Thursday, December 13, 2012

Disputed Climate Science in the Media

I have a new paper out (co-authored with Mike Scott). It is called 'Disputed climate science in the media: Do countries matter?' and published in Public Understanding of Science (doi:10.1177/0963662512467732).
[Update: Download an unformatted version from Academia or Dropbox]
This is how it starts:
There is a widespread concern among climate scientists, environmentalists and policy makers that they are in a war of words on climate change and seem to be losing out. Sir John Houghton told the BBC:

We are … losing that war because we’re not good at PR. Your average scientist is not a good PR person because he [sic] wants to get on with his science … So we need to look, I suppose, for some good PR people to help us get our messages across in an honest and open and sensible way, without causing the sort of furore, the sort of polarisation that has occurred because of the people who are trying to deny it, and trying to deny it so vehemently that the media is taking so much notice of them. (BBC online news, 11 February 2010)
Similar statements have been made over the 20-year period since climate change, and climate science, became an object of public debate. We will reconsider such claims by analysing press coverage from four countries. The article has a broader aim, though: it aims to understand how the issue has been framed and the reference to prominent actors over time.

We are using corpus linguistics methodology (read the article to see what it entails) and have constructed a database of newspaper texts from the LexisNexis archive. The LexisNexis corpus was cleaned up using a purpose-built program that also excluded newswires and nearly all duplicates. This resulted in a corpus of 106.5 million words for all four countries. The total number of news stories varies from 45,000 (USA) to 61,000 (UK) with France and Germany in between.

Our aim was to identify major claims makers in these countries, to to explore the different drivers of attention in the period of high attention from 2005-2010 and to see how Climategate was reported. Below I reproduce a few paragraphs about the analysis of claims makers: 

For each country we identified central claims makers from politics, science and pressure groups who engage in the issue, distinguishing between advocates and sceptics.

We used the same set of names for all countries in order to see any patterns of cross-national diffusion. Advocates use knowledge claims to advance ambitious climate mitigation targets. We have identified them through previous reading of the literature, using salient names in the corpus, and adding additional names through peer consultation. We also included environmental pressure groups and green parties (see Online Appendix Table 3).

Claims makers from various sectors in society are active in the climate discourse. The French and German presses give twice as much attention to advocates as the UK and US presses.

France and the US show higher visibility for individual advocates; in Germany and the UK environmental organizations and pressure groups are much more important. Among individual advocates politicians are more visible than scientists, but both tend to be confined to their countries, with a few exceptions. Al Gore is by far the most important reference in the USA and is also highly visible in other countries. But the UK’s Milibands (we left the identity deliberately ambiguous as both Ed and David were in favour of ambitious climate policy goals), Germany’s former environment ministers Toepfer, Trittin and Gabriel, and the French Hulot and Voynet are not visible beyond their own countries. In the USA, James Hansen is the most visible advocate scientist (though his significance pales in comparison to Gore), in the UK it is Nicolas Stern, in France Jean Jouzel and in Germany Schellnhuber. Nicolas Stern and his review had a high impact in the UK, but even more so in France. In comparison to other countries in our sample, the French press pays more attention to climate scientists in general, and to scientists based in other countries (Hansen, Schmidt, Bolin, Watson).

Let us now turn to the sceptics. We define sceptics as individuals who use knowledge claims in order to promote a wait-and-see approach, usually by casting doubt on the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Table 4 (Online Appendix) shows the visibility of sceptics identified through the same process as described above for the advocates.

Regarding the visibility of sceptical voices, similar conclusions can be drawn as with the advocates. Individual sceptics are far more visible than pressure groups or think tanks. Sceptical politicians (Senator Inhofe and Lord Lawson) score higher than scientists. Al Gore, the most visible advocate, is quoted 25 times more often than Michael Crichton, the most visible sceptic across national boundaries. Sceptics are above all visible in their own countries. However, neither France nor Germany have high-profile politicians speaking as climate change sceptics. In the French press climate scientist Claude Allègre (a scientist who served as minister in the Jospin government) has a very high visibility but, again, this influence is restricted to France. Lord Lawson’s visibility is limited to the UK. In Germany the most important sceptical references are to the renowned late novelist Michael Crichton (author of State of Fear) and the Global Climate Coalition. Crichton is the only sceptic who is very visible across all four countries. The US press gives nine times more attention to sceptical voices compared to Germany, and four times more than the UK.

In France the discourse tends to be dominated by advocates, with some additional visibility of environmental NGOs in 2010. Also the USA shows a dominance of advocates but NGOs virtually play no role at all. This picture is reversed in the UK where the major reference is to NGOs and Greens until October 2006, when the Stern review was published. Before that time, advocates in the UK were virtually invisible. However, the surge of attention in Britain in 2006 was led by advocates. Environmental pressure groups remain highly visible but individual advocates get peak attention in 2007 and 2009. The UK press is unique in that advocates enjoy high visibility even after the downturn of attention at the end of 2009 (ironically, this is the context of John Houghton’s remark from the beginning of the article). Germany, like the UK, shows strong NGO presence between 2006 and 2009. They are a dominating reference point in the media, much more than individual advocates. Some advocates in Germany are also members of the Green party, which was in government from 1998 until 2005. This has probably given them increased visibility. The time series indicate a very low visibility of sceptical voices in all countries. All countries show higher visibility of advocates and of the IPCC.


