We included this article from the Guardian by Mark Lynas as he makes a point regarding his qualifications to determine if there is "Man Made Climate Change". Mark Lynas is author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, which has just received the 2008 Royal Society science writing book prize.
Could Mark be getting ready to jump ship or has he started to question his stance on MMCC, you would not think so looking at this quotation.
'That vast majority of those who dismiss the reality of global warming are simply ignorant' ... Mark Lynas.
"So, are you a scientist then?" It's a very frequent question whenever someone finds out that I write about global warming. No, I reply, though the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change once referred to me - entirely incorrectly - as Dr Lynas. But that's as close as I'm ever going to get. I'm a journalist - or worse - a campaigner. So how can I be trusted to convey meaningful information about a subject as complex and controversial as climate change?
Rather than being a setback, however, I would claim that my lack of academic qualifications as a scientist is actually precisely what does qualify me to try and communicate effectively to the general public about this issue. After all, I'm one of the latter rather than the former.
Six Degrees, but no PhD
As a layperson, I have a pretty good idea of just how incomprehensible much of modern science is to ordinary people - because I've spent a lot of time struggling to understand it myself. It's not just the jargon, though that is part of the problem, but the sheer complexity of the methodology. To understand a journal paper on paleoclimate, for instance, you might need to know what benthic foraminifera are, what Bayesian analysis means, or what a mass spectrometer does. There's a yawning gulf between what goes in the scientific literature and what most people are able to understand.
That is where science communicators come in. My aim as a popular science writer is to try and synthesise a meaningful bigger picture out of this morass of information. And that is precisely what scientists themselves (with some very notable exceptions, like the biologist Steve Jones) are generally rather bad at doing. Scientists are, quite understandably, obsessed with precision. They constantly emphasise caveats and uncertainties, which seem to undermine what they're saying. They studiously avoid allowing any emotion to creep into their analysis, even when discussing subjects as terrifying as mass extinctions or Amazon forest dieback. As the climate modeller Peter Cox says during the National Geographic film adaptation of my book Six Degrees: "Sometimes you need someone from outside to come in and say, "You do know what this means, don't you? It's the death of the Amazon'".
There are very good reasons why "proper" scientists avoid this kind of territory. The scientific method depends crucially on an objective approach to data and analysis - and anything which undermines this will undermine an expert's credibility amongst his or her peer group very quickly. NASA's James Hansen has been sailing very close to this particular wind recently by firing off campaigning letters to world leaders asking them not to allow any more coal-fired power stations. His high reputation and strong track-record give him more leeway than most of his peers, but even so, there are whispers about whether he is sacrificing a claim to objectivity.
This is where communicators play an essential role. Although as a science writer I need to be absolutely clear that I am accurately representing what I read in the scientific literature, rather than cherry-picking results that support a pre-conceived position or make a good story. Bu there is nothing to stop me putting emotional depth into my analysis; indeed, this is the essence of my job. If I've read a paper about coral bleaching or precipitation trends in the Sahel, I need to be able to describe what this means in the real world - grey weed creeping over once-vibrant coral reefs, and Sudanese herders struggling to feed their children as their livestock starves around them and a dust-storm looms on the horizon.
Another big issue is scientific reductionism. Whilst the IPCC is an unprecedented and very welcome attempt to bring together a synthesis view of the entire literature on climate change, few laypeople will wade through the entire thing, which runs to thousands of pages. And most individual scientists spend their academic careers becoming greater and greater experts about smaller and smaller areas. My job as a communicator, therefore, is to try and know more about oceans than most glaciologists, and more about glaciers than most oceanographers. I need to try and keep the holistic perspective that becoming a true expert on a particular subject forces most scientists to sacrifice.
Having said all that, I am acutely aware that I am not a qualified expert in my own right, and that I need to tread very carefully when making judgements about work carried out by people who are, after all, the real experts. That is why I have so little time for climate sceptics, who claim to know better than those who have spent their entire professional lives investigating the physics of the atmosphere. That vast majority of those who dismiss the reality of global warming are simply ignorant - and arrogant, to boot. Now that's a statement that no scientist would probably make. But it's true nonetheless, and it's my job to tell you that