Sunday, March 14, 2010

The discussion continues...

I’ve included below two of the questions that we didn’t get to the other day. Please find some time over the next two weeks to post some of your thoughts and responses to these two questions. I’ll try to keep up, but if I don’t respond right away, look for me to do so over break. I look forward to your thoughts...

1) Climate change “skeptics” (their word; my word choice is “deniers”) often claim that the science of climate change is not being carried out appropriately. To begin a discussion of the true “scientific method”, please take a look at It’s a simple website, probably intended for an audience younger than you, but its content is right on target. Thoughts, comments? How does this differ from what you learned in primary school; how does it differ from what you believed before you read it? How do computer models of the global climate “fit” into the scientific process described in the website above?

2) In a nice synergy of accident, Elizabeth Kolbert contributed the segment at the end of Chapter 2 of Schmidt & Wolfe: Picturing the Science. Read that segment (pp. 70-71) and think about the way climate change is portrayed in the media, both locally (i.e. the Spectator) and nationally (USA Today, perhaps or even the Web); maybe even Google some articles to get a feel for it. Also read (or re-read) the segment at the end of Chapter 6 of Schmidt and Wolfe: Picturing the Science by Naomi Oreskes (pp.153-155). What are your thoughts on the reporting of climate change; is it generally “fair and balanced”? What does that phrase even mean in the context of reporting an inherently scientific story, but one with enormous socioeconomic implications? What sources do you trust; which do you exclude?


  1. Well, here is one thought to get us started...

    I have been thinking a lot about the second question regarding news sources and environmentally focused stories. In class, you asked us how we perceived climate change is portrayed in the media, and I was at a loss. I could not think of a single recent, relevant news story I had seen. Now, this can partially be attributed to the fact that I do not read/watch/listen to the news as much as I should, but, I feel that the problem is a lot larger than that. I always check the headlines on, I watch the Today Show, and I read the Leader Telegram, the USA Today, the Spectator, and my local hometown newspaper when I get the chance; however, these sources do not seem to cover environmentally focused news pieces. This is very frustrating because these are some of the sources that are the most accessible to the average person. I think that the media is doing an incredibly poor job of getting the word out. For instance, I just spent 20 minutes on putting key words into the search box. The first article that popped up was from October of 2009! Further down the page, there were some good resources, but I think they should be emphasized more. Additionally, I do not think that news reporting of climate change is generally "fair and balanced." Some sources obviously strive to do this, while others try to make it out to be false. However, one other aspect needs to be touched on and that is the topic of climate change as entertainment. To me, it seems like a lot of the big name news outlets only like to feature stories that are fun and light like, "oh, look what these wacky scientists are inventing" or "look how these people are adapting to climate change." I realize this may be because I tend to watch lighter news broadcasts, but I think that there may be something more to it. In our world, entertainment sells. Now, this is a step in the right direction because it is at least getting the concept to the people, but I think that so much more can be done to really get across how big of a problem global climate change is and what we can and should do about it.

    This is something I know admittedly little about, so I would love to hear what other people, especially people who devote more time to watching/reading the news, or who take advantage of other sources, have to say about coverage the news media provides. Are there some sources that you feel are "better" than others when it comes to reporting accurate climate/environment news?

