2011-07-01 12:11:19SkS Mission Statement
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229

On another thread, we're discussing the major goal of SkS which is the foundation on which any action plans need to be built on. So here is my first crack at a mission statement. Obligatory disclaimers and qualifications - this is just rough idea, I'm still thinking through this myself. But saying it out loud (or typing out loud) does help crystallise things:

SkS Mission Statement (draft 1)

Skeptical Science provides the full picture, putting climate disinformation into proper context. There are three aspects - incrementally developing a high quality, encyclopedic reference on climate disinformation, packaging the information so that its easily navigable & accessible and proactively & creatively disseminating the information to the public. SkS interacts directly with the general public but also provides resources for climate communicators to use in their own outreach.

Another element to possibly include is a rapid response system where we have a web based system that monitors current skeptic activity and SkSers record any responses to a new skeptic article. Eg - send letter to editor, post comment, email journalist/editor, submit opinion piece, etc. This could be part of the proactive dissemination. The idea is to build up a grassroots army of volunteers who step quick and hard on new disinformation. We could also integrate our quotes database into this system - when a politician does a dodgy interview (eg - Pawlenty this week), we add his dodgy quotes then disseminate all his myths and our one-liner rebuttals to local press in his region. If SkSers are enthusiastic about this idea, we can integrate it into the master plan. Or should we be concentrating on the more passive building up of the encyclopedic content.

Also might need to include that SkS is volunteer with no funding and limited time/resources. So possible thought on recruitment/building grassroots movement using social media?

2011-07-01 14:27:20
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
192.100.112.211

I think that this statement misses an important aspect: providing information on climate science. Your statement makes it look like it's all about fighting the disinformation, while quite many of the publications here are actually just providing information on climate science in general.

2011-07-01 14:44:56Ari beat me to it
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey
yooper49855@hotmail...
97.83.150.37

SkS should be viewed as a point of first reference to get the straight info on climate science, both established and emerging.

The best defence is a good offense.  By countering the disinformation before it gains traction, science wins.

2011-07-01 15:14:12But is SkS's primary purpose to post blog posts educating about science?
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229

When people come to SkS, they come looking for answers. They read some skeptic argument they haven't encountered before, they come to SkS for the answer. So is our primary goal to make sure these answers are easy to find?

I do worry that if SkS is all just rebuttals and knocking down deniers, it's very negative. So I've been keen to have positive educational posts also. And positive education is part of "provides the full picture". I realised after a while that all climate myths mislead by not giving the full picture so the path to debunking is usually pretty straighforward - just put the myth in its broader context.

Note the 2nd aspect - making the resource navigable and accessible. The emphasis in the mission statement is on misinformation as the myths form the skeleton of the encyclopedic reference. There needs to be a structure to our educational resources - having an endless sea of blog posts is not sufficient. So far, the reference is all structured around the taxonomy of skeptic arguments. If we're to include educational info, how do we integrate that into the navigable resource? Does the SkS index of blog posts do that?

2011-07-01 15:34:34
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
192.100.112.202

I wasn't suggesting that the science education posts are the primary purpose of SkS, but just that this aspect is missing from your statement. In my opinion your statement only presents the negative side of the issue and it wouldn't hurt to add this other aspect.

2011-07-01 17:32:24Another crack
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229

SkS Mission Statement (draft 2)

Skeptical Science provides educational resources on climate science. There are three goals:

  1. Incrementally developing a high quality, encyclopedic reference
  2. Packaging the information to be user friendly & accessible
  3. Proactively & creatively disseminating the information to the public

A major feature is rebutting climate disinformation by placing myths in the larger context. SkS interacts directly with the general public but also provides resources for climate communicators to use in their own outreach. SkS is volunteer based and uses social media to empower and collaborate.

2011-07-01 19:07:54
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.30.99

I prefer the emphasis on countering the disinformation: Being proactive about climate science generally is what universities do. Our mission is ultimately aimed at convincing people that AGW is real and that humanity has to get it together and do something about it.

This isn't to say that presentation of the science is out of line; but there is lot of potential esoterica that is of no immediate impact on AGW; and plenty of work that could be done to make more convincing and comprehensible material that is immediately relevant. 

I am otherwise worried that we will end up writing articles for each other instead of articles to promote an understanding of AGW. I already see people complaining about having to deal with controversies at other websites. Folks, dealing with controversies is our stock in trade: This is how we're exposing the ideas to theh world. No controversies => no impact.

2011-07-01 20:27:43
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.30.99

Also, some of the scientific "back story" is needed to provide a foundation for the discussion of why we think AGW is happening. But some of the "breaking research" is not comprehensible to our target audience, and also not really to the point.

2011-07-02 05:20:25
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
91.154.101.47

"Our mission is ultimately aimed at convincing people that AGW is real and that humanity has to get it together and do something about it."

My mission is to show climate science as objectively as possible. I'm not interested in trying to convince people of anything. If climate is changing and we need to do something about it, science will show that. I'm here only to show what science tells us and letting people to decide themselves. In my opinion that's the only way to go.

 

2011-07-02 08:54:34One liner mission statement
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229
If I had to summate SkS in one line, it might be "communicating the full picture of climate change", the subtext being deniers only give half truths so we put the misinformation into context.
2011-07-02 22:16:58
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.98.246

Ari,

We should never misrepresent the science, but the science will NEVER show that "we need to do something about it."

The phrase in quotes is a human judgement, only. Example: Science can tell me that if I push the "red button" in President Obama's office, I will destroy human civilization. Science can never tell me whether that is a good thing or not.

I think that if you were to think that the warming of the earth were a good thing, or a matter of no significance, you would not be spending much time at SkS. So I think that you are not being completely clear on your reason for participating.

