You might as well question evolution at this point in the knowledge curve. But there are cranks on that as well.
All that is left on the denier side is manufactured controversy by many of the same crowd that tried to create doubt on cigarette smoking and cancer.
Denial of human induced climate change verges on pathetic at this point in time and puts you in with anti-evos ( many of the same clowns - funny that ).
There are many extremely difficult choices ahead and things to learn.
How to address the changes.
How to blunt the impacts.
How to shift our society to carbon neutral and how rapidly we need to undertake that.
How fast the impacts will arrive ( those that are not already in play ).
Where the impacts will be felt worst.
What is NOT in question is
a) it's getting warmer
b) we're primarily responsible due to use of fossil fuels.
other than in the minds of a few cranks.
Are you counted amongst them?
Here is the article that was linked (i.e. lying is the main strategy at this point):
TranscriptRobyn Williams: This time, a special on the critics of climate science. Only this week, the president of the Royal Society of London Martin Rees on a visit to Australia told us once more that mainstream science is in agreement; climate is changing, it's due to us and we need to worry. But why is this attitude, confirmed by leaders of academies and researchers in the field, so much disputed by so-called sceptics? Let me take you to a symposium set up by the American Association for the Advancement of Science especially to illuminate this quandary with facts. Five speakers, and the first is Riley Dunlap from Oklahoma State University, on science books.
Riley Dunlap: Back in the '80s there were only a couple of years, in the '90s we miss a few years, sort of a reasonably consistent flow and we get in the 2000s, and there's just been an explosion in these books quite recently. If we do it by decade it jumps out at you more. We've jumped up to 64 books espousing some version of climate change denial since 2000. Several of these books are bestsellers. On Amazon, you find them in Borders, Barnes & Noble, Hastings, they're carried by the Conservative Book Club, they reach a large audience. Now, the key issue; how many of these books are linked to conservative think-tanks? It turns out to be 78%. What you see here originally almost all were. I'm going to give you some insight into where these come from.
The first thing we coded is does the author, editor have a PhD and, if so, in what field? So these are books authored by people with a PhD in a natural science field. It doesn't have to be climatology, it can be physics, biology, you name it. Do they have a PhD? And what you see of course is a real tendency toward the end here for more and more books to be published by non-scientists. And that sort of reflected, in '89 we had the three famous physicists from the Marshall Institute, Scientific Perspectives on the Greenhouse Effect, nowadays you get titles like this; Red Hot Lies, Christopher Horner, who is an attorney for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, New York Times bestselling author.
Okay, now we get some insight here. We now distinguish between natural science PhDs, a PhD in another discipline, and no PhD. What of course you can see is the lowest connection to think-tanks are down here among people without PhDs. In addition, a main source of books these days are self-published books, Author Press et cetera, Author House, I think it's called, anyone can publish a book. And another thing that's going on is a lot of these books are self-published and these are the folks who aren't affiliated with the think-tank. I found one, a retired real estate agent in British Columbia, he started writing books after he retired and he decided to do one on climate change because it's a hoax et cetera.
There's another kind of diffusion. Not only is climate change diffused away from the scientific community into the society at large but it's diffused geographically. We see originally most books primarily published in the US, it's still that we're the greatest source, but the UK is second, but now we're getting quite a flood from places especially like Australia and Canada where you have two things; you have a lot of contrarians and you have some very active think-tanks.
Mainstream climate science...if we're going to look at what's in these books we might say comes to, in the most simplistic way, three points; global warming is occurring, human activities are producing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute, and warming will produce harmful impacts on humans and other systems, and as a result many people argue that we need some kind of policies. The denier, sceptic response is...basically, in order to undermine climate science, they take issues with each of these three points, and you can see this in media, congressional debates et cetera, or on Fox News.
The first thing is; is global warming occurring? 'Trend scepticism' we call it, I couldn't change that to 'denial'. This still holds up. You see a lot of edits not going away but you do see a lot of books that don't question the trend. However, 'are humans contributing?' You see that that's the predominant thing, and a lot of these books don't get into that because they deny it's occurring to start with. Then you get impact; will it have a deleterious impact? And, again, you see that most books certainly question that. A lot of these books don't deal with impacts because they think it's an unreal, it can't have impacts because they deny it's occurring.
Finally there's the lay scepticism. In addition to all the above, 'should we be doing anything?' And you see this as the really consistent thing, that most books, 'no matter what, don't pass legislation, don't pass treaties'. And, again, these four books are likely to not deal with that because it's all a hoax anyway.
So, over time, the counter claims to the IPCC issued by climate change deniers, especially the contrarian scientists, have changed in response to growing evidence of global warming. 'It's not occurring, it's naturally caused, it won't be that harmful.' However, the bottom line remains the same, 'no regulations'. This reflects the near universal conservative ideology behind all versions of climate change denial.
Conservative think-tanks, obviously with corporate support that we'll hear about, have greatly amplified the work of contrarian scientists. They've recently been joined by conservative media, Limbaugh, Fox, conservative politicians, Inhofe, most Republicans these days with the exception of Lindsey Graham, and especially the blogosphere in waging an all-out war in climate change science. We can add undermining climate change policy to the policy impacts that we started out with of conservative think-tanks. Thank you very much.
