2011-09-27 16:26:57Has Sks Been Framed?


Sks authors,

Below are some thoughts I shared with John Cook on Pielke's attempts to "frame" a summary of the big questions in climate change science in language that promotes skeptic's interests. 
My view is that if we are to involved in a debate on framing at all, we should not be passively responding to spin doctors like Pielke, but proactively promoting language which accurately describes the challenge we face from anthropogenic global warming. I don't know much about Pielke's influence and can't judge whether he is worth the attention. At Sks we are generally happy to endorse the framing of these questions by the IPCC. If Sks pursues Pielke and the skeptics on this, I suggest 3 steps below. We could use this particular thread to formulate our own framing of the issues.
At the end I have included my comments #43 and #190 from Dana’s earlier post. Forgive the length of this post, but John suggested I put it up here for discussion.



In many ways Dana has provided an excellent response to Pielke’s questions, but I wonder whether time pressures have caused him to give what I think is are less than satisfactory answers to his questions on framing.

Pielke has seized on the Sks response to his first question, as I anticipated in my comment #43 on Dana’s earlier post. The classic hit by Joe South, “The Games People Play”, has been going round in my head, prompting me to examine what Pielke is up to. My line by line analysis of his second question can also be applied to his first question. For me “Hypothesis 2b” is clearly better in being unequivocal about GHGs as the main drivers of climate change.

In his latest post, Pielke writes:

We suggest that the evidence in the peer- reviewed literature (e.g., as summarized by National Research Council (NRC) [2005]) is predominantly in support of hypothesis 2a …

We therefore conclude that hypothesis 2a is better supported than hypothesis 2b, which is a policy that focuses on modulating carbon emissions.

His first claim above falsely gives the impression of consensus support for his position. His second claim even misrepresents his own words in “hypothesis 2b”, because the latter does not focus on carbon emissions, but on GHG emissions. A policy that focuses on reducing GHG emissions is doing everything possible to fight global warming. It even indirectly deals with the problem of black carbon. Pielke’s waffle about other human forcings is an excuse for doing nothing.

While Pielke’s response to Dana’s fifth question expresses a responsible attitude towards the environment in general, it does not clearly express a belief in AGW. To really test him out I suggest we need to pin him down on ideology and money. This will reveal his true heart. I suggest a final question asking him:

In order to further your stated goal of reducing anthropogenic GHG emissions, would you support putting a price on carbon in the form of a tax or cap-and-trade scheme?

I expect the answer is probably no, with the detail somewhere in his son’s book, which probably should be checked first. I concur that it is helpful to clarify where Sks and Pielke agree and disagree. It’s just that I don’t think we should allow Sks to be perceived in any way be “cosying-up” to him.

In my comment  #190 to Dana’s earlier post, I let the reader judge whether the good Dr Pielke was a “spin doctor”. In fact, I think he is worse that that. He is a “misinformer”.

Moderator John Hartz suggests I work the “Spin Doctor” comment into a blog post. I will hold off from that for the time being, because Dana is leading the discussion on Pielke, and I would like to see if he can elicit a response to the above question. Also, I think we need guidance from you as to where we go with this stuff.

I do have one other very practical suggestion. Pielke says in #50 of Dana’s earlier post:

I have framed two distinct testable scientific hypotheses…We will just have to disagree and move on, if you will not present two testable hypotheses of your own which we can discuss.

Firstly we should reject the idea that two distinct testable scientific hypotheses is any better than one. Hulme has come up with 6 possible framings, and it is obvious there are innumerable such “testable hypotheses”.

Secondly, we should reject both of Pielke’s hypotheses (2a and 2b) as unsatisfactory, because the language equates “important” natural influences with “significant” human influences. In terms of the big global picture, does not  Sks believe the late 20th century warming is overwhelmingly (if not exclusively) the result of human influences on climate?

Thirdly, we take up Pielke’s challenge, and publish our own preferred framing of the issue. To do this, Sks authors could work together in the forum for blog posts to draft our own “testable hypothesis”, with hyperlinks to the evidence on the Sks site.

What do you think? 

#43: The Games People Play ...

