Climate Comms

Those communicating about climate change have had a turbulent time over the last few years – with an often vicious war of words between those with differing opinions, scientific understanding, and values. PIRC has responded to this according to what we’ve seen as the needs of the time; through addressing the gap between science and policy, providing accessible science for wide audiences, and, most recently, through deepening the understanding of the effects of our cultural values on how we process information and act upon big issues.

Some of our more recent projects include:

  • Being a partner in the Climate Change Communication Advisory Group (CCCAG) – made up of a diverse range of individuals from academia and the third sector, with expertise in climate change communication and engagement. CCCAG’s aim is to use current academic research and practitioner-based expertise to best inform government and non-governmental climate change communications and engagement.
  • Publishing The Climate Factsheets, providing up-to-date and accessible climate science for third sector and government communications.
  • Common Cause; a network of people and a series of initiatives aiming to help to rebalance our cultural values to promote action on climate change and the other big issues of our time.
  • In collaboration with COIN we created Talking Climate, an online gateway to research on climate change communication.

Climate science in six paragraphs

Several weeks back, amidst the media storm, Richard Somerville a Lead Author of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment report (IPCC AR4) wrote a short and punchy “response to climate change denialism“. We finally got round to posting it here.

It’s a great, simple communication by a veteran climate scientist. It’s not going to solve the climate communication problem, but it’s the sort of thing we need to see a lot more of. Short, punchy, accessible writing (and imagery) that scientists and others can use when covering the basic science and beyond… Read more

AmazonGate Update: Scientist Takes Sunday Times to Press Complaints Commission

The Guardian reports that Simon Lewis, a UK-based Amazon scientist, is taking the Sunday Times to the Press Complaints Commission over an article they published in January claiming the IPCC wrongly predicted that 40% of the Amazon rainforest was vulnerable to reduced rainfall:

Lewis said he was contacted by the Sunday Times before the article was published and told them the IPCC”s statement was “poorly written and bizarrely referenced, but basically correct”. He added that “there is a wealth of scientific evidence suggesting that the Amazon is vulnerable to reductions in rainfall”. He also sent the newspaper several scientific papers that supported the claim, but were not cited by that section of the IPCC report.

Lewis also complains that the Sunday Times used several quotes from him in the piece to support the assertion that the IPCC report had made a false claim. “Despite repeatedly stating to the Sunday Times that there is no problem with the sentence in the IPCC report, except the reference.”

Climate Safety originally covered the bogus claims:

As Lewis made clear in correspondence, the problem was not with the accuracy of the IPCC’s statement, which reflected the peer-reviewed scientific literature – but with the reference that had been attributed to it. The issue had in fact already been dealt with in the report of Working Group I (on “The Physical Science Basis” of climate change), which had got the references right. Did Leake’s article accurately reflect Lewis’ views? “Absolutely not.”

Lewis, it turns out, had sent both Leake and Harrabin the same email. But while Harrabin had included Lewis’s comments on the IPCC’s accuracy in his BBC piece, Leake simply ignored them. Instead, he seems to have invented his own, more congenial version of reality. “4000-page report makes insignificant referencing error” is admittedly a rather less powerful headline – even if it does possess the distinct advantage of being true.

More astonishingly, as science blogger Eli Kintisch revealed, Leake had been told exactly the same thing by Dan Nepstad – author of a 1999 Nature paper cited by WWF, and others that back up the IPCC on the Amazon – two days before his story was published.

Interestingly, the Guardian article doesn”t name the journalist in question, Jonathan Leake. Readers who also follow Tim Lambert over at Deltoid will be all too familiar with Mr. Leake. Tim Lambert”s research shows that, among other things, he:

All of this led Lambert to post:

Here”s a game you can play at home. All you need is a search engine. Take a Jonathan Leake science story with a dramatic headline. For example, Facebook fans do worse in exams. Then do a search on the headline. You win if you can find complaints by scientists that their research was misrepresented by Leake. Like this.

Try the game, it”s fun!

