Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Long-awaited blog on climate skepticism

Part 3 in a series on climate change journalism

Sometimes you wait a long time for something and then it just lands in your lap when you're not looking. Or maybe it is under an embargo you can't break.

Either way this is a ripe time to write about climate skepticism in the media. First of all, Bob Ward, climate change communication guru at the Grantham Research Institute at LSE wrote a 'Viewpoint' in Weather at the tail end of last month in which he advocated climate researchers taking more responsibility for countering the claims of climate skeptics in the aftermath of Climategate and the IPCC errors.

The nasty shock of the 'recoil effect'

The increased prominence of skeptical views in the media the past year is described by Adam Corner, a researcher into understanding risk at Cardiff Universtiy, as a 'recoil effect' - occuring despite the fact that climate science has since been cleared. Big fat caveat: climate researchers may have a role to play in this but ultimately the buck of misleading climate change coverage stops with journalists and editors. Margot O'Neill described the challenges facing the media in a blogpost for ABC, chiefly the aftershock of Climategate and the ensuing "public confusion about whether there is a reliable scientific consensus".

Ward suggests scientists need to communicate more effectively with the public and the media; on the subject of personal integrity as well as scientific results. He also adds that: "More leaders will be needed who can skillfully take on confrontational media interviews and go head-to-head with slippery opponents."

He explains this is because climate skeptics often: "take advantage of scientists' sensitivity to allegations of bias or subjectivity and take advantage of this by accusing researchers of being advocates if they suggest that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced. Researchers need to be smarter when dealing with such tactics and the rhetorical tricks that their opponents use in public debate."

And hey presto! In a probably completely unrelated event, the LA Times and Grist published a truly remarkable piece about climate scientist in the US mobilising to counter-act the pervasiveness of skeptics in climate change journalism. According the the LA Times this week:

"On Monday, the American Geophysical Union, the country's largest association of climate scientists, plans to announce that 700 climate scientists have agreed to speak out as experts on questions about global warming and the role of man-made air pollution.

John Abraham of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, who last May wrote a widely disseminated response to climate change skeptics, is also pulling together a "climate rapid response team," which includes scientists prepared to go before what they consider potentially hostile audiences on conservative talk radio and television shows."

John Abraham is a proactive kind of scientist. Earlier this year he 'eviscerated' Lord Monckton's climate skeptic arguments in a painstaking point-by-point presentation, and further responded to the litigious peer's criticisms on the Skeptical Science site. Hopefully Abraham and others like him will be as skillful at manipulating the media as the climate change skeptic lobbies. But will they be skillful enough to drown out the minority of highly vocal dissenters from the scientific consensus?

The fight begins.

Communicating Climate Change, Robert Edward Thomas Ward, Weather, DOI: 10.1002/wea.683 [sadly no free version for me to link to]

1 comment:

  1. Love the idea of a climate rapid response team!I've been thinking a lot about the difference between climate change coverage and biodiversity coverage, considering that the latter has received a lot more attention this year. In comparison, biodiversity has been far less polarizing, but also has received (comparatively) less attention on a policy level-- just look at how many world ministers bothered to show up at Nagoya.