Consensus blogger (and frequent visitor to this site) And Then There’s Physics has consecutive posts discussing the proper role of climate scientists in the Climate Conversation.
I (along with many regulars here) have been banned at commenting at ATTP, but I think the subject is interesting enough to respond here.
In Scientists are not salespeople, ATTP leaves most of the heavy lifting to Michael Tobis (AKA Dr.Doom, for his gloomy prognosis for our planet).
The central theme is captured here: Tobis writes, “In fact, it is A job (NOT the core one) of climate scientists to EXPLAIN what the science says. CONVINCING you was never part of the brief.”
In his post and later in the comments, ATTP is approving of Tobis’ assertion. But in a follow-up post published March 11, ATTP seeks to revise and extend, as it were.
He writes that scientists “have a role in informing the public and policy makers about their research. However, they are not responsible for whether or not what they present is accepted; they’re not salespeople trying to sell a product.
However, this does not mean that they’re absolved of all responsibility. I do think that scientists/researchers should (mostly) be obliged to speak out when they’re aware that our best understanding is being misrepresented publicly. This, however, does not mean that they should be responsible if the public remains unconvinced.”
That’s three ‘howevers’ in a very short block of writing. ATTP sadly seems oblivious that much of the best understanding that is being misrepresented publicly is emanating from the Consensus side of the fence. (Oh, skeptics and even lukewarmers are not perfect on this account, of course. But we don’t claim to be speaking for the mainstream…)
I broadly agree with those portions I lifted to show here. However, much of the first post and associated comments target journalists as the ones who should be tasked with convincing the public, something I take issue with as a former journalist.
In fact, I think climate scientists could learn something from Journalism 101, where budding reporters are taught that their job pretty explicitly does not include convincing anybody of anything–that they are there to present facts so that people can make up their own minds.
But before we even ask whose job it is to convince the public, shouldn’t we look at what the public thinks? Majorities in almost all developed countries do accept what climate scientists have said–that the Earth is warming, that humans are contributing and that one of the principal contributions is the volume of greenhouse gases we are emitting.
I don’t think either Tobis or ATTP will view that as a cause for celebration. That’s because despite their solid agreement with the main points of climate science, the public has not moved perceptibly towards accepting policy proposals that are mainly put forward by activists, most (but not all) of whom are very clearly not scientists.
Phrased somewhat differently, if the public accepts the science but not activist policy proposals, it becomes clear who should shoulder the burden of changing the public’s minds–politicians.
Politicians have tried–mostly without long-term success. President Obama (who I voted for twice and wish I could vote for again) moved ahead of the public on climate change, and I believe it cost him much-needed political capital. Sadly (IMO–and I know the opinions of most here differ) much of what he rammed through using executive powers will be quickly undone, precisely because the silver tongued President did not convince the public that drastic action was indicated by the science.
For his pains, President Obama was labeled a ‘climate change denier’ by climate activists, which just shows that whatever God there be has a sense of humor.
Were I to enter the political arena, I would start more modestly, at the risk of being labeled a denier or worse (Okay, I have already been labeled a denier–and worse). But I believe a political consensus could be built around Fast Mitigation policies, orienting infrastructure investment around public transportation and continued support for renewable energy and research and development, etc.
The problem with climate scientists and advocacy is not that they try it. It’s that they do a bad job of it and don’t realize they are operating in the political theater. Worse, they have let the activist community grab the microphone out of their hands and babble a-scientific nonsense that alienates those that need to be convinced.
Climate scientists would be better served (and so would the rest of the world) if instead of looking for the right group of people to carry the message they sought instead to shut up those on their side who are talking nonsense. (Instead, they have wasted their time trying to shut up their opponents–a tactic as foolish as it has been unsuccessful. At one level ATTP seems to understand this, hence his frequent appearances here. As Churchill said, ‘Jaw jaw is better than war war. But he comes to preach, not to listen, which negates much of the benefit both we and he could receive during his visits)
However, since that latter group does include some climate scientists, scientists have instead chosen to practice a mistaken solidarity, a solidarity that cheapens the perception of science as impartial and as objective as journalists forlornly wish they could be.
More’s the pity.
So, to circle back to the title of this blog, what should we expect from climate scientists? I would submit that performing research and publishing the results captures 95% of it. If they also silenced their own activists with half the enthusiasm they display in confronting their opponents, that would be about 4%. I think the other 1% could be reserved for politically advocating their own position–I don’t want to silence anybody, not even the activist community and certainly not scientists. But academics who venture into the world of policy and politics–that usually ends badly. And if they’re going to do it, they should study a bit…. and not study frauds like Naomi Oreskes. (When are they going to wise up about her? She’s doing for the history of science what Paul Ehrlich did for demography.)