Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chill out

It's Easter time, and it's time to chill out. This is what the communication researcher Matthew C. Nisbet also recommends in his article 'Chill out. Climate scientists are getting a little too angry for their own good'.  He argues that continuing the 'war' against skeptics leads into 'a dangerous trap, fueling further political disagreement while risking public trust in science'.

Even though the article is written from an anti-skeptics (and very American) perspective, there are some general lessons to learn from it. The 'bunker mentality' is not exclusively an 'alarmist' problem, and skeptics also contribute considerably to risking public trust in science.

Nisbet makes the interesting argument that climategate and related recent scandals do NOT necessarily contribute to a general drop in the belief in global warming (the drop was just 5%, by the way, from 80% to 75% between 2008 to Nov 2009, according to a survey).  In any case, it seems to be difficult to single out 'the causal influence of last year's hacked emails'. According to another survey, only 17% of all Americans had heard 'a lot' about the email scandal. At the same time, attention of the public was focused for example on Afghanistan, health care reform (and basketball, I might add) - and our attention span is limited, as we know.
Instead of continuing the science war, Nisbet recommends to engage in new ways with the public and policymakers. 'The new direction is not to become more political and confrontational on the national stage, but to seek opportunities for greater public interaction, dialogue, and partnerships in communities across the country'.
This not only educates the public, but it educates the scientist, too.  But I want to recommend one additional precondition to Nisbet's well-intended suggestion: the dialog with the public should not be top down and one-sided (alarmist or skeptic, no difference); instead, the scientist should come as a honest broker. How do you recognize a honest broker? She is able to admit uncertainty, independent of her general skeptical or alarmist attitude. How will climate affect our coastline, our agrarian production, tourism? What do we possibly have to expect? What are the possible consequences of our political decisions? Admitting not to be sure about future climates is a real honest start for a dialog with the public.  Furthermore, it makes clear that the scientist and the public share a common problem -  both together, that is, WE  have to manage the effects of climate change. This is a common task of the public and climate science, both engaged in the very same global experiment. To be a honest broker is a difficult task, I guess; it is more than calculating correctly, it is a change in perspective.
In case you are fluent in German, chill out and read this fine report of a such an interaction between climate science and the public:

Happy Easter!


sien said...

Another fine post, what an interesting blog this is. Congrats to all involved.

Part of the issue is that this is not just a scientific problem and that while parts of the scientific consensus are very strong others are fairly weak, such as dendro- climatology.

The impact of many of the proposed policy changes is so vast that the discussion cannot remain a purely scientific one. Even the IPCC does this in WG3.

It is interesting to look at the findings of the poll on those who believe in C02 AGW but that in the recent Der Spiegel article the polls in the UK and Germany indicated that fear of AGW has substantially declined.

It appears that 'lukewarmism', that is believe that human produced C02 increases temperature but that the increases may not be catastrophic is perhaps the most common view.

This isn't bad for climate scientists, it is bad for those who want strong action on C02 emissions and sizable reductions.

P Gosselin said...

A house of cards is a house of cards. You can label it and trumpet it as "science" all you want, and because it's been baptised as science, claim it is undisputable!
Obviously the people who took this approach have no clue as to what science is really about, Thus they are doomed to fall along with their house of cards.
As long as they continue to deny that their science of looming catastrophe is flakey, they will have no chance. They can name-call, belittle, besmirch, throw tantrums all they want, but they will never succeed until they build a house of brick and mortar on solid rock.

"It's the science, stupid!"
Happy Easter!

P Gosselin said...

I read the Die Zeit report. Thanks for this interesting link. Some of my comments:
1. The word "könnten" was used about a dozen times with regards to future "projections". There is a lot of crystal ball work involved here. One thing is certain, sea level rise will be very slow and not to worry - we will have time to pick up our beach towels and chairs and move back a few meters.
2. The article was written in August, 2009. Much has been learned about the IPCC report since that time. It's reliability has to be reassessed. The Die Zeit piece is somewhat outdated and comes from a time of general alarmism.
3. Again there is always the implication that the way to solve the overly hyper-dramatised sea level rise phenomena is to appease the climate gods by reducing our sinful CO2 output. But please recall, sea levels have been rising for thousands of years. Somewhere I found the evolution of the Island of Sylt. It was much bigger thousands of years ago. Yes, northern Germany is sinking under water (and Scandinavia is rising). Perhaps the North Sea Germans ought to think about moving their beach chairs and towels back a few meters - in maybe 20 or 30 years.

P Gosselin said...

Finally, please allow me to link to some hard data:



Goteberg, Sweden:

Quick! Pick up your beach towels and run (to Goteberg, that way - up north)!

Werner Krauss said...

