside audit of all the data and evidence, including a second look at rejected “crackpot” stuff like non-velocity redshifts or electromagnetic forces on celestial objects.

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  56. Brian H says:

    “But it seems to me foolish to bet that they are certainly wrong.” The extent and consequences of purported warming are very poorly characterized and justified. Historical evidence is entirely against any projected downside.

    So there is actually no penalty for making such a bet. And a huge financial and standard of living benefit for the portion of the world’s population that needs it most.

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  57. Scott Scarborough says:

    In Fact, the 95% confidence number by the IPCC was arrived at by a vote… it was not a calculation. So the question by the journalist was quite reasonable.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      Why do you say a vote? Do you mean the fact that expert judgement was involved makes it equivalent to a vote? I wasn’t an IPCC author, and attribution isn’t my area, but hopefully one can comment here in more detail about the way that probability was assessed.

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  58. Tom Fuller says:

    Another well thought out post making some very interesting points. I like the buckets you cite for skeptic type, although I wish there was a bucket for we lukewarmers.

    I think you might consider a cohort-based approach to communications. Where first-generation communicators (Gore, Hansen, Monbiot, et al) tried to drive home a fear-based message (‘planet has a fever’, ‘fossil fuel executives should be executed’, etc.), and second generation communicators focused on the opposition , (deniers, etc.), third generation communicators such as yourself and Curry seem to be learning from mistakes made by others and are gaining traction and support. This is really encouraging.

    One suggestion–quantifying risk will be very difficult due to uncertainty. I would think that using analogues (not analogies) might be useful. ‘If sensitivity is around 2.0 and carbon emissions continue to rise (and rise more rapidly), the risk to the planet’s economy is equivalent to the recent recession and the risk to the planet’s population may be equivalent to some percentage of the health problems caused by SARS.

    Please continue what you are doing. It is a valuable service.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      Thank you Tom.

      Don’t you think lukewarmers could be attribution, impacts and/or policy sceptics, though? e.g. “Yes humans are causing climate change but I’m unsure what fraction and/or how quickly climate will change in future [and therefore?] take issues with expensive mitigation”?

      We similarly-minded communicators are spending quite a lot of time supporting each other, and trying to persuade others of the value of our approach. We don’t have a joint blog, but public panel discussions and statements in the literature, media and blogosphere, both joint and individual, are part of that process, past and future. In other words, I think we are in a loose cohort and are informally trying to gather momentum :)

      Analogues can be useful, yes. Though they mustn’t be too far away, of course. One that was quite often used for the IPCC 95% statement was that it was a similar confidence level to tobacco causing cancer (perhaps at some point in the past, e.g. when regulated, rather than the current confidence level – I don’t know the details). I haven’t personally used it, partly because I think the science and statistical inference are probably too different for it to be useful. I would want to look more into it before feeling confident (er) using that analogy.

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      • Tom Fuller says:

        Hi Tamsin

        As far as lukewarmers, I don’t think we’re organized enough to answer your question–not to mention the fact that people who are clearly on one side of the fence or another often adopt the label lukewarmer.

        As for myself, I just think atmospheric sensitivity will come in on the low side. Maybe 2.0 or thereabouts. I think that’s high enough to be a real problem and I think the climate debate has numbed everyone enough that we are likely to be sleepwalking into a real problem around 2050-2075. But focusing on claims of present day Xtreme Weather and similar foolishness are just killing off the chance to talk rationally. That and the occasional red button blowing up children and footballers.

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    • geronimo says:

      I can see why you’re a lukewarmer Tom. I believe that humans are causing the climate to change, I don’t believe that it will be dangerous, or at least too dangerous. Putting SARS into context, I lived in Hong Kong during the SARS scare, it lasted around 100 days and around 183 people died (from memory). Nobody knows how many people contracted it and survived because the symptoms were similar to influenza, which, along with pneumonia killed 900 people in Hong Kong, during the SARS epidemic.

