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Public understanding of climate - the evidence

The Science and Technology Committee have published the submissions of evidence to their inquiry on "Climate: Public understanding and policy implications". Readers are cordially invited to leave details of any interesting contributions in the comments.

Amusingly, the witnesses who are going to provide oral evidence to the inquiry are:

Dr Catherine Happer, Glasgow University Media Group, Professor Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group and Tom Sheldon, Senior Press Officer, Science Media Centre.

The Glasgow University Media Group is a very strange choice as the source of witnesses. Apparently they have been characterised as "a band of Marxist conspiracy theorists". And if you search their website for the words "climate change" or "global warming" you discover that they have never actually done any work in the area at all. I'm intrigued to know how they came to be invited, since they don't seem to have submitted any written evidence.[Update: it's there now. Maybe I missed it.]

I think it's fair to say that the inquiry is a bit of charade.

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Reader Comments (80)

Another rigged inquiry they can point at as evidence. Pfft.

Jun 12, 2013 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterduncan

Time for tea?

Jun 12, 2013 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Quick count-up:
There are 49 48 (one included twice) written submissions, of which 19 are sceptical:

John D Taylor
Christopher Audland
Rupert Wyndham
Brian Catt
Brian Gallagher
John Gahan
Paul Matthews
Jonathan Peacock
David Holland
Caroline Peacock
Prof Anthony Trewavas
The Scientific Alliance
Ralph Morris
Phillip Bratby
Philip Foster
Andrew Montford
Gillespie Robertson
Ron Hughes
Adrian Camp ("Oxford Climate Sceptics Group")

Some familiar names there, but also some unfamiliar names. I did not know there was an Oxford Sceptic Group.

Jun 12, 2013 at 1:18 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

"New Methods in Understanding Audiences"

But will the audience understand them?

Jun 12, 2013 at 1:20 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

That's a very long list of contributions! Since you mentioned The Glasgow University Media Group, I went straight to their offering, which is not inspiring. The opening paragraph includes:

"The first is that the key to changing environmental behaviours lies in the imposition of constraints on public actions."

which suggests to me that they think the science is settled, how do we make people conform?

They also say:

"However, we found that the BBC, across media, remains a highly trusted source – it was felt to be the least partial, and most serious about addressing the issues."


"A further group to which a high level of trust was attributed was the scientists, academics and other experts."

This is from a university department specialising in communication. They must have pretty effective blinkers.

Jun 12, 2013 at 1:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan_UK

With 30 warming contributions and 19 sceptical contributions, I see the warming lobby has already achieved the 97% consensus .....

Jun 12, 2013 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterKen

"......with the aim of discrediting climate science and downplaying the need for action."

That bit is quite accurate. I'd disagree a bit with 'discrediting' science but go along with 'disagreeing with climate science' and the need to show their working.

Jun 12, 2013 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

"...sceptics are a well organised and well funded group..."
If only!
Three months I've been waiting for my contract to be renewed and still not a peep from head office.

Jun 12, 2013 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Dr Happer sounds well qualified to supply information then. The rest are probably in the same bost as she is.
So sociology joins economics as a science now does it?

Jun 12, 2013 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Paul M, the Oxford climate sceptics group is indistinguishable from the bunch of us who occasionally meet in the pub.

Jun 12, 2013 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

Well, I find that my submission, knocked off in minutes from the top of my head, stands up well to re-reading. If I recall correctly, a post here alerted us to the committee seeking submissions. Cautious heads here advised taking time to get it right,, but I'd already put mine in. No regrets though.

Yes, it's got my real name on it. No, that isn't a secret.

I can't read all 49, so if anyone wants to suggest any to read, have at it.

Jun 12, 2013 at 2:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

'Well organised...'
Well - there's me sitting here at the family pc - and ..... an occasional appearance from next door's cat.

Jun 12, 2013 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

'Well funded..'
Well - there's my pension.....

(Where DO they get this cr*p...?)

Jun 12, 2013 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Interesting to see Tony Trewavas' name on the list though not surprising.
He's a molecular biologist and a strong supporter of GM crops (and opponent of organic farming). He ended up on the wrong side of a libel action brought by Greenpeace about 10 years ago.
He's also a vociferous opponent of wind farms — in Midlothian at any rate.
A good man to have on board I would say.