I suspect Pielke is playing games here. Although I cannot speak on behalf of Sks on this post, I make the following observations.

If a climate skeptic puts forward two alternative “framings” of the debate, neither should be given blanket endorsement. The best response would be for Sks to formulate its own preferred “framing” of the issues.

It is likely that Pielke thinks he can entrap Sks, cherry-picking words or phrases in Sks’s response in an effort to discredit it, outside of the context of Sks’ well structured and comprehensive analysis of the evidence. Compare the alternative texts and spot the differences. I believe Sks should be prepared to do a phrase by phrase analysis, endorsing one or other option for each phrase (or neither) as appropriate. Consider the alternative texts in Pielke’s second question:

Mike Hulme i: human greenhouse gas emissions
Mike Hulme ii: human greenhouse gas emissions, land use changes and aerosol pollution

The first is correct because the climate is driven by CO2. The major forcings are CO2, methane, etc. and their positive feedback through water vapour, as illustrated diagrammatically on the Sks site. However, the second wording might be seen as more comprehensive in that it specifically includes greenhouse gases and aldebo changes associated with agriculture as well as the negative forcing of aerosols. Therefore, in relation to this phrase alone, I agree with Dana in saying “the second framing is probably more appropriate, as addressing climate change will involve more than just CO2 emissions reductions”.

Mike Hulme i: climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes
Mike Hulme ii: which exacerbate the changes and variability in climates brought about by natural causes.

I think Pielke sees the first as a solid endorsement of AGW, while the second is a softer partial endorsement of AGW. For this phrase, would not SKs back the first?

Mike Hulme i: we are causing it
Mike Hulme ii: humans are contributing to climate change

This is similar to the above example. The first as a solid endorsement of AGW, while the second is a softer partial endorsement of AGW. Again, would not SKs back the first?

Mike Hulme i: it is happening right now
Mike Hulme ii: it is happening now and in the future for a much more complex set of reasons than in previous human history

The first as an emphatic statement that climate change is underway (as we are witnessing in the Arctic). The second is a softer statement, and seems to suggest a more uncertain trajectory for global warming because of “complexity”. Again, should not Sks reject this fudge language and back the first?

Do you now see the trap? In the first option we encounter, I think Pielke entices the reader to endorse the second wording. He seeks to get a simple endorsement of “Mike Hulme ii”, in order to trap the reader (and potentially Sks) into endorsing by implication the second wording for the remaining options. As I have argued above, I think Sks would be much more likely to back the first phrase in these latter choices. Perhaps Dana should qualify his response to Pielke’s second question.

The same phrase by phrase analysis should be applied to Pielke’s Hypothesis 2a and Hypothesis 2b, but I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean …
#190: Spin Doctor?

In his second question to Sks, Dr Pielke offered two different framings of the climate change debate offered by Mike Hulme. Neither of these framings necessarily reflects Hulme’s own position. He is providing them as examples. Hulme has prepared climate scenarios and reports for the UK Government (including the UKCIP98 and UKCIP02 scenarios), the European Commission, UNEP, UNDP, WWF-International and the IPCC. He therefore knows a lot about communicating climate change science and about accommodating genuine differences of opinion between scientists. He is also aware how the message can be slanted by anyone, with or without the relevant expertise, who has a particular agenda. It will be instructive for those reading this thread to hear Mike Hulme’s own explanation of what “framing” is all about. The material which follows borrows much the profile of Hulme at ABC Carbon.

Hulme defines framing as, “The deliberate way of structuring complex issues which lend greater importance to certain considerations and solutions over others”. He offers a sample of six different ways of framing climate change:

1) A market failure
In this view, business emits carbon dioxide to the atmosphere for free, but there are ultimately costs associated with that waste disposal. So to ensure the market is operating efficiently, carbon dioxide emissions should be priced.

2) A technological hazard
Like asbestos or nuclear waste, carbon dioxide emissions are a potentially toxic side effect of our modern technologies. This view advocates improved energy technologies to allow us to continue our modern life, but without the hazardous side-effects.

