Clearing Up The Climate Debate with A Conversation

Fri, 2011-07-08 02:33Graham Readfearn
Graham Readfearn's picture

Clearing Up The Climate Debate with A Conversation

The Conversation

CLIMATE scientists must sometimes feel that they’re taking part in some horrific, humourless worldwide game of Chinese Whispers.

After spending months, in some cases years, diligently carrying out research, checking, re-checking and quantifying observations and data, they submit their discovery to a science journal.

Journal editors then send that work out to other scientists who pick holes in it, or praise it, before sending it back with the academic equivalents of those smiley faces or red crosses that school teachers loved to draw on your school books.

Issues with the research are then rectified (if they can be) and finally the work is published. Except of course, that’s not the end of the story.

Because when the “mainstream media”, vested interests and ideologues get hold of it, the game of Chinese Whispers begins. Conclusions are re-interpreted or misunderstood. Key points are missed, findings are misrepresented or, in some cases, bits of the research get cherry-picked. Contexts are lost and nuances trampled.

Andrew Jaspan, co-founder of a new popular Australia-based media website The Conversation, says as advertising dollars have shrunk, so too have the numbers of experienced journalists who can report and analyse science stories accurately and fairly.

Put this together with the rise in corporate marketing dollars and you have a public which, on academic research including climate science, is either deliberately or inadvertently confused.

“We are told that this is the information age, but what we actually have is an age where we have huge amounts of information but most of it is unadulterated nonsense and people trotting out drivel. We have a very shallow age of information,” Jaspan told DeSmogBlog.

“That’s due to the fragmentation of the media. The advertising dollar is being sliced thinner and thinner and news rooms are being reduced and clawed out - subject experts and specialists are replaced with junior general reporters.”

As newsroom resources have shrunk, Jaspan says the amount of news space filled by simple re-writes of corporate press releases has increased.

“They want cheap labour to fill the spaces between the ads,” adds Jaspan, a former editor of The Age (Melbourne), The Observer (London) and The Scotsman.

The Conversation, just three months old, is already registering more than 220,000 visits a month but it is not like any other news website. There is no agency news wire, for example. All the main contributors, of which there are now more than 1000 registered, are academics at universities.

Writers are only allowed to contribute on areas in which they are actively researching, or have a history of researching. Conflicts of interest, such as corporate funding or associations with think-tanks, have to be disclosed to the reader. Even anonymous commentators are banned.

The Conversation’s latest venture has been a series of a dozen articles from leading climate researchers, titled “Clearing up the climate debate” which directly challenge the science and credibility of climate change deniers.

To start the series, a group of almost 90 scientists co-signed an open letter. It read,

“Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people. A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businesspeople are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity.

“At the other extreme, understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.”

Under the motto “Academic Rigour, Journalistic Flair”, like all the site’s content, the series articles are available under a Creative Commons License. The series included “Rogues or Respectable: How Climate Change Sceptics Spread Doubt and Denial”, “Bob Carter’s Climate Counter Consensus is an Alternate Reality”, “Who’s your expert? The difference between peer review and rhetoric” and “Climate change denial and the abuse of peer review”.

Jaspan, a speaker at the recent Worldviews Conference on Media and  Higher Education in Toronto, explains:

“The Clearing Up The Climate Debate series came about because a bunch of scientists approached us and asked if we would host a series of articles that subject climate change deniers to some peer review… let’s have a close look at what their evidence is. We said we would be happy to do that.

“We are believers in the fact that good quality information makes all of us better citizens and that is what this [website] is about. We don’t let in any corporations or think-tanks or people who have the power to buy their way into the media. The idea was to give a new voice.

“Big tobacco has worked very, very hard to undermine the scientific research around lung cancer and tried to say that the science was not ‘in’. Lobbysists have adopted the same approach with climate - if you can sow seeds of doubt then policy makers become concerned about making decisions.

“This slows the whole process and if you can slow it down then those who are profiting from selling cigarettes or minerals with minimal responsibility can continue their work. My concern is the lack of scrutiny and well-informed public debate on some of these issues.”

