Late last year someone left a comment on the Manchester Climate Monthly website. That’s rare, but not rare enough to be news-worthy. After an embarrassing-to-MCFly-accusation-of-denialism (since retracted!), it emerged that the commenter is the chap behind a very useful website called “And then there’s physics”. He kindly agreed to an interview with MCFly (the reference to slagging off in question 6 is aimed at me, not him!).
1. Within the limits of your anonymity – “Who are you and what gives you the right to give the world your opinions (sic!) on climate change?”
Maybe I should start by saying something about my anonymity. I have no formal climate science credentials and (apart from the very few who now know who I am) am not known to anyone in the mainstream climate science community. I don’t really have a good reason for being anonymous, I just didn’t give it much thought when I started and am not sure of why – or how – I should change it. I didn’t really expect anyone to take what I wrote all that seriously, so it didn’t seem like an issue when I started.
As for my actual credentials. I have a PhD in physics, I work in academia, I have a reasonable publication record, I’ve taught physics, I’ve reviewed papers, reviewed grant applications. I think I have a reasonable understanding of how academia works and, would like to think, a good understanding of physics and hence of the fundamentals of global warming. I think I have the same rights as anyone else when it comes to expressing an opinion (scientific or otherwise) about global warming/climate change. Others then have the right to judge me on the basis of what I say and to choose to ignore it or not. Typically they’re also welcome to correct me through the comments on my blog, and many do. I do, however, typically expect them to actually construct an argument and not simply say “don’t be an idiot, you’re wrong”.
2. What did you hope for when you set out to enter the on-line debate on climate change?
I don’t actually know what I was hoping for. I had made what I thought were fairly benign comments on a well-known skeptic blog and was quite surprised (to say the least) by the response. I then started to get frustrated by what I was reading on some of the blogs and since I didn’t seem to be able to have constructive discussions there, I decided that I would write my own blog and aim to correct (as best I could) the incorrect science/physics being presented on other blogs. I didn’t really give it much thought, possibly to my eternal regret. It was more for my own benefit than for anything else. I am sometimes a bit worried that it is being taken more seriously than I would like. I am still simply an anonymous blogger who is simply expressing views about climate science.
3. What has actually ended up happening (mission-drift etc etc).
That’s quite a difficult one to answer. I’ve certainly learned a lot, both about myself, about climate science, and about others. Any optimism I felt about the possibility of constructive discussions with those who’s opinions about climate science differed significantly from mine, is now largely gone. I would like that to not be the case, but it seems as though it’s virtually impossible. Given that I didn’t really have a mission, I’m not sure what’s drifted. I do think I still simply write what I happen to be considering at that time and try to be as honest and as careful as I can be. I may not always succeed. What I do understand better is the likely impact of what I write and so I do sometimes decide that I can’t quite face the likely vitriol and so just don’t write something that I may have considered starting. I think the blog has managed to remain reasonably civil, but given the strong feelings that some have, it is sometimes something that’s difficult to maintain.
4. What advice would you give your younger (pre-blogging) self about the blogging?
Don’t start blogging about climate science.
5. What do you expect the “skeptics”/”denialists” to do as the evidence of climate change keeps mounting? Will their numbers shrink or expand? What grounds do you have for your expectation?
I think I’ve already seen a small change. It seems even in the last year there has been a bit of a shift from, “it’s probably not happening” or “it won’t have much impact”, to “we must adapt, but attempting to mitigate is futile and therefore shouldn’t be considered or discussed”. I have no sense of what will happen with regards to numbers, but I can see the rhetoric changing. In particular I could see it shifting in such a way that even once the impacts become obvious there will still be attempts to blame climate scientists for not behaving impeccably, or for not making a sufficiently strong argument. It would be nice if the discussions could become more constructive, but I’m not convinced that that is likely.
6. Other than “checking out who you are slagging off”, what advice would you give to individuals/groups who are trying to communicate about climate science and climate policy?
I’d like to think I’m not actually “slagging people off” on my blog [The question was a dig at MCFly’s intemperateness. See above]. I’m simply expressing a view about whether or not what someone else has said is credible, although I may not always avoid a bit of snark. I don’t actually have any good advice. It seems incredibly difficult. It seems that trying to change entrenched views isn’t possible or worth trying. It seems that genuinely constructive discussions aren’t possible. To be honest, I really don’t have a good idea of what’s best. For example, I don’t really have any agenda when it comes to my blogging. I’m not even sure that what I’m doing is worthwhile or not. At times I think I should just stop, especially as it does feel more and more that I’m simply preaching to the converted. There may be those who read and don’t comment and maybe learn something valuable, but it’s very hard to know.
7. Anything else you’d like to say?
No, I think that’s all I have to say. Thanks for the interest and for the chance to express some thoughts about a complex and interesting topic.