      You should not believe anything you read about deadly diseases and mass extinctions, I watch Oprah and her audience stare wide eyed as an “expert” told them that if the H1n5 virus strain “could” get into pigs, then it “may” transmute into virus that “could/maybe” get into humans and cause a pandemic. He might have been right, and the risk was high if such a thing occurred, but the uncertainties were very large, except perhaps for the little reported fact that the handful of people who died of avian flu had ingested either birds blood, or birds faeces.

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    • ATheoK says:

      Tom:
      I believe that a majority of the so called skeptics are actually some variation of lukewarmer.

      CO2 is a greenhouse gas, though greenhouse is an inappropriate term to describe gases in an open atmosphere. The basic science about CO2 absorbing certain IR bands and re-radiating photons when an energy level is reached is well known and described.

      Unfortunately, there is not any definitive test confirming actual CO2 activity in an open atmosphere. Most results are models based on assumptions; many results are just assumptions. Proof is required, not opinion.

      Sensitivity is currently being indirectly determined and subject to assumptions. Which is why there are so many nebulous estimates; all based on irregularly measured global temperatures.

      Unfortunately, many forget part of the CO2 science theory where CO2 thermal influence declines as the CO2 level rises. Simply stated, CO2 ppm rising from 280 to 330 has a greater effect than CO2 ppm rising from 330 to 380. But actual thermal influence to the atmosphere is unproven and only assumed from indirect inconclusive measurements without definitive CO2 levels for that exact measurement position.

      Consider that even a very active CO2 molecule at 400 ppm is still only four molecules of CO2 amongst every ten thousand molecules of atmosphere:
      78% nitrogen N2 atomic weight 28,
      20.9% oxygen O2 atomic weight 32 ,
      .93% argon Ar atomic weight 39.95,
      from o% to 7% H2O water vapor atomic weight 18

      And there is each molecule of CO2 atomic weight 44 heating up twenty five hundred other molecules… Just because when CO2 pops it’s photon, it has a chance of staying in the atmosphere or heading back to earth instead of radiating out to space. Thermal IR emission to space may be slowed, it doesn’t stop.

      And no-one has proven exactly how much emission is slowed for every thermometer reading, day or night.

      We are both lukewarmers. I just require more explicit proof before I agree with you that there is any risk. Especially as my geology adventures and studies have demonstrated that our current climate cycles are neither unusual nor deadly.

      Commercial growers and even amateur orchidists increase their greenhouse CO2 levels because the plants love it. Temperature control in a genuine greenhouse is no more difficult than before increasing CO2 artificially.

      Some investigation indicates that plants start to suffer at low CO2 level concentrations (160-180 ppm is mentioned as a point where plants begin to die). When plants starve for lack of CO2, all life on earth will suffer.

      Researching history; mankind has thrived during every warm episode we can identify. Mankind has also suffered during every cold spell identified. A very small trend towards colder weather and many human food sourced plant production declines. Starvation is very close when the earth gets cold. So far, plants love it warm and CO2 rich giving mankind greater harvests supporting larger populations.

      I absolutely agree with your statement about Dr. Edward performing a valuable service!

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      • ATheoK says:

        My mistype!
        Dr. Edwards! (I think I backspaced the s when I backspaced another fumble finger typed letter away).

        Forgive me, please.

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  59. Mooloo says:

    4. People do accept the existence of risk

    Indeed they do, and most of us actively take steps to limit our losses to risk, such as by insurance or saving for a rainy day. But we also know that, despite our best intentions, we can’t mitigate all risk away.

    The use of the “precautionary principle” as a stick to beat people with, is therefore relatively worthless, because people know that we can’t protect ourselves against every risk, and we would be foolish to even try to do so. A person banging on how we have to take steps to reduce carbon because there is a chance that it is going to warm the world dangerously is likely to be seen as a foolish fanatic unless the argument is argued a lot more carefully about risk and reward. Something the likes of Greenpeace and WWF have yet to learn.