Robyn Williams: That was Riley Dunlap from Oklahoma State University. Next William Freudenburg who is a professor of environment and society at the University of California, Santa Barbara. And before he gets going, a question; when do you think the last time...the last date that average global temperatures went down? Professor Freudenburg:
William Freudenburg: So, are you getting good and depressed now? What's a good scientist to do? Well, maybe pay a little attention in a different way. Usually at a AAAS meeting when there's any talk about the connections between science and society it's in the old framework of public understanding of science. How well is the information getting to society? There's less attention to what some sociology and philosophy of science people have written about, about how scientists are affected by society. When you get outside of the halls of the AAAS, there's plenty of attention, especially in the United States, and it's almost all bad: JunkScience.com, which was set up by someone who used to fight the so-called junk science on cigarette smoking; American Thinker...they lie; ClimateSceptic.com, ClimateSceptics.org, which looks a lot like Wikipedia, doesn't it.
Then blizzards happen and of course we conclude from this...Inhofe is out there building an igloo...that if it snows in Washington DC that proves that the global climate is getting colder. You've got some very conservative outlets that pick up the trope and repeat it that scientists are hiding evidence, and eventually it quite often gets into relatively mainstream media such as CNN. 'Is this a trick or is this the truth?' And you find a few important scientists saying that every error exaggerated the impact of change. That's a testable hypothesis.
The Heartland Institute is one of the right-wing think-tanks that Riley talked about, asking 'can 19,000 scientists be wrong?' Number one, that's a very loose definition of 'scientists' that they use. And number two, a journalist Ross Gelbspan almost 15 years ago started saying 'they sure can be'. What we've got here is a persistent and well funded campaign of denial. And you heard from Dr Dunlap that that campaign is going on today.
Some of his other research that you didn't hear about, an earlier study he did with Jacques and Freeman, found 141 books expressing scepticism about anything environmental. And in that earlier study, 92% of the books were from conservative think-tanks. And this is not by any subtle way of doing the math, either the author worked for it, they published it, or both. In essence, there would not be a so-called scepticism literature if it were not for the work of some well funded, hard working, skilled in PR, conservative think-tanks.
There's another way of thinking about it that was first pointed out, I believe, by an environmental historian Paul Hirt who looked at the history of estimates of how many logs you could successful cut off the US national forests. What he reports in this books is that the people who had money to spend on research were always happier when the estimates were higher, but he also pointed out that when someone came up with new scientific findings indicating that maybe those currently reigning estimates were too high, they would be attacked by some of the best people in the business. So the official estimates of how many board feet we could cut were well over 20 billion board-feet per year. The actual levels rarely even got half that high, 10 billion, and most scientists who look at the trees cut today say the real number is probably around 3,000 or 4,000 board-feet per year.
So we had what Hirt called a conspiracy of optimism, except if you read his book he said it's not really a conspiracy, what you had was a pattern of funding that included not just money to support research that, for example, questions whether cigarette smoking is bad for you, but instead a consistent pattern of challenging folks who come up with findings in the other direction.
What makes it work, ironically, is that scientists as individuals are committed to fairness. The old joke says if you have ten scientists in the room you'll have at least 20 explanations for whatever is going on. And they'll listen carefully to any explanation from this side of the lunatic fringe and maybe a couple more. But because of that you get a biased outcome. Biased not in the sense of individual prejudice but in the sense of systematic error in the overall assessment. This is the asymmetry of scientific challenge.
A simple way to think about it is that if you've got an ocean liner trying to go straight across the ocean and you have tug boats pushing at it only on one side, over time, even if it's imperceptible at the start, you will be pushed over to the side. A more science-based way to think about it is that it's as hard to publish a new study that says, well, I found just about what everybody else found as it is to get that into a newspaper. The articles that get published are the ones that say 'it's worse than we though before' or 'it's better than we thought before'. And that happens all the time, that's science, that's part of science being self-correcting.
But the difference is if whenever anyone comes up with a finding that global warming is more serious than we thought before, that gets attacked by some of the sharpest knives in the drawer. And if there is someone who comes up with a new finding and says 'hey, it's not so bad', that person gets invited to the annual convention of whatever association it is to give a luncheon speech and to get praise for his path-breaking new research. What that means is that the findings showing that climate disruption is serious wind up having been very thoroughly vetted, they've had to go through the mill, and the ones on the other side don't have to be able to be as strong to be accepted, to be part of the body of science that has not been challenged.
So the net effect is that the very process of spending so much time worrying about whether scientists are exaggerating climate change, you're best bet, if this asymmetry of scientific challenge hypothesis is correct, is that the net effect will be that he IPCC will be biased but in exactly the opposite direction of what everybody has been worried about. So the usual pattern that you hear about, at least if you live in this country, is that scientists in general and the IPCC in particular have overstated the problem, they're a bunch of Al Gore weirdos that won't be happy until the whole American economy gets shut down! The other side of it is that the opposite prediction is actually the true one, and that the scientific consensus and the IPCC understate the true problem, not just because scientists are always conservative but also because of this asymmetry of scientific challenge.
