End-Times and the Anti-Morano

The Anti-Morano?

There is arguably a need for an anti-Morano (or two or more) out there, as was pointed out by Chris Mooney in conversation with Steven Andrew:

Chris pointed out here that climate change denier extraordinaire Marc Morano may be dead wrong, but he’s articulate, well funded, and there’s no one on the science side that competes with him. What specifically can be done to change that?

It’s simple: Things won’t change until the world of science invests in creating counter-Moranos. There are many talented and extremely young intelligent people in science today who could fill that role, but there is little training available for them, and even less of a career trajectory for them to get there.

Generally, young scientists have been exposed to a very traditional academic menu of courses, when instead it would behoove us to offer more interdisciplinary and media skills to those who are asking for it. And that’s not just to create counter-Moranos; it’s fundamentally necessary to address an imbalance in the academic pipeline today.

Just consider: The last assessment by the National Postdoctoral Association reported that only 7% of those who earn a PhD in science will someday achieve tenured faculty status. Not everyone studying science is interested in that, but the reality is that there simply aren’t enough positions in academia for all the scientists that the system is currently producing. Meanwhile, at the very same time, we need better science communicators, better teachers, and more outreach people who are really good at taking science out into our society.

So the answer is simple: We’ve got to offer today’s young scientists more ways to get to very different careers from the standard academic one. And then we will have our counter-Moranos, as well as many scientists engaged in other important tasks to reconnect science and society.

(David Appel thinks the idea stinks, but let’s leave that aside. Presumably we are not talking about a counter-liar, but about an equally dedicated and funded counterweight.)

So am I the one? Shall I rise to the occasion?

Me and My Buddy Marc

It turns out that my name has been bandied about in connection with Morano‘s today. Keith Kloor wrote an article in defense of Morano’s role in the climate debate, and his main case in evidence is that Morano occasionally links to me. Far be it from me to divert attention from myself, a favorite topic of mine. And even Andrew Revkin, who has never publicly acknowldeged me (though we’ve had a couple of minor email exchanges) and my strange disgruntlement with him, sees fit to point to Keith’s article in a tweet.

To those of you unfamiliar with Morano’s career, here’s a rather generous MSM piece from the Times about him and a couple of pieces from Wonk Room, where Brad Johnson has been keeping an eye on the fellow. The latter refers to my prior history with Morano, back when he was still a staffer. If you really want to spend a few hours thinking about the interface of politics and science, the story of my own 15 minutes of fame (or is it infamy) will provide you plenty of grist for the mill.

A couple of nominations have come my way. This is from Anna Haynes:

Can you get a grant to do this? I had a talk with a member of the good-faith public this morning, and she’s got opinions and views and qs that need to be addressed (by an Authority) before her understanding can move forward. But there’s noplace online that’s expressly set up for serving that purpose. IMO you’d be good at it. Basically, to move the public forward I think we need 4 sites: 1. the Climate Dear Abby blog, for questions from the confused public 2. the Denialist kibble-o-the-day debunker (which could just be pointers to where each bit of kibble is _being_ debunked) 3. the “OMG the press screwed up again” shame-the-media blog and 4. the strictly-moving-forward, “here’s what’s new and how it fits in with what we already know” news blog. and maybe 5. Here’s what we _do_ know. It seems to me there’s a LOT of duplication of effort online, right now, plus gaps as with the nonexistent Dear Abby blog; the public’s need would be better met by a reorg and retrenchment(?) to better cover the need. So a) does it sound like I’m right about what’s needed, and b) if so, how do we make it happen? (I ask InIt’s host, because InIt is the Churchillian Blog) thanks Anna PS – It’s not enough to pull drowning victims out of the river; we need to walk back upstream and find out who’s throwing them in.

The second is at least an implicit invitation from Marc Morano himself. He links to me almost every time I mention him, and he has definitely greatly increased my visibility over the months. I think Joe Romm thinks of himself as the obvious contender, and I am surprised Morano doesn’t prefer Romm as a fellow polarizer. Perhaps he does. He’s never sent me an invitation in the mail to spend more time bashing him directly, but the fact is that he unambiguously likes attention, and like Kloor I find myself developing an odd affection for him. Sometimes his tricks are amusing enough I find myself grinning. I have to remind myself that I am not dealing with a good person.

(Is it true that he has something to do with the Swiftboaters? What an amazingly destructive career!)

So what would the counterweight website to Climate Depot (in my mind it’s called Climate Max, by analogy to the almost indistinguishable Office Depot and Office Max chain stores) look like and what would it do?

Where We Stand

Let’s think about where we are, and why there is a perception of something missing.

So far there have been a few efforts to compose counter-denialist FAQ’s and climate news aggregators. Fellow Canadian Coby Beck, notably, has a hand in perhaps the most successful of each of these. Here’s his FAQ, called “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: Responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming”, and here is H E Taylor’s “Another week of GW News” which Coby mirrors on his blog “A Few Things Ill-Considered”. Taylor is the true anti-Morano, serving tirelessly in aggregating information and yet in relative obscurity. Perhaps he is too good at what he does! (Don’t miss “You Say Tomato“, my nomination for headscratcher of the week.)