    [The vast majority of the world's scientists] may be wrong. But it seems to me foolish to bet that they are certainly wrong.

    This is why the public distrust the warmists. There is near 100% chance the world’s scientists will be wrong about global warming. This issue is not whether they will be wrong, but how much they will be wrong. (Think of the same line but “scientists” replaced by “economists” or “psychologists” and you will see how crazy it is.)

    A lot more humility by the scientists will go a long way. Admitting that some of their studies are not just wrong, but terribly wrong, might help. Instead they circle the wagons and refuse to admit that anything they say is wrong in any material way.

    I will start to believe climate scientists a lot more when they are equally critical of the evidence for as they are of the evidence against. In any other science this would be pretty much a given.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      I think, and I’m happy to see, that many have moved on from those simple arguments of the precautionary principle, which taken ad absurdum imply avoiding any risk to anything, at any cost.

      Of course you do still see it used, usually where one or more of the following are not stated or are ill-defined: the *threshold* of acceptable risk; our *uncertainty* about the risks; the risk *to what*; the *costs*.

      As I wrote below, I agree with you on humility. Perhaps that’s because my research focus is exactly the wrongness of models.

      Sample quote from my talks on work I do with Jonty Rougier:

      “We expect climate models to be more similar to each other than any of them are to the real world”.

      Sample quote from my lecture at the NCAS summer school on climate modelling:

      “If we do not include a ‘discrepancy variance’ [a minimum error, i.e. an estimate of the wrongness of a climate model at its best parameter values], by ignoring it or setting it to zero, we are implicitly making the assumption that we could tune a model to perfectly simulate the real world. This is ludicrously indefensible.”

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  60. Willis Eschenbach says:

    First, Ms. Edwards, my thanks for your well-written exposition regarding the meeting about climate communication. Unfortunately, the hammer missed the nail, because the problem is not one of poor communication. People don’t disbelieve the scientists because they are bad communicators.

    People disbelieve the climate scientists because we found out from the Climategate emails that for years, we were systematically lied to and deceived by the top scientists. We learned that they were packing the peer-review panels, and that the rules of the IPCC were being routinely subverted. I’m happy on request to provide links to back up those facts, but since you are serious about the field you likely have them at your fingertips.

    And as a result, this, the latest list of the many on the general topic of “Nine Ways To Appear Sincere About Shonky Science” goes nowhere. People are not foolish. You know the old saw about “Fool me once, your fault”? Well, climate scientists fooled us once. And as a result, we’re damn sure not going to suddenly become convinced because the people who lied to us have since learned how to better communicate their lies …

    And until the climate science field deals with that, it will continue to emit that enduring pungent odor of something hidden that’s gone rotten. Abe Lincoln is known for his saying about “You can fool some of the people some of the time” and so on, but in that same speech he said something equally profound. He said:

    If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.

    That is the problem with climate science. The problem has nothing to do with all of these highfaluting theories about innumerate journalists and finite pools of worry.

    The problem is that climate science has used up its finite pool of trust.

    Now, even that could be remedied. I’m not as pessimistic as Lincoln, or perhaps the Amercan public has become more foolish. Heck, look at all the Bible belt TV preachers that get caught with an arm full of mistress and a nose full of Columbian marching powder … they just go off to some touchy-feely retreat and are preaching again inside of six months.

    But the preachers understand the drill. To get forgiveness in America, you’ve got to a) ask for forgiveness, and b) at least fake penitence … and years of preaching have primed them for both of those.

    But instead, the transgressors in the climate field have never admitted that they did even the slightest wrong thing. They have been feted by their peers, like Peter Gleick, and they have boasted of their lies.

