Blog post

Scientists, sceptics, and advocates

Aug 2, 2013 by | 24 Comments

There’s been a series of thought-provoking blogs on the Guardian website this week, focusing on the intertwined issues of science, scepticism and advocacy within climate change.

First, on Tuesday, Warren Pearce argued that it was climate sceptics, not climate scientists, that were the ‘real champions’ of the scientific method. Next, Tamsin Edwards stated that climate scientists were compromising their integrity and public trust by offering opinions on policy, echoing a common sceptic complaint. And, finally, on Friday Dana Nuccitelli accused them both of falling victim to the arguments of ‘concern trolls’, who ‘feign concern at every little climate uncertainty or issue they can use to manufacture doubt and delay the action necessary to solve the climate problem’.

I broadly agreed with Warren’s points regarding the tendency to over-simplify the nature of climate scepticism. Not ‘all’ climate sceptics endorse free market or conspiratorial beliefs (although these statistical relationships are real, and can’t be discounted in any attempt to understand climate change scepticism). As we argued in our recent report on engaging centre-right citizens more effectively on climate change, scepticism is typically attributable to the ‘facts’ of climate change failing to resonate with the values of a particular audience.

However, I thought Warren was over-generous in his characterisation of some sceptic communities, especially the Bishop Hill blog, which frequently and predictably descends into angry, aggressive denouncements of individual scientists. I think Warren’s aim is to bring about a more constructive dialogue, but it is a huge stretch to describe the typical conversation on blogs like Bishop Hill as anything approaching a constructive or measured evaluation of science.

I don’t accept that they are the ‘true scientists’ in the debate – but they do express many of the broader concerns that the general public more broadly share (e.g., the cost of climate policies, or the trustworthiness of politicians or energy companies), and its here that debates about climate change are more likely to be won and lost – not in debating the detail of climate science.

Tamsin’s piece argued strongly for climate scientists to refrain from offering opinions on matters of policy, and warned that becoming ‘advocates’ had led to an erosion of trust among the public, and compromised scientists’ integrity. This is a huge and complex area of debate that speaks to questions beyond climate science: many scholars of science policy have struggled with these issues for decades, and to my mind have not provided entirely satisfactory answers.

The problem – which is both practical and philosophical – seems to centre on what counts as ‘advocacy’. Certainly, an academic supporting a particular energy policy in their professional capacity would count as advocacy (although I don’t agree that this is implicitly ‘wrong’). But is it advocacy for an academic to say they are very worried that the world is not decarbonising fast enough to avoid dangerous climate change? Is it advocacy to even use the term ‘dangerous climate change’ because that is in itself a political construct?

Tamsin argued that there was a moral obligation for scientists to remain ‘neutral’ (whatever that means) on specific policy issues, but I would argue that there’s been a general abdication of moral responsibility among a whole range of people, including climate change academics, in not being honest about the degree to which they see the risks of climate change as requiring ‘some kind of’ more ambitious policy response.

Stating that the world should be implementing policies that will decarbonise the economy is expressing a normative position, but one so consensual and weakly prescriptive that it would be difficult to find fault with it. But many scientists fear even expressing views like these for fear of being attacked as being an advocate.

It is not being an ‘honest broker’ to claim no opinion, effectively handing the citizen’s voice that every scientist is entitled to, to whichever groups in society are shouting the loudest on the issue. It is akin to not voting in an election – a non-vote implicitly backs the powerful and the established.

Finally, Dana Nuccitelli took exception to the credence which both Warren and Tamsin attributed to sceptic views, pointing out (again) the many and various errors and faults in the reasoning and evidence of the sceptics that both articles, in different ways, were keen to defend. I agree with Dana that both articles were over-generous in their characterisation of online scepticim, and very much with his suggestion that:

“…constantly getting the science wrong, and ignoring the inconvenient data all stem from the same root cause – ideological opposition to climate solutions. No matter how much effort you put into pleasing contrarians, they are not going to be part of the solution”

It struck me as a surprising thing for him to say, however, given that so much of his time is spent correcting, re-correcting, and exasperatedly re-re-correcting contraian errors. In fact, there is an entire counter-culture of myth-busting, truth-seeking fact warriors who lavish a great deal of time and energy on proving the sceptics’ arguments wrong. I don’t dispute for a second that they are wrong. But it isn’t the way to win over public opinion on climate change.