2011-07-02 22:42:14
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
91.154.101.246

Neal, actually I don't know if we need to do something about it. There are some good arguments both for and against doing something about it. It's all a matter of perspective. I usually stay away from these questions, because my interest lies in climate science, not in climate policy. My reason for participating here is to help to bring out the climate science for everyone to inspect.

2011-07-03 01:11:01My two cents...
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

A well-written Mission Statement defines the core purpose of the entitiy in as few words as possible 

In this context, John's first-cut draft is a) too wordy; and, b) too process orientated. Most of what he has written should be in a follow-up "Here's how we accomplish our mission" section.

John's second draft is too process orientated. At the end of the day, where to we want users of SkS to end up? That is what needs to be articulated.

Here's a good example of a single-sentence mission statement:

To foster a consistent and informed participation of citizens in environmental issues by understanding the multiple dimension's of today's world and its likely future. Globaia

[Note: I suspect that the above mission statment was originally written in French and translated to English. It needs some tweaking in my opinion.]

 

2011-07-03 01:19:38The SkS Mission Statment may have already been written...
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

The headline banner on the SkS home page reads:

Explaining climate change science & rebutting global warming misinformation

This statment could serve as the SkS mission statment as is, or could be tweaked into the mission statement.

Moral of the story: Never buy anything new before rummaging around in the attic.

2011-07-04 20:49:19Taking our perspective back a step
Glenn Tamblyn

glenn@thefoodgallery.com...
60.230.178.229

I'd like to throw in a different perspective on mission statements.

What are we trying to achieve. Simple. Peventing scary, disastrous, catastrophic, civilisation ending (insert scary words here) changes to the climate that will f%@k everything for our children, bring down human civilisation, perhaps drive us back to the caves, and trigger the 6th great extinction event.

Or something sort of like that

So how do we achieve 'our mission'?

Answer. We Don't!. We Can't!

So, do we all go fishing? That does have some appeal. Just don't tell our children.

So, if we can't achieve our mission, what can we all do to 'contribute' to achieving that mission given that there are a lot of other people out there trying as well.

How can we spend our time, passion, energy, words, braincells in a way that contributes the MAXIMUM POSSIBLE to achieving the mission.

When JC started this site, one guy, with all the limitations that entails, creating a site on the Net to rebut skeptic arguments was an effective leveraging of the efforts of one person.

Now however, with all but the most absurd arguments rebutted, with a collective of authors (oops, ... sorry, that sounds all terribly Socialist. ... Community of Authors) producing content across a range of subjects, now what is the area we can engage in that will have the maximum impact on achieving the 'mission'?

Should we be expanding to encompass roles that go beyond rebuttal? Should we see this forum as a source of arguments, critique, and out-and-out proselatysing. Should we be a source of resources for the broader mission. This is a war. Are we soldiers? Or are we workers in the munitions factory?

While JC began SkS with one mission appropriate to the circumstances, is it time to recognise that the circumstances are now different. Our capacity is different.

And like any organisation that sees the need for change, we don't say we are no longer doing the old, we just get on with doing the new.

What is the new? Outreach. JC has focussed on people who come to SkS to have specific questions answered. They may have heard a skeptic argument and here was where they could get it answered.

However, look at this exchange with caracoid, first conducted by badgersouth, with a last comment from me. Look at caracoid's final response. What does this tell you about the dearth of information out there, that so many people fill in with trash because they don't understand otherwise.

Is waiting for people to come to SkS enough. How many people could be won over to the AGW cause (sorry about the religious overtones there) with adequate information.

But that information has to reach out to them. Most people won't come looking for it.

2011-07-04 22:13:16Weapons development
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.55.66

Glenn,

- I don't think it's appropriate to say that we can't meet our goal. We can't do it alone, but we can be part of the solution: Educating people about the scientific status of global warming & climate change.

- Historically, SkS developed as a "weapons development" lab: to prepare solidly referenced arguments that could be easily understood to rebut flawed skeptic arguments. I still think there is plenty of work to be done here, but the need is now for revision and streamlining. I think that at least half of the rebuttals are written at too high a grade-level, and they could be streamlined without "dumbing down" the essential content. However, it's going to take a different process to revise an article than it was to develop it: The original authors understandably have a considerable investment in the articles as they are, so this revision process has to be handled delicately.

- Outreach is good, but it is something that a website cannot do: Only people can do that. I think that the individuals who go out and do battle on the internet are making a real contribution, but I don't see how SkS can do that as a website. SkS can provide articles that make positive contributions to promote the science, since these too are weapons.

- I do not believe that SkS should fall into the role of teaching about climate science just to teach climate science: There are climate-science journals and courses to do that. I believe SkS should teach enough about climate science that the reader has the basis for understanding the arguments we are presenting on why GW&CC is happening. Ari has stated that his main goal is to clarify climate science without consideration to the impact on humanity. Ari is entitled to his own motivation for doing things, and has always provided useful contributions; however, if the SkS enterprise becomes dedicated to "non-judgmental presentation of the science" alone, I will not spend any more time with it. If I want to study science, I have loads of topics that are actually of much greater interest to me personally (the history of quantum mechanics, general relativity, and quantum field theory) than the physics of radiative transfer and the greenhouse effect, etc. that we have to deal with here. The only reason I am taking time with these topics is because I've learned enough to come to the conclusion that the GHE is real, and I've made a judgment that humanity is in serious trouble if we don't respond to the situation within 50 years (and very possibly sooner); so I'm willing to help out with what I see as a necessary role of education. But if I ever become convinced that GW&CC is a good thing, I will take a permanent vacation from SkS.

