January 28th, 2013
Fine line. Let’s get clear on this. And let’s understand why you need to respect the climate skeptics, whether you hate them or not.
Do climate skeptics deserve your respect? (image from www.trollcats.com)
CONTRADICTION? A LOGICAL RESPONSE TO THE MORANO ESSAYS
In response to my Morano and leadership essays last week three people emailed me asking whether I was contradicting myself. On the one hand I’m saying “you can’t afford to ignore climate skeptics,” but on the other hand I’m saying, “When Marc Morano asks for a debate, you should ignore him.” Is this a contradiction? No, but it’s a valid question.
IGNORE THE MAN, NOT THE MOVEMENT
“Ignoring the climate skeptic movement,” is what Al Gore pretty much did in his movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” He trivialized the entire climate skeptic movement at a time when the oil companies were starting to pour staggering amounts of money into combatting climate action ($450 million a year by 2008 according to an EDF mass e-mail I received from them in 2009). In the movie he only had one moment involving the climate skeptic movement which was when he talked about Naomi Oreskes’ Science paper surveying over 900 climate science papers. Here is exactly what he said:
“There was a massive study of EVERY scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal written on global warming for the last TEN years, and they took a big sample, of ten percent — 928 articles — and you know the number of those that disagreed with the scientific consensus that we’re causing global warming and that it’s a serious problem … out of the 928 … zero.”
As he says this, on the screen behind him, the number 928 zooms down to 0. That’s a powerful symbolic dismissal of climate skeptics — basically, “Here’s the number of legitimate people you have on your side — ZERO.”
I’m sorry, but I can’t say enough bad things about how tactless of a moment that was. There was no other consideration of what was already a massive opponent to the global warming message. It came at a time where bestselling science fiction author, Michael Crichton, had already reached #1 on the Amazon bestsellers list in 2004 with his (garbage) anti-climate science novel “State of Fear” and the anti-climate action movement had hired far more anti-climate action lobbyists on Capital Hill than the pro-climate action movement had, by a long shot. You don’t represent that amount of effort on the screen with a zero. You just don’t.
It falls under the category of “rising above,” that I discussed in my book — how if you opt to take the path of superiority/arrogance/condescension by looking down on your opponent, saying “you’re trivial,” and simply not engaging, your audience will dislike you and sympathize with your opponent. It’s true and it’s what happened throughout America to some extent as polls showed a shift towards greater climate skepticism.
More importantly, I think it just further fanned the flames of rage among the climate skeptics, eventually erupting in November, 2009 with their hugely successful “Climategate” action, which proved to be a turning point. Previous to Climategate you heard a lot of climate proponents say blindly, “There is no debate about global warming.” After it, nobody said that any more, and if they did they probably heard back, “Are you shitting me?” from whoever was listening since today there is an ENORMOUS debate about it. It may not be a justified debate, but it is definitely a debate, regardless.
So the bottom line is you cannot afford to ignore such a massive movement. Gore should have allocated at least 15 minutes in his movie to present the basic arguments of climate skeptics, saying this is a serious concern, and doing his best to present them in a way in which we can understand what motivates them to fight so much solid science so vigorously. Presenting your opponent in an understandable, dignified, respectable light makes YOU look more confident, more human, and more likeable. And that results in more people being drawn to you. The fact that so many in the climate movement fail to grasp this is a major element in their undoing. And make no mistake, at this point they are definitely undone (see the recent Skocpol article for one statement on this).
IRRATIONAL VS RATIONAL VENUES
So, all that said, at the individual level the climate movement HAS to take the skeptics seriously (not ignore them), but should refuse to engage with climate skeptics in IRRATIONAL VENUES, meaning town halls, public “debates”, TV talk show moderated “debates,” or haggling sessions in front of drunken bar patrons (as was staged a couple years ago by a car manufacturer). It’s a losing proposition in such venues. For starters there is no means of controlling “the Gish Gallop,” that I discussed last week.
But on the other hand, if the climate skeptics are ever foolish enough to do what the creationists did in the evolution issue and bungle their way into a RATIONAL VENUE, namely a major court of law, then that is finally the place where all forces should be mustered and they should be taken on 100%. This is what happened with the mighty Intelligent Design movement in December, 2005 at Dover, Pennsylvania, and it was basically their Waterloo.
It was a movement that had a full head of steam, having scored the cover of TIME Magazine in August of 2005. Across the country creationists were winning huge public victories through silly public debates and forums where scientists were having circles spun around them by the fast talking intelligent designers. But then, in a nearly instantaneous event, the entire issue got dragged into a federal court, a very level headed conservative judge gave both sides their chance to make their cases in detail, then rendered a totally rational decision that pulled the rug out from under the movement, and within months the entire monster withered and died.
