Reprinted here with permission:
It’s particularly sad for me that I have been quoted in the same article as Sen. Inhofe, the guy who claims that climate change research is a hoax. The article correctly points out the errors and negative fallout, and I guess we need to grin and bear it, again, and again, week after week, month after month, until the media figures out that there’s a reality to report on as well. The Post article makes it sound as if the scientific community thinks that the IPCC process needs either scrapping or complete overhauling. This is not the impression I get at all in 99% of the comments I get from scientists; and it for sure isn’t my view.
David Farenthold did not misrepresent my views, so that’s not my concern. And the article made some useful points. But I just wonder at what point the unfolding story will go toward questions such as:
- If the Himalayan glaciers won’t melt by 2035, when will they melt? At what rates are they melting?
- Are the actual rates of melting really significant?
- In what ways are they significant?
- If the Amazon really is so sensitive to changes in precipitation (notwithstanding the sloppiness of the citations), what–for the public– are the consequences of this sensitivity?
- What roles have been played by the media in making the exaggerated claims? (This question is NOT to blame shift. It is just to recognize that media reporting has been wildly inaccurate in many cases, and commonly the reporters must have known it.)
- What is accurately presented, insofar as we can assess correctness, in the IPCC 4th Assessment?
- Can we have a public, well-aired synthesis of what is accurate in AR4?
- How can scientists be better communicators?
- How can scientists and the media work together to present a more accurate picture of the changing Earth system?
- How can scientists help the media ferret good information and diagnose misinformation and errors?
- How can the media better discern and educate the public in what is Hollywood-type hysteria-for-entertainment versus legitimate science-based concern about hazards, disasters, and dangerous trends in the changing Earth system?
- How can the science-media-public information system avoiding again sinking into the pit where every newly reported hazard or impending Earth change is necessarily a disaster so much better and bigger than the last one that was reported?
- How can we help the public understand what is real from what is fabrications for entertainment’s sake or political gains?
- What responsibilities do scientists, the media, and politicians have in disseminating accurate scientific information?
- How can this dissemination be done more accurately?
- How can the science-journalism-public connections be made in compelling, interesting, and understandable ways while maintaining accuracy and not spinning into a “weapons of mass destruction” type of sequential filtering and oversimplification that results in errant conclusions at odds with the scientific inputs?
- How can we avoid such a degree of “dumbing down” that reality is no longer adequately portrayed on issues which fundamentally affect us all (whether that’s effects of climate change or effects of policy to address or ignore climate change)?
- How can the media better identify political witch hunts or political conspiratorial leanings and discern the difference from legitimate political criticisms of scientific errors and errant scientists? What responsibilities does the media have in exposing unsubstantiated political claims about global change (regardless of which side the errors fall on)?
AND THE BIGGEST QUESTION OF ALL: IF UNCOVERING OF THESE ERRORS BY SCIENTISTS IS SIMPLY PORTRAYED AS ONE STEP IN UNCOVERING OF SOME BIG HOAX, AS SOME POLITICIANS WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE, AND IS NOT SIMPLY PART OF THE PROCESS OF SCIENTIFIC VALIDATION AND ERROR CORRECTION, AND IF THE ‘HOAX’ IDEA TAKES ROOT WITH THE GENERAL PUBLIC, THUS TOTALLY UNDERMINING ANY EFFORT TO REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS, AND GREENHOUSE GAS/CLIMATE CHANGE SCENARIOS CONSEQUENTLY MOVE TO A LESS UNCERTAIN REALM (TOWARD THE MORE SEVERE SCENARIOS REPRESENTING UNABATED EMISSIONS), HOW WILL PEOPLE AND THE EARTH BE IMPACTED? SO WE SUDDENLY HAVE REDUCED SCIENTIFIC UNCERTAINTY AT LAST, WITH THE MILDER SCENARIOS ELIMINATED. HOW DOES THE PROCESS OF UNCERTAINTY REDUCTION PUSH THE EARTH INCREASINGLY TOWARD TIPPING POINTS THAT NEED NOT BE OUR FATED FUTURE?
I am about as optimistic a spirit as a reporter will find anywhere. I have actually shunned the idea of discrete tipping points in favor of a some vague continuum of changes. But my optimism fades rapidly when I see the uncertainties resolving in this way.
In my view, this unfolding story must go to these types of questions, as well as things like “how did such a stupid error get into the IPCC’s 4th Assessment, and what simple little but effective changes can be made to improve the process and products of the IPCC?” In my view, these last two questions have been well answered already, with the proof of the last question’s resolution awaiting the Fifth Assessment or preferably in some intermediate assessment version 4.5. The bold reporting will be to deal with what’s real, and not endlessly rehash and refine and tweak and probe what is not real, what was error, and what was stupid. Let’s look for a change at what’s smart. We need that critical journalism, but at this point some actual real information needs to be conveyed to the public. This is the journalists’ job. If we as scientists are just so tarnished by some few of us having written some stupid things, so tarnished that nobody trusts scientists, then we might as well go pay the fortune tellers and politicians and all types of seers to tell us what the Earth’s future will be; that seems to be what we’re doing.
mt here again…
I wish the uppercase text had gone a tad slower, but consider the hypothetical:
IF UNCOVERING OF THESE ERRORS BY SCIENTISTS IS SIMPLY PORTRAYED AS ONE STEP IN UNCOVERING OF SOME BIG HOAX, AS SOME POLITICIANS WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE, AND IS NOT SIMPLY PART OF THE PROCESS OF SCIENTIFIC VALIDATION AND ERROR CORRECTION, AND IF THE ‘HOAX’ IDEA TAKES ROOT WITH THE GENERAL PUBLIC,
Essentially our critics are undermining our capacity for self-criticism, and then accusing us of “wagon-circling”, defensiveness, etc. How the hell are we supposed to keep ourselves sharp if any disagreement among us is used as proof that we are incompetent or dishonest?
There are a number of occasions where I have written pieces critical of the climate science community, and refrained from posting them. The fact is that whatever we say publicly that has the slightest controversial component is, at this point, guaranteed to be misconstrued. The new feature of the situation is that now, everything we say in private has to be treated as public.
Meanwhile, we are left putting out fires pretty much constantly.
I don’t think our more serious critics actually want to damage humanity’s capacity for advancing climate science, but if they had set out to do so they could hardly have done a better job.
Thanks to Jeff Kargel for permission to reproduce his interesting letter.