Naturally I am talking about Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office Hadley Centre, and David Adam of the Guardian. Between them they published a posting at the MET office, a web post at the Guardian, and a Guardian web & print post yesterday.
Check the titles and see what you think they might be talking about:
- Stop misleading climate claims, Pope,
- “Scientists must rein in misleading climate change claims“, Pope
- ‘Apocalyptic climate predictions’ mislead the public, say experts: D. Adams
Got an idea? See if the subtitles help:
- 2) “Overplaying natural variations in the weather diverts attention from the real issues”
- 3) “Met Office scientists fear distorted climate change claims could undermine efforts to tackle carbon emissions”
The “story” behind all of them is Pope’s call on climate scientists not to attribute recent weather extremes to climate change, period. A perfectly reasonable point and one I have no argument with.
Since many people only read the title, many others only the first few paragraphs, and apparently only relatively few people read entire articles, let’s consider all three using that as a guide.
None of the titles, and only the subtitle of #2 even suggests what the real story is, and even then it is not entirely clear.
All of the titles are easily read as critiquing predictions that the consequences of climate change will be bad, particularly Adam’s (#3) title. Indeed. any could be read as criticizing the suggestion that climate change is human caused, or is even occurring at all.
In all cases the first half of the article discusses examples of recent dire predictions such as imminent Arctic ice loss and so on, but without being clear that the focus is on extreme weather as evidence of climate.
Here again all are easily read as being critical of predictions of extreme consequences rather than the fact that they are critical only of using short term extreme events as evidence.
In Pope’s pieces it only becomes clear in the last half that she is referring only to the use of short term extreme weather (ie a few years) as evidence and not to longer term (ie decades to centuries) predictions of catastrophic consequences from climate change.
In the Pope articles it is in the second last paragraph that we learn “Both undermine the basic facts that the implications of climate change are profound and will be severe if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut drastically and swiftly over the coming decades.”
It is also only in Pope’s pieces, albeit late in the articles, that this abuse of weather data is tied to media and “skeptics” as well as scientists, while in Adam’s piece it is not until the last paragraph that we learn it is an abuse carried out “by people on both sides.”
As mentioned, while I don’t disagree with what Pope has to say I find the whole presentation poorly thought through with respect to misunderstandings, and as a result these articles will be fodder for the climate Deniers (as they already are).
In the first place, why single out scientists? The point is the use of short term extreme weather as evidence by anyone to support any position for or against. Scientists are the least frequent offender in this regard, mass media more commonly, while it is the climate Deniers who do so relentlessly.
The emphasis on scientists suggests that they are particularly at fault for making false claims about climate change, when the opposite is true. Why name any group? why not just critique the practice by anyone, for any reason?
Pope’s real point would have been clearer if no group were singled out for mention. If a particular group had to be explicitly named, why not the most common offender?
The next problem is the vagueness about exactly what it is that is being criticized other than “misrepresenting climate science”. All of the articles are needlessly vague about the real point until well into the article, if at all. Adam’s piece is particularly unfortunate in this regard.
The titles and opening statements really should have stated unequivocallythat the pieces are about weather extremes only, nothing more. As it is they are easily partially read (as the majority will do) as being critical of all climate science predictions, and catastrophic predictions in particular.
Not that anyone should ever censor themselves out of fear of abuse by climate Deniers. However, I do think we all have to be aware of the political and social context and be sensitive to how things are likely to be misread, particularly at the start where most people will be drawing their conclusions from.
The original intent of the MET piece and associated Guardian articles was to improve public education about climate science and to avoid situations where “the public perception of climate change can be distorted.”
Given how these articles have been written and how they will be read I believe they will do more harm than good.
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
Denier “Challenge” aka Deathwatch Update: Day 114 … still no evidence.