2011-07-05 00:50:53Glenn & Neal
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

It's one thing to wax eloquently about the purpose of SkS, it is quite another to distill your respective perspectives into a Maission Statment. You both should take a crack at doing so. Right now, we're getting nowhere fast.

2011-07-05 01:49:03
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.55.66

"To promote a clear understanding of the need to take action to mitigate climate change through presenting the science and consequences of CO2 emissions."

The focus on CO2 might be considered narrow from a strictly scientific perspective, but from a practical (industrial & political) perspective, this is the bulk of the problem.

Solutions: I regard the discussion on solutions to be primarily of interest in "breaking the fear" around thinking about the issues of GW/CC. There are other sites that are promoting specific solutions. I don't have any special interest in promoting a particular technology: I would be happy if the readers decide that they own this problem, instead of using their fear that there is no solution to avoid the issue of GW/CC.

2011-07-05 02:58:16
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.185.20

I would second Badgersouth's proposal to use the simple and clear:

Explaining climate change science & rebutting global warming misinformation

I agree with Neal that the main reason for discussing solutions is to show that there is a way out of this mess. A big part of the denial of the diagnosis is rooted in fear that the treatment will be ineffective and have more painful side effects than the disease itself. 

Through patiently explaining the science in terms everyone can understand, SkS provides a necessary service in eroding ureasonable resistance to the need to change. How we change is a much tougher question and, when we discuss solutions, I think we need to be very careful to avoid being sucked into the crazy polarized politics of the US, in particular.

2011-07-05 08:31:37
Glenn Tamblyn

glenn@thefoodgallery.com...
124.180.60.176

"To promote an understanding of the science and importance of Climate Change, its consequences and our need to act on it through creating and disseminating simple and accurate educative material to the widest possible audience"

2011-07-05 23:25:14
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.50.14

Glenn,

I dislike the word "educative" or "educational" in this statement: It gives the impression that we regard the readers as students, rather than less well-informed peers.

2011-07-05 23:39:30An attempt at a more detailed mission statement
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229
Thanks to all for the interesting discussion - reading this thread has clarified my own thoughts on the subject. Let me have another crack at this. Please don't consider this the final word - I'm just throwing out one perspective and feel free to say I'm full of crap, on the wrong track, etc. These are issues I've been thinking about for a while and ideas I've tried to implement but have been able to bring to fruition due to being just one person (and let's face it, someone who is easily distracted by cool ideas and shiny objects).

The "explain climate science & rebut misinformation" is a nice slogan but it's so general, it can mean everything and hence means nothing. We need something more specific that gives us a framework for when we sift through our list of ideas to know what integrates with the overall strategy. When I started SkS, the goal was to provide answers to climate misinformation. As one person trying to make a difference, I aimed just to incrementally build a systematic, accessible database. Now people regularly come to SkS looking for answers to climate misinformation, judging by all the emails I get each day.

Now with this wonderful community, we have the ability to go beyond just one guy building a database of rebuttals. But what do we do? Add educational material? Animations? Maps? I suggest we stick to the original vision, with the following mission statement:

Answer climate misinformation
That doesn't exclude education. The antidote to a misleading half-truth is the whole truth so most of the time, rebutting misinformation involves communicating the full picture. So education is an important part of rebuttal and as I'll explain in due course, communicating positive facts in a strong, compelling manner is absolutely crucial when debunking myths.

I suggest we take advantage of this talented and passionate SkS community and crank "answering misinformation" into overdrive. Not just passively and incrementally add rebuttals then wait for people to come read them. Instead, we extend into the community in an interactive and proactive manner. Neal, I have to disagree that a website can't do outreach. A website doesn't have to be a passive library of information. Instead, it can be an active community, a central hub that connects people and organizes activity. This SkS forum, as gloriously chaotic as it is, is proof of that. So this is how I specifically see SkS actively answering climate misinformation:

1. Quickly identify questions that need answering. This means having a network of volunteers monitoring denier websites, sending info into our database (via the Firefox Addon) so we can quickly and comprehensively monitor new climate myths and identify if any memes are trending and need answering.

2. Write answers to misinformation. This involves writing rebuttals, blog posts, multiple levels of rebuttals, creating graphics to clearly communicate the answers, etc.

3. Disseminate the answers. Publishing blog posts and rebuttals in the database is just the first, passive step. We also need to coordinate responses on skeptic blogs, to mainstream media websites, to editors, to journalists, etc.

What I'm suggesting is a fundamental shift in how we think about SkS. What we've been talking about with all this mission statement discussion is what content we should produce. Perhaps we need to be more radical and original in our thinking, go beyond mere content creation and create a movement. A web based, centralized hub that organizes people in collecting "intelligence" on skeptic activity, organizes responses and systematically disseminates the answers. It's still firmly rooted in the core mission, "answering climate misinformation" but in a much more interactive and proactive manner.

Discuss :-)

2011-07-06 06:55:44
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

John, I think you said it was Michael Tobis' idea to create a website to organize the various climate bloggers.  I think SkS could play a big role in that, given our large group of contributors.  I think it would also be useful to have a public discussion board where anyone could alert us of new misinformation that requires rebutting.  If it's statistics-related, we could ask Tamino to address it, and then maybe post the response on his site with re-posts on some other sites including SkS, for example.  And we could use the organizational website and discussion board to alert readers to the new response.

Maybe it's time we light a fire under this plan?

2011-07-06 07:59:43
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.92.101.27

Boy, wouldn't that be awesome Dana! Actually working together with other climate bloggers on a grand scale.

