Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The curse of flame wars

From ZeroHedge

Why Trolls Start Flame Wars: Swearing and Name-Calling Shut Down the Ability to Think and Focus

Psychological studies show that swearing and name-calling in Internet discussions shut down our ability to think. 2 professors of science communication at the University of Wisconsin, Madison - Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele - wrote in the New York Times last year:
In a study published online last month in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, we and three colleagues report on an experiment designed to measure what one might call “the nasty effect.”

We asked 1,183 participants to carefully read a news post on a fictitious blog, explaining the potential risks and benefits of a new technology product called nanosilver. These infinitesimal silver particles, tinier than 100-billionths of a meter in any dimension, have several potential benefits (like antibacterial properties) and risks (like water contamination), the online article reported.

Then we had participants read comments on the post, supposedly from other readers, and respond to questions regarding the content of the article itself.

Half of our sample was exposed to civil reader comments and the other half to rude ones — though the actual content, length and intensity of the comments, which varied from being supportive of the new technology to being wary of the risks, were consistent across both groups. The only difference was that the rude ones contained epithets or curse words, as in: “If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot” and “You’re stupid if you’re not thinking of the risks for the fish and other plants and animals in water tainted with silver.”

The results were both surprising and disturbing. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.

Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

While it’s hard to quantify the distortional effects of such online nastiness, it’s bound to be quite substantial, particularly — and perhaps ironically — in the area of science news.
So why do people troll in a rude way?

Psychologists say that many of them are psychopaths, sadists and narcissists getting their jollies. It's easy to underestimate how many of these types of sickos are out there: There are millions of sociopaths in the U.S. alone.

But intelligence agencies are also intentionally disrupting political discussion on the web, and ad hominen attacks, name-calling and divide-and-conquer tactics are all well-known, frequently-used disruption techniques.

Now you know why ... flame wars polarize thinking, and stop the ability to focus on the actual topic and facts under discussion.

Indeed, this tactic is so effective that the same wiseguy may play both sides of the fight.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Losing your marbles because of climate change

(image from "thisnext")

Time to push back against the global warming Nazis

I’m now going to start calling these people "global warming Nazis" ... Like the Nazis, they advocate the supreme authority of the state (fascism), which in turn supports their scientific research to support their cause (in the 1930s, it was superiority of the white race).

(maybe it is an effect of the heat??)

Friday, February 14, 2014

A chilling sensation down your spine.....

Now, read this and consider: how do you feel about belonging to the "Homo Sapiens" species? Don't you feel a horribly chilling sensation about that down your spine?

From The Independent, h/t Stephan Lewandowsky

Maybe Nigel Lawson is right. There can’t be global warming, because isn’t it always colder at night?

It’s a method of argument perfected by disgruntled men in the corner of pubs

by Mark Steel

I wonder why Nigel Lawson was on the radio yesterday morning, telling us angrily that the floods are nothing to do with climate change. Will this be a regular slot, in which people from the 1980s are invited to shout, with no evidence, that everyone else is wrong? Next week Depeche Mode will be screaming that the koala bear is actually a flower, then Torvill and Dean will yell that triangles only have two sides.

One of Nigel’s points to show that scientists can’t prove climate change was that “only a couple of months ago the Met Office were predicting that this would be an unusually dry winter.”

Apart from the fact that unpredictable storms fit in perfectly with theories of global warming, Nigel Lawson seems to have confused the International Panel on Climate Change with the woman who does the weather on the telly. Presumably when Sian Lloyd says: “This low pressure should clear up by Tuesday”, he shouts back, “How dare you expect me to get those useless energy-saving light bulbs, you know NOTHING” – which must be quite exhausting.
If he’d had the time he could have made other valid points, such as: “They know nothing about carbon emissions. Only last November they reckoned England would win The Ashes, so why should we take any notice of them?”

Then Sir Brian Hoskins, a climate change scientist, replied that in recent years the seas have warmed by 0.8 per cent, and that the West Antarctic ice sheet has receded to an unprecedented level, and along with other changes that this must have had an effect on the weather. To which Nigel replied: “That’s extreme speculation. There’s been no global warming for 15 years and that’s a FACT.”

This is an innovative approach to science – saying that precise statistics from a knighted scientist are speculation – but you can tell a true fact because it’s said by someone who says “and that’s a FACT”. These students who revise for weeks before physics exams, so they can calculate electric currents, are wasting their time. They just need to write “Electricity is made up of tiny flames that live in a plug socket and that’s a FACT.”

It’s a method of argument often perfected by disgruntled men in the corner of Wetherspoon’s pubs. As it appears to be in vogue, this could be the new style of debate on news programmes. John Humphrys will say that “a new 246-page report suggests  an independent Scotland would be viable as an economy. With us to discuss the matter is Ted from the Moon Under Water in Stechford. Ted, what do you make of this?” And he’ll say: “It’s all speculation that is, they’re planning to become part of China  and put us all in labour camps and that’s  a FACT.”

To be fair, Nigel Lawson has filled out his thoughts in other interviews. For example he told The Guardian that climate change didn’t concern him because “if you look around the world today there are countries that are very cold, and countries that are very hot, and you have to adapt.”

So the reason we’ve been getting in a state is that we hadn’t realised this cold/hot thing, and once we grasp that we can get the Inuit to wrap up a bit and Arabs to stop riding camels while wearing a duvet, then no one need ever recycle anything again.

Maybe Lawson’s next book will explain  that there can’t be global warming as it’s colder at night, which comes after the day, which means – if anything – the planet’s getting colder, and that the sun doesn’t  have any human activity and that’s even hotter than a hot day on Earth, so  explain THAT.
But he did somehow find the space to  say: “These floods are a wake-up call, to abandon the crazy costly policy of spending untold millions on useless wind turbines and solar panels.”

