2010-11-25 21:51:57An account of the Perth trip
John Cook

Here's a quick account of some of the happenings in Perth.

First up, I met with Steve Lewandowsky and some other cognitive scientists who are interested in the phenomenon of science blogging and how it's being used to educate and communicate science. In particular, they wanted to test the impact of blog comments on how people processed information. Did a blog post with all negative comments have a different impact on how people retain information compared to a blog post with all positive comments? So we sat down and designed an experiment to run on SkS to see if this has a discernible effect on blogs. Later I asked Steve, isn't there a risk that there is no effect and it will all be a big waste of time? He said this was the risk every time you planned an experiment. So will be interesting to see how this pans out.

Next, I was on a panel of scientists including Naomi Oreskes (5 scientists and a blogger from Brisbane). The panel was about ways to communicate climate and respond to skeptics. One exercise was they showed us a skeptic newspaper article and we all explained what we would say if we wrote a letter to the editor in response. Naomi's response was fantastic. She said she would cite 10 examples of climate change happening in West Australia (eg - the region of the newspaper). It was important not to fall into a "he said versus she said" situation. Instead, make it "he said versus what's happening out there in the real world". Cluey stuff.

Also on the panel was Michael Ashley, an astrophysicist from Sydney who happened to be in Perth shipping some astronomy equipment to Antarctica. He was also the guy who suggested that SkS should do three levels of rebuttals. So I introduced myself to him and thanked him for ruining my life! (of course I immediately followed by saying the multi-level rebuttals and the forum were the best thing that had happened to SkS). At a dinner the next day, Michael said he'd expected the creator of skeptical science to be six feet tall with a big, heroic chin and blonde flowing hair. He expected Legolas, he got Gollum! :-)

Straight after the panel, we went straight to Naomi's Merchants of Doubt talk. Its a great talk (even the second time). So make sure you all read the book! I don't know how she did it, this constant sequence of talks, meetings, media interviews, panels and travelling. She later said the whole Australian tour felt like one continuous day. I have to say, Naomi is a diminutive, warm, easy going lady but she is also a formidable person. She knows her stuff, has a great sense of the big picture (maybe that's a characteristic of historians) and if someone dares to take her on, she responds with authoritative answers delivered with humor.

I was very much anticipating some skeptics asking questions at the end. Jo Nova and David Evans live in Perth. The guy who created the Our Climate skeptic iPhone app was in the audience. He was very vocal last time I was in Perth, asking belligerent questions and getting in our face afterwards (he hit me with the tropospheric hot spot and falling humidity). But when question time came along, no questions from any skeptics. I confess I was a little disappointed, I was anticipating the spectacle of Naomi making mincemeat of a skeptic. I suspect they may have been intimidated by Naomi's encyclopedic grasp of the subject.

As the audience shuffled out, the skeptic iPhone app creator cheerfully said hello to me. It was a little weird, a friendly greeting from who was essentially my Moriarty (I know, its a little melodramatic describing him like a nemesis but he is the creator of the iPhone app that is the polar opposite to the SkS app). He went to leave but he was so friendly, I engaged him in conversation, hoping to gain a better understanding of where he was coming from. He certainly didn't mind talking about himself. I learnt that he runs a broadband company in West Australia, that he started work on his iPhone app 18 months ago, that he is in direct contact with all the big skeptic scientists (Lindzen, Spencer, Christy, etc) and he's now updating the app to include up to date "live" observations like the UAH and RSS data. That 18 month revelation (if true) means my assumption that his app was in response to the SkS app is false. It would also mean we were both developing our apps simultaneously, like an unknowing cold war space race. Fortunately we got it out first, stealing their thunder.

Anyway, it was a huge couple of days, spoke to lots of interesting scientists and like a sponge tried to soak up as much useful info as possible. Meanwhile, SkS has been going great with James' Climategate series which I've been reading with much interest. My goal over the next week is to finish the guide to skepticism and hopefully release that ASAP.

2010-11-26 01:30:45

What impression did the audiences and the other panelists have about SkS?
2010-11-26 17:38:37Panelists and SkS
John Cook


All of the panelists were well familiar with SkS - two of them (Kevin Judd and Steve Lewandowsky) having contributed, Michael Ashley having played a significant part in its direction, I've known Carmen Lawrence for a number of months now (she's an ex-premier of W.A. and now Prof of Psychology at UWA) and Naomi is quite familiar with SkS too.

The general sense I get when talking to academics and scientists is they're all quite aware of SkS, I've heard a few anecdotes of scientists at various conferences and meetings pulling out their iPhone and showing the app to other scientists. So there seems to be a lot of positive good-will towards SkS in the scientific community (if only that would translate into action when I ask for scientists' quotes!)

2010-11-27 02:26:13


About quotes: Did you ask them for their reservations about giving quotes? Maybe you could develop a protocol so that they feel certain that they won't be taken out of context. After all, these folks DO talk to journalists: SkS is basically acting as journalist.

Maybe they're worried about this sort of thing.

2010-11-27 03:55:31good stuff
Dana Nuccitelli
Thanks for the trip summary, John.  Sounds very informative.  I'd be a bit disappointed at the lack of engagement from the skeptics too!