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Tuesday
Jan292013

What would I advise climate science communicators?

This is what I was asked by a thoughtful person who is assisting climate-science communicators to develop strategies for helping the public to recognize the best available evidence--so that those citizens can themselves make meaningful decisions about what policy responses best fit their values.  I thought others might benefit from seeing my responses, and from seeing alternative or supplementary ones that the billions of thoughtful people who read this blog religiously (most, I'm told, before they even get out of bed everyday) might contribute. 

So below are the person's questions (more or less) and my responses, and I welcome others to offer their own reactions.

1. What is the most important influence or condition affecting the efficacy of science communication relating to climate change?

In my view, “the quality of the science communication environment” is the single most important factor determining how readily ordinary people will recognize the best available evidence on climate change and what its implications are for policy. That’s the most important factor determining how readily they will recognize the best available scientific evidence relevant to all manner of decisions they make in their capacity as consumers, parents, citizens—you name it.

People are remarkably good at figuring out who knows what about what. That is the special rational capacity that makes it possible for them to make reliable use of so much more scientific knowledge than they could realistically be expected to understand in a technical sense.

The “science communication environment” consists of all the normal, and normally reliable, signs and processes that people use to figure out what is known to science. Most of these signs and processes are bound up with normal interactions inside communities whose members share basic outlooks on life. There are lots of different communities of that sort in our society, but usually they all steer their respective members toward what science knows.

But when positions on a fact that admits of scientific investigation  (“is the earth heating up?”; “does the HPV vaccine promote unsafe sex among teenage girls?”) becomes entangled with the values and outlooks of diverse communities—and becomes, in effect, a symbol of one’s membership and loyalty in one or another group—then people in those groups will end up in states of persistent disagreement and confusion. These sorts of entanglements (and the influences that cause them) are in effect a form of pollution in the science communication environment, one that disables people from reliably discerning what is known to science.

The science communication environment is filled with these sorts of toxins on climate change. We need to use our intelligence to figure out how to clean our science communication environment up.

For more on these themes:

Kahan, D. Why we are poles apart on climate change. Nature 488, 255 (2012).

Kahan, D. Fixing the Communications Failure. Nature 463, 296-297 (2010).

2. If you had three pieces of advice for those who are interested in promoting more constructive engagement with climate change science, what would they be?

A. Information about climate change should be communicated to people in the setting that is
     most 
conducive to their open-minded and engaged assessment of it.  

 How readily and open-mindedly people will engage scientific information depends very decisively on context. A person who hears about the HPV vaccine when she sees Michelle Bachman or Ellen Goodman screaming about it on Fox or MSNBC will engage it as someone who has a political identity and is trying to figure out which position “matches” it; that same person, when she gets the information from her daughter’s pediatrician, will engage it as a parent, whose child’s welfare is the most important thing in the world to her, and who will earnestly try to figure out what those who are experts on health have to say. Most of the contexts in which people are thinking about climate change today are like the first of these two. Find ones that are more like the second. They exist!

B. Science communication should be evidence-based “all the way down.” 

The number of communication strategies that plausibly might work far exceeds the number that actually will.  So don’t just guess or introspect, & don't listen to story-tellers who weave social science mechanisms into ad hoc (and usually uselessly general) "how to" instructions!

Start with existing evidence (including empirical studies) to identify the mechanisms of communication that there is reason to believe are of consequence in the setting in which you are communicating.

But don’t guess on the basis of those, either, about what to do; treat insights about how to harness those mechanisms in concrete contexts as hypotheses that themselves admit of, and demand, testing designed to help corroborate their likely effectiveness and to calibrate them.

Finally, observe, measure, and report the actual effect of strategies you use. Think how much benefit you would have gotten, in trying to decide what to do now, if you had had access to meaningful data relating to the impact (effective or not) of all things people have already tried in the area of climate science communication. Think what a shame it would be if you fail to collect and make available to others who will be in your situation usuable information about the effects of your efforts.

Aiding and abetting entropy is a crime in the Liberal Republic of Science!

C. Don’t either ignore or take as a given the current political economy surrounding climate
      change; instead, engage people in ways that will improve it. 

Public opinion does not by itself determine what policies are adopted in a democratic system. If “public approval” were all that mattered, we’d have adopted gun control laws in the 1970s stricter than the ones President Obama is now proposing; we’d have a muscular regime of campaign finance regulation; and we wouldn’t have subsidies for agriculture and oil producers, or tax loopholes that enable Fortune 500 companies to pay (literally) zero income tax.

 The “political economy climate” is as complex as the natural climate, and public opinion is only one (small) factor. So if you make “increasing public support” your sole goal, you are making a big mistake.

You also are likely making a mistake if you take as a given the existing political economy dynamics that constrain governmental responsiveness to evidence and simply try to amass some huge counterforce (grounded in public opinion or otherwise) to overcome them. That’s a mistake, in my view, because there are things that can be done to engage people in a way that will make the political economy forces climate-change science communicators have to negotiate more favorable to considered forms of policymaking (whatever they might be).

Where to engage the public, how, and about what in order to improve the political economy surrounding climate change are all matters of debate, of course. So you should consult all the evidence, and all the people who have evidence-informed views, and make the best judgment possible. And anyone who doesn’t tell you that this is the thing to do is someone whose understanding of what needs to be done should be seriously questioned.

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Reader Comments (43)

FWIW - my two cents.

I think that in these kinds of inherently charged contexts, effective communication takes place through stakeholder dialog - where a structured communicative process involves a deliberate focus on leveling any preexisting hierarchies (that will inevitably ignite preexisting narratives about victimhood and agendas) and through engaging active participation to give participants a voice in the process and consequently a sense of ownership in the outcome.

Effective science communication should be one stage of a larger process - a scaffolded process where the communication of "expert" opinion is deliberately placed into a larger context, where the opinions of "experts" can rightfully be seen in proper proportion with other inherent interests which may, in some situations, be in opposition to what "experts" have to offer. In such a process, the implications of "expert" opinion to tribal perspectives be effectively dealt with.

Consider, for example, "expert" scientific opinion about potential environmental impact of a development project to communities at neighborhood, city, and state levels. Without multi-lateral processes of communication - where through personal exchange (or exchange between representative groups), stakeholders get to hear and communicate the specifics of their concerns - those affected are locked into advocating for interests that affect their community identification only, and have no interest in considering the impacts at other levels.

These are fairly basic components of effective conflict negotiation. The basic principles involved in "getting to yes" and "win/win scenarios," defusing "zero sum game/gain" orientations, and differentiating between positions (which are often mutually exclusive) and interests (which are often shared) apply, IMO, to effective science communication -- just as they do in any number of areas involving controversy that overlay upon social, personal, ideological, cultural, and political debates. Why would science communication be viewed as a context that requires some special kind of approach? Basic principles about how to effectively introduce "expert" opinion in any type of controversy, and even more, basic principles about how to effectively communicate amidst any high-level controversy, also apply to effective science communication (IMO).

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua: These seem like very good points.

Where do you see opportunities for stake holder discussion? Who are the stake holders & what are their stakes? Can this question be answered generally? Which sorts of stakeholders, discussion what & where, are most likely to have positive effect on political economy?

January 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Those are good points, IMO as well.

I would point out as written though, whether the presentation is science or politics, basic principles can be effective. But Dan, I thought you also had a good point about how to make it more effective, or at least the desire to.

Also, the consensus of science could be wrong. This has to do with the point on the previous thread: what happens if those citizens who can tell who knows what about what, disagree with the consensus? What if these citizens are correct? This is why I think defintions and how they are measured are fundamental to the question of can we make a science of sceince communication. And as Dan stated, we may need to step back a level ( a close appoximation I hope). I agree.

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

@John:

This goes back to comment you made yesterday & questions I posed in response; I haven't had time yet to addresess your thougthful reply. There I asked whether you agreed that it is in the interest of citizens generally, regardless of their values, to be able to have confident access to the best evidence, whatehver it might be, to inform policy judgments that will, predictively, vary across persons of different values.