MikeR said...

I think this article fits with my own impressions. "Advocates" keep saying that the problem is that they aren't doing PR. I see them doing loads of PR. The problem is that their PR is very ineffective or even counterproductive. We need to see them as scientists, not as advocates. They have never understood this point. The reason Climategate was so damaging to them wasn't because they were shown to be frauds; I don't think that happened. It was because they were shown - without any question - to be advocates. Scientists have a presumption of trust. Advocates don't.

Anonymous said...

Reiner Grundmann,

I'm missing Vahrenholt. Isn't he mentioned, because he is too new in the skeptic business?

it sounds as if you don't make any difference between PR done by e.g. Heartland, Morano, Signer and PR for science and climate policy. Would you prefer scientists being numb in the debate?


Gavin Schmidt said...

Your use of the term 'advocate' is both sloppy and disingenuous. You apparently define it in the text as someone who is advocating for 'ambitious climate mitigation targets' which is quite specific but clearly cannot be discerned in every newspaper article you have cited. In the footnotes you then equate advocates with 'crusaders' - another pejorative term. Yet I guarantee that not a single one of the collated examples associated with my name contains any evidence that I am a 'crusader' or that I was quoted in support of a specific policy of targets. I am confident that this is also true for most of the other scientists. This is sloppy.

Effectively, you have implicitly labelled all public statements from mainstream scientists on the topic of climate change as 'advocacy' of a specific policy regardless of what was asked of them, or what they said (though one can't help but notice that your friends are specifically exempted from your false dichotomy despite the fact that both have also advocated for specific climate policies). This is disingenuous.

As someone who speaks in public, and who is active in the media, I do nonetheless advocate - though generally not for specific policies - but rather for a public discourse that is informed about the science. Your conflation of an advocacy of science and informed discourse with the advocacy of a specific mitigation policy (regardless of its relevance to any particular article), undermines much of your conclusions since you have defined away any space in the public discourse that is informative or non-policy related. This grossly inflates the extent of what you claim is 'advocacy'.

As an aside, it is telling to see who is not given the courtesy of being listed with their full name (including the sole female on the list, and most (other) German scientists). Also, one assumes that it is because Richard Lindzen and Pat Michaels are so effective that you've counted their contributions twice? (Table 4) Or is that just sloppy too?

Anonymous said...

From the Final Note in Gavin's book, this may help with the question of whether he can be regarded as an advocate.

"To maximize the innovative energies that need to be directed to solving these problems, it's clear that a price must be attached to carbon emissions. This scheme must actually succeed in reducing emissions rather than simply shifting them elsewhere... it seems essential that an international agreement form the framework for these changes"

MikeR said...

"it sounds as if you don't make any difference between PR done by e.g. Heartland, Morano, Signer and PR for science and climate policy. Would you prefer scientists being numb in the debate?" What would I prefer? I'll tell you.
1) I'd prefer that non-scientists get out of the way on scientific issues. That includes people like Heartland and Inhofe, but also includes Al Gore and ten million commenters on any website or blog where climate science is discussed. I don't really care what people think who haven't worked through all the relevant research on the subject. [That group includes me, by the way.] I don't even know why such people care what they themselves think; they should know that their opinions on the science are irrelevant. I am tired of reading comments by people from whichever side who have no clue what they are talking about, sneering and heaping scorn on the other side because their side's Wondrous Blog disproved everything that the other side said.
2) I'd prefer that scientists do their jobs properly. But a scientist isn't someone who works for the right university, it's anyone who fits the qualification of (1): anyone who is willing to do his best to work through the research. That obviously includes Steve McIntyre and a number of the skeptics who really matter. Anyone who publishes research, and then refuses to provide complete data and code so that these other real scientists can check his work properly - or worse yet, provides it to friends and tries to keep it out of the hands of the other guys - well, you finish the story. This isn't science.
I'm sorry, but just occasionally reading McIntyre's blog, with its intricate detailed timelines and links, is enough to make this clear. He and others like him have spent a good part of the last decade trying to get clear information on other people's work; those other people seem to have made it their own life's work to keep their work hidden. It's insane. How do you expect me to trust scientists who will not let anyone see the details of what they've done? McIntyre has been documenting this forever. Don't tell me they were exonerated in various investigations; maybe for other things, not for this.

Anonymous said...


thanks for your response. I don't see any basis for further communication.


MikeR said...

@Andreas - pardon if your response seems, well, non-communicative. Am I so right that there's no need to comment? Or so wrong that there's no hope of talking sense into me?

Ferdinand Engelbeen said...

@Gavin, I am a little disappointed by your comment: "but rather for a public discourse that is informed about the science.". In the early days of RealClimate, I was a frequent participant, until halve my comments disappeared in cyberspace, although always on topic and informed. The best way to defend climate science is by discussing it with real arguments. The best way to make people skeptic about the science is to suppress discussion... It is a pitty, RealClimate could have been a real discussion forum about the science of our influence on climate, but it is near only about advocacy...