It’s conceivable that some day that could happen with the climate skeptics, but ONLY if they prove to be as inept as the intelligent designers did. But I don’t think they are that foolish. Which means they’re going to be around for a long time. Which means you’d better respect them, whether it pains you or not.
January 25th, 2013
The climate movement suffers from a lack of effective leadership. Here’s an example and an explanation: EXAMPLE: the problem of climate skeptic “debater” Marc Morano run amok (as I discussed yesterday), EXPLANATION: the recent report from Theda Skocpol on the collapse of climate legislation details the absence of effective singular leadership. Who’s in charge of this enormous movement? Who is even the lead voice?
SEEKING CLIMATE BLAME. Theda Skocpol this month released an interesting report in which she seeks to get to the bottom of “Who or what caused the climate movement collapse of 2010?” Was it the economy? Obama? The climate skeptics? The movement itself? She compares the climate movement collapse to the success of Health Care. In my (albeit questionable) opinion I think a lot of it was the arrogance of assuming Cap and Trade worked for acid rain so the fact of that will cause it to “sell itself,” not needing a sustained sales campaign.
A STORY OF LEADERSHIP IN THE EVOLUTION WORLD
Let me explain how this leadership stuff works. In the fall of 2006 we did a big screening of “Flock of Dodos” at William and Mary University where my trouble-making former officemate Dr. Mark Patterson managed to line up for the post-screening panel, not just the standard local evolution professor, but also an utter nutball neurophysiologist from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University who was a Young Earth Creationist.
When the evolutionist heard this, he did what good evolutionists know how to do, which is to seek leadership and guidance from the voice that firmly leads them — Genie Scott at the National Center for Science Education. He called, talked to her, and she simply advised him no, don’t do it — don’t “debate” a creationist in public, it’s a no win situation.
THAT is how leadership works. And it does work for evolution. I know. I’ve made two movies on the two anti-science attacks of evolution and climate. I’ve surveyed the two landscapes. The evolution crowd runs a fairly tight ship, and with Genie’s diligent eye, now keeps a pretty good watch on the countryside.
The climate crowd seems proud of their “individuality” I guess. And they have the further complicating element of large NGO’s claiming they are solving the problems partly through education as they raise donor dollars but in the end they are eco-corporations and no more education-driven than Coke or Pepsi (sorry).
I know NCSE has entered into the field of climate now. If you can’t think of any better approach to the leadership void, just use them the same way as the evolution folks do. Why not? At least they are brave, bold, and willing to take the mantle, unlike the terrified science organizations.
All climate folks, when asked to “debate” Marc Morano, should know how to do what that evolutionist at William and Mary did — call the central source of knowledge, guidance and leadership and seek an opinion. Why can’t that happen? I simply don’t get it. “Oh, we don’t believe in anything centralized.” Good, then fail away.
And I disagree with the climate friends yesterday who, in response to my essay on Morano, dismissed Bill Nye and the Sierra Club dude as a couple of last stragglers who haven’t gotten the memo. There is no memo. There is no single voice of leadership. And the result is disarray as Theda Skocpol pretty much pointed out this month …
SKOCPOL’S REPORT: WHO’S IN CHARGE?
For the past three years I was on one national committee for AAAS, now I’m on another for the American Institute of Physics. I get to see this lack of leadership in the science world up close and ask annoying questions about it. Last year I locked horns with Alan Leshner, head of AAAS (and a great guy) in our committee meeting, asking him why there doesn’t exist the leadership to aggressively take on the anti-academic attacks of climate skeptics (like when they are trying to discredit individual scientists or the entire idea of peer review). He replied that the science world is intentionally, “by design” (his exact words) built around committees and thus lacking leadership and not likely to change. He added, “that said, could we use a little bit more leadership at times, certainly.”
The problem is it’s a profession designed for the 1970’s (or really the 1950’s), when the public was so in awe of science that no one would ever dream of attacking an entire profession. But times change. Climate science has been under attack for a decade, and the attackers get to have a field day because there is no effective leadership. It’s that simple.
The problems of the attacks on climate science are reflective of the overall problems of the climate movement in general.
NO fer shure
A MOVEMENT ADRIFT
Skocpol does a great job of highlighting the major milestones that have led to this disarray. Clearly Cap and Trade was the final downfall. In 2007 over 70% of Americans felt we were to blame for climate change, today the number has dropped to below 50%.
