Thursday, November 20, 2008

Q for climate bloggers - why *not* give Heartland spokesmen airtime?

Our local community radio station featured Robert C. Balling Jr. as a guest Tuesday night, for a call-in. I had a very interesting talk with their news director about it yesterday, that I'm still chewing on.

But I'm wondering, ye with collective wisdom -

How would you explain, pithily, to someone who values free expression of divergent views, wants his listeners to be exposed to a variety of views and to chew on the ideas and evidence for themselves, and knows that the climate science, on what the future effects will be, is *not* monolithic -

... that bringing a Heartland speaker on to discuss global warming science - a climate scientist who's published in peer reviewed journals, who says he's not a denialist, he just has different views on how strong an effect increasing CO2 will have - doesn't serve the station's listeners?

For the purpose of this exercise, assume your word carries as much weight as Joe Blow's down the street.

Note: Please comment *only* if you share the mainstream view that climate change is happening, the evidence strongly indicates humans are causing it, and it's urgent that we address it now - comments from the fringe *will* be deleted.

also - where can I find the "ontogeny of climate inactivism" scale? It's basically this, right?:
1. It's not happening
2. It's might be happening, but it's not us
3. It's happening, it's us, but it won't be too bad
4. It's happening, it's us, it'll be bad, but it'll be cheaper to leave it for our children to fix
5. Nothing we can do about it, since here comes China


Ray Ladbury said...

Hi Anna, OK, for what it's worth, I'm not a climate scientist, but a physicist. I have looked into the science and evidence in some detail and find it cogent.
For a point of view to be "science," it has to pass muster with one's fellow scientists. The lowest threshold is peer-review. If at least 2 of 3 (usually, sometimes one reviewer can stop publication) of your peers deem your work sufficiently correct and interesting to the community that they think it deserves publication, you have met this standard. Next, there is the question of whether your peers think enough of your ideas to incorporate them in their work. The measure of this is how often your work is cited in their own articles. Finally, there is the question of whether your work becomes part of the scientific consensus. This means that they deem it something they just can't get along without if they want to really understand what is going on. The research behind anthropogenic climate change has met all of these standards--that's why there isn't a single climate model out there that doesn't predict significant warming due to increased CO2.
The Heartland Institute's "scientists" have yet to meet even the minimum standard of getting their work published in a decent peer-reviewed scientific journal. This means that the experts do not think it adds any understanding to our picture of climate. Why waste your time with something like that?

Hank Roberts said...

Balling has real publications, but they don't connect to his opinions about climatology and modeling that I can see. You'd have to look them up and see how they've been cited to see if they are useful to others.

EliRabett said...

Well, the first reason is they are spokesmen (hmm Sallie B is the only spokeswomen in that crowd). So they are flacking. If you want to educate your audience about something, it is not the best practice to find a "spokesman"

Anna Haynes said...

Thanks, y'all. It helps not to be alone in this.

Eli, the rejoinder to "they're flacking" is "well, so are the greenpeace, nature conservancy, etc climate experts"...

Andy Revkin said he deals with this by not listening to anyone but the scientists actively doing the research; but that's a solution that won't work in smaller communities (since there's no upside, for the scientist, to doing small-community public outreach) and has problems even at the NYTimes (where it results in a focus on the bleeding edge, not on the consensus).

To convince our local journalist, IMO the Q is how to explain that the Heartland-speaker scientists *aren't* in the mainstream, despite their claims - and Hank, I'm hoping for a heuristic here, so this 'solution' can scale, because the same thing must go on all over the country, esp. in smaller communities, and in most of them, to require that someone be comfortable wielding Google Scholar for this(Hank's link, in clickable form) is (IMO) asking too much. Result: Heartland gets airtime, unchallenged.

I was hoping to be able to provide a link to the video of the Soc. for Env. Journalists's Editors meeting ("Covering Climate Change: A Seminar Snapshot") last year, but alas - while it is available - it's (AFAIK) not on YouTube, you gotta jump through hoops to view it.

The other useful sources being Pants on Fire, from Little House in the Big Woods, and Ross Gelbspan's Snowed, which does mention Dr. Balling.