Here, in the same spirit, I think it should be possible to address the questions that were posed to me in a way that is satisfactory to anyone, regardless of what he or she thinks the evidence might be on climate change & regarldess of what ppolicy solution that person migth favor. The premises of my responses include (a) it is *possible* for citizens of diverse values to form a common understanding of the best available evidence (quite often, on many issues, that evidence doesn't clearly resolve things -- e.g., on the deterrent effect of the death peanlty or of "concealed carry" laws; the NAS says those are issues where the consensus is -- "no consensus is possible"); (b) ordinarily citizens *do* converge on basic state of the evidence no matter what their values are; yet (c) citiens can't confidently determine what the state of the best available scientific evidence is on climate -- whether there is consensus & on what; if there are competing views, what they are; what the uncertainties are in estimnates even where there is broad consensus (only invalid models don't come w/ specifications of uncertainty!) etc.-- or what the range of policy conseqauences associated with that evidence is in a communication envioronment that is filled with the sort of toxic partisan meanings now polluting that environment. The trouble is the trouble we are having forming a sufificiently stable, shared understanding of what's going on; at that point our trouble will be the one that democracies are comfortable with -- what to do given divergent values & interests.

What do you make of this position? Am I misunderstanding what citizens, of all orientations, want and deserve? Am I being naive about the prospects for it?

January 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

My own take, fwiw:

"1. What is the most important influence or condition affecting the efficacy of science communication relating to climate change?"

Whether the topic is climate change or anything else, the most important condition by far is the degree to which the topic affects moral, cultural, and/or political values. You say this yourself, of course, but I'd again suggest two adjustments to your language under this question: first, it isn't merely a matter of group symbolism (as in, e.g., a flag or colors, say), but of real impact with real effect on those "values and outlooks"; and second, I'd emphasize, again, that this affects not just "ordinary" people, but the people who make up the various scientific establishments as well, who also have moral, cultural, and political values, and hence "group identities". To put it in the form of a riddle: When is a scientist not a scientist? When he/she is an activist.

And therefore the single most important piece of advice "for those who are interested in promoting more constructive engagement with climate change science" would simply be to be as conscious as possible about the problems posed by the factor above. Those involved in communicating science, of course, being also human, also possess (and are possessed by) moral, cultural, and political values, and so identify with particular social groups too -- but their task is to do the best they can to be aware of not only their own motivated reasoning, but that of the scientific establishment (i.e., the scientists themselves, and their employers, funders, and publishers) as well. Among other things (such as a generally critical and self-critical approach), this would involve distinguishing between communication as such and persuasion, or between science as such and policy advocacy.

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

I don't disagree Dan. It may be more that I am used to more formal problem solving as used in my profession and this makes my approach difficult reading.

I would assume that wrt CC some believe that there has been a failure in communication. I am not sure that the actual cause of the failure is more or even as important as the fact there is a failure, if true. Thus, I may err between specifics and generalities as I explore this uncertainty below.

I think with respect to CC a key point to consider in terms of measurement, uncertainty, and OIS by a model citizen is your "regardless of what he or she thinks the evidence might be on climate change & regarldess of what ppolicy solution that person migth favor" wrt the questions.

Your answer to question 1.) included this: ""In my view, “the quality of the science communication environment” is the single most important factor determining how readily ordinary people will recognize the best available evidence on climate change and what its implications are for policy. "" Yet from my veiw, it is the "quality of science" that may need a better definition for good communication.

Take models, as Santer indicated, the projections are from floor to ceiling for a short term timeline. This is a good quality science communication. To offer any short term correlation would be communication of poor quality, proabably poor science for climate policy. Yet historically this is what was done in the communication of the science by the IPCC in AR4 and mass media where the IPCC fixed the end point around the high of 1998 and used a shorter and shorter timeline to determine accellerated warming and the mass media repeated it.

This was a model failure and a communication failure on their part; and we see that failure in today's argument about the "warming" has stopped, slowed, or not. Using this as our basis in this toy problem I present, your model citizen would not likely support drastic action, perhaps no policy action. I would suppose that your model OIS citizen would realize a poor quality model would tend to produce poor policy results and would oppose such. On the other hand, if the quality of science, and subsequent communication, is not important/correct I can't imagine that your statement that people generally "know who can tell who knows what about what" can be true. Where would the people who actually know be found? It may not be known yet.It may have been incorrectly formulated which is different from an incorrect communication.

To me, this is an intrinsic assumption that science is correct as the communication starts. I question this for anything past Newtonian toy models. Your point of the iterative nature of sceince IMO stands correct. Thus you have made a discernment of correct and incorrect, otherwise the iterative nature would not be needed. Such a science that does not need a construct and testing is more along the lines of simple (!?!) fact gathering, not the depth and nuance of science that scientists do. Where does this discernment occur when one goes from science to science communication?

One would expect that as one goes forward, more, in this iterative process, will be known better. That means where we are generally coming from was high uncertainty; and knowledge or answers on hand were actually approximations from assumptions.

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

1. What is the most important influence or condition affecting the efficacy of science communication relating to climate change?

In my experience, the most productive exchanges occur when:
1. Group identities and adversarial conflict have not been invoked. You can change your mind or concede points without penalty.
2. Understanding is distinguished from acceptance. (i.e. you are only being asked to understand the other's position, not to believe it.)
3. It is accepted that wrong can still be interesting. Studying common errors and paradoxes can lead to a deeper understanding, and even inspiration.
4. The discussion is about the evidence and how we know, not about authority and social convention and why we all ought to submit to it.

I think of them all in terms of reducing the personal stake people have in being right. Possible arguments are discussed neutrally, without committing to risk people's group identity, self-esteem, reputation, social conformity, etc. Reduce the motivation to fit the evidence into a particular picture.
It's like the techniques used in brainstorming or 'lateral thinking' to break out of the conventional.

2. If you had three pieces of advice for those who are interested in promoting more constructive engagement with climate change science, what would they be?

1. Take your opponent's views seriously, and try to understand why they think that, and analyse exactly where and why their chain of argument diverges from yours. Ask questions. Talk to them. Try ideas for better explanations out on them. We all have our blindspots - use critics as a mirror to test your own justifications and find the gaps, and help them to explore theirs.

If you're not willing to take an argument seriously, don't discuss it. Ridiculing an idea with shallow dismissals is counterproductive and doesn't move the debate forward.

Try not to be one-sidedly selective about the evidence/arguments you'll entertain, but accept that you and everybody else will be - we can't help it. That's why we have a debate.

2. Don't aim to persuade - aim to understand. People can spot the attempt to persuade a mile off, and it makes them suspicious and defensive. The modern world is saturated with advertising, and the techniques are all familiar. Don't count a conversation as a failure or a waste of time if it doesn't persuade the other party to your view.

That doesn't mean you can't have separate communications aimed at persuading - propaganda and advertising are valid aspects of our democratic society and the way it works. But they're not compatible with science communication, which is only about generating the common background context needed for other sorts of communication.

3. Try to help people participate and interact with your discussion on a substantive level. Distribute data and code, and encourage people to actually run it and play around with it. Teach people how to perform the relevant techniques, how the calculations work. Show people that they can do it themselves. If you find your critics can only generate weak and ignorant arguments, educate them so they are able to produce stronger ones.

The extra work needed to share the code does one's own science no end of good, too. It forces a level of detail, and motivates a higher level of quality that it's too easy a temptation to skip without. They say the best way to learn something is to teach it, and this is because the effort forces you to fill in all the gaps in the chain of reasoning that you would normally skim over. The effort to educate has many extra benefits.

--
Note, I don't generally follow my own advice. But I'm only in it for the entertainment, so I'm not going to obsess about it.

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Once again, I think it is a mistake to view this in a science-specific context, and certainly in a CC-specific context. IMO, if someone wants to pin the responsibility on climate scientists (say for their advocacy), or even on "skeptics," they're confusing a symptom for the disease.

The disease is motivated reasoning. It will not go away with better science, or better science communication. That is putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.

A small percentage of those arguing, on either side of the debate, know much in detail about how the science has been communicated (although they may have heard many times about the problems in how the science has been communicated). This is not a problem of over overstated certainty or insufficiently tuned models. This isn't a problem of selective messaging on the part of "realists." This isn't the product of overzealous messaging - intended to convince (if there's one thing that we know, it is that in general, messaging intended to convince is quite effective at selling widgets - why wouldn't it be effective at selling a scientific message?) This isn't a problem with assumptions about the correctness of science.

Sure, any and all of those factors might be operational with certain individuals, but those individuals are by definition outliers, and extrapolating from that sample is bias confirmation.

This is a problem, like any of a large set of other political controversies, that reveals the ugly stew that is motivated reasoning. So the question isn't how to better communicate the science. The question is how to fight motivated reasoning.