In a funny way, Dana Nucitelli and Tamsin Edwards agree on one thing: that public opinion crucially hinges on an accurate communication of the scientific facts. But what determines whether people believe in the facts of climate science?

There is now a huge body of empirical social science that provides an answer to this question. It tells us that things like values, ideology, social norms, ‘biased’ risk perceptions and to a small extent, knowledge about climate change, determine beliefs about climate change (science and policy). Communicating climate science more effectively means finding ways of making the ‘facts’ of climate change resonate with the range of different values and social views that people hold.

Warren Pearce, Tamsin Edwards and Dana Nuccitelli may not see this as an appropriate role for scientists – but to ignore the social science that tells us what public engagement with climate change is based on seems to me to be pretty unscientific.


24 Comments + Add Comment

  • Instead of saying “the world economy does not decarbonize fast enough to avoid dangerous climate change” you could say “the world economy does not decarbonize fast enough to meet the adopted 2 degrees target”.

    The second sentence is accurate, without passing judgement on the wisdom of the target.

    The first sentence is less accurate (as dangerous climate change is undefined), but does pass judgement.

  • Thanks Richard. I appreciate the distinction you draw but I wonder whether most of the general public would, I’m also not convinced that the fact that some politicians think 2 degrees is when dangerous climate change happens makes the statement any more or less normatively defensible…my general point being that its both impossible and undesirable to keep normative statements out of science, because there is a complex and tightly intertwined relationship between ‘what science tells us’ and ‘why we even asked those questions in the first place’ and ‘what shall we do about it’. I am not suggesting for a second that science should decide what we should do about it, but we can’t pretend there are no implications to the work we do.

    If the next COP moved the goal to 1 degree, would you feel comfortable using that as a normative guide to the statements scientists could make?

  • Not at all.

    You should not pass judgement on the desirability of any target, or indeed whether a target is desirable.

    (There is a peer-reviewed literature that argues that targets are counterproductive.)

    However, given that there is a target, you can objectively say that current policy is unlikely to get us there.

  • Can’t see how that is tenable, or desirable – taken to logical conclusion scientists should have no political beliefs whatsoever, as even voting for Lab vs Conservative implies endorsement of climate policies of some kind.

    Also, we end up tying ourselves in knots. How can there be a peer-reviewed literature arguing that targets are counterproductive unless those authors have made precisely the normative leap you oppose? Targets are counterproductive to what? That ‘what’ must be something normative…its a maze we can never escape, so best bet is to upfront and clear about normative assumptions. ‘This is my personal view’ etc etc

  • “best bet is to upfront and clear about norm­ative assump­tions. ‘This is my per­sonal view’ etc etc”

    Adam, this is exactly what I said in the comment you deleted.

    Your post is entitled
    “Scientists Sceptics and Advocates.”

    Well here I am, a well read sceptic with an award winning science blog advocating a particular policy approach based on the science.

    Yet my view won’t be heard on a publicly funded website I’m helping to pay the upkeep for?

    Please, tell me you’ll let me have my say.

  • Roger. Let’s not waste each other’s time. Your last post was about the relationship between solar activity and CO2 levels vs human activity, with a token line linking to the argument at the top, and your view about why you think we should wait and see not act now. The post is about when and under what circusmtances academics might comment on policy. Say something relevant to the post and I’ll publish it. Here is what you originally posted, I won’t publish anything else debating causes of CC:

    “But is it advocacy for an aca­demic to say they are very wor­ried that the world is not decar­bon­ising fast enough to avoid dan­gerous cli­mate change?”

    Not if they make it clear that it’s their per­sonal belief.

    Pretty much everyone should by now be aware that the error range on meas­ure­ments of cli­mate met­rics are not well enough con­strained to be able to state with suf­fi­cient cer­tainty whether any human con­tri­bu­tion to cli­mate change is large enough to war­rant the imple­ment­a­tion of eco­nom­ic­ally onerous policy which will put mil­lions into fuel poverty at this stage.

