Monday, February 6, 2012

OK, Repeat for the 100th Time: Science is Not Done Via Polls

In spite of numerous attempts, both the American Meteorological Society and the Center for Climate Change Propaganda  Communications still aren't getting the answers they want when they poll meteorologists. It is inconvenient that so many of us do not believe in the Al Gore/IPCC hypothesis of catastrophic global warming. 

So, there was yet another polling attempt being made, this time of NOAA employees, including the National Weather Service. Using their official email. At their offices. With the NOAA Leadership firmly in the pro-global warming camp.  Since there was no, ahem, pressure perhaps they would finally get the answer they want this time.

Fortunately, after negative publicity, they have pulled the survey.

But, here is the overarching issue and why I bring this up after the survey has been pulled: NOAA, of all people, should know better. Science is not done by polling. It is done through careful hypothesis, experimentation, publication, replication, trial and error.

As we have talked about, numerous times, the IPCC's forecasts are consistently far too warm.

In any other science, this would falsify the hypothesis and science would move on. But, since so many have invested so much in catastrophic global warming, some hope to achieve via poll what they cannot achieve via data.

Polls and "consensus" are tools of politicians and bullies. Not science.

P.S. While on the subject, I believe the campaign to keep Dr. Michael Mann from speaking at Penn State, the university where he works, is wrongheaded as well.

Yes, PSU's "investigation" of Mann's "hockey stick" work was a complete joke and a whitewash. But, that is in the past and has nothing to do with this issue. Free speech is one of the bedrock foundations of America and of scientific advancement.

Dr. Mann, I may disagree with your scientific positions but I will always defend your right to peaceably speak.


  1. Mike,

    Without addressing the survey instrument itself, I reject the notion that this was a "poll" or that the CCCC isn't trying to do "science".

    First, Polls and surveys are similar, but the surveys like this are longer and more complex than your typical public opinion poll. They're more interested in "why" you believe something rather than "what" you believe. The goal is a more rigorous, academic assessment of people and their opinions, beliefs, and so forth than a quick poll. Collecting survey data, analyzing those data, and reporting back take much longer than do typical public opinion polls, which are usually only a few questions and can be turned around in a matter of days.

    Second, the CCCC is doing "science", but they're not trying to do "physical science". They're not trying to determine whether "climate change" is or isn't happening by conducting a survey. Rather, the CCCC is made up of mostly communication scholars and other social scientists, and their interest is in why climate change is such a polarizing issue and how we can better communicate what we know, what we don't know, and what we know we don't know about climate change.

    Much like the situation with how improvements in weather warning response will come not from better weather warnings (which, as you've adroitly pointed out are quite good) but from closing the gap between the warning and people's responses to those warnings. That is clearly the domain of social, not physical, science. We're behind the 8-ball here because while advances have been made in the last few decades in warning performance, the NWS and others basically ignored social science. This is why so many people still think meteorology is "soft", the only field where you "can be wrong all the time and still keep your job", and why no one outside of the field can give the meteorologists credit for the advances in the field over the last 50 years. It's not just about the forecast.

    One could argue, given its potential widespread effects (whether we're headed to an ice age, warm spell, period of extremes, or whatever), climate change is another front where physical and social science need to meet in order to make society better. Right now, we have a large majority of climate scientists with datasets they interpret as "warming", a small group with datasets they interpret as "not warming" and/or inconsistent with the IPCC forecast, and a public that's never seen the "sausage factory" side of science. The CCCC folks are, if I understand correctly, interested in two things: (1) trying to figure out why scientists see this issue they way they see it and whether conflict management techniques can be used to help find points of agreement and (2) trying to understand what the public believes and why they believe it.

    While some (Watts, Pielke Sr., and others) are critical of the methods — and like any scientist, the CCCC should welcome an honest and balanced critique of methods and procedures - the need for people to study the communication process, both intra-science and from scientists to the public needs to be well understood. Only a small percentage of the world population is at risk from tornadoes, where the science is good and where social science is helping to close the gap from forecast to response. You don't have to agree that global warming is happening or that it's man-made to acknowledge that social science can play a similar role in helping the planet deal with changes in our climate, be they warming, cooling, anthropogenic, natural, more extremes, or anything else.


  2. Hi Nate, thanks for the extended comment.

    If the CCCC were what you say, I'd have no problem with what they do. However, my experiences with them have been completely negative and I find they are trying to "change my mind."

    I once sent their director a piece from the skeptic POV that I thought was extremely well done scientifically and quite fair. He refused to read it. You may have not noticed this behavior because you are both on the same side of the issue.

    The only way these surveys are of any use is if they are strictly neutral and not invested in the outcome. CCCC is an institutional "true believer" and they are invested. No climate change = no climate change communication is necessary.

    That is one of the big problems with the climate change debate: There is zero institutional incentive to disprove global warming. If they did, the funding would go away.

    The above said, yes I do think the social sciences can be very useful in learning why our warnings are not as effective as we would like them to be and helping meteorology in a number of areas.

    I do not disrespect social science at all. I disrespect advocacy masquerading as neutrality.



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