When Science Goes Funny

Politics is the gruel that feeds The Daily Show and The Colbert Report with endless material. But science often finds its way onto both shows as well.

In an interesting post, Matthew Nisbet wonders, to what effect? He asks

what evidence is there for the potential of these programs””rich with satire and built on comedy””to engage viewers on complex issues such as climate change, or to promote learning about science more generally?

Recent findings, according to one scholar interviewed by Nisbet, suggest that

that satirical news programs can be important outlets for broadening public attention to science and the environment.

Which seems kind of obvious to me, and perhaps to anyone else who recalls seeing Paul Ehrlich appear over a dozen times on Johnny Carson’s show in the 1970s. (I didn’t because I was too young then.) But there are larger questions raised in Nisbet’s interview with Lauren Feldman, a communications professor at American University, such as whether comedy shows detract from the seriousness of issues like climate change.

On a related note, Feldman raises an even more important issue, which has a lot to do with how information on climate change is disgested by the public:

Another area that is ripe for study is the role of news satire in promoting news media literacy. Arguably, The Daily Show is at its best when it is critiquing the news media. An important question is whether watching the program actually helps make audiences more critical and discerning news consumers, a question that is increasingly relevant given the vast amount of information ““ much of which is of dubious credibility ““ that citizens are forced to sift through in our contemporary media environment.

The problem here is that people tend to view information (and especially hot button issues like climate change) through a predisposed political or ideological filter.

33 Responses to “When Science Goes Funny”

  1. David44 says:

    Comedy and satire, like any other art form, at their best, cause