Tag Archives: climate change

The science and politics of climate change

Michael Mann: The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars – TAM 2013.

Have a look at this video for an excellent description of the history and science of climate change. It’s presented by one of the central figures.

Michael Mann has become a great popular science communicator – especially on climate science and the political attacks on science.

He was effectively forced into this public role by the political attacks on him He tells his story very well in his book  The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. It’s a great read – highly recommended.

Read “Good faith” science – and its enemies for my review of Michael Mann’s book.

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Ken Ring pontificates on climate change

Another of Ken Ring’s “self help” books – Pawmistry: How to Read Your Cat’s Paws

Ken Ring runs a business predicting the weather. Apparently in that sort of business, and with the clients he has, conflict with evidence-based science and scientists is good for business. So,  it isn’t not surprising to find him trolling the internet debating issues from weather and climate change to earthquakes.

But his contribution to a recent debate on the NZ Skeptics Facebook page is a shocker. Here is his simple experiment proving that carbon dioxide does not influence climate and anthropogenic climate change is a fraud:

  • Ken Ring “Christopher, no, CO2 does not affect temperature at all. A bottle of Coke won’t warm a room, but a warmer room will increase the pressure of CO2 in the bottle. 

And just to dig the hole even deeper he adds:

  • Ken Ring “Ok William, just shake the bottle of Coke in a cold room and then open it. See if it warms the room. Then shake one in a warm room and open it. Note the difference. James, there is hardly any CO2 in the atmosphere. Roughly 99% of all the CO2 in the world is in the ocean or in the ground. Tiny fact you may have overlooked.”
Not the sort of thing that should inspire confidence of his scientific skills amongst prospective customers. But then again, with some people this sort of thing goes down well.

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Anti-science US Congressman on House science Committee!

This guy is spouting a  bunch of simple-minded anti-scientific rubbish. Not surprising in itself – he is actually opening a climate change denial conference in th US – one of the semi-annual get-togethers of climate change denialists organised by the Heartland Institute.

No – the surprise is that this guy, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), is a member of the House Science Committee, which oversees US federal policy on science and innovation.  The House Science Committee!

Bloody hell! How does that happen. Here is someone whose standard of scientific understanding is no higher than some of the anti-science blog commenters we get here – and they are on the US House Science Committee.

Thanks to: US Congressman Opens Climate Change Denial Conference with Rant Against Water Fluoridation.

A balanced debate

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): Climate Change Debate.

This is the way to handle these debates – love to see it with creationism, vaccinations and fluoridation as well.

Thanks to Paryngula.

New “evidence” for global cooling?

The climate change pseudo-sceptics/deniers/contrarians are at it again – claiming the earth is cooling. This time their “evidence” is the extent of ice in the Arctic ice cap. Of course they have to cherry pick the data. The MailOnLine (see Global cooling: Arctic ice caps grows by 60% against global warming predictions ) declares:

“A chilly Arctic summer has left nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at the same time last year – an increase of 60 per cent.”

And

“Some eminent scientists now believe the world is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century – a process that would expose computer forecasts of imminent catastrophic warming as dangerously misleading.”

You can “prove” anything with statistics, can’t you? Suitably cherry picked of course.

To save you the trouble of searching out the real situation for yourself Skeptical Science provides us with Arctic Escalator. This puts the MailOnLine “evidence” into context. (Animated gif – if it doesn’t work for you click to show the graphic.)

ArcticEscalator2012_med

Don’t believe everything you read on these climate pseudo-sceptic/denier/contrarian web sites.

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News media influences public trust in science

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No one will be surprised at the headline on ‘s Guardian blog – Fox News found to be a major driving force behind global warming denial. Still, the article references a new research paper by Hmielkowski et al. in the Public Understanding of Science (see An attack on science? Media use, trust in scientists, and perceptions of global warming). The conclusions from this research affirms we are right not to be surprised, but also shows links between climate change denial and trust in science and scientists. They also conclude that the news media people read can influence both their attitude towards climate change issues and their trust in science and scientists.

