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Discussion > "Climate communication" - what do you think?

Hi all,

I've been asked to attend a meeting on "Climate Communication" and give a talk on "my experiences of communicating climate change to different audiences".

As part of this I will discuss my experiences with social media, including Bishop Hill. I'd be interested to hear what you think about my contributions here (or on other blogs or twitter). eg: Do you find what I say interesting or indeed useful, or entertaining, or merely annoying? Is it good to see a climate scientist here, if so why? Or if not, why not? Is there anything you think or hope I might gain from discussions here?

Any responses to those points, or indeed any other thoughts, would be welcome.

If anyone prefers to send responses by email rather than putting them here, feel free to do so. The Met Office email format is name dot surname . I will respect anonymity if specifically requested.



Jun 12, 2012 at 12:21 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

I appreciate your presence here, Richard. With already expressed reservations, of course, that you are not entirely free to speak. Oh, I know you have received no orders, that you are free in theory. But whether you are in practice is another thing.

As for the rest of them, they are worse than useless, with their drive-by posts, arrogant attitudes, pedagogic stance and just plain huffiness when challenged. ' There is just no debating with those people'

Jun 12, 2012 at 12:35 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Hi Richard,

I welcome your contributions here unreservedly. I would welcome opportunities for interaction with other climate scientists. My hope is that you or others will eventually respond to the questions raised by myself and Spence_UK, even if the answers are not readily to hand ...

Jun 12, 2012 at 6:27 PM | Registered CommenterPhilip Richens


I too appreciate your posts. Usually with good humour and always with complete civility. That alone gives you great credibility.

You respond to questions and critical comments that are raised with respect to the Met Office usually in detail and with reference to published information, often refuting whatever critical point has been raised. Not always, because finding a convincing proof that black is white can be difficult.

As someone said on a sceptic blog recently most climate scientists (*all* that I have observed, RB excepted) who engage in discussion with sceptics display some or all of the following:

** An assumption of a position of superiority, either moral, intellectual or in terms of knowledge of the subject and will terminate the discussion if respondents question their assumption in this regard.

** Attempts to control the discussion, ignoring difficult questions or questions that don't fit the profile of things they will discuss.

** A readiness to leave the discussion at short notice when, it seems, they don't like how it's progressing, often with petulant remarks. They will sometimes then return, make a few more peevish remarks and leave once again in a flouncing manner.

You avoid these manners, which does you great credit - they earn the climate scientists who practise them a level of contempt from regular posters here. I think that any climate scientists who were inclined to post here would be welcomed if they avoided these shortcomings. (When I say 'welcomed' i mean they would be treated with reasonable respect, although they could expect quite direct responses, such as you receive.)

If you have read my comments on BH, you may have inferred that my opinion of the Met Office is not high. I consider it an organisation that has been briefed and funded to produce propaganda to support things like the Climate Change Act. Producing propaganda seems to have taken priority over scientific truth and even over forecasting the weather correctly. It is clearly an organisation based on the assumption that the climate is something capable of being modelled numerically, which seems to me to be almost self-evidently a nonsense.

I feel that someone who attempts to speak up on behalf of the Met Office is in the position of "Comical Ali" . He earned at least a little bit of respect as having, at least, attempted to do what he considered was his duty.

In your case many posters here proably find it a bit puzzling that someone who seems to be:
(A) honest
(B) in possession of scientific talent
is able to defend the Met Office's antics. But we appreciate you have a career to nurture and no doubt a mortgage to pay. Furthermore, nobody (so far as I recall examples) ever got an organisation they worked for to correct its ways by leaving it and then writing embittered letters to the Times.

As someone said recently here, we appreciate your postings even if they leave us unconvinced, and we hope you will continue to post here.

Jun 12, 2012 at 6:49 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Hi Richard,

I greatly appreciate your posts and I think that your online communications are valuable. I'm only a "Joe Citizen" across the Atlantic, not a scientist. I simply try to understand more of what policy makers and citizens in all countries should try to know about climate issues. You will think I haven't learned enough from you (smiles) but I certainly do take your remarks here very seriously indeed. I wish everyone would be more polite and civil to you. I know that some want you to "speak for" (defend or criticize) everything and everyone in climate science, Met Office, IPCC, etc. but I think you quite properly limit your focus to what you think you can best address. Sure we'd all get some thrills if you started denouncing whatever we denounce, but I'm simply glad to read your posts and think about whatever you have to say. I also appreciate that your are unfailingly polite, when some of the less than civil comments must test your patience.