2011-07-06 08:38:15T.E.A.M.
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey
yooper49855@hotmail...
97.83.150.37

Together

Everyone

Achieves

More

 

The Whole is greater than the sum of its parts

2011-07-06 12:06:07Bringing in other climate bloggers
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229

If we can get other climate bloggers helping with phase 2 of the "Answering Misinformation" system, that would be great although my experience has been that coordinating bloggers is like coordinating academics - like herding cats. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen. If it can come together, that's a bonus but it's not an essential cog in the system as SkS already has a strong community capable of producing content.

But again, the focus is returning to how we produce content and what content do we produce. If that's where everyone is comfortable discussing and focusing on, I'll drop the idea of Stage 1 and 3, making the site more proactive in finding what answers to give and getting the answers out there (you can't build a community system without community support).

2011-07-06 12:21:35
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.50.14

JC,

You might find that different people prefer to do different things.

So create groups/teams/taskforces.

2011-07-06 19:43:55
Glenn Tamblyn

glenn@thefoodgallery.com...
121.219.35.80

Neal re: "Educative" Perhaps. I do feel that education needs to be an integral part of our mission but expressing it within the MS may be counterproductive. And yes, unfortunately we are often writing for our 'students', just as many of us have been students of the climate scientists and science.

Your comment about different people perhaps preferring to focus on different things is very important. The daily cut-and-thrust of blogging interests me much less than broader educational posts.

JC. As a general comment about 'Answer climate misinformation', let me put this forward. "THERE ARE KNOWN KNOWNS. KMOWN UNKNOWNS AND UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS". Attributed perhaps apocryphally to a certain 'Rummy' (I have always preferred Single Malt myself).

For each separate individual in the world the boundaries between Known and Unknown Unknowns is different. This is where simply correcting misinformation is problematic as it may not be sufficient.

MOST people in the world are not even vaguely, remotely scientifically literate - example my elderly mother who thought eyesight worked by light coming OUT of our eyes. For this vast mass of our fellow human beings they go through life 'filling in the blanks' where scientific knowledge might live with so many other perceptions - Astrology, Lucky Numbers, etc etc etc. They have a body of understanding about the world that may not fit with physical reality but for them 'it works'. For them they have a  coherent view of the world. None of us can exist without that.

But their view is built on things they don't know they don't know.

So when someone suggests that a gas that is less than 0.04% of the atmosphere could cause catastrophe, their built in Bullshit Meter starts blaring.

If we are to convince the mass of people of the reality of AGW and its seriousness we need to reach out to the mass of people and provide a 're-education' campaign. Showing them their unknown unknowns (without triggering their defense mechanisms)

How many people will never visit SkS to have a misperception explained? How many other misperceptions do they have that we don't even know about? How many people have never heard of SkS? A mate of mine, a chemical engineer, quite convinced of the reality of AGW, whose personal view is 'we are all fucked', had never heard of SkS until I pointed him towards it.

The point of all this is that the key need that the world has right now is for a method to 'educate' the broad populace about the reality of AGW, replacing their unknown unknowns with something better. Particularly the 100's of millions who will never visit SkS, have never heard of it and aren't interested. So that they can't avoid knowing the facts. Some will then reject them, sure. But most people are simply ignorant, relying on someone said to someone for their views. It isn't in my face enough so therefore it can't be that important!

So what is needed is something that will be in their faces. They don't go looking for it. It comes to them. Something broadly educative and reaching out to a very large audience.

What the SkS forum can contribute to this is a resource of people who can write information about AGW that can be tailored to an audience. We know the science, but we can also understand, in a way the scientists (including the entire IPCC process) can't/don't get, about how to explain it to Joe & Jane Public.

This is the crying need. To convey the basics to the general public.

Perhaps a better example of an important area we could move into might be the Skeptics Guide.  That was still targetted at rebuttal but it was a document to be disseminated.

One area I think we should move into is producing more documents like this. Doing what the official channels haven't done. Educating the masses about AGW IN THEIR LANGUAGE.

 

And then disseminate these through every available channel - environment groups, media, downloads, email. Pump it out.

This doesn't have to conflict with the previous rebuttal role since much of the work of rebuttal has been done. Now that is about more maintenance and update.

Comments :-)

2011-07-06 20:19:03
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.48.6

GT: My concern about the words "educative" & "educational" is not with the intention, but how it would come across if we ever had to state it publicly: It gives the impression of being condescending: "We are so knowledgable up here, and you are so benighted down there."

Regarding teams: This has to do with JC's initial statement of activities as:

- Identifying hot issues

- Producing content to correct misinformation

- Publishing on the blob and reaching out to media (including other blogs)

Not everyone will want to do everything. And within each activity, there are areas in which people may choose to specialize. For example, under content production:

- Revision & updating of existing rebuttals

- Focused debunking of individual "skeptics"

- Narratives on specific themes of arguments: the history of wrong ideas

- New presentation tools (like the interactive article map)

- and so on.

(I don't include Ari's plan for study on the classic papers of GW/CC because that is not an output of SkS, but an internal educational activitiy.)

Maybe Badgersouth could map out those proposals (that he has been volunteered to keep track of (;-) ) to these 3 activity areas.

So I don't think we have to give up any of these 3 activities, but we need to have some idea of how much effort we will put into them.

2011-07-07 17:27:18
Paul D

chillcast@googlemail...
82.18.130.183

I'll add my view of SkS.

I see it as a home for information on science and maybe energy technology ideas that are more accessible to politicians, the general public, businesses and environmentalists. It shouldn't be assumed that environmentalists know anything about the science or energy, many have ideas that are just as wacky as skeptics.

I do have local contacts with environmentalists (I actually prefer dealing with more mundane 'green' organisations such as UK tree wardens, we have far fewer arguments!) and many have quite distorted ideas about science and engineering.