Of the whole AmazonGate/LeakeGate affair, we originally concluded:

While it is wholly unsurprising that the denial lobby should be attempting to push baseless and misleading stories to the press, what is surprising is the press’s willingness to swallow them. In this case, two experts in the relevant field told a Times journalist explicitly that, in spite of a minor referencing error, the IPCC had got its facts right. That journalist simply ignored them. Instead, he deliberately put out the opposite line – one fed to him by a prominent climate change denier – as fact. The implications are deeply disturbing, not only for our prospects of tackling climate change, but for basic standards of honesty and integrity in journalism.

Let”s hope the Press Complaints Commission steps up… then again, don”t hold your breath.

Update: Climate Progress has an excellent post on the same subject.

Update 2: Leake botches another story, this time on UK wind power.

Update 3: Sunday Times admits story was “flawed”, offers to print Lewis”s original letter, Lewis rejects.

This week’s top climate science links

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Reframing the debate on climate science

The international consensus on global warming has seemingly experienced a spectacular slow-motion train wreck over the last few months, with “climategate” reports piling up in public debate like derailing rail cars filmed in freeze frame. The fascination for on-lookers, however, is that the science itself is largely blameless. Instead, the pile-up stands as a case study in how not to wage a political battle. And make no mistake; the attacks on climate science are pure politics. We have seen attacks on science before, just pick your favorite example: smoking, toxic pollution, seat belts, etc. However, until there is a fundamental reframing of the climate science debate, one that illuminates the politics, the current round of attacks will continue to enjoy success. Read more

This week’s climate links

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  • SealevelGate – Real Climate cover the true IPCC sea-level scandal. Must read.
  • Climate of fear, Nature editorial (free access) – “The integrity of climate research has taken a very public battering in recent months. Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.”
  • Overview of all the ‘Gates – very useful brief run-down of the last 4 months.
  • Short must read: Climate Change and the Media – “What’s truly infuriating about this episode of journalistic malpractice is that, once again, it illustrates the reasons why the East Anglia scientists adopted an adversarial attitude towards information management with regard to outsiders and the media. They were afraid that any data they allowed to be characterised by non-climate scientists would be vulnerable to propagandistic distortion. And they were right.”

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Fresh batch of 'leaked' emails reveal no sign of conspiracy. Just climate scientists keen on public engagement. 1

Another batch of private emails from climate scientists has been leaked/hacked/stolen/whatever. These ones, though, are very different than the last.

It’s a thread of emails from the NAS (US National Academy of Sciences), and these guys are mad. They are mad about vested interests skewing the discussion. They are mad that journalists have sat and lapped it right up without checking their facts. They are mad that the public is suddenly more confused than ever about a field of science that is more united than ever. Read more

Jones et al. (2010) 1

A brief summary of the Science & Technology Committee”s “ClimateGate” hearing

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee met yesterday for a one off evidence session looking at the disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. This blog post is a brief summary of the key issues. [Apologies for the use of some jargon that crops up because of the nature of the CRU emails.]

Lord Lawson and Dr Benny Peiser were first up. They represent the Global Warming Policy Foundation who, amusingly, failed to plot 8 temperature values correctly in their logo – I”m not sure that this gives them the authority to question 25 years of academic research on climate data but let”s see what they had to say… Read more

Climate Scientists Withdraw Journal Claims Of Limit To Rising Sea Levels 1

Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.

Scientists who challenged the possibility of catastrophic sea level rise in coming decades have retracted their argument. Mark Siddall, whose paper claimed sea level rise from global warming could not be more than 82 centimeters (32 inches) by 2100 — despite other estimates of up to 1.9 meters — asked for the conclusions published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience to be retracted, accepting corrections from researchers who had made the higher estimates. The Guardian misleadingly presented the news with the headline, “Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels“:

Study claimed in 2009 that sea levels would rise by up to 82cm by the end of century – but the report’s author now says true estimate is still unknown.