Reiner Grundmann said...

Gavin Schmidt

thanks for passing by, what an honour.

The use of the terms 'advocate' and 'sceptic' are labels which were operationalized through name searches in our construction of data sets. The names we selected serve as proxies for climate policy positions, on both sides of the debate. Clearly not everyone is happy with the labels (as we saw in the recent comments on Hoffman's paper where the sceptics were not happy for being called ‘deniers’). Now you seem offended, so what label would you like? Would you describe yourself as someone who is opposed to ambitious climate policies, or who does not have a position?

I think the term ‘advocate’ is widely acceptable, and arguably preferable to 'alarmist', 'activist' or similar. The term 'crusader' in fn 3 referred to both sides of the debate.

Have you really read all 33 stories in the USA press that contain your name? And all the 68 articles in the French press in order to make the statement "not a single one of the collated examples associated with my name contains any evidence that I am a 'crusader' or that I was quoted in support of a specific policy of targets."
Likewise, how do can you be "confident that this is also true for most of the other scientists" ?
There are nearly 40,000 references to individual advocates in our study and you are "confident" that they are not showing advocacy? Is this due to your sloppy thinking or your anger that our results contradict your cherished beliefs?

Thanks for the pointer to the double counting of Michaels and Lindzen. This reduces the sceptics’ visibility even further - talk about being disingenuous?

Our search terms were chosen to render unambiguous results, no courtesy considerations were involved. German names were pretty unique, sorry Mr Schmidt!

Gavin Schmidt said...

Reiner, the honour is all mine.

1) Operationalized definitions are fine, but then you cannot claim that your operational definition is equivalent to 'advocating for ambitious climate mitigation targets' without actually demonstrating that they are. You can use one definition or the other - not both.

2) 33 US stories (and 68 french ones) in 10 years is not a great deal, and I was interviewed for almost all of them and so, yes, I read them. I do think it amusing that you think it is incumbent on me to demonstrate that I was not advocating for 'for ambitious climate mitigation targets' in each of the articles when it is you that have made the claim that I am. I think rather that the onus is on you to find those examples that actually support the claims you have made in this paper.

3) I read a lot of articles about climate change and the vast majority of quotes and statements from scientists in these articles are related to science, not policy. You have conflated all of these instances because you do not allow for any scientist (except a special two) to be quoted in public without it being in the service of advocacy of a specific policy position on climate mitigation. This is a fundamental error.

4) I also find it funny that you confuse criticism of a poor piece of scholarship with anger. I can assure you that I am having quite a pleasant day ;-)

5) I'm not sure which of my cherished beliefs you imagine your study has contradicted (do tell!). My intervention here is simply because you have built a house of cards on the basis of a mis-specification that happens to involve misleading characterisations of me. (Others too, but I know most about me).

6) Normally when people point out an error in your papers, it is a little unusual to accuse them of being disingenuous. But you are welcome in any case.

Anonymous #4: I never claimed to have no opinion on the issue - it is however not something I make of point of discussing in interviews, nor is it why journalists interview me. I also have opinions about monetary policy, health insurance, direct democracy, public transit, the Middle East, bilingualism, education, urban planning and food safety. Yet Dr. Grundmann did not see fit to claim that I was advocating those policies when I was quoted in the newspapers. But since no actual evidence of advocacy was presented, it begs the question of why not? Either a mere mention of my name is sufficient to conclude that I am advocating something I have an opinion about, or it is not.

Reiner Grundmann said...


I am glad you have the good sense of accepting most of my points. Where you still disagree is the question of how to operationalize advocacy. When drawing up the list we consulted peers in the media studies community. It is true that not all stories containing these names will contain statement about policy options. We know from media studies how journalists go about constructing their stories. They do this by contacting people with a specific role, authority or visibility who will say things that can be expected of them.

Our software analysis has the advantage of dealing with large datasets of texts but it does extract semantic meaning on the aggregate level. One would need to do qualitative analysis of selected samples of text. This would be a different kind of research which we did not perform. However, there is a very quick way of establishing the context of your appearance in the US papers. Here are 17of 33 headlines containing your name:
1. 2007 Among Hottest Years On Record; Scientists Blame Trend On Greenhouse Gases
2. A Bid to Chill Thinking; Behind Joe Barton's Assault on Climate Scientists
3. Altantic Ocean current shows weakening signs; Prospects deepen for a cooler Europe
4. Climate-Change Study Cites Role of Ancient Farming
5. Earth's Climate Warming Abruptly, Scientist Says; Tropical-Zone Glaciers May Be at Risk of Melting
6. How do they make these predictions?
7. In Weather Chaos, a Case for Global Warming
8. Mulling The World From a Bench On Broadway
9. Panel, in Report, Clears Scientists of Rigging Climate Change Data
10. Past Decade Was Warmest Ever, NASA Finds
11. Past decade was warmest on record, NASA data show
12. Severe Hurricanes Increasing, Study Finds
13. Slowing ocean currents may cool northern Europe
14. The 'Indiana Jones' of a Shrinking Realm; But Passion for Science, Not Adventure, In-spired Researcher's 50 Ice Cap Expeditions
15. The Big Burp Theory of the Apocalypse
16. Too warm, and too wet, for comfort; From heat waves to floods, a summer of extremes points to climate change
17. Will coal be fuel of 21st century?; New technology can cut emissions, but industry isn't sold

Some of these headline seem pretty alarmist to me.
But even if the references to all advocates were wrong (i.e. no instance of alarmism or advocacy) and we deducted them from our data you would deduct around 600 from over 5,000.