At last someone’s had the common sense to say what the rest of us were thinking. Who hasn’t watched these floods and thought, “it’s those bloody wind turbines and solar panels that have caused all this”.

The solar panels stop the water from draining, as rivers can’t get through glass. Then the wind turbines frighten the water so it runs off and hides in living rooms in Somerset.

Other than this it’s hard to see how there’s a connection, unless he’s simply decided  to use the issue to yell about something else that annoys him. Tomorrow Nigel Farage  can go on to say, “these floods are a wake-up call, that if you let any more Bulgarians in we’ll all be living in canoes”.

The puzzling part is that among the scientists whose job is to study these matters, there is no disagreement that rising carbon emissions have altered the climate.

So continually debating it, as if both sides  are equally valid, makes as much sense as saying: “Now for sport. In the Winter Olympics the ski jumping final takes place today, but first I’m going to talk to Bill, who says there can’t be any ski jumping because gravity doesn’t exist.”

But the people we should feel sorry for most are probably those in government, who  seem perplexed as to why there are less  flood defences then before.
Who would have thought that cutting something would mean that that thing might be reduced in any way. No wonder so many people get confused.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Deep Future: the other side of the carbon pulse

A review of the book by Curt Stager

I had high expectations about this book, but I was disappointed. Not that it is a bad book; on the contrary it is full of interesting information. However, I was positively angered by reading it. But if something makes you angry there have to be reasons for that and, if you can understand these reasons, then you have a chance to learn something. So, one thing that I learned from this book is a better understanding of how difficult is it to maintain a purely rational attitude about climate change, even for those of us who are trained in the scientific approach.

So far, the question of climate change has been dominated by an attitude that says - more or less - that climate is a big problem, sure, but we have solutions and nothing horrible will happen if we just do a few little things like installing double paned windows and bicycling more to work. Unfortunately, by now it is clear it is not going to be so easy. Nothing has been done up to now and it is likely that nothing will be done before it is too late (assuming that it is not already). So, we are being caught in a gigantic planetary storm of our own making and we are plunging straight into a future where climate will manage us rather than the opposite. So, what's going to happen to us?

Plenty of people seem to be convinced that planetary warming will not be so bad - on the contrary it will bring advantages, from the naive idea that they'll be able to save on home heating, or that an ice-free Artic ocean will be a bonanza for oil recovery. In the short run, both expectations may turn out to be fulfilled - in part. But what will be the destiny of humankind after the great carbon pulse? Not many texts deal with this question. One is the book by Curt Stager "Deep Future" (2011) which examines the future up to one hundred thousand years from now. A bold attempt to deal with fascinating subject, unfortunately not completely successful.

One problem with this book is Stager's insistence in taking the view that future changes will be smooth and gradual, giving people plenty of time to adapt. This attitude brings Stager to a number of perplexing statements such as that "... sea-level rises would be more of an expensive annoyance than a catastrophe"(p. 132). I understand that this line was written before Hurricanes Sandy and Hayan, but that doesn't make it less annoying. Then, about extreme heat in tropical regions, Stager seems to think that he can show how easy it is to adapt by stating (p. 186) "I'll never forget gaping in amazement as columns of muscular French Foreign Legionnaires jogged and maneuvered amid the rippling mirages of Djibouti, a furnacelike pocket of lava ridges and troughs..." Those of us who are not "muscular legionnaires" might find that a bit upsetting, not to say offensive. 

Occasionally, Stager's insistence on slow and gradual changes also negatively affects the scientific content of the book. For instance, you won't find in it a word about oceanic anoxia - one of the most dangerous long term consequences of climate change. It is a curious omission because Stager tells us (p. 45) that he himself had been navigating the waters of lake Nyos, in Cameroon, just one year before that a giant burst of CO2 emitted by the lake killed almost two thousand people. Lake Nyos is anoxic, just like oceans are believed to have been during the climatic phases that led to mass extinctions. But these past killer bursts of gases are never mentioned in the book, possibly because they are in contrast with Stager's thesis that changes is always slow and gradual.

Stager's attitude also spills to his views on what climate scientists should say about climate change. It is clear that he sees the attitude of most of his colleagues as excessively catastrophistic. That's a legitimate opinion, were it not leading Stager to even more perplexing statements. For instance, at page 240, he says "I also know that at least one well-known figure in the climate community has purposely exaggerated the dangers of global warming in public presentations, because he told me so at a conference. His justification was this: 'If people aren't scared, they won't pay attention'." Now, this is not fair: you can't support your thesis just by citing an anonymous and unverifiable source. In a book, there is plenty of space to cite actual statements by scientists that would support the idea that some scientists are purposefully exaggerating the dangers ahead - it is up to the author to find them and report them. But, I am afraid it won't be so easy. For instance, in the whole "Climategate" story, there surfaced no documents that could be used to accuse scientists to be exaggerating anything.

So, an interesting book, marred by an attitude that often leads the author astray in his attempt to minimize the dangers ahead. But it deserves to be read for its wide sweep at a remote future which most of us rarely pause to consider. Will there be life after the great carbon pulse? Stager's answer is perhaps too optimistic, but it is a definite possibility. Humanity, intended as a species, could survive the change, even though the loss of human lives lost could be enormous.

But the book is most interesting as it evidences that everyone of us is biased when looking at the ultimate results of climate change. Facing the impending catastrophe, some of us tend to deny it (we call them "deniers"). Others, like Stager, don't deny the change but try their best to minimize it. And many of us react with a frenzied climate activism while, at the same time, we try not to look at the true face of the impending disaster. Yet, the carbon pulse is ongoing and we are headed to an Earth so changed that we can consider it as another planet. Before landing on it, we may as well try to understand what we'll be finding there.