Tag Archives: Science Communication

James Hansen causes a stir….

James Hansen, as reported in the UK’s Independent newspaper has suggested that the sceptic position on global warming is gaining ground and I really love this quote from the story:

In a briefing at the Royal Society , Dr Hansen, pictured, was frank about the success with public opinion of what he termed “the climate contrarians”, in effectively lessening public concern about global warming. He said: “They have been winning the argument for several years, even though the science has become clearer.

“There’s been a very strong campaign by those who want to continue fossil fuel ‘business as usual’, and the scientific story has not been powerful enough to offset that push.”

Part of the problem, he said, was that the climate sceptic lobby employed communications professionals, whereas “scientists are just barely competent at communicating with the public and don’t have the wherewithal to do it.”

The result was, he said, that in recent years “a gap has opened between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community, and what’s known by the people who need to know – and that’s the public. However there’s nothing that has happened to reduce our scientific conclusion that we are pushing the system into very dangerous territory, in fact that conclusion has become stronger over that same time period.”

Why do I love this quote? It is because it flies so blatantly in the face of reality. For example, a particular bugbear of this blog is the New Zealand Herald, which offers particularly biased coverage of the debate. A quick site search of the Herald produced the following:

1. An editorial titled ‘Gillard Shows Courage on Climate Bill’, in which, you guessed it, coverage of Hansen’s comments is included. In addition to this we have commentary such as:

Either way, the country’s first step towards a cleaner economy sends a clear message to the world’s developing nations. Finally, one of the most notable climate change loafers has acted. The excuses for inaction are dwindling. The tax also delivers a strong verdict on the perils of global warming to the public. In so doing, it heightens the prospect of informed debate.

2. A more balanced article on the carbon dioxide tax in Australia

3. An article on…..yep, Jim Hansen’s comments on the climate change debate.

4. An article on Gillard’s wider political position which includes discussion of her position and debate on the carbon dioxide tax.

5. A couple of other articles also briefly touch on climate change, but are not addressing the subject….

I could go on, but the point is that Hansen’s comments only serve to refute Hansen’s comments. He claims that the debate is being lost due to lack of communication of the non-sceptic side of the debate, but Hansen’s comments are themselves widely reported, alongside some highly dubious ‘evidence’ he presents for the anthropogenic global warming thesis. Where are all these communications professionals on the sceptic side of the debate?

They are nowhere to be seen in most of the mainstream media.The Herald just serves to make the point with extensive coverage of Hansen’s views and comments, alongside endorsement of Gillard’s position on the carbon dioxide tax. These communication professionals should be looking for new jobs, as they do not seem to be having any impact.

The real point of interest here is the miracle of growing scepticism in the face of the ‘warming’ bias of the vast majority of the mainstream media. This bias is in turn supported by a huge ‘industry’ of NGOs with communications professionals, all of whom are seeking to promote the global warming scare. Two sociologists promoted the myth of the power of the sceptic camp with the following diagram:

However, in a rather brilliant response, Jo Nova presents the following:

It is really rather comical that the non-sceptic side bleats about communication professionals on the sceptic side when most of the mainstream media is supportive of their cause. For example, the lack of coverage of the scientific fraud of NIWA over the New Zealand temperature record in the press is a disgrace (see previous post here). If you would like to evaluate which of the above diagrams is closer to the truth, the New Zealand mainstream media tells the story; Jo Nova’s diagram paints the accurate picture.

As I have said, the real story is that, despite so much positive coverage in the media for the non-sceptic side of the debate, the sceptic debate is winning. Perhaps that just reflects the growing strength of the arguments of the sceptic side of the debate? Now, there is a novel explanation of why the sceptic argument is winning, and one which does not seem to occur to the non-sceptics.

Note: This is the second version of the post, due to initial technical problem. Among many problems, all links disappeared in the first version, so I hope all of this is reproduced accurately as per the original post.


More of the Media Climate Change Love-in

Did you see the Close Up interview with Dr. James Hansen? Hansen is billed in the Close Up website as having invented the first climate models, itself a rather dubious claim. Mark Sainsbury interviews Hansen about his views on climate change, and the interview is, to be quite frank, an embrassment. I generally have a great deal of respect for Mark Sainsbury, who manages to ask interviewees many of the difficult questions without coming over as aggressive or partisan. It is quite a talent.