The Conversation has a team of journlaists and editors who work with academics to either commission work to react to topical issues or to help them communicate their research. The academics get final approval, which even extends to the headline.

Jaspan says the idea for The Conversation came after spending time speaking to academics at the University of Melbourne.

“It really just hit me in a blinding flash,” he says. “These people in the university were far brighter than any person I’d ever had in a newsroom. These were great people, so why were they not engaging with the public. A lot were just fed up with the media. They were being misquoted a lot of the time.

“They would get a young general reporter that hadn’t properly prepared themselves for the interview. But the academic would explain the story to them. Each time a reporter went away, academics would ask themselves the same question. How bad will this piece be?

“I thought maybe we need to build a new pipeline that’s not mitigated by journalists and people with their own agendas. I decided I was going to turn the universities into a newsroom.”

Previous Comments

Unfortunately, what The Conversation has done in their “New Approach to Journalism” is to limit the authorship to only one side of the scientific debate. So now they are just another propaganda blog for CAGW proponents with absolutely no feedback on their stories. How can that be considered journalism?
Healthy, honest debate is a good thing. Turning a deaf ear to inquiry and criticism will not make it go away, it just legitimizes it in the eyes of the public.
If they truly want to get the message out they need to engage with ALL sides and not just the people willing to tow the party line. Hank

Maybe, Hank122, it’s because of this constraint:
“Writers are only allowed to contribute on areas in which they are actively researching, or have a history of researching.”
Straight away, that requirement (that writers actually have expertise in & knowledge of the field they’re writing about) excludes about 99.9% of the people on the anti-AGW ‘side’ of the debate. Maybe more.

Personally, I like the idea of not having to listen to people who have no real idea what they’re talking about, and who get basic stuff completely wrong.

And it’s not like some of the prominent anti-AGW blogs don’t actively delete comments where people point out they’ve misinterpreted the science or made a mistake in their analysis.

I read the entire open letter with comments thread and did not find this to be the case. There were site contributors who admitted no expertise in thermodynamics or optical physics for example presenting the case for man made climate change as it pertains to these areas. There was also a Psychologist listed as a member/supporter of the site.

Then there were several occasions where site “scientists” used Wiki or SkepticalScience.com which gave me a good chuckle. I have had exchanges with several climate scientists, meteorologists and physicists and have never once seen any of them use Wiki or SkepSci.

There was one geologist that offered a plethora of new information on The Holocene with tons of references. He seemed to upset some others who offered no rebuttle when he sourced independent studies showing sea level rises from 6 to 26 meters over a 100 year period when CO2 was well below current levels.

There was also a very specific challenge regarding the lack of atmospheric water vapor which was also never responded to. I found this troubling as I am familiar with a 2010 peer reviewed paper by Susan Solomon (an IPCC contributor to AR 2007) of NOAA who found stratospheric water vapor missing in models and which which likely caused CO2 attribution to warming to be overstated. The Conversation offered no response.

I find it much more valuable to spend time at Physics arXiv, Springer and other science journal clearinghouses, state climtologists websites, HadCrut, UAH, NOAA, NASA, etc.

Sundance, you looked at the *commenters*, which is different from those *writing* the articles. Moreover, the Conversation has many topics, including those where psychologists are handy to have available

And the geologist you refer to managed to make himself look stupid in his comment. He indicated thermal pulses responsible for HUGE sea level rises. He just forgot to mention what caused those thermal pulses. And note that Jim Hansen has already pointed out (read “Storms of my grandchildren”) that the IPCC estimates explicitely ignore “tipping points” in ice melt. Ice melt will more than likely be nonlinear. If WAIS decides to fall apart, expect the 6 meters rise within a few decades, for example. He is the archetypical obfuscator (“look, how confusing all of this is!”) and, notably, only has a BSc in geology, so his “my research” refers to trying to read papers on the topic and working at a consultancy firm. I added the “notably”, considering your own skepticism of the expertise of the contributors on the Conversation, and then you refer to a “geologist”.