Again, I suggest a deliberative and participatory process of stakeholder dialog. Some of the attributes of effective stakeholder dialog should implement some of the features that NiV refers to above - but none of those features in themselves will have substantive effect if they are isolated from a well-conceived overall and coherent framework that is part of a comprehensive philosophical outlook on effective communication in the face of controversy.

As for:

Where do you see opportunities for stake holder discussion? Who are the stake holders & what are their stakes? Can this question be answered generally? Which sorts of stakeholders, discussion what & where, are most likely to have positive effect on political economy?

That is the nut, isn't it?

Where are the opportunities? The problem is that the opportunities don't exist. There was a blog, recently, that was devoted to dialog as opposed to a particular ideology - but it seemed to devolve almost immediately into the standard cafeteria food fight. The opportunity certainly won't exist through an on-line format.

Who are the stakeholders? A good question. As a start, I'd guess stakeholders must include industry representatives, representative of citizen groups such as environmental groups, community groups at different levels of regionality (local, state, national, international), scientists (of different stripes), economists, political activists (of different stripes). Who else?

Above all, the stakeholders have to be those who at least hope to realize an ideal that invested in a good plan is at least as important as an investment in a particular outcome. I would suggest that it should be participants who are well-versed in the concept of motivated reasoning.

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua: Been to Florida recently? There are some folks there -- of quite a variety of cultural outlooks & the like -- who would very much welcome useful guidance on stakeholder engagement. I think that counts as a "science communication problem"; there is already some scientific knowledge (information acquired by empirical observation, measurement) that could help (elements of it would be much like what NiV describes, for sure), and in the course of making making use of that information those people, with appropriate assistance, could generate even more and better information.

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@John:
I think you are (& would take no offense at being referred to as) a "climate skeptic." But I know you aren't skeptical of science as a way of knowing (& that you see a general sort of skepticism that confines recognition of being "known" to things established through observation, valid measurement, valid inference & like). Or so I gather from the sum of your contributions to various discussions.

That being so, I want to continue to try to shake you loose, at least momentarily, of the state of science on climate change & try to get you to fix, as I'm trying to do, on the general question of what steps should be taken to create conditions in which what's known to science (including the degree of confidence or error that it would itself attach to what it knows, and the circumstances in which it would actually say,"there's not enough 'known' in the scientific sense to view either of two or more hypotheses as more likely correct than another") are likely reliably to be recognized by citizens and form the starting point for their deliberations on consequential matters, the resolution of which will then, of course, turn on judgments of value that will vary across persons (such differences in value being a normal incident of their possessing the power & freedom to reason for themselves).

I think you agree with me that this is a coherent, desirable, and (at least in principle) feasible objective.

If so, then I think it should be possible for us to find examples of conditions in which that goal is frustrated by the entaglement of policy-relevant facts -- ones that admit of scientific investigation -- in divise group rivalries. In those, the prospect for citizens, of all such groups, reliably recognizing what the 'best scientific evidence' is on those facts, whatever that evidence might be, is unaccepabtably low. Members of all these groups have reason to be anxious about whether their own best understanding reflects the best aviailable evidence, and to resent the conditions responsible for that.

Again, I'd say the pros/cons of the HPV vaccine, e.g. is mired in a condition like this -- in a polluted science communication environment that makes convergence on the best understanding of the evidence, whatever it might be, unacceptably low.

I want to formulate advice for science communicators that addresses any sort of problem like this. These are not necessarily science communicators who don't have opinions themselves about what's to be done; that would e unrealistic. But they are science communicators who believe that their own mission is to create conditions in which the best available scientific evidence, whatever it might be (and however complete and certain it might be) are likely to be recognized by reasonable citizens.

With me? If so, we can go back to cliamte change! If not, tell me why; I am eager, of course, to be told if I'm missing something.

January 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Larry:

I agree with you. I would say those scientists are not merely "activists" but in a sense "propogandists."

It is not wrong to be for particular policy outcomes; it is not wrong to make people understand what one believes to be true. Scientists are as entitled to want to do these things as are any other citizen!

But anyone who uses scientific insight (or who mischaracterizes scientific knowledge) for the sake of making people believe particular propositions through mechanisms that operate independently of their use of informed, intelligent reason is what I'm calling a "propogandist." Indeed, maybe that person is even a "scientist of propoganda."

But a science of that sort is not what democracy needs & deserves.

The science of science communication as a "new political science" for the Liberal Republic of Science is not one the goal of which is to efficienty, proficiently use cognitive tricks to herd the masses into patterns believed to be optimal or welfare-maximing or good for them or anything else.

It is one that understands how to create conditions in which citizens who are lucky enough to live at a time and place in which humans know more than they ever have about how to improve their individual and collective well-being are able reliably to recognize what that knowledge is so that they can use it to govern themselves.

January 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Top-rank scientists with appropriate expertise could begin by telling the whole truth, according to the lights and best available science you possess, about human population dynamics, unbridled global human population growth and the multitude of ruinous impacts derived directly from overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human species on the climate as well as the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the children...... and coming generation, if there are any.

Why not talk straight, in an intellectually honest way, about the manmade, artificially designed, soon to become patently unsustainable Economic Colossus we call the global political economy as well as its many recognizably destructive impacts on future human well being and environmental health?

The Economist -----
https://www.economist.com/user/3324281/comments

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
established 2001
Chapel Hill, NC
http://www.panearth.org/

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Earl Salmony

Dan when I think of the problem of communication and our potential conclusions of success or failure wrt the OIS citizen, I am reminded of a book on wallstreet I read decades ago. The author outlined 4, IIRC, large groups and orientation to the market: 1) random, weak implict, semi-strong implicit, strong implicit. Contrarians are contrary and do not add to this discussion. The range was from no correlation to complete correlation of the price of a stock to a company's worth. "Bubbles" indicate strong implicit cannot be correct, as the random is ruled out that, in general, a company's worth does correlate with price of stock. I would say for your citizen that they will be in the weak to semi-strong depending on errors on their part, errors on the communication, and errors in the science since we know science can be wrong, and citizens can be wrong. I see your citizen engaged in a similar iterative process as science itself. It is this POV I consider the science in terms of what can be expressed to this citizen. Thus to make sure I am not missing a valid clue as to why this iterative process could go wrong by the citizen I include the possibility of the science being wrong.

I don't mind you calling me a climate skeptic. Labels don't bother me. Persons who use them to close down thought and listening bother me. Your posts indicate you have the same opinion I do as to those who use labels in such a manner. They stop a citizen from getting good, perhaps negative, information, or form an impedence to good coversation.

So in order to create that progress of our model citizen towards understanding, I would comment about some comments I share agreement. One is to frame the conversation within the framework of science that is a structured iterative conversation by stakeholders as Joshua posted. But, I would state historically this was not done for CC. I would use this as an example of failure. It is not necessary to use one, because Joshua is correct. But if you are going to use this framework, this structure, then in order to understand why your model citizen may come to weak implicit belief or worse, or why the communication errs or even the wrong questions for determination of understanding can be asked, you will to have a model for a good structure versus a bad structure, and note the difference. Joshua is correct about stakeholders, but consider with air, the whole world's population is a stakeholder, every one of us. However, I will quit banging on about this to just consider what else IS needed.

Another part of the sceince of science communication is what NiV posted about non confrontational framing of the science. This should be easy. Science tends to be objective. News does not. This brings us to what I think is the only way it can be done effectively. Sceince by press release has to stop. But it won't. This folds into the stakeholder problem. Your science of science communication does not control the avenues of communication. Worse, as you point out with Bachman or your physician, who speaks and where matters. Another level of consideration is that your model citizen will and does judge who is speaking by whom they associate with and are "friends" with. For your science to work, you will have to get scientists to stop "free range" advocacy. They cannot do, as the late Stephen Schnieder did and believed as to doing, do a good job at both. I have not seen where they remain non-confrontational once the advocacy starts. This is especially true when a policy rewards one culture at the expense of another or apppears to do so, is added to the mix.

Policy is advocacy. Scientists should not be the mothpiece of policy. If your citizen decides that the risk should be run, it is not the scientists right or power to stop them. A policy disagreement should not be considered a failure of science communication. Risk and knowledge are not the same concept. Another concept that gets missing when scientists want to do both is that is does not matter to the truth of science say if a species, for example, even humans, go extinct. Such is just what happens. The inclusion of the moral, or an assumed moral concept does not change the science, though it might effect policy. Yet the poisonous atmosphere is in large part to the detemination that those opposed are immoral, frauds, greedy; all perjoritve terms that de-humanize others. Don't help create this posionous atmosphere or continue its existance.