    On the bright side, nature is at long last per­forming the cru­cial exper­i­ment for us which will decide the issue within the next decade or so.

    C20th: CO2 rising, Sun well above long term average from 1935–2003, Surface air temp increasing.

    C21st: CO2 still rising, Sun gone to sleep after 2005, Surface air tem­per­ature flatlined.

    These are the salient facts. Changes in deep ocean tem­per­ature are an ad-hoc change to theory and meas­ure­ments are too sparse and too poorly con­strained (we’re talking thou­sandths of a degree here) to swing the argu­ment. We’ll have to wait and see. This is not a ‘delaying tactic’, it’s just the way it is.

  • There is no inconsistency between saying that climate “sceptics” can not be convinced by scientific arguments and writing replies to “sceptic” posts.

    You write such posts for the general public, who may come across a “sceptic” post and may not immediately see what is wrong with it.

    For the same reason, I do not find it as important as Tamsin Edwards that “sceptics” see me as a friendly person. It is important that third parties see me as a reliable, reasonable person.

  • I do agree that in most cases, debunking climate myths isn’t going to change a significant number of peoples’ minds on AGW (though I think the consensus is an exception, which is one reason we embarked on our study of that subject).

    But I also think it’s important to have the correct information available for those who seek it. That way at least people can be accurately informed if they try to be. More information may not change many minds, but only having misinformation available can’t be good either.

  • From being a true respecter of scientists I have rapidly become disappointed and would no longer appreciate being likened to one. You guys deal with theory too much and don’t put enough store in real world data. And no, that isn’t a comment about climate science.

    Dr Edwards is helpfully trying to point out that the public view scientists who engage in advocacy as not necessarily more convincing. In fact that sort of passion can cast doubt on the quality of their work since they might be tempted to exaggerate, fabricate or ignore certain things. But hey, who cares what the public thinks.

    The one thing that you seem incapable of doing is talking to those people you know you need to convince. Talking at, yes, talking to, no. You admit that sceptics “do express many of the broader concerns that the general public more broadly share … and its here that debates about climate change are more likely to be won and lost” but wouldn’t dream of asking us what we think and why. If we do tell you, you don’t believe us and try to dig for deeper meaning. Or worse, you cut us out altogether and try to pretend we’re just aberrant idiots. How’s that working for you? CO2 plunging yet?

    I don’t know why you try to rewrite our position. I wonder if it’s because we are truly different species and we have very little common ground. Your views of how politics might influence public opinion on AGW certainly don’t sound like you’re talking about my side of the human race. I get the feeling you haven’t a clue what a cataclysmic change cutting CO2 would involve and think that it can be treated like any other social problem. But then I’m talking about my species, perhaps you side just needs sceptics to shut up.

    PS, yes, we are cross and for good reason but perhaps I should wait for you to tell me why rather than having my own opinion about it.

  • @Adam
    Sorry for being unclear: Setting a target may be counterproductive to achieving that target.

    I deduce from your question that you are unfamiliar with the literature that shows this.

    So, by publicly endorsing a target, you do not only take a political position, but you also demonstrate your lack of expertise.

    I would think that everyone is better off if you would keep quiet on subjects you haven’t studied.

  • Thanks for the advice. Its difficult to deduce from your references to ‘a literature’ exactly what you mean, or how on earth you know what I have and haven’t studied (or why I ought not write about something without having read the mysterious literature that you refer to) but I can see this exchange is going nowhere fast and its friday afternoon so let’s leave it there

  • Climate policy: how much is about science and how much is about the way we want to live our lives?
    I would like to start by providing a slightly tongue-in-cheek description of the clichéd characters of both sides of the climate argument.