It still baffles me that you want to duck the question if you are an advocate of ambitious climate policies or not.

Reiner Grundmann said...

does *not* extract semantic meaning on the aggregate level - sorry

Gavin Schmidt said...

Reiner, So now you have redefined 'advocate' to 'alarmist'? For a social scientist who presumably places a lot of store in the meaning of words, you are extremely Humpty Dumpty-ish in your usage!

More to the point, your claims simply make no sense. You now appear to be saying that merely being quoted in a story implies that a scientist must therefore be advocating for a policy solution that you perceive is being promulgated by the headline writers despite no demonstrated link between the story and any policy. Huh?

Try instead simply reading some of these articles:

1, my quote is related to recent temperature trends. no mention of policy at all

2, a quote about the robustness of proxy reconstructions over the last millennium in a story about Barton's letters to Mann et al. No policy.

3, a paraphrase indicating that I was cautious about reading too much into the Bryden et al paper being discussed. No policy

4, a quote indicating that the sci. community thought Ruddiman's research into a very early human influence on climate was 'interesting' but probably not correct. No policy.

5, a quote indicating scepticism about a specific claim about climate 5,200 years ago. No policy.

6. Can't find it, but headline sounds like a basic science education piece.

7. A quote about the difficulty in attributing extreme events. No policy.

8. A profile. One quote is related to (adaptation) policy: "Don't buy a basement property in Battery Park City." - prescient, no?

9. Quote about imperfections in the IPCC reports. No policy.

10. Quote about the long term trends in temperature. No policy (other than a mention of the existence of the Copenhagen meeting and the 2 deg target).

11. Same story as #10

12. Quote commenting on the Webster et al paper. Some policy at the end of piece but related to quotes from Trittin and Inhofe.

13. Same as #3

14. A quote expressing admiration for Lonnie Thompson. No policy.

15. A quote about the role of methane hydrates 55 million years ago. This was an Op-ed by Kristoff and gives his opinion about the Bush administration inaction on climate policy.

16. Can't find it.

17. A quote suggesting that carbon sequestration will be needed to deal with ongoing coal use. Policy related.

So of 13 unique articles, only two (#15/#17) dealt with policy, and in only one or two did I say anything that could be construed as an opinion about policies. In only one stories were 'ambitious climate mitigation targets' even alluded to. In not a single case did I advocate 'ambitious climate mitigation targets'. The vast majority of quotes were strictly about scientific questions.

It therefore should be clear that neither your framework nor your methodology provide any insight here.

Your last sentence encapsulates your confusion. You seem to think that what matters is some binary state of being: Is person A an 'advocate' for something or not? If yes, then everything they do is advocacy for that policy. I reject this premise entirely. Rather, 'advocacy' is an action and it is actions that must be assessed in determining what advocacy is going on. As even a cursory reading of those articles shows, the vast majority of actions have nothing to do with policy of any stripe.

You might find it satisfying to cluster people into tribes and measure their effectiveness by how many column inches each tribe gets, but you are only fooling yourself if you think that this is a meaningful contribution.

Just because something is easy to do doesn't make it worthwhile.

Reiner Grundmann said...


you have a pretty narrow concept of policy advocacy. The concept includes instances of using findings from climate science to put pressure on politicians to act, by using the mass media to create attention. The media logic leads to an alarmist escalation, which reached its peak in late 2009.

You have to accept that social scientists define their criteria, even if you don't like them. There is no Humpty Dumpty logic when I say that alarmism and advocacy are overlapping and partly synonymous terms. The climate debate is polarized (two tribes) and you are an active participant in one of them (I know from experience how heavy handed your blog is moderated). There is a small but growing group in the middle which refers to itself as 'honest brokers' and which you chose to call my 'false friends'). I mention them in my footnote 3 which seems particularly irksome to you. It reads as follows: "This dichotomy [between advocates and sceptics] has the advantage that it makes the identification of central claims makers easy and follows an established distinction between ‘crusaders’ for the case and their opponents. However, it makes it difficult to account for independent voices in between who have been visible for an extended period of time. For example, we find that Roger Pielke Jr and Sr get 32 references in the US press, Hans von Storch gets 216 in Germany. These voices are seen as sceptics by the advocates and as advocates by the sceptics. They prefer the term ‘honest brokers’."

Now if you want to claim to belong to this middle group, be my guest. But it might be difficult to find instances where you are accused of being a sceptic.

In virtually every communication you show the zeal of someone with a public communication agenda. Don't tell me that unless you specify a concrete policy goal you are doing just pure and objective science. Your flippant intervention here is self-exemplifying, and perhaps indicates that I hit a nerve.