My veiw is that if people understood your Nature piece that they would realize that banging on about the science from an advocacy position when the sceince has large uncertainty and risk perceptions can vary, that these conditions almost guarentee to cause an exponential increase in polarization. The classic much heat but little light scenario. This also should not be seen as a communication failure, or a failure of the model citizen in your science. But it does indicate where failure in agreement in policy can occur, and what should be done to avoid this.

In terms of the science of science communication, you need a module for "Only Nixon can go to China." If your model citizen does meet your conclusion of knowing who knows what about what, having the loyal opposion, or a 'tiger team" is required. It will serve two purposes. Just as one judges by friends, contrasting opposing information and persons provides information. The second purpose is that one does not have a stakeholder meeting by throwing out stakeholders. It doesn't matter if it is about the science or the policy. Throwing them out creates two impedences. One, you now have an opposition that has a vested interest in obstructing. Secondly, you have denied a contra-indication from being realized by your model citizen, which would have convinced the model citizen more so than a one sided conversation. This gets back to the structured science that Joshua commented on, and where this module should reside.

You need a module to separate science from policy, advocacy from information, and speculation from measurement. This will help in preventing miscommunication, misdiagnosis of knowledge or risk factors, and help prevent comments that generate heat not enlightenment. This module needs to occur before communication is engaged. This is where a "tiger team" is most useful, and should be along the lines of S&F's "ask" paradigm. In contrast to what we see historically in CC, consider what happened with the Risk Management Program. The deadly nature of industry and commerce's use of chemicals was communicated. Those who used S&F "ask" typically managed this communication well. This can be done, and I would reccommend, on a pilot scale first. This is part of the preparation.

Use your pilot study to determine where the science needs to be separated from the policy, use it to find out what persons see as advocacy not information, and if possible why... I could go on. But this is pretty much straight from S&F.

But most of all: be flexible: science should be taken to mind not heart. Determine the nature of the science as it relates to policy if you are going to get in a policy discussion. This is where you need to the Separation Module. Not the policy you want, but just policy. Understand where policy pitfalls occur on both sides of the spectrum or as many sides as there are.

Be inclusive, you do not know which of your citizens will be a model one, and who will be problematic. They may well change positions. However, you can use the tendency of humans who get along with each other to tend to agree with each other. If churches threw out all sinners, the pews would be pretty empty.

Know your product: if it is a hard sell, blaming the opposition because you have a difficult product you want to sell is counter-productive. Your opposition is giving you good feedback. Demonizing is a waste of time and is giving potential supporters to the opposition. You should make them work for their supporters.

The reason I use modules is that to go forward, I think your science of science communication needs a structure. In industry we typically use flow diagrams but there are other methods, and some can be used well together. If you come up with a structure you should use something as the assumed failure of CC, and something like Kepner-Tregoe to test your structure. Or you could just throw it out and see what comments you get. Tiger teams are useful.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

Dan -

Some thinking out loud (metaphorically speaking - well, my keyboard does make noise).

Interesting post about Florida. No doubt, (smaller-scale) regional adaptation would be a more productive environment to such an approach - and is nothing to be sneezed at. But how sufficient is that? I believe there needs to be a mixture of smaller-scale adaptation as well as investigation of larger-scale mitigation. And smaller-scale, regional adaptation is only in reach in regions with the necessary resources; how is smaller-scale regional adaptation in Bangladesh, for example, going to be addressed.

One of the problems, IMV, is that there is an a priori, ideological opposition to the very notion of larger-scale stakeholder dialog from the "skeptical" camp. I have no idea how that might be overcome. Given that condition - how do you find participants from the "skeptical" camp who are willing to enter the dialog with a mind that is willing to focus on a good plan as opposed to a position advocacy (Of course, there is a related (inverse) phenomenon of unwillingness among some "realists" to focus on smaller-scale, regional adaptation; but from the evidence I've seen such an orientation is much more of an outlier)? And similarly, if someone is focused on a positions rather than interests, there is a huge obstacle to addressing how to implement smaller-scale, regional adaptation in poorer regions that need external support.

In observing the climate debate, I have seen widespread opposition from "skeptics" to the very notions of: (1) addressing mitigation, (2) institutional participatory processes on an international scale, and (3) developed countries devoting resources to helping poorer countries address smaller-scale regional adaptation.

Thus - it seems to me that the point of focus on effective communication needs to be to obtain buy-in on those three concepts. How might that be addressed? It would seem that perhaps one necessary ingredient would be the need to build new international institutions through participatory processes from a diversity of stakeholders. The second would be addressing directly why smaller-scale adaptation in poorer countries would match the interests of populations in developed countries. But the biggest nut to crack may be the very primary question of the importance of mitigation, and the question of whether any efforts towards mitigation would be futile and/or counterproductive, economically harmful, etc. That is a tough nut, and I don't see any suitable nutcrackers anywhere at hand.

I guess maybe, reluctantly, I've come to think that you make hay while the sun is shining - and that since maybe smaller-scale adaptation are reach goals, but plausibly-reached, they should be the point of focus. Perhaps the same is true for smaller-scale adaptation goals for poorer regions.

Maybe large-scale mitigation goals are only plausibly-reached if there are short-term climactic developments
that are so unambiguous that only those who fit the classification of "denier" would remain entrenched. Or maybe - if unambiguously catastrophic climate change will only occur on a centennial time frame (which I think is likely) - larger-scale mitigation goals are only plausibly-reached if there are technological developments that are so powerful that even interests that are heavily invested in the status quo won't be able to build effective obstacles to change.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Kahan, D. Fixing the Communications Failure. Nature 463, 296-297 (2010).
"In a famous 1950s psychology experiment, researchers showed students from two Ivy League colleges a film of an American football game between their schools in which officials made a series of controversial decisions against one side. Asked to make their own assessments, students who attended the offending team's college reported seeing half as many illegal plays as did students from the opposing institution."

I believe people as a whole understand this basic premise: Take a statement from an activist with very large "grains of salt", as they have a point of view to sell you.

The public as a whole has been largely inoculated vs salesman through the constant exposure to advertising. Much of what is written on controversial issues likely looks to the public as if someone is trying to sell them something. Selling is a matter of trust. Without trust, there is no sale. Advertising works or it would not be used, but once trust in a product being pushed for sell is lost, getting that trust back is very hard.

With controversial topics, such as climate change, I think it needs to be handled more in a adversarial environment, such as used in mediation. The advocates would be partisan advocates arguing before a neutral mediator that was accepted by both sides. Would make for a much better environment than just the different sides shouting at each other.

It would allow for briefs to be submitted that clearly set out the areas of agreement of the basic facts that the parties agreed with and set out the areas that the parties disagreed with. It would focus the debate on what was in contention and reduce the straw man arguments that otherwise seem to continually pop up.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

@Ed: Whoa-- are you a lawyer? That's the system, of course, we use in courts. I think it is manifestly not the way that someone who wants to figure out the truth about something would proceed. I'd characterize adjudication as a contest in which lawyers compete to create an environment filled with influences that will motivate the jury to to construe the evidence in a biased fashion. I hope someday we will change this. Actually, too, mediation tries to get people into an envrionment where they are less likely to be biased about their own prospects for success -- a huge impediment to settlement of cases the liitigation of which is a tremendous waste.

@John et al.: A very reflective article, from one of the giants of decision science, on hazards of science-as-advocates: Fischhoff, B. Nonpersuasive Communication about Matters of Greatest Urgency: Climate Change. Environmental Science & Technology 41, 7204-7208 (2007).

January 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Joshua : "..In observing the climate debate, I have seen widespread opposition from "skeptics" to the very notions of: (1) addressing mitigation.."

Joshua...you are starting from the assumption that CC can be mitigated. First you have to show that CC can be mitigated. Skeptics, such as myself, see CC as mostly natural climate variation and that adaption, not mitigation, is the way forward.

You are trying to sell CAGW as a direct result of CO2 increases, and the skeptics are not buying. Back to that "trust" issue again when someone is trying to sell something to you.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Dan: @Ed: Whoa-- are you a lawyer?

No, but at times I have to deal with mediation between my public entity and construction contractors in disputes over contract provisions and payments.