Jun 12, 2013 at 3:09 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Where is this 'well-funded' already?

I even had to pay my own bus fare for fish and chips with Rhoda, Jonathan, Ruth et al. And shared chips with Josh on Clapham Junction Station.

If there's really wodges of cash sloshing about please can I have some?

Jun 12, 2013 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Now I understand...this 'Adrian Camp' guy must be Mr. Big Paymaster.

I thought I saw him having an extra portion of mushy on the edge of high finance and clearly on the cusp of global power.....I bet nobody saw him around while the Bilderberg meeting was going on.......

Jun 12, 2013 at 3:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

There is evidence that...sceptics are a well organised and well funded group with the aim of discrediting climate science and downplaying the need for action.

Ask to see the evidence identified above

Jun 12, 2013 at 3:27 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

jferguson, in their submission there is a (iii) by that statement, suggesting a reference or footnote, but the reference is conveniently missing!

It's a widespread myth and a good example of the 'If you repeat a lie often enough' idea. But from the point of view of the activists it's a necessary fabrication, to explain to themselves why they are losing the argument despite the huge effort they are putting in.

Jun 12, 2013 at 3:37 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

I didn't know we were well organised, I thought we were mainly a bunch of individuals, some of whom occasionally meet up. As for well funded, well in my case, it is a strong case of negative funding. Mrs B says I should start charging my professional rate. Does anybody know to whom I should send the invoices?

Jun 12, 2013 at 3:44 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Rhoda: "if anyone wants to suggest any to read"

Why mine of course! Rupert Wyndham is always worth reading for his eloquence.
And of course our host and Paul Matthews! And lots more if you have the time.

Jun 12, 2013 at 3:47 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

So Happer was a researcher at the BBC for a while, so she has outstanding qualifications and experience in communicating climate change! sarc off.

Jun 12, 2013 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterBeedb


"The first is that the key to changing environmental behaviours lies in the imposition of constraints on public actions."

I shouldn't let trivialities annoy me, but there's something about "communicators" butchering language that gets right up my nose. "Behaviour" is a non-count noun. My English language students have no problem with the concept. Why do some native speakers seem to find it difficult?

Jun 12, 2013 at 4:10 PM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal

Sounds like Happer's following right in the footsteps of those notable climate sociologists Lewandowsky and Oreskes.

Jun 12, 2013 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

The only reason Adrian Camp could afford the mushy peas was that I paid for his chips.

Jun 12, 2013 at 4:14 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

"The only reason Adrian Camp could afford the mushy peas was that I paid for his chips."

Careful what you broadcast Jonathan - have you not been following the Yeo tale of woe??

Jun 12, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Jonathon Jones
"I paid for his chips."

Ha. Got you! How come you can afford this outrageous extravagance, Professor?

Jun 12, 2013 at 4:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaulk

If JJ pays for the chips, does that count as well-funded well-organised climate agnosticism? I'm in the pay of 'Big Wait n' See'!

Jun 12, 2013 at 4:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

excellent submission from Paul Matthews. Well worth the read.

Had a quick look at Bob Ward's effort - interesting that he sees the GWPF as a threat. Ok for Bob to spout endless bollox to anyone who will listen but not ok for anyone with a different point of view. Now where have we heard that before. Calling Ed Davey.

Jun 12, 2013 at 5:06 PM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

I too looked at Bob Ward's lying diatribe and the venomous attacks on the GWPF and the right wing newspapers, not to mention his adulation of the BBC for its unbiased behaviour. It reads as if Mikey Mann had a hand in writing it.

Jun 12, 2013 at 5:18 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

The amazing thing is, 20 private individuals chose to respond, of which Paul Matthews (1:18 PM above) assesses 17 individuals as sceptical.

It is individuals' taxes and energy bills which pay for the entire 'greening' fiasco.

The overwhelming majority of corporate responses were either grant-seeking, job-preservation researchers / civil servants, or, commercial organisations dependent upon green 'sales' or 'subsidies'.

Jun 12, 2013 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

OK, I had time to read a few. Firstly, those submissions coming from the denizens of this place are pretty good, compared to those of Big Climate. I note that the individuals all have something to say, the organisations all have something to sell. And the sheer arrogant presumption of them, the way they dismiss the poor old public as being so stupid they need re-education until they understand.

