2010-09-30 14:51:25Proposal for ongoing series of blog posts: Climate Scientists Respond
John Cook


I've been talking to Robert and Doug about this crazy idea and the more I think about it, the more I see a potentially wonderful opportunity to have a significant impact on the climate debate (meaning even more than the wonderful impact you're all having). The idea comes from John Abraham's "Climate Scientists Respond to Monckton" document and also seeing the powerful impact of Steve Schneider's outreach to a room of 50 skeptics. The idea is to have a series of blog posts "Climate Scientists Respond" where we invite climate scientists to do a guest post on their field of expertise. Ideally they can hit a skeptic argument which we could potentially use as the Advanced Rebuttal. But it's not just about info, it's also about making scientists accessible to the public, rebuilding the trust between the public and scientists. The hardest thing, I think, will be persuading busy scientists to take the time to write an article. So I'm hoping to sell it to scientists as a way to get maximum bang for your buck, to make maximum impact with minimal effort. With that in mind, I welcome feedback on the following proposal. In particular, what do I call the series? "Climate Scientists Respond"? "Ask a Climate Scientist"? "Climate Scientists Talk"?

Proposal: Climate scientists respond

Skeptical Science has a number of contributors, both scientists and laypersons. This level of participation has enabled the website to produce a broad range of content, largely rebutting climate skeptic arguments but with an emphasis on educating the public and building an understanding of how climate works. To expand on this, a series of "Climate Scientists Respond" articles are planned. As climate scientists are very busy people, the series is designed to have maximum impact for minimum effort. The idea is climate scientists write a guest blog post about their area of expertise, either describing their research or writing rebuttal to a specific climate skeptic argument. The goals are:

1. Provide a permanent resource

Each blog post will be a permanent online resource that people can link to in blogs, forums and online debates. If appropriate, the blog post will also be used as the advanced rebuttal (the goal is to publish a basic, intermediate and advanced rebuttal of each skeptic argument - here's a good example).

2. Reach as many people as possible

The goal is get the science in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Each article will be posted on the homepage (the website gets 350,000+ visitors per month) and all new blog posts are sent to the Skeptical Science iPhone app (downloaded 60,000+ times). Each article is tweeted, facebooked, sent to the Skeptical Science mailing list. The iPhone app allows users to retweet each blog post. 

Rebuttals are also included in the list of skeptic arguments on the iPhone, Android and Nokia apps. Note: future plans include the iPhone app featuring all 3 levels of rebuttals, an iPad app that will can output to projectors (eg - for public presentations) and a Firefox plugin that allows users to grab links and resources as they surf skeptic webpages (eg - to facilitate posting comments). The goal is to provide definitive and authoratitive climate science information that is disseminated quickly and broadly through new media. Eg - the idea being that climate scientists can have as much impact as possible with their blog post.

3. Build trust between climate scientists and the public

It's important to rebuild the trust between climate scientists and the public. While the erosion of trust is due to smear campaigns such as Climategate, directly engaging the online community would do much to undo the damage. Various social studies have shown the public need to outreach from scientists and anecdotally, I've noticed a positive response even from skeptics when scientists directly interact online. As well as imparting information, this is an opportunity to "humanise" scientists (an approach taken in the UCS Curious for Life campaign). Each blog post would be accompanied by a photo, bio and possibly a pic of the scientist plying their trade (eg - standing on an ice shelf, diving in a coral reef, taking samples, etc).

It's recommended that after posting an article, the scientists be available to respond directly to selected comments and questions from readers. This can have just as much impact as the article itself, both educationally and in building bridges. To ensure civil, productive discussion, the comments thread will be tightly moderated. All comments will be vetted by our team of moderators and the comments thread will be closed after a certain interval.


2010-09-30 22:18:57
Rob Painting
Sounds a splendid idea!. 
2010-09-30 23:40:20


One of the things missing from the scientific side of the Great Fake Debate is coalescence and effective deployment of resources available to  the rational side. Time and again, examples from history show how relatively tiny but tightly cohesive interests have subsumed the greater good, simply through better organization. The net effect is something akin to that of wolves working a herd of elk.

This will be a nice step in the direction of ameliorating the "herd of cats" atmosphere of scientific communications to the general public concerning climate change. 

In terms of making a sale on this to scientists, John, I'd pay even more attention to showing that participation does not require mud-flinging at the bargain-basement retail level in comments threads. That could use some amplification.  In the case of these "special" posts, I do believe a "special" moderation policy will be needed, with queuing and vetting as opposed to instant posting -then- vetting. 

2010-09-30 23:51:47Vetting comments
John Cook

That's certainly doable, requires just a small bit of tweaking to the code. With enough moderators (and hopefully some more authors will be up for being upgraded to moderator status), the comments should get processes quickly enough.
2010-10-01 00:09:37


Bear in mind that if somebody's got an honest, thoughtful and thereby useful question or point, it's the response that counts most for the benefit of the general audience, not seeing the question or point instantly made visible.  

One of the real challenges of this is going to be the moderation, seeing to it that offering the lay public the opportunity for conversation with scientists is not wasted because we're willing to allow people to spew in the interest of overweening fairness.

Fairness comes in several flavors; there's fair as in "everybody gets to say -anything- as long as it's politely expressed" and then there's fairness as in "it's fair not to waste everybody's time by letting an individual exercise their mouth regardless of whether they have anything useful for all of us to hear."  

This can be partially addressed by being quite open and upfront about this kind of participation being a limited resource, meaning that questions and points offered will be evaluated in terms of their general utility for a broad audience. 