"..Actually, too, mediation tries to get people into an environment where they are less likely to be biased about their own prospects for success..."

This is why I recommend the mediation process over a full court of law.

"..I think it is manifestly not the way that someone who wants to figure out the truth about something would proceed..."

But advocates arguing before a neutral judge and a jury of your peers is the foundation of English/US history and law. What better way has been found to provide the "truth" in contentious areas? Would you want some other venue if on trial for your life or protection of your property?

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

@Ed: Great idea to try to figure out mediation analogs in science-communication dispute areas where they make sense! Mediators are professional dispute resolvers; they know a lot things that can be adapted to settings where science communication is compromised by adversarial dynamics that predictably close minds to evidence.

"The foundation of English/US ... law," to be sure. But it's not a mechanism calibrated to reasoned engagement with evidence or production of truth. We shouldn't be trying the "culture of law" to decisionmaking settings that need the guidance of science; we should be trying to bring the "culture of science" to law. See National Research Council, National Academy of Science, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward 39 (2009).

January 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@John: I think your conception of stakeholder proceeding is quite good & obviously converges w/ both Joshua & NiV's. States like Floria, West Virgnia, Arizona, Louisiana, N. & S. Carolina, NY, CT, NJ ... they are all now filled w/ stakeholder proceedings where the people who are talking all see themselves on the same "team" -- the one that has historically used its ingenuity to avoid drowing in floods, or to avoid baking to dust, etc.-- and all know each other and know how to talk to one another. There are lots of differnt interest, lots of different values. But they all agree that they should be making decisions informed by the best scientific evidence. There is scientific evidence on how to make that more llkely to happen (arising out of setttings having nothing to do w/ climate, although often having to do with resource management). One can hope that those in a position to share that science communication knowledge with these deliberating groups of citizens would do so -- and also take advantage of the opportunity to help as an opportunity also to learn more about what to do to make such engagements work better, and what not to do in order to protect them from the disorienting fog of distrust you describe .

January 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Ed:

Joshua...you are starting from the assumption that CC can be mitigated.

Please read my words more carefully. I think that you will find that you are projecting viewpoints on to me that I never stated. The reason that I think that is so, is because I make no such "assumption."

But it is possible that I was unclear. So, I will elaborate. I do not make any "assumption that CC can be mitigated." I think that there is much uncertainty, at numerous levels. I do, however, think that mitigation (and the inherent, related uncertainty) can be discussed, and that cost/risk assessment can engaged.

First you have to show that CC can be mitigated.

And this, indeed, is the precise problem that I referred to. You are stating that you won't even come to the table until I can prove that CC can be mitigated. I assume that you would argue that climate scientists underestimate uncertainty, yet here you seem to demand complete certainty before being willing to engage in dialog as a stakeholder?

This is a nice example why I say that the problems in addressing the question of mitigation may be insurmountable.

But let's assume that I'm wrong here, and being too literal in my interpretation of what you said. Let's assume that you would be willing to discuss the uncertainties and evaluate the risks and rewards of mitigation through a well-designed stakeholder dialog.

In fact, despite what you said, I would think that you would be so inclined if you can get your mistaken assumptions about me out of the way.

So then, you and I, and our respective tribes that we are standing in for, both need to stop looking to make assumptions, or to make assumptions about assumptions, and instead ask for clarification. Don't put me in a box. I will resist doing that with you. Dan provides a nice example in that regard.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan: "We shouldn't be trying the "culture of law" to decisionmaking settings that need the guidance of science; we should be trying to bring the "culture of science" to law..."

Cannot disagree more. There is a reason that lay juries sort through the testimony of the "hired guns", otherwise known as "expert witnesses" who give scientific testimony.

For me, listening to the testimony of competing expert witnesses on highway pavement failure for oil contents, air voids, soil compaction, ect, leaves me wondering if they had both tested the same areas as they are so far apart. It also leaves me with no more trust in the experts in general than in the attorneys. Both bring the interest of the client first, though within bounds bound by law that does mitigate the worst effects in a court setting. Outside of a court setting, there is no holds bard from either group.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

And Ed:

You are trying to sell CAGW as a direct result of CO2 increases,

FWIW - this is another mistaken assumption on your part.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I like the link to the Fischhoff. Though, I don't think it will surprise you that I think that the article has a statement about CC science that I don't think the historical record supports because of what is left out in the statement. I am not suprised. It does not distract from the value of the article except when one comes to judging has science been giving the chance to explain. But only if one thinks a correct judgement of that matters. I don't because whether or not to judge is irrelevant to going forward. The article is well founded and correct, IMO, on how to go forward. Though without understanding the limits of "Climate science is needed to focus on choices that matter and to get the facts right" is problematic. This is due to the number of assumptions and the uncertainty. I fear those who would use this advice will be wrong footed by the certainty that they will bring and will be seen as advocates not honest scientists. An example of this is Joshua wanting to talk about mitigation with those who are not at a belief/knowledge stage that would support such a conversation. Adaptation or mitigation is policy. Those who want to do nothing but adaptation are stakeholders as well as those who think we should have already started mitigation. The uncertainty can be said to support both of these parties or neither; it cannot be said to support one over the other. Both are speculation.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

I have only read most of the comments and so may have missed
any which may have brought up what can be called the elephant
in the living room:

In particular, scientists, and those whose understandings and
sympathies are not antithetical to the actual processes of doing
science, tend often to assume that those who argue against,
or are even antagonistic toward, given scientific findings, are
coming from essentially the same core acceptance of science,
reason, rational (though sometimes heated) argument and
critiques, based on honest, open, shared experience. At least
in principle.

However, the "science communication environment" has long
been poisoned by enormously powerful, often wealthy, interests
which are completely uninterested in ferreting
out the best understanding of all current data. This is true of
the present hypertrophied 'controversy' copiously injected into
the reality of anthropogenic climate change… in this case, I
refer to the well-funded and studiously dis-informational
campaigns headed up by a number of multi-billionaires and the
more conservative forces in the fossil fuel industry. This
necessarily includes the very willing aid given them by many
congresspeople for fairly obvious political and funding reasons.
To ignore this disruptive and very conscious force, which
operates by every principle considered venal by working
scientists, is virtually fatal to ordinary norms of scientific
communication with a now very confused public.

Further, ignoring or denigrating its effect, is tantamount to
letting such vested interests continue to not only diminish and
control science by forcing its practitioners to compete
with one another and scrabble over ever tiny crumbs of
funding, but to hijack the essence of democracy itself.
A democratic way of being which is crucial for the health
of science itself.

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGene Partlow

You wrote "So you should consult all the evidence, and all the people who have evidence-informed views, and make the best judgment possible. And anyone who doesn’t tell you that this is the thing to do is someone whose understanding of what needs to be done should be seriously questioned."

Accordingly, "seriously questioned" should be the many authorities, both in science and policy making areas, who dismiss further discussion of the climate issue by asserting that the time for discussion has passed and that "the science is settled" as they refuse to consider anything other than the hypothesis that current climate change is "very likely driven by human emissions of carbon containing greenhouse gases".

Given the general predominance of the IPCC's (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) massively taxpayer supported climate predictions/projections that unchecked human greenhouse gas emissions will cause catastrophic global warming, and the refusal of the IPCC to consider legitimate science whose conclusions do not support its exclusionary hypothesis, I encourage the reading the following SHORT paper:

'Effect of a Doubling of the Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere as Depicted by Quantum Physics' at:

www.au.agwscam.com/pdf/Doubling%20of%20CO2%20summary.pdf


--which includes a graph that demonstrates the ability of CO2 concentration in 20 ppmv increments to influence global temperatures. The first 20 ppmv has a very large effect with further increases in atmospheric concentration having less and less effect -- so that once the concentration of 300 ppmv was reached at the beginning of the industrial revolution, the incremental 20 ppmv increases had negligible effect. Further [current] increases, even a doubling of CO2 concentration, will only have an insignificant effect on global temperature in the order of just a few tenths of a degree C.

-------- and ends with the following conclusions:

1) Physical measurement and quantum physics theory dictate that the maximum possible increase in global temperature resulting from a doubling in
atmospheric CO2 concentration above the current level of 386ppmv is only in the order of a few tenths of a degree C, and definitely less than 0.4°C.

2) At the current rate of increase of 2ppmv/year it will take 193 years to achieve this doubling. A 0.4°C temperature increase caused by this doubling
of CO2 in 193 years is only a year to year temperature increase of just 0.002°C; i.e. 0.18°C by 2100.

