I’ve been reading a bunch of people talking about whether Hurricane Sandy was “caused by” climate change (answer: it depends on what you mean by “caused by”). Also the related question: Is it kosher to leave off some of the nuance when explaining that issue to the public, if by doing so you can help overcome the impediments created by a toxic, culturally charged information environment that has left broad swaths of the public misinformed about climate change?
- Probable Cause – Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist from MIT, writing in Foreign Policy magazine. Good, solid information on the question by an expert well-versed in the relevant science. Please note both parts of his argument: 1) It probably is at least somewhat inaccurate to say Sandy was the direct result of climate change. 2) A rational understanding of the risks posed by climate change would lead us to take a much greater collective response to mitigate that risk than we have so far done.
- The moral logic of climate communication – David Roberts, writing in Grist. Roberts presents an interesting, and to my mind fairly apt, analogy involving a patient who has a serious disease that requires expensive treatment, but who is not yet feeling the effects of it. Then the patient has a flu that was not directly caused by the disease, but may have been worsened by it, and is similar to the effects that the disease can be expected to produce if left untreated. What should the doctor tell the patient about the nature of the disease?
- Moral logic vs. scientific accuracy – David Appell, writing on his Quark Soup blog. Appell calls shenanigans on Roberts for the previously-listed article. He says, in effect, that Roberts is abandoning scientific truth in the name of winning the argument, but that scientific truth is the only thing our side has, meaning to abandon it is crazy. My personal take: Appell is guilty of arguing against a strawman version of Roberts’ argument. And I wish both authors would pay more attention to the distinction between scientists (who need to do their best to be scrupulously objective) and science communicators (who need to be aware of, and respond to, the ways in which their audience will interpret the stories they are told about what scientists believe).