A Must-Read Letter to Science

I must say that I feel proud of the mainstream media when CBC News picks this up before any of the blogs I read.

A letter to be published in tomorrow’s edition of Science, defending the integrity of climate science and calling for an end to “McCarthy-like threats” to scientists, has been signed by 225 members of the National Academy of Sciences. I guess they weren’t joking around in their correspondence.

Here are some excerpts:

We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular.

Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change.

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.

Read the whole letter here, it’s well worth it.

I don’t find this letter particularly surprising, because I’m quite aware of the scientific community’s attitudes toward recent events (RC collectively refers to them as Whatevergate), and I’m sure that many regular readers and commenters won’t be surprised either. However, we need to look at this not as news, but as an example of the communication that scientists are starting to come out with. This is exactly the kind of letter that needs to get out to the public.

What I’m wondering is, why will it be published in Science and not somewhere like the New York Times, a publication that is actually read outside of the scientific community? Anyone who keeps up with Science will know just how solid the theory of anthropogenic climate change is. So why is it being used for public communication?

Whatever the reason, and whatever its effectiveness, I’m pleased. It’s a good first step that we need much more of.

Now We’re Talking!

Another batch of private emails from climate scientists has been leaked/hacked/stolen/whatever. These ones, though, are very different than the last.

It’s a thread of emails from the NAS, and these guys are mad. They are mad about vested interests skewing the discussion. They are mad that journalists have sat and lapped it right up without checking their facts. They are mad that the public is suddenly more confused than ever about a field of science that is more united than ever.

They want to get hundreds of scientists to sign a declaration that yes, the anthropogenic combustion of fossil fuels is still causing the Earth to warm, and print it in newspapers like the New York Times, using only NAS money. They want to start a prime time science program on PBS. They want to have dozens of public lectures communicating climate science. They want a concise assessment report by the NAS written in layman’s terms. They want a nonprofit group to bridge communication between scientists and the public. They want “nothing short of a massive publicity campaign to educate the citizenry about what our best science is saying and why.”

“We will need funds to make something happen,” says Paul Falkowski, and by February 27th, about 15 NAS scientists had pledged $1000 each, out of their own pockets.

“How can we sit back while many of our colleagues and science as a whole is under attack?” writes Paul Ehrlich.

William Jury describes public presentations he’s given since the CRU hack, and how a common question is, “If the recent charges by anti-warming people aren’t true, why is nobody coming forth to prove it to us?”

And why not? All of us here have done our part, but it’s still not enough. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s felt pretty powerless over the past few months. It’s incredibly obvious, to those who have all the context, that the theory of AGW is as rock-solid as ever. But truth is not enough, not when we’re up against the most effective spin machine in history. I feel like no matter how much work I put into the communication of real science, this machine will always be ten steps ahead.

Reading this string of emails gave me the most hope I’ve felt in months that we might actually be able to steer public opinion in a more accurate direction, so that we can get to work on fixing this problem. It was exhilarating to read that so many scientists are ready and willing to mobilize public communication when we need it the most. I wanted to jump up from the computer and wave my arms around and shout in joy. If I hadn’t been in the school library, I probably would have.

There has long been a stigma against communication in science – for example, Stephen Schneider faced demeaning remarks from his colleagues in the 70s for even speaking to the newspapers about his work. Couple this with the big difference between these two sides fighting for public opinion: one academic, the other political/industrial. When our academic institutions get money, they’ll spend it on research, not on public communication……while the lobby groups and oil companies are hard at work on advertising like this. (Worth a watch, it’s hilarious.)

The amount of public communication and education proposed by the NAS scientists is enormous, but it’s never been more justified than now.