3) The current IPCC predictions based on the climate models are for this doubling to take place by 2100 with a temperature increase of over 2°C from this doubling of CO2.

4) The IPCC predicted rate of increase in atmospheric CO2concentration, and the IPCC climate model prediction of global warming that will result from this increase in CO2 concentration are inconsistent with observation and are contrary to both physical data and quantum physics theory.


Peter Salonius

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Salonius

JFP -

Your science of science communication does not control the avenues of communication.

A good participatory process of stakeholder dialog entails a careful approach to the dissemination of information. Of course, this is one of the inherent problems with CC - as many combatants engage the battle on the question of information, and attempts to control the flow of information are almost always viewed as reflective of bias or the product of false balance.

I would offer that maybe the way to address this problem is to trust in the power of dialog. People who focus on the balance of information as the problem are looking to be victims, and the media makes for a convenient boogeyman victimizer. (What I find very amusing is that both sides are fully convinced that it is the media that is the problem - "skeptics" think the media sensationalize climate change and "realists" think they under-report climate change, and both sides reverse-engineer conspiracies to support their views).

If empowered in a participatory process, no one needs to seek out victimhood to justify their predicament; they have, as direct participants, the power of advocacy and the responsibility for being accountable to their peers in the process.

An example of this is Joshua wanting to talk about mitigation with those who are not at a belief/knowledge stage that would support such a conversation.

I couldn't quite follow here. Could you explain more?

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Gene Partlow :..However, the "science communication environment" has long
been poisoned by enormously powerful, often wealthy, interests
which are completely uninterested in ferreting
out the best understanding of all current data. .."

"..Further, ignoring or denigrating its effect, is tantamount to
letting such vested interests continue to not only diminish and
control science by forcing its practitioners to compete
with one another and scrabble over ever tiny crumbs of
funding, but to hijack the essence of democracy itself...."

Very true. There are many examples of advocates for renewable energy being heavily invested in the businesses that they are advocating for ever higher subsidies to the detriment of the public at large.

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Gene Partlow "..In particular, scientists, and those whose understandings and
sympathies are not antithetical to the actual processes of doing
science, tend often to assume that those who argue against,
or are even antagonistic toward, given scientific findings, are
coming from essentially the same core acceptance of science,
reason, rational (though sometimes heated) argument and
critiques, based on honest, open, shared experience."

Ahha yes...reason, rational, criticism.... Scientific communication at its best

Understanding the Climategate Inquiries
Ross McKitrick, Ph.D
Professor of Environmental Economics
University of Guelph
Canada
September 2010
http://www.rossmckitrick.com/uploads/4/8/0/8/4808045/rmck_climategate.pdf


Phil Jones
“We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”

Michael Mann, University of Virginia
If the RMS [Royal Meteorological Society] is going to require authors to make ALL data available - raw data PLUS results from all intermediate calculations - I will not submit any further papers to RMS journals.
Ben Santer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

From Phil Jones To: Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University). July 8, 2004
"I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

From: Phil Jones. To: Many. March 11, 2003
“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.”

From Phil Jones. To: Michael Mann. Date: May 29, 2008
"Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise."
Climate change skeptics tried to use Freedom of Information laws to obtain raw climate data submitted to an IPCC report known as AR4. The scientists did not want their email exchanges about the data to be made public

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

@gene: I posted your comment and some reflections in a new blog post.

@ed: do you disagree w/ gene's point abstracted from climate change? nothing in his point depends on that. Substitute nuclear power or genetically modified foods or whatever other issue is one that you believe discussion of which has been distorted by deliberate misinformation (actually, those on both sides of climate change debate believe this, so the substance of gene's point ought to be perfectly congenial). It's boring to keep arguing about veracity of particular climate scientists -- everyone is familiar with all the particulars. Be more interesting to know what you think about the problem gene raises b/c that is something that hasn't received enough attention -- and precisely b/c it hasn't, we get stuck for hours on boring discussions about whether this or that climate scientist is a liar. Also, do you have anything to say about John Pittman's, NiV's and Joshua's positions on what sort of mediated stakeholder proceeding would be most conducive to engagement w/ valid scientific information? You want an advfersary procedure; they don't -- as I understand them.

January 31, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan: "Also, do you [ed] have anything to say about John Pittman's, NiV's and Joshua's positions on what sort of mediated stakeholder proceeding would be most conducive to engagement w/ valid scientific information? You want an advfersary procedure; they don't -- as I understand them."
Currently the debate on CC, and other such contentious issues, is more of a war conducted by press release than a debate on the science. I believe a mediated adversary procedure would be helpful to reduce the chaff being produced by both sides. Currently, neither side is forced to directly address the major issues that the other side deem important. What you tend to see is one side or the other framing their opponents viewpoint to match what they want to argue, and then address the misleading framework they just created.

"@ed: do you disagree w/ gene's point abstracted from climate change?"
Which point specifically?

"It's boring to keep arguing about veracity of particular climate scientists.."
When the argument is framed as " most scientists agree", it is useful to note that many of the major players have their hands dirty and that "they have been cleared of misconduct" is a bit of a misnomer. If the major players have their hands dirty, it affects the trust level when they make pronouncements.

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

@Ed: Imagine that it was your job to tell us what to do to prevent society's engagement with issues posed by synthetic biology from traveling the path the climate change debate has gone down. You do have the option of quitting the job immediately if you think that it would be perfectly fine for synbio to go down that path. But assuming you agree that where we are with climate is not a condition conducive to informed and constructive deliberations, then proceed with your duties. One of them is to figure out what to do about the elephant.
BTW, the legislation that created your job got enacted only on condition that it not mention, and that you not, "climate change." You can discuss "sea level rise," however. Or nuclear power, or the HPV vaccine debacle, or any of the dozens of other science issues that have become pathologized in this way.

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

dmk38 @Ed: "Imagine that it was your job to tell us what to do to prevent society's engagement with issues posed by synthetic biology from traveling the path the climate change debate has gone down"

Full and open debate is the answer. I would also like to see debates on controversial issues include a meditated adversary format with deposition. Such a format is used extensively in the construction and engineering fields to get at the best approximation of the "truth". "Truth" is a wiggly thing and hard to pin down. It is much easier to pin it down in the light than in the dark.

The protection vs misdirection is more speech, not less.

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

"It's boring to keep arguing about veracity of particular climate scientists -- everyone is familiar with all the particulars."

I find that a very interesting thing for you to say. While I agree there's no point in rehashing the debate per se here, when it's already been done to death at a thousand other venues, I think it does have some important implications for science communication that are not always noticed.

It has often been commented that the scientific significance of Mann's Hockeystick graph (and other elements of the controversy are no different in this regard) was not primarily its direct scientific contribution to the case for AGW, but the fact that it passed multiple layers of scientific review without being noticed or checked, that when it was noticed it was defended rather than being withdrawn, and that judging by their silence lots of other scientists apparently see nothing disturbing in this.

While a lay audience might not be able to parse the mathematics behind the dispute, these are signs they can read and interpret. This is indeed part of the normal, and normally reliable, signs and processes that people use to figure out what is known to science, or indeed any technical/expert subject.

So there is an interesting question - how should a science communicator looking to to develop strategies for helping the public to recognize the best available evidence handle this issue? Do they ignore it? Do they avoid it? Dismiss it? Acknowledge it but say "it doesn't matter"? What does doing that do to the science communication environment?

The evolutionary science community had the same issue over Piltdown Man, and there are many other scientific controversies and scandals with a similar import. Does acknowledging the scandal weaken your position, or distract from the message you want to convey? Or does explaining how it worked, why things went wrong, how it was detected and subsequently fixed, and how you can tell the difference between good and bad science with this as a test example and thereby know that the right answer had been found strengthen the communication?

Should other scientists comment on it? Should other scientists make an effort to find out about it? What does it do to Science's reputation generally, if they don't? Does the veracity of particular scientists even have any bearing on the public's means to recognize "the best available evidence"? What would you advise?

Those are all interesting questions that could be answered in the abstract, without getting bogged down in particular cases. Hypothetically, if you like.

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Ed -

There is no "truth." There are estimates of uncertainty that fall into ranges. An adversarial process will resolve nothing. Those who do not agree with the "mediated adversarial procedure" will not accept the outcome. Who could possibly be agreed upon as mediators?

