PR, climate science and climate activism

The Coyote blog picks on ‘The Pattern’ here. He calls it “the Global Warming Hype Process’:

1.Identify a 2 or 3 sigma weather event. Since there are 365 days in the year and hundreds of different regions in the world, the laws of probability say that some event in the tail of the normal distribution (local high, local low, local flood, local drought, local snow, local tornado, local hurricane, etc) should be regularly occurring somewhere.

2.Play weather event all over press, closely linked as often as possible with supposition that this is due to manmade CO2. If the connection to global warming is too outlandish to make with a straight face (e.g. cold weather) use term “climate change” or “climate disruption” instead of global warming.

3.Skeptics will point to actual data that this event is not part of a long term trend, e.g. there is no rise in tornado activity correlated with 20th century rise in temperatures so blaming one year of high tornadoes on global warming makes no sense. Ignore this.

4.Peer reviewed literature will emerge 6-12 months later demonstrating that the event was not likely due to man-made global warming. Ignore this as well. Never, ever go back and revisit failed catastrophic predictions.


Indeed, the pattern—of ‘linking’ natural disasters and ‘extreme events’ to climate change— has simply reached a point, where its proponents now speak openly about it and actively advocate for its perpetuation. You find John Beddington, chief scientist of the UK advocating linking natural disasters to global warming and activist former US president Gore readying to link ‘extreme weather’ to global warming.

This is exactly as per advice offered by marketing and public relations campaigners.

It would be sheer coincidence otherwise, that Gore’s ‘Climate Reality’ project is being directed by one Alex Bogusky, a public relations and marketing professional who’s Crispin Porter+Bogusky was behind such ad campaigns as Domino’s Pizza, Windows 7 and Burger King. Bogusky who suffered a  corporate mid-life crisis is a part of the Gore effort to link ‘global warming’ to disasters, as is evident from this post on his blog

The Bogusky-founded, a blog farm,hosts marketing and other  professionals’ writings about ‘sustainability’ and such things. One such post, I found, was titled ‘Wanted: PR for Science’ and featured the omnipresent fake polar bear picture (Urus bogus) that Science magazine popularized.

Fake polar bear on PR maven and Al Gore associate Alex Bogusky's website

Coincidentally, New York journalist Keith Kloor attempted a few days back to paint a positive portrait of Edward Maibach, a social sciences researcher working on climate communication. As reported here, Maibach was listed a willing participant at the Stonehouse Standing Circle conference where public relations professionals pre-decided to carry out active linking between ‘global warming’ and natural disasters.

It is always very interesting to note at what juncture blog owners decide to cross the line and start censoring posts. In my case, Kloor decided to stop discussion when it turned adverse to his post’s mission.

More interestingly, we learn from Bishop Hill that the University of East Anglia had employed the services of a public relations firm Outside Organization, in managing its public image after the Climategate debacle. From the details, it only follows that the skeptics have been spending their time fighting the ghostly shadow-punches thrown by marketeers in the wake of Climategate. From its website (emphasis mine):

From the Beckhams alleged kidnap plot, to Jerry Hall’s incarceration in the Caribbean on trumped up drugs charges, the So Solid Crew gun charges to Naomi Campbell’s evidence at The Hague and Climategate – we’ve seen it all, and more importantly, we’ve dealt with them. We have enormous experience in the field of media and privacy issues and have managed some of the most delicate ‘crises’ imaginable.

‘The Climategate scandal does not affect the science’, ‘scientists have been harassed by a deluge of FOI requests’, ‘scientists have come under death threats’, ‘we have clear evidence that there was a hack, and not a leak at the CRU’, ‘all the old temperature records from the 1980s have been lost’… — how is one now to know which of these were concerns voiced by geniune scientists and which, red herrings spun by public relation professionals to garner sympathy and protect the University of East Anglia’s ‘image’?

If you remember, Climategate revealed CRU scientists in posessesion of advocacy documents from UK public relations firm: Futerra.

Going back a bit in time, one recalls researcher Simon Lewis of Amazongate fame who acted on the advice of his friends who were in marketing, to go into media activism mode.

After advice from a friend in public relations and press officers at scientific organizations, I filed an official complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, the UK media watchdog.

A crisis in any scientific issue has very specific, fairly limited options as solutions. These may, or may not be effective, but they are the only legitimate approaches. Scientists, as opposed to celebrities, are not free to try ‘dirty tricks’ and ‘communication strategies’ to work around a problem. The extensive involvement of public relations professionals in the climate change debate—entities that are completely extraneous to this process—explains, at least partly , why the public image of climate science continues to go down.

