Fashionable words and climate science

From the University of Bristol  some research you have to wonder about how it ever got funded. One new fashionable word set I think they should add to this is “Tabloid Climatology™”.

Drifting word clouds may change perceptions of climate science

Trends in the use of words in scientific studies may correlate with and impact public perceptions

Professor Alexander Bentley and colleagues found that words commonly used by scientists when discussing climate science – such as ‘biodiversity’, ‘global’, and ‘isotopes’ – follow fashion cycles in public usage as the usage of such words by scientists diffuses into use by non-scientists. According to the authors, this effect may contribute to the impact of climate research on societal perceptions.

The researchers used Google’s ‘Ngram’ database, which at present scans through over five million books published in seven languages since the 1500s, to represent public discourse (not scientific discourse) concerning climate science. Since the database was only unveiled a couple years ago, this research is among the very first studies of its kind.

They found that, while there is a continual output of climate science, there are pronounced fashion waves in public usage of the main keywords associated with this science. These waves vary in length, but the median duration is about a human generation (2-3 decades).

These fashion waves can be modelled in a very straightforward manner, so they ought to be predictable in some sense. Thus, a simple model of word-usage trends could be used to inform efforts for better communication, the researchers argue. Recognizing which words are spread by diffusion, along with the ideas they represent, could help campaigns improve social learning, rather than simply expecting an audience to adopt a message because it is scientifically sound.

Professor Bentley said: “Since the impact of climate science is so inherently linked to public acceptance – or denial – of the evidence for climate change, we suggest that our study provides a crucial first step toward gauging public response over the long term.

“Ideally, the methods we present – applied to new sources of ‘big data’ like Google Ngrams – can be used to prepare for changes in public opinion over the generations on matters of global importance.”

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Paper

‘Word diffusion and climate science’ by R. Alexander Bentley, Philip Garnett, Michael J. O’Brien and William A. Brock in PLoS ONE.

 

 

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41 thoughts on “Fashionable words and climate science

  1. So, words and phrases come into, and go out of, fashion. Wow! That’s really hip, daddio.

  2. It sounds sinister.
    It sounds like studying the semantics, not the meaning
    It sounds like manipulating the debate by controlling the language that describes the debate.
    Newspeak.

    But that doesn’t make it tabloid science.

    It sounds like it might work.

  3. It seems to me they are saying that there are 20-30 year cycles in how the public uses “climate science” words in the 20-30 years “climate science” has been around. That doesn’t seem reasonable.

    I think facts are what tend to diffuse through the public discourse. The things we live with, we talk about. Warmer is not happening. We forget storms, so we talk about those, and the hoaxers can hype the language for a time. Still, the fact is, cold kills. Warmer is better. We used to call warm spells in human history “climate optimums,” but that is no longer politically correct. It is still, however, a fact that warmer is better for life on earth.
    From Dr. Scotese, “During the last 2 billion years the Earth’s climate has alternated between a frigid “Ice House”, like today’s world, and a steaming “Hot House”, like the world of the dinosaurs.” http://scotese.com/climate.htm

    I know the dinosaurs agree. Cold kills. Warmer is better.

  4. This is a good example of where “science” has gone — it’s all about “feelings” and “perceptions” and if we’re getting really down to the nitty-gritty, it might even be about computer models.

    As for things like “numerical observations” and “recording actual data”, forget it, because hard data doesn’t have an agenda.

  5. “Recognizing which words are spread by diffusion, along with the ideas they represent, could help campaigns improve social learning, rather than simply expecting an audience to adopt a message because it is scientifically sound”

    Like phlogiston, blood-letting, and Eugenics?

    The author’s bias slip is showing.

    How about: Adhering to the scientific method, showing your work, and reaching reasonable conclusions through logic; rather than simply expecting an audience to adopt a message because some assert it is scientifically sound.

    FIFY

  6. words commonly used – such as ‘biodiversity’, ‘global’, and ‘isotopes’

    They left out my favorite adjective – “robust.”

  7. Read on the Sokal Affair that started with the Social Text journal article ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.”

    Science is not adhockery and jargon. Read and understand Karl Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery.

  8. If the study is saying that words come into and out of fashion, and with the words so do certain concepts, then clearly it may be of interest if you want to get your message over.

    And the point that the tale is not understood simply because it is true is a good one. The exposition must be tailored to the audience.