@ P Gosselin #2

This post is not about 'them', 'their science' and 'looming catastrophes'. Instead, I argue that there is indeed a world out there, with weather and climate of every kind. Something to take care of, and climate science can contribute a lot. Even a hardcore skeptic will admit that climate exists, that it changes and that science can be useful. There is a world (and a science) beyond your beloved war against the alarmists (which is a debate of great importance, no doubt). To permanently repeat 'they are wrong' is not of much help for those who have to plan the next dike or dam. That's what the post is about.

Hans von Storch said...

Sea level data at a number of locations along the German coast - this is one of the cases, where lay people may not be best prepared for interpretation. Have the data been homogeneized? Why is Cuxhaven much steeper than Wismar? What happened to the Elbe in front of Cuxhaven? Where in Warnemünde is the instrument located, possible along the river, and has this river beend dredged for shipping purposes?
P. Gosselin, sometimes it is useful to know about the details, before jumping to conclusions, or even worse - to show something and invite people for premature conclusions.

Hans von Storch said...

P. Gosslin - Goteberg seems to be Göteborg. What do you call "hard data"? A good, well tended station seems to be Norderney.

P Gosselin said...

I agree with you. Don't get me wrong. I am myself a slight lukewarmer, very moderate warming caused maybe 25% man, 75% nature. But I don't see any climate catstrophe.
And I admit being at war with the alarmists. I feel obligated to be so as I think they have an inordinate amount of influence on the IPCC and policy. Speaking up is a civic duty.

Aside, I was just checking various other coastal cities around the globe, maybe you have too.
I myself don't really see much out there going on. Many graphs even show deceleration over the last 10-15 years.

Precautionary principle?
For which possible catastrophe?
6 meter sea rise?
Ice Age?
Meteor strike?
Cal earthquake?
Yosemite blowing its top?
Aliens landing?

Hans von Storch said...

Werner: you write "general drop in the belief in global warming"
- this is remarkable, because this refers to the warming without reference to the cause, i.e, natural or man-made (see original survey). That is, it is not only the confidence in scientists explaining the reason accurately, but also in the claim that the air temperature is gradually increasing irrespective of explanations. This may be related to the stalling of the temperature increase in the recent decade (which depends a bit on the way of looking at the record), which made some headlines for instance in SPIEGEL (supported by quotes by Jochem Marotzke, for instance); if you compare the statistics with those offered by Gallup, you see an acceleration of change in the last year. Would be interesting to deconstruct these results.

P Gosselin said...

Prof von Storch,
Like weather stations, are some NOAA sea level measurement stations also of poor quality?
I'm not familiar with the integreity of the NOAA stations for sea levels. Do you have a better source?
Also, I think it would be very interesting for you to post something about the historical sea levels of north Germany, so that we can compare it to future projections, maybe the last 5000 years. Would you consider this?

Hans von Storch said...

P. Gosslin - the question is what you call "hard data". I would guess that the recorded data are representative for the immediate surrounding of the tide gauges - which were operated mainly for shipping purposes (therefore they are in ports). Thus the data are likely accurate, but their changes may reflect all kind of effects, including slow adjustment processes related to water works (incl. dam building, dredging of shipping channel) and the implementation of coastal defense measures. I would guess that almost all ports around the world have been modified - deliberately or due to natural erosion/deposition effects. The issue of sea level rise along the North Sea coast is presently studied, and first results are coming in. For the Baltic Sea we had very little material on that in the BACC report, reflecting the insufficient knowledge (an update specifically on this issue is presently prepared).
When you ask for the sea level of Northern Germany - you mean coastal? Do you know how the coast looked like 1000 years earlier, when people had not begun building dykes?
There is a sketch published by Karl-Heinz Behre for the past 10 thousand years, showing an increase of the order of 100 m. You should not rely on this sketch too much - apart of the general increase.

eduardo said...

@ P. Gosselin,

-'sea-level has been rising for thousands of years.'

This is not correct if you refer to global mean sea-level. It attained a maximum at the so called Midholocene High Stand, about 5000 years ago 2 meters higher than today, and has been declining, at these long time scales, since then. The trends in the past millennium are not as clear because variations could have been in the decimeter range or less. If I find the time , I would post something about this soon.

-Science. I have reading a bit in 'sceptics blogs' in the last few weeks. Of course you dont have to believe me, but my impress ion is that the 'science' being explained there is not
particular reassuring. In many cases I would denote it as magical thinking rather than science. In a few of them, however, I found interesting stuff for thought. It is remarkable how uncritically people accept theories that fit their predetermined opinions and reject all others that contradict them. probably it has been like this for thousands of years as well

Werner Krauss said...

to Hans #9

I guess these surveys produce always political numbers, which are of certain value in specific contexts (such as to back up political decisions, or to apply for a research fund).
The result of these surveys depends so much on the exactness of the question, what is included, what not. Do you love me? Yes or no. Or else you have to listen to a long story full of emotional complexities - something that surveys have no time for.