    So while I wish the APCCG the best of luck wanking around with theories about how newspaper editors are just too darn shallow, drat their inconsiderate hides, the Climate Change Group is fishing in the wrong pond. It’s not a communications issue of any kind. The only point they got right is point 9, that trust is important … but even there they missed the real trust issue entirely. The issue is this:

    THE LEADING LIGHTS IN THE FIELD, THE TOP CLIMATE SCIENTISTS, FLAT OUT LIED TO US, AND WE’RE NOT FORGETTING IT!

    My best to you, and my thanks to you for both your science and your willingness to take a public stance on the issues.

    w.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      Thanks for the thanks… I think it’s important for more climate scientists to come out of their labs and offices and engage. Then you’ll see that they are decent, honest, competent people. I’m not an outlier in the field, I just talk more, and with more people :)

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      • Steve Bloom says:

        Yep, Tamsin, an accusation of large-scale lying on the part of the leaders of the field and you not only ignore it but thank the commenter for thanking you.

        I’ll just say, and in this I suspect I’m expressing the feelings of very many of your colleagues, thanks for nothing.

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        • Latimer Alder says:

          Climategate.

          See, for instance

          http://michaelkelly.artofeurope.com/cru.htm

          Until the ‘climate science community’ face up to the ‘misbehaviour’ of the leading lights, recognise that it was wrong..and show that they have made some tangible, working progress to eliminate such, then the antics of Jones and Mann and Schmidt and their acolytes will forever tarnish your ‘science’.

          And each time one of you posts such trite remarks as yours you send the rest of us a message that you either can see nothing wrong with their behaviour (Oh dear ), don’t care (Oh dear), or that their ends justified whatever means they chose (Oh very dear) . None of these possible conclusions speak to your credit or credibility as an objective scientist.

          There are few climos I’d buy a used car from. And even fewer whose word I’d take as a reason to reorganise the world’s economic system for. Climategate is a major contributor to my distrust.

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        • Tamsin Edwards says:

          Steve, I said “climate scientists are decent, honest, competent people”.

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          • Barry Woods says:

            every single one of them… ?
            see J Jones comment, ref bad apples, and the good apples doing nothing..

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          • Bernd says:

            I guess I’m just repeating what others have said, but this shows that you are closing your eyes to the real problem your field has, which is that some prominent members are obviously very much neither decent nor honest (and often not entirely competent either). This has been amply demonstrated over the past decade. You may not wish this to be true, and life would certainly be easier if it wasn’t, but your entire field is rightly seen as tainted by those who have observed it from the outside for any length of time. You, like everyone else in it, seem unwilling to accept this reality and work towards cleaning up your house, and until you do, your efforts to “communicate” will continue to be seen as hollow. Do you really think that trust, once it has been lost for cause, is easy to restore with just a friendly smile? Redemption is way harder than that.

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        • ATheoK says:

          Steve:
          You leave a somewhat unpleasant expectation of what? What do you expect Dr. Edwards to personally do?

          There are already climate bully libel lawsuits out there. Proof is not the easiest thing to back one up unless one has personal experience and can provide the direct experience with documentation as proof.

          Even then Tamsin will likely suffer career effects as the climate bullies stampede and trample; again with lies, insinuations, personal insults, mass media slime messages and so on.

          I think Dr. Edwards is traveling a very thin line, dealing honestly from her perspective and expecting honesty from whom she deals with. As I read her replies above, I believe she is dealing with us honestly, one to one.

          I don’t disagree with Barry Woods, but again I am unsure exactly what Dr. Edwards can personally do and still remain a paid climate modeler. Continued employment is always nice as addiction to food and shelter is tough to overcome.

          A tell all book would be nice, but she would need explicit details and documentation; not to forget collecting enough of that stuff to make a story in a book.

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      • Armand MacMurray says:

        Tamsin, I’m glad that at least the climate scientists you interact with are decent, honest and competent people. Coming from a more established field (molecular biology), I would have expected no less in your field.