So how do you test that? I'm going to give you three quick approaches. One is Seth Borenstein, one of the reporters who is still working today who knows something about science and climate...when was the last month that global temperatures were below average? Anyone remember? A global long-term average. The answer is February 1994 by three ten-thousandths of one degree, it was really close but it was below average. That's 192 consecutive months. Those of you who know anything about flipping coins, will it be hotter or colder?.. know that basically what you have is a binomial random variable, and if you're really good at doing the math you'll know that to get heads 192 times in a row you have a probability with (if I've typed that correctly) 58 zeros before you get to the first one.
Now imagine! You've just flipped a coin that's come up heads 192 times in a row and you're being accused of having a coin that's loaded to come up tails. That's really pretty spectacular. By the way, if you don't think that three ten-thousandths of one degree is enough, the last time when temperature was one one-hundredth of a degree Celsius below average, below the long-term average on a global scale was, guess what, a quarter of a century ago right now; 300 consecutive months. To do that you need about 90 zeros. The probability is less than...if you have 100 zeros does that make it a googolplex? It's a bigger number than I know what to call it, but 90 zeros in a row. That's the probability that the globe is really getting colder instead of hotter. That's the real probability. Straightforward.
The second approach. Science, we know, is self-correcting over time. The best way to figure out whether science of time A is wrong or right is to look at what subsequent scientific work shows. It turns out that the IPCC itself is probably the most respectable way to get at that, and it shows modest support for this asymmetry of scientific challenge hypothesis, less so when you're talking about predictions for what will happen by the year 2000, a bit more when you're talking about measured changes in temperature over time.
But we all know that anything associated with the IPCC in any way gets attacked savagely as not being credible. So a third test, also working on the fact that science tends to be self-correcting over time, is to take advantage of some other work by Max Boykoff who found that if you look at the prestige newspapers of the US; Washington Post, LA Times, Wall Street Journal; there was a clear bias. At the very same time when Naomi Oreskes' work was showing that basically all scientists with any credentials in climate science were saying it's real, it's happening and humans are part of the cause, over half of the report in these prestige newspapers said there's a lot of controversy in science, they can't figure it out.
With my student Violetta Muselli we decided, hey, if what you want is not a fair test but a conservative test, one that starts out with a data source that the contrarians should be really happy about because the contrarians are getting their point of view into the newspapers whereas the scientists are not, what we'll do is to look at the same four newspapers but we'll look at what the journalists call science stories. And this is something...we cheated, we talked to journalists and said, 'Why is this, you're quoting all these politicians.' And their answer is, 'Well, for us, global climate change has become a policy story. So first you give 'the IPCC reported today that the figure will be 17.3' and then you might give a quote from an environmentalist. You'll certainly give a quote from the American Enterprise Institute or somebody who hates environmentalists, and that's supposed to be balanced.
But a science story, 'Nature today published an article saying that permafrost is melting faster than we thought', the quotes for context will come not from politicians but from other scientists. Frankly the think-tanks, as you saw, don't have the scientific expertise to have somebody who could comment knowledgably on individual new studies. Also the science journalists have very different rolodexes, they have real scientists in their rolodexes, if they still have rolodexes.
We also looked at the hottest and the coldest months of the year. The journalists told us that editors would rather see a policy story because that's sexier to have politicians arguing than to have scientists arguing. I don't know why that would be. But if you want to get a science story in you'd better look at months when it's hot or cold, that makes it more topical.
And we looked both at the time period that was covered by the Boycoffs and at the period after the Nobel Prize. What we found is whether you look at direct effects of global warming or implications of global warming, there are no significant variations. Overall what you find is there are over 20 times as many new scientific findings being reported in these newspapers that don't like to report that global warming is happening as there are reports saying it's not as bad as we thought.
So if you put together the work of Naomi Oreskes, looking at the scientific literature, she found that roughly 75% agreed that the scientific consensus is correct. Nobody said it's not happening. Boykoff and Boykoff in their policy stories on climate in these same four newspapers, the majority of the findings said either that it's no big deal or else the findings are in debate. What we find is that 85% of all the stories about new and emerging science since whatever is the latest IPCC assessment at the time of the article show that conditions are worse that we thought. It's a factor of 23:1 in favour of the science is getting worse as opposed to a factor of 10:1 in the opposite direction, which is what you'd think if you looked at Max Boykoff's findings.
So the traditional way that the public thinks about findings, of course, is that it's black or white, and, if so, the science based policy is easy. Of course if you know anything about science, if you've read any science journals in any field in the last ten years you know that there are three possibilities; yes, no or maybe, but almost every single article ends not by saying 'I have definitively proved and nobody should ever look at this again' but instead by saying 'further research is required'. In other words, most scientific work winds up in that grey area.
Lobbyists are smarter about this than we are. They figure that if 90% of the findings come down that 'well, it's a grey area' and if they can jigger the policies so that they win, so long as the answer is 'maybe', then over 95% of the time they can get exactly what they want. That gives us this name, 'Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods'. If the world is not a certain one, if science is not certain, but if you can use Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods (SCAMs for short) you can win an awful lot of the time.