3) A global injustice
Climate change when viewed through this framework is seen as a problem where the West dominates and controls the global agenda, leaving the developing world out of the picture. A solution to climate change for this world view would involve what Aubrey Meyer describes as ‘contraction and convergence’, or an equal sharing of the carbon dioxide budget between all countries, regardless of their wealth.

4) Overconsumption
If our environmental impact is a function of our consumption, our population, and the technologies we use, then solving climate change through this framework would involve finding a path to a prosperous but non-growing economy, or improving contraception.

5) Mostly natural
If climate change is mostly natural, then the solution in this framework is to spend money on adaptation to the new environment.

6) A planetary tipping point
And finally, if climate change is viewed as leading to a planetary tipping point at which life on Earth becomes untenable, then no holds must be barred, and solutions would include massive geoengineering projects.

According to Hulme, our pre-existing values, beliefs, upbringing and maybe even genes cause us to frame climate change in a certain manner. Even before the scientists have whipped out the first graph, people are already disposed to interpret the data in a particular way.

In my earlier post (The Games People Play @ 43), I was perhaps a little unfair to Dr Pielke in suggesting his questions on framing were an attempt at entrapment. What I am convinced though, as Hulme so eloquently demonstrates, is that “framing” can be as much about spin as communication. The climate skeptics who have testified before the US Congress appear to be masters of spin. The purpose of spin is sometimes to give emphasis to an aspect of an issue that one believes is important, but all too often its purpose is to confuse and obfuscate. We see this endlessly in what passes for political debate in Australia.

Rightly or wrongly, I get the impression that Dr Pielke is more comfortable playing with words that discussing the real implications of numbers. In Australia, there is confusion among the general public, fanned by conservative politicians and radio commentators, over man’s contribution to the CO2 in the atmosphere. Words can confuse, but accurate numbers don’t lie. For example, since the dawn of the industrial revolution, CO2 has increased from 278 to 393 ppm, numbers I expect Pielke would accept. Such numbers can’t easily be spun, and given that climate sensitivity, including short-term feedbacks, is around 3 degrees C, the implications for our future are frightening. 


2011-09-27 17:26:11


Sorry, alan, but now and during the debate I felt that the entire discussion on the wording of hypothesis 2a and hypothesis 2b was a complete waste of time: Just a vast expenditure of $15 words to no useful effect at all.

As far as I could/can tell, the whole issue is covered by saying that you need to worry BOTH about CO2 emissions AND land-use practices. End of story. I said this twice during the debate, but nobody noticed. Maybe I am/was just being obtuse; but I saw the whole thing as an elaborate fly-fishing toss by Pielke, and everybody went for it!

Framing an issue is one thing; but this stinks to me of post-modern crap.

2011-09-28 01:33:50


My opinion on the matter was that Pielke has for some time been pushing this false dichotomy, attempting to get people to buy into one statement or another and hence shape the debate.

If you're going to do this, I feel a far more appropriate form of discussion is for both parties to state - in their own words - their positions, and have the other party respond to those. Otherwise you are allowing one side to entirely frame the debate; a rhetorical entrappment. Either you buy into his preferred statement, or agree to another (not yours) shaped to provide him with talking points and criticisms.

Science should be quantitative - if it's just wordsmithing, it's politics instead. I was quite disappointed to see Pielke so focused on the political aspects, and dragging the discussion down that path. And in the process, he managed to avoid giving numbers for forcings, percentage attributions, etc., that might justify his framings.

2011-09-28 01:37:11
Dana Nuccitelli

I thought we addressed this part fine just by saying we agree we need to address more than just CO2, but CO2 is the largest and most important single factor.  I'd be fine with doing a separate post regarding how we think the issue should be framed, but honestly I don't think it's that important.  Everyone knows CO2 is the main target we need to do something about.  Pielke is trying to change that, but he won't be successful.  Basically, everyone already agrees with our position, so I don't see a need to focus on it.

I wouldn't mind adding a third question to Pielke specifically about carbon pricing.  Something like "given your agreement on the importance of limiting our impacts on the atmosphere and environment in general, do you support a price on carbon emissions?".  What do people think of that?