  9. In the olden days, academic freedom meant that a researcher could work on a topic which seemed totally obscure or irrelevant to most (or all) of the rest of the world. That is a good thing, on the whole; and sometimes the topic turns out to be useful years later – eg Einstein’s use of the Lorentz transformation.

    There also comes to mind Cavendish funding his own scientific investigations – they seemed potty to the rest of the family, but what a boost to knowledge they are recognised to be.

    Long live obscure research!

  10. This seems like a “hot pizza oil burns the roof of your mouth” study. Socialism among many other ideologies are well known for recycling old propaganda after the public forgets its true meaning.

    The 20-30 years of course marks the time in which an a set of people commonly go through college. These people learn the propaganda of the time. That propaganda is then normally proven wrong or at least discredited toward the end of that cycle. This people no longer believe the propaganda as it was spun in college/eduction. Thus they need new propaganda for the new students and for the old students to keep them hooked.

    You’ll note things like population bomb, global cooling and really not global warming have all run through this cycle. Its not unexpected that we start seeing more and more recycled propaganda from the population bomb era and the verbiage that was used from that time to start making its way back into the cycle.

  11. Fashionable words?

    How about unprecedented? It certainly has been used quite a bit over the last few years.

    Somehow “Tube Top” keeps popping into my head also………..

  12. One of the major societal drawbacks to the ‘global warming’ political/religious movement is the amount of money that it is pumping into the research of propaganda techniques.

    Long after this trumped up scare has gone, the “public perception” methods developed for its promotion will still be used to manipulate the populace to other ends.

  13. Word Diffusion
    Word Diffusion in Science
    Word Diffusion in Political Science
    Word Diffusion in Climate Science

    Now which of these potential titles might garner the most interest and potential funding for a project…..

    Perhaps we ought to study
    Word Diffusion in Applications for Research Grants?

  14. Professor Bentley said: “Since the impact of climate science is so inherently linked to public acceptance – or denial – of the evidence for climate change,” ——– surely the antonym of acceptance is rejection….

  15. Analysis of the process which diffused the two oxygen atoms away from evil but invisible CO2, leaving (black) carbon as the threatening boogyman and the latent racism inherent in the process would be of real interest.

  16. One fashion wave of keywords that I regret ever dipping my toes in is the use of the term “policy makers.” When science is doubtful, and stakes are high, policy makers must apply the Precautionary Principle for the public good!

    The word “politician” is so much better for the real sense of what is being done. When sustainablility and climate scientists work with politicians, scientists can raise sufficient concern and progress can be halted or reversed. Politicians and sustainability scientists centralize control “for the public good.”

    In precisely the same manner as climate science does, sustainability always works in the politicians favor, and the scientists model fashion waves of word usage trends to promote public acceptance and transmit wild phobias and fads about our electricity, crops, cattle, food, and air.

  17. Lets not forget that these “fashions” are the result of very deliberate propaganda campaigns, orchestrated by people with the same political ideology as these so called researchers. Almost all of our political and cultural vocabulary has been created by Marxists, and now they are defining our scientific and technical vocabulary as well.

  18. As a Bristol maths graduate, I was sorry to see this – but don’t be prejudiced against the whole of Bristol because the University actually does a lot of really useful science research. I have to say, though, that as a graduate who is often asked for donations I am always careful to try and make sure any contribution goes to mathematics, computer science (my career) or other REAL sciences.

  19. Here’s an incoming multimillion dollar fashion wave of keywords and word usage trends you might want to familiarize yourself with:

    “To explore ways of maximizing the benefits of…development while minimizing potential negative effects on human communities and ecosystems, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has entered into a cooperative agreement with a University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder)-led team of scientists, engineers and educators and eight partner organizations.

    NSF has also entered into a cooperative agreement with another interdisciplinary team of scientists, engineers and educators; it supports a multi-institution research network on sustainable climate risk management strategies.”

    Scientists and policymakers have identified the potential for threshold responses, or “tipping points,” in climate change.

    There’s a tipping point alright – the tipping point of scientists into the lucrative business of politics and “risk management”.

  20. All part of the major study by social scientists ‘Why Global Warming Propaganda Isn’t Working’.

    Eventually they will get around to studying ‘Why Global Warming Propaganda Never Worked’.