But your 33 mentions in the US press are insignificant compared to Al Gore's. Would you claim the same methodological problem in his case? What about the most visible advocate scientist, Jim Hansen? Also someone who cannot be labeled an advocate? Just curious...

Still waiting for the sceptics to come forward and lambast our methodological shambles ;-)

Gavin Schmidt said...

Wow. With every comment, I realise what a different planet you must be living on.

On your planet, no-one can advocate anything in a reasoned manner, they must be alarmists.

On your planet, it is inconceivable that people might just be interested in their climate without it being part of some policy discussion.

On your planet, the plain meaning of policy advocacy (i.e. the advocating of a policy) is null and void and replaced with an amorphous and unfalsifiable assumption that any action in public of anyone who has an opinion about something must be advocacy for a policy that you personally have decided to associate them with.

On your planet, everyone is a member of one of two tribes: With us or against us - black or white - advocate or sceptic. But only people you don't know get stigmatized in this fashion. You and your friends (and I never said they were false, where did that come from?) are exempted. The idea that many people might defy such facile characterisation, without all belonging to some imaginary 'middle group' appears to be ruled out by mere assumption. As an aside, Roger has said many times that he is not an honest broker, but is rather an issue advocate. Oh the irony!

As for Al Gore, he is a politician and, unsurprisingly, has clearly been advocating for climate policies for decades. Whether your methodology is able to distinguish visibility as a film-maker, former VP, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Apple board member, or simple reference, from actual advocacy is a mystery. But that shouldn't bother you because you are convinced that if a newspaper article mentions Al Gore and climate change, it is advocacy by definition (your definition). That Al Gore gets more press than Fred Singer should come as a surprise to no-one.

Jim Hansen is a good counterpoint though. He has been very vocal in advocating for specific policies: tax-and-dividend, an end to mountain-top-removal, greater investment in next-gen nuclear etc. (though most of your references will not be related to any of that). I remain astounded that you don't see any difference in the quotes in the list of articles *you* highlighted which are almost all about science and Hansen advocating for specific policies. Really?

I certainly do have a public communication agenda - and it based on the idea that people who know what they are talking about should not cede the field of public discussion to people who don't. That you conflate that with advocacy for 'ambitious climate mitigation targets' is simply a reflection of the poverty of worldview.

Your methodological shambles is plain for anyone to see. It doesn't need affirmation from a 'sceptic'.

Werner Krauss said...

Interesting debate. What Gavin clearly shows is that sociology is an active part in the climate debate, far from being neutral.

What if people don't want to stay in the boxes you had put them in? It's the inherent risk of every large scale research. Sometimes through categorization, sociology is producing the reality it pretends to conduct research on. It's a fine line, I guess, and it is perfectly legitimate to question the basic categories, as Gavin does.
This does not mean that Gavin is right, which, I guess, is kind of irrelevant here. (And no doubt, Reiner's study is conducted with great skill and scrutiny, as usual).

Of course, Reiner's research produces interesting results: there are no widely known skeptics in Germany: isn't that amazing?

But how to deal with the fact that categories permanently change, as does science (hockeystick debate, Climategate); that there are many people who do not fit the categories; that drawing a dividing line between skeptics and alarmists is a political statement itself?

In my opinion, it's about putting studies like Reiner's into perspective: you can use them for certain purposes, but they do not merely reflect reality. Instead, sometimes the results resemble reality pretty much, and other times a Gavin comes along and doubts this - and he has all rights to do that. Because reality moved on, and left familiar categories behind, for example.

This is why I think this debate is really relevant; we have a really interesting methodological and epistemological problem here. And it is not only one for social sciences; science itself is faced with this problem, too. The problem comes up when you try to hide behind numbers and pretend that you are on neutral ground. And there is no neutral ground in the climate debate, right?

hro001 said...

"To maximize the innovative energies that need to be directed to solving these problems, it's clear that a price must be attached to carbon emissions. This scheme must actually succeed in reducing emissions rather than simply shifting them elsewhere... it seems essential that an international agreement form the framework for these changes"

I wonder how Gavin would describe such a paragraph! If they are not the words of a policy advocate, I'm not quite sure how they might be characterized.

The last time I saw Gavin jump on such a high-horse was a few years ago after he had declined to participate in a workshop and was quite correctly quoted as having said, in effect, 'the science is settled and if we’re not going to talk about policy, then I don’t want to play.' [See The ineffable meaning of conflicts in climate science]

Not to mention Gavin's ever-changing - and never-proven - story regarding the alleged "hack" of RC circa Nov. 17, 2009.

Now some might say that his actions - and inactions - were those of an advocate. But I couldn't possibly comment.

John M said...

Good thing Gavin's not angry and is having a pleasant day.

Reiner Grundmann said...


It's stunning that you still refuse to be called an advocate despite the evidence to the contrary. You insist the articles in which you were quoted did not show advocacy for specific policies but this is not required by our methodology. There is a variant of advocacy which Roger Pielke calls stealth advocacy. This type of advocacy proceeds by claiming that one does nothing but explaining the science in order to convince politicians to act (it is still part of our broader definition which you don't like). This is what you appear to be doing (why would you be blogging and giving interviews?) and this is the reason why our peers have suggested to include your name in our search algorithm. As it turns out, most of the included scientists are not very visible in the newspapers anyway, which is a major finding of the study which you choose to ignore.

