Climate Scientists Use PR to Promote Cuddly Image

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That adorable little girl covered in mud isn't actually a future climate scientist, but she's paid to look like one.

Same goes for the long-lashed kid photographed abandoning his outfield duties to study some daisies. "I did play little league baseball as a kid, and I'm now doing climate research," explains bona fide climate scientist David Inouye, "so I guess I turned out to be a good match with that photograph." Welcome to the strange world of Science PR.

The pictures are at the centerpiece of an ad campaign rolling out in the New York Times Magazine right now, as well as other local newspapers and Washington D.C. buses. It's the brainchild of the Union of Concerned Scientists. As UCS president Kevin Knobloch explains, the ads are a response to some bad press that scientists -- in particular climate scientists -- have gotten lately.

"Scientists are being branded by cynical individuals," Knobloch says, referring to media scandals like the now debunked "Climate Gate." So, Knobloch's group decided to try a little rebranding of their own.

It's hard to look at one of the faces in this campaign and imagine calling it a "Nazi climate murderer," or consider sending an email to "go gargle razor blades."-- both are messages that US climate scientists have received in anonymous hate-mail over the last few months.

But even outside extremist circles, scientists still don't have the greatest reputation in the U.S. Four in 10 Americans say they place little or no trust in what scientists have to say about the environment, according to a Washington Post Poll from a few months ago. Maybe that says more about our country's poor marks in math and science education.

Which begs the question: Can an ad campaign like this one help?

About the author

Krissy Clark is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.
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Can an ad campaign like this one help? At least some actions are being made, it definitely would not be healthy to continue in the direction its in.

I believe people are pulling the scientists along with the politicians as we're increasingly focused on the green movement. It seems that the right and left are pulling out all sorts of research and data made by scientists to argue in their favor, which can confuse people about the information. Great example would be the time when Al Gore introduced his film, and opponents of Al Gore were pulling out different kinds of data and information that seems to make sense to some people.

Science does not operate with regard to "sides"; pegging scientists as either "skeptics" or "alarmists" ignores the very basis of scientific integrity. By falsely qualifying scientists as having a predisposition toward one side or the other undermines the more complicated truth at hand. If more scientists were interviewed that expressed views sympathetic to the existence of anthropogenic climate change, it is simply because an overwhelming majority of scientists hold human-caused climate change to be "very likely" (more than 90% likely). By giving equal voice to either "side", you are lending disproportionate weight to a marginal viewpoint. A more important metric (than what "side" a scientist is on) is whether or not the scientists interviewed were objective. Regardless of sides, the answer is yes.

This article says it very well. The core of proper science is the ability to reproduce the results independently. Mann et al not only refuses to explain how they got their results, but no one outside of their clique has been able to reproduce them. The Union of Concerned scientists has been cheering them on, in particular their refusal to disclose their data.


In total, five independent investigations of the UEA email hacking scandal have been conducted, all of them exonerating climate scientists. 3 have been conducted in the UK, and 2 in the U.S. These investigations were conducted in large part by other scientists who had no vested interest in the outcome of the report. Indeed, it is in the interest of the Universities in question to weed out any malfeasants as not doing so would certainly prevent future publication and discourage other talented scientists from researching on behalf of their institution. If you take any time to read any of the reports, you will find that the bulk of the investigations focused on determining the integrity of the science and research. The reports, in turn, found the use of laudable and stringent scientific practices. I would implore you, Andrew, to exercise similar standards and check your facts.

An 'independent investigation' must be conducted by a group without a vested interest in the result. In addition, in this case since global warming is such a hot topic, either scientists on both sides must sit on the committee, or scientists of equal standing and in equal numbers must be interviewed. This did not happen. On the Penn State investigation, 3 scientists on the alarmist side were interviewed, and only one on the skeptic side. And the skeptic was interviewed last and specifically told that the most controversial issues were no longer under discussion.

That is not an investigation, that is a whitewash. Similar methodologies were used in the others.

And the Union of Concerned scientists are the some of the most egregious violaters in the politicization of science.

The statement in the story that the investigations all exonerated the scientists involved in climategate only told half the story. As has been thoroughly reported elsewhere, there have been as near as I can tell 3 investigations. None of the investigations actually looked at the science involved, and in each case the institution running the investigation had a vested, fiscal, interest in claiming there was no wrongdoing. The term for that is a whitewash, not an investigation.

In any case, for the Union of Concerned Scientists to be running this PR program is so bizarre as to be almost Kafkaesque. They may be the single group in the country that spends the most time and energy in politicizing science and pushing extremist policies under the guise of science.

I agree with this statement: Science does not operate with regard to “sides”; pegging scientists as either “skeptics” or “alarmists” ignores the very basis of scientific integrity.

Science does not, but many scientists do take sides. As shown by your 90% number, currently the public thinks that 90% of scientists accept the human caused global warming hyphothesis. The actual number is probably closer to 50% or less, but the lions share of the research money is going to those scientists that have already decided that man is causing the earth to warm up. And those same scientists are doing their absolute best to silence those critical of that position, even as the evidence becomes less and less convincing.

At the very least, the Mann 'Hockey Stick' has been thoroughly disproven, but these 'scientists' deny the evidence in front of them and continue to claim it is valid, even though it has been shown to be incorrect in both the assumptions and deductions. This denial of obvious facts cause the whole science of global warming to be called into question. The fact that the committee exonerated Mann despite the well known problems in his analysis show their lack of objectivity.

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