Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Marcel Severijnen: Evaluation report on Climate Dialogue published

Evaluation report on Climate Dialogue published
by Marcel Severijnen

As announced before  a final evaluation report on the closed weblog Climate Dialogue has been published by PBL (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.

From the executive summary:

The main lessons learnt from this project are:

• The experiment has shown there is potential for a blog such as Climate Dialogue in the polarised landscape of climate change science communication, bringing together scientists with different viewpoints.

• To some extent, the dialogues made clear what the participants agreed on, what they disagreed on and why they disagreed. For example, different views were related to different definitions, disciplines (e.g. focus on statistics vs physics), methods, models and data that scientists favour. In the background, differences in frames probably played a role as well, but these were not explicitly discussed.

• Participating scientists in general were positive about the experience. The friendly and constructive environment in which the dialogues took place probably played a role in that appraisal.

• It was more difficult to attract mainstream climate scientists than sceptical climate scientists. One important reason was what is sometimes called ‘false balance’, i.e. the perception that the format of specifically inviting sceptical scientists to the dialogue gives them more ‘weight’ than they have in the broader scientific community, and as such provides a skewed view of the scientific debate.

• A project of this kind should be operated preferably by an international team including people that have a well-respected position amongst mainstream climate scientists.

• Institutional support from either well-known international climate institutes or professional bodies, such as EGU, AGU, AMS and EMS, would help to ensure continuity of Climate Dialogue and participation by mainstream climate scientists.

• To motivate expert participation it would be helpful if climate dialogues lead to a peer reviewed publication.

The subjects of the weblog were:

·        The melting of the Arctic Sea ice

·        Long term persistence and trend significance

·        Are regional models ready for prime time?

·         The (missing) tropical hotspot

·         Climate Sensitivity and Transient Climate Response

·         What will happen during a new Maunder Minimum?

The six discussions by 20 scientific experts are summarized in the report, positive and (many) criticisms are mentioned. This final report is interesting for the lessons learned in using a weblog for such a sensitive issue, that leads to continuous sharp contrasts in this polarised debate. As such the weblog was a promising initiative, but not successful in bridging the two sites of the discussion.

The report will be used as basis for a scientific publication around the question “To what extent can social media be used for discussing controversial scientific topics, and what would be the advantages and disadvantages of such communication practice?” The continuation of the weblog is quite uncertain, perhaps a project subvention from the EU innovation and research programme Horizon2020 will help, but as always such subventions are meant for a short time period only. In the meantime the contents of the weblog will be available for one year on

The full report can be downloaded.