  2. When reading the Scientific Method initially described on the website, I was immediately brought back to the days of elementary school when we were performing “experiments,” while surrounded by posters of a mad scientist named “PHEOC”, an acronym-named character whose purpose was to help us remember the oh-so-crucial steps of the scientific method. However, what I have learned from upper-level science courses seems to be that the caricature is appropriate when you are making “lava” explode out of a papier-mâché volcano, but is far too stringent for reality. It is crucial for the world to recognize that climate change experiments are not occurring in a PHEOC-esque fashion because there are simply far too many scientists in too many different fields of expertise studying the dramatic changes that are occurring. No one person could possibly be an expert on all areas related to climate change. It is an interwoven mass of various branches of science which all come together to form the field of climate change study. As a scientist in one area makes a breakthrough, that could be the crucial turning point for another scientist in his or her area of expertise. As the results from the many areas of research come together, that’s how we develop our current models, making it appear haphazard to some, when in reality it is just a very dynamic field. If one truly wishes to stick to the PHEOC method rather than models, they would realize that currently the Earth is undergoing an experiment, its conclusion being something that no one can be certain of, but about which many can hypothesize seemingly accurately. The problem with “conducting” this experiment and not trusting the models (which have been created through thorough experimentation) is that, by the time we find out the conclusion, it will be too late.
    One would think that these very sentiments could be expressed in the media in a way that would inspire people to take action. However, the trouble, as discussed in Climate Change: Picturing the Science, is that our society has become so accustomed to allowing each side of the story equal access to the media, that we have now done so to the point that it has become unproductive. As pointed out by Naomi Oreskes, “When agreement is forged on a new theory, individuals can dissent from the new consensus…but unless they can come up with some new evidence or new arguments…their dissent becomes unproductive. There comes a point when disagreement degrades into denial.” (155) This makes it extremely dangerous when reporting a story with enormous socioeconomic implications because it gives people just enough chance to convince others to distrust a theory, despite the fact that many are just unwilling to believe what is painstakingly obvious. The difficulty is, however, deciding which sources to trust, as pointed out by Dr. Boulter last Friday. A seemingly trustworthy source could be “selling out” in exchange for a fat check , while other sources, claiming to be peer-reviewed, could be nothing more than a bit of rubbish with some fancy, misleading graphs pasted in. As far as deciding which sources to trust, I don’t know that a person really can know who to trust anymore because the debate about climate change has become more than just a scientific debate. I would be interested to know what other people think regarding this, because, as far as I can tell it seems to be everyone for themselves out there!

  3. I, too, remember PHEOC-Man and the dozens of quizzes that had us write out the scientific method. To go in a slightly different direction than has already been discussed (since I agree with the two previous comments,) I think that the sciences are not given enough credit for all that they can do. Science is creative, as the website suggests, and in that creativeness is room for new sciences, new ideas, and new arguments. Why do we as humans have such a love-hate relationship with science?

    I believe that we expect science to do everything. In an odd metaphor, science is treated like a mother. When we are young, we expect our mother to know everything; she is always right because she has logic, wisdom, and history on her side. She draws the lines, and we rarely cross them in major ways as children. But then we start to grow up - we become teenagers - and suddenly, everything that our mother has led us to believe about the world is challenged. We challenge it because perhaps we don't like it, or because certain evidence shows conflicts between her word and our eyes. There are things that she can no longer answer, and thus, we are no longer satisfied. It is here where science "skeptics" and "believers" part ways. In my opinion, the "believers" grow up to find that although there are things that Mom was wrong about, she pretty much knows what she's saying. The "skeptics" are stuck in defense-mode - unwilling to trust anything that Mom says because she was wrong about a few things, though certainly not the majority.

    What is interesting is that many of the climate models are built with the same kind of process (collect data, find trends, test trends, base hypotheses off of historical evidence) as many medications and diagnoses are. Why, then, would skeptics trust medical doctors and psychiatrists and not climatologists? They don't trust the chemists who describe changes in our world when it concerns the climate change, but they trust the chemists who develop the medications that keep them healthy. What an odd mindset. "I see what I'm looking for, not what's actually there."

    To get back on topic, I am going to save space and say "ditto" to both Laura and Steph - the mainstream media coverage (where there is media coverage) on climate change is inefficient and rarely inspires change. Whether this is because of the pubic's apparent disinterest or the 50/50 split that is given to pro and con arguments, the fact remains the same: the media is not living up to the responsibility that they have to inform the public about the happenings in our world.

  4. The scientific method that I learned in high school or even my Bio 100 was that linear path of hypothesis, test, repeat. It makes a lot more sense to me for the process to be cyclical to include the constant influences of society and new technology that comes with scientific discoveries. Models fit into this method because first, they have to be tested and pass the scientific method. Second, they help predict the affects of other theories and discoveries. Models are well tested and necessary for predicting future results.