However, and it is a big however, the interview with James Hansen was an embarassment. It was bordering on the fawning, and absolutely no difficult questions were asked. We can assume, for example, that the Close Up researchers would have undertaken some kind of background search on Dr. Hansen and might have found his Wikipedia entry. This is a little excerpt from the introduction to his entry:

In recent years, Hansen has become an activist for action to mitigate the effects of climate change, which on several occasions has led to his arrest.

The key point here is that Dr. Hansen has become an activist, and is not simply a scientist. He has taken on a role that moves him away from being a disinterested scientist (okay, no scientists are entirely disinterested, but there is line that can be drawn), but this was not how he was portrayed on Close Up. Instead, Mark Sainsbury placed strong emphasis on his scientific credentials, with a particularly strong emphasis placed upon his leadership of the NASA Goddard Institute. Mark Sainsbury might just as well have said that he is a rocket scientist, and we all know how clever they are.

What kind of difficult question could Mark Sainsbury asked of Dr. Hansen? One question might have addressed the accuracy of the climate models that have been developed by Dr. Hansen. For example, a critique of the accuracy of the models can be found here. Instead of addressing any area of controversy, Mark Sainsbury appeared to present a series of questions which were purposefully designed to allow Dr. Hansen to present a series of frightening and emotive scenarios. If watching the interview, it would be impossible for any viewer to be aware that the anthropogenic climate change might be the subject of intense debate and controversy. Instead, scenarios of doom and disaster were presented one after the other without a single probing or difficult question.

Just to add to the sense of alarm, the editors of the program pulled and displayed scary quotations as the interview progressed, such as:


Just as Dr. Hansen has moved from scientist to advocate, Close Up likewise moved from being news to advocacy. This is not to say that advocacy does not ever have a place in news programmes such as Close UP, but advocacy on issue that is quite rightly such an area of controversy seems to be inappropriate. On an issue of this kind, a news programme should at the very least inform viewers of the fierce debate that is taking place. The programme should at least include some difficult questions, and identify that there are scientists who are questioning the foundation of Dr. Hansen’s views.

I can only conclude by expressing my disappointment with Mark Sainsbury and the Close Up editorial team. Whilst they may believe the scenarios presented by Dr. Hansen, they owe it to their viewers to give them an opportunity to make up their own minds, not to be spoon fed horror scenarios by a climate change activist.

New Zealand Herald, No Integrity, Brian Rudman, No Integrity

Note: Apologies. The blog service is removing the paragraphs from this post for reasons unknown. I will try republishing later, to see if the error disappears.

It’s a funny and perhaps an old fashioned word. Integrity. This is what dictionary.com provides as a definition:

adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
The dictionary definition describes what I believe is at the heart of the New Zealand ethos. Integrity is a word which, I believe, is strongly associated with the best of New Zealand culture. It is therefore a concern that both the New Zealand Herald, and their columnist Brian Rudman appear to lack in this admirable New Zealand characteristic.
On the 13April, I wrote a post, with an open letter at the end. I pointed out that Brian Rudman had written a rude and unpleasant opinion piece about the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC), but that time had proved the NZCSC to be correct. I suggested that, considering the unpleasant language used in the opinion piece (e.g. calling NZCSC ‘flat earthers’), an apology was appropriate. On the day of the post, I made a comment on Brian Rudman’s latest opinion, but it was not published. I also sent a message using the Herald’s contact the news desk function, expressing my concern with Brian Rudman’s opinion piece. There was no response, and no response to a further message on on 20th April. I will inform the newspaper of this post, and will again offer to publish their response.
Why does this matter? It seems that the New Zealand Herald portrays itself as a newspaper with New Zealand values. However, in portraying itself as such, it should act with the integrity that is so closely associated with New Zealand. I do not know whether Brian Rudman has been informed of the messages were sent, but it seems unlikely that he would not be informed. I can therefore also question his integrity, and again, will publish any comment that he wishes to make. The newspaper, and Brian Rudman, were responsible for publishing an opinion piece that was rude, and also wrong. This is why the New Zealand Herald and Brian Rudman have no integrity:
  1. Adherence to moral and ethical principles; it seems that moral principles should include a desire to tell the truth. I sent a message in which I pointed out that the opinion piece mis-characterised the NZCSC. In the post I linked to, I explained how he had mis-characterised NZCSC. It seems that a moral course of action would be to retract the rude comments that were written about NZCSC, and to tell the truth that they were, indeed correct.
  2. Soundness of moral character; it seems that soundness of moral character would include admitting that you have been wrong, and seeking to rectify the wrong that you have done others once you are aware of it. They have been made aware of the wrong, but have chosen to do nothing.
  3. Honesty: honesty is a big word. It is about seeking truth, portraying the truth, acting on the truth. When Brian Rudman portrayed NZCSC as he did, he portrayed them in a way which had nothing to do with the truth. He appears equally uninterested in the truth now. The New Zealand Herald is the same. No interest in the truth.