And Naomi Oreskes' talk, which is somewhat available on DVD.

I'll be curious to hear what Matt Nisbet is recommending, if it'll help here.

The other approach to take, is to explain the situation with a metaphor (not mine) - that the mass of scientific findings on climate change is like a symphony, and the fossil fuel industry is using its money - through Heartland's speakers - to crank up the treble, for the public to hear.

I haven't heard back from Dr Balling, BTW, to my query about who's paying him what, to do public outreach.

thanks again, you guys.

Hank Roberts said...

> asking too much

If clicking a link is too much for these people, then I despair of my backup advice -- to go to the public library and ask the person at the Reference Desk for help learning about what they want to learn.

I guess it's "want to learn" that's lacking here.

Conclusion -- you got sucked into a "sell the controversy" advertising enhancement opportunity. You were used to capture more ears to sell to the sponsors.

They don't care what the facts in any particular controversy might be, for these purposes, and they won't encourage any move to help people look things up for themselves and learn how to understand. That would take them away from the radio! -- they only want to prolong the increase in listeners; that's what lets them adjust advertising rates.

Anna Haynes said...

now Hank, you're being cynical...which, in your city, would be apt. But we're not the big city here, we're the quaint hamlet, with a nonprofit community radio station that's overflowing with artistic, creative, "heart" people.

in other words, we're talking a heckuva lot more right-brains than left-brains. It's an honest, good faith position we're talking about shifting.

Steve Bloom said...

Amma, there is a vast network of climate scientists very close by, most of whom would be happy to appear on KVMR by phone to about talk CA impacts as well as the nig picture.

Start with Dan Cayan (featured here, e.g.), but also many folks like Lara Kueppers at UC Merced. Balling is a third-rater; these folks are not.

The advantage to taking a CA-centric approach is that you can tell KVMR that they should gave on as many skeptic/denialist CA scientists as they can find... which IIRC would be precisely none. OTOH that would help make the point.

Speaking of CA, has KVMR paid attention to all the stuff the state is doing, particularly the big report that just came out?

Going out of state, I'm sure Andrew Dessler, e.g., would be happy to come on and discuss his new water vapor feedback results (a *very* big deal BTW).

Is there a recording or transcript of what Balling said, BTW?

Steve Bloom said...

*Anna*, of course. My kingdom for a spillchuckr.

Steve Bloom said...

I went back and spotted the link. Unfortunately it cut off at 12:37 and so missed most of the Q+A, but the interview itself was intact. (Could you perhaps get the station to post the rest?) I wonder if that first caller was a shill.

Balling stuck mostly to generalities, although I did notice two specific fibs about Antarctica and the tropospheric hot spot.

Anna, my take on this is that the interviewer was very conscious of the circumstances (noting that his bio features climate change as a concern and that he attends the AGU fall meeting each year with his scientist wife) and that he had just decided to let Balling talk without challenge. IOW it sounds to me as if he was leaned on to provide some "balance." Our friend Russ at work, perhaps, or maybe someone on the station board? I don't want to sound too conspiratorial about this since all it may be was that someone asked him if he had ever provided time to the "skeptics."

In any case, I think the strategy I suggested above of getting him to interview CA scientists (many of whom he'd be able to find at AGU next month) still makes sense. Obviously he knows enough to do that himself, but given his doubtless over-worked circumstances he might appreciate it if you would suggest some names and make the preliminary contacts. I could give you some more names (with suggested subjects suitable for a ten minute slot) to start with if that would be helpful.

Do you know anything about his wife, BTW?

Oh, I noticed that Balling made reference to a skeptic scientist at Stanford. In case the subject ever comes up, I'm pretty sure he's referring to Pat Frank (a chemist who works at SLAC, and is active in denialist circles but has zero climate science qualifications).

David B. Benson said...

Here is how global warming was found:

"The Discovery of Global Warming" by Spencer Weart

focussing, of course, on the peer-reviewed publications of reputable scientists. This is strongly recommended reading for all 'intelligent laymen'.

Anna Haynes said...

Thanks Steve and David. I will suggest that they bring these more local folks on. I've only heard Andrew Dessler speak (online, i mean) and was quite impressed - i hope Texas A&M gets into the cloning business ASAP, we could use more of him.