We've documented in our other work in lead in gasoline, certainly in cigarettes, in the Toxic Substances Control Act, the asbestos...the 100,000-page record, by the way, was deemed by one federal judge (100-plus studies over ten years) to be insufficient for regulating asbestos. Do you all know asbestos? You haven't proved that it's dangerous? The Food Quality Protection Act, the Farm Bureau says this is a tremendous threat to American agriculture, and in 15 years that Act has banned one or two chemicals.
But global warming is really the champion of all cases because you have spectacular levels of scientific reinforcements, scientific endorsement that most of us can only dream about, and yet you have a small number of economically based interests saying that more research is required. It seems as though in the newspapers in the United States only the cartoonists have figured this out; that balanced reporting means we'll report the side that's reported by the facts and the side that's not supported by the facts.
So overall for scientists, the implication...we need to be more sceptical about those new studies coming out saying 'well, it's not so bad'. For the mass media we're in time for a new era of coverage. If you decide to cover the ideological think-tanks at all after the American Enterprise Institute has already announced publicly that they'll pay $10,000 for any scientist who will write something that says 'hey, it isn't so bad, this is why I'm sceptical', if you want to cover them at all, what is worth covering is the tactics that these right-wing think-tanks are using. If you really want to report the conflict like a good journalist: 'On the one hand this, on the other hand that', the true other side, the scientifically credible other side on global warming issues is not that it's not happening but that either it's as bad as the IPCC says or else it's worse. Thank you.
Robyn Williams: William Freudenburg is a professor of environment and society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and he was speaking at a specially convened symposium at the AAAS in San Diego on the origins of the climate dispute.
Next, an historian of science, Naomi Oreskes of the University California, San Diego.
Naomi Oreskes: Thank you all for coming, it's great to see so many people here. I want to address really the question of what to do about all this and what the scientific community could do and some of the reasons why it seems to be that the scientific community has not been so effectual in countering some of these sceptical, contrarian, denialist claims.
As we all know, everyone in this room now recognises for a long time now, really for more than 20 years, a big gap between the scientific understanding of anthropogenic global warming and the way the American people see the question. There are lots of polls that we can cite but one that I've always liked a lot is Anthony Leiserowitz's work where back in 2007 he and his colleagues were able to show that 72% of Americans were completely or mostly convinced that global warming was happening. So that was the good news of his study. The bad news was that nearly half thought that scientists were still arguing. So this big gap between what was going on in the scientific community where a clear consensus had emerged about global warming, and the way the American people viewed it, not surprisingly given everything we've just seen about press coverage.
So, as we all know, the IPCC had already declared in the fourth assessment that warming was unequivocal, but it's not just the fourth assessment. As an historian I've tried for a number of years now to place this work in context and to really argue that it's really important for us to understand the scientific consensus but it's equally if not more important to understand how that consensus emerged and what it's based on scientifically, what kinds of work have led to scientists having this consensus. And in fact what we see is there's actually a very long history of scientific agreement on this subject that's come in stages or waves, but I like to think of it as dating back to 1979 when the US National Academy of Sciences first declared in a press release 'a plethora of studies from diverse sources indicates a consensus that climate changes will result from man's combustion of fossil fuels and changes in land use.'
There's been a lot of fuss about the word 'consensus' and some people have attacked me and said, 'Well, science isn't about consensus, it's about argument,' but actually science is about consensus, and the National Academy of Sciences chose that word advisedly because they were trying to point out that there was agreement among the experts who were working on this question that global warming was to be expected, based on basic scientific principles and the limited climate modelling that had been done to that time, that one would expect global warming to occur as a consequence of, again, greenhouse gases and changes in land use.
Of course as we all know in 1995 that predicted warming became detectible, so scientists had made a clear prediction by '95, they believed that that prediction was coming true, and as we all know the 1995 Second Assessment Report declared that the balance of evidence suggest discernable human influence on global climate. But Americans don't just think that scientists are still debating. Again, as some of our other colleagues have pointed out, they also, many of them, at least 40%, maybe 50%, depending upon which poll you look at...public opinion is extremely fickle and goes up and down with whatever the latest events in the news are...but about 40% to 50% do seem to still think that if there is warming it can be explained by natural variability. Again, what I call blaming the sun. And of course again this is in contrast to the scientific evidence, in AR4 the IPCC explicitly said 'it is extremely unlikely that global climate change in the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing'. So we have this big gap between public opinion and what the scientific community has been trying to communicate for a long time. And, as we all know, in recent months the public opinion has taken a turn for the worse.
So the question that I've been interested in is, why is there such a gap between scientific knowledge and public perception? I think we know that one reason for sure is that the balanced framework that so many journalists rely on unduly weighs outlier views. So we've talked about that a lot already, but it seems to me there is an important point for this audience which is how scientists think about the problem. Actually most scientists, it seems to me, don't spend most of their time really worrying about the balance framework in the media, what they worry about more or what they invoke if you ask them why the public are confused is what we historians and sociologists would call the deficit model. That is to say, we tend to assume that the public are confused because they have a deficit of scientific knowledge, education and cognitive skills. That is to say that they're scientifically illiterate.
