Thursday, March 29th 2012, 2:36 PM EDT
It should be welcomed that the Met Office is engaging with critics of climate science.
We hear a lot these days about the need for scientists – particularly climate scientists – to engage more with the public and better communicate their findings. Without such dialogue, their work can be misunderstood or, worse, misrepresented. Just saying, "I let my science do the talking", no longer cuts it in the rough'n'tumble world in which we now live of cherry-picked soundbites, online echo chambers, and bruising culture wars. Scientists need to not only explain their work, but defend it, too.
I think we should applaud the fact, then, that there now appears to be more of what I call "Rapunzel" scientists; those that choose to (metaphorically, at least) let down their long hair and allow us to climb up into their ivory tower to converse with them and to see how they operate. Many scientists now publish their own blogs and an increasing number are taking to Twitter.
A good example is Professor Richard Betts, a climate scientist who is head of the climate impacts research team at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter and a lead author on both the 4th and 5th Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in Working Groups 1 and 2. By being positioned at the heart of both the Met Office and the IPCC, he is a scientist placed very much under the scrutiny of climate sceptics.
But rather than defensively pull up the drawbridge, he routinely posts explanatory comments on blogs that are hostile to climate science and engages in debates on Twitter with sceptics.
In fact, the Met Office has confirmed to me that it has now hosted a number of "conversations" with its critics over the past couple of years in an effort to both better explain how it works and to "hear other viewpoints". Around 18 months ago, it invited Benny Peiser and David Whitehouse from the Global Warming Policy Foundation to a "roundtable". It says it has also "bumped into" Lord Monckton at various UN climate summits over recent years. (Two invitations sent to Christopher Booker have so far been ignored, apparently.)
The latest such meeting – which are confined to Met Office staff and are said to attract around 100 people - came last month when Andrew Montford, who hosts a blog popular with climate sceptics called Bishop Hill, was invited to Exeter to present the conclusions of his book The Hockey Stick Illusion, which is particularly critical of the methodologies of paleoclimatologists. I asked Montford why he went and what he got out of the experience:
I went to the Met Office on the invitation of Vicky Pope [head of the climate predictions programme at the Hadley Centre], who I met at the Cambridge conference last year. It was billed as a chance to have an informal chat, although I persuaded them that I should give a talk on my book as well. Richard Betts invited some outsiders down as well to spice things up - they don't do paleoclimate at the Hadley Centre so he wanted someone who could ask more searching questions.
The talk was politely received, although it was probably pitched at too general a level. There were some very interesting exchanges in the audience, in particular one on the confidence intervals in the Hockey Stick [graph]. A statistician was quite strongly critical of paleoclimatologists' use of statistics.
I enjoyed the visit and got a better impression of the range of views in the organisation. I didn't find any sceptics there, but I was surprised to find support for my book - several people approached me and said they had read and enjoyed it and were comfortable with the case I make.
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