Our side is more articulate, more insightful and less prone to mindless propaganda. We win. Except this game doesn't matter, unless the committee hoist it all in.

Jun 12, 2013 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

Philo & Happer of Glasgow University Media Group who are to be witnesses going to provide oral evidence to the inquiry propagate the myth in their written submission "......although a recent survey showed that 97% of peer-reviewed scientific papers agree that man-made climate change is happening".

If their written submission is erroneous, this should be brought to the attention of the Committee, and potentially makes their oral submissions highly questionable.

Jun 12, 2013 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Here are some lines that I enjoyed.

Rupert Wyndham:
2. Declaration of interests
In conspicuous contrast to numbers of MPs, I have no financial or reputational interests whatsoever in the subject of alleged man-made climate change.

Brian Gallagher:
1. Initially, I mistook the purpose of this exercise for an open-minded investigation. However, the wording plainly suggests the objective is public opinion manipulation – not what is expected of an evidence based, objective science project.

Jonathan Peacock:
2. Gentlemen, the great difficulty for both Government and the media in this debate is that the British public is not as stupid and uneducated as they might wish. The public in general might not have an advanced scientific education, but they are not all ignorant and many have a strong sense that they are being mislead and ill-informed.

Philip Foster:
The Answer:
In many cases we just might know more science than you do, and secondly not be quite as gullible as many of you seem to be.

Jun 12, 2013 at 6:14 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

On a more serious note, there's a common theme that the questions show the committee is asking the wrong questions and starting from a false premise.

Sir Christopher Audland:
In its call for submissions, the Committee drew attention to its own Report "Devil’s bargain? Energy risks and the public" (Session 2012-13). That Report was fundamentally flawed. At no stage did it attempt to define the extent to which climate change is man-made.

Paul M:
Unfortunately these questions are the wrong questions, are confused and show a poor understanding of the issues, making them difficult to answer logically.

David Holland:
The Committee's questions are based on a presumption which in my view is unwarranted...
The questions that the Committee has posed reflect this ill-founded train of thought...
no amount of marketing or advice on social and behavioural sciences will help rescue climate science, climate policy, the IPCC and its assessment process from the inexorable rise in scepticism.

Gillespie Robertson:
your questionnaire is fundamentally flawed. It starts from a number of wrong premises -

Adrian Camp:
The questions before the committee are ill-posed. They assume things not in evidence and they presume a desired outcome which is not supported by the facts, such as they are.

Jun 12, 2013 at 6:22 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Front loading the dice with 'true believers' to get the result they want ?

Jun 12, 2013 at 7:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

I have to laugh at the tone of the warmist submissions. Out PRed by the bloody sceptics again. Quick, get the scientists front and centre with the latest kick ass research. The trouble is, climate science is like a movie where you saw all the best bits during the trailer and the full feature has nothing more to offer.

So now they’ve lost the novelty value and the potential to shock; a certain amount of credibility has been flushed and far from being ‘worse than we thought’ things are looking a bit better. So who do they turn to for advice on how to sell CAGW? The same organisations and individuals who failed to flog it the first time.

Since apparently sceptics are all bought, it's a wonder they're not offering wads of cash for the PR wunderkind to swap sides.

Jun 12, 2013 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Well, I've read several of the sceptic submissions and I must say they were all brilliant!

GUMG seems to be going for the carbon ration book approach. Yeah, that'll work.

Jun 12, 2013 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

One of the things I didn't see in any of the submissions is a serious point which Steve McIntyre wrote about quite a while ago. It concerns the specific audience of scientists and engineers outside of climate science. I can't find the reference, so I'll just report my take on what he was saying. Basically, there are a large number of scientifically educated people out there who have no vested interest in climate science apart from being on the planet, and having to pay taxes and electricity bills. There is a high likelihood that these people have a disproportionate influence as opinion-formers among their friends on science subjects. When they read an article or a paper on climate science which looks like a problem or a paradox or a failure, and they have sufficient energy to research the issue, they do not want to be called "clueless" or "flat-earthers" or "denialists" or "fossil-fuel-funded" merely for posing questions. They especially do not want to be told by "science communicators" who don't know the difference between a mathematical model and an Airfix kit that they do not understand enough science to be able to understand the issues and should accept the consensus view of the experts - "trust us". They just want to see the data, the arguments and the uncertainties set out.