So if the problem is a deficit, then the remedy for it is a surfeit. So it seems to me that the scientific community has succumbed to or fallen into or pursued what I would call a supply side response. You see this all around, including very much so in our society here today, that we try to supply good information with public outreach efforts, K-12 science education and various statements on web pages. That is to say, efforts to supply the necessary information. And there are many examples of this, but since we're here at AAAS, one of my favourites is our AAAS Press Room which recently hosted a Climate Change Town Hall. If you actually read this web page you find it's filled with fantastic information, but how many people are going to really read this, how many people are going to take the time, how many people in the public even know that we have a AAAS Press Room?
That's just one example, there are many more I can give you that are even more boring and dull to look at than that one. AAAS is actually one of the better ones, many of the others are catastrophically boring and tedious and almost impossible for a person to understand if they don't have a PhD. But irrespective of the bad graphics, I think we know empirically that the supply side model has failed. But moreover, and the point I'd really like to make when we think about this as a scientific community, is that I think that the supply side model is itself unscientific because it flies in the face of the evidence of what we know about what we're doing.
So all of the polls clearly show us that whatever it is we've done has not been effective, our message has not gotten through to the American people. In fact a completely different message has gotten through which is that scientists are arguing, that there is still a lot of scientific uncertainty, that more research is needed, and that a lot of what we're seeing can be explained by natural variability.
So in my own work I've tried to understand how and why this other alternative message, this message of uncertainty and doubt, has gotten through. And the short answer is, well, because for the past 30 years the American people have been subject to a very organised and systematic campaign to spread that alternative message. And, as some people have already noted, that campaign had its root in the tobacco industry effort to challenge the science that showed the dangers of tobacco, and that model that the tobacco industry successfully used was applied to acid rain, ozone and global warming. This is documented with my new book with my wonderful co-author Erik Conway, and this will be coming out from Bloomsbury Press in May, so I hope you'll all read it.
What I want to do today is to give one example that's actually not in the book, but an example of how this alternative message was spread in the early 1990s, and that is an example that comes from the Western Fuels Association, a coal industry trade group, and how they tried in the early '90s to spread what they called the good news about global warming.
So if we cast our memories back some of us will remember that in 1992 our first President Bush signed the UN framework convention on climate change. That convention, to which the United States is a signatory, committed the United States and the other signatories to preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system.
In response to this, many things happen. One of them was that the US coal industry launched a half million-dollar campaign (and this is just one of many campaigns) to challenge the scientific evidence regarding global warming. And they did this...as I said, Western Fuels was a consortium of coal producers, mainly in the Powder River basin, and they did this by hiring a PR firm, a group known as Bracy Williams & Co, and a set of market researchers, Cambridge Reports, to specifically plan a strategy, to test that strategy, and if it were successful, to implement it. The number one point of this strategy was to reposition global warming as theory, not fact. That is to say, it's just a theory, it's just an idea, we don't really know for sure if it's true.
So step one was to cast doubt on the fact of global warming, and then step two actually was construct it as a bad fact, and to construct it as a bad fact in two senses; bad in that it was bad news and nobody likes bad news, and also bad in the sense that it was untrue. So it was both false and something that you didn't want to know. So they began with a series of ad campaigns which they ran in print media throughout the country but particularly in markets where they thought that people would be sympathetic to this propose. So they ran ads like this; 'If the Earth is getting warmer, then why is Kentucky getting colder?' It's the 'why is there a blizzard in Washington DC' strategy. And you can see here they have a rather clever thing, they had a little thing where you could fill in your name and address and send this in to get more information and they then used that to build a mailing list of people who would be sympathetic, and then they had this wonderful little logo here with them holding the Earth with a little plant growing out of it.
'Who told you the Earth was warming?' Chicken Little, so there's your alarmism argument. 'Some say the Earth is warming, some also said the Earth was flat.' So scientists are now cast as the opposite, as the anti-science. And 'How much are you willing to pay for a problem that may not exist?' That's an argument that we've seen repeatedly over the last 20 years.
The documents associated with this campaign clearly explain and show...they illustrate how this all worked. So they organised public relations tours in combination with this ad campaign and a big part of this public relations tour was to get scientists who could appear on TV, so arrange television appearances by sceptical scientists, usually not climate scientists, but people who had what appeared to be relevant credentials. To meet with editors and writers to pitch their side of the story, and, then you can see, taping things on radio. Here's a calendar that just shows some of what they did in May 1991 in Fargo, North Dakota, and you can see the airwaves saturated for three weeks with this message.
Here's an example of how it worked. So they're going to meet with editors and writers at the Bowling Green Daily News, and then here it is, Bowling Green Daily News, 'Hot Debate, Global Warming, Bowling Green Now Battleground in Heated Global Warming Dispute'. I love this, no climate scientist has gone to Bowling Green but yet it's now a battleground in this big dispute. So here it is being constructed not as a scientific consensus but as a raging debate.