2011-09-28 02:00:33



"Otherwise you are allowing one side to entirely frame the debate; a rhetorical entrappment... I was quite disappointed to see Pielke so focused on the political aspects, and dragging the discussion down that path."

That's essentially my point: He used this as a red herring to sandbag the entire discussion into a display of arrant pedantry - and we let him do it! Talking about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin ...


The next time Pielke floats another balloon like that, we should not take the bait, we should take it down with a BB gun. I believe exposure to high levels of such concentrated nonsense kills brain cells.

On carbon pricing: Does he normally get into economic issues? If not, we gain no credibility for our position from this, even if he agrees; and we lose some, if he disagrees. So game theory says, No, don't ask him.

2011-09-28 02:19:45
Dana Nuccitelli

Why do we lose credibility if he agrees or disagrees?

2011-09-28 02:33:08
Rob Honeycutt


Didn't Pielke at some point say that he actually supports some form of market solution for addressing CO2?  I might be making that up but I seem to remember that.  I'll see if I can find it.

2011-09-28 02:38:50
John Hartz
John Hartz

Given how extensively Tom Curtis got into the faming issue with Pielke, I'd like to see what he has to say about doing an article on this topic along the lines presented by Alan Marshall. Perhaps we could also get Mike Hulme to weigh in.

2011-09-28 03:34:11



My analysis applies if Pielke has no special reputation for policy issues. His son does, of course; but I believe RPs has been focused on technical matters.

Under this assumption:

If you ask him if he supports a carbon-pricing mechanism and he says Yes, you have gained the approval of a non-expert for that proposal. That and $3 will buy you a cafelatte.

If you ask him and he says No, you have gained another disapproval for that idea. At best this can ignored, but anyone who respects RPs's opinion will take it as a negative.

So the possible outcomes are: 0 and < 0 . There is no way to come out ahead by asking, so you're better off not asking the question.

Rob H:

- If you can actually find some evidence that RPs is positive on it, then it changes the picture: Then it becomes a 0 (because this is still not his forte) to a slight + (for people that respect his opinion on anything).


JH: "Given how extensively Tom Curtis got into the framing issue with Pielke, I'd like to see what he has to say about doing an article on this topic along the lines presented by Alan Marshall. Perhaps we could also get Mike Hulme to weigh in."

- I think I would actually pay money not to see such an article.

2011-09-28 04:30:14
Dana Nuccitelli

Pielke said he supports reducing CO2 emissions, then referred to Pielke Jr.'s book for specifics.  So I guess maybe we wouldn't gain much from asking if he specifically favors a carbon pricing mechanism.  We already got him to agree that emissions reductions are necessary - neal has a point that the exact mechanism is a policy question outside of Sr.'s expertise.

2011-09-28 09:58:46



“If you're going to do this, I feel a far more appropriate form of discussion is for both parties to state - in their own words - their positions, and have the other party respond to those”

I would be comfortable with that approach.


“I think I would actually pay money not to see such an article”

I think you are rather too dismissive of my analysis. I am not encouraging Sks to engage in semantics – I just didn’t want us to accidentally concede too much by letting Pielke define the options. Brief summaries of climate change science do have their place – they appear regularly in IPCC and governmental reports.


I am happy to let this rest for the time being. I hope my broad discussion of the issue makes us better prepared the next time Pielke or some other skeptic / denier wants to play word games. Keep up the good work!

2011-09-28 12:51:51
Tom Curtis


John Hartz, I clearly disagree with Neal on the "framing issue".  The reason is that IMO Pielke's downplaying of the importance of GHG's depends almost exclusively on his insistence that people only experience regional wheather effects and that things like aerosol distributions and land use and cover changes are far more important than ghg or global meant temperatures in determing regional wheather effects.  I think he is wrong on every count there, and I think we could nail him on it fairly effectively.  Unfortunately the discussion finished too soon for me to elucidate any nuances in his position.  Consequently, if I where to write a blog on it, I would like to research it further.  At the moment my intention in that regard is to watch the reponses to the Pielke agreement post, and the Pielke disagreement posts to see if more relevant information comes out.