Friday, October 19, 2007

Not getting it

There appears to be a confusion about in the land that An Inconvenient Truth (AIT) was the long awaited prequel to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), and as such should contain nothing that is not nailed down and written in stone. This opinion, held by some whose opinion Eli values has loosed a plague of dyspepsia, the results of which can be observed on the floor around here.

It is a film folks and it has a purpose, to bring the issue of climate change into public discourse and provide information about climate change to those without much previous information, or whose information has come from media owned by Rupert Murdoch. Anyone want to debate that AIT has not been successful in meeting that goal? Brian Schmidt can hold your bet for a nanosecond before he sends the money to Eli. Wonder why the film and Al Gore have been so heavily attacked. Hint: It ain't because a couple of scenes are technically imperfect, or because in some things Gore goes beyond the AR4 (which, as has been pointed out by several is the most penurious reading of the evidence) or even, horrors, exaggerate beyond what the particular sufferer from bad tummy believes.

The film was didactic and anyone who has taught beginners knows that you have to highlight, simplify, omit and stretch things to get the basic principles across. You go back later and fill in the details, but again, several of the illuminorati think that you provide the details up front, which accounts for the snoring.

Now what to say to those predicting the backlash driven by whatever errors there are in the film? Well, as Enrico Fermi said about ETs, where is it? As time passes, the increasingly accepted POV is that the film gets the big things right, has played a vital role in bringing the issue of climate change to the fore, and is bringing large numbers of people to the realization that action on climate change is needed asap. Public discussion of many of the issues has become more detailed and nuanced, but could only become so when a large number of people got the basic things which the film talked about. These are major accomplishments for which Gore deserves serious praise and for which he won the unprecedented Oscar/Nobel Peace Prize double. AIT combines art and policy.

So what is a perfectionist to do. Perhaps say things like, the film got the broad things right, but there is more depth that one needs for detailed understanding and here are some places where, if you have the time there is more to discuss. . .cue Kilimanjaro, Chad, Tonga, etc. . . . . Order matters. Start the discussion by pointing out that glaciers pretty much everywhere are retreating at rapid levels not previously seen. Then point out that local conditions can have an effect, but the general trend is driven by warmer temperatures and use Kilimanjaro as an example where a combination of things any one of which would not have been sufficient, INCLUDING global warming, has contributed to an extremely rapid decline

In closing, the response from Gore's group pretty much nails what a bunch of folks are too stubborn to acknowledge

The process of creating a 90-minute documentary from the original peer-reviewed science for an audience of moviegoers in the U.S. and around the world is complex. Vice President Gore has studied this issue for over 30 years. He regularly seeks the advice and feedback of scientists to understand the latest research. It's not easy, even for Ph.D.'s, to explain the concept of the "non-linearity" of the climate system even after decades in their respective fields. Imagine trying to translate that complicated scientific evidence into a clear and compelling message with only a single slide and 20 seconds to make your case. It isn't simple. In many cases, particular points had to be truncated and shortened from the original research. A movie inherently cannot reflect the depth of the science as the 3 volumes of the IPCC and other sources from which it draws. The original science cannot speak to moviegoers. And, as is not made clear by the Fact Checker, the judge stated clearly that he was not attempting to perform "an analysis of the scientific questions" in his ruling.


CapitalistImperialistPig said...



Fergus said...

Which appeals more in the 'best way to make a movie about GW'; the Speilberg treatment or the Coen Bros. version? The fact that anyone has made a successful documentary with more than six facts in it is remarkable in itself, in a (global) society where 'The Usual Suspects' is considered the apotheosis of subtlety.

Potential titles for forthcoming GW movies:

Some like it Hot.
Species 0.
Lawrence of Arkansas.
Hansen's List.


Holly Stick said...

Gone With The Hurricane.
Gentlemen Prefer Blinds.
Kill Chill.
Pulped Faction.

Steve Bloom said...

