The media were irrelevant and largely blameless in Climategate. The whole incident was a case study in the absence of effective leadership in both the science and environmental communities.
Next, Michael Tobis sprang into action:
Like it or not, honest scientists are constrained to tell the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The truth is plenty scary enough. Not only that, but most of the uncertainties just add to the ominousness of the present landscape.
(Constrained? Never mind…)
With artful misdirection, Keith Kloor asked:
So Randy, for the benefit of the activists and bloggers who want to communicate a clear and consise climate change message with just enough wiggle room to remain true to the various uncertainties of climate change, how about some examples of how it’s done?
(I know the chronology is confused here, but witches are comfortable in a universe of fragmented time)
Never missing an opportunity to rise to a challenge, Randy came back with:
I don’t think you quite get my comment about scientists being “mumblers.” That’s what they are, in essence, when it comes to broad communication. They are the guy at the party over in the corner mumbling the truth as the loudmouthed fools in the middle blabber on and on about topics they know nothing about but have read of on blogs.
The self-styled Bunny then used the F-word in a post:
It’s not that scientists are or are not lousy communicators (say that and Eli will lock you in a room with Richard Alley for example), but that journalists are lousy communicators. It’s their fucking (emphasis added) job and they are screwing it up to a fare-thee-well. It ain’t just climate either. What journalists produce often makes the average cut and paste student paper blush with modesty.
What ensued was mostly a terrific discussion about the culpability (or lack thereof) of scientists and journalists in the failure of the public to fully appreciate the risks of climate change and therefore demand a carbon tax, including this incisive comment:
I think there are a lot of faulty assumptions that underlie this whole debate. Communication isn’t simply transmitting information – the information must be received, processed and filtered through the mindset and cognitive biases of each individual. The common assumption in this debate seems to be that improving the message automatically results in better “communication.” Further, some suggest that if only the appropriate “facts” were transmitted then people would be convinced to support their particular policy preferences. The fact that people don’t support those policies is used as evidence that the message is inadequate, resulting in another round of blame the messenger.
The problem, of course, is that the sender of information is only half of the equation. Further, in my opinion the sending side is less important than the receiving side when it comes to effective communication and I think the cognitive science literature supports that opinion. Journalists and scientists can always improve their messaging and narratives, but they should be cognizant that there are real limitations to what the “message” can do. The assumption that people will be convinced if they are only shown the “facts” is naive. Anyone who has tried to convince their best friend that the person they are in love with is a philandering scoundrel understands this.
It’s not just that partisans are vulnerable to believing fatuous nonsense. It’s that their beliefs, whether sensible or otherwise, about a whole range of empirical questions are determined by their political identity. There’s no epistemologically sound reason why one’s opinion about, say, the effects of gun control should predict one’s opinion about whether humans have contributed to climate change or how well Mexican immigrants are assimilating — these things have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Yet the fact is that views on these and a host of other matters are indeed highly correlated with each other. And the reason is that people start with political identities and then move to opinions about how the world works, not vice versa.
(As someone who has been reporting and writing on climate change for more than 30 years, I find this perspective particularly compelling.)
And what about that coven? John Fleck blew our cover with this response to the Bunny:
So this then is satire? You were pointing out what you view as the flaws in the Kloor/Olson argument by doing the same thing yourself? And you’ll stop the “all the journalists are lousy communicators” schtick as soon as Keith and Randy stop the “all the scientists are lousy communicators” schtick? Clever rabbit, thanks for clarifying, I’ll bring the issue up at our next weekly coven.
Damn it John. Now angry bunnies and dour scientists are going to crash our blissful sylvan gatherings.