Roaring White Coat Men

The basic stereotype of a research scientist is pretty accurate, actually. Somebody male, with an introspective demeanour and poor communication skills, maybe a little on the Asperger’s spectrum.

What these white coats cannot do is roar. They cannot cause an organisation to jump to attention, scurry to find solutions, demand definitive decision-making emergency conferences, in fact, these guys (because it is mostly chaps, after all) have got “humble entitlement culture” all worked out : they don’t create problems and their employers keep them in the job. Mostly.

I’m on tenterhooks, the edge of my seat, as I watch James Hansen get arrested at a mountain top removal protest against Coal (although Darryl Hannah seems to get all the coverage) :-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUMqiZ3XQi0

He’s also been in court in the UK to witness for Climate Change activists :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/may/31/kingsnorth-activists-climate-change-coal

“Why six Britons went to eco war : When six activists, protesting against climate pollution, scaled a tower at a coal-fired power station in 2007 the resulting court case drew support from the world’s leading scientists. Their subsequent acquittal proved historic and changed government policy. Here, the ‘Kingsnorth Six’ tell their story : Geraldine Bedell : The Observer, Sunday 31 May 2009…To everyone’s surprise, one of the world’s leading climate change scientists, Professor James Hansen, responded to an email from Joss Garman, Greenpeace’s coal campaigner, by saying he would testify on behalf of the Six. Hansen, whom Garman describes as “a rock star of climate change”, has been director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies for the past 20 years, an adviser to US presidents, and was the first person to testify to Congress on the seriousness of climate change…”

Jim’s really out on a limb here. Very few other scientists are making their voices heard. Very few are prepared to go on the offensive in public.

George Marshall argues this week in the New Scientist magazine, a publication read by scientists, that scientists should drop their “cautious language” and come right out with it : Climate Change is big trouble : “We’ve done the work, we believe the results, now when the hell will you wake up ?”

He argues that if scientists cannot adopt the language of public communicators, then they should be collaborating with those who can; public figures we can really trust :-

“How, then, should we go about generating a shared belief in the reality of climate change ? What should change about the way we present the evidence for climate change ? For one thing, we should become far more concerned about the communicators and how trustworthy they appear. Trustworthiness is a complex bundle of qualities: authority and expertise are among them, but so too are honesty, confidence, charm, humour and outspokenness…”

If the science about general dispositions among mental phenotypes are correct, then what we really need to do is : bring on the white coat women ! (Or, failing that, Joanna Lumley).

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327185.900-comment-why-people-dont-act-on-climate-change.html

“Comment: Why people don’t act on climate change : 23 July 2009 by George Marshall : Magazine issue 2718 : AT A recent dinner at the University of Oxford, a senior researcher in atmospheric physics was telling me about his coming holiday in Thailand. I asked him whether he was concerned that his trip would make a contribution to climate change – we had, after all, just sat through a two-hour presentation on the topic. “Of course,” he said blithely. “And I’m sure the government will make long-haul flights illegal at some point.” I had deliberately steered our conversation this way as part of an informal research project that I am conducting – one you are welcome to join. My participants so far include a senior adviser to a leading UK climate policy expert who flies regularly to South Africa (“my offsets help set a price in the carbon market”), a member of the British Antarctic Survey who makes several long-haul skiing trips a year (“my job is stressful”), a national media environment correspondent who took his family to Sri Lanka (“I can’t see much hope”) and a Greenpeace climate campaigner just back from scuba diving in the Pacific (“it was a great trip!”). Intriguing as their dissonance may be, what is especially revealing is that each has a career predicated on the assumption that information is sufficient to generate change. It is an assumption that a moment’s introspection would show them was deeply flawed. It is now 44 years since US president Lyndon Johnson’s scientific advisory council warned that our greenhouse gas emissions could generate “marked changes in climate”. That’s 44 years of research costing, by one estimate, $3 billion per year, symposia, conferences, documentaries, articles and now 80 million references on the internet. Despite all this information, opinion polls over the years have shown that 40 per cent of people in the UK and over 50 per cent in the US resolutely refuse to accept that our emissions are changing the climate. Scarcely 10 per cent of Britons regard climate change as a major problem. I do not accept that this continuing rejection of the science is a reflection of media distortion or scientific illiteracy. Rather, I see it as proof of our society’s failure to construct a shared belief in climate change. I use the word “belief” in full knowledge that climate scientists dislike it. Vicky Pope, head of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change in Exeter, UK, wrote in The Guardian earlier this year: “We are increasingly asked whether we ‘believe in climate change’. Quite simply it is not a matter of belief. Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence.” I could not disagree more. People’s attitudes towards climate change, even Pope’s, are belief systems constructed through social interactions within peer groups. People then select the storylines that accord best with their personal world view. In Pope’s case and in my own this is a world view that respects scientists and empirical evidence…”

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