There is a cherished belief by many advocates that the sceptics dominate the media reporting in the US and we would make policy progress if they could be silenced. This is a myth for periods we investigated.

Of course Roger is an advocate for certain policies, as am I and many others here on this blog. Still, you have a problem embracing the term, for fear of what? That you would be losing you scientific credentials?

Your approach to this is truly remarkable. A few hours after posting our paper, you appeared here all guns blazing, accusing us of methodological blunders. But all you had done was searching your name in the article and venting frustration. You did not comment on any other aspect of the paper - the visibility of claims makers is just one section. Do you have anything else to say apart from your vanity search?

Reiner Grundmann said...


There are sociological categories which have produced the reality which is then sociologically investigated, examples are the common class, gender, ethnicity. The same applies to science and medicine when new knowledge is established as a fact. But I doubt this is at play here. We have simply tried to apply a previously existing terminology which states a deep schism in the climate debate between two camps or tribes. Some call it the polarisation of the debate, we did not invent this (although our approach is quite innovative otherwise ;-)

Is the statement about polarization a political statement itself? I don't think so. And has reality moved on? Perhaps. We are now discussing energy policies which is a more useful way of addressing climate change, compared to the science-warning-education model.

Are neutral categories possible? When Marx used the term 'petty bourgeoisie' it was seen as an insult, not only by the reference group. Today nearly everyone wants to be 'middle class' . Scientists seem uncomfortable with the term advocate because it could taint their scientific reputation I guess. But can we do much better than this? And would we create a new reality of climate discourse by inventing smarter categories?

Anonymous said...

I somebody said 'climate change is real', would that count as science or advocacy (alarmism)?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, IF somebody said 'climate change is real', would that count as science or advocacy (alarmism)?

Anonymous said...

It is remarkable that Gavin still argues the point, after the direct advocacy quote from his book in #4 and #11. He does indeed seem to live on a different planet from the rest of us.

Werner Krauss said...


I am afraid my intervention didn't fit that well. In the context of your article and the discussion about it, I think the John Houghton quote at the beginning is convincing: you simply show that he is not right. Well done (at least from what I can see here; the article unfortunately is hidden behind a paywall).

I also agree that Gavin's objections do not make much sense here. I sympathize with the idea to re-define and re-discuss categories such as "advocate", but in the context of your article this question simply does not matter. In the context of the Houghton quote, Gavin is not a skeptic - and because there is no neutral ground in the climate debate, you can put him in the box "advocate", whatever his special sensibilities are. At stake is not the definition of advocacy, but of representation of anthropogenic climate change in the media. And Gavin represents it, as he obviously is not a skeptic.

(As usual it is pity that your article is hidden behind a paywall.)

Werner Krauss said...

(sorry for mentioning the paywall twice; it's Sunday morning...)

Anonymous said...

How do the two categories of advocate and sceptic match onto the three groups you study, namely 'politics, science and pressure groups who engage in the issue'. For example, why are Al Gore and James Hansen in the same category (advocates?). Al Gore is a politician who takes a political stance on climate change; James Hansen is a climate scientist who takes a political stance on climate change. Taking a political stance is part of Al Gore's job description; it is not (yet) part of Hansen's job description (although it should be allowed and he should not be called an 'alarmist' or 'warmist' or whatever other derogatory word is being used in the debate here sometimes) (and increasing pressure on scientists to get involved in public engagement and policy will make it much more difficult for scientists not to take a political stance). Anyway, the two categories of advocate and sceptic are too broad and ill-defined to do their jobs properly (whatever that job may be). A more nuanced categorisation of sceptics has been proposed by Denis Bray in a different comment thread and one should do the same for 'advocates', that is, if one wants to keep that category at all.

eduardo said...

It is relatively easy to act as an advocate without giving the impression of being one, and I think Roger Pielke Jr. is right that many of us are stealth advocates without even noticing. Examples abound. For instance, I could talk to a journalist and mention that sea-level may rise by 2 meters by 2100 rise in 2100 and cite a few papers to support this view. I may thereby 'forget' to mention that this is by far not the consensus view - as we can read now in the just leaked AR5 draft. By the same token I may tell this journalist that the AR5 now considers cosmic rays a possible cause for the recent temperature rise, and 'forget' to mention that this is a mere hypothesis, maybe interesting, proposed by some but that is not widespread supported and then there is solid evidence against it.
Both positions could be presented as purely scientific stances, and I could feel offended if anyone would say I am an advocate.

Reiner Grundmann said...


the paywall is a pain. Sage denies journal authors the right to post the final version on a website. Will send you via email. Anyone else interested in the pdf, please email me.

Gavin Schmidt said...

Reiner, you have completely failed to understand the point, but I realise that pressing the point further is pointless. But just for the record....

You have a category that you have called "advocates" and to which you have attached a number of attributes: that it refers to the advocacy of 'ambitious climate mitigation targets', that it is a binary state of being unrelated to the specific action of advocacy in any context, that it is synonymous with alarmism, and that anyone even holding the opinion that some climate policy is a good idea (regardless of the details of what policies they actually support) is perforce an 'advocate'.