    Sceptics are generally happy with how the world is progressing and want to continue along this path. Sceptics believe that the world is improving, that the advent of low cost energy has been the catalyst for radical improvement in global living standards and reducing hunger in the world’s most vulnerable communities. Climate sceptics are optimistic that humans can live in harmony with the environment. Resources will come into balance with humanity as population gradually declines to the UN’s lower figure of 6bn people by 2050 enabled by increased prosperity and efficiency . Climate sceptics see climate policy as a serious threat to the progress of humanity and the global ecology. Climate policy and the need to cut emissions is assumed by sceptics to drive up costs so that globalisation is reversed and progress stopped. Radical climate mitigation means enforcement of carbon rules sacrificing liberty and encouraging authoritarian governance. Greater political control will encourage less debate, less transparency, increased risk of corruption and poorer decision making. Climate sceptics are concerned that the risks of global warming have been poorly articulated and are uncertain whilst the risks of damaging humanity through radical climate policy and a new world order is more certain.

    Warmists are generally unhappy with how the world is progressing and want to radically change the way the world is run. Warmists believe that the world is dominated by an elite few who control the flow of the worlds capital leading to increasing inequality and uncaring selfishness. The root of this problem can be found grounded in our reliance on fossil fuel and big corporations. Those transnational corporations and ‘big oil’ are dictating terms for the rest of us. Global warming action has only upside. Climate policy will either price carbon out of our lives and save the planet from climate destruction or destroy the strangle hold of TNCs. So it doesn’t really matter if the science is uncertain or wrong as the political outcome is also important. Warmists are pessimistic that humans can live in harmony with the environment and believe that it is inevitable that population will expand to meet the UNs upper figure of 9bn people by 2050. The environment and our natural capital will be exhausted in a relentless search for resources to meet the insatiable hunger of 9bn who want instant gratification and 3 cars in the drive. Climate warmists see climate policy as necessary to reduce the human footprint by returning to localisation and a sustainable, rural idyll. Climate policy will cut emissions by shutting down dirty industries and by handing power to ethically reliable, sustainable green TNC’s. There will be no need for capitalism and the ruinous search for never ending economic growth can be abandoned. We will all live in harmony in communes, growing our own food, telling each other stories around the campfire and not missing plastic at all. Warmists accept that we will have to sacrifice a bit of liberty but that is ok because the new government will have climate policy at the very top of the most important things to do. This discipline will mean that there will be no slackers in the fight to ensure climate is thoroughly mitigated.

    Advocacy and climate science.

    Most people respect scientists and the work that they do, sceptics are no different. Sceptical concerns are very seldom about the purity of the science being conducted. The majority of sceptics are sceptics because they are concerned that the science is being hijacked to serve political agendas. It is highly frustrating for ordinary, highly intelligent people to be simplistically labelled ‘contrarian’, ‘denier’ and in the ‘pay of big oil’ as if there are no intelligent arguments that contradict the official climate mantra. It is also annoying when warmists argue that only ‘climate experts’ have credible opinions on chaotic climate systems. What is a climate science expert – should only adherents to the mainstream view apply? Climate science covers a multitude of disciplines from the deep ocean floor to the solar system and everything in between. No individual is a climate expert capable of understanding every climate variable – there is an intrinsic reliance on others. Before any progress can be made it is necessary for climate science to have an agreed/settled position so each scientist can then plan their work to answer different parts of the AGW jigsaw. The IPCC decided that man was causing statistically significant climate warming before all of the relevant evidence was collected. So we started the scientific journey to find the answer to a pre-conceived concept. For most sceptics a better start would been to try to establish what the natural variability baseline was first.

    However, it is very reasonable to have scientists studying climate, sharing their results, encouraging challenge and having an open debate. Unfortunately climate science seems to have gotten off to a bad start because all of the good things about the scientific process seem to have been dropped in favour of urgent action. I don’t blame the scientists or the institutions for this, but it does seem that a few opportunists were able to exploit the way the UN had structured the IPCC and all the subsequent antagonism is a result of the initial abuse of that policy framework.

    When discussing climate science a statistician or a mining engineer who can examine and determine trends in ancient proxies has as much to add to the discussion as a meteorologist. We all belong to the discussion because the decisions that are made have potentially great consequences irrespective of what side of the argument you are on.

