Ads aim to humanize climate scientists, but are they doing enough to make themselves more lovable?
Climate scientists smeared in the “Climategate” spectacle have been cleared of wrongdoing in one investigation after another — but they’ve still got a lingering image problem.
The play’s the thing: With a new ad campaign, the Union of Concerned Scientists is trying to make climate scientists more huggable. (For starters, they’re concerned.) Ads show scientists in their formative years — checking out bugs, playing in mud, going parking, and actually gazing at the stars. Not a PowerPoint in sight. The ads are running in newspapers across the country, on newspaper websites, and in the D.C. subway system. [Editor’s note: UCS is also sponsoring profiles of climate scientists on Grist.]
You had me at hockey stick: No one expects this campaign to make Rush Limbaugh go limp, but whether it gets the rest of us all warm and fuzzy about climate geeks is anyone’s guess. Beyond the ads, scientists need to be more open and out there, argues Bryan Walsh in Time‘s Ecocentric blog:
The ads, while neat, aren’t likely to turn around any climate skeptics. But I hope they signal the start of a trend toward climate scientists becoming more involved with the public — and more engaged with the political debate over global warming.
In the New York Times Green blog, Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, cuts to the chase:
I think it’s important to let people know that climate scientists aren’t all working in a bunker in Geneva. We’re in their communities. We’re not part of some vegetarian socialist conspiracy.
Buzz kill: Of course, some think dressing up scientists in childhood flashbacks is not just a lame idea, but a bad one. Like the New York Times reader who tossed out this comment:
The problem with this campaign (aside from the silliness of doing public relations about the childhoods of scientists, which have nothing to do with the validity and implications of their work) is that it will encourage more young people to become scientists … Science sucks in smart, idealistic, ambitious young people, uses them as cheap labor, and spits most of them out after many years of frustration, when they are too old for most other careers. The more popular the subject (climate science tops that list), the worse the imbalance between eager young people and career opportunities.
The blog of war: Nostalgic photos aside, the real crucible for climate scientists is the blogosphere, which they’ve tended to view as a Dark Hole of Rabble and Babble. As Damian Carrington points out in The Guardian, the pressure is on them to start dealing with it. Even the British panel that recently exonerated the “Climategate” scientists says it’s time to embrace the beast:
An important feature of the blogosphere is the extent to which it demands openness and access to data. A failure to recognize this and to act appropriately can lead to immense reputational damage by feeding allegations of cover-up.
Change we still need: Meanwhile, as Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger report in the Chicago Tribune, some government scientists have complaints of their own. Put bluntly, they say Barack Obama is starting to remind them of George W. Bush. They acknowledge that, sure, he’s named some respected scientists to important positions, but otherwise Obama hasn’t exactly been the wind beneath their wings.
Now scientists charge that the Obama administration is not doing enough to reverse a culture that they contend allowed officials to interfere with their work and limit their ability to speak out.
“We are getting complaints from government scientists now at the same rate we were during the Bush administration,” said Jeffrey Ruch, an activist lawyer who heads an organization representing scientific whistle-blowers.
Field of greens: And now, to jump completely from science to politics, the National Wildlife Federation is celebrating tonight’s All-Star game with a handy dandy scorecard [PDF] that lets you track votes on climate and energy legislation and decide which senators belong on the Big Oil Team and who earns a spot on the Clean Energy roster. There’s even a rundown of Players to Watch, including the likes of John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Must help to swing from both sides of the plate.