For good measure anyone who refuses to accept that the classification and its correlates make sense, is simply a 'stealth advocate' for the same 'ambitious climate mitigation targets' (again, regardless of what policies they have actually non-stealthily advocated for)!

Now you add a further correlate that these advocates all apparently have a cherished belief that skeptic voices dominate the US media and need to be 'silenced' for 'progress' to be made. Since this is a belief that I do not hold, and a prescription that I have never advocated, it is even more unclear to me what use your generalisations serve.

You then proceed to measure this 'advocacy' by counting up quotes in newspaper articles that have nothing to do with climate policy, advocacy or targets. But apparently that's ok, because "that's not required by your methodology" - as if your methodology was totally independent of you the authors and is both inerrant and unchangeable. Whether actually thinking about what you are doing is required by common sense is apparently not something worth considering.

Studies of what is in the newspapers when climate change is discussed are nonetheless interesting. As I said above it is no surprise that Al Gore (as an ex-VP, Nobel Peace Prize winner, etc.) gets more mentions than any scientist. It is also not surprising that different countries have different go-to people for stories on the topic, and that scientists are only rarely called upon. A more interesting question that cannot be answered by your paper is indeed the extent to which CC stories are about the science, proposed policies or both (though since you think this is all the same, I am not surprised you didn't pursue it).

Unfortunately you are too busy seeing implicit conspiracies and vast networks of collusion across scientists, journalists, and editors to take a step back and consider whether the boxes you desperately want to put people in are anything more than strawmen of your own imagination.

Your opinion of those you call 'advocates' is very clear and this blinds you to the obvious mischaracterisations and over-generalisations you are making. Your classification scheme is thus neither neutral nor unbiased - something a social scientist should be slightly more self-aware of.

I have no problem in stating what I actually advocate for - as I did above and as is clear from what I actually say in the articles you cited. My objection is not to the dictionary definition of the word, but rather to your caricature of it.

Reiner Grundmann said...

rest assured, no conspiracy theories drove our work. Since you are still very self-absorbed, may I ask if you have any suggestions for improving the typology?

Dennis Bray said...

Wouldn’t these be of some help. It seems to me that beliefs here are well indicated. And it is possible to explore first hand comments, rather than media interpetations. Signing an 'affirmative' list or a 'skeptic' list is definately an indication of the persuasion of the scientist.

One thing is not clear though. I can advocate that climate change is happening or I can advocate that it is not happening. I can be skeptical of the possibility that climate chnage is happening or I can be skeptical of the claim that it is not happening. There is a need for precision, so often lacking in the green-vocabulary.

The list and impact ratings can be found at

'Signed' column tinted this colour for signers of these 'affirmative' statements:

SCS03: 2003 'State of Climate Science' letter from 1011 scientists to U.S. congress (CMOS06: 2006 statement from 120 scientists at the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
CMOS08: 2008 statement from 130 scientists at the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic
RealClimate 'affirmative' website by ten climate scientists, founded 2004
noSw07: April 2007 letter from 37 scientists to Martin Durkin protesting inaccurate portrayal of climate science in his film The Great Global Warming Swindle
Bali07: 2007 appeal letter by 212 scientists from 25 countries, to delegates at the Bali climate talks
CCSP08: 2008 Assessment Report from the U.S. Climate Change Science
UCS08: 2008 Union of Concerned Scientists' declaration from 1700 U.S. scientists and economists
Monaco09: Jan. 2009 Monaco Declaration on ocean acidification from 155 ocean scientists from 26 countries
CLI09June 2009 Open letter to Obama and Congress calling for agressive action on climate change; signed by 20 scientists
UKsc09: Dec. 2009 'Statement from the UK science community' re-affirming climate change science and data after East Anglia email break-in, signed by 1700 UK scientists from 67 universities and 55 other institutions
UCS10: 2010 Union of Concerned Scientists' declaration from over 2000 U.S. scientists and economists

Signed' column tinted this colour for signers of these 'skeptic' statements

SEPP92 1992 'Statement by Atmospheric Scientists on Greenhouse Warming' from the 'Science and Environment Policy Project',
LZ95: 1995 'Leipzig Declaration' organized by Fred Singer, signed by 80 scientists and 25 weathermen
CA02: 2002 skeptics letter to Canadian P.M. Jean Chretien
CA03: 2003 skeptics letter to Canadian P.M. Paul Martin;
CA06: 2006 skeptics letter to Canadian P.M. Stephen Harper
UN07: 2007 skeptics letter to U.N. Sec. General Ban Ki-Moon
TGGWS: 2007 TV film The Great Global Warming Swindle interviewees
NIPCC: 2008 Heartland Inst. document Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate, ed. S. Fred Singer
MHND: 2008 'Manhattan Declaration' from skeptics' conference in NYC
Cato09: 2009 newspaper ad by the Cato Institute challenging President Obama's stance on climate change
APS09: 2009 Petition to the American Physical Society to amend their statement on climage change
CCC09: 2009 'Copenhagen Climate Challenge' 158 signers (NOT used in PNAS article)
EPA10: 2010 SPPI letter to the U.S. EPA supporting challenges by the US Chamber of Commerce and three states which question the basis for the 2009 'Endangerment Finding' under the Clean Air Act.