    The sceptic wishes to see the debate opened up but the alarmist wants to see the debate closed down. I have sat frustrated for 20 years waiting on the debate getting into the mainstream – no wonder there is frustration by scientists and others, who are forced to use blogs like Bishop Hill to be heard. The debate should have been open from the start. The uncertainty and over confidence in modelling should have been properly discussed not downplayed in IPCC executive summaries for policymakers. The constant avalanche of climate propaganda often on the basis of peer reviewed papers has been something to behold. The press release has become more important than the content. Threats and scares are overplayed and greedily gobbled up by news outlets. We see the BBC getting involved when it is obliged to be neutral.

    That sort of behaviour might be ok if the sceptics really are contrarians whose only desire is to hold everyone up from spite and self-interest – but that really isn’t the truth. The reason sceptics are resisting going down this path is because we believe certainty has been oversold and there are massive risks for society. It would help if supporters of CAGW could adequately describe what the consequences of global warming are rather than just offer up endless pseudo religious images of hellish infernos, great storms and floods. We need to be sure that the models are capable of reliable prediction and the consequences are better understood. The sensiivity of the climate to CO2 is certainly up for debate and although climate change might be happening it is definitely not certain that catastrophe is likely. This is important to understand before policy decisions are taken. We want the scientific approach to be measured and careful as should always be, we should resist jumping to premature conclusions. And please stay away from the emotional blackmail, the arguments about protecting the future or our grandchildren play both ways.

    In summary, the problem is nothing to do with the science or scientists the problem has always been about the politics starting with the poorly constructed and mismanaged IPCC. The enrolment of institutions via lavish climate funding was always going to be inevitable once the IPCC output had been distorted to influence politicians and policymakers. The climate science establishment have been on the back foot ever since these initial errors, trying to defend shaky positions and downright bad practices. It is quite easy to make sceptics go away – just resume proper scientific processes. Let’s see a return to humility, respectful discussion, transparency and a desire to seek out the truth rather than rely on ‘better communications’ and fabricated polls. At least Tamsin gets that.

    Chairman Al (Climate Chimp)

  • Adam – “There is now a huge body of empir­ical social sci­ence that provides an answer to this ques­tion. It tells us that things like values, ideo­logy, social norms, ‘biased’ risk per­cep­tions and to a small extent, know­ledge about cli­mate change, determine beliefs about cli­mate change (sci­ence and policy). Communicating cli­mate science more effect­ively means finding ways of making the ‘facts’ of cli­mate change res­onate with the range of dif­ferent values and social views that people hold.”

    Does this research also interrogate climate scientists ‘values, ideo­logy, social norms, ‘biased’ risk per­cep­tions’ and ‘know­ledge about cli­mate change’. Or are the public the only subjects of this ‘huge body of empirical social science’? Are scientists better equipped to overcome these things? Are only the public vulnerable to ideology? Might some scientists have been driven to make certain statements, not so much by the science they have produced as the things that you seem to agree drive most people.

    It seems you may have let the cat out of the bag.

  • Just exactly what is the correct information regarding AGW and just what exactly is the consensus?

    First there is the science: “The most likely value of equilibrium climate sensitivity based on the energy budget of the most recent decade is 2.0 °C, with a 5–95% confidence interval of 1.2–3.9 °C” – Otto et al 2013. I put myself within this consensus and support informing the public of the latest results objectively.

    Second there is climate change policy. The 2008 climate change act has committed UK to unilaterally cut emissions by 80% in 2050. Unless the rest of the world follows suite this effort is essentially futile. It is even more futile to imagine these targets could possibly be met by “renewable” energy either in the UK or worldwide. This is where science must also respond clearly. Like it or not, Nuclear power is the only long term solution. The sun is a fusion reactor and geothermal energy is fission decay. There are no other energy sources on Earth. I am therefore outside the “green consensus” because such “chasing rainbows” is causing immense damage both to our environment and to our standard or living.

  • Should scientists ever be advocates? generally no, climate scientists – never.

    Climate science is still emerging from its birth place. The founders of climate science, in general are politicised, because the IPCC was set up as a political organisation to solve a predetermined ‘set of facts’ (manmade co2 = warming).

    When this batch of scientists retire and new ones take their place, hopefully informed about the wrong doings and bad science of there forebears (why should I give my data to you to rubbish it!) then genuinely unbiased papers will start to be produced moving climate science forwards at the speed of discovery it should have had from the beginning.

