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Update: Research on Climate Change

A quick update on this post (about research cited in climate change ad).

I emailed the Department for Energy and Climate Change suggesting I might put in a freedom of information request for the data. The reply was again speedy and helpful, and yet missing the point. They directed me to a much larger piece of research into public attitudes towards the environment. As the guy emailing me suggests, this is more detailed and in many ways more useful to me. I'm thankful for the link. But, I still don't see why the small scale Yougov survey remains hidden from public view? I emailed a reply saying so. I'll post more if I get more.

I'd also like to underline that I am, personally, broadly in agreement with a lot of the DECC campaign. I am in no way a climate change sceptic, in fact I find such people a bit worrying. I don't have a problem with politicising climate science (indeed, I think we should acknowledge the politics of it). Further, have no real problems with the notion of government PR, environmental or otherwise. I just want it to be good campaigning which respects its audience, not 9 out of 10 cats stuff. I also think this sort of government data should be open.

Update to the update (13:40, 4th Nov) - two more emails from the DECC. Credit where credit is due: they've submitted my email as an official FOI request and an offer to discuss the work over the phone. Good stuff.

Update to the update (11:10, 6th Nov) - Just had very interesting, useful, intelligent and (most important) open phone conversation with a DECC press officer. She clarified that they had no problem emailing me the survey (it is already in my inbox) - any appearence of it being hidden was just the marketing team being careful. She was happy to admit that the small yougov survey in question was entirely commissioned for PR purposes (still over 1000 respondents, so in area of credible national research, but basically designed to produce newsworthy information).

So, yes I'm right that it's '9 out of 10 cats' style stats for PR, but (a) they are open about this, (b) they had built the advert itself on more detailed research conducted over the previous eight months, and (c) this smaller yougov piece simply aimed to draw out talking points. Personally, I'm quite happy with the use of slightly rough social stats to inspire debate. As long as it doesn't replace more detailed work or present itself as something it's not. After this morning's conversation with the DECC press officer, I don't think it was either.

Comments

Alice:

As you have no doubt realised, assuming that you checked the URL I supplied with my first comment, I am one of those people who worry you. But there is probably something that we can agree about. The kind of smoke and mirrors performance that you are encountering with DECC feeds climate scepticism.

Why does a DECC press release rely on, and even summarise, research that cannot be published? Why must this be discussed on the phone, rather than attaching the survey report to an email? Your credentials certainly justify your request and letting you see a copy would not be publishing the report. Why does there have to be a mystery when DECC’s declared purpose is to educate climate change sceptics?

On the other hand, when I see a sentence in a post by a social scientist like, “I am in no way a climate change sceptic, in fact I find such people a bit worrying”, I find it …. well, a bit worrying. You seem to be categorising ‘people’ by a single opinion they may hold and assigning them to a group. Would you think about - or refer to - people who remain sceptical about the political motives and evidence of WMD that lead to the invasion of Iraq in the same way I wonder?

Surely it should be the opinions that worry you, not the people.

Firstly, I don't think my "credentials" should come into it. That sort of info should be there for anyone to download. There aren't IPR issues, it's public research - share it.

I have no idea why you think I might be labelling climate skeptics. I wasn't. Maybe I should have said its the opinions rather than people, and I'm sorry if you felt I made a personal remark. However, actually it's the fact that these ideas are not just in peoples heads or occasionally shared in the pub, but actively promoted and acted upon (by human beings) that worries me.

For the record, I think you are entirely rational and within your rights to find my views as worrying as I find yours (I still disagree with you...).

Hi Alice !

If it helps you, I do have children, I am not paid by Big Oil, and I have a degree in science. I'm just not convinced.

I'm not even sure what the hypothesis is anymore...

It now seems to be:

bad stuff may happen in the future unless we cut things by [select arbitrary figure] and give [arbitrary amount] to the 3rd world.
Its hard to test this hypothesis.

Oh! that all exchanges in the climate debate could be so civilised.

I couldn’t agree with you more about credentials. My FOI request was submitted about the same time as yours and has yet to receive an acknowledgement in spite of the Act requiring that this is done promptly. Perhaps I shouldn’t have presented my credentials (the URL of my blog under my signature) but it is something that I always do.

Reading the press release, the data from the survey is represented by the minister as a justification for a £6m advertising campaign. Now it would appear that it was actually a marketing exercise.

Rather confusing? Why commission new research when they could have cited the ‘more detailed research’ and saved money? What made the ‘detailed research’ different from the pre-launch research? Why did the DECC think that the pre-launch research would be different to the ‘detailed research’? What made the ‘detailed research’ unsuitable for marketing purposes? Did you ask to see the ‘detailed research’ too? And if you did, I wonder whether that was well received? And if you did not then it would be interesting to know why not?

Anyway, you are ‘… quite happy with the use of slightly rough social stats to inspire debate. As long as it doesn't replace more detailed work or present itself as something it's not.’ But it is apparent that this research was not used to inspire debate but that a marketing exercise was used to influence opinion via the press release, and thereby did indeed ‘present itself as something it was not’.