In the midst of last fall’s global warming scandal known as Climategate, Stephen Schneider released his book “Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate.”
Climategate spewed from the leak of more than 1,000 hacked e-mails that showed leading climate-change scientists questioning what to do with climate data that didn’t conform to previous models showing the Earth’s warming.
The controversy couldn’t have highlighted Schneider’s message better: Science is a brutal sport that comes with harder blows than football.
“It is more like hockey with no rules and no refs and you want to sharpen the blade and hit someone in the head,” Schneider said in an interview Monday morning before speaking to a full crowd at the Gridiron Room in Kansas University’s Burge Union.
A professor at Stanford University, Schneider is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its reports on the Earth’s warming. He also published a report in the early 1970s that predicted the Earth was going to enter a cooling period because of human-made pollutants.
“I figured out in the next two years why that was wrong. And I am to this day very proud of having been the first person to publish what was wrong with my own stuff. That is what we do with science,” Schneider said.
When talking about climate change, Schneider said the public has to sift through messages from three groups: Scientists who bury their messages under lengthy caveats; special interest groups who spin those findings to their benefit; and the media who have reduced their staffs of science and environmental reporters and given equal time to all sides without weighing the relevance.
Adding to the confusion is the blogosphere, which drives an even larger wedge between arguing camps, Schneider said.
“Who gets lost in the middle? The public. And that is where we have a serious problem because there are serious risks, but they are not absolute certainties. And we have to make a decision on how much risk we want to take with our planetary life-support system,” he said.
The public should be deciding how to manage the risk, while scientists should be the ones assessing that risk, he said. And, those assessments aren’t often simple ones.
“Watch out for the myth busters and the truth tellers who (present) absolute truths. They are almost always spinning for ideological interests. They don’t know what they are talking about,” he said. “Good scientists are almost always talking in ranges and probabilities. That is hard stuff to translate into sound bites and get the public around.”