Reposted with permission from Bart Verheggen’s site. Bart retains copyright.
There are at least as many walks as talks
In the previous thread a discussion ensued about how to gauge someone’s credibility. Tom Fuller said that a
message needs to be evaluated by the normal criteria we use for messaging.
1. Is the message credible and coherent?
2. Are the messengers credible and coherent?
3. Are the actions of those who preach and believe the message consistent with the implications of their message.
anybody who believes that CO2 driven warming presents a serious threat to humanity ought not be regularly jetting off (with enormous CO2 emissions!) to exotic destinations like Tahiti for climate science conferences. Climate scientists who want their (un-welcomed) message of extreme future warming to be well received must be (and must be perceived as) more pure than Ceasar’s wife.
To which I replied:
The physics of radiative transfer and feedbacks are not the least dependent on whether climate scientists fly to Tahiti or not.
If you can only address a problem when you’re pure as the driven snow, than no problem will ever be addressed.
The more complex the chain of cause and effect, the more more complex the third point [walking the walk] becomes. If someone says that too much coffee is bad for you, but in the meantime downs 8 cups a day, I guess he can say he’s addicted (and perhaps he is). His message will however lose credibility indeed. But would you care to venture a guess how many people drink more coffee than they think is good for them? People don’t always act in accordance to what they (think they) know. It seems a little too easy to dismiss someone’s message because they too possess that very human trait. And then I’m only talking about drinking coffee. In a complex area such as climate change, people have vastly different perceptions on how it should be tackled and on their own role in that. Projecting how the messenger should behave, and then dismissing them because they don’t, is sometimes a little too convenient of an excuse to dismiss the message I think.
The fact is that taking the message and really following up on it, may well push you into the area of “activism”, which then becomes an easy way to attack the message and the messenger itself. Good examples are the attacks on Al Gore for investing in sustainable energy and doing CO2 trading, and those on Jim Hansen for demonstrating against coal mining.
I.e. communicators are damned if they do and damned if they don’t walk the walk. It’s so easy to condemn them for not walking the walk you had in mind. And if they walk too much, they’re to be dismissed as “activists”.
Willard extends my coffee analogy to include Irish coffee:
The preach what you teach or the walk and talk argument pertains to public relations, not communication per se. When an alcoholic says to me that alcohol can be bad for you, I tend to believe that person. But I am not sure I would take an intemperate drinker for my nation-wide week of soberness.
the central message of the “climate consensus” is that AGW is real, that the consequences are likely to be serious and it needs to be addressed. The extent to which this means we have to change the way we live is more debatable, there really is no consensus about the specific policies which are required in order to combat AGW
Even people who agree on the science and on the needs to address AGW, can disagree vehemently about *how* to address it. That is actually the discussion we should be having in society.
Andrew on the wider context of credibility and behaviour:
In any debate on a question of science the messengers should surely be judged primarily on the extent to which they can support their arguments with references to established science – that is what gives the message credibility and coherence. (…)
And of course scientists are not the only messengers, there are others (such as yourself) and their credibility should equally be held up to scrutiny. (…) It is often suggested that the whole furore, controversy etc around the subject of AGW is down to the actions of climate scientists and others who advocate action on AGW as if the “skeptics” have no responsibility for the situation or no agenda of their own. This is nonsense – they have an active roll in this saga and they have to accept responsibility for their actions. Even if they have an electric car.
If someone is claiming that as an individual I should be taking specific actions then obviously I would expect them to do the same, but otherwise I’m really not interested in examining the lifestyles of those who support action on AGW.