I recall from anecdotal comments on Judith Curry's blog on this topic that a large number of scientifically-trained individuals who started off by asking innocent questions became sceptics precisely because of this style of non-responsive response, frequently served up with insults. If the government really wants to communicate the science, then they need to allow or even force mainstream scientists to debate the central issues, not subsidise sociologists to call us all fossil-fuel-funded Luddites because some of the absurdly rich sceptics can afford mushy peas.

Jun 12, 2013 at 9:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul_K

The UCL submission is worth a read - if you don't suffer from high blood pressure. It doesn't pussyfoot around, it goes straight for 'climate disruption' in para 1.

These two paragraphs are a hoot:

16. The use of dialogue is especially pertinent in the case of climate change since the “unwelcome messages” of climate science have the capacity to arouse emotions of anxiety, fear, guilt, loss, interdependency, and helplessness. The insights of the cognitive and behavioural sciences show that these can drive reactions of dismissal (using intellect and knowledge to justify this), disavowal (the simultaneous belief of two contradictory facts), or discounting (in which the facts are accepted but arguments are used to justify a low level of attention or action). Anger towards the messenger is a common consequence.

17. In such circumstances, narratives that “make one self feel better” are attractive to the listener. These may focus on undermining the science (temperatures have flat-lined / carbon dioxide is plant food / it’s the Sun), or the scientist (incompetent / dishonest / seeking funding and influence; perpetrating a conspiracy / hoax), or authorities and governments (it’s a way to control you / it’s a way of raising taxes). Ideas such as these offer the means to ease emotional stress, to undermine belief in the need for action, and facilitate the task of those who would maintain the status quo. Unless the approach to public understanding takes account of these emotional stresses, it is likely to fail.

I hope you're all feeling better. I've eased my emotional stress a lot by laughing out loud at this preposterous hypothesis.

Jun 12, 2013 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

"There is evidence that...sceptics are a well organised and well funded group"

Well I'm not one of them :-(

Anyone else?

Jun 12, 2013 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Don, no, not me. No funding or organisation whatsoever.

I'd be interested to see this 'evidence'.

Jun 12, 2013 at 10:47 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

I would be interested in constructive views on the submission from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, which I helped draft:


Jun 12, 2013 at 10:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd Hawkins

Ooooh - the Carbon Brief have got their panties in a knot:

23. The BBC issued a report last November17 expressing satisfaction that the corporation has made progress in portraying where the weight of opinion on scientific topics lies. But we have seen prominent examples of programmes in which the BBC has framed climate change as a debate between ‘sceptics’ and 'believers'. These include an episode of the Daily Politics in June 2012 in which climate sceptic blogger James Delingpole debated with Friends of the Earth’s Andrew Pendleton about whether an apparent slowdown in global surface temperature rise meant global warming had 'stopped'. It is a subject that, arguably, neither party is qualified to discuss. Instead of investigating the scientific arguments about the subject, the report reinforced the idea that climate change is a political argument, not a subject on which scientists agree. Similar discussions were also found on Radio 5’s Your Call, the Today programme and Newsnight.

[my emphasis]

Jun 12, 2013 at 10:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

What | have noticed is that many politicians are frightened to disagree with "the consensus" because they are afraid of losing votes.

Jun 12, 2013 at 10:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterDizzy Ringo

Not too objectionable, Ed. Tell us where the debate is taking place outside sceptic blogs. What I see is a firehose of propaganda. Maybe I'm not being fair. But when one asks a question and gets no sensible answer at all, one cannot escape the suspicion that one is being talked down to.

Why not slip along to the Oxford pub meet as announced on the discussion page?

Jun 12, 2013 at 11:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

Bob Ward's hilarious submission:

29. Public understanding of the science of climate change could be improved if the Charity Commission holds the Global Warming Policy Foundation to account for disseminating inaccurate and misleading information.

Perhaps someone should explain 'projection' to the Committee.