So after doing this test campaign then they analyse the results through focus groups, and they showed that in fact attitude change could be marketed, that people were receptive to attitude change and that you could change how people thought about the question of federal legislation by presenting information of this type. They particularly found that it worked best if the evidence was presented as facts by technical spokespeople, that is to say people who were scientists or who appeared to be scientists, and therefore that it was essential to recruit scientists to deliver the message. Of course the tobacco industry had already established that 30 years before but now here they are repeating or reaffirming the same concept.
And so these conclusions, that you needed to recruit scientists, were then incorporated into step two of the campaign, and that was the production of a video called The Greening of Planet Earth: The effects of carbon dioxide on the biosphere. This was the second part about the bad facts versus good facts, that they would promote an alternative fact, a good fact, a happy fact, that increased atmospheric CO2 would be good for the planet because it would enhance plant productivity through CO2 fertilisation.
Well, basically you can kind of imagine it, but the video then presents scientists, and most of them aren't actually climate scientists, they're mostly actually agronomists from the US Department of Agriculture making the claim that we know for a fact that carbon dioxide increases agricultural productivity, and in fact not just agricultural productivity but productivity of all plants. Therefore this will lead to, as they say, 'a tremendous greening of the planet Earth', and then triumphant music plays and you see the whole globe...there's a picture of a globe, and the whole globe, even the Arctic, the Sahara, the outback of Australia, it all turns green, about the colour of that lady's shirt. So it's a very, very positive message, it's all good, the scientists are all very kindly-looking, they're very nice, they're very calm, and they just tell this good news message over and over again.
It's only one example. One reason I like this video is it's just one tiny example out of a massive campaign that involved many, many other activities, but it illustrates something that I think is important for us to understand, which is to say the contrast in the way that the scientific community has attempted to communicate about global warming with boring websites filled with a lot of technical information that most people find very hard to understand versus the way in which the opponents of scientific information have addressed this.
So we see that in a sense the opponents of scientific information have been more organised, more systematic, and in a weird way more scientific. They actually studied the problem, they tested it, they ran a campaign, they saw how it worked, and based on the evidence that they got from the test campaign they incorporated those conclusions into this video, which they then distributed to public libraries, university libraries, all across the country. And you can in fact find this video in the online catalogues of many university and public libraries across the country.
So I would say that they've been both more scientific, more organised and more aggressive in getting their message out than the scientific community which has generally relied on peer reviewed journals, of course, and, as I said already, boring websites. It's just one example but there are many, many more.
So, to conclude, supply side models assume that people are confused because they're ignorant, but we argue that people may be confused because in fact people have tried to confuse them. Sometimes the simplest explanation is correct, and as I've already said, the coal industry in some ways was more scientific about how to change public perception than the scientific community has been.
One of the things we document in the book too is how very often when these misinformation campaigns were taking place they would be reported in the mass media, in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, other places like that, and scientists would respond by publishing detailed explanations of how the science was correct in peer reviewed scientific journals. And you see this going on right now with this whole climate...you know, the email hacking.
So you get an unlevel playing field where the accusations, the attempts to undermine science, are published in places where millions of people see it and then the scientific response is published some place where only fellow scientists see it, so it's kind of preaching to the choir. But in contrast, the coal industry hired professional PR firms to test their strategies, to see what worked, and use that evidence to structure their communication campaign.
So does this mean that I think that the scientific community should emulate the coal industry? Well, probably not. But it does raise some questions that I think we need to think hard about. Why are we so unscientific about our own communication? Why don't we study this question and take seriously the evidence that we can develop from the work of professionals who study communication questions? Should we hire PR firms to market our views? And how would it affect our public stature and credibility if we did?
Hiring PR firms is probably not the best way to enhance scientific credibility, I'm not advocating that, but since what the scientific community has been doing in the past has clearly not been effective, it suggests that it might be worth considering some alternatives. Thank you very much.
Robyn Williams: Naomi Oreskes. She's a historian of science from the University of California at San Diego. Her book on that is out in May. She mentioned campaigns from the tobacco industry as a model for the present disputes. Here's a reminder of what once was being pushed at the highest levels as good science.
[Excerpt from film Crimes Against Nature showing archival footage from 1994: Tobacco executives appear before Congress giving testimony, declaring their belief that nicotine is not addictive. This despite data from the Centre from Disease Control showing that 430,000 died each year from tobacco smoke.]
Robyn Williams: Our final speaker, well known in Australia, is Professor Stephen Schneider from Stanford, the man who once predicted that the Earth may have been cooling, and then he looked further and changed his view because the calculations revealed the opposite. His latest book is Science as a Contact Sport.
Stephen Schneider: So we're going to talk about the issue of scepticism. I'm going to start right out now; what's the difference between scepticism and denial? There's no such thing as a good scientist who isn't a sceptic. I changed my opinion in 1970 from cooling to warming, published it first, it's one of my proudest moments in science because we found, as the evidence accumulated, that there were a number of reasons, it's all explained in chapter one of Science as a Contact Sport, and I still have to hear things from those famous climate professors, the ones that publish all the papers in the referee journals, professors Limbaugh and Will, you know, about how... 'Oh Schneider, he's just an environmentalist for all temperatures', it's a great line!
