18 April 2012

Who Cares What the Science Says?

The latest NYT story on extremes and climate change celebrates the fact that many Americans fail to understand how human-caused climate change may be related to recent extreme events. Today's NYT reports a new poll that indicates that a large portion of the public believes that specific, recent events can be attributed to greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, rather than citing recent research on the topic -- such as the IPCC SREX report -- the NYT decides to cheer about the public misunderstanding and speculate on its possible political usefulness:
Read together, the polls suggest that direct experience of erratic weather may be convincing some people that the problem is no longer just a vague and distant threat.
Ends justify the means -- This reminds me of Dick Cheney's comments about connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.  It is the political outcome that matters, no?

The poll reported by the NYT actually reports nothing new, the public has for a long time (decades and centuries, actually, see Stehr and von Storch, PDF) believed that the human impact on weather is much greater than the science shows.

Here is an excerpt from The Climate Fix where I discuss this very issue:
In some respects, the campaign to convince people that climate change is a threat may have been too successful, such that people have come to believe things that the science cannot support. For instance, a 2007 New York Times/CBS Poll found that of the three- quarters of people who believed that weather over the past few years had been stranger than normal, 43 percent attributed that weather to “global warming” and a further 15 percent to “pollution/damage to the environment.” Yet, as most scientists will explain, weather events and even climate patterns over a period of years simply cannot be attributed to greenhouse gas emissions. Detecting changes in climate requires decades of observations. A very cold winter or two does not disprove a decades-long warming trend, and a series of damaging hurricanes is not evidence of a human influence.

Some advocates, including some scientists, seek to have things both ways when they assert that a particular weather event is “consistent with” predictions of human-caused climate change. The snowy period of early 2010 along the U.S. East Ccoast saw those opposed to action suggesting that the record snow and cold cast doubt on the science of human-caused climate change, while at the same time those calling for action explained that the weather was “consistent with” the forecasts from climate models. Both lines of argument were misleading. Any and all weather is “consistent with” predictions from climate models under a human influence on the climate system. Similarly, any and all weather is also “consistent with” failing predictions of long-term climate change. Simply put, weather is not climate. Given the degree of politicization of the climate debate, we should not be surprised that even the weather gets politicized.

By the same token, it should come as no surprise that many in the public hold views about climate science that are way out in front of the scientific consensus on climate change as represented by the reports of the IPCC. The result is that when people learn what the science actually says, there is a risk that they will learn that their views are in fact incompatible with what the science can support, leading to a belief that the science has been overstated in public debate.


  1. Why should the NYT start reporting facts? On many topics they have not done so for many years.

  2. I thought the article was admirably humble. Having worked so hard to misinform the public, the New York Times could be forgiven for crowing a little when the public is shown to be appropriately misinformed.

  3. Roger,

    As Amgen, Bayer, the bizarre polar bear study, and the repeated failures of the hockey team have amply demonstrated, much of what published academic research claims about science is crap. Is it possible that a member of the public would be wise to discount any and all scientific claims until they have been replicated enough to demonstrate their truth?

    Far too often lately, "what the science says" is a bad joke.

    One quote -- "Other scientists worry that something less innocuous explains the lack of reproducibility.

    Part way through his project to reproduce promising studies, Begley met for breakfast at a cancer conference with the lead scientist of one of the problematic studies.

    "We went through the paper line by line, figure by figure," said Begley. "I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning."

    Too many good stories. Too little science.

  4. "The result is that when people learn what the science actually says, there is a risk that they will learn that their views are in fact incompatible with what the science can support, leading to a belief that the science has been overstated in public debate"

    A "belief" that?

    As people learn how the evidence has been twisted, and even invented (e.g. hockeystick), they are likely to understand that the science has been overstated.

    They may well believe that the people doing it were less than innocent of the mistake.

  5. To many of the climate hysterics, the weather is a convenient tool to push their social agenda. In fact many of the so called green researchers started their career in as social activists. You won't find many capitalists in a room filled with folks following the ersatz field of climatology, nor in the media that reports the scatological products that these folks produce. A genuine concern for the environment would push for clean inexpensive energy in order to ease the lives of the underdeveloped nations so their their population growth would slow and their standard of living would rise. All of the tools of the AGW KoolAid Club now simply impose artificial rationing of resources and impose unneeded hardships and economic costs on populations. If you removed all the elitists and socialists from the environmental movement the remaining folks could hold a convention in a phone booth.

  6. What's even funnier is that the science that is being reported isn't actually science. I'm sure "the public" will be riotously amused.

  7. Roger smirks:

    "This reminds me of Dick Cheney's comments about connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."

    Perhaps Roger thinks Dick Cheney also directed the findings of the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission Report. Let me quote them:

    “Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq” - Page 66

    “Saddam Hussein wanted bin Laden in Baghdad” - Page 134


    Roger makes a fool of himself yet again.