In It has picked up a persistent contributor, “Steven” who complains:
“Specific information pro-AGW that is understandable to the layman has been very thin… which is unfortunate because I think it’s an area you could really make your niche (or one of).”
Leaving aside my easily guessed objection to the awful name “pro-AGW”…
While I have made some efforts in this direction over the years, I admit that isn’t the focus here. I began this blog specifically with the observation that no matter how much information is aimed at the layman, it will be insufficient in the face of organized opposition.
That said, I somewhat sympathize. We can’t just be pointing people to IPCC, and a few simple tutorials. The $300 M “We Campaign” is an embarassment of earnest and shallow positioning as long as it lacks any effort to educate. I am on Mr. Gore’s mailing list, of course. I think I need to say that I find the whole approach the opposite of inspiring.
Some reasons that we are not doing better:
1) There is no funding for people who understand the material to convey it. In America at least, academic outreach funds go exclusively to non-controversial topics of research and are aimed almost exclusively at schoolchildren. (American schools, it need not be stressed, are in a disastrous state largely because of their incompetence in dealing with matters of controversy). Skeptics have been funded generously by fossil fuel interests and private foundations run by people very suspicious of collective activity.
2) Scientists are in very competitive positions, and any significant efforts spent on reaching the public detract from their competitive position both as a matter of reducing available time and as a matter of reducing their perceived seriousness among their peers. Outreach is for the Isaac Asimovs, Stephen Goulds, Carl Sagans etc. who are perceived as having given up trying to make a mark directly.
You could put me in that category, by the way. Having spent enough time with Ray P. (we are the same age and grew up reading the same science fiction) makes me very sure I won’t ever be able to contribute in the way he does. I think I have something to add regarding how scientific software is done, but that’s pretty abstruse and will likely never get me first authorship in the sort of Science or Nature article that gets quoted a lot by climate blogs.
3) There are fewer ways to tell a true story than a false one. It just gets tedious writing up various version of the Gore slide show over and over. By contrast, the variety of nonsense that can be put up in opposition is relatively vast. In other words Mamet’s Law applies.
4) People who understand the material best have no formal training in conveying the material or in participating in the rough-and-tumble of polemics. We constantly fall into traps set by our more politically adept opposition.
5) We don’t actually spend our time thinking about AGW; only the opposition does. We spend our time on science. Our expectation of AGW is a fairly straightforward consequence of science and is rarely studied as such. So when we write about what we are thinking about or working on, it does’t apply directly to what the public is thinking about.
6) It’s very hard to get it right, much harder than if you don’t care. Even a single mistake does a lot of damage to a scientist’s credibility, especially given the idiotic sport of gaffe-pouncing that has developed in the mainstream press. Say one stupid thing and you run the risk of being identified with it forever. Best therefore to say nothing.
All this said, I have concluded that the quantity of intermediate level materials matters a lot.
It’s not necessary to be redundant. There are so many interesting stories to be told about actual, real science in ways that the public could understand. I wish some of the “We Campaign”‘s funds were directed toward scientific communication. It is symptomatic of how they operate that there is no way to communicate with them other than by checkbox or by check. If anyone wants to create such a job, please consider me interested.
The current situation is that, of course, the peer-reviewed literature is long past the point of arguing about global warming, but that isn’t what most people see. Starting from a typical Google inquiry, the materials proposing that AGW is in some way false tend to be more sophisticated than those which assert a reasonable balance or those which are unduly alarmist.
Adding material isn’t primarily what this blog is about, though I will poke at it now and again. Actually, I would love to have this task take over my life. Short of that, though, I can’t see amateur efforts making enough of a dent to matter. I’m under no illusions about how difficult this would be. Some fraction of the $300 million for the We Campaign ought to be going that way, though.
I agree that it’s a real problem.
Update: Per a suggestion in the comments I am looking over RealClimate’s off-site links. They seem rather perfunctory on the whole. I think the best example of an introductory FAQ is Tom Rees’s site. And of course, there’s GlobalWarmingArt. Both are inexplicably missing from RC’s links. Any other suggestions?