Jun 12, 2012 at 10:37 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Richard, communication can only be good. It will never be complete but it can be informative. Also it can be counterproductive and frustrating when over complicated or vague/difficult to interpret.

The majority of communication appears to revolve around various interpretations of “uncertainties”. Personally I am aware that I will never be able to fully understand the complexities of GCMs and therefore I cannot quantify the uncertainties.

However I can quantify and understand “forecast v actual”.

If you and the Met Office really do want to communicate about “climate change” and the “uncertainties” publish the annual “Decadal Forecasts” and report the actual against forecast. Don't confuse the issue with hindcasts, plumes of probability or data outside the forecast period just a chart with 2 lines of 120 monthly rolling annual mean data points, one forecast, the other the actual updated on a monthly basis.

I would like to know how the Met Office 2005 – 2014 decadal forecast doing, be able to watch progress and through this build an understanding of the variations.

Past experience dictates the best way to communicate scientific issues is to supply concise, plain and pertinent reproducible data.

I am sure it is more than difficult, new science, in its infancy, but due to its import it will need a highly visible “target and monitor” ethos which is not evident at present.

Many thanks for your ongoing contributions, for one I have more awareness of the issues thanks to the insight you have provided.

Jun 12, 2012 at 11:32 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand


In my posting (Jun 12, 2012 at 6:49 PM) I made reference to "Comical Ali". On reflection, I wish I had not done so. Comical's announcements bore no relation to the truth whatever. A reader might infer that I was implying the same about your comments, which was not my intention at all. I am sorry that I mentioned Comical Ali in commenting on your BH posts.

Some BH commenters, such as me, have formed a very low opinion of climate science in general. I think your comments on BH serve as a useful reminder that things are not always as uniformly polarised as our own system of groupthink might otherwise convince us.

Jun 13, 2012 at 8:32 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A


For all that we may have crossed (s)words from time to time, I do appreciate your contributions here. Not so sure about your tweets, though ;-)

What I'd be interested in knowing is how you would describe what you have learned (or not!) from interacting with us.

Are you planning to share with us your presentation, as Judith Curry has done on some papers and presentations? She has invited our input on her drafts and expressed her appreciation to the denizens in the end result ... which, it occurs to me, Karoly may (or, most probably, may not) do when Gergis et al is re-submitted.

Jun 13, 2012 at 9:34 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Hi Richard,

Like many here I find your polite engagement admirable. It is a refreshing difference from many other Climate Scientists who post here. Like Hilary, though, I perhaps find that the most interesting of your questions is this one:

"Is there anything you think or hope I might gain from discussions here?"

And it is a question I hope you will talk about in your presentation... I can see that you might view reading comments here as sociologically interesting - learning about what these weird sceptics are. I guess you might also view it as useful, in terms of researching strategies for "communicating climate change to different audiences", i.e. looking for ways to get around flaws in the deficit model. You've said elsewhere that you have not in any way been commissioned to come here, but maybe you feel that you have a duty to do some kind of outreach?

But do you feel you actually have learned anything *scientific*, other than minor details, from anyone here (or in other sceptic blogs you read)? I can see that could in principle go both ways. Most scientists in most areas would instinctively find it ludicrous (though they may not express it that way) to think that they might learn something from the general public - like poor Michel Crucifix, who got crucified for saying, in a clumsy way, that such a dialogue is not a dialogue between equals. Yet most scientists also enjoy talking about science with people from other disciplines as it can help them take some distance from their subject, and perhaps learn to view some parts of it in a different way.

Good luck at the conference - if your talk is to be filmed, make sure you don't blink right at the beginning ;-)

Jun 13, 2012 at 11:19 AM | Registered CommenterJeremy Harvey

I was going to write something, but can't add anything new to what's already been said.

Where and when is the meeting?