And of course there is RealClimate, which is what it is. I certainly hope it doesn’t go anywhere. Indeed, I hope it gets revitalized a bit. In my current job, I’m really finding it hard to stay connected to the scientific community. (Which is why I tried to import some actual scientists, to no avail.) RC has been able to generate rapid responses to denier pseudoscience, as the recent episode with the McLean/deFreitas publication demonstrates. And RC in turn has an excellent list of resources, including introductory articles and FAQs. Wikipedia, of course, is no slouch either.

Then let me point to a couple of my favorite resources, both unfortunately getting a bit stale. There is GlobalWarmingArt , which has some brilliant examples of graphic art that tell the story well to those with the patience to look, and there is Sparrow’s consensus document . I hope both of these will be maintained.

Finally, in addition to news sites like Grist and deSmog and WorldChanging (which occasionally slip into excessive political correctness in my opinion) there is a growing range of excellent news sites and blogs. Ones I consider the old guard by individual scientists (yours truly with an asterisk, Rabett Run, Stoat, Deltoid, Tamino, Maribo, Grumbine and far too occasionally Climate Spin) and others from (I think) nonscientists with an uncanny sense of balance (Thingsbreak, Carl Zimmer, Greenfyre’s, Fleck, Ill-Considered, Int. J. Inact., Deltoid, Scruffy Dan). A couple of excellent aggregators, notably Yale Forum, Energy Collective, The Oil Drum, all linked at right, and a special shout-out to Climate Central, pioneering breaking the monopsony and creating several first rate climate resources as a private nonprofit.

And of course, the breakthrough YouTube works of Peter Sinclair and Greg Craven are very promising, and hopefully the beginning of a trend.

So, What’s Missing?

Yet, amid all that bounty of information, the perception that “something” is missing persists.

Of course, it’s clear that nobody knows the solution to the alternate-news-universe provided by Rupert Murdoch. And in fact if the world doesn’t make it through the narrows, Murdoch and his “news” outlets will deserve as much blame as anybody. But there seems to be a hunger for some sort of alternative that is still missing.

One thing an anti-Morano would do would be just to monitor Morano and take advantage of his efforts as an early-warning system for new denialist nonsense. It certainly worked to the advantage of the truth in the case of the McLean noise. But that doesn’t constitute an activity.

Anna’s suggestion of a site that would make an effort to be responsive to queries is interesting. Google is not about “search” it’s about answering questions. Both Twitter and Wolfram Alpha are efforts to answer questions of sorts that Google and its competitors can’t. In the end, some sorts of questions require someone with enough expertise to detect good answers from bad ones and enough context to contact the right people otherwise. A somewhat different role than is played

Finally, though, someone needs to have some skills in making the information attractive. Here is where I have some skills that few scientists or, um, counterscientists do. Of course, the design standards of the right are for some reason notoriously low. And I have several projects in mind for display tools. A virtual science museum is a tricky thing. And I have been thinking about how to set up and fund an information business, some of which I’m still going to keep to myself.

I was gratified to see some interest in In It For the Gold t-shirts, though.

Some Questions Intended to Seed Discussion

Anyway, I’d like to open a discussion for brainstorming. For the purposes of this argument, let’s agree or at least presume that mainstream earth system science is reasonably healthy and contrarianism as practiced by Morano et al is not. People disinclined to go with that presumption are invited to participate in some other thread; don’t expect such comments to appear here. Given that presumption, what exactly is missing and how should we go about filling the gap?

1) What www and other media services are missing from effective communication of actual science, especially earth system science with policy implications?

2) What funding sources would be available for such an effort outside the government?

3) How can best information effectively be aggregated and redistributed?

4) How can the social roots of false paranoia and misleading evidence be identified and revealed? Can we make it newsy enough for what is left of the press or is that an impossible task?

5) How can tools for collective decision making be designed and implemented? The basic idea is crowdsourcing with quality control.

6) Are there any existing funded organizations that might be willing to take on some of these projects?

7) How much would you pay for a nice blue-on-black initforthegold t-shirt, with the space-dawn logo on the front and the URL on the back?

Thanks, all. I will greatly appreciate responses and thoughts, inbound links and retweets.

PS – Let me add that my current circumstances leave me sufficiently isolated from the climate community that I feel my capacity for contributing is at risk. I don’t think I should proceed in the current vein indefinitely. Still, relentless heat or otherwise, it looks like Irene and I intend to stay in Austin.

Update: Here’s an open thread for people who feel an urgent need to say something off the present topic.

Update: Thanks for the excellent conversation! There’s more. I’m trying to maintain momentum and nucleate a mailing list. Any interest?

Photo: NASA


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