If all one read was the introduction, a reader might get the false impression that sea level rise from global warming is in doubt. The misleading Guardian headline was picked up — as per usual — by the Drudge Report and Marc Morano’s conspiracy site Climate Depot. Read more

This week’s climate links

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Sunday Times promotes climate denier 2

A couple of weeks ago, Ben Goldacre bashed out a quick piece for the Guardian’s news desk on the subject of the General Medical Council’s damning verdict on the conduct of Andrew Wakefield, in which he said:

As the years passed by, media coverage deteriorated further. Claims by researchers who never published scientific papers to back up their claims were reported in the newspapers as important new scientific breakthroughs, while at the very same time, evidence showing no link between MMR and autism, fully published in peer reviewed academic journals, was simply ignored. This was cynical, and unforgivable.

That last paragraph is particularly important because it shows one of the more common ways in which mainstream media outlets consistently distorts the truth by selectively highlighting particular claims and/or research on the basis of whether it conforms to an established narrative. Take, for example, yesterday’s Sunday Times, which devoted several hundred words to the uncritical promotion of the latest effluvial outpourings of  TV weatherman and all-round climate crock, Anthony Watts. Read more

GrowthGate

Via Tamino at OpenMind:

Suppose you have a child, a son — he’s 10. You want to know whether or not he’s growing normally, so every day you measure his height with a tape measure. You’ve done so since he was 5. You even plot the data on a graph, and notice two things about it. First: the measurements show a fair amount of jitter, sometimes they’re a wee bit higher, sometimes a wee bit lower, there’s noise in the data. Second: there’s also a trend. Your kid is a lot taller at 10 than he was at 5, in fact the trend over the observed time span is upward and reasonably steady. You even do a statistical analysis, estimate the growth rate, and determine that it’s definitely statistically significant — so it’s not a false trend due to noise in the data, it’s real. Your son is growing normally.

Then you’re interviewed by a reporter from the Daily Mail. He asks, “Can you prove — with statistical significance — that your child has been growing since last Tuesday?” Read more

RealClimate on the media’s misleading coverage of the IPCC

RealClimate have just published a really useful post discussing the IPCC and media distortion.

As well as kindly praising Tim’s analysis of the affair which you can find here on publicinterest.org.uk, the piece includes a great summary of the IPCC and its processes:

“Assessment reports are published every six or seven years and writing them takes about three years. Each working group publishes one of the three volumes of each assessment. The focus of the recent allegations is the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which was published in 2007.

“Its three volumes are almost a thousand pages each, in small print. They were written by over 450 lead authors and 800 contributing authors; most were not previous IPCC authors. There are three stages of review involving more than 2,500 expert reviewers who collectively submitted 90,000 review comments on the drafts. These, together with the authors’ responses to them, are all in the public record.”

They get to the real crux of the recent “scandals”, asking: Do any of them effect the basic climate science? Read more

This week’s climate links

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“AmazonGate”: how the denial lobby and a dishonest journalist created a fake scandal 22

Anyone following the recent string of articles in the mainstream press attacking the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may have entertained a sneaking suspicion that the hidden hand of the climate denial lobby was at work behind many of them. That suspicion, it turns out, is exactly right – the fingerprints of the deniers are all over several of the key stories.

This latest feeding frenzy kicked off when one erroneous claim – that Himalayan glaciers were “very likely” to disappear by 2035 – was found to have slipped through the net, the IPCC’s extensive review process having failed to weed it out prior to publication. The claim was included on page 493 of the IPCC’s second 1000-page Working Group report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” (WGII). The reference given was to a WWF report – part of the non-peer-reviewed “grey literature” that makes up a periphery of the material in the second Working Group’s report.

Marginal as it may have been, for the media this isolated error appears to have opened the floodgates. A hysterical flurry of activity followed, as the denial lobby began trawling through the IPCC report for anything else that might look bad – particularly anything referencing the grey literature. The results of this search were then fed to elements of the press, who eagerly snatched them up – uncritically repeating many of their claims in the process.

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