The opinion piece itself was a pathetic ad hominem attack. If you wish to see why the piece was so wrong, see here. The opinion piece dealt with no substantive issues, but instead resorted to name calling. Why engage in serious debate, when you can opine without dealing with any issue of substance? Just call those you disagree with rude names, and label it ‘an opinion’. This is not an opinion that is deserving of any respect, but is behaviour that would be better left in the playground.

I sought to engage with both Brian Rudman and the New Zealand Herald. I sought to prompt them to act with integrity. Instead of ‘fronting up’, another good New Zealand characteristic, they chose to pretend that there was nothing at issue. However, there is something at issue, and that is the integrity of the newspaper, and the integrity of their columnist Brian Rudman.
I had heard that many in the media wer hostile to anyone, and anything, that might discomfort the thesis of anthropogenic global warming. The question I contemplated was whether, when confronted with their own error, they might ‘front up’, and actually act to rectify the error. It seems that both Brian Rudman and the New Zealand Herald are uninterested in correcting their errors. It seems that they have no interest in fairness or honesty.
I can only conclude that both the New Zealand Herald and Brian Rudman have no integrity whatsoever. The question is this; if the New Zealand Herald will not even engage with a person seeking to help them rectify an error, should you trust this newspaper? I believe that the answer should be ‘no’.

50 Million Climate Change Refugees

or maybe not after all…….

A new post, The UN “disappears” 50 million climate refugees, then botches the disappearing attempt | Watts Up With That?, has the following to say:

In 2005, the United Nations Environment Programme predicted that climate change would create 50 million climate refugees by 2010. These people, it was said, would flee a range of disasters including sea level rise, increases in the numbers and severity of hurricanes, and disruption to food production.

The claim by the UNEP claim has been found (of course) to be absolute bunkum, and they have now deleted the claim from their website. Unfortunately for them, the claim was still available as a cached page on Google, along with a high resolution image of where the refugees will come from. Some quick fact checking finds that the refugee crisis has simply not taken place. Although the UNEP has dropped the claim from its website, perhaps most interestingly, the claim has not disappeared, but the timeline has simply been moved to 2020. This from AFP:

WASHINGTON — Fifty million “environmental refugees” will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing food shortages sparked by climate change, experts warned at a major science conference that ended here Monday.

“In 2020, the UN has projected that we will have 50 million environmental refugees,” University of California, Los Angeles professor Cristina Tirado said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

“When people are not living in sustainable conditions, they migrate,” she continued, outlining with the other speakers how climate change is impacting both food security and food safety, or the amount of food available and the healthfulness of that food.

It is a major problem with the scares around climate science. When the facts do not fit, just pretend that there is no problem and carry on regardless. Whilst the media trumpeted the claim about the refugees, there is no follow up, and nobody is held to account for the scare statements. Nevertheless, these erroneous studies grab attention as they are released, raising a sense of panic about the impacts of anthropogenic global warming. When the claims are falsified, it is left to a band of bloggers to flag the problem, but the majority of people will never hear that the original scare has been refuted.The problem is that the majority of people will never read the blogs.

The problem is this. People are bombarded with these scare stories, and it is therefore no wonder that so many worry about climate change. The problem is that the other side of the coin, the final conclusion of ‘nothing to see here….’ never makes the headlines. The problem is that the skeptic view must deal with both the science and the media, but most of the media, in particular in New Zealand, just do not seem to be interested in anything that dis-confirms the scares.

