AGU Conference Buzz Alerted NPR's Richard Harris To Whether or Not Gore Got the Science Right
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
All eyes today are on Capitol Hill as former VP Al Gore testifies before Congress on global warming. Bill Broad's NY Times' article last week has launched a new narrative in coverage, as various journalists review whether "Gore got the science right" in Inconvenient Truth. Interviewed by host Renee Montagne, NPR's Richard Harris weighs in today with his view. Of note, it appears that Harris was first turned on to the possibility of unease among scientists when he attended last year's American Geophysical Union meetings, where Gore spoke:
I saw Al Gore give a talk at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco last December. He was cheered by this enormous audience of scientists, who were really excited to hear his message that it's time to take global warming seriously. But after the talk, a couple of [the scientists] came up to me and said, you know, "He didn't exactly get the science right." Gore said that Arctic ice could be gone entirely in 34 years, and he made it seem like a really precise prediction. There are certainly scary predictions about what's going to happen to Arctic sea ice in the summertime, but no one can say "34 years." That just implies a degree of certainty that's not there. And that made a few scientists a bit uncomfortable to hear him making it sound so precise.
Harris notes that in crafting the film, Gore was carefully attuned to not only the culture of science but also Washington, resulting in a popularized depiction of the science that doesn't quite satisfy all scientists, but gets the main points right:
MONTAGNE: Is this partly cultural in the sense that, by nature and by profession, scientists care about all of the details?
HARRIS: I think it's partly cultural, and I think that in that sense, Al Gore is very well attuned to the culture of Washington, D.C. The culture of Washington, D.C. is: "Don't do anything unless there is a crisis." And that's been the problem with global warming for all these years: It's something serious to be worried about - the worst case scenarios are pretty scary - but Al Gore has realized that if you want to get attention, you really have to focus on the crisis. You have to make people worry about things maybe a little bit more than scientists would say.
MONTAGNE: Is there some element of - if you will - professional jealousy here?
HARRIS: Among the scientists? No. I think the scientists are actually pretty grateful by and large that Gore has succeeded in bringing their issue to the public's attention. But scientists do care very much about how precise the details are. And when it's not exactly right, they bristle a little bit. But, [that's] the difference between a popularizer, like Gore, and scientists, for whom the details really are what's most important.
Giving our solar system a "slap in the face."
- A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
- It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
- Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
The climate change we're witnessing is more dramatic than we might think.
A lazy buzz phrase – 'Is this the new normal?' – has been doing the rounds as extreme climate events have been piling up over the past year. To which the riposte should be: it's worse than that – we're on the road to even more frequent, more extreme events than we saw this year.
Once again, our circadian rhythm points the way.
- Seven individuals were locked inside a windowless, internetless room for 37 days.
- While at rest, they burned 130 more calories at 5 p.m. than at 5 a.m.
- Morning time again shown not to be the best time to eat.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.