Jun 13, 2012 at 6:11 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

If you want to go to the heart of the issue with a sceptical audience, that issue is trust. Oh, the communicators we have spoken about are irritating in manner, but we could engage with them if we could get past the issue of trust. Mostly they are unwilling to admit uncertainty and unwilling to acknowledge or confront the advocate scientists when they are seen to cheat. It just is not enough to declare the science settled. To trot out the same old facts without mentioning that they are in dispute. To trail all the old nonsense of 'here is a list of my papers to read' or 'if you know better, get published' You, collective you of course, lost the trust. You have to get it back. I don't know how to do that.

And having one bit of conclusive evidence not based on models, proxies and a hypothesis which hasn't been experimentally demonstrated would help too.

Jun 13, 2012 at 7:19 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda


The time you have spent explaining the science and the IPCC process has been informative, engaging, and at times entertaining. Frustration can creep in when it appears that certain topics or questions are off limits but hey that's at your discretion, it's not like you're paid to comment here.
As far as 'communicating climate change', that still has the air of an agenda about it which makes it difficult at times to distinguish between personal and official dialogue, perhaps there isn't a difference and you are really a METBOT. ;-)

Seriously though if you were to walk into my local I'd be more than happy to buy you a pint and chew the cud for an hour or two.

Jun 13, 2012 at 7:22 PM | Registered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

What a fantastic thread - it's great to hear all your positive responses.

You do a great job Richard, and you make it a lot easier for more junior scientists like myself to try and follow in your footsteps.

I haven't been around for a while, but I've just put up a new post at It's about a new Nature Comment on the limitations of climate models. It's very quiet at the moment, so do come along and fill some space below the line with your thoughts. Thanks!


Jun 14, 2012 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterTamsin Edwards

Richarc - may i ask who is behind it.. / involved?

as it sounds quite a bit like the project backed by Cardiff/Nottingham @talkingclimates

I have mentioned to them, having a partner with COIN and the PIRC really is not helping. as Geroge Marshall COIN founder, and a PIRC board member are heavily involved in environmental activist groups, which have 'Denier' Hall of Shame..and are lobbyiesyts for policy.

Not something to give dcredbility if you are a 'neutral scientist'

Not the best approach to communication, if you are denigrating people...
George won't even allow comments on his blog

Much of communication, from certain groups appear to be how to persuade people that they are wrong, very little listening to people.

Jun 14, 2012 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Hopefully Futerra is not involved. Main thing to add, is communication is a 2 way process..

many attempst of 'climate communication', is just the lates attempt to preach to people, and how to do it. No listening or attempt at understanding other viewpoints at all.

See the emails I sent a little while ago, reg Nick Pidgeon, COIN, etc.

Talking Climate being a latest example of such a project.

Jun 14, 2012 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Is it not a little strange that the ones who are worried about communication are the ones who have biased access to most of the media and who have PR firms, funding, professors, universities and politicians all on their side, not to mention international bodies and NGOs. And who are failing to convince the general public, whereas we the sceptics have pretty much none of those things, we can't even reach the general public and our message is somehow a threat?

Is it too much to beseech the alarmists to consider that they might in fact be....wrong?

If I were speaking at this shindig, I'd put that out there just to hear the screams.

Jun 14, 2012 at 2:38 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

I'll add to rhoda's post in a minute. First ...
Do you find what I say interesting or indeed useful, or entertaining, or merely annoying? - Certainly never annoying.
Is it good to see a climate scientist here, if so why? - Yes. Because the only way there will ever be a meeting of minds is for climate scientists to hear our attempts to communicate with them, something that the 'warmist' blogs appear determined to prevent.
Is there anything you think or hope I might gain from discussions here? - See below!! The message is obviously not getting back to the people who still persist in believing that it is their communication that is at fault!

