Tag Archive: Michael Mann

A recent exchange in The Washington Post reminds us all that in sometimes in PR, as in life, the best defence is a good offence.

Michael Mann: Controversial and adversarial paleoclimatologist

About a month ago, the controversial U.S. climate scientist Michael Mann wrote in The Washington Post attacking the politicians who are making threatening noises towards him and his colleagues. Mann argues that senior U.S. politicians are playing politics with what should be objective science. Senator Joe Barton has written a response completely ignoring this argument and framing the discussion instead in terms freedom of speech and freedom to challenge scientists.

Rarely is it more clear that public debates are won and lost not with different answers to the same question, but by arguing over the nature of the question. Mann has pushing the debate towards greater scrutiny of the right-wing attack dogs that threaten climate science. By pointing to this undue politicisation, the debate is dragged away from bickering over scientific detail and from the community of climate scientists constantly fending off attacks that steadily chip away at their credibility.

Joe Barton: Republican Congressman from Texas in the news recently for attacking the White House's "shakedown" of BP

Climate scientists, like many scientists, are often too happy to bury themselves in their work and ignore the arguments going on around them. The climategate fiasco of last December was largely a result of inaction by the scientists under fire failing to open up and get their message out quickly enough, a classic case of surrendering control of the conversation.

Hoggan the Spotlight: Expert Perspective

James Hoggan, the CEO of the PR firm Hoggan & Associates and the man behind an award winning climate change blog (pictured below) puts it, good PR involves three stages

  • Do the right thing
  • Be seen to be doing the right thing
  • Don’t get #1 and #2 mixed up

With the climate science community we are so often left to wonder what happened to number 2. (See here for Hoggan’s blog’s take on the Washington post exchange.)

On a similar note, after existing for more than twenty years the high profile Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have announced in their most recent press release, which is about as quotable as most tax returns, that they are going to put together a communication strategy.

It’s about time.

James Hoggan: Expert in both good communications and the "Darth Vader" PR of some on the right-wing of US politics

IPCC Plays Defence

After a year that has encompassed “climategate” and the IPCC’s own “Amazongate”, this seems long overdue. The IPCC has long kept its head down and played a purely defensive game in its PR, and while good defense is important, it keeps the conversation on “can the IPCC be trusted?” and “is climate science credible?”. Some proportion of those reading that debate are bound to come down on the side of “no”. If the attacks are fended off well, that may be 20% rather than 80%, but it is still lost ground.

It is widely known in insider circles that the 4th IPCC Assessment Report (2007), the most recent, was written at the conservative end of climate science to avoid giving a platform for its critics. In a 3,000 page report, however, there were bound to be weaknesses found sooner or later. On top of this recent ad hominem attacks (attacks on people to undermine arguments – “playing the man and not the ball”), on its chairman Rajendra Pachauri show that even the defence is not enough. (It is worth reading the column in which George Monbiot lays waste to the claims made against Pachauri.)

While I certainly wouldn’t suggest that the IPCC, say, take out a set of attack adverts against their detractors in true US political style, it’s good to see someone showing a bit of fight-back.


Panorama: Gives us an interesting discussion of climate change disagreements

This week’s BBC Panorama, (or its online summary) on climategate and disgreements on climate change was well worth a look for those following these debates.

The main appeal for me was the interviews with big names in climate change debates, who so often appear in books that push an agenda on each of them. Where divides on this issue often seem vicious and blood-spitting, this documentary took care to show everywhere people agree (on basic science, on increasing CO2 concentrations) in a powerful act of clarification. These are obvious to anyone reading the literature, but perhaps not to the general public with other priorities.

We had Michael Mann, the author of the Hockey Stick, and his view on his critics, John Christy, the leading sceptic who played a lead role in polemic film The Great Global Warming Swindle but who gives a much fuller account of his position here. Christy says, for example, that he believes man is responsible for about a quarter of current warming but that he recognsies he’s in a minority, a more nuanced opinion than the soundbyte-heavy style of The Great Global Warming Swindle. He also stresses uncertainty rather than disagreement. He’s, well, sceptical, rather than in rabid disagreement.

Bjørn Lomborg also appears prominently, though is bizarrely treated as a “sceptic” despite agreeing with the consensus position on the science. In some ways what is remarkable in this programme is how little the interviewees disagree on, important as their disagreements are, and how willing to explain their uncertainties they are.

As a half-hour programme it is clearly limited in its scope, and is full of interviews with members of the public and slightly bizarre episodes like measuring the the measuring of CO2 from things and people around a house. These distracted from the thrust of the discussion and explained very little. It would have nice to see dicussion of how much different speakers think temperatures have risen already compared to earlier periods, a source of disagreement between many, and some explanation of what the cost of mitigation means for the country. Oh well. Good effort Panorama.