        However, sadly there is plenty of evidence (Climategate emails, Steve McIntyre’s publications and blog, publications, emails and tweets from prominent climate scientists at major US and British universities, and so forth) that erroneous or incompetent research and even infantile professional behavior is not only tolerated, but sometimes rewarded within the climate science field. Perhaps much of this is due to groupthink, or perhaps prominent charismatic and/or frankly thuggish ringleaders help prevent the field from policing itself.

        I’m not sure how climate science can best redeem itself; my hope is that a younger generation (such as yourself), better-trained and valuing personal scientific over political accomplishment will reform climate science. You seem to be making a good start.

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  61. Jay Currie says:

    From my earlier comment “But it is also emerging that they are wrong in a dingle direction: they all run hot.”

    That would be “a single direction”.

    Could you fix this in moderation? Thanks.

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  62. Jay Currie says:

    At this point I suspect the “public” are no longer paying much attention. Which is a bit of a break for climate scientists because an awful lot of work needs to be done on the science itself before it is ready for policy prime time.

    A great deal of harm has been done to the reputation of the science by people like Mann and Trenberth, aided and abetted by non-scientists like Nuccitelli and Rohm, making claims which go well beyond the science. When the public finds out that some climate scientists are making statistically invalid claims or floating unproven and (perhaps) unprovable claims, it tends to regard all climate scientists as agenda driven exaggerators. And when the observed climate diverges from the models in ways the models did not predict, the public can be forgiven for taking model based claims of doom with a grain of salt.

    All of which would not matter much except that there are now billions of dollars being spent on things like wind farms, new grids, back up power, feed in tariffs, carbon taxes, solar arrays and CO2 reduction schemes all of which take the alarmist position in the science as true.

    As the science improves we realize that the models used to bolster the alarmist position are almost certainly (say to a 95% confidence level) wrong. But it is also emerging that they are wrong in a dingle direction: they all run hot.

    Worse, it is emerging that a) they have no serious grip on the function of clouds, b) they have only a limited ability to estimate climate sensitivity to CO2, c) there are a variety of other confounding variables which are not well understood.

    The net result being that the models themselves are not fit for the purpose of informing policy. Not just because they are wrong, that is a given; rather because they are wrong in ways we do not even begin to understand.

    Several decades ago a worldwide effort was launched to eradicate smallpox. It relied upon well understood science and well tested vaccines. It was, relatively speaking, a huge benefit with very little cost. If one were to take the eradication of smallpox as the gold standard of science based policy how would we evaluate the policy of the elimination of CO2 induced global warming?

    First, while we know CO2 is likely to cause some warming we do not know how much warming a given unit of CO2 will cause. We do not know what the optimal temperature of the Earth is. We do not know what other factors may warm the Earth. We do not know if reducing human output of CO2 will change temperature. While we have some idea of the costs – billions of dollars diverted from other uses – we have virtually no idea of the benefits.

    Communicating humility in the face of lack of information, uncertainty and a legacy of model failure would be a good first step towards restoring the public’s trust in climate science.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      Hi Jay, this isn’t really the place (if you don’t mind, sorry) to discuss the scientific basis. Happy to under scientific posts, of course.

      However, I do agree that communicating humility – being very clear about the limits of what we can do – is essential. I used this quote by Feynman when talking about him at Robin Ince’s birthday Feynman show in May:

      “It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty…I’m talking about…bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong.”

      I also believe in being utterly transparent about weaknesses in science. That’s why I picked this blog name :)

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      • andrew adams says:

        Sure, scientists should demonstrate humility, but it would be nice to see some displayed by their critics as well.

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        • Jay Currie says:

          Andrew, I suspect there is humility due for all. However, the sceptics are not suggesting the expenditure of billions of dollars on the basis of shaky science. They are, in the face of those billions suggesting that the scientists and the people who are relying on the “consensus” science, show their work, verify their data and demonstrate some connection between the problem purported to be in need of a solution and the methods suggested to solve it.

          This is, in its nature, a humble request.

