JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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What the heck are science journalists for?

From The Skeptics Handbook II

Last week a science journalist at The Guardian wrote the best summary I have ever seen of the state of the profession known as “science communication”. Only, he thought it was a spoof. Well, it is — and it’s satirically funny at the same time as being an unwittingly cutting commentary. (We laugh at the formulaic approach because we know it’s so true, and then we bang our heads on the wall…).

Science journalists who churn out mindless ritual productions are effectively being PR and marketing writers. Dangerously, though, they are dressed as “investigative” journalists. The public assumes they are checking that their stories don’t break laws of logic and reason, that they are supported by evidence, and that they are providing the whole story. Their PR is the most powerful advertising there is, it’s not just free, it’s a third party endorsement.

Ironically, the same journalists probably don’t realize how important they are. They think they’re there for a fluffy feelgood reasons: to help promote science, raise public awareness, and attract school leavers into careers in science. They don’t realize that their most important role is to protect science itself and be guardians […]

Robyn Williams shreds the tenets of science

Robyn Williams presenting at the Prime Ministers Awards 2006

As I keep repeating, there’s only ONE thing that makes science different to religion, and that’s evidence. Robyn Williams is the most lauded commentator on science in Australian (read the rave here, he was the first and only journalist to be elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science; a professor at two universities, and received 5 honorary doctorates) yet despite the accolades he mistakenly hails the opinions of paid PR hacks above evidence and reason, and hallows the Blacklist of Approved Climate Sorcerers, sorry, Scientists as if it holds the key to the question of climate sensitivity of a trace gas. (How many “scientists” do you need to warm a planet? Answer: Whatever $79 billion can buy.)

This odd juxtaposition of discussing modern science with neolithic reasoning is unfortunately de rigeur, such is the abysmal state of my profession, known (misleadingly in this case) as science communication. These same commentators who complain about “the people who confuse the public”, don’t seem to realize they’re the ones who lead the pack. They break laws of reason known for two thousands years, destroy the central tenets of science, and conflate […]

New Scientist: The Age of Name-Calling

New Scientist plumbs new lows. The magazine has become its own self-parody. Do they see the irony of inviting a PR expert to accuse groups of committing the crime of, wait for it, … using a PR expert?

…he’s the advertiser being offered free editorial space within the one-sided propaganda that masquerades as journalism

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold any elitist ideas that only people with science degrees can write for New Scientist (the magazine and its staff have pretty much proven how useless a science degree can be). My issue with them is that Richard Littlemore (a PR expert) has essentially written a smear-by-association piece, which should have no place in a real scientific magazine. It’s not like Littlemore is just an unhealthy part of a big healthy debate — instead he’s the advertiser being offered free editorial space within the one-sided propaganda that masquerades as journalism.

New Scientist may think climate science is a moral imperative, but they don’t have room for the climate scientists who have published peer reviewed criticisms of their favorite theory. Nor do they have space to tell the extraordinary story of the grassroots independent retiree scientists who’ve busted […]

UK Science Museum hit by skeptical ICBM, makes small concession

The London Science Museum has abandoned it’s fort like barricade–the “NoDebateCorral” and many skeptics are rejoicing that the formerly Gung Ho institute seems to have done a major about-face. I remain highly skeptical of their new “skepticality”.

Remember, this is the same museum that was blatantly telling you the UK taxpayer which policy you were supposed to vote (and pay) for:

Note the claim about “seeing the evidence”. I have seen the light!

This is the team that only last October launched the Proveit Exhibition to “help” Copenhagen. They were not even remotely equivocal then about their political aims and beliefs:

““The Copenhagen conference is a crucial opportunity to find an international solution to the threat of climate change and to transform the way we generate and consume energy…

Dr Vicky Carroll, Prove It! Project Leader and Curator of Science at the Science Museum said: “Scientific evidence shows that climate change is happening. We need to tackle it urgently. Prove it! allows visitors to explore the evidence for climate change in the Science Museum and online, get to grips with the Copenhagen conference, and make their view count.”’

See that phrase: Make their view count? They were […]

The evidence? What evidence?

Robyn Williams is Australia’s science communication guru in the sense that he’s one of the few in our country who’s been making a living at it with a regular radio program (or two) for decades. He’s been doing this so long, he was proclaimed a National Living Treasure, and that was twenty-three years ago.

He’s posted his thoughts on the climate debate at ABC unleashed, Climate Change Science: The Evidence is Clear.

He’s been passionately defending science for years, sharing curious points, and explaining how things work. And yet in the upside down world in which we live in 2010–after all these years, he (and nearly everyone else in our profession) has lost sight of the most important things in science, and somehow ended up defending science-the-bureaucracy, instead of science-the-philosophy.

It sounds like I’m splitting hairs, but instead, I’m exposing a grievous flaw.

It sounds like I’m splitting hairs, but instead, I’m exposing a grievous flaw. For science-the-bureaucracy is not science at all; it’s just another cluster of committees, each run by six or ten people who discuss articles published in niche magazines owned by mega-conglomerate financial houses and ultimately controlled by a few editors who print articles reviewed by […]

Shock: Phil Jones says the obvious. BBC asks real questions.