> I wonder if that first caller was a shill.

No need. This is quite a backward community, as far as climate science understanding goes - I don't know if our entire county Board of Supervisors is global warming doubters, but I'm pretty sure they're a majority. (Citizen journalism project last year to try to educate/evaluate them on climate reported here...we have a ways to go.)
- and the local "save the river/salmon" group had a big post-river-cleanup gathering last fall, with speeches etc on how we must save the salmon, and the stress on the climate crisis was, like, zip.
(...that i heard, at least; wasn't there long. Let's just say it didn't appear to be priorities #1 through 9.)

And unfortunately I'm not someone who can get through to them. But yes, Calif. climate scientists likely would. I'll see what I can do to help make this happen, and report back.

I'll also see what I can do about getting the rest of the Q&A online.

> Do you know anything about his wife, BTW?

She's at U. Nevada in Reno, i want to say she's an astrophysicist but am not sure i'm recalling correctly.

David, I thought about mentioning Weart's book (and Ray Pierrehumbert's) but
a) i confess i have not read it (and so didn't know that it bangs the peer-review drum), and
b) feared that we'd bounce back into "well, *my* climate scientist (from Heartland) has a book too" territory.
That's the trouble with books...

Thank you both, again.

Steve Bloom said...

His wife's UNR page, FYI. She looks to be doing interesting work, but not much to do with Earth climate.

Anna Haynes said...

a clarification re Hank's
> If clicking a link is too much for these people

It's not the clicking, it's the understanding how to interpret what comes up _after_ you click.

The easier we make it, to let people see what's real and what's crap, the more people *will* see. And we need them to see.

Steve Bloom said...

Anna, you should keep an eye on this new organization, which seems to be focused on producing the sort of material you're looking for. Of note, they have Patrick Duffy on staff in Palo Alto, which I suspect means we'll be seeing a lot on California.

Anna Haynes said...

Thanks Steve, re the link. My concern about them and others like them, though, is that (and correct me if I'm wrong, please) someone who's a complete newbie won't know that this org's output is more credible than Heartland's; the Q remains, how to make clear to the reader that Climate Central is credible, while Heartland is not.
(once again we return to Michael Tobis's "networks of trust"...)

Also, Steve - do you have contact info, or a website?

Anna Haynes said...

The audio file of the Balling interview and Q&A is now fixed.

I'm working on a transcript.

Dr. Balling did get a bit riled up during our discussion (starting at 13:00; the previous version had cut off 20 sec earlier).
You want to know what he thinks of climate blogs, skip to 20:48...

And I'm thinking it's possible Steve is right, in suspecting the first caller is a plant. How could we look into this?

Anna Haynes said...

The transcript is done.

(just so you know, the comments at that (wordpress) blog have moderation turned on by default, so it may take a while for yours to appear.)

SkiTheStars said...

Who are other typical guests on this call in show? heard last night on KGO that only one in 200 listeners bothers to call in.

Steve Bloom said...

Anna, I mentioned Climate Centeral as a possible resource for you.

Re the possible shill, IMHO it's not worth worrying about. It wouldn't be at all amazing for Balling to have set someone up with those questions.

In addition to the two you've identified, has this KVMR host done other climate-related interviews?

Anna Haynes said...

Steve and Doug, thanks for your comments.

Doug, I'm guessing the callers (aside from #1 and #2) were regular KVMR listeners.

Steve -
(i hope you got my email...?)
I will suggest to the Climate Central folks that they devote some resources to providing the public with some "tools for differentiation" between sites like theirs, and Heartland's.

As for the KVMR host, as mentioned in email, I don't see him as the problem. I *do* see it as a systemic problem - that the increased sophistication of the reputable press in larger communities/markets hasn't filtered down to smaller ones, and might not do so without active effort being applied; as Oreskes mentioned, "the world of humans doesn't work according to the laws of diffusion and osmotic pressure" when "there's actually active resistance... you have forces working against it."

(FYI, I've got a tentative ok from Andrew Dessler; and the other climate scientists you suggested can't do it, but have given me additional names.)