All that said, moderation is not an onerous duty; the more time zones covered and the more eyes on the job, the fewer the opportunities for getting off track. Sign up today! 



2010-10-01 02:57:01

It would be great to have specialists posting at SkS.

I agree that in these cases moderation should follow a different set of rules. To have the maximum possible outcome we need to guarantee both the author and the other users.
A few thoughts right out of my brain:

- we should alleviate the burden of following stupid/irrelevant questions, too long comments, people that only want to show their (weird) point of view, to many comments from the same user, etc.

- these contributions should go in a separate section of the site where the first thing people read is what the intent is and the different set of rules applied. We might also think to make it moderated (no comment shows up before approval).

- we should not allow users to comment after the author does not follow the blog anymore (2-3 days?), he should always have the possibility to scientifically defend himself.

- the final comment, maybe a short summary, should be his.

- the rules should be decided before contacting reasearchers.

In this way (maybe) people won't be scared to come down in the blog arena ...  :)

2010-10-01 03:02:02


Those all seem useful policy suggestions, Riccardo, particularly your final point that this should all be figured out  as hermetically as possible before launch.


2010-10-01 10:23:34Comments policies
John Cook


Thanks for all these ideas, will update the proposal to include the tighter comments policy. Who knows, maybe we'll like it so much, we'll end up using it with all blog posts :-)

I'm also going to make it much easier for authors to become moderators (and also to opt out), will add that shortly.

Any thoughts/suggestions on what to call this series besides "Climate Scientists Respond"?

2010-10-01 10:40:37How about

"Who's on the Climate Channel?"
2010-10-01 13:58:06great idea
Dana Nuccitelli

I think this is a fan-freaking-tastic idea and very well-written proposal.

The title is a little tough since they may or may not be responding to something specific.  If they're just talking about their research, it's not a response.  Perhaps "Climate Scientist Contribution" or "What the Experts have to Say."

I'd also suggest perhaps adding a fourth, "Professional" level to the rebuttals, particularly if a climate scientist wants to write a rebuttal to an argument which already has an advanced level written.

2010-10-01 15:43:48Professional rebuttal
John Cook

Hmm, would have to come up with a new symbol. Nerdy glasses? Pocket protector with pen?
2010-10-01 17:44:04


light version: "Scientists Cafe'"

hard style: "Scientists Review the Science"

colloquial: "The Scientists Point of View"

old style: "Climate Change  Colloquia"

internet age style: "Scientists in the Web Arena"

I better stop here ...  :)


2010-10-01 18:24:54No, keep going :-)
John Cook


Appreciate the ideas, keep them coming. Some come close but not quite hitting the mark.

"Climate Scientists in Cyberspace"

"Meet a Climate Scientist" (nah, sounds like a dating agency)

"Climatologist Central"

"Climatologist Cafe" (to borrow from your idea)

You know, my fav is still "Climate Scientists Respond" but I'm hoping a better idea comes along. I think it's important to have "Climate Scientists" in the heading somewhere as it has to emphasise that it's about these people.

2010-10-01 20:32:28

There's one thing I don't like in "Climate Scientists Respond", it looks like we are questioning their science, like Monckton ...  :D
We want to give the idea of a place where climate scientists dialog with commenters. I immagine it like a conference or a lesson, the speaker introduce the subject and then the public (the students) may ask questions. So yes, climate scientists respond, but it's the second part of the story and we are not a jury, we're here to learn not to sentence them.
If the structure of the title should be "Climate Scientists [verb]", i'd think to "explain", "show", "meet", "uncover". Or instead of a verb, we could use a place or situation: "central", cafe'", "cyberspace", "hall", "at SkS", "SkS colloquia".
None of them is satisfactory but I think we should follow this route.

I have to admit that I'm biased. Being a scientist myself I am definitely on their side. I try to immagine if I was conctated by a blogger to do something like this but in my field of expertise. So, take my words cum grano salis.
2010-10-01 20:38:56Thanks for your thoughts
John Cook


Appreciate the advice, you offer a good perspective. What about:

"Climate Scientists Explain"

For some reason, I prefer the active feel of a verb. Not a big fan of colloquia because the average person won't know what it is, it's a bit of an egghead academia term. I like 'explain' better than 'respond'. As you say, respond sounds defensive and it's also borrowing from John Abraham's document.

2010-10-01 22:01:46What about "dialog" somewhere in the title?


If one purpose of these posts is to encourage comments and Q&As with the scientist, how about something like

"Dialog with Climate Scientists"?


2010-10-02 01:44:25main purpose
Dana Nuccitelli

Is the main purpose to create a dialogue, or to give climate scientists an avenue to communicate to the public through a blog post?  Because the proposal says "It's recommended that after posting an article, the scientists be available to respond directly to selected comments".  If some climate scientists decline to respond to comments, then it's not a dialogue.  And responding to comments can be time consuming, so I could see some climate scientists declining to respond to many of them.

We could try Climate Scientists Enlighten or Illuminate, but that might be a bit pretentious.  Or Climate Scientists Inform, or Report, or Clarify.  Explain is pretty good too.

2010-10-02 03:14:20


"Climate Scientists Offer Free Tickets to Clue Train?" "Climate Scientists Beat You Upside the Head With A Shovel?" 

Sorry, just came back from comments thread... 

2010-10-02 04:42:08Comment
Robert Way

I like climate scientists explain actually...
2010-10-02 06:53:19


"Climates Scientists Explain" looks good. One more idea: "Perspectives on Climate Science"

Inspied by the wondefull series "Perspectives on Ocean Sciences" at UC television