Jun 12, 2013 at 11:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

My reaction to Dr Happer's bio was "Her forthcoming book will have a huge market!"
(Sarc as if I needed to add this)

Jun 12, 2013 at 11:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Ed - The NCAS submission is carefully written, but to be honest I don't see it as your job to be advising politicians on how to get a message across. In particular, in 2.11 you may be concerned that 14yr olds will learn less 'climate science' but have you seen what they've been taught, and how? (I've had four childen through secondary school in recent years, so I've seen it at first hand; whatever you may call it, it's not science. It's not even right!).

What you have here is the politicians asking you to help create a public relations position for a set of energy policies that are actually damaging the country. If I were you I'd stand well back.

Jun 12, 2013 at 11:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

+1 for Cumbrian Lad.

The propaganda in schools is already at 11 and it's still not working. Schools should teach basic science to prepare children to make up their own minds and solve their own problems. Remember that anyone can be wrong.

Even climate science itself is in desperate need of new blood with some new ideas. It has not made any progress in the last few years. Maybe the whole paradigm is wrong?

Jun 13, 2013 at 4:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Here are some ... uh ... gems, from a "jewel in the Crown, of British science and global science" (aka the Met Office) [all emphases mine -hro]

From the Summary:

The availability of objective science interpretation from a trusted, authoritative and transparent source is crucial to ensure that confusion about the science is dispelled, questions are answered and erroneous reporting is identified as such by the public and can be challenged. A number of trusted institutions, including the Met Office and NERC invest time and effort in producing accessible resources and comment.

All scientists have a role in communicating their own science within the science community, and to a greater or lesser extent to a public audience. It is within this context and the public importance of climate science that the Met Office communicates its science. It does not, however, have a remit or the resource to educate the wider public or provide comprehensive communication on climate change science.

[Nonetheless ...]

The Met Office has developed and established a sophisticated communications network capable of reaching the public across a number of platforms – both traditional and social media.

From the Introduction:

The Met Office has recognised both the need and appetite for increased and informative communication on climate change that allows the public to increase their understanding of the issues, the basic science, and the latest challenges of climate science research


we provide authoritative comment and interviews to environmental correspondents

[and I'm sure that Jack Hughes will be pleased to learn that:]

we work in partnership with EDF [Environmental Defense Fund?? -hro] to deliver climate science to schools via their “Pod” project to 9.5 million pupils across 17,000 schools

the new social media channel is being piloted by the Met Office to provide young people direct access to Met Office climate scientists, who can answer their specific questions

Note the up-front "linkage" in response to Q2 (re trusted voices):

Changing climate patterns and incidence of extreme weather events have far-reaching socioeconomic impacts [...]


[...] The Met Office is privileged to enjoy high levels of public trust and is conscious that a key driver behind these results is the public trust in our impartiality in undertaking and presenting weather and climate science. [...]

Due to the factual and objective nature of science, scientists need to remain independent of influence of particular partisan views, including political, economic, social or commercial concerns. [...] Indeed, impartiality is consistently cited as a key driver behind the responses of “trust a lot” in a quarterly survey by the Met Office to measure levels of public trust.

It would be interesting to know the number and percentage of respondents who chose "trust a lot", don't you think? It would also be interesting to know if Cook or Lewandowsky had a hand in designing these quarterly surveys ;-) But I digress ...

Their response to Q2 concludes with a 280-word three-paragraph hymn of praise for the IPCC, including

[9] Policy makers, decision makers and the public at large need access to a trusted source for the latest scientific advice on climate change. [...]

[10] Climate science is therefore unique in science in having a single trusted source for the latest policy relevant science.

11. Communication is developed from this for specific audiences and for the public. The scientists and institutions that contribute to IPCC (including the Met Office) update their science and related communication between reports so that there is access to the latest science

They didn't answer all the questions, in fact the only other item to which they responded was Q3 (re improving public understanding and barriers thereto).

In light of the mini-jewel-in-the-making (aka MyClimateAndMe)'s recent promotion of the Marcott et al masterpiece, I found the following somewhat amusing:

The media obviously has great reach and therefore can play a role in communicating climate science to the public. Making science and research open to public scrutiny is a strength of the Met Office and the science process in general – but it can also create vulnerability to sensationalist headlines.

Considering that it took three iterations of text in the body of its post and two full months for the powers that be behind MC&M to remove an unsupported (and unsupportable) Title, can there be any communicator of science that is more "vulnerable to sensationalist headlines" than the Met Office?!

Jun 13, 2013 at 5:17 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

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