Here’s the short version of that BBC interview. (Wow? Was it really the BBC?) This major re-framing of the story and admission of facts are part of the ClimateGate Virus epidemic. Journalists are starting to ask better questions, and researchers are starting to give better answers. OK, it’s not exactly a grilling, but neither is Roger Harrabin allowing the UN to promote its scare campaign without a few seriously-pointed questions. This represents almost as big a turnaround for Harrabin as for Jones (which I’ll expand on below). Only two years ago, he claimed skeptics were funded to spread uncertainty, and likened them to tobacco industry lobbyists. How must he feel to suddenly discover they actually had a case worth considering?

Cutting to the chase: paraphrasing Phil Jones

Stripped of the extras, Jones’ answers boil down to the following (I’ve added a few things he didn’t say [in square brackets], and skipped some questions ):

A) This recent warming trend was no different from others we have measured. The world warmed at the same rate in 1860-1880, 1919-1940, and 1975-1998. [Kinda cyclical really, every 55-60 years or so, we start another round.]

Hadley […]

ClimateGate — “covered” but not exposed in The Australian

Hackers Expose Climate Brawl Monday Nov 23, 2009

UPDATE Mon 23rd: The Australian put this story on Page 1, and added an image file of “quotes” for which they deserve kudos. This blog comments on the online version. The in-print version is better (see at the bottom).

Caroline Overington writes up the story of the hackers breaking in to the East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU), but misses the meat of the story. The Australian can tick the box “Covered”, but not tick the box “Incisive”.

She includes a few of the emails, but misses the bombshells while wasting column space discussing irrelevancies. As the Australian Senators sit down to assess the meaningfulness of an Emissions Trading Scheme this week, we can only hope they have better sources of information.

The extraordinary emails from the East Anglia CRU expose how corrupt climate science has become. They are nothing less than startling. Leading researchers have been caught discussing how to “hide the decline”, how to refuse their scientific and legal obligations, and threatening to blackball professional journals to stop legitimate research being published. These same researchers have a long persistent record of hiding data and when faced with a series […]

Skeptics Handbook II! Global Bullies Want Your Money

Finally, Part II in the Skeptics Handbook series – the bluster and bluff, the deceit, and the money. Enjoy & Share.

It’s unthinkable. Big Government has spent $79 billion on the climate industry, 3000 times more than Big Oil. Leading climate scientists won’t debate in public and won’t provide their data. What do they hide? When faced with freedom-of-information requests they say they’ve “lost” the original global temperature records. Thousands of scientists are rising in protest against the scare campaign. Meanwhile $126 billion turned over in carbon markets in 2008 and bankers get set to make billions.

7.3 out of 10 based on 7 ratings […]

Science communication pollution

Here’s an example of SciComm Pollution — an article that leaves the world slightly less enlightened than they would have been had it not existed. It’s also proof that the media blackout works so well that even theoretically educated people like, say, an archaeologist, are unaware of basic uncontroversial scientific truths. Here’s Michael Berry, in the Salt Lake Tribune, having trouble reasoning, missing the point, being fully a decade out of date, and acting unwittingly as a public relations agent for a giant bureaucracy.

He tries to claim Senator Orrin Hatch and The Skeptics Handbook are wrong on the Vostok ice cores.

“He (Hatch) then misinterprets the 420,000 years of glacial and interglacial stages to indicate that temperature is the forcing factor for rises in CO2, reversing the actual causal mechanism.”

Here, Berry gets it 100% wrong. Temperature is the forcing factor, and even the IPCC agrees. Senator Hatch is referring to the way carbon rises and falls after temperatures in ice core records. Berry implies that Hatch “misinterprets” two lines that clearly rise and fall with an obvious lag. Instead it’s Berry who misinterprets the graph. Carbon can’t control temperature from […]

Global politics is being influenced by the climate fawners

More muddy thinking. Once again, a politico-journalist writes about science and misses the point. Science is not like law, politics or sport: there is no umpire, no judge, no boss who sets the rules (at least not one you can interview). Opinions don’t control the climate, yet Mike Steketee makes the basic error of elevating opinions above The Real World. Steketee is The Australian newspaper’s National Affairs Editor. He’s even won a Walkley award for journalism, yet somehow, the rules of engagement for science writing are so lax he can get away with a commentary which fails the basic test of logic. He pays lip service to the benefits of scepticism in journalism, while he simply repeats official PR from international committees. This is not investigative journalism, or even informed commentary.

“We have the illusion of ‘free press’, but when the press is untrained in logic and reason, free press is just free propaganda.”

What’s so comi-tragic about Steketee is that he’s so sure he ‘understands’ science that he can patronisingly imply that Fielding-the-engineer, might be ‘influenced’ by a contrarian (god forbid, a person who thinks)—all while Steketee is clearly not just influenced, but beholden to group-think. Yawn. There goes […]