Mathis Hampel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reiner Grundmann said...


thanks for the link and the very interesting list. It seems as if the 'green' group, signing affirmative statements is far bigger than the 'brown' group, signing sceptical statements (this broad description is problematic in itself, isn't it?).

While this may give comfort to the first group in that one can show that good sense prevails after all in science, this does not help addressing the question of how they enter public discourse via news production. In other words, of these thousands of self-identified scientists only very few will make media appearances.

This list also leaves out the aspect that non-scientists (NGOs and politicians) are important claims makers.

I don't see your point that the categories advocate and sceptic are not clear at a basic level because ‘one can advocate that climate change is not happening’. This is not the common understanding of the term, as for example shown by John Houghton in our introduction. He says that scientists need help to ‘get our messages across in an honest and open and sensible way, without causing the sort of furore, the sort of polarisation that has occurred because of the people who are trying to deny it, and trying to deny it so vehemently that the media is taking so much notice of them.’

So he assumes several things which might be worth examining:

• that there is a message that needs to get across (presumably to an audience)
• that the message is specific (‘our message’), indicating it is shared by a group
• that scientists are not good at doing this because they stick to their science only
• that there is polarization because other people deny the message
• that those denying it are doing it so vehemently that the media is taking so much notice of them
• that some good PR would help correcting the distortion

What does this show?
1. Houghton assumes that there are scientists trying to get the message across -- I take this to be advocacy.
2. There are those who are trying to deny it -- scepticism.
3. The media misrepresents the importance, relevance or size of both -- therefore the first group needs PR advice, making advocacy more effective.

While we accept 1 and 2, we cannot confirm 3 by our analysis.

It is interesting that ‘the message’ itself is not defined. It is hidden because it is so present. The BBC article that quotes Houghton gives a hint: ‘The number of British people who are sceptical about climate change is rising, according to a new poll.’ So the message itself must have something to do with the belief in climate change.

The notion of advocacy is necessary for the understanding of climate discourse, as Houghton and many others have understood and acknowledged. In fact, if climate scientists would have kept silent and done nothing but science we would not be talking about climate change as one of the most important issues of our time.

Climate science has shown its capacity as an early warning system and scientists who find something alarming have every right to say so. But so have those who doubt it. And the right to speak out is not limited to scientists. Perhaps most problematic of all: trying to convince the non-believers with smart PR might be a risky strategy.

Anonymous said...

Reiner Grundmann,

thanks for providing the draft.

I was surprised seeing listed the TAZ in Germany, but not FAZ or Sueddeutsche Zeitung. In UK there are The Guardian und The Telegraph missing, two strong advocates. What is the reason for these choices?

Another question is the effect of differences in representations of deniers (just my category, no connotations implied). Do we observe a correlation to polls asking for belief in climate science?

And last: I understand Gavins point. It's hard to bear, that the voice of a scientist, who explains science, counts as much as the voice of a denier, who obscures science.


Dennis Bray said...

Hi Reiner,

Mainly I was talking aout semantics. One groups 'advocates' one position and the other group 'advocates' a different position. Regardeless of the message, they are indeed both advocates, one of 'affirmative action climate change policy' the other of 'no affirmative action climate change policy'. Although the 'advocate-skeptic' dichotomy is well embedded in the discourse, it simply is not correct. And if such basic communication is not correct ...

Reiner Grundmann said...

Our corpus was built with papers available through the LexisNexis database which did not contains these papers (I think the Guardian has been included recently but could be wrong).
Can you specific your Q re. the effects on polls?

Yes, we also talk about the sun rising in the morning where physics has shown long ago that the sun does not move around the earth.

Dennis Bray said...


Sorry, I don't follow your logic here. In conveying information a precise vocabulary is quite important. Otherwise, you might run into trouble as pointed out long ago by Sokal. I'm not critizing your work at all. But there is a need to take care or we end up focusing on the coining of neologisms in the quest for fame: coining terminology vs content.

Anonymous said...

Reiner Grundmann,

you have defined "skeptics" as "as individuals who use knowledge claims in order to promote a wait-and-see approach usually by casting doubt on the theory of anthropogenic global warming."

Have skeptics been succesful in casting doubt on climate science? Are there differences in the four countries? Maybe there are some interesting correlations with your results.

One result was:
"The US press gives nine times more attention to sceptical voices compared to Germany, and four times more than the UK."

I'm not familiar with polls, my question is, if there are similar differences in the countries in polls examining questions like "Do you believe in global warming?" or "Do you trust in climate science?"


Reiner Grundmann said...


this is an under researched field in which I have no experience. It seems to be difficult to establish the role of media reporting in the formation of public opinion, see the recent comment by James Painter from the Reuters Institute for the Study of journalism:

Here you will also find some poll data and their relation to skeptical reporting.

To me it is not even clear in which direction the causal chain runs, from public opinion to journalistic coverage or the other way. Perhaps we agree it is more complicated than we thought.