Trust in science related to your news sources

These researcher found that:

“the more Americans use conservative media, the less certain they are that global warming is happening. Conversely, the more Americans use non-conservative media, the more certain they are that global warming is happening.”

This confirms previous findings. But they went further and found their results:

” . . demonstrate that the negative effect of conservative media use on global warming belief certainty is due, at least in part, to the negative effect of conservative media use on trust in scientists. The positive effect of non-conservative media use on belief certainty is likewise explained by the positive effect of non-conservative media use on trust. Furthermore, the use of within-subject panel data and longitudinal analysis shows that media affects people’s level of trust in scientists.”

I find this last point disturbing. It’s one thing for a group of people to disagree with current scientific findings, but far more serious if they are motivated to disagree by lack of trust in scientists. That does create a defense mechanism for the protection of beliefs against the evidence of reality.

Conservative media promote distrust in science

Further disturbing is the implication that such distrust is actively promoted by some conservative media.

It is probably not surprising that trust, or lack of trust, are cognitive mechanisms enabling people to draw conclusions without the need for intensive analysis of the evidence. consequently people are effectively programmed, by the nature of their normal news media reading, to draw politically motivated conclusions, whatever the evidence.

There are two implications from this work. Firstly, changes in public perceptions on climate change have probably had more to do with media either promoting or undermining trust in scientists than in evidence:

” . . it appears that climate change contrarians have successfully raised questions about scientists in the public mind. Polling data from 2008 showed that 83 percent of the US population at least somewhat trusted scientists as a source of information about global warming; however, trust declined in 2010 to 74 percent. By contrast, these results demonstrate that use of non-conservative media outlets increases trust in scientists, suggesting that mainstream and liberal-leaning media coverage plays an important role in limiting (and countering) the effects of the climate skeptic movement. Therefore, continued use of mainstream news media outlets by the public should help sustain the credibility of scientists as a source of information about global warming. Thus, mainstream news media should be cognizant of this role and continue to highlight scientists as a trustworthy source of information on climate change.”

The public role of scientists

Secondly scientists should attempt to make sure their public role on issues like climate science promotes trust, rather than the opposite. They need to defend their credibility when attacked by conservative media in this way:

“Scientists could remain on the sidelines and exclusively produce research for peer-reviewed journals and reports. Although this strategy may help keep scientists above the fray, this does not mean that they will remain neutral actors in the eyes of the public. Indeed, climate contrarians and conservative media outlets are already attacking the credibility of climate science and individual scientists. Remaining uninvolved gives climate contrarians and conservative media free rein to redefine how the public thinks about climate scientists and their research. Alternatively, scientists could use their trusted position in society to engage the public by providing them with understandable analysis and information about the causes, risks and potential solutions to climate change. However, this proactive stance may lead some members of the public to view scientists as increasingly politicized. In both scenarios, some members of the public may lose trust in scientists, which may be difficult to regain . Importantly, however, the sidelines strategy will likely lead to a greater total loss of public trust than the public engagement strategy – especially among the Cautious, Disengaged, and Doubtful audiences identified in prior research, if climate contrarians are allowed to shape public discourse uncontested. Regardless, scientists will play an important role in how different publics perceive the issue of global warming. The question is whether it is on their terms or the terms of climate contrarians and their allies.” My emphasis.

It’s an important issue for scientists – particularly in the US where the news media is so polarised and political factions concentrate around specific examples. The authors finish by stressing how important the role of the media there has become:

“This political polarization is contributing to national climate change policy paralysis in the USA, and it is becoming clear that the news media itself plays an important role in this process.”

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The “consensus message” in communicating science

Here is an interesting talk by John Cook from the University of Queensland. He is presenting results from his PhD research on the effect of consensus information on public attitudes towards climate science. He surveyed representative samples of Australians and Americans about their political ideologies and the effect of consensus on their acceptance of human-caused global warming. After being shown evidence of the consensus on human-caused global warming, Australian acceptance of this scientific reality grew across the political spectrum, but especially among conservatives.

