March 22nd, 2010
MORANO WRAP UP
I had said from the outset of The Benshi that I’m not much of a fan of massive, free form rambling comment sections on blogs. They do occasionally produce some interesting thoughts, but who wants to read through all the off-topic dreck and frequent belligerence. Last week an environmental communicator told me in an email that she and her colleagues know that Real Climate is an important blog, but they aren’t interested in or versed in all the technical detail so they don’t read it. In contrast, she said they appreciate the broader tone of The Benshi. So it’s in the interest of that broader, less technical approach, that I present this summary of emails received rather than a comment section. I hope I’ve done a good job of including everyone who sent in comments that were “on topic.”
Two weeks ago I analyzed the Morano interview and praised him as a “master communicator.” This brought on the wrath of a number of “literal minded” folks from the climate science community accusing me of being “used” by him. All I can say is, “Been there, heard it all before.” When I made “Flock of Dodos” I got the exact same criticism. With that project a number of evolutionists warned me I’d be “playing into the hand of the intelligent designers.” Really? Would that be the same intelligent designers who eventually built their own website to attack the movie?
And of course last Monday when I mentioned that I think Morano has a problem with not being bounded by the truth, we received equal anger from his supporters. But I have to say, the final mark of what an effective communicator he is came from him — instead of sending me any sort of two page blistering rant, all he sent was a couple of sentences that began with a single word — “Ouch.” It had a much greater impact than a string of profanities.
Anyhow, it’s time to hear from the folks who wrote in. Let me start with what I thought was the most perceptive analysis of the Morano interview, which came from Jean Goodwin, a professor of communications at Iowa State University.
1) COMMUNICATIONS PROFESSOR: MORANO IS INDEED A SKILLED COMMUNICATOR
From Jean Goodwin:
OK, here’s my thoughts on Morano & Mann. I teach argument, critical thinking & debate skills. So I tell my students about the Ad Hominem Fallacy–don’t make personal attacks against the people you’re arguing with. Personal attacks don’t score any logic points, and not only that, people won’t like you!
But there’s another fallacy that we need to recognize and name. It consists of jumping too quickly to the conclusion that you are BEING attacked, and then acting in self-defense–ordinarily, by shooting yourself in the foot.
I see this with my students a lot. I survey my classes, asking them not for their opinion about whether religion in politics is ok, or whether intelligent design should be taught, or whether global warming exists, but just whether they think that their view is in the minority, and being trampled upon by the majority. At times up to 80% of them report being in the beleaguered minority! They have to laugh when they find that out, and it loosens them up a bit. They stop projecting “Goliath” on those they’re debating.
Michael Mann was not loose. You pushed him on how a scientist–a tenured representative of one of the most respected cultural institutions in our country, recipient of mega-federal-bucks (poor humanities prof talking here), with an enormous publication network to back him up–how a scientist could feel like a David facing Goliath.
Morano, by contrast, doesn’t get all tense and defensive when he encounters opposition. Unlike the scientists he’s debating (thanks for collecting all the videos in one place, btw!) he’s not surprised THAT SOMEONE WITH A BRAIN ACTUALLY MIGHT DISAGREE WITH HIM. When you start out by trying to tar him with a couple of different brushes, his first instinct is to laugh, and his second, to toss you your brush back. And he liked it when Monbiot came back at him.
When Morano’s talking with his buddies at the award ceremony, he makes fun of AGW folk. When he’s talking with you, he claims that they have political motives (“political correctness”)–they’re politically wrong, but they’re not wrong for being political. When he’s talking with them, he focuses on their points, systematically undermining every slight spin, exaggeration, misstatement and deletion they make; few personal attacks, and no sense of being-attacked. He even occasionally lets them finish a sentence.
Conclusion: Scientists need to stop being surprised that people disagree about politics, and stop taking disagreement as a personal attack, or an attack on “Science”. Wikipedia has a useful principal: Assume Good Faith. Pretend as hard as you can that the person you’re debating actually means what he says. You may come across like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, but at least you’ll avoid sounding like a whiner, a weakling, or an arrogant prick.