Of course, obligatory companion reading to Skocpol’s report is Joe Romm’s critique (he’s always good reading on things like this), where he focuses more on climate skeptics (60%) and irresponsible media (30%) for the blame in his opinion.
There’s so many possible pathways of blame: POLICY – the right sort of policy (the sort that is an easy sell) wasn’t crafted, COMMUNICATION – the campaign was poorly communicated/sold, OPPOSITION – the dirty dawgs of the climate skeptic movement did it, TOP DOWN – the President needed to be the top climate voice but wasn’t up for it.
On and on. I personally like best the basic implications of Daniel Kahneman’s NAS talk last spring which I keep pointing back towards — where he said basically that until the movement creates a voice that is TRUSTED and LIKED, it ain’t gonna be selling squat.
I really hope Naomi Klein is aware of this with her upcoming “Do The Math” campaign that she talked with Bill Moyers about in November. If her campaign this spring comes from the same old UNTRUSTED and UNLIKED voice of elite academics it will be dead on arrival. Sorry, dude.
January 24th, 2013
How long will this continue? The evolution folks figured this dynamic out a long time ago. What’s wrong with the climate crowd? Doesn’t everyone realize it’s a no win situation? Why do it? NONE of Morano’s opponents have ever been any good. Is the opportunity to be on TV just too hard to resist? And hasn’t anyone in the climate community heard of “The Gish Gallop“?
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, TRY TO DISCREDIT ‘EM?
IF YOU THINK THE GUY IS DISHONEST, THEN WHY DEBATE HIM?
In 2010, when I first started the Benshi, I did a lengthy interview with longtime climate skeptic Marc Morano. He was in my movie “Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy,” in 2008 and we’ve remained friends, trading emails occasionally. I periodically enjoy his jabs at the environmental community, and he has a better grasp of the broader aspects of showmanship than most enviros. He also joined our post-screening panel discussion at Syracuse University a couple years ago.
As part of my interview with Marc I had a couple of professors of rhetoric, view all the clips present at the time of him “debating” climate folks — which was 4 then, but is probably about a dozen now. Both of them had the same observations. That it’s largely hopeless.
First off, rule number one for debating, which they both cited, is “attack the argument, not the man.” If you think your opponent is a dishonest liar then why debate him? Seriously. Why? Proper debate is meant to be a rational process of laying out arguments. Lying is irrational. If you show up for a fencing match and your opponent has a Bushmaster semi-automatic weapon are you going to ask the judge to disqualify him, or are you going to just call the entire thing off.
It’s the same deal — these climate folks are trying to convince the moderator Morano shouldn’t be listened to. In this latest case, this guy plays the oil companies card, which you can see Marc disagreeing with and I know that at least in the past that has not even been the case — he is not very well funded — it really is kind of a lie propagated by a lot of climate folks who do not know the facts but it makes for a good story. I know Marc. I have plenty of complaints about him and have criticized him firmly in my film and blog posts. But I also know he has not gotten wealthy from what he does, was not supported by the oil companies (at least last time I checked with him), and I really hate people who just run with that sort of dishonesty in trying to discredit opponents.
EVOLUTIONISTS FIGURED OUT “THE GISH GALLOP” LONG AGO
If you want the best possible advice on how to deal with this problem of being “challenged to a debate,” you should probably consult Genie Scott, Director of the National Center for Science Education (which despite its name is not a government organization — it’s the sort of independent, highly motivated and highly focused organization the climate world needs).
She coined the term, “The Gish Gallop,” which is presented in great detail here. It’s what Morano skillfully does. And Genie has recommended not “debating” these types of folks.
So why do the climate folks continue to do so? And now Morano’s upped his game to Piers Morgan on CNN twice (he “debated” Bill Nye a few weeks ago who was just as bad as the others), who may not be your favorite host, but has a very high profile these days. Way to go, climate folks — way to help your opponent work his way up the ranks.
He’s already had an 8 page spread in Esquire magazine. How long until he’s on “60 Minutes”? And when that happens and everyone wonders how, a key part of the answer will be all these white knights who tried to ride into battle with him on TV talk shows. They have paved the way upwards.
P.S. MY BROWN UNIVERSITY TALK FEB. 13
Next month I’m doing a week-long visit to Brown University. On Wednesday February 13 I’ll be giving a talk titled, “CLIMATE SKEPTICS: There here, they’re “queer,” get used to them” — with the “queer” part meaning out of the ordinary. The title is prompted by a run-in with a climate scientist last month who was STILL spouting the old 2006 line of, “we need to ignore them and they will go away.” That didn’t work. They ALREADY succeeded. Catch up with the times. There is no climate legislation today. The “ignore them” strategy failed. Move on.