Of course, that YOU have not seen anyone use skepticalscience as a reference before merely shows you are only talking to one specific group of climate scientists and physicists: those that are “skeptical”. SkepticalScience has been mentioned as an excellent source by several high profile climate scientists. Moreover, you base your “wikipedia” smear on ONE person who points to Wikipedia for some of the most basic information. That is, where Wikipedia is very trustworthy and an excellent source to START reading up on the topic. Excellent resource starter for the climate confused, bad for those who want THEIR view to be the only view.

Finally, Solomons paper did NOT make the attribution to CO2 higher. The warming during the 1980s/1990s was much more than expected for the 3 degree per doubling climate sensitivity.

Ok Bam I see what you mean about the article writers vs. the scientists responding in the comments, so I was wrong on that issue. I didn’t review the geologists info yet. I still don’t see how a psychologist is relevant to climate science but that could just be my narrow view. I do speak to several non-skeptic scientists two of which are in my extended family but as you pointed out the commenters were likely pointing to Wiki and SkepSci as a general source and your point is valid and I was too harsh in my comments on Wiki and SkepSci.

Here are Solomon’s words from her abstract, “More limited data suggest that stratospheric water vapor probably increased between 1980 and 2000, which would have enhanced the decadal rate of surface warming during the 1990s by about 30% as compared to estimates neglecting this change. These findings show that stratospheric water vapor is an important driver of decadal global surface climate change.”

It is clear that she is saying that 30% of the .32C degrees, roughly .1C degree, of the warming between 1980 and 2000 was attributed to stratospheric water vapor and not CO2. That has to be factored out of any a analysis of atmospheric sensitivity to increasing CO2 in order to understand what CO2 is really adding to global temperatures.

Sundance, I’ll say it again, the 3 degrees climate doubling does not follow from the 1980-2000 period. In fact, using that period often results in a rather low negative impact of aerosols, which does not fit other periods that well.

Also remember that the analysis in Solomon is one paper. We will need more data to verify papers, one paper is hardly ever enough to show something as fact.

Spot on Bern. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Well that was cute.
Nonsense but cute.
firstly, wikipedia has not been credible on climate for years.
Secondly, Skeptical science is an opinion blog run by a single blogger that admits to no credentials of relevance.
lastly, the silly 3 degree per doubling sensitivity has been shown to be way too high many time. It is only used by propagandists now.

Nice try though.

Nullius in verba — Latin for “On the words of no one” or “take nobody’s word for it.”

Consider the following definitions. Genuine skeptics consider all the evidence in their search for the truth. Deniers( aka ersatz skeptics), on the other hand, refuse to accept any evidence that conflicts with their pre-determined views.

Yes, part of the reason for the bias is possibly because it operates due to a government grant of several million dollars. As that same administration is now ramming a CO2 tax down an unwilling Australian public’s throats, he would be reluctant to bite the hand that feeds him. He is doing their bidding instead. Monckton-baiting could almost be considered part of the deal. This is detailed more articulately by Uncle Bunyip at his Blog: ‘Bunyipitude’ under the heading ‘A One-sided Conversation’. Link: http://bunyipitude.blogspot.com/2011/07/one-sided-conversation.html
On the plus side, The Conversation does allow dissonant voices to grace its comments pages. (As does DeSmogBlog, which is the silver lining on the CO2 cloud, I suppose).

There is no government grant of several million dollars. The funding comes from the universities. Those have consistently been saying the same things, also with the previous “climate-skeptic” governments.

Question thus is, why does Oksanna misinform us? Is it deliberate or just ignorance?

And another question.

Why should I believe Bam and not Oksanna?

Who does he think he is?

just wondering.

My claims can be easily verified, The Conversation notes its funding sources on its homepage.

Oksanna provides no evidence, and as I already argued above, are contradicted by reality.

So you have the choice to believe the person who points out factual information, or the person who makes large claims that are provingly false.

Im guessing “anonymous” is going to choose the latter, because Oksanna fits into his ideological pattern.

No….

I dont really know oksana or her political views, But I know yours.

That alone is enough to make be distrust you.

Greenies lie all the time and lefties have never had any regard for the truth.
So I will not necessarily trust her but I will definatlely distrust you.

It just good business sense.

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