I found his debunking of several myths about the negative role of consensus information valuable.

Cook is the founder of the climate science blog Skeptical Science will be a red flag to some of the conservative commenters here  who will no doubt lauch into personal attacks on him. But his message is valuable. And, I think, worth extrapolating (intelligently) to other areas where scientific consensus gets attacked.

AGU Chapman Conference — Climate Science: John Cook.

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Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit on track

Anyone interested in the political struggles around the science of climate change will be aware of the attacks made on climate scientist Michael Mann. These go back a long time and are detailed in his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines (see The truth about the hockey stick for my review of this book). Despite a number of enquiries clearing Mann of any wrong-doing these attacks have continued.

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But the National Review and Competitive Enterprise Institute went too far when they accused him of illegal acts, (like manipulating data and outright fraud). Mann filed a defamation suit against them. This week the Washington DC Superior Court came down with its first ruling in the case – and it’s not good news for those attacking Mann. It refused to throw out Mann’s on the grounds that the plaintiff’s statements were protected speech under the First Amendment, mere “opinion,” “rhetorical hyperbole,” or “fair comment.”

The ruling said that CEI defendants had produced:

“numerous articles that characterize Plaintiff’s work as fraudulent, combined with the assertions of fraud and data manipulation”

and this went beyond free speech. It added

” In Plaintiff’s line of work, such an accusation is serious. To call his work a sham or to question his intellect and reasoning is tantamount to an accusation of fraud (taken in the context and knowing that Plaintiff’s work has been investigated and substantiated on numerous occasions).”

The defamation case will now go ahead with the next hearing at the end of August.

It’s heartening to see this progress being made as many commentators were cynical about Mann’s chance of success.

As one commentator, Dan Satterfield, said - Wearing A Tinfoil Hat Is Getting Expensive

via DC Court affirms Michael Mann’s right to proceed in defamation lawsuit against National Review and CEI .

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Communicating climate science – Michael Mann comments

Here’s a relatively short talk by Michael Mann talking about his own experiences in communicating climate science, and the political attempts to intimidate him. He is an interesting speaker and his story is important.

via AGU Chapman Conference — Climate Science: Michael Mann – YouTube.

Mann is the author of the book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. It’s very informative and easy to read. Essential reading for anyone interested in the science and politics of climate change.

See “Good faith” science – and its enemies for my review of Mann’s book.

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Scientists, political activism and the scientific ethos

The recent decision of the Hamilton City Council to stop fluoridating its water supply caused a bit of discussion among New Zealand scientists. Discussion of the ethical and practical questions related to scientist involvement in political activism.

The Hamilton City council had been exposed to large numbers of submissions from anti-fluoridation activists. Most of them misrepresented the science and gave misleading, often incorrect, information. Scientists could have corrected these mistakes and distortions, but the job was left to a few representatives of the District Health Board and the Ministry of Health.

Many scientist think, as do others in the community, that they must play a greater role countering distorted information and pseudo-science. But the scientific ethos of objectivity, evidence-based debate and peer review conflicts with the political nature of such activism.

It’s a problem that scientists, especially younger scientists, will have to face increasingly in the future. Quite a few of us have solved the dilemma for ourselves by blogging – a sort of half way point between ivory tower science and political activism.

But here is something to think about. Climatologist James Hansen has thought about this issue throughout his life. Sometimes he has opted for pure science, these days he is opting for pure activism. Here’s an excellent video of one of his talks from February 2012 explaining his motivations and history on this issue. It’s also a simple and clear explanation of the climate change problems we are facing now and in the future.

James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change 

Hansen has also written about these issues in his book   Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. Have a look at  Global climate – and your grandchildren for my review of the book.

See also: Fluoridation

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