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Posts tagged "rhetoric"

An excellent resource to bookmark.

I struggled deciding to post this video on Communicating climate science to the public. But I opted to post it anyway to show that it is totally OK to criticize experts in your own field.

The video is not dated, despite that Columbia University hosted this event back in 2010. The issues discussed really are relevant today.

Three distinguished scientists walk you through the issues and challenges of communicating climate science to the public:

  • Gavin Schmidt, climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, co-founder of the blog Real, and co-author of a popular science book Climate Change: Picturing the Science.
  • Ned Gardiner, Climate Visualization Project Manager at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Climate Program Office.
  • Sabine Marx, Managing Director at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University.

The first panelist, Gavin Schmidt, who is utterly brilliant on, is flat, rambling, and just plain boring. I learned nothing from him other than his contempt for politicians, which is both repulsive for a scientist and ironic to convey considering he’s advocating communicating with them.

Gardiner brings up the fact that most Americans are terrible at reading and understanding basic charts and graphs, for example, which makes communication really difficult for the scientist. Good point, but he doesn’t provide a solution.

And that’s basically how I felt throughout the entire hour+ while watching this - smart people discussing simplified themes with contempt for the public and the politicians they (we) voted to represent us.

True, the panelists are experts in their fields. They are revered, credentialed scientists with public personas. This brings much needed credibility to the conceptual problem of communicating science to the public. But they don’t do a great job of explaining the difficulties of communication, nor do they provide tested examples with any sort of stickiness. Gardiner dances around this issue of getting scientific concepts to stick, and he points to the media’s lack of scientific understanding. But he just misses his opportunity to nail his points home with any clarity.

My gut thinks this talk was rather generic and vague and overall does a disservice to the important concept of communicating science.

You might be asking: If Michael is so sour on this talk, why did he even post it? I think it’s to show that even experts in communications struggle with the issue of communicating science with the public. For example, their personal biases shade their overall points.On the one hand, they want their fellow scientists to make greater efforts to communicate with politicians. On the other, the panelists spent several minutes completely dismissing and condescending those very same politicians.

And maybe that’s my secondary point of posting this. That critical thinking is required when watching these talks. Just because someone is respected in their field doesn’t mean that they’re any good at advocating for change. In other words, it’s OK to be critical of the critics…

It’s Climate Science Communications Week at Climate Adaptation!  For the entire week of Feb. 18 - 23, I’ll cover how climate change is discussed by the media, scientists, researchers, academics, and politicians. If you have sources or ideas on communicating climate change, send to:

In this popular and entertaining TED Talk, high school science teacher Tyler DeWitt makes the case that science should be fun.

Take his argument with a grain of salt. He uses (abuses) the ad hominen and straw man fallacies to make his points - e.g., by making fun of something else, his points become justified. He commits classical errors in rhetoric and argumentation. Politicians do this all the time. They point to something, make fun of it, and conclude that their position is the right one that you should support.

It may be true that “science is hard” to understand, and it may be true that “science is hard” to teach. And I agree, being a more creative educator is much more effective than rote learning strategies. But making the case that “science should be fun” by employing disparaging argumentation is, well, unscientific…


Tyler DeWitt: Hey science teachers — make it fun

High school science teacher Tyler DeWitt was ecstatic about a lesson plan on bacteria (how cool!) — and devastated when his students hated it. The problem was the textbook: it was impossible to understand. He delivers a rousing call for science teachers to ditch the jargon and extreme precision, and instead make science sing through stories and demonstrations. (Filmed at TEDxBeaconStreet.)

by TED Talks Director.

It’s Climate Science Communications Week at Climate Adaptation!   For the entire week of Feb. 18 - 23, I’ll cover how climate change is discussed by the media, scientists, researchers, academics, and politicians. If you have sources or ideas on communicating climate change, send to:

Click for porn.


@KeithKloor: “In recent weeks, disaster porn has mutated with concerns about climate change to produce an orgy of writhing, conflated arguments.” Reminds me of an old related @dotearth post on “The Porn Factor in the Climate Fight.”

The Tea Party has a powerful voice, and are supremely skilled at getting their message out. More superior than any group on the left, or the environmental advocacy groups, to my mind. If the response to the Tea Party’s rhetoric is dismissive (or the tired liberal moniker “OMG I’m shocked!”), the benefits of sustainable anything will be overshadowed by successive electoral wins.

I believe that environmentalists are underprepared for the strong offensive gaming of the Tea Party. Repeating facts is good. But, at this point repetition comes at the cost of winning the battle. In other words, the left needs to learn to play offense, and avoid perpetually playing defense.

Environmentalists, again in my opinion, need to master rhetorical argumentation. The facts are on your side, so there’s no exposure to be had by your opponent when arguing rhetorically. Indeed, facts are just more ammunition. Can environmentalists speak with a clear, uniform voice? Can they agree on tight, clear, positive messaging? As it stands, environmental messages are lost. There are too many issues to track, and any benefits are obscured or subssumed. “Fight global warming,” doesn’t create in the minds of the listener a direct, positive benefit, for example.  

"Sustainability means socialism," are three words packaged into a clear message, and delivered by one group. The response from environmentalists is a collective mess of goo. So, what’s the game plan? 


Because the American Dream is alive and well?

Pretty sure the “American Dream” died a few decades ago. We have an opportunity to develop a new “American Dream” or “World Dream” as I like to call it. The future of sustainable development will harness this dream by providing innovative jobs that are paramount to an evolving society.

Did you know that the seemingly geeky, mild-mannered profession of urban planning is actually a breeding ground for social engineers — part of a sinister international plot to rob you of your American Dream?

