What We Talk About When We Talk About Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is preparing its Fifth Assessment Report, with the input of 831 experts selected from among 3,000 nominations. As Andy Revkin reports on Dot Earth, these 831 experts have been sent a letter from IPCC chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri which, without mentioning ClimateGate by name, acknowledges the very charged atmosphere surrounding the media’s portrayal of climate science:

I would also like to emphasize that enhanced media interest in the work of the IPCC would probably subject you to queries about your work and the IPCC. My sincere advice would be that you keep a distance from the media and should any questions be asked about the Working Group with which you are associated, please direct such media questions to the Co-chairs of your Working Group and for any questions regarding the IPCC to the secretariat of the IPCC.

But just in case it’s impractical to keep one’s distance, the IPCC also offers a background memo, produced by Resource Media, with tips for dealing with journalists. It describes journalists generally: “overworked,” “underpaid,” and “inquisitive” — but also “skeptical,” “jaded,” and “world-weary.” (Sounds about right to me.) It tells the researchers what journalists want (“something new,” e.g., or “something that moves them”) and offers advice for handling an interview, including preparation, focus, and communication style: “Don’t assume any level of knowledge. In most cases reporters know less than you think they do.” (Also sounds about right to me.)

The final piece of advice is to “avoid scientific jargon.” The memo lists words that “mean one thing to scientists and something else entirely to the public and reporters. To lower the risk of being misunderstood, avoid them. Ask a media expert for alternatives.”

What are these tricky scientific terms? Here’s the list:

Aerosol
Uncertainty
Literature
Enhance
Risk
Disruptive
Ozone
Bias
Viral
Exotic
Error
Proposal
Positive
Trend
SST
Negative
Species
THC
Feedback
Organic
Regime
Radiation
Enrichment
Sign
Theory
Exploitation
Significant
Model
Commitment
Mean
Sensitivity
Fix
Discipline
Reservoir
Transient
Manipulation
Ecology
Scheme
PDF
Review

Quite a significant commitment to avoid negative feedback or trends. Risky? Too much uncertainty to say. My bias: date an exotic model.

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  1. frankenduf says:

    ok that list is funny/pathetically patronizing, but i also like the advice to “ask a media expert” for a lay translation of materials- !?- what the hay is a ‘media expert’?- orwell would be proud

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  2. Tenney Naumer says:

    Well, you might not believe this but I have a right-wing friend who thinks that ‘radiative forcing’ means that the U.S. gov’t. is intentionally hitting its citizens with radiation, who has thinks that ‘aerosol forcings’ means the gov’t. is spraying us with chemicals, and who most likely has the wrong idea about ‘positive feedbacks.’

    What can you do?

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  3. Fritz Mills says:

    Why would PDF be on the list? Out of the first 30 or so Google results, only one (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation) refers to anything other than Adobe’s Portable Document Format? Is there some secret climatological acronym that might be mistaken for a computer file?

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  4. Eric M. Jones says:

    “Play with”….means to explore an idea, especially its feasibility or practicality.

    …got me into real hot water with the suits….

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  5. dude says:

    Unfortunately, its true. Journalists are looking for an emotive soundbyte that doesn’t require too much fact checking. Statements that could be spun as controversial are also golden to the once proud 4th estate. I’m sure you’ll see similarly proscriptive lists circulated to pro athletes, politicians, company execs, celebrities, and anyone else even remotely in the public eye.

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  6. Chris S says:

    From PDF (disambiguation) on Wikipedia, in Science…

    -Atomic pair distribution function (Physics)
    -Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (Medicine)
    -Parton Distribution Functions (Physics)
    -Planar deformation features (Geology)
    -Polypeptide Deformylase (Chemistry)
    -Powder Diffraction File (Physics)
    -Probability density function (Mathematics, statistics and probability)
    -Probability distribution function (Mathematics, statistics and probability)

    I could see one of the last two having meaning in a statistical discussion of climate change.

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  7. Noname says:

    PDF = probability density function

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  8. Lew says:

    @ #2 – What can you do?
    Get some friends that don’t walk around with tin foil on their heads.

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