  21. The fashion word tsunami continues, bringing social sciences and interdisciplinary studies and funding to scientists:

    “Sustainability Research Networks combine the best of our research efforts in social and physical science and engineering into an effort to better understand the complex relationships between environmental change and the human condition,” says Myron Gutmann, NSF assistant director for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences.

    “The SRNs include combinations of social sciences that will guide the future of our efforts to create a sustainable planet.”

    This particular fashion wave of keywords and money quotes comes with gifts, to ensure there is a tipping point of science into politics. It’s interdisciplinary with the social sciences – and it’s for the public good.

  22. Scientific ‘words’ can’t change otherwise we couldn’t make much sense of Euclid or Newton.

    The changing words and phrases of climate science in the IPCC era are proof that it is political. Indeed, it is use of such non-scientific words or phrases, like “hide the decline”, that expose the misuse of science for a political objective. Some won’t reveal computer codes because offending words or phrases are exposed.

    There is a further problem with words in climatology created because it is a generalist discipline and involves words and phrases from a multitude of disciplines each with their own jargon. It is especially true in paleo- or historical climatology because reconstructing past climates often takes data and information from humanities and the social sciences. The challenge of my doctoral thesis was to take historical source information, a weather journal, and create a coding system that standardized written information in numerical form for statistical scientific analysis. Reproducible results are very difficult otherwise and that ability is the hallmark of science, as McIntyre demonstrated.

    Cross-discipline work is also a problem when predicting, as the Reports of Working Groups II and III of the IPCC illustrate. They attempt to integrate scientific data with social, political and economic data in what Richard Lindzen famously referred to as “children’s exercises.”

    First year university courses involve introducing students to the jargon of the discipline. This effectively isolates the work in that discipline from integration and creates the modern equivalent of the Tower of Babel in the Ivory Tower. It is estimated (the number vary), the average person has a vocabulary of about 7,000, Shakespeare uses about 21,000 and a university professor about 40,000 of which most are the jargon of the discipline.

    Years ago I remember an attempt to deal with just one part of the basic ‘word’ problem in historical climate reconstruction and that was standard terminology for various events. Regional terms were different yet describing global phenomena. A good example was the various glacial and interglacial events. Then there were the various words for similar epochs used in different disciplines – a good example was the Climatic Optimum that was variously the Hypsithermal and finally settled out as the Holocene Optimum.

    Science must have standardized globally recognized ‘word’s. People are now realizing they are needed in the humanities and social sciences as well. If it happens political objectives will be more easily exposed because they want to deflect from what is actually happening, as the IPCC demonstrate.

  23. Climate science money is extending its ideological straight-jacket to more disciplines every year, all with taxpayer money.

  24. “Recognizing which words are spread by diffusion, along with the ideas they represent, could help campaigns improve social learning, rather than simply expecting an audience to adopt a message because it is scientifically sound.”

    The only science these guys seem interested in is the “science of propaganda.” What else would you call “campaigns [to] improve social learning”? Since when do you need a “campaign” to promote science? People don’t adopt a message because you call it “scientifically sound.” They adopt it because it is scientifically sound. When society adopts an idea because it’s “fashionable,” they drop it just as quickly when it falls out of fashion. What fad lasts forever?

    My suspicion is that these academics want the fad of climate change to take hold just long enough for them to get their political agenda adopted. Then it won’t matter so much what happens next. If the climate doesn’t change, they can always come up with a reason like the aerosol excuse. Or, perhaps, they’ll simply claim their political agenda worked better than they had hoped and they were able to forestall climate change because of it. When politics comes first, propaganda wins and science loses.

  25. Tim Ball says 9:22 “Then there were the various words for similar epochs used in different disciplines – a good example was the Climatic Optimum that was variously the Hypsithermal and finally settled out as the Holocene Optimum.”

    Perhaps we can bring in the social sciences, get a political result, use science to terrify the public, and model a fashion wave keyword all in one here:

    “NSF: Sustainable Climate Risk Management Strategies

    Human beings live in a new age, many scientists believe, one called the Anthropocene, in which human effects on Earth’s systems are powerful regulators of how those systems function. Or how they are beginning to break down.”

  26. In the comments to the recent post here on a fascinating paper by Markonis and Koutsoyiannis , Larry Ledwick (hotrod) (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/11/04/new-paper-from-markonis-and-koutsoyiannis-shows-orbital-forcings-signal-in-proxy-and-instrumental-records/#comment-1135897 ) gives a link to a presentation by Koutsoyiannis in 2011 in which he reports some analyses of word frequencies using that Google resource. (link is http://itia.ntua.gr/en/docinfo/1135/) – for ordinary words like ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. He also shows a ‘climacogram’ for the word ‘two’!