Good luck in your attempt to knock some sense into these scientists!–Jean
Iowa State University
2) CLIMATE SKEPTICS
We received about a twenty emails from people who don’t accept global warming as a valid issue and were all generally supportive of Morano. I want to do my best here to be respectful of the time people took to write in. What I was looking for was commentary on the interviews — meaning for skeptics probably either praise for Morano or criticisms of Mann, as Professor Goodwin provided above. Unfortunately, not many of them did this as most were more focused on presenting their arguments against the climate science perspective. Also, several of them were too filled with profanity for me to convey, but others are worth hearing about.
A fellow named Alastair Mackay went into great detail on the subject of the “Tiljander proxies,” but his comments had nothing to do with either the Mann or Morano interviews (though he was taking issue with Mann), and more importantly, this is a topic that he has brought up and had it addressed (and dismissed) on other blogs: http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2009/10/tiljander.php. I’m not going to say whether it’s valid or not, only that it’s irrelevant here where we’re talking about communication.
Denis Ables also sent in a lengthy lecture on how, “The anthropogenc global warming theory has been disproven.” He says, “it gets annoying hearing the Luddites claiming that the “science is settled.”” I’m not quite sure how the scientists are labeled as Luddites (usually referring to people who hate technology). His comments had nothing to do with either interview, but I did find it amusing that he refers to the Climategate event by talking about “the liberated emails.”
Mike Snow got the impression I was trying to discredit Morano by asking if he was worried about the Obama birth certificate issue. When I explained that the purpose of that question was to show that Marc is, in fact, not a part of any nutball movements, he realized that he had missed the point and apologized. But a week later when I ended the Morano episode by calling him “a great communicator who has problems with the truth,” Mike was one of the people who accused me of having done a “hatchet job” on Morano.
Another person who felt the need to give us a detailed lecture on his opinion that, “The Sun Drives Climate, GHG’s Do Not,” was Peter Salonius of Canada. Again, we had requested comments for the two interviews, not the subject in general. However, that said, I continue to be amazed at the fractionation among the climate skeptics. I pointed this out in “Sizzle.” Some think the warming isn’t happening, some think it’s natural, and some, like this fellow, think all climate is driven by the sun. It’s important to note that they do not have a very unified agenda aside from just attacking climate science.
3) ANTI-MORANO COMMENTARY
With the exception of one prominent climate blogger, all of the assessments of the Morano interview were very positive — even from the climate science crowd — with many thanking us for doing a service to the community by providing the in-depth analysis. Jim Easter said, “I’m not writing just to praise your interview, but to say what I’d like to see more of.” He pointed to my analysis of the Morano interview (Essay #19) and noted that the opening “honors journalism’s tradition of your lede up top.” What he was referring to was that I began by saying Morano’s overall attitude towards the climate science community is, “Thank you for making my job so easy by trying to ignore us.”
Steve Smyth wanted us to know about his “media planting” techniques (http://smythspace.blogspot.com/2007/01/media-planting.html) and the upcoming importance of near space to earth’s environment, but it was all completely off-topic.
Paulina Essunger sent a list of questions for Marc Morano to answer. I forwarded them to him, but he said he couldn’t commit to just simple yes/no for most of them, and I felt like I’d tapped him enough over the past few weeks so I didn’t push him on it — nevertheless here’s the questions she wanted him to commit on:
If he believes basic AGW science to be a conspiracy?
If he believes that the average global surface temperature is a meaningful variable?
If he thinks the long-term trend in this variable is an increase, say over the past 50-60 years?
If he thinks CO2 is a greenhouse gas?
If he thinks there is a human contribution to warming, whether gross or net, whether detectable or not, but just based on basic physics?
If he thinks the CRU emails undermine the “overall argument for a growing human contribution to global warming”? (If so, how, specifically?)
If he thinks “global warming” is a hoax? Human-made global warming is a hoax? If so, perpetrated by whom?