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

While a lay audience might not be able to parse the mathematics behind the dispute, these are signs they can read and interpret. This is indeed part of the normal, and normally reliable, signs and processes that people use to figure out what is known to science, or indeed any technical/expert subject.

Where are your data?

Speaking of data - how does the lay audience interpret "Climategate" - a related event? I see "skeptics" all the time say that the lay audience interprets this event as undermining the credibility of climate scientists. Presumably, they say that because: (1) it was true for them and they are projecting their own experience onto other people or, (2) they want to believe it is true because they have a partisan interest.

The data I've seen show that the impact was relatively minor, and that the minor impact would be predictable by the social, cultural and/or political orientation of the observers. In fact, it isn't that the lay audience looks at the event and objectively weigh them to reach a conclusion. What we see is that the lay audience uses the event to confirm their biases. This is easily predictable by what we know about how people reason in the face of controversial issues. Those inclined to distrust climate scientists say that the "Climategate" undermined the credibility of climate scientists. Those inclined to trust climate scientists say that "Climategate" increased their confidence in the work of climate scientists. Those who don't have a particular inclination towards climate scientists are indifferent about what "Climategate" tells them.

And pulling back to a larger scale - we see that more generally, public views on climate change have varied over time in ways that seem closely linked to weather and/or political influences - and not particularly linked to "Climategate" (at least in any lasting fashion). Trust in scientists seems to be rather steady - despite the "concern" of many "skeptics" that trust in science will be undermined. Climate scientists are still the most trusted source for information about climate change (presumably must more trusted than the "skeptics" who claim that "Climategate" undermines the credibility of climate scientists. And despite the media attention to the issue, most of the public are not familiar with the details of "Climategate" anyway, and much of the public is not even particularly well-informed on what climate scientists have to say about climate change.

Of course, maybe there are data out there to support the assertion of a cause-and-effect between "Climategate" or the HS and public opinion on climate change. I'd welcome the opportunity to see them. (Some "skeptics" point to the Rasmussen poll that citing %'s of the public who think that climate scientists sometimes use data to mislead, but that poll does not offer solid support for the cause-and-effect argument for a number of reasons).

It is a nice story, NiV - that people look at evidence in a clear-headed manner and draw logical conclusions. But is it true?

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

" Who could possibly be agreed upon as mediators?"

this process is used many times a day across the US for cases that affect the parties personally to the tune of millions of $. There are many highly knowledgeable professional mediators that would be found to be acceptable. Partisans and activists tend not to become professional mediators

February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Joshua,

If sceptics have no influence, why worry about them, or argue with them? Or try to exclude them?

If ClimateGate had no impact, then why devote any effort to saying there was no evidence of misbehaviour?

But I wasn't talking about it's impact on public opinion. I was talking about what an individual receiving 'climate science communication' was perfectly capable of seeing for themselves. Whether they do or not in this case depends on their cultural inclinations and ideological commitments, since the climate science environment is already polluted. But if it wasn't, and people were not ideologically inclined to ignore issues of the veracity of particular scientists, wouldn't that be just the sort of thing people ought to be looking for to decide who knows what, and who to trust?

A significant fraction of people say in surveys that the sun goes around the Earth, and electrons are bigger than atoms. Do population surveys tell us anything useful about the effectiveness of science communication methods?

February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Sorry, for not posting sooner, am sick with something.

Joshua, in an ealier post, I quipped about situational science communication. Situational conversation is taught as a method to improve leadership. In other words more effective both in time and wrt the results of a conversation. In the training, one is taught to diagnose where the knowledge level and comfort/enthusiam of both parties are. One should not engage in a conversation with someone at low knowledge/low comfort as someone with a high knowledge/high enthusiasm condition. Also, if you are low on knowledge, trying to teach the choir to sing will more likely start an argument; you should be asking. In particular, this is at a micro scale what S&F have at the macro scale, as well as it is specific rather than general.

Joshua, one of the problems with CC is that many stakeholders where purposefully left out of the "meeting." I have linked to this before in our conversations, and do not want to clutter Dan's site. I defintely don't want this site to flameout in the CC wars. So, much of what you say I agree with. Have for awhile. I disagree on the history. I disagree on policy. But, I also have reason to beleive that if you don't know where you have been, you have a more difficult time getting to where you want to be. This includes policy, since if you do not realize what wrong-footed you in the first place, the odds are you will repeat that mistake.

Joshua you state "I would offer that maybe the way to address this problem is to trust in the power of dialog. People who focus on the balance of information as the problem are looking to be victims, and the media makes for a convenient boogeyman victimize." I don't disagree. The problem as I have posted in this comment, several on this site, and on other sites, the dialog was short circuited. The victimhood is plain and can be seen in the defense of Santer in AR3 (IIRC) that you posted at Curry's site. It is also part of the historical record.

On climategate, you left out "Those who were looking at the science found that the scientists knowingly had problems with proxies that they publicly denied, but discussed in private." I did not want to be left out in your ennumeration. For the validity of this, if you understand the nature of proxies used for temperature reconstructions, you need only read the first email in CG1 to realize the claim in AR3 and AR4 about the modern warm period has scientific problems, not communication, nor rent-seeking problems. This is not an unscientific claim; and the proxies, having problems, does not mean they are unscientific, either.

My POV, I think Dan is more than a little correct about motivated reasoning and the model citizen. I think this idealized model citizen is telling us something with respect to gun control and CC. I think rather than blaming one group or another, or something like miscommunication, that the finding of more education polarizes both groups says if nothing else, both parties and all parties, need to come back to the meeting. It is a not a matter of balance; it is a matter of being successful. But, the meeting needs to be along the lines of S&F's ask paradigm, not the tell paradigm.

The problem with assumptions and uncertainty is that two experts can come to apparently opposite policy reccomendations. When one is demonized and the other idolized, it has nothing to do with the science. I agree with the unlikelihood that agreement can be met in an adversarial environment, as you point out to Ed. Further, we already have that in the political arena. My opinion is we don't need more.

The question I think should be asked and answered, and I think is Dan's as well, "How do we go forward?". My offer is that we re-open the whole stakeholder method. If you want to see how not to engage, just go to the videos on the NGO's sit-in at Copenhagen, and Chaves at the same. Even if you agree with some of the conclusions, this is not a good way to get buy in from a situation where literally everyone alive or who will live in the near future has a stake in its outcome.

Demonization creates enemies. It also gives those demonized ammunition to re-enforce their echo chamber, and a convincing line to give to undecideds who know them. After all, that undecided may identify more with the one who was demonized rather than the one who is demonizing. After all, how many US citizens will identify with being named as greedy destroyers of this earth, and if you don't identify with this, you need to have that sit-in, from people who can afford to go to Copenhagen when you can't, to come to your living room and tell you just how greedy and evil you really are? I would posit someone like myself is not your enemy. My interest is more in the science and a policy that represents what we know or DON"T know.

"But with friends like these..."

February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

@NiV: There's nothing boring in my view about conjectures relating to what the "implications for science communication" are in distrust of climate or other scientists. What you say on that I find interesting, and the same for the many things @Ed has said about that issue. It's the " rehashing the debate per se here" that is boring. "Boring" is really a sort of jurisdictional characterization. What anyone has to say about the validity of climate science or the work of particular scientists might be very exciting, actually. But it's off topic. Here we are talking about the science of science communication: what we know, what we don't, and how we can learn more about how to communicate sciencein a liberal democracy so that citizens of diverse outlooks can make individual and collective decisoins informed by the best available evidence. The answers to those questions are the same no matter what one thinks the best evidence *is* on climate change or any other issue.

In a healthy conversation, participants take turns gently nudging any of the members who start or continue a point that diverts the joint enterprise from its mission. They conspicuously yawn or nod off, they kick each other under the table, they get up to go to the bathroom, they say "oh, that's boring!" They do it not just b/c they prefer a conversation that is on track; they also do it b/c they are motivated to reciprocate the good will of those who went "ahem" to stifle previous incipient diversions. Possibly they do it too to make up for having been the last person who had to be nudged in that way (we all take turns in making false starts too).

February 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"In a healthy conversation, participants take turns gently nudging any of the members who start or continue a point that diverts the joint enterprise from its mission."

Indeed - if people subscribe to the same social convention so they can recognise that's what you're doing. It's sometimes better to be more direct, though - there's a risk people could take you literally.

But there's another way of doing it, which is to take what was said off-topic and interpret and expand on it in the context of the topic so as to bring the discussion back on track, without shutting anyone out of the conversation. People sometimes don't even notice that they've been diverted.