I have come across prominent environmentalists where I live that have asked me if ... the grid really does have 70% energy losses or what I thought about electricity generation ideas that magically produce energy from nothing. Hence there is a need for a source of information that brings them into the real world.

SkS for me is a home away from all those badly informed people that like to believe something because their prime concern is policy and ideology first.

Another point is that there are distinct cultural differences that come to light when we deviate from the science.

Also EDUCATION is a prime action in changing peoples views. People do change if they understand.

2011-07-07 19:56:09Teams and roles
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229
I definitely agree that there are different roles - I'm not saying everyone does everything. Rather, I was imagining having a broader "army of foot soldiers" sending in "intelligence" on skeptic activity. The SkS authors would concentrate on content creation. Then the foot soldiers would take our information back out there into the world, by posting comments, tweeting, sending letters to editors, emailing politicians, etc. The role of the SkS authors will be primarily arming the foot soldiers with the information they need to respond to misinformation. This role is not that much different to now, except you'll be part of a larger framework, and be given more structured direction on what needs responding to.

My vision is that we train each other to become a "crack team of kick arse climate communicators". That's what I've started to do on the Communicating Science forum - exploring the "Make It Stick" techniques is just a first step in exploring how we can improve our communication skills. Next, I want to explore psychology papers that teach us how to most effectively debunk misinformation.

For example, one key lesson from psychology research is that in debunking misinformation, you must emphasize facts, not the myth. Otherwise, you risk reinforcing the myth. Practically, how you do this is identify your core message, make that your headline, make that your first paragraph, make it your concluding paragraph. In graphics, emphasize the core message with the visual and with a headline (like jg's recent volcano pic) so you engage on an abstract and a visual, concrete level.

What this means for SkS is while we're about answering misinformation, we don't do that by saying "that misinformation is wrong". We do it by saying "here's the facts, let me explain by the facts, this misinformation is wrong because it distorts the facts, in conclusion, here's the facts again". So we can still address UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS - we can answer questions people aren't even answering - because we're first and foremost about the facts. Even if our goal is debunking, we do it by educating.

And Glenn, we get that information out there to the public via my Stage 3 Dissemination campaign.

So I'm not asking that everyone is actively involved in all 3 stages. What I'm asking at this stage is this - is my 3 stage concept based around the concept of 'answering misinformation' a good idea? Should we further develop that concept, get more specific about details, or go back to the drawing board with the mission statement?

2011-07-07 19:56:50
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
192.100.112.202

There are few things people need:

- Information on the real situation behind denier lies - explained rationally and in simple terms

- Information on climate science generally - explained rationally and in simple terms (note that simple here doesn't mean we have to stick with simplest issues, people can understand complex things if they are explained simply to them)

- Information on global warming effects (past, present, and future).

- Information what they can do about global warming (I've seen this question asked many, many times)

- To decide themselves. People tend to oppose things if they are told that they have to do this or that. Just give them the information and let them decide themselves.

I agree with Glenn and Paul in that education is important.

One thing I'm worried is that all this focus on denier claims, does it make it look like there's a viable debate about the science, which is one of the main purposes of the deniers?

2011-07-07 20:45:28
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.44.143

To repeat myself: I'm not against education, I'm against using the word in the mission statement: It conveys either:

- we're producing stuff primarily for schools; or

- we regard ourselves as superior to our audience.

Neither is a good message.

2011-07-08 00:31:59Kudos to everyone!
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

As the person who percipitated this whole ball-of-wax, I am duly impressed by the quality of the discussion that has ensued. You all are engaging in the virtual retereat exercise that I believed was in order. This is a veritable "gut check" activity that teams need to go through on a periodic basis.

I am particularly impressed by John Cook's willingness and ability to think outside the box.  

2011-07-08 00:41:06A suggestion for moving forward
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

In the interest of bringing closure to this discussion by finalizing the SlS Mission Statement, I bring the following to your attention. It is the vision/missison/values statement of ActionAid International. 

Vision: A world without poverty in which every person can exercise his or her right to a life of dignity.

Mission: ActionAid’s mission is to work with poor and marginalized people to eradicate poverty by overcoming the injustice and inequality that cause it.

Values: Action Aid lives by the following values:

  • Mutual respect and recognizing the dignity and worth of all people and the value of diversity is one of the core values of ActionAid.
  • Equity and justice, requiring us to work to ensure that everyone -- irrespective of sex, age, race, color, class, religion, creed, physical handicap, ethnic group, sexual orientation, physical ability, health, culture, trade union activity or social background -- has equal opportunity for expressing and utilizing their potential.
  • Honesty and transparency, requiring us to be accountable for the effectiveness of our actions and open in our judgments and communications with others.
  • Solidarity with poor and marginalized people, so that our only bias will be a commitment to the interests of the poor and powerless.
  • Courage of conviction, requiring us to be creative and radical, without fear of failure, in pursuit of the highest possible impact on the causes of poverty.
  • Humility, recognizing that we are a part of a bigger alliance against poverty, and requiring our presentation and behavior to be modest.

I recommend that John Cook follow this format in drafting the next iteration of the SkS materials. Thsi format is commonly used throughout the corpoarate world. If my memory serves me correct, it was first developed by 3M a few decades ago.

2011-07-08 05:46:32
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.161.194

Some random reactions to points above:

Neal, on education: I agree that we have to be careful not to sound too pretentious, after all, most of us are amateurs or students. People are put off by being talked down to and I think that on the whole SkS avoids that pitfall better than most.

