A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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The Skeptics Handbook II

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Selling the dead-dog brand of “climate change” — it’s so ugly, they need 60,000 artist-marketeers

Oh the woe! It’s another pointless round of climate-communication-angst.

The Conversation: Elizabeth Boulton

It’s time for a new age of Enlightenment: why climate change needs 60,000 artists to tell its story

The root problem, supposedly, is that skepticism is spreading. But the real reason is not the communication, it’s the message itself. It is a dead dog. It’s boring, repetitive, wrong, and the end of the world came and went already. Oh wolfitty-wolf.

So stop being unengaging:

Climate information is still often confusing, unengaging and absent from the wider public discourse.

Engage people: set up a real debate, put some reputations on the line and watch the ratings sour. Let Professors pit their wits against skeptics.  Toss in a live audience of engineers and geologists. (Hehe.)

Linguistic analysis found that the most recent IPCC report was less readable than seminal papers by Einstein.

Get with the game. The unreadableness is deliberate. Einstein wanted people to understand his papers.

The older IPCC publications are easier to read. (Try the FAR report.) Back in the days when scientists weren’t trying to pretend the hot spot was there, wasn’t a fingerprint, and doesn’t matter. They weren’t trying to hide [...]

The Climate Wars are Damaging Science

Matt Ridley has produced the shortest whole, killer summary of the sordid state of climate science, science journalism, and science associations for Quadrant magazine. This is the ideal single-chapter-length-work to bring in anyone who missed the last twenty years of clima-farce, scandal, hubris and hypocrisy.

Matt is not just summing up the way his career as a science writer has transformed, but also writing the best review of the IPA book “Climate Change: The Facts” that I have yet seen. He talks about the way science writers used to ignore the papers that didn’t impress them, and leave it up to the scientists to take them apart, but now the supposedly most esteemed scientists stay silent while abject failures not only get published in the scientific world, but get absurdly lauded in the media, and tweeted by “the President”. Formerly great scientific institutions have turned themselves inside out:

“The Royal Society once used to promise “never to give their opinion, as a body, upon any subject”. Its very motto is “nullius in verba”: take nobody’s word for it. Now it puts out catechisms of what you must believe in. “

Matt’s career, like mine, started with faith that [...]

Lewandowsky peer reviewed study includes someone 32,757 years old

The worst paper ever published has competition. I was going to mock this, but it has all rather slipped beyond the Plains of Derision and sunk in a parallel universe. Researcher Jose Duarte is flummoxed, he simply can’t explain why a paper so weak was written, but moreso why it was ever published, and why everyone associated with it is not running for cover.  It’s not so much about the predictable flaws, biased questions, and mindless results, it’s now about why UWA, The Uni of Bristol, PLOS, and the Royal Society are willing to wear any of the reputational damage that goes with it.

Lewandowsky, Gignac and Oberauer put out a paper in 2013 which was used to generate headlines like “Climate sceptics more likely to be conspiracy theorists”. The data sample is not large, but despite that, it includes the potential Neanderthal, as well as a precocious five year old and some underage teenagers too. The error was reported on Lewandowsky’s blog over a year ago by Brandon Shollenberger, then again by Jose Duarte in August 2014. Nothing has been corrected. The ages are not just typos, they were used in the calculations, correlations and conclusions. The median age [...]

Yale says “Global Warming” is a better misused-phrase for propaganda — dump “climate change”

What’s the point of language — especially in science? If you are naive, you might think it’s to communicate a fixed concept so everyone understands and can voice an opinion on the same thing. You would be wrong. The real purpose of scientific terms is to motivate the punters to behave differently (especially if that means “give us more money”). That’s why the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has assigned 5 PhD’s and a guy called Feinberg to spend days, weeks and months analyzing surveys to find out which propaganda term is more “effective”. The simple answer is “global warming” ekes out more fear and pain among democrats than “climate change”; therefore expect to see its use rocket.

The Guardian

The survey sample of 1,657 people, compiled over a two-week period late last year, found a large swathe of Americans turned off by the words “climate change”.

“The use of the term climate change appears to actually reduce issue engagement by Democrats, Independents, liberals, and moderates, as well as a variety of subgroups within American society, including men, women, minorities, different generations, and across political and partisan lines,” the researchers said.

Americans in general were 13% more likely to [...]

Three times as many Australians think the ABC has a pro-Labor bias

The ABC will declare that “most Australians don’t think the ABC is biased” but while half the nation thinks it’s balanced, 30% don’t know, and of the 20% who are sure there is bias, there are three times as many who think it’s pro-Labor as those who think it’s pro-Coalition. Bear in mind ABC1 only has about 10% of the Australian audience, so 90% of the nation prefers to watch something else. Did the survey ask respondents if they watch the ABC? We might find that of the 20% of the population who are familiar with ABC coverage, most think it’s biased to the left.  With some probing questions, we might also find that people of different political persuasions define bias very differently. Could it be that those more likely to vote for the Coalition tend to value free speech even if they don’t agree with the views?

On the other hand those more likely to vote Labor or Green seem to think balance means skeptics shouldn’t speak at all. Is their idea of bias just “if the ABC allows skeptics to comment”. The Centre for Independent Journalism had a whole forum devoted to asking whether “balance” meant they still [...]