    All sceptics want is open science communication: tell us your theories, show us the data, and other scientists will replicate your findings.

    What could possibly be wrong with that?

  • I’m sorry but you really don’t get it do you? Ever since Teddy Roosevelt good government types have been focused on removing conflicts of interest from public life. That’s a good think I think.

    It is broadly true that political advocacy for example in medicine detracts from credibility and not just with the general public. There is a broad recognition of the conflict of interest problem in medicine ranging all the way from political beliefs, to monetary conflicts, to preconceived ideas about science. Positive results bias and the placebo effect are studied widely and acknowledged. If you mention these things in climate science, Dana and his arbiters of truth are there to quote chapter and verse from the literature, i.e, the “Scripture” of the annointed. My brother is director of medicine for an HMO and he does discount points of view and journal articles from people with political or policy agendas. He is broadly a good government type.

    Since most of the “communicators” in this field would seem to be aligned with progressive points of view, it mystifies me why they don’t worry about this issue. It strikes me that arguing with Tamsin’s point is only possible in a field so badly politicized that it attracts so many theological types who can’t seem to question anything in the literature unless it is written by a skeptic. The whole use of the denier smear is a symptom of this problem.

  • @Adam
    That is exactly my point. You feel qualified to comment on the desirability of specific targets, but the first needling with the relevant academic literature draws a blank.

    There are plenty of examples in the behavioral literature, both for individuals and organizations, where setting a target demotivates, induces procrastination, or is used as a substitute for action.

    In game theory, as a binding target creates an irreversibility, agents with imperfect knowledge of the future would understate their true concern about climate change so as to negotiate a lenient target.

    With differential enforcement, a target creates rents for the lax; and incentives to relax enforcement.

  • “As we argued in our recent report on enga­ging centre-right cit­izens more effect­ively on cli­mate change, scep­ti­cism is typ­ic­ally attrib­ut­able to the ‘facts’ of cli­mate change failing to res­onate with the values of a par­tic­ular audience.”

    It’s typically attributable to a selective scepticism, depending on prior beliefs. If new information conforms to existing belief, one asks “Can I believe this?” If it does not, one asks “Must I believe this?” The extent to which the information is checked, the effort applied to search for flaws and counter-arguments differs. And the evidential threshold to be met differs for the Can/Must cases too. The sides are symmetrical in this regard.

    “However, I thought Warren was over-generous in his char­ac­ter­isa­tion of some sceptic com­munities, espe­cially the Bishop Hill blog, which fre­quently and pre­dict­ably des­cends into angry, aggressive denounce­ments of indi­vidual sci­ent­ists.”

    First, are you talking about the host or the commenters? Would you like your own position to be judged by the people who comment at your blog?

    Second, do we not get angry, aggressive denouncements of individual sceptics from certain climate scientists? What does this say about climate science?

    “But is it advocacy for an aca­demic to say they are very wor­ried that the world is not decar­bon­ising fast enough to avoid dan­gerous cli­mate change?”


    You’re making judgements on what is ‘dangerous’, that climate sensitivity is high enough for the decarbonisation rate to put us there, and that the economic and political cost-benefit decision makes mitigation a better deal than adaptation.

    What you can do is to set out what you know about the consequences of different policies. It’s then up to somebody else to work out the cost-benefit, and if they decide that given the models and their uncertainties that adaptation is preferable to mitigation, then scientists need to respect their expertise as they respect that of science.

    “It is not being an ‘honest broker’ to claim no opinion, effect­ively handing the citizen’s voice that every sci­entist is entitled to, to whichever groups in society are shouting the loudest on the issue.”

    Scientists can shout, but they shout as citizens, not scientists. Tamsin herself has made no secret of her personal opinion on the matter. It’s not a problem.

    It would be fair to point out that there are a number of openly sceptical scientists, too.

    I personally don’t think it’s that much of a problem for scientists to be advocates, if it is well-enough advertised. The problem is not scientists being advocates per se, but that they are apt to pretend that being scientists they are not. But it is a tricky issue, for both sides.

  • Right, so you’re talking about targets in game theory. And your argument is that if I’ve not read those papers I shouldn’t be writing about the circumstances under which scientists should or shouldn’t talk about policy?