Some of us with the standard number of brain cells and an IQ comfortably in three figures are getting a little tired of this latest attempt by the activists to sell their snake oil.
I'm assuming it is snake oil because if it was a genuine, usable, worthwhile product they wouldn't need to be hyping it to the extent they are. They wouldn't need to convince themselves that people who happen to take a different view are (in no particular order) stupid, perverse, shills for Big (insert bogeyman du jour here), part of a well-funded denier lobby, anti-science and deserving of a variety of punishments (not excluding the death penalty) which make Poor Phil's abusive emails just so much white noise.
I thought 10 years ago that the hypothesis of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming was crap and 10 years on after all I have read and studied and listened to and had poured down my throat (not quite literally) I still think it's crap.
There is no empirical evidence to support the more extreme claims and prognostications of the eco-warriors and their useful idiots and unless and until the climate science community cuts itself off totally from the likes of WWF, Greenpeace, FoE and the other anti-human eco-fascistic pressure groups and concentrates solely on open, honest, replicable science based on data and remembers that computer models are only as good as (a) the programmer, (b) the data, and (c) the integrity of the interpreter they can "communicate" with me till they're blue in the face. I'm not listening.
The point is, Richard, that regardless of what your input is to AR5 all that will end up in the media and on the desks of the politicians is the Summary for Policymakers which is — in effect — written by those same anti-human eco-fascistic pressure groups who have not a cat in hell's chance of persuading other than their own acolytes to vote for their destructive agenda and can only get their own way through this, or some other, back door.
Get them the hell out and we might be able to start talking sensibly about climate (not to mention several dozen other things).

Jun 14, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Maybe I missed it and sorry if I did, but I'd love to hear how Richard 'communicates' Climategate. Will he acknowledge a FUBAR or tell us to move along as there's nothing to see?

Or maybe just dodge the question?

Over to you RB tell us your take on "hide the decline" and what it means for the integrity of the 'trees as thermometers' school of climate science.... No pressure!

Jun 14, 2012 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR


I feel that someone who attempts to speak up on behalf of the Met Office is in the position of "Comical Ali" . He earned at least a little bit of respect as having, at least, attempted to do what he considered was his duty.
Your comment is funny, but also profound. No need to apologise. My one criticism of Richard’s interventions is that the discussion tends to get a bit solemn thereafter, as if the vicar’s just walked into the pub, which is not Richard’s fault, of course.
I once pointed out that his findings had been given a catastrophic interpretation at Guardian Environment, without any attempt at correction by the Met Office, and he very decently admitted that this was wrong. What is needed of course is a three way conversation between sceptics, warmists (ie journalists and activists) and scientists.

Barry Woods (Jun 14, 2012 at 10:36 AM) wonders about the possible involvement of talkingclimate. There’s a post going up soon at talkingclimate and at the same time at HarmlessSky, a Q&A between myself and psychologist and Guardian journalist Adam Corner. Comments will be allowed on both blogs.

Jun 15, 2012 at 10:22 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

The article I mentioned above has just gone up at
and should appear soon at HarmlessSky. The point of putting the same post up at two blogs is to encourage debate across the divide. I hope it encourages others to do the same.

Jun 15, 2012 at 10:58 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Hi Richard,

Your presence here is very much valued of course, thank you. Nobody wants an echo chamber so your unfailingly honest and polite engagement helps make BH the best climate blog in my opinion (why don’t warmist blogs allow dissent if their case is so strong?). It does you great credit that you avoid the pitfalls outlined by Martin A and return to the lions den even after some over exuberant criticism. Bravo.

However, if your proposed meeting is another of those favoured by the Anointed, “we know we’re right, we just need to communicate better to the little people” then I’m afraid it’s doomed to failure. To my mind the sceptics have all the communication they need with a high level of understanding of the debate…the simple fact is we just don’t agree with you.

The bright light shone on academics in general during the climate debate has made my view of them plummet. No longer do I as default trust the men in white coats (of any discipline). I love the internet for bringing into my room the views of top notch practical engineers, physicists, statisticians, IT professionals, (oh and yes, Mining Consultants!). They’re just as intelligent as the academics but with a battle hardened real world view that makes all the difference. From my neutral starting point they have won the climate debate hands down (but obviously not the political debate).

The academics really do need to get out of their Ivory Towers more and appreciate the quality of real world experts of other disciplines. We’ve seen the bizarre behaviour of some recently who’ve tried so I guess it is natural to take the easy route and hide away. You are one of the very few who have made a success of this. Good luck too to TamsinE who has made an excellent start.