Government funds anti-science name-calling crowd: “deniers”, skeptics are old “will be gone soon”

There’s a mindset, a world view here that’s profoundly unreal, anti-science, and of course, fully funded by the Taxpayer from start to end (how could it be any other way?).

From the researcher who holds childish assumptions and misunderstands his own results, to the site that posts it all as if it were “higher thought”, to the trained communicator of science who then parrots the mistakes and insults half the population at the same time. Cheers! Private money couldn’t fund a satire like “The Conversation”. (Well, it could if it were funny.)

The Conversation recall was funded with $6 million.

Stephan continues his war on science

Lewandowsky’s bread and butter stuff is breaking the central tenet of science — namely, that evidence is more important than opinions. His mission (though I don’t think he’s aware of it) appears to be to return us to pre-Enlightenment days when Bishops controlled the public conversation. In this post-post-modern era, some things are so post they’re posterior – some parts of science are returning to unscience.  This “science” is not about your data or reasoning, and not about your results — it’s about your ability to get a grant, a title, a university badge. [...]

Soul searching enviro-journalists admit they look duped and should have talked to sceptics

There is much introspection going on among environmental journalists. Last week, in a remarkably candid piece, Margot O’Neill of the ABC revealed for the first time what the flummoxed and frustrated would-be journalists are  discussing behind the scenes.

The admissions are extraordinary. Despite the fact that hardly any of the journalists wrote about Climategate, for many the emails from East Anglia were not just important, but a defining moment (though not, apparently, because it dented their faith in the global warming dogma). Instead, it was the effect Climategate had on editors and others in the office: people who had previously thought climate science was scientific, and environmental journalists were journalists. Suddenly, others realized they had been cheated of the real news, sideswiped by a development none of the supposedly “investigative” reporters saw coming.

Now for the first time, we find out that the formerly respected writers got looks of betrayal.

Probably the most important reaction to the UEA hacking for journalists was in their own newsrooms, among their own editors who are the gatekeepers controlling if your work appears and how prominently. While some UK surveys show no dramatic loss of credibility for climate scientists with the public, here’s how [...]

What the heck are science journalists for?

From The Skeptics Handbook II

Last week a science journalist at The Guardian wrote the best summary I have ever seen of the state of the profession known as “science communication”. Only, he thought it was a spoof. Well, it is — and it’s satirically funny at the same time as being an unwittingly cutting commentary. (We laugh at the formulaic approach because we know it’s so true, and then we bang our heads on the wall…).

Science journalists who churn out mindless ritual productions are effectively being PR and marketing writers. Dangerously, though, they are dressed as “investigative” journalists. The public assumes they are checking that their stories don’t break laws of logic and reason, that they are supported by evidence, and that they are providing the whole story. Their PR is the most powerful advertising there is, it’s not just free, it’s a third party endorsement.

Ironically, the same journalists probably don’t realize how important they are. They think they’re there for a fluffy feelgood reasons: to help promote science, raise public awareness, and attract school leavers into careers in science. They don’t realize that their most important role is to protect science itself and be guardians [...]

Robyn Williams shreds the tenets of science

Robyn Williams presenting at the Prime Ministers Awards 2006

As I keep repeating, there’s only ONE thing that makes science different to religion, and that’s evidence. Robyn Williams is the most lauded commentator on science in Australian (read the rave here, he was the first and only journalist to be elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science;  a professor at two universities, and received 5 honorary doctorates) yet despite the accolades he mistakenly hails the opinions of paid PR hacks above evidence and reason, and hallows the Blacklist of Approved Climate Sorcerers, sorry, Scientists as if it holds the key to the question of climate sensitivity of a trace gas. (How many “scientists” do you need to warm a planet? Answer: Whatever $79 billion can buy.)

This odd juxtaposition of discussing modern science with neolithic reasoning is unfortunately de rigeur, such is the abysmal state of my profession, known (misleadingly in this case) as science communication. These same commentators who complain about “the people who confuse the public”, don’t seem to realize they’re the ones who lead the pack. They break laws of reason known for two thousands years, destroy the central tenets of science, and conflate [...]

New Scientist: The Age of Name-Calling

New Scientist plumbs new lows. The magazine has become its own self-parody. Do they see the irony of inviting a PR expert to accuse groups of committing the crime of, wait for it, … using a PR expert?

…he’s the advertiser being offered free editorial space within the one-sided propaganda that masquerades as journalism

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold any elitist ideas that only people with science degrees can write for New Scientist (the magazine and its staff have pretty much proven how useless a science degree can be). My issue with them is that Richard Littlemore (a PR expert) has essentially written a smear-by-association piece, which should have no place in a real scientific magazine. It’s not like Littlemore is just an unhealthy part of a big healthy debate — instead he’s the advertiser being offered free editorial space within the one-sided propaganda that masquerades as journalism.

New Scientist may think climate science is a moral imperative, but they don’t have room for the climate scientists who have published peer reviewed criticisms of their favorite theory. Nor do they have space to tell the extraordinary story of the grassroots independent retiree scientists who’ve busted [...]