    Looking at the current media, current networks tend to try to be even, but the skeptics draw attention more than climate scientists. I only say that because scientists get paid to do studies and experiments, but the skeptics are paid to persuade no matter the cost and they're good at it. I read an article called "Climate Change Debate Now a One-Man Show." You can read it here, and it discusses Monckton's, a British skeptic, visit to Utah for a lecture. It scares me how people like Monckton can win people's supports by bragging about things like "he has scientific training in architectural studies that made it possible for him to build his own home, which is still standing" (Fahys). It's respectable, but completely irrelevant to global warming science. Still, they continue to argue and persuade while filling their pockets with money from big business.

  5. I agree that most kids are taught the linear scientific approach method in elementary school through high school. Even in high school science labs, I was taught to hypothesize, experiment, and conclude. But at the same time, I think that most people realize that science is like most things, in that it is dynamic, unpredicatble and depends on other events in science communitities to raise new questions and make new discoveries. Even if you never explicitly think about it, it makes complete sense that the real scientific method has to be complex and circular in its process.

    I have found that the (little) media coverage on climate change that is out there portrays it as a debate. Climate change is either something you believe in or you don't. This partisan view on climate change is found at both the local and national level. I think that Kolbert makes a great point when she says, "Journalists, it could be argued, completely missed the global warming story by treating it as a debate when, really, it never was one" (71). Kolbert's passage made me think about the difference between consensus and fact. Are there times when something that is indeed a fact is not regarded as fact because it lacks consensus within the scientific community?

    I have a hard time thinking that climate change reporting is fair and balanced because it has turned into such a political issue. For the most part, it is not being reported as an inherently scientific story, and I don't know if it ever was. It's hard to know what you can trust in the media. The public should strive to get their news coverage from media outlets that don't have an agenda, but that can be quite hard to do.

  6. Looking at the website "How Science Works" with the idea of global climate change was so different than the ways I had looked at "science" before. To be frank, however, I was not a huge fan of science in my high school. I understand OPHEOC (as we called it) and how it related to science, but it never encouraged my interest in experimentation for advancement as I wished it would have. We became so wrapped up in making sure we recorded every detail in the correct part of the table that we missed the whole point. Yes, it is necessary to follow a linear pattern in a sense, especially if you are simply mixing salt and water to see how they combine. But in reality, science goes way beyond that. I really liked the addition "But in reality, scientific conclusions are always revisable if warranted by the evidence. Scientific investigations are often ongoing, raising new questions even as old ones are answered." I had been taught that as theories, many ideas we discssed had been changed and will be changed throughout history, but I think so many of us don't realize the "raising new questions as old ones are answered." With the climate change, I think it is easy to note the obvious changes, like melting glaciers and rising temperatures, but we have to go beyond that: what does that mean? what other implications are we missing?

    I also liked the addition, "But in reality, science depends on interactions within the scientific community. Different parts of the process of science may be carried out by different people at different times." As we have often discussed, the process of understanding and working towards changes in global climate change cannot be managed by one person alone. As our texts often point out, we need cooperation from many areas; one person's opinion and thoughts are not enough.

    In response to question two, I really liked Kolbert's comment in Climate Change, "The reporter's habit of giving equal time to the opposing sides on any issue is easily exploited, and of course has been by so-called global warming skeptics" (71). The issue of climate change so often becomes side vs. side that people overlook the powerful message and work to align opinions with a party, rather than society as a whole. Global climate change is just that: global. When we confine ourselves to thinking Democrat vs. Republican, we are leaving out the thousands of other parties and opinions not just in our own country but in the entire world. I don't think other countries look at climate changes so selfishly as our country often does. Instead of working to understand the problem on a grand scale, we have reduced the issue to simply whether we believe it or not because of our political affiliation.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.