Dana, on coordinating bloggers: Michael Tobis does have a Google Group. It's a closed (private) group and both John and I are members, as are a number of prominent bloggers. (I got in as a  fluke by sending a request to Michael when the group was briefly publically open to read but not to contribute to). You are not missing that much. While climate bloggers do frequently cooperate, there is also some competition and occasionaly some jealousy.(For example, SkS is not on Tobis's long blogroll and I don't know whether that is a simple oversight or not). There's the problem of herding cats here, especially some talented ones with big egos, unfortunately.

John, on becoming more proactive: Yes, absolutely. The problem is that the subset of people who are interested in climate change is deeply polarized into two camps, as we all know. SkS provides a service to the "alarmed" camp by providing information, links and arguments. SkS is also a major pain to the denialists because its arguments are so patient, reasonable and detailed. What's missing is how to engage the big sector of the population that doesn't currently give a shit and, like it or not, that's the group that needs to be motivated if we are ever to get real political action on this problem. I have no idea how to reach that group, I don't even have much success when I try outreach on a personal, one-to-one basis.

2011-07-08 07:28:34Next iteration - how's this? Feedback, amendments, additions welcome
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229

Vision: A public who are aware of the realities of global warming and compelled to take action

Mission: To identify misinformation or ignorance about climate change, replacing it with the facts of climate science

Values: Skeptical Science lives by the following values:

  • Integrity and accuracy - seeking to communicate the science as accurately as possible, with evidence based peer-reviewed literature as the foundation
  • Clarity and relevance - explaining the science in a way that is "sticky", meaningful and memorable to the average person
  • Collaborative - a vibrant, passionate community that is supportive of each other and trains each other to improve their communication skills
  • Creativity - recognising that climate communication is art as well as science, being willing to experiment with innovative ways to get the message out
  • Positivity - even while debunking misinformation, the emphasis should be on facts, evidence, positive messages and education
  • Proactive - we should think beyond passive content creation and explore ways to get our messages out to the general public
  • Awareness of psychology - understanding how people process information in order for us to create the most effective messages
  • Awareness of public questions - identifying what answers the public are looking for rather than just telling them what we want to talk about
  • Civility - the air of SkS should be that of patient, polite reasonableness. To undecided onlookers, how we say it is as important as what we say. The issue of climate change is too important for us to let passion get the better of us.
2011-07-08 10:52:24John Cook
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

Brilliant!

2011-07-08 11:18:04
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.92.74.26

JC, gosh that's excellent!

2011-07-08 11:20:17Updated
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229

Reflecting on the mission statement while mowing the lawn and made a few additions (after I finished mowing, not during - I'm not that wedded to my electronic devices that I tweet and text while mowing... okay, I still did listen to some podcasts though!)

Added some mention of peer-review and added that we should be seeking to answer what people want to know rather than pontificate about what we want to talk about. This is what "Stage 1: Identify questions that need answering" is all about.

2011-07-08 15:06:30
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
192.100.112.211

This is rather good version. Couple of comments:

"Vision: A public who are aware of the realities of global warming and compelled to take action"

I think the action part could be improved. If you are suggesting that you are giving people information in order to make them to take action, many people will take that as a negative sign because they don't like to be forced to do something. I would replace the 'compelled to take action' part with something about having enough information to make informed decisions on the subject (leaving the actual content of the decision to the reader).

"Mission: To identify misinformation or ignorance about climate change, replacing it with the facts of climate science"

This might be just my limited english understanding, but to me the word ignorance might lead people to read this wrongly between the lines. They might take it as "come here you ignorant bastards and we'll educate you". :) Perhaps replace the ignorance with something about identifying the issues where there's a need for information.

Some parts of your values list makes it look like it's just a communications game instead of an effort to give people genuine information. Such parts are especially the "creativity" and "awareness of psychology" but also other parts about communication (community just wants to improve each other's communication skills - nevermind the know-how on science ;) ) and the usage of term "message". Also the part about giving people the answers what we think they are looking for is misleading. We should give them answers that are correct and based on current scientific body of knowledge instead of the answers they want. For similar reasons I would also leave out the sentence about undecided onlookers in the "civility" part.

2011-07-08 19:17:07
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.42.15

I'm afraid I disagree with all of Ari's remarks.

Ari, you're making it sound like this is an academic activity, or that we are a journalistic organization that has to play by "he said / she said" rules of engagement. It's not, and we don't.

2011-07-08 21:28:28What is the purpose of this mission statement?
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229
My intent with devising this mission statement is to create a framework and direction that will guide our decisions on what ideas to implement and which to discard as diversions. I haven't thought of it from the point of view of making it public so it's purely practical without any thought of politically correctness about it. I might replace ignorance with something less elitist sounding if how it sounded to the public was a consideration. But I'm not that fussed about semantics - I just want to establish the direction SkS is to move in and I liked the idea of listing values as it allowed me to encapsulate some of the ideas I've been trying to communicate in various corners of this forum.

What we are doing is all about communications. Of course we always try to give genuine, accurate information. But the old school method of just supplying the facts simply does not cut it. Scientists think in abstract, technical terms and that's how they've tried to explain climate science. That hasn't worked. Why? Because the average person doesn't think in abstract terms. They think in visual, concrete terms. They think in stories and narratives. Despite the common belief that humans are rational creatures, in actuality, cognitive science tells us that emotions and values have a much greater influence on our thinking. What we think is rational is more rationalizing after our emotions and values have already made up our minds for us.

It is imperative as climate communicators that we understand this. Messaging, communication skills and psychology are not about manipulation but about understanding the language of the human mind and speaking in that language. We need to translate our abstract concepts into visual, concrete terms that people understand. Otherwise, we're just wasting our time and squandering all the potential of this powerful SkS community.

