Friday, 5 September 2014

Why has Hansen become an 'Advocate'?

One of the reasons its been quiet here is because yours truly has been busy mixing it at the Guardian. Occasionally, the odd little gem has poppped out of the cabbage patch and been reasonably well received.

Just now, someone else left a post on a John Abrahams article (here) which I felt the need to respond to. I'm quite pleased with the result, so here are the two comments:

Smith1867
In truth, I prefer the harder science, but frankly these do not get as many page views as the debunking posts.
Is how many page views your blog posts receive what you are interested in? Is that the primary reason for your participation in this blog? If so, then by all means follow more closely to your colleauge's approach. But beware that that is not a scientific blogging approach so much as it is a publicity approach in a sciency genre. Not really science communication in even a loose sense of the term.
A problem for all science communicators and the public who are their target, is that their scientific credentials are often projected onto their activist writings. Take Dr. Hansen for instance, a brilliant and well qualified atmospheric physicist he may well be, however his advocacy for, or protest against any given solution to the technical problem which is high atmosheric CO2 concentrations is no more qualified than any other intelligent layman. He is not a politician or an economist and solutions for the CO2 problem all require considerable expertise in these arenas. However, more often than not he is awarded the respect he has earned as a scientist for his socio-economic/political solutions. We are told we are not listening to "science" if we do not agree with his proposed solutions. Yet when discussing his solutions his scientific credentials hold no more weight than anyone else who accepts the concensus scientific position on AGW.
So you have to ask yourself, is this blog about science communication, which you are well qualified to author? Or is this blog about advocacy for or protest against highly complex socio-economic/political solutions, which you are no more qualified to author than any other intelligent layman?
If you choose the later, just remember that you are not communicating science and cannot project your scientific expertise onto your opinions about other matters.
  • Fergus Brown Smith1867
    First, I think it is important to point out that the blog is a part of John's journalistic work, into which his science work feeds. As a journalist, he needs to earn his crust by bringing an audience into the Medium that pays him, so hits matter.
    On the main points you make: Let's say for arguments' sake that you, a scientist, along with a number of colleagues, spend several years working on a hypothesis and reach the conclusion that it really is likely to change the World as we know it, and furthermore, that the consequences could be devastating, and beyond this, that a certain course of action could reduce risks and harm considerably.
    So, of course, you publish. Then, for twenty years, nobody does anything about your findings apart from whinge and get abusive. The evidence mounts up, but the clock is ticking. Your original conclusions have been validated many times over, but still nobody seems to want to do anything to stop the harm or the potential devastation.
    So, what do you do?
    Firstly, as a scientist, you keep on proving your point, testing your work, and keeping up to date. You develop some kudos. Then, as a human being, you start advocating loudly and publically. Because talking about it scientifically and reasonably didn't work. But it still matters. It matters more than ever. So you shout, you protest, you publish, you lobby, and you do everything in your power to get the message across that this is serious, and it ain't gonna go away.
    No, bollocks. If it was me, I would have lost my patience years before Hansen did. Any normal, rational human being would do the same.
    Along with which, I'd get really pissed off with people who told me I had no right to meddle in politics or that my opinions had no validity.
    I think I've made my point...