Friday, May 17, 2013

Fallout from the SkS Study

As is often the case, the hullabaloo following a paper about climate is more enlightening than the paper itself.

I've noticed two things since Cook et al Environ Res Lett.:
1. Everyone is expected to be on one side of the other.
2. People are very confused about embargoes.
Let's take the second point first: Unless you agree to accept and respect embargoed materials, you are not held to an embargo.

An arbitrary sender can't just send out material willy nilly, stamp an embargo time atop it, and expect anyone to be bound by that embargo time. So Steve Milloy and Anthony Watts did nothing unethical by publishing on the material early.

Some people are confused about this, but it's not that difficult. Journalists and writers who receive embargoed material from journals and institutions have already agreed beforehand to receive such materials before the embargo date in exchange for respecting the embargo. It's an ethical obligation, and if you violate it you will get cut off from further material. (Whether there should be an embargo system for science news is an entirely different matter.)

But if someone sends you something you didn't solicit, it's fair game, and it doesn't matter if it says it's embargoed or not. It's naive to think otherwise.

Moral: if you don't want something published before a certain time, don't send it until that time unless you have a prior agreement with the recipient.

The first issue is more troubling. I get the distinct impression that certain people are expected to accept this study without question, and accept it as important and newsworthy, just because, well, because they're seen as on a certain team, because they think carbon emissions and climate change are big problems.

Like you're part of some team and can't think for yourself.

One blogger wrote -- well, he/she is anonymous, so it doesn't count for much, but anyway, they wrote

It's hard to say which is the more fundamental fail here: that Kloor doesn't understand that replicating results is critical to science, or that he thinks that he has somehow become a scientist, whose responsibility it is to follow and critique the bleeding edge of climate science, rather than his actual role as a science journalist helping the public grasp the critical core of the field, a job that evidently has to be done by scientists, who have pulled off a massive coup of science communication, only to be sneered at by the people who are paid to perform that function themselves.
Let's be clear: journalists and writers aren't stenographers who are bound to pass on information without questioning it, without analyzing it, and without providing context. 

Nor am I "sneering." I just don't think a number like "97%" is important to the debate. It's made for cupcake sites who do cupcake journalism, and to no one's surprise the Huffington Post immediately made it their top headline. 

It's a cudgel meant to end debate, not aid it. 

And it doesn't convince anyone. Answer me this: if Oreskes' 97% number still left some unconvinced, why will another 97% number?

It's nothing personal. As far as I can tell the authors did a fine job. I just don't think it's an important result.
Finally, a commenter here asked

"Do you think that your opinion of this paper is supported by experts on communication science who work on the issue of climate?" 
Frankly, I don't care what experts on communication science think. To be honest I don't even think what they do is a "science," let alone that they have valuable insights into the process of communicating science. I'm the one communicating science, not them.

1 comment:

MikeH said...

You say "Nor am I "sneering."

You are a liar.

This is the comment that you left at William Connolley's blog which started it this dicsussion.

"Who cares? Science isn’t done by the number of papers that seem to support a certain position, nor by how many amateurs rank important.

This is a meaningless exercise by John Cook (no surprise there)."