Minor edits: Jul 17th 2011



  1. Orson Olson

    OT-but one of shub’s interests
    While reading and responding to science journalist David Appell, here, a post by the Heritage Institute’s Steven Hayward:
    (DO expand the comments to see them-I search the text for “view”-otherwise you will miss many comments)
    I had a thought about one of shub’s recurrent interests: understanding the AGWer!

    Appell and skeptics both throw mud. But often enough, David remains under self-control. And in (I think) his last post, he – commendably – posts his grounds for being an AGWer.

    In previous go-rounds, I’ve pointed out how much Believer/skeptic divide breaks down and mirrors the political divide. But, in reading the climate points debated in this thread, notice the tropes: skeptics talk uncertainty versus hubris, while Believers talk of certainty and elite scientific understanding that should be honored and obeyed; the first find their position pretty obvious and sensible, while Appell, in upholding the consensus, touts the missteps skeptics make and admits none on his side. His best populist appeal, however – “weather isn’t climate” you rubes – is bumper-sticker ‘wisdom’ that encapsulates everything wrong with True Belief on climate.

    These tropes find their parallels in another debate waged decades ago, with parallel sides. I’m referring to the socialist economic calculation debate. Back then, experts would solve all the mysteries of the market mechanism and harness material progress for the greater good of all. Or rather, a central bureaucracy could imitatively solve the demand-supply calculation problem. Issue solved. Thank you for pointing it out!

    By contrast, the pro-capitalist right pointed out certain major problems papered over by an elite, scientific consensus.

    Under socialism, there are no incentives for entreprenuers to seek out new markets and bring new technology to bear on human problems. (East and west germany, and even today, North and south Korean speak eloquently to those incompatible visions – one a prison-monument to scientism (a term F. A. von Hayek, student of Mises, wrote a book on), and the reign of philosopher king (at least in their own minds), the other to consumer-oriented choice (or risible waste and chaos to socialist Believers), and ground-up populism as proof of the wisdom of crowds .

    These and related objections were pushed aside or not taken seriously until, through a series of failure, new political leadership arose to try the market option. And soon, the Soviet Empire fell from within. As socialist Robert Heilbronner famously wrote (circa 1990), but “it turns out [Ludwug von] Mises was right.” (Mises, of course, launched the debate on socialist economic calculation.)

    What underlay the argument is property rights – the freedom to hold, to buy, truck and barter. What is missing from the Believers deterministic science is data series long enough – and likely more tellingly, precise enough – to prove or falsify their case and how they make it. Or, from the skeptic side, acknowledgement from the relevant experts that such scientific determinism is actually impossible. Overtime, Mises original formulation got lost by political-economists: because strong and weak versions of solving or denying socialist economic calculation thesis emerged, the original thesis was in fact “The Impossibility of Economic Calculation Under Socialism” because collective ownership abolished private property.

    Ironically, the case for the impossibility of predicting climate future and understanding it deterministically is made for by a Believing mathematician in “The Future of Everything: The Science of Prediction” (see chapter 4).

    At any rate, I apologize for hijacking your thread, shub. I don’t know quite where these thoughts go. Perhaps someone else can take it further. THANK you.

  2. Orson Olson

    PS-observe another parallelism: socialists wanting to save the proletariate from the rapacious capitalists – the worker from the exploiter. Likewise, the planetary crisis, saving the planet from rapacious industrialism. the right resists savior complex, unless reduced to one (and one only, ie, Jesus). While the Left’s concerns have simply moved from economic exploitation to resource exploitation, ie, energy, which makes all industrialization possible.

  3. Shub Niggurath

    No, thank you, Orson. ‘O/T’ is fine.

    I’ve thought the same thing you write (again, as before from a different angle). Consider the ‘prison-monument to scientism’ bit. Today, I believe, the same form of ideology takes on different forms, and different names: it calls itself rational policy making, ‘evidence-based policy making’, ‘evidence-based law’.

    This type of thinking plagues environmental policy making and public health policy making through and through.

    Consider, for instance, laws are formulated to deal with an environmental risk that is based on an personal understanding and assessment tasked with the responsibility. It would perhaps be a more accomodative one – for escalating actions to contain the risk, or to ratchet down the imposed controls in case and as and when the said risks, turn out to be less than what they are made out to be. The lawmaker accomodates not only for his ‘knowledge’ but also for his ignorance. This is because he knows of his ignorance.