2011-07-08 23:32:29Star Trek analogy
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.42.15

Ari,

As we've discussed before, you have indicated that while you are certain that AGW is happening, you are not yet decided on whether this is a bad thing or not. I think I can speak for the rest of us, that we are sure that it IS a bad thing, on the timescale that is "on offer": 100 years or less.

I think I can also speak for everyone else that your contributions to SkS are valuable and valued.

However, I don't think we can or should limit the intention/vision/mission of SkS to the maximum common subset of intentions of all individual participants. No one can or should impose duties or beliefs on you that you do not want; but that just means that you don't need to be FULLY invested in ALL the goals of every group activity in which you participate. You can do the things that interest you, and leave the rest alone.

But these vision/mission statements are about the purpose of the group as an entity, not about what all the individuals want separately. I think many of us feel as if we are involved in a low-key war, with high stakes although a low level of violence. In a war, one is not fighting to give the inhabitants of the combat region an opportunity to weigh the values and advantages of both sides dispassionately: That sort of thing was good three steps earlier, when we were talking about diplomacy. We are way beyond that now.

During World War II, in the Manhattan Project, there may have been a few physicists who were purely interested in the technical issues involved in the specific aspect they were working on. Nonetheless, the purpose of the project was to build a nuclear bomb, before the Germans did, and use it to win WWII. That was what the Manhattan Project was about. If it had had a purely technical focus, I think very few of the truly outstanding physicists of the age would have been involved.

My summary position on this: "Don't act like Mr. Spock unless you've mastered the Vulcan death grip."

2011-07-09 00:46:25
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
91.154.101.130

John, I read the statement purely from the public point of view, from which my comments arose (which I also think was evident from my comments). As an internal statement it's quite ok as it is.

Neal, I think you are reading my subsequent comments too much in the light of what I said before. What I said in my last comment had nothing to do with my views on how good or bad climate change is. You are also misrepresenting my position. I'm fully aware that climate change is a bad thing from some perspectives (for example for near future human generations and other species). But there are some broader perspectives from where it can be argued that it might even be better not to try to stop it (for example in the long run it would take care of overpopulation which actually is the root cause of all this happening now). However, considering all the perspectives, the end result for me currently is that because we can't be sure what exactly happens in the future, it might be better to be cautious and try to stop it.

2011-07-09 07:29:19
Glenn Tamblyn

glenn@thefoodgallery.com...
203.51.168.11

Vision

Perhaps replace 'compelled' with 'motivated' or 'empowered'.

 

Mission

Perhaps replace 'ignorance' with 'misunderstanding'

 

Values.

Are these values we believe in or values as we want to express them to the wider world. 'sticky' for example suggests we are seeking to be psychologically manipulative of our audience (we are of course for communication purposes), but do we want to say that?

2011-07-09 10:23:21Psychologically manipulative
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229
No, we aren't trying to manipulate people. We are seeking to understand how people think and communicate in that language. Scientists think and communicate in the abstract. Ordinary people think in concrete visual terms and in stories, narratives. So it's like scientists are talking in German, the public are speaking in French. That's one reason (among many) why the public aren't grasping the reality of climate change.

There are many other reasons - the disinformation campaign, ideology, psychological blinkers, etc. But why make our job harder when it's within our grasp to remove at least one roadblock to scientific understanding. So one of my major goals for this year is to understand this issue more deeply, become more effective as a climate communicator and share those insights with the SkS community so we all improve as climate communicators.

2011-07-09 10:58:33
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.161.194

To identify misinformation or ignorance about climate change, replacing it with the facts of climate science

I would prefer leading offf with a positive:

To communicate reliable knowledge about climate change and to identify and correct misinformation.

I'm not sure whether this is the "mission" (ie, goal) or just the means to reach our true goal. Put another way, if we succeed in replacing all the misinformation with facts and our governments still do nothing about climate change, has our mission succeeded or failed?

However, saying we want to save the planet makes us sound a little bit like, well, missionaries.

2011-07-10 08:54:41Andy S
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

"I'm here to save the planet" is a very powerful message. It's widely used by members of the Sierra Club.

2011-07-21 18:00:59Any more suggestions
Glenn Tamblyn

glenn@thefoodgallery.com...
58.168.233.168

So, does anyone have anymore suggestions so we can try to close this off and maybe put the mission statement up on the site?

2011-07-21 20:14:11Do we want to publish it on the site though?
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229
I saw this exercise as giving the SkS team focus and direction as we decided strategy. I didn't bother making it politically correct - it calls it how I see it. The prospect of having to sanitize the wording to ensure no one is offended doesn't exactly engage me.
2011-07-21 22:25:46
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.39.103

I understand that the mission statement is intended mostly for internal consumption.

However, we also need to have something to respond to the questions, "What are you guys about, anyway?"

2011-07-22 02:13:52About Us
BaerbelW

baerbel-for-350@email...
93.231.150.51

Would the "About Us" page be a good place to answer the question posted by Neal?

It could make sense to at least link to the "SkS-Team" page from the "About us" page and both pages should be directly accessible from the top menu - most likely as a separate entry somewhere between "Resources" and "Donate". The page with the "Endorsements" could be featured under that new menue-entry as well. These three pages are not readily available at the moment.

2011-07-29 21:51:44
logicman

logicman_alf@yahoo.co...
86.177.51.236

At risk of appearing to be negative:

 

Scientists don't have missions, they have goals.

As soon as any group of people declare that they are 'on a mission', they become advocates.  (Unless they are the Blues Brothers).