    My question is about if and when its appropriate for scientists to make normative statements. This need not have anything to do with ‘targets’, a point which I’m sure you appreciate, but which seems to have eluded your commentary so far.

  • “My ques­tion is about if and when its appro­priate for sci­ent­ists to make norm­ative state­ments.”

    Richard’s point was that making normative statements without understanding their effect can be counter-productive, so assuming you’re speaking normatively in the hopes of influencing policy, it makes sense to find out how the political arena works first.

    If you don’t care that what you say might sabotage your own intentions, then go right ahead and say what you want.

    The same applies generally to scientists making normative statements – the consequence will be that you’ll be seen as partisan advocates and not impartial scientists, and as a result, both your advocacy *and* your science will be discounted accordingly.

    If you think that’s worth the price to have your say as a citizen, then fine. But it deprives the public of your scientific input into their decisionmaking.

    Science is about consequences, it doesn’t tell you what to do. The science of science communication is no different. Science says ‘If you say this in this way, then that will be the result.’ It’s then up to you to make the normative decision about whether and when you should speak normatively.

  • @Adam
    Please do not twist my words. I selected this particular example because you raised it. My objections do not rely solely on game theory.

    Experts should talk about their area of expertise, and should do so as objectively as they can.

  • Adam, I think you are a bit unfair on Warren, Tamsin and even Dana (final paragraph). They are writing within a tight word limit on one particular aspect of the problem that interests them, so can’t really be criticised for omitting the aspect that particularly interests you.

    Ben, no, ideology and prior belief influences the opinions of climate sceptics, right-wingers and libertarians. Climate scientists, sociologists and psychologists are completely immune to this effect.

  • Hi Adam,

    Thanks for this post and your comment on the original article.

    Just to clarify, I did *not* argue that “cli­mate scep­tics, not cli­mate sci­ent­ists…were the ‘real cham­pions’ of the sci­entific method” as you say above. I merely asked the question (mischievously I admit), as sceptics such as Montford would argue that their interest is in science and upholding good standards. It is part of their argumentative resources, whether or not one agrees with them. I think we agree that the ‘real science’ category which some sceptics and scientists argue over is a bit of a red herring, to put it mildly (correct me if I’ve put words in your mouth).

    You make a point about blog commenters, however I wouldn’t wish to conflate bloggers with their audiences. In my Guardian post, I linked to a Bishop Hill post where commenters talked about ‘real’ or ‘proper’ science. Of course, other threads are more ‘angry’ as you describe them which has occasionally led to them being more tightly moderated. Such as here: Of course, one may argue over how active moderation should be, a perennial blogging topic, but that’s probably for another time…

  • Paul Matthews makes this comment:

    “Ben, no, ideo­logy and prior belief influ­ences the opin­ions of cli­mate scep­tics, right-wingers and liber­tarians. Climate sci­ent­ists, soci­olo­gists and psy­cho­lo­gists are com­pletely immune to this effect.”

    But what of the motivations and ideology and psychology of the climate activists and climate concerned bloggers, and I would include Dana Nuccitelli (also a Guardian blogger) description, he says himself he is no climate scientists.

    We need think to look at both side of the debate to completely understand motivations.

    so what of:

    Has anybody asked John Cook why he keeps photoshopped pictures of himself and Dana Nuccitelli as Nazi’s on his Skeptical Science forum.

    There private forum image folder was publically viewable due to sloppy web admin (not first time that has happened)

    The pictures are beyond puzzling, why would Cook have a photoshopped picture of himself as Himmler, with the cap badge, the label badges, and even button badge changed to the Skeptical Science logo. And the Cap insignia changed to the Skeptical Science two penguins looking at a flower logo!!

    Plus, the 1936 SS Nuremburg rally photo changed to swap the Nazi logos for Skeptical Science ones and they even named the jpg – skstroopers! !

    Also a number of photo shopped pictures of Dana Nuccitteli aswell as a german soldier herrtankboy.jpg and herrscooterboy.jpg and three of Dana as Dr Who.

    Perhaps their is a research grant required for this side of the climate blogosphere?

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