Turbulent times at the science-public interface

I read a fair number of climate-related blogs. One of these days I'll try to get some kind of "blog roll" going on the side of the page. In the meantime, there's a small box over there that has items I'd like to share, not always science related, but things I found interesting. Anyway, I sometimes get frustrated with these blogs because it seems like most of their effort is to address/attack/debunk/explain the climate change skeptics/sceptics/deniers/inactivists. This seems less and less useful to me, for a couple of reasons. First, there just aren't that many of those deniers out there that can make waves in the media with anything close to a reasoned argument. Second, just going point by point through their "arguments" to show why they are wrong appears to me to be a weak form or rhetoric. Actually, this is a major problem with the democratic party, too, as they seem to just respond to the outlandish attacks of the republicans.

I think this topic has been addressed in excruciating detail in the climate-blogosphere recently... I should have links to Mooney and other here, but I'm just riffing today. There were a lot of posts about whether or not to directly address the deniers, or whether it was counterproductive. Today I think it is largely counterproductive.

Not to say that these idiotic arguments shouldn't be ripped apart, they should, but we don't need 50 blogs all ripping apart one obscure denialist's claims, as it really just gives them much more "credibility." For example, this weird person that as far as I've seen is only working in the blogosphere and only goes by the name "lucia." She's making all kinds of noise, and because places as high profile as realclimate and deltoid spend time on her, I think she's attracted quite a following. This despite the fact that she is unable to present a reasoned argument that actually answers a question (a recent post by Grumbine demonstrated this).

This is just a bit of a rant, I guess. My point is that I'm now feeling more strongly that refutations of these arguments should simply be compiled in some climate science wiki, where all the people who feel compelled to add their take on a denialist claim should be allowed to add their part. The blogs themselves would be much more interesting if they would start explaining the science of climate change (or impacts of climate change) without the obligatory strawman provided by denialist claims.

From the point of view of marketing climate science and the general findings of the field (e.g. the IPCC report), there need to be stronger statements of the things we know, worded without our normal scientific, passive, conservative language. I've recently seen more of this, even in the recent report on severe weather and climate change, but communication to the public needs to be better. Yes, it probably has to be dumbed down, meaning less nuance and fewer caveats, which as scientists we don't like. However, the public is bombarded with too much information, and the average American is undereducated in basic science, so we have to develop a language to communicate that we are certain that humans are causing climate change, and there are severe risks involved in doing so. And this has to be done without being condescending. Again, this is exactly what the democrats need to do. We need those lists of talking points that the conservative think tanks cook up and distribute. It's sad, and I don't like it, but is there any other way to do it? The ideal way would be to ground all Americans firmly with rational thought and basic science, but that is long-term and probably unrealistic. *Sigh*

Haven't other fields gone through all this? What about AIDS research? Tobacco causing cancer? Evolution, obviously. Stem-cell research... Why can't we start talking amongst ourselves about dealing with the public and the press, without getting bogged down in the details of our own fields? Climate science needs to look to these examples, get the people who have experience, and ask for advice.

[UPDATE: A related post today from Grumbine, discussion versus debate.]


Endangered Species Act to be undermined by new rules

This is outrageous. The Bush administration is trying to introduce some kind of executive rule that would allow federal agencies to conveniently ignore the impact of projects on endangered species. Not only that, but the new rule would apparently ban federal agencies from assessing the greenhouse gas emissions from projects. You need to go read the story, there's one at Yahoo!. There are some additional reactions at gristmill.

I suppose that some might believe this argument that the current system is bloated and that federal agencies really can do their own assessments. However, the idea of independent review is so fundamental to science, and is so successful, that to just throw it aside for an intrinsically flawed self-evaluation system seems ludicrous to me.

We'll see how this plays out. Whether my paranoid, leftist brain is overpowering my rational, pragmatic one will come clear in the coming weeks and months.


Newsflash? No. (again)

Well, in place of posting some hasty response to a story or new paper, I thought I'd point out that there's way more climate-related press these days than even a year ago. It's too much to ingest, much less to respond to it all. The press is saturated with climate, global warming, deniers/skeptics/inactivists, and all manner of good and bad reporting. Nothing new for some fields, though I think the climate science community is still learning to deal with so much attention. Maybe that is a good topic for a post in the near future... why do climate scientists STILL get abused by both the mainstream press and alternative press (on both sides of the issue)?

Anyway, here's a couple of recent stories.

First, the US government might believe in human-caused global climate change. LINK Didn't this happen years ago? Geez.

Apparently the army isn't waiting to see what the higher-ups say, because they're going green. LINK This is actually a pretty big story, as the army is a gigantic consumer of energy.

And a little good news, there's a lot more gorillas in the world than previously believed. LINK

A late addition, I just saw this news story about Plattner et al. who find that the "pipeline" or the "committed climate change" might be much longer than had been thought. LINK