Bob Ward wrote from London, questioning the motives of Morano and his Climate Depot blog. He also took issue with his statements about funding sources, saying, “He stated in his interview that ExxonMobil stopped funding the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow in 2006 – that is not true as the the company gave a further $40,000 in 2007, to add to the $70,000 it gave in 2006 and $90,000 in 2005. These contributions were for ‘Public information and policy research’ the purpose of which is described on the company’s website: “ExxonMobil provides support to organizations that research significant domestic and foreign policy issues and promote informed discussions on issues of direct relevance to the business community and ExxonMobil’s operations”.
Ger Truk enjoyed the interview and said, “The piece on Marc Morano was brilliant, well reflected and as critical as a good journalistic piece should be. It told a lot about you and Morano and became a balanced narrative on a very current topic. I liked the form, the content and the style. And above all, I liked the way Morano fenced your questions 😉
And lastly, Anna Haynes pointed out a very interesting communications technique. She noted how Morano heaps his praise on celebrity enviro activist Ed Begley, Jr. for his total commitment to the cause. But she feels that what this does is raise the bar very, very high so that virtually everyone else can be attacked and discredited for lack of commitment, ultimately chasing them away from the cause. Driving home this point, she says she has, “A friend who’s very sharp, very effective, and well enough off that she could devote the rest of her life to climate action if she chose; but she’s told me she doesn’t feel right about it until she’s greened up her personal life. Result: she’s a soldier we don’t have.”
3) WHERE’S THE SCIENCE?
Several people asked me how a discussion built around the topic of global warming could fail to include any science. My feeling is that Marc Morano is not a scientist, so I follow pretty much what Ed Begley, Jr. was saying in his Fox News interview — that I’m not qualified to debate the science, nor is Marc — the “debate” of the science is something that needs to remain within the research science community. The “application” of the science to society is where the non-scientists come in.
Richard Jahnke specifically asked this question of where’s the science, then proceeded to present “a few observations” that support the case for anthropogenic global warming which he wished I had confronted Morano with. He finished by saying, ” One should also note that while a few of the many thousands of climate scientists and Al Gore have made exceptional claims, the majority of the fear mongering comes from the skeptic side who first exaggerate legitimate climate science claims and then counter them. It is a common debate technique.”
Similarly, Steve Dunlap wanted to know where Morano’s “evidence” is for many of his claims. He said, “If there exists some clear scientific evidence, a peer-reviewed article, that points out the flaws in the science behind AGW why does he not mention it/them at every opportunity? ”
Tim Lambert did a blogpost about the Morano interview in which he presented a graph that shows that the more people know about climate science, the more convinced they are that humans are causing global warming. It produced over 60 comments. http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/03/what_do_the_moranogate_emails.php
I want to address one comment in the middle of that thread where a person criticized my interview with Morano for the lack of “follow up.” There are two ways to interview someone whose views you don’t agree with. The first is to point out everything they say that you don’t agree with. The second is to simply let them say their piece, make it clear to the audience that you don’t agree with the substance of what they have to say in general, then examine what they’ve said and how they’ve said it in an effort to learn more about their style of communication and what motivates them. The latter is the process I have followed for both of my movies as well as the Morano interview. Everyone knows at this point I don’t endorse his views. There’s no point in picking it all apart. It would just get tedious. This is about communication. If you want a presentation of climate science, you should go to the climate science blogs like Real Climate. And more importantly, you notice I never asked him to present his “scientific” arguments about global warming. He’s not a scientist. There’s no point in arguing the science with him.
4) FRUSTRATIONS AND CHUCKLES
A final note of frustration came in from Lou Grinzo who pleaded, “I am sick to death of, as you pointed out, the “lack of leadership” on our side of this absurd non-debate. Where do we go from here? Is it simply a matter of biding our time until a “climate 9/11″ happens, like a cat 5+ hurricane ripping through Houston or a piece of the West Antarctic Ice Shelf the size of PA breaking off? Give me some hope.”
Well, we’re working on the hope part. In the meanwhile, here’s some climate cartoons to finish with, sent in by Marc Roberts: http://throbgoblins.blogspot.com/2010/02/vox-pop.html
ONCE AGAIN, THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH FOR YOUR INTEREST IN THE INTERVIEWS AND FOR SUBMITTING YOUR EMAILS