But the idea of maintaining political consistency when the evidence changes is what I would call either closed-minded or lying, there really isn't any other opportunity to describe it any other way. That, Naomi, is part of the problem, is that scientific people inhabit this culture, and that culture is you're supposed to have full disclosure. Well, full disclosure doesn't really work in a sound bite system, and in science it's not okay to try to give partial accountings, and that is certainly not the case in the advocacy world. The purpose in the advocacy world is to win for the client or the ideology. In science that is a quick ticket to not getting funded, not getting promoted and not getting your papers accepted. So you don't start with a level playing field because the two epistemologies of advocacy and science are so diametrical that it therefore is actually career counterproductive for scientists to try to act in the same behavioural way that the opponents do.
To me, to summarise where I'm going, it used to be the media understood that until they fired most of their specialists, followed a business model of focus group based ratings where the three basic things are titillation (which we heard, get that debate going), no complexity and no anti-patriotism. How about the truth? Where's the fourth estate? How about trying to balance? Scientists are pretty incompetent at doing that because all the incentives, unless you're at my age or you're crazy and don't care what your colleagues think, you just go out there and tell it, very few scientists will do that because the incentives are so strong against it, especially young people pre-tenure.
So let's go on and ask, how do you communicate? Well, you communicate in metaphor. So there's a metaphor; a trial. The jury's still out. So there are two kinds of trials. Criminal...what's the standard of evidence? Beyond a reasonable doubt. When I was on a jury once I asked the judge...and there are many scientists who just reject that out of hand because they're toilet trained to have data, but what of the future, how much data in the future, guys? How about zero? Therefore you are by definition subjective and what you do is construct a model on objective data. You use the model to make projections under alternative assumptions, and the analysis and the reason we have in IPCC and an NRC and a Royal Society is you need a large community of people, not individuals, to try to determine the relative credibility of those models under disturbed conditions from which they were derived.
And that's exactly where we get back to risk management which is how do you decide what risks to take in face of these risks, understanding that if the risks are based only on data they can be objective but when they're based upon models constructed from data, that they're not. In fact it always makes me laugh to hear circumspect scientists, especially physicists who know nothing about climate, coming in and telling us, 'I don't believe in models.' Oh sure, so what do you believe in? 'Well, I look at the data.' Well, as soon as you've associated two pieces of data you're a modeller, you're just a lousy modeller because it's so much better to be explicit in varied parameters you're unsure about than to sit there and assume that you can just extrapolate that kind of stuff. Or the alternative, say nothing and let the society fall into traps. Most of us would rather not do that.
All right, back to the metaphor. When I was on a jury I really asked the judge, I said, 'Tell me, what's the probability of a reasonable doubt?' And he just looked at me like I was crazy, like 'why did we let this guy in the jury?' and he said, 'Well, that's for the jury to decide.' So I asked my lawyer friends in Stanford and other places, 'What's the probability...' and they said, 'That's for the jury to decide. I said, c'mon guys...what's the probability of an error, you know, one minus the other? And they said, 'We don't like to think about that.' C'mon, good judge, good jury, how often are they wrong? '1%.' So it's 99%, not a bad criterion. In the IPCC we call that 'exceptionally likely', we even have words for it, and all of our words like 'likely' and 'confidence' are linked to a subjective probability scale and unlike anything you will find in blogs in op-eds or in front of Congress, so that's how we operate.
So I said, 'What about a bad judge, bad jury?' 'Well, I don't know, 90%.' I hope to hell it's not a capital trial. Anyhow, so they don't deal directly in probability. We do. Another cultural divide that has to be dealt with, because the biggest oxymoron to me is this ridiculous phrase I hear all the time called 'let's make an exact science of it'. 'Exact science' is almost virtually by definition an oxymoron. We're a profession of refinements, and if you work long enough you stop working on gravity because you know it's pretty well established with all the experiments and theory you need. Believe me, it's the same for the greenhouse effect.
Anyhow, what's the other trial? Standard of evidence, preponderance. More likely than not. By that standard we've had global warming since 1970 and probably since the mid '80s, preponderance on anthropogenic component. So we're fighting somewhere between the 99 and the other, and IPCC recently said that it was very likely, meaning more than 90%, that humans were part of the last 50 years, and that actually is conservative, as somebody said.
Okay, so it's preponderant. So the difference between a sceptic and a denier is a sceptic is questioning every component of a problem but when there's an accumulated preponderance of evidence you don't deny it. If you deny it then either you don't know the literature or frankly you're a liar, and that is exactly what I think Naomi and others were trying to say, because if you are in preponderance denial then you have no understanding of systems analysis. Systems analysis is not like test tube science, it is not a controlled experiment where you can pick up that glass and test your hypothesis of acid or base with one experiment.