Well wake up already, people!

The East Bay Tea Party is here to tell you all about it. They have the true story behind the Sustainable Communities Strategy in the Bay Area, a planning effort that would encourage transit-oriented development and density.

And it’s scary! You can tell, because in their video about a recent meeting about the plan, they use the theme from “Also Sprach Zarathustra” as this text flashes on a black background:

The ‘New World Order’ is here … and it has many names … Agenda 21 … Sustainable Development … Smart Growth … Social Justice … Green Energy … Carbon Free … Livable Communities … One Global Vision … Designed by the United Nations … To Strip you of Your Freedom … Your Prosperity … Your Privacy … Your Property Rights … Your Choice of Transportation … Your Piece [sic] of Mind … Your American Dream … They’re Planning Your Future … Right here in the Bay Area … ‘For the Greater Good!’

Greed has no memory.

Continuing my theme of responding to anti-environmentalists and climate deniers, it’s not enough to respond with a memorized litany of facts. It’s not enough to rattle off key stats that support doing the right thing for our environment. You have to be a good rhetorician. Take the offense, rather than automatically playing a defensive game. You need to understand tactics, where you use the facts within contexts to support your points. Facts have no meaning without context. “Thousands of turtles killed from pollution” is not going to get your opponent to listen, never mind flip positions. In fact, I’d argue that your oppenent shuts their brain down as soon as you say “turtle.” Conservatives will box you in, judge and dismiss you in a fraction of a second. “The spill costs BP billions of dollars in litigation.” Now that’s something a conservative can relate to. It’s tangible, it’s managerial. It’s not couched in a liberal philosophy. And it’s true. At this point, you’ll have their attention. “The Wall Street Journal shows it’ll cost them hundreds of jobs and reputation. Drilling for oil is necessary, but it has to be done in a less destructive way.” Now you’re leading the conversation by using language that both sides can agree on. You haven’t turned off your audience, and you haven’t given up your position. It’s just a better, more sensible way of framing the issue. It also shows respect to your opponent, who, I assure you, is not going away.

Conservatives are masters of rhetoric, and unfortunately environmentalists (on the whole!) are not. So, next time you discuss environmental policies, talk about the benefits. Challenge them to see that deregulation will cost the jobs of millions of people who work in the environmental sectors. This is why I’m enamored by one of my heroes, Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA. She understands the contours of the environmental debate more than anyone I can think of. Not only is she respecting her opponents, she provides the other side with facts that they accept, and cannot reject. Clean air and less pollution creates jobs. Period.

Check out her strong speech marking the 40th Anniversary of the CAA.

"(A)ir pollution has dropped over the last 40 years, our national GDP has risen by 207 percent. The total benefits of the Clean Air Act amount to more than 40 times the costs of regulation. For every one dollar we have spent, we get more than $40 of benefits in return. Say what you want about EPA’s business sense, but we know how to get a return on an investment. In short, the Clean Air Act is one of the most cost-effective things the American people have done for themselves in the last half century. The irony is that one of the most economically successful programs in American history is also one of the most economically maligned. The Clean Air Act has faced incessant claims that it will spell economic doom for the American people.

Today’s forecasts of economic doom are nearly identical – almost word for word – to the doomsday predictions of the last 40 years. This “broken-record” continues despite the fact that history has proven the doomsayers wrong again and again.

In the 1970s, lobbyists told us that using the Clean Air Act to phase in catalytic converters for new cars and trucks would cause “entire industries” to “collapse.” Instead, the requirement gave birth to a global market for catalytic converters and enthroned American manufacturers at the pinnacle of that market.

In the 1980s, lobbyists told us that the proposed Clean Air Act Amendments would cause, quote, “a quiet death for businesses across the country.” Instead, the US economy grew by 64 percent even as the implementation of Clean Air Act Amendments cut Acid Rain pollution in half. The requirements gave birth to a global market in smokestack scrubbers and, again, gave American manufacturers dominance in that market.

Yet again in the 1990s, lobbyists told us that using the Clean Air Act to phase out CFCs – the chemicals depleting the Ozone Layer – would create “severe economic and social disruption.” They raised the fear of “shutdowns of refrigeration equipment in supermarkets … office buildings, our hotels, and hospitals.” In reality, new technology cut costs while improving productivity and quality. The phase-out happened five years faster than predicted and cost 30 percent less. And, by making their products better and cleaner, the American refrigeration industry created new overseas markets for themselves.

In fact, thanks in no small part to the Clean Air Act, America is home to a world-leading environmental technology industry. By conservative estimates, in 2007 environmental firms and small businesses in the U.S. generated $282 billion in revenues and $40 billion in exports, while supporting 1.6 million American jobs.

As you can see, the Clean Air Act has not only reduced harmful pollution – it has also been particularly effective at proving lobbyists wrong. This law not only respects but thrives on the openness and entrepreneurship of our economy. It creates a “virtuous cycle” in which clean air standards spark new technology – serving our fundamental belief that we can create jobs and opportunities without burdening our citizens with the effects of pollution.”

Now it’s our turn to promote innovation, grow a clean economy, and address both the new challenges and the unfinished business of the Clean Air Act. This is an ambitious effort, one that follows in the extraordinary footsteps of the last four decades. I believe that we will have our own chance to make history with the work we will set in motion. And while I won’t be making any news here today, I do want to talk about what we’ve done so far – because we are off and running.

Why do environmentalists face an uphill battle? Because they fall for, and cannot overcome, the same counter “argument” every time: “More regulations would increase energy costs for consumers, suppress job creation in a promising energy sector, and hinder our nation’s ability to become more energy independent.”