Whilst the wider debate is interesting, in its most basic form it all boils down to can you accurately predict the future to beneficially influence policy. In that respect I’m with Green Sand, the main communication missing is the most crucial bit: clear untampered rolling forecasts without all the obfuscation and attempted hindsight justification. In other words: the doomsayers need to prove they know what they’re talking about!

Currently I view long range weather/climate forecasting as “Astrology for Intellectuals”. When there is a track record of being right, come back and I’ll listen to you. Otherwise you’re just a slimmer version of Russell Grant (and at least he fired himself out of a cannon for entertainment!).

When it’s my turn to be UK Benevolent Dictator I’m afraid I’d close down 95% of the Met Office. Keep the short term weather forecasting (aka what was the weather yesterday and which way is the wind blowing) and collect reliable auditable statistics: that’s it. This would allow your considerable talents to be used as a productive member of the economy rather than as a drain as at present. You’d be happier for it!

As an aside, I’m at that time in life where I’m emerging from the mortgage, career, kids treadmill and begin to look back at what it was all about. I just fear that if you’re not careful, in your dotage a capable chap like yourself will regret the role you played in the great Climate debate. (I’m currently utilising my Maths degree as a Professional Gambler which whilst fun is about as futile as it gets so I’m aware I’m in a glass house lobbing rocks here! Oh to have worked on the Genome project for example).

By the way, your main USP is not your climate modelling talent (I’m perplexed that you cannot see the futility of your task…perhaps you can), it is your diplomatic skills which are truly Olympic standard. I’ve heard Syria and Palestine are having a few problems so perhaps when you’re looking for a career change you could sort those out for us!

All meant in the best possible spirit and I would also gladly stand you a pint.

Jun 15, 2012 at 12:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimonW


You may recall that I have previously expressed my sincere appreciation of your presence here. I see your rare efforts as climatology with a human face, whereby a well-intentioned individual in an otherwise obnoxious and oppressive regime can offer a glimmer of hope that common sense will eventually prevail. Communication is a two-way street, and you seem to understand that.

My two non-negotiable stances are that CAGW is a fraud (whereas AGW lacks sufficient evidence) and that CO2 mitigation is pointless, illogical and counterproductive, only serving to harm Western democracies and thereby the stability and economic/human development of the entire world. It is tragic that so many of our politicians have been swayed by deep green and UN propaganda. Politics cannot be separated from the issue of climate change.

While I understand that as a civil servant you are constrained in your capacity to engage freely in debate, my hope is that you and others like you are playing a long game based on scientific integrity, and that eventually an honest interpretation of the evidence will filter through to the policymakers, with restoration of rationality. I assume that it is plain to you that many of the people here are your intellectual peers, but who through some weird societal aberration are not being listened to. It is one reason why skeptic blogs outnumber alarmist ones by at least ten to one. Thank heavens for the internet, and thanks again Richard for your participation.

Jun 15, 2012 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

Hi folks,

Thanks very much indeed for all the feedback and (mostly!) kind words.

The meeting is at Exeter University on 27th June. I will share my presentation with you afterwards.

Jeremy Harvey, yes I have indeed learnt a few scientific things, often from the papers / powerpoint presentations that Philip Richens posts. Even if I don't always agree with aspects of his interpretation, it is nevertheless very interesting to see new work that I have not previously heard of. The Lief Svalgaard stuff was particularly interesting.

Geoffchambers, I enjoyed your comparing me to a vicar walking into the pub. I can assure you I don't have that effect when I walk into my local in real life ... at least, I don't think so ... you've got me wondering now ... maybe I'd better go and test this hypothesis right now....!

Yes indeed, it would be good to have a pint with Lord Beaverbrook and SimonW - and if FarleyR were to turn up and buy me a third, that might even be enough to get me talking about Climategate :-)



Jun 15, 2012 at 8:29 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

Your link to the Exeter gig does not exactly fill a sceptic with confidence that there is any open-mindedness involved. Please try my new litmus test. Is there room for doubt? Ask that question as part of your presentation, I dare you.

Jun 15, 2012 at 9:45 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

I'm in Holland Richard, otherwise I'd love to discuss over a pint.

Interesting you choose to dodge the question here then. I can speculate as to why that might be, but perhaps that wouldn't be helpful.

Jun 16, 2012 at 12:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR