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:


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


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

Tenney Naumer

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?

Fritz Mills

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?

Eric M. Jones

"Play with"....means to explore an idea, especially its feasibility or practicality.

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


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.

Chris S

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.


PDF = probability density function


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

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

Add Two Words:


( Planet is Toasted, Lightly Toasted to a Golden Brown.)

Other Key Word Unmentionables:
Paranoia, Conspiracy, Schizophrenia, Pschopath, Armageddon, Revelations, Medication Time, Paradise, Raptured, Spaceship, Colonize, Aliens, Utopia

......Just tell them that everything wil be FINE. FINE. FINE.

Ben D

As an engineer (completely unrelated to climate science), I can attest that most of these words actually do have a much more narrowly defined meaning in their scientific context.


@3 who said, "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?"

This is why the list is needed.

(Unless 3 is making a joke, in which case, well played, sir!)


"Bias" is the most important one on the list.

Readers with knowledge of statistics know that when scientists refer to "bias," they don't mean it to imply any improper behavior on the part of the researcher. For example, omitted variable bias occurs when it is not possible to precisely tease out the individual effects of multiple variables due to incomplete data. Nothing nefarious about that.

So if a researcher states that his analysis is biased in some way (which is quite common), it usually means he cannot pin down his results to as precise a degree as he would like. Now, try explaining that to a reporter who would much prefer to report the headline, "Researcher Admits to Biased Science!"


Also often Post-Doctoral Fellow. Trying to share the credit with your post-doc often makes the newsie think you antropomorphize your documents.


When I was 10 years old I had a magic 8 ball. I would ask it questions like, "Will I marry a beautiful woman someday?" or "Will I be rich?" I submit that the use of a magic 8 ball device could be made a requirement for IPCC scientists when answering questions posed by reporters and media. An "IPCC Magic 8 Ball" could be developed to censor the taboo words that IPCC scientists should avoid.

I just beta tested a generic on line magic 8 ball by asking it, "Will the Earth's temperature be hotter in the year 2100?" The magic eight ball replied, "Absolutely!" Here try it for yourself by asking this virtual magic 8 ball a few questions on climate.


I think this is the kind of idea that the IPCC could embrace to ensure that all 800+ IPCC scientists avoid the uncomfortable situations that would put them at risk of relying on the usual academic freedoms and diversity of opinion associated with scientific expression, while bringing comfort to IPCC pols who could rest knowing that a predetermined and highly censored perspective would be the unified face of AR5 that would be put forth to the media and public.




The list is neither especially funny nor is it at all patronizing. If you think words like uncertainty, risk, feedback, trend, model, or radiation mean the same thing as terms of art in science that they do to lay people, then you either don't know what they mean to scientists, or deal primarily with scientists and haven't tried to explain much to lay people.

Even with sciences, but across domains, you can quickly find yourself using terms differently and unintentionally misleading or confusing things. The list seems to me to be at least 80% high risk words, and since I'm not a climate scientist I wouldn't be surprised if the 20% that seem obvious are just me being unaware of the meaning.

John D

How about adding a basic understanding of science? and a definition of FRAUD.
When Arrhenius quantified the Greenhouse Effect (GHE) in 1896, he said that you must add an energy photon to a greenhouse gas (GHG) to get the greenhouse warming effect.
When the current climate scientists and the IPCC define the GHE they say you just have to add greenhouse gases to get warming. (AR4, WG1, Ch1,p.116)
SO common sense says how do you get warming without adding energy?
How can you trust the conclusions of a claim that just adding a GHG causes warming, when the obvious case of tripling the GHG water vapor when the humidity goes from 33% to 100% when it rains, does NOT cause warming?
The real science is that the number of photons of energy dictates how much greenhouse warming we get. When ALL the photons are in use causing the 32C of GHE, then there are none left over for the added GHGs to cause more warming. The added GHGs are excess in the air. This is why the GHE is limited to about 32C, and why there is left over GHG in the air and in the ocean. This is why when the sun goes down and the number of photons decreases, that some of the GHGs are released to become more excess in the air. See a paper at www.scribd.com called Gravity causes Climate Changes. http://www.scribd.com/doc/27343303/Gravity-Causes-Climate-Change for an alternate explanation of the very real cyclical climate change.
Put simply, the IPCC "scientists" are total idiots and liars.. Their science does not make sense. If they claim more GHGs cause more warming in their Government proposals then they are guilty of fraudulently deceiving the Government, as well as academic malfeasance. This is a criminal offence. If like the NAS, you create a fraudulent report as part of a Government contract, then this too is criminal fraud, under Government Fraud Waste and Abuse statutes.
It is time toput a stop to this fraud.



How about this: global climate change is a hoax. So all you "global climate changers" can take your barometric pressure where the sun don't shine...how's that? Huh? I must be a "skeptic" huh? Go fry...


The media (and the scientific community's opponents) are usually out for the 'gotcha' sound-byte.

Take Phil Jones's interview with BBC where he was asked if there had been statistically significant warming since 1995. The fact that he answered 'no' would not seem strange to anyone with a background in science or statistics, but it gets splashed across the media like it means something entirely different.

Politicians know how to play this game, which is why so many will refuse to answer a question properly.


That scientists need a bit of coaching on how to deal with the media shouldn't be a surprise at all.

Although stereotypical, your average scientist would not be 'media savvy' in any way, and journalists generally are 'looking for an angle' what scientists say or do will quite often appear in a completely different context to that assumed by the scientist.

In the same way, I assume major figures in the corporate world are also coached on words to use, or avoid, when talking to the media. Hence we have 'incidents' instead of oil spills, etc. Check out BPs website and see how many times you see the words 'response' or 'protect', all positive words. See mow many negative ones like 'disaster' or 'screw up' you see.......

Martin Doonan

I can think of a few more that could be added:
weather, climate
local, regional, global
cause, correlation

It would also be nice if the information had been sent to IPCC's own "media experts" with training in adverse use of hyperbole by them.
Oops, sorry, forgot, that's the whole point of the IPCC reports and press releases.