Spiegel science journalist Axel Bojanowski here writes a harsh but well-deserved analysis of the heated debate now raging in climate science.
One thing that we can gather from his analysis is that consensus is totally absent, and that it is very difficult to trust any report on climate science nowadays. He writes in the sub-headline:
Reports on climate science are hardly trustworthy, analyses show. The reason is biased journalists, hyping politicians and arrogant scientists.”
Bojanowski writes that too often the huge uncertainty in the science rarely ever gets properly mentioned, criticizing for example the UN IPCC 2007 claim that hurricanes were in fact growing in intensity. Today of course know we know this is false as there hasn’t been a single major hurricane strike in the US since. (See EPA report)
Spiegel’s Bojanowski describes a smoke-and-mirrors environment within climate science and its communication. He writes climate scientists today have a “communication problem“, stemming in large part from “uncertainties and knowledge gaps“. The Spiegel journalist feels “their results all too often remain buried“. Citing a recent SAGE article on climate science communication, Bojanowski tells his readers that the authors of reports often present “results coming from climate science in a troublesome way“.
Bojanowski, a geology major, also examines the main purveyors of public climate science knowledge (from a German perspective), arranging them from the extreme downplayers of the issue, all the way to the extreme alarmists: European Institute for Climate and Energy (EIKE), WattsUpWithThat by Anthony Watts, Klimazwiebel by Hans von Storch, Real Climate, The Guardian, and German ultra-alarmist site Klimaretter.
Opinions aside, if anything can be said of his ranking it is that the alarmists in fact do not represent the often claimed overwhelming majority and that in fact a broad spectrum of different positions on the science truly exists – just as one should if the science is to progress and not morph into some sort of unchallengeable dogma.
Bojanowski accuses both sides of distorting the results of science. For example he claims that especially in the USA so-called skeptics (see chart) distort science results in order to label the warnings from climate science as being “exaggerated” .
Uncertainty needs to be highlighted
Spiegel also looks at the efforts being made to improve the communication of climate science, but hints that these efforts are probably making the situation worse. He looks for example at the attempts by Stephan Lewandosky, which were aimed at schooling scientists on reporting their results to produce more pronounced reactions among readers. For example Lewandosky recommends the use of words like “risk” instead of “uncertainty”. Bojanowski cites a study by Gregory Hollin and Warren Pearce, who conclude that scientists must do a better job at emphasizing the large uncertainties that plague the science.
“Arrogance”, and “imaginary consensus”
The Spiegel journalist also sharply criticizes the IPCC’s introduction of the Summary Report in Stockholm in 2013. “Critical questions by journalists back then were unjustly rebuffed and inadequately answered.” He then characterizes the IPCC’s Michel Jarraud handling of an inconvenient question on the global temperature pause by a British reporter as “arrogant”.
Bojanowski writes that journalists seem to cling to the false notion of consensus: “In many reports the journalists seem to cite imaginary consensus.” He brings up a survey of 1868 climate scientists that found no consensus at all among them.
Bojanowski also thinks that US secretary of State John Kerry appears to confuse climate science hypotheses with real prognoses, and adds that although the politicians may have good intentions, they too are doing as poor job communicating the science.
Journal of Science’s McNutt blasted
Bojanowski also shines a harsh light on the chief editor at Science, Marcia McNutt, who is demanding an immediate end to the discussion and that the world take action. Bojanowski responds by bringing up former Obama science advisor Steven Koonin, who rebuked McNutt’s position in an essay in the Wall Street Journal.
Probably the main underlying message of Bojanowski piece at Spiegel is that the science is indeed still very fraught with large uncertainty, and that this uncertainty all too often gets wrongly dismissed. Also it is far too early to make specific policy decisions based on the very little that we do know about climate science. Also one gathers that arrogant scientists who fancy themselves as the bearers of the truth should not be the only ones politicians listen too.