January 23rd, 2013
Barnacle boners have been close to my heart for over two decades. Now we all have to rethink our perception of how they are used by their owners.
HUNG LIKE A BARNACLE. This was where it all started for me in 1992. The vocal performance of Kansas City blues singer Baby Lee has stood the test of time.
THE COLD HARD TRUTH ABOUT BARNACLE MATING
Turns out size doesn’t really matter after all for some barnacle species. A little over 20 years ago I made this music video featuring Geoff Trager’s biomechanics work on barnacle feeding. The film had “legs” so to speak, being used over the ages in countless invertebrate zoology courses, as well as winning a bunch of awards at film festivals.
But now the shocking news — a paper this week in Science says there’s more to barnacle mating than just uncoiling your equipment and searching the neighborhood for a mate. Turns out some species are capable of “spermcasting”– ejaculating freely. I’m not going to comment further as it’s all downhill from here with the barnacle sex jokes.
January 17th, 2013
MASTER OF THE STARFISH. For over 50 years Bob Paine has studied the intertidal ecosystems of Tatoosh Island off the coast of the Olympic Penninsula in Washington. There is no one in the world like him.
ALL IN THE FAMILY. Second branch up on the left is my Ph.D. advisor Ken Sebens. I was his first graduate student. Not sure I’m worthy of such amazing company. What a crowd.
THE DUDE MADE MARINE ECOLOGY FUN
Bob Paine is the best. I was lucky enough to be his field assistant for a summer, working on Tatoosh Island, when I was an undergraduate at University of Washington. Nature just published an article with his academic genealogy tree. He is turning 80 this spring. A truly amazing person.
As I said in the dedication of my book, he taught me not only ocean science, he made it fun. He really did. He’s a tremendous storyteller and thus part of the source of my obsession with the power and importance of story.
A truly great storyteller who is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Now THAT is a career for ALL scientists to aspire to.
January 14th, 2013
After running the U.B.C. Videomaking Workshop last September I was asked to write an essay for the Canadian magazine Options Politique. In it, I talk about the importance of storytelling to the Obama election (one small story in a TV commercial may have been the deciding factor) and how politicians live and breathe the importance of trust and likeability, while environmentalists and scientists still just don’t quite get it.
Wanna hear me parlons some science? Here’s an article I just wrote on the subject.
TRUST ME AND LIKE ME (PLEASE)
So I assume you know of the distinguished journal Options Politiques. Yes? You do? Cool, then can you tell me about it?
Sorry. That’s terrible. I just really had never heard of it when they asked me to write this essay last month, but they did a nice job of pulling what I wrote together with a cool layout.
No need for a bunch of background on this one. It’s about trust and likeability. And not much more. Wanna know how to win over the American public on climate change? Create a voice that they trust AND like. That hasn’t happened yet.
Here’s what I have to say on the subject in detail.
January 5th, 2013
Similar to Dominique Brossard (quoted in this article on the anti-science literacy side of science blog comments) I am not the least bit surprised by the finding that the comments sections in blogs damages science literacy. What do you expect from so much negativity? It’s why I created The Benshi as an “on-line journal” 3 years ago with no comments.
HEAVEN AND HELL IN THE SCIENCE WORLD. What do you expect when you create these on-line venues for unlimited negativity?
HEAVEN: MY ORIGINAL SCIENCE EXPERIENCES
In my life I have know two science worlds.
The first I knew for 32 years: 1974 to 2006. It was made up of the incredibly fascinating, fun, intriguing and adventurous science people who drew me into their profession at age 19, then caused me to head to Hollywood at age 38, inspired to tell the stories of their lives. Yes, I used to bitch about the headaches of science funding, but I met so many wonderful people and I’ve tried to pay my respects to some of the best through my media work, like Stephen Jay Gould (I honored him in “Flock of Dodos“), Bob Paine (I dedicated my book to him), Ruth Turner/Colleen Cavanaugh/Cindy Van Dover (I made a video about these three women who worked in the deep sea submersible R.V. Alvin), and Jeremy Jackson (I made videos about him for Shifting Baselines). I left the science world with this warm, glowing reverence and fondness for the people I met.
And then in 2006 that all changed.