We don't falsify in systems science, we work on preponderance. You falsify by a community effort taking place over 25 years when Spencer and Christy misled the world on why the atmosphere was cooling based upon their satellite reconstruction. And I never minded that, science is tough and they tried it and they were first, they were pioneers, that was fine. What I minded about those guys was that they not only insisted they were right with high degree of accuracy but that the guys who were wrong were doing it on purpose, and you can find that in their blogs.
And then it turned out they forget satellites fly in a proton soup, slows them down, lowers them, changes the angle of the orbit and that's why they had a false cooling trend. Did they come out and admit that? Did Congressman Barton, like he did to Mike Mann, pull them up there and demand they show every email and everything they ever did? It's completely asymmetric, as we heard, and why is the media not covering that story? That's the story. This is a story of the politics of denial and the use of power to abuse that by pretending that balance is a basis for something when in fact the only doctrine that's true is not balance where you quote the outliers, it's perspective where you quote everybody and you report the relative credibility on each of those positions based upon the long established preponderances which are determined not by individuals but by large groups that are reviewed. And that's very, very lousy headline-making and very poor titillation, it's just good truth.
Anyhow, the last chapter of the book (I won't wave it again) used to be called 'Can Democracy Survive Complexity?' and my National Geographic editors told me that was too downer, so it's now called 'What Keeps Me Up at Night'. But climate change is just one issue, it's one issue. Same thing in health care, same thing in strategic defence, same thing in education. Anyhow, the problem is that it's not just the media, I yelled at the media, but how about us? What do scientists do? Nobody is paid to sit there and repeat what we already know, and it was already said by one of you that it's pretty hard to get 'same old, same old' in there. So you've got to do something new, no matter how irrelevant, or you have to say it ain't so.
I've got to be real blunt; how many old men who have nothing to do with climate science are out there saying it ain't so and getting coverage in the newspaper when they would have no prayer based on anything they're still capable of doing? There are a lot of reasons why this goes on. Why are they being covered? Who cares what a petroleum geologist thinks about climate? They're as competent to discuss climate as I am horizontal drilling. They are not experts, they don't belong in that debate.
Where I am not an expert is how should society react to that given the limited resources we have for curing poverty, and health and security, that's a legitimate debate where everybody has an equal opinion because that's a value judgement. It is not a legitimate debate to argue over the details of something which requires a high entry barrier of expertise. Why do you think the media, in my opinion, have grabbed on these three IPCC errors so far? This disinformation engine is investing all that money and all they could do is find three? I'm more arrogant. I think if I took my best students and you gave me a month I think we could probably find ten, maybe even 20. But there's about (I haven't counted them) 1,000 conclusions roughly in a report, 1,000 pages, one a page, something in that order.
Anybody reported the real story which is that despite the fact this is a human institution with 200 people from many countries, two rounds of review and review editors which keeps the error rate low, it's still a human institution, you're going to have errors, and they're not acceptable and we're going to work out ways to have an even lower probability next time. And stating that a glacier is going to melt in 2035 doesn't pass a scientific laugh test. If I had seen that, it's a bell curve with a long tail, and that's exactly why we have confidences and that's how almost every conclusion is.
Why is the story not equally that, yes, these guys are batting 99.90, let me see, that's three times what it takes to get into the baseball hall of fame. You tell me any other epistemology that has to deal with complex systems science. Medical diagnosis? Forget it, 99%, no prayer. Investment banking? Oh God, I don't even know if they're over half. And military? They're probably better than half. So that's so unbalanced it defies imagination, yet I have seen almost no mainstream studies on it.
But why is the media not covering these stories in a way where perspective is the basic thing? And I think it comes back to the fact most specialists have been fired and they're following this business model I mentioned before. So we have a fourth estate that is no longer in existence. Where are the Ed Murrows and people like that, where are the deep investigations...they're still out there and every journalist I talk to of that ilk is just if not more frustrated than I am because they've got to work for these business model guys. We at least can just make fun of them, and unfortunately it really is very dangerous in a democracy when complexity needs to be understood.
This was what Congressman Rohrabacher told me when I testified two years ago, that the absence of warming had falsified global warming, once again using the false god of Karl Popper. And of course I then quickly pointed out that if we had cherry-picked the end points from '92 to 2002 we're going to hell in a hand basket, and if you just run a running mean it looks like nothing has changed. So what happened in the last ten years...I don't have time to give you the science but we haven't had any major El Ninos apart from the '98 one and the Sun has been relatively on vacation, now it's coming back and we have an El Nino...watch this year break all the records. And I hope that Greenpeace doesn't go out there and say, 'You see, we told you so,' because it's one damn year guys, that doesn't mean anything. One decade doesn't mean much, climate is a 30-year process of running means, and that's something that is a really bad political story and an absolutely disastrous media story, too long. That is a story we've got to tell, and of course as you see I'm very shy about telling it. Thank you.
Robyn Williams: The ever-shy Stephen Schneider from Stanford University. Science as a Contact Sport is his latest book, and he also has a chapter in the book Seeing Further about the Royal Society of London, edited by Bill Bryson. You've been listening to a forum about climate from the AAAS in San Diego, and my thanks to Natasha Mitchell for help with that recording.