However, I was quite serious about the point that this issue in many ways is totally on topic. How does a non-scientist figure out who knows what about what, and where the best evidence lies? Don't they have to examine what the proponents of each position say for indirect evidence (heuristics) of their reliability? Are they consistent? Are they careful? Do they discuss both sides of the question? Do they ever change their mind, and accept correction? Do they have clear principles they stick by? Do they appear to be selling something?

While you can get away with dishonesty in a polluted science communication environment (since your supporters will forgive you and ignore it and your detractors already thought it), this is exactly the sort of thing you need to pay attention to in a non-polluted environment.

That's one piece of advice that I would emphasise most strongly to a science communicator: Do not fail to take a stand on scientific honesty! Staying silent makes you complicit, and those you want to communicate with will interpret that as partisanship. You don't have to name names, you can talk in general abstractions. Good scientists don't agree with hiding data so people can't find anything wrong with it. Good scientists don't try to exclude critics from getting a hearing. Good scientists don't try to get people they disagree with dismissed from their jobs. Good scientists don't illegally delete data that shows them to be in the wrong.

These principles are entirely general, and apply to all sides on all topics. If you don't feel you can say so, if it would make you feel uncomfortable to say such things, then perhaps you need to think carefully about what sort of 'science' you are 'communicating'. Does it not show all the symptoms of precisely the disease you are hoping to cure?

I do fully realise that the main reason you don't want to talk about it is that you want to keep channels open to both sides, and taking a position would alienate one side or the other. That's OK with me. But I do think it would work to say so more explicitly - that you're taking a strictly neutral stance for the sake of the science you do, and that you want to avoid the most provocative subjects (like 'deniers' and 'liars' and 'oil-funded conspiracy' theories) in order to keep communications to both sides open. I have no survey results to prove it, but I think many on both sides could accept and respect that. I certainly do.

It might be an interesting question to test.

February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

JFP --

I'm going to have a go at working through your comment, although I'm having some difficulty following your writing - (no slight intended - I hear that complaint frequently about my writing - so I'm not casting stones). Please excuse the somewhat rambling response.

So, much of what you say I agree with. Have for awhile. I disagree on the history. I disagree on policy. But, I also have reason to beleive that if you don't know where you have been, you have a more difficult time getting to where you want to be.

I'm having some trouble following the logical sequence of those sentences. How does your belief about how to get where you want to go stand in contrast with agreeing with some parts of what I say and disagreeing with other parts? (I'm having trouble understanding the use of "but" logically).

This includes policy, since if you do not realize what wrong-footed you in the first place, the odds are you will repeat that mistake.

I think that determining where the foot was first placed incorrectly is impossible - because there was no clearly distinguishable first step, and because any of the assessments I've seen of where that first step took place are draped with layer upon layer of partisanship. And who is to make that determination, anyway? Stakeholders need to be given a balanced literature of information, and they need to work through that literature through the context of dialog - dialog with other stakeholders and dialog that is focused on the real world manifestations. That last part is key. What makes stakeholder dialog work is a clarity about investment, about "stake," about ownership in an outcome that directly affects their lives. The inherent problem with dialog about CC (at the level of mitigation and considering global impact) is that the impacts are very abstract for the most part. The are far into the future and mostly theoretical products of ranges of estimation. The reason why regional discussion of adaptation should be easier because the impact is more tangible; as such, the vision of "stake" is clearer. Abstracting some examination of a first missed step seems to me to be rooted in a tribal context, not one of real-world manifestation of climate change.

The problem as I have posted in this comment, several on this site, and on other sites, the dialog was short circuited.

I agree that is true - although I think that the short-circuiting was more bi-lateral than it was in your perspective (assuming your perspective based on previous discussion) - but even assuming that it was largely unilateral, at this point I think it is basically irrelevant. I view a fixation (sorry, I'm trying to not be pejorative but this is how I see many "skeptical" arguments) on the historic antecedents to be mostly a search for vindication - for a vindication of victimhood. I see a similar phenomenon when "skeptics" take legitimate criticism of "consensus" or of scientific and academic establishments and over-generalize those problems to, again, gain some sense of vindication. Yes, institutional bias is a problem, but no, that doesn't mean that our academic and scientific institutions aren't crucial to understanding these issues -- and what I see over and over is that "skeptics" use exceptions to generalize rules in these areas.

At this point, arguing about who short-circuited the discussion and how will be non-productive, IMO, except to perpetuate the food fight. Stakeholders don't really need to give a shit about that. They need to take information about the implications of climate change and work it through in a designed context.

"Those who were looking at the science found that the scientists knowingly had problems with proxies that they publicly denied, but discussed in private."

Again - you and I probably differ at some levels about how to characterize that situation - but I agree that what we saw was tribalism among climate scientists. Such is life. Tribalism is a fact of life - it is basically another way of describing motivated reasoning - and we know that motivated reasoning is hard-wired into how we reason. It is part of our basic psychology (as an aside, I think one overlooked aspect of that hard-wiring is hidden in the basic pattern-finding core elements of how we reason). Trying to work through this mess by focusing on tribalism among one group in isolation misses what we need to address at a deeper level; tribalism exists in us all and needs to be controlled through a systematic approach of self- and group-governance. That will come about with openness and trust - and beating drums about old grievances will not establish those key components. That process is not key to understanding the scientific implications of the HS.

For the validity of this, if you understand the nature of proxies used for temperature reconstructions, you need only read the first email in CG1 to realize the claim in AR3 and AR4 about the modern warm period has scientific problems, not communication, nor rent-seeking problems. This is not an unscientific claim; and the proxies, having problems, does not mean they are unscientific, either.

Fine. There is nothing there that can't be examined through a participatory process. It does not require rooting out the antecedent politics.

I think this idealized model citizen is telling us something with respect to gun control and CC. I think rather than blaming one group or another, or something like miscommunication, that the finding of more education polarizes both groups says if nothing else, both parties and all parties, need to come back to the meeting. It is a not a matter of balance; it is a matter of being successful. But, the meeting needs to be along the lines of S&F's ask paradigm, not the tell paradigm.

I'm guessing we are in agreement. Whether or not more education hardens tribal identification is conditional, IMO. It will do so in a "tell" paradigm, but not when combined with an "ask" paradigm. I come at this as an educator. My goal as an educator is to empower learners to learn well - it is not to get them to master certain material that I dictate ("tell") to them - where I have previously decided the scope and sequence of what they need to know through some (inevitably inadequate) model of how I think they should learn - largely based on a mistaken assumption that the way that I learned tells me a great deal about how someone else learns. Every time I "tell" a student something, I must weight the risk of alienating them from the process of executive control over their own learning. I must be careful not to disrupt their meta-cognitive processes. To learn meaningfully, a learner needs to construct their own meaning - which can include asking for instruction in a didactic format if they have identified a gap in their knowledge that needs to be filled. Students need to have a need to learn. Likewise, so do stakeholders who are working on exploring the shared interests that lie behind their divergent positions.

As for the rest of what you wrote - about demonizing and how not to go about these processes of engagement, I agree entirely.

February 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Agreement is good.

You state "Fine. There is nothing there that can't be examined through a participatory process. It does not require rooting out the antecedent politics. " That is part of what I am pointing out is that the participatory process was short circuited. This means there is a trust issue and that is why the history is important.

Remember all are stakeholders in CC. One of the problems noted about such tribalism is when the others are cut out, you end up with those whose belief level is low. I use this as Dan does, not perjoritve, but rather we all can't know everything. This is why I think that your analogy about ask and tell and the position of instructor is incorrect. The tell part will meet resistance until the ask part is done and equitable treatment of the issues has been accomplished. You may consider this is not necessary.

However, the more people or more headway that those who oppose mitigation obtain, the less likely it is to occur. And shouting louder and more often has been a failure. That is why I pointed out the Copenhagen problems. My other point is that the ask was thrown out. Thus now you have to open it back up and get participation. Though there are things are being done on the local level. It may be insufficient for the task.

This is why I say I disagree about history and policy. The history indicates that IPCC and in particular Santer and others were or became advocates. This means the policy from this group should be assumed flawed until a stakeholder meeting with all invited. The history is important to point out where the advocy is, and why another meeting with all parties is needed. It also shows why the certainty is an artifact of the advocacy. This is important for policy or rather implementing the correct policy.

February 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

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