HELL: THE BLOGOSPHERE
Suddenly this thing called blogging came along, suddenly all these “science blogs” appeared, and suddenly there were all these writhing, thrashing, moaning, miserable voices emerging from the world of science that I had never, ever heard during my career as a scientist. The voices arose somewhat from bloggers, but much, much worse from the people posting anonymous comments on the blog posts of the bloggers.
Bloggers were eventually stunned by the hatefulness and by 2007 there were discussions about whether to do anything (to his credit my favorite blogger Andy Revkin spent a lot of time wrestling with this dilemma and does at least limit foul language). But some supposedly brave souls felt it their duty to the first amendment to not “censor” the comments on the blogs and just let the animals run wild.
Now Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele have published a study showing what everyone could have guessed — that if you give people a factual article accompanied by a bunch of horrible comments they walk away with a different experience than just reading the article by itself. And that overall experience is not a good thing for science. Nice work, dummies. Way to lower science literacy.
In 2007 I really couldn’t believe the sheer tone of negativity in the science blogs. And I wondered, “Don’t the leaders of the science world realize what this does to your profession?”
The answer to that question, as I’ve learned, isn’t really yes or no, it’s more like “Question Not Relevant.” Meaning that there is no real leadership to the science world, so there is no one to take much interest or concern. I’ve learned, particularly through my involvement in recent years in some committees from major science organizations, that the whole profession is run by committees with very limited leadership. Basically no one is guiding the ship, it’s all set up with assumption the ship will guide itself.
WHY SHOULD SCIENCE BE ANY DIFFERENT?
This is the obvious first reply — “Well, every other field has its blogs and they don’t censor anything so why should science?” Because the profession values honesty and accuracy more than any other profession. With honesty and accuracy goes a certain sort of dignity. If the profession loses it’s dignity then a basic message is sent out that honesty and accuracy no longer really matter. And guess what — there’s an awful lot of science scandals these days. Yet another big surprise?
Anyhow, I just want to say thank you to Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele for publishing this study. It is important. Communication is important. The TONE of communication is important. It takes leadership to maintain dignity. Running blogs with comments sections filled with the wailing of hyenas shows no leadership whatsoever.
January 3rd, 2013
British enviro-pundit George Monbiot starts the new year with a note of reality — that most of the world doesn’t share your environmental concerns. Furthermore, 2012 was “the worst year for the environment in memory.” He points to the “great collective shrug” at the Rio +20 Summit last June and the limpness of the climate thing in Doha. So true. Which is why “The War on Boredom” needs to be made an urgent priority for 2013. The opposite of boredom is arousal. The question to ask is, “Who will arouse the masses in 2013?”
ENVIRO WISENHEIMER. I’m a fan of George Monbiot. His essays kick ass. He does this old fashioned thing called “speaking the truth.”
PROBLEM: NOBODY CARES
A little over a year ago I ran a communications workshop with 22 environmental activists in Los Angeles which I began by telling them that nobody cares about what they care about. You may love the sight of a mountain lion in the wild enough to dedicate your life to protecting it, but statistically speaking, almost nobody else cares enough to help.
That evening we went for beers and several of them said I started the day by stunning them with that perspective. Their entire livelihood is based on the assumption that everyone cares about nature. They found it disorienting to hear that might not be true.
George Monbiot, who is the kind of dedicated activist that most people only dream of being, published a GREAT end of the year essay in The Guardian titled, “2012: the year we did our best to abandon the natural world.” I love it. I love people who are brave enough to just speak the truth, plain, flat and simple. I guess it’s the scientist in me that still values the truth.
TARGET: THE WAR ON BOREDOM
The problem, worse than ever, is this: the shit is boring. Plain and simple. That’s what produces a “collective shrug” — a complete and utter sense of boredom.
For 2013 I will be trying my best to combat the war on boredom by both “telling” and “showing.” On the “telling” front I’ll be continuing our S Team workshops with Dorie Barton and Brian Palermo. These days, they are my two communications heroes. I have more faith in them as warriors in “The War on Boredom” than anyone else. On the “showing” front I have one new movie coming out this year, and will be filming at least one, and possibly two more. They will be exercises in storytelling as a means of fighting the stench of boredom.
listen to meh
WHEN THEY’RE AROUSED THEY’RE LISTENING
Lastly, here’s my catch phrase for 2013. It’s a combination of Brian’s wonderful line about improv comedy — he says, “When they’re laughing, they’re listening” — and the basic tenet of my book of, “arouse and fulfill.” If you combine the two, (knowing that people the world over like to be aroused) what you get is that, “when they’re aroused, they’re listening.” So here’s the real question …
Who will arouse the masses in 2013?