Maybe the results are comparable to statements like 'sea level was rising constantly in the last x-thousand years (or not)'. Somehow true, or not. In any way, different from your more 'ethnographic' statements about Wismar, Cuxhaven etc. Each a case of its own; this makes generalizations complicated. As if it were different realities, the general and the specific. Partial truths, that's what these statements are.

If you talk at length to each one of those who were interviewed, their opinion will maybe change, become multi-faceted, thoughtful, confused - whatever.
Your dialog with P Gosselin demonstrates this clearly: There is a switch from having a strong opinion to having a discussion of ever new details and facts.

Is climate change something to believe in? It's not a religion. It is so easy to show that lay people are fools or 'believe' instead of 'know'. But why not simply involve people in discussions of a common problem, as I suggested in my post? Climate change is on the table, anyway. Future politics will always be (also) climate politics, whether you are a skeptic or not.

isaacschumann said...

A truly excellent and thoughtful post, Werner.

I especially liked your suggestion that scientists approach the public with questions and problems to be solved together, to bring them, in a small way, into the scientific process; rather than to dictate truth to them from on high. It will be frustrating, but in the words of the immortal Calvin and Hobbes (the europeans may not know this wonderful comic strip) 'A good compromise leaves everybody mad'


Werner Krauss said...


Glad you liked it! No doubt, Calvin & Hobbes readers are educated people!

I just want to add that communication with the public is a two-way-street. Of course, people should learn something about climate science; on the other hand, climate scientists have to learn something about the reality of regional climates inhabited by real people (including climate scientists!). We do not live in average weather. We live in Göteborg, Wilhelmshaven or another place with specific conditions.
Climate has become part of politics. We still do not know how to deal with partial truths (global and regional ones) and how they are connected. When we find out, we know where we live.

P Gosselin said...

Thanks for the reply and for modifying my statement (when viewed over the last 5,000 years). Of course if we go back 20,000 years, then the merits of my claim look different.
I'd be very much interested in a post from you on sea levels over the last 1000 or 2000 years.

Hans von Storch:
Here's one story of Sylt: (with disclaimer).
Taken from:

Prof. Kehl's website content seems okay to me.
I'm not sure about Gothenburg (English spelling - according to Wiki), but I can say with high certainty that Gosslin is Gosselin.

isaacschumann said...

Werner's post made me remember a piece I had read by Daniel Botkin some time ago that, I think, illustrates his point very well. Ive printed an excerpt below. Please read the whole thing.

"...the meeting he attended hadn’t started off so well. To begin with, there was considerable distrust by the fishermen and fishing guides of some scientist from California, paid by the government, who arrived in Gold Beach and was probably going to tell them what to do about their salmon. Before the meeting, the small team of scientists I had organized to do the project ate lunch with a representative of the fishermen. One of my colleagues said to him, “There seems to be some considerably hostility toward the government of Oregon.”"

“Darn right,”he said, “When they came down here and told us they could manage salmon, we thought they meant that we could manage to have salmon.”

"When I opened the meeting, the audience of hardworking men sat stiffly upright in their chairs with their arms folded, looking hostile, until one of them said, “Professor Botkin, do you believe that the salmon are declining?”"

"I replied honestly “I’ve just started this project and don’t know much of anything about salmon and don’t have any preconceived ideas. I’m just here to find out what is known.”"

"The audience immediately relaxed and became very helpful. By the end of the meeting, the leader of the fishing guides got up and said that the guides knew the rivers better than anybody, they spent 360 days a year on them, and they would be willing to make any measurements that would be helpful to our study.”"

"...Even more remarkable was that Jim had gotten a friend who knew a little about science to help him graph the two kinds of data. He brought in a huge hand-drawn graph (this was in the days before PowerPoint, and anyway, Jim wouldn’t have used that). A nonscientist actually doing an analysis of data. Once again, no government agency had gone this far."

"Sure enough, as Jim pointed out, if there was a high-water year, then four years later a lot of salmon swam upstream. If there was a low-water year, then four years later few salmon returned. Jim provided the first important insight into what might be a major factor influencing salmon abundance."

Rob Maris said...

Eduardo (12) sealevel quote: "It attained a maximum at the so called Midholocene High Stand, about 5000 years ago 2 meters higher than today, and has been declining, at these long time scales, since then.".

Oh, very interesting. Until recently, my knowledge about this stems from a book "Wattenmeer", Abrahamse/Veenstra, 1976, where it is stated that sea level is rising continuously - only the rate be decreasing on time scales of several hundred years.
I'm looking forward to your intended posting containing up to date data.