My own goal is to plug as many gaps as I can in scientific knowledge.  Of late, I have been doing that by transcribing and translating some old documents and republishing them in my blog.  My aim is to show that most of the arguments being constantly regurgitated by climate change deniers were addressed and dismissed by 1895.  (Arrhenius published his paper on CO2 in 1896).

 

May I respectfully suggest:

The goals of SkS are -

1 - to point out the holes in deniers' arguments;

2 - to plug those holes with sound science.

2011-07-29 23:55:39
Alex C

coultera@umich...
67.149.101.148

>>>As soon as any group of people declare that they are 'on a mission', they become advocates.

I think that is a very narrow definition of a mission statement - companies have mission statements, for example.  I wouldn't necessarily call it being an advocate, but more often than not also synomymous with having a goal.  Take Google's for example.  I think you are worrying too much about the semantics here; as another consideration, even if scientists ought to be kept to a very strict standard of objectivity, not just in their work but also in the causes they support, I would question the applicability to us as we're not a scientific organization, and not all of us are scientists (such as, myself).

2011-07-30 07:34:54
logicman

logicman_alf@yahoo.co...
86.177.51.236

Alex: I was acting as a sort of devil's advocate.  Also, I think that if SkS publishes anything at all as a 'mission statement', the deniers will have a field day with the semantics and accuse SkS of bias.  I respectfully suggest that 'our aims' or 'our goals' gives less semantic ammunition to the deniers than 'mission statement'.

2011-07-30 11:20:14
Alex C

coultera@umich...
67.149.101.148

I understood what you were trying to suggest - I wouldn't put it past them to take words out of context, but even such I personally don't think it would be a worry (after all, if we say something along the lines of

"1 - to point out the holes in deniers' arguments;

2 - to plug those holes with sound science."

then what are they going to do, accuse us of being advocates for science?).

In any case I think either title would work equally fine from a conveyence point of view, so if it's a concern amongst other authors too then we can perhaps switch it.

2011-07-30 20:00:07
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.108.84

I wouldn't use the "D word" in a public statement.

2011-07-30 20:05:25logicman, refining your definition of SkS goals
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229

When it comes down to it, what I've taken from this thread is that SkS's goals/mission is to:

  1. Identify questions
  2. Write the answers
  3. Supply the answers

We do point 2 quite well. Point 1 is haphazard and point 3 needs a lot of work. I'm hoping to spend a lot of time on those two points over the next few months.

In fact, now I'm going to work at UQ (start on Aug 22), my dream situation is happening upon a few young programmers on campus who know PHP and MySQL who might get excited about developing up my idea of a web 2.0 style rapid response system. Fingers crossed an opportunity will present itself - you never know what might happen once I get on campus and start mixing it with all the boffins and young minds.

2011-08-01 02:18:07A Mission Statement serves no useful purpose...
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

unless it is a public document.

Who gives a flying fuck what the critics say about it? 

Denierville has already equated SkS to be nothing more than a pile of shit. 

2011-08-01 03:46:18
logicman

logicman_alf@yahoo.co...
86.177.51.236

"... my dream situation is happening upon a few young programmers on campus who know PHP and MySQL ..."

That would be just about anyone on a uni campus, John.  ;-)

 

btw - interesting SkS SQL bug the other day. Blank pages with SQL footnotes look so cool, n'est ce pas ?

2011-08-01 08:14:46SQL bugs
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
120.151.137.213
We're guessing the SQL bugs were just a server anomaly. It happened while I was asleep (eg - I wasn't playing around with code unless I have a serious case of sleepwalking I wasn't aware of) and was fixed by the time I woke up.

The mission statement/goals serve one main purpose in my mind - to guide us in developing a strategy and choosing where to concentrate our efforts. I might post a politically correct version on About Us sometime.

2011-08-01 11:11:05
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.119.110

wrt the mission statement:

- The real emphasis on a public version is not so much "political correctness" as "suitable for public consumption"

- What is specifically missing in logicman's goals are the following: a) SkS is, functionally, a group of science journalists, not a group of scientists; b) in addition to looking to fill holes in the skeptics' arguments, we're also looking to fill gaps in the scientists' arguments - the gaps through which the layman's understanding falls through the floor. We are definitely trying to bridge the gap between the scientists' theory & evidence and the "reasonable man's" view of the world.

(Parenthetically, this is why I'm not a fan of unmodified re-posting of other site's articles: It generates content (borrowed), but doesn't contribute to bridging any gaps.)

2011-08-04 22:32:34My apologies...
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

for the crudeness of my prior post. When I wrote it, I was seething anger about the deal that was cut in Washington re the US debt ceiling/deficit.

2011-08-04 22:39:18nealjking
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

While I understand and accept what you are saying about SkS's mission re "bridging the gap," I also know that it would be very difficualt to apply such a standard in an objectvie manner. One prerson reading an original SkS article may conclude that the the article has bridged the gap quite well, but another may conclude that the article raised more questions than it answered. I also believe that the sheer volume of SkS postings allows us to post other than orignal articles.  

2011-08-05 01:18:55
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.42.245

I don't regard sheer volume as an unquestionable measure of merit. People can get tired of hearing too much. I think that two or three well-written, carefully positioned articles in a week might have a greater overall impact than 10 articles of variable degree of accessibility and clarity.

2011-08-10 06:54:52
Steve Brown

brownsg@gmail...
80.177.115.133

In my experience "Mission Statements" tend to be regarded with derision by both the staff and the customers.  They are usually an exercise in bullshit bingo by fresh MBA graduates and insecure senior managers in order to justify the exorbitant management consultancy fees they've just signed off.  I would suggest keeping it simple:

SkS promotes scientific skepticism and strives to communicate the science behind global warming and climate change to the general public in a clear and concise manner.