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          • andrew adams says:

            Jay,

            A lot of the stuff the skepics come out with goes way beyond simple (and humble) requests for data, clear demonstration of evidence etc. And it’s often not expressed in a very humble manner.

            As for scientists, well I’m sure they don’t consider their work to be shaky and they naturally try to communicate the implications of it where they may be relevant for policy decisions. But I rarely hear them argue directly for specific, and costly, policies. Hansen is one exception, Myles Allen seems to have a thing about CCS, but these are exceptions.

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          • garhighway says:

            Tamsin:

            Do you believe the science is “shaky”?

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        • geronimo says:

          Scientists for the most part do show humility. We’re not talking about scientists in general, or climate scientists, we are talking about the scientists at the centre of the IPCC who are knowingly making assertions for which they know that there is massive uncertainties. Now that isn’t humble.

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      • David L. Hagen says:

        Tamsin
        I agree that transparency in science is essential.
        Source for the Feynman quote: Cargo Cult Science, Richard P. Feynman, “Some remarks on science, pseudoscience, and learning how not to fool yourself. Caltech’s 1974 commencement address.”
        “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”
        Old habits die hard. Compare the original “hiding the decline” with numerous examples of hide the decline and the latest“hiding the decline all over again.

        It will be very hard for the IPCC to rebuild trust after such evidence of systemic duplicity evidencing the noble cause corruption, and the environmentalists fallacy, rather than Feynman’s standard of utter transparency and integrity in science.

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  63. markx says:

    “And in the discussion someone quoted a journalist as saying “The IPCC report says it has 95% confidence – what do the other 5% of the scientists think?” In other words, confusing the idea of a consensus and a confidence interval. There was a laugh at this in the room.”

    Surely it is wrong to imply that the 95% confidence quoted in this particular case has anything to do with statistical analysis.

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      I agree that I did over-simplify this point, partly for brevity. The 95% is not a confidence interval. In the Summary for Policymakers it is described as an assessed likelihood. But, as I understand it, it is a credibility interval – the Bayesian equivalent of a confidence interval – because it is partially or wholly assessed with expert judgement (bringing together multiple lines of information) rather than the result of a frequentist statistical test.

      I guess you may be implying more than this, but hopefully you will agree with me on at least these points…

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  64. Barry Woods says:

    It is also possible to trust a communicator, but think them wrong on an issue.

    Once trust has gone (reasons may very) , it is almost impossible to get back..
    A number of scientists outside of climate science do seem to have been surprised about some issues within climate science.

    Prof Phil Moriaty’s reaction to ‘climategate’ being one..
    Prof Curry stating she would now use her own judgement about science rather than trust the IPCC version
    Prof Muller, Prof Michael Kelly contributions
    and Prof Jonathan Jones being another (ref ‘Hide the Decline’ and data availability, motivating an FOI request on scientific principle, for the latter)

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    • Tamsin Edwards says:

      Hi Barry – I agree one can trust the communicator and still think them wrong, of course (this is true of most questions asked at conferences…). But I think trust could be a prerequisite to thinking someone is right, couldn’t it?

      Or if not (i.e. “I agree with you but I don’t trust you”), a lack of trust is surely not a good thing – either because the untrusted party is untrustworthy, or because they are trustworthy but someone doesn’t trust them.

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  65. Brigitte says:

    Very interesting. However, as a lay person (and very bad at maths), I would find the sentence “[We think] the chance climate change is natural is now half as likely as before.” really quite confusing.
    I also think that risk will be the more frequent word once the IPCC starts discussing the impacts of climate change next year.

    I wrote some things about uncertainty from a more communication-based perspective which might be of interest
    http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2012/04/04/languages-of-uncertainty/
    some more info on linguistic patterns
    http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/communicatingclimate/documents/workshop-1/7-nerlich-language-ppt.pdf
    and on dilemmas of risk communication
    http://www.isciencemag.co.uk/features/opinion-features/laquila-and-the-dilemas-of-risk-communication/

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