  27. Well, whilst the biodiverse tropical rainforests are being ripped off the face of the Earth, & millions are dying from lack of water, food, affordable medicines, peoples homes are melting beneath them Whilst Fat Cat Big Oil Deniers fund the rape of the planet, its resource depletion at super critical levels, entire ecosystems being torn apart & flora & fauna being made extinct by the heat, by Super Storms & even more Super Hurricanes, reaping havoc & destruction the world over, global crop failures producing famines on Biblical scales not seen in milleniia, sea-levels rising at unprecedented rates, coastal cities being swamped by Super Floods, temperatures soaring out of control, massive deadly Super Heatwaves killing millions due to CAGW (plus see Number Watch for entire list of things caused by AGW), populations growing out of control, yet at the same time being incinerated by Super Fire Storms on Continental scales, wars & conflict breaking out all over the place even as I type, as the poor peoples of the Earth struggle to escape the deprevation & starvation as we in the rich, oil dependent addiction obsessed vile capitalist western psuedo democracies grow fatter & richer than ever, as we bombard the rest of the world with nuclear bombs with our evil Malthusian Eco Nazi Global Envio-Crimes Against Humanity…………….(do you think I have used sufficient vocabulary or have I missed anything, just wanted to make sure I covered all the bases on the Disaster/Catastrophe check list?) at least then, we will know the Bovine Faecal content of the doomongers & neysayers out there perhaps! :-))

  28. It sounds like they are saying that the more the public understands the “science”, the more they know it’s crap.

  29. The EPA defines C02 for little kids:

    ” Carbon dioxide: A colorless, odorless greenhouse gas. It is produced naturally when dead animals or plants decay, and it is used by plants during photosynthesis. People are adding carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, mostly by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. This extra carbon dioxide is the main cause of climate change.”

    Dead puppies will cause more dead puppies.

    http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/kids/glossary.html#c

  30. Professor Bentley, Department of Archaeology & Anthropology, Bristol University,

    Even though he uses it himself, perhaps Bentley could be persuaded to explore the dangerous perversity behind the absurdity of the propaganda term “climate change denier”. Denying climate change is like denying sunrise.

    His Educational Background is:

    B.A. Bowdoin College, Physics
    M.A. Cornell University, Archaeology 1996
    M.S. Cornell University, Geology (Geochemistry) 1997
    Ph.D. University of Wisconsin, Anthropology 2001

    Here is his November 7, 2012 paper:
    “Word Diffusion and Climate Science” http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0047966

    And if you’ve got the time and interest, an hour long lecture:
    “Social Influence and Drift in Collective Behavior:

  31. Can anyone help me relocate the NOAA educator’s style guide with the recommendation to:
    Avoid the use of the term “Positive Feedback” and substitute “Reinforces the negative effect”?

  32. Gerald Wilhite says:
    November 8, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Thanks for the background. In his talk he mentions London University, Durham University and is now at Bristol University.

    He sure is a fast mover; I wonder why?

  33. Whatever happened to ‘meme’?

    A while back the blogosphere was covered in it, Now it seems to be dead as a doornail. Ditto ‘paradigm’.

    Are they put out to grass in a nice field somewhere, with a quiet life but few visitors?

  34. Heather Brown (aka Dartmoor resident) says:
    November 8, 2012 at 8:24 am

    As a Bristol maths graduate, I was sorry to see this – but don’t be prejudiced against the whole of Bristol because the University actually does a lot of really useful science research. I have to say, though, that as a graduate who is often asked for donations I am always careful to try and make sure any contribution goes to mathematics, computer science (my career) or other REAL sciences.

    Not attempting to demean you or your choices but Maths has long been recognised as an art in British academia. This does not demean it as once applied it can become useful.

    Computer science. What the Hell is that? Programming is again an art, (One I was quite good at,) and even chip design is an art which is why the current generation of computer generated chip designs will likely lead us up a blind alley.

    DaveE.

  35. help campaigns improve social learning, rather than simply expecting an audience to adopt a message because it is scientifically sound.
    The aim of the exercise; help propagandize and direct “social learning”.

    Problem: what if the “message” is not actually “scientifically sound”? Oops!

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