    Contrast that with a ‘science-driven policy making process’. To begin with, you have trumpeted and bandied the ‘scence-based’ -ness so much, that you drive away the less science-oriented and affiliated non-specialists off the arena (and their services that are more valuable). They are put off by the fact that the basis for the claimsmaking lies in an area of expertise (i.e., science) that is not theirs, and have no say in. You have reduced the genetic heterogeneity of the lawmakers clique.
    Then, the policy itself is likely to take on more draconian form because it tends to be (a) blanket – applies to everyone and all times (b) restrictively defined- because the intense study leading to legislation gives the illusion that the problem is better understood than it actually is (c) non-accomodative – because in the realm of science, the primacy of one explanation (and therefore one solution) means the near-total displacement of other solutions.

    The blanket, restrictive, and non-accomodative facets derive directly from the science-based nature of policy making activity, rather than the science itself.

    You can see Ben Pile’s latest two threads where he seems to not appreciate these issues you lay out here.

  4. Orson Olson

    Nice, Shub.

    “Today, I believe, the same form of ideology takes on different forms, and different names: it calls itself rational policy making, ‘evidence-based policy making’, ‘evidence-based law’.
    This type of thinking plagues environmental policy making and public health policy making through and through.” As an environmental scientist myself, I completely agree.

    The Manufacturing(?) consensus” thread at Judith Curry’s blog — drawing on an Iowa State University study and the origins of the IPCCs drive for consensus — shows a persistent socio-political cleavage.

    Our warmist friend Nick Stokes weighs in on the obvious side, answered by a skeptic, skeptically”

    Nick Stokes | July 16, 2011 at 9:46 am | Reply
    There’s certainly enough legitimate concern about AGW that governments have to have some policy on it. They can’t just ignore it.

    So how can they acquire knowledge to make a decision? They have to ask a whole lot of scientists. There’s no other way.

    They will never get unanimity. But they have to form a policy. So how?

    There’s no other way than to get what seems like a substantial majority of scientists to write out an agreed view of the facts. What else could they do?

    That sounds a lot like the IPCC, and a consensus. It seems to me that the railing against a consensus is just a way of trying to make it impossible for decisions to be made.

    Bad Andrew | July 16, 2011 at 9:59 am | Reply
    “There’s certainly enough legitimate concern about AGW that governments have to have some policy on it.”

    Not necessarily. Governments don’t have to have policies based on “concerns”. If that were true, government might have to have policies on virtually everything.

    Oh, wait…


    And indeed the problem goes back to the foundations of modern science: Bacon who believed that without state support, science and all the greater good it provides would whither. This was answered by Spinoza, in that era.

    In our time, the argument has been fortified by empirical measures. I know that Pat Michaels has attempted to apply public choice measurement to the politicization of climate science. His latest edited book attempts to do so in broad look at all things political, not the least of which is US military planning.

    And over the pat decade or tow, Terrence Kealey has made the deeper, historical and empirical argument that science neither needs state funding, nor benefits from it over anything but possibly short periods (eg, wartime).

    In 1996 in his “‘The Economic Laws of Scientific Research’ where he argued that, contrary to myth, governments need not fund science. His second book, ‘Sex, Science and Profits’ (2008) argues that science is not a public good but, rather, is organised in invisible colleges, which is why Government funding is irrelevant.”

    Shub, your thoughts (above) bear re-reading, plus what you recommend. Along with Curry’s long threaded post.

    But one part of what your write to me compares with Kealey: “To begin with, you have trumpeted and bandied the ‘scence-based’ -ness so much, that you drive away the less science-oriented and affiliated non-specialists off the arena (and their services that are more valuable). They are put off by the fact that the basis for the claimsmaking lies in an area of expertise (i.e., science) that is not theirs, and have no say in.”

    “Science-based” meaning elite-serving – aiming at the ends established by political opinion-makers. Thus, alienating those not endowed with expert prestige like scientists — for instance the many engineers who populate AGW-skeptic circles.

    Kealey nicely argues that progress in science does not follow the wartime experience-derived model of directed science, as in the Manhattan Project to build an atomic weapon before World War Tow enemies did. Yet this became the interacting hierarchy for post-war science, research and education, with National Academies of Science, all importantly or primarily funded by the federal government.

    Instead, Kealey points out impressive comparative data that buttresses this simple observation: back in the day, the Smithsonian Institution had let a contract via Congress to a German trained scientist, authorized to build a lighter than air craft for a human. Of course, it failed — bested by two bicycle repairmen, the Wright Brothers. And they did it at a tiny fraction of the cost the government plan.

    The point being the progress in science is not the result of status, but of explanatory success. And here, prestige funding has little to do with progress because technologists and amateurs are as capable as are scientists in finding solutions.

    The prestigious and centrally funded French Academy of Sciences for over a century was bested by an amateur and mostly self-funded science culture in Britain. Therefore, on ground Kealey has researched, Nick Stokes is wrong.

    But how to get these detailed arguments to bear on AGW-science and UN-based IPPC it is defined by?