Great post, Eli. Actually there's a fair amount more meta-discussion to be had on this issue, and I hope to be able to complete the ninepoints wiki at some point before the medals ceremony (at which time I'm pretty sure we'll see another surge of attention to AIT), and include all the meta-discussion. I will of course feel free to borrow shamelessly from your material. :)

While I'm on the subject, even on the science itself I think there's a lot more clarifying to be done. E.g., even Gore's WaPo response wasn't that good, and then a few days ago there was a comment (I forget where, but maybe also the WaPo) from the WGII head to the effect the Gore got the coral stuff wrong (and Rapley and Shepherd said the same, I think). Oddly enough the coral experts think otherwise. AFAICT the problem stems from some poor wording in the WGII TS that would lead an uninformed person to think that AGW-driven increased SSTs have not been tagged as the main factor responsible for the major recent bleaching events.

Erratum: In the second paragraph, you want parsimonious rather than penurious.

Anonymous said...

AIT Summary

What would happen if Gereenland would melt? We'ra all gonna DIE!

And it's your fault!

But if you'll stop using electricity and petrol and gas, it won't happen.

But you are addicted so DIE DIE DIE.

hapa said...

having seen the flick a couple times, and liking the language used, i kinda feel like it's an object lesson, this feeling of "wow, it's not 100% guaranteed that a general audience will understand how to parse the qualifiers attached to sections describing observed but not completely understood trends -- so that means they're not strictly true, those things."

press people seem very hindered-to-incapable when parsing -- maybe cuz they're busy putting every new fragment of every issue in the context of the issue's larger consensus storyline -- so new parsing is a scoop, not something to be done in the course of business. for instance, i think a lot of people recognized that when our nepotistic CEO said, about new orleans--

To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.

--that the qualifiers there implied that the next people to talk would be the president's lawyers, defining the federal government's liability out of existence. the groundwork is plainly laid. but corporate press people, even under the "heckuva job" circumstances, widely described that as "bush takes responsibility."

sometimes i think newspaper writers live in a world without lawyers, the way they read what's given them by powerful people. bad at that, bad at stats, bad at probability. it's a downer to be on the receiving end, no?

but anyway the thing is, real people need faces to put on problems. AIT gave them non-human tokens of unpleasant futures. the great warming gave human faces for it. both these are good and needful, to teach people to think about the long term.


Anonymous said...

I think the most fatal thing for the AGW community to do is link their position to the political fortunes of Gore and the US Democratic Party. This is the one thing guaranteed to wreck both of them.

As if the Catholic Church should link itself to the view that the earth does not move. Or the Soviet Communist Party should link itself to the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

Do please keep politics and science separate. Do make sure any party can accept any scientific outcome. And anyone can support any outcome regardless of politics.

EliRabett said...

You don't have to tie yourself to Al Gore, but it is even worse to throw hissy fits at his stuff either.

Anonymous said...

Do please keep politics and science separate."

Good one, given the record of the Republicans under Bush over the past 7+ years.

Thanks for the faux (or is it FOX?) concern though.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (1:35 PM) said...

"Do please keep politics and science separate."

Good one, given the record of the Republicans under Bush over the past 7+ years.

Thanks for the faux (or is it FOX?) concern though."

And don't forget, the first president to see and turn down the Kyoto treaty was Clinton (and his faithful side-kick, Algore).

Cynthia said...

But Eli, even before Rupert Murdoch took over the WSJ, it was already showing signs of being foxified... Recall, not too long ago, the WSJ's editorial page (specifically Kevin Hassett) majorly warped the relationship between corporate tax rates and government revenues to fit the Laffer curve. In fact, a number of econ blogs (including physics ones) had lots of fun (in the words of Kevin Drum) "laffing it up." But to me, Kevin said it best about this (in the words of Sean Carroll) "best curve-fitting ever": it's "like those people who find an outline of the Virgin Mary in a potato chip." So it seems, the editorial smarts at the WSJ prefer to analyze data according to pareidolia rather than science.

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan said...

"And don't forget, the first president to see and turn down the Kyoto treaty was Clinton (and his faithful side-kick, Algore)."

If that's so, why did Bush have to un-sign the Treaty?

Wingnuts: if only they'd use their umm, "creative" impulses for good, rather than evil.

Anonymous said...

The right wing nuts don't have any creative impulses.

That's why they repeat the same old tired stuff like a flock of parrots.

"Awk, wingnut wants a cracker! Awk!"