The big question here is how it might be possible to get these stories into the hands of the wider public? I have no easy answers, but it is a question that absolutely needs an answer. As long as people do not have the full picture, how might they make an informed judgement?

The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition

The purpose of this blog is to focus on the arguments about climate change in the broad, but with a particular focus on New Zealand. As such, this post is devoted to the leading organisation in New Zealand that is taking a skeptical stance; The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC).

NZCSC was founded by an eclectic mix of concerned people, including academics/scientists and business people, all of whom shared concerns that the ‘science’ of climate change, or rather the anthropogenic global warming thesis, was questionable. I am a great admirer of the work that they are conducting, and in particular their campaign to investigate the veracity of the New Zealand temperature record. However, I do have a concern with the organisation, which is that I am unconvinced of the effectiveness of their efforts to explain their work. As such, this post is a friendly critique of the NZCSC, and I hope that it comes to their attention and is useful in improving their communication.

So, having explained that I am positively disposed to their investigative work and research, what is the problem with their communication? A good starting point, which is the sole focus of this post, is their website. The debate about climate science needs to be addressed on two fronts; the science itself, and the communication of the science to the public. I concentrate on their website as a starting point as I have some experience in internet marketing and website usability (I have conducted usability studies for e-commerce platforms and designed and built database driven websites).

Starting with the basics, on the first occasion of opening the NZCSC site, the first impression that I felt was that it was old-fashioned and unattractive, and was overloaded with endless unsorted links and news items. As a campaigning organisation, this is hardly the way to entice people to pursue their interest further. The website just does not look like it has been designed professionally, and I am sure that it will be off-putting for many potentially interested people. Another problem is the lack of any pictures throughout the site. It is very plain and very dull. Pictures and illustrations add to a site, even if they just make it more pleasant to look at. However, they can also be used to create emphasis or make a message more memorable.

Before continuing further, I should emphasise the one positive in the site, which is the search box. The search utilises the Google site search facility and is relatively effective. I tried a few searches, and it seemed to pull up reasonably relevant content. However, search should be a last resort, not a first resort.  As such, my concern is with the way that the site is structured.

If we start on the home page, there are the links to ‘help non scientist visitors’. The way that this is phrased is such that it sounds a bit condescending. It is a bit like saying that all the rest of the content is only for the use of scientists, and not for the uninformed. I fully understand their aim in presenting the link in this way, but there are better ways to phrase it (I will come back to this point). If we then look at the main navigation menu for the site, this is when we are in real trouble. The ‘home’ button is fine, the ‘about us and contact’ is fine, but the rest – just downright confusing. The ‘links and videos’ button takes you to a page, which then links to other pages, but I had no idea what to expect when getting there. It seem a bit pointless,  to lump the content of this page together, and just produce links to further pages.

Another link is even more worrying, which is the link to the ‘NIWA NZ Temperature record’.  The first problem is that any ordinarily interested visitor would not be likely to have any idea about NIWA’s temperature record or any idea what this might be about. The link is offered upon an assumption that a new visitor might be as interested as the authors in the details of the debate over temperature records. It is even worse when actually following the link. There are just a series of links to details of correspondence between NZCSC and NIWA. If any has managed to grasp the meaning of the link, and has a moderate interest in climate change, they are then confronted with links to detailed correspondence. I am very interested, and I will read it, but I doubt that many would bother.

The curious thing is that the NZCSC investigation of the NIWA New Zealand temperature record is their most important contribution (I believe) to the debate. However, aside from this unclear link on the home page, you would have no idea of their great success in the questioning of the ‘official’ New Zealand temperature records (I will discuss this in later posts, as this is not the purpose of this post). As a moderately interested reader, open to the skeptical side of the debate, there is no way to reach a summary of their long and impressive campaign. If they doubt this, they should just get some ordinarily and moderately informed people, sit them in front of their website, and see whether they have any idea of what they have achieved when browsing the site.

This, I believe is the essence of the problem of their presentation. The website is built and designed for the highly informed. It is informing the informed with more information, and starts with an assumption that everyone who visits knows the details of the debate. They do not. The links at the top of the page for the non-scientists seem to be thrown in for such people, but are hardly a substitute for communication with a moderately interested audience. ‘Yes’, it is a good idea to have an explanation of the science for the non-scientist, but this can be presented in more friendly ways, such as ‘Climate Science – the Basics’ (the first thought that came to mind, not a definitive answer). This should be in the main menu and lead to a user-friendly page of some links, with a short description of the relevant content.

Returning to the main menu, there are links to pages for ‘policy’, ‘science’ and ‘economics’. These again lead the reader into yet more links to news stories which are presented in endless lists. It is not even that clear that the news stories pertain to the link title, but that is a side issue. Finally, there is the link that is simply titled ‘Dr. Vincent Gray’. To most visitors, this link will not be meaningful, and I am not sure why they might click on it. If, for some unknown reason, a new visitor might get as far as actually clicking on the link, they are then confronted with a list of links in the format of ‘NZCLIMATE & ENVIROTRUTH NO 188‘. Again, in the unlikely event that anyone with a moderate interest level might click on the link, they are presented with yet another link, and this opens up a pdf file that details Dr. Gray’s examination of a particular issue. No doubt, this content is all good, but I doubt that all but the most interested might ever get this far.

Overall, I believe the NZCSC’s website is actually a negative for the organisation. For any first time visitor, it is highly unlikely to create a positive impression, and most likely produces a negative impression of the organisation. I believe that the work, and the message of NZCSC is of great importance, but they are simply not approaching the second element of their work (communication) with the professionalism necessary to get their message ‘out there’.  They are up against a largely hostile media, politicians who are mostly afraid to go against the ‘consensus’ and a populous in which there is a strong ‘green’ strain of thought.

Sure, there are skeptics in New Zealand, but only the most interested would ever make use of, or find resources in the NZCSC website for presenting their arguments. I am aware that they have other approaches to communication, but anyone interested in what they have to say is likely to visit their website as a first port of call. If they do so, they are likely to be disappointed. However, what of those people who are moderately positively disposed towards the anthropogenic global warming thesis? These are the people who might be persuaded of the case for skepticism. As the NZCSC’s website now stands, I think they have very little chance of persuading these people.

It is, of course, easy to be critical. The tough question is what to do to improve the website. The starting point is to get a professional designer to at least make the site look more enticing and professional (my apologies to whoever designed the site, but it needs to be said). The second step would be for NZCSC to take a long look at their priorities, and make sure that these priorities are reflected in the structure of the website. In all cases, their navigation system needs to take into account two types of users; the moderately interested and informed, and the very interested and informed. I am, of course, making an assumption here that they wish to engage with the former, but even for the latter (i.e. people like myself), the current site is very poor.

Long lists of unsorted news articles and links (throughout so much of the site) is certainly a negative and does not help a casual or interested person to understand NZCSC’s work. Whilst the information linked to is interesting, huge lists of these links (presented in caps as well) are just filling space, and are not usable except for the most interested readers (and even they will struggle to search through the links – I used the Firefox ‘Edit > Find’ function to search for content).

I could make further long and detailed suggestions for specific improvements but it actually requires NZCSC to have clarity in their priority and purpose, and this is not something that can be done by a friendly external critic such as me. Having looked at their work, it seems that the NZ temperature record is of particular importance, but they need to decide whether this is their priority in their communications.

As such, their first step must be to get the right people in the organisation sitting in the same room for a time, and to agree on exactly what they are trying to communicate, how they will communicate it, and make sure that their priorities and ideas are reflected in the site structure. Above all, if my assumptions are correct, they need to ensure that they engage with a wider audience, and make sure that this is reflected in their site. Finally, when they have completed the work, they need to test the site’s usability with their intended audience to make sure that it actually achieves their aims.

As I have emphasised, this is a friendly critique. NZCSC have my full support in the work that they are doing. However, I would like to see them get a wider audience for their work, and I think that they are putting barriers in the way of achieving this. In my case, I have chosen to write a blog, and this is my small and amateur contribution to the debate (and is therefore not put forward as an exemplar of how to approach communication). In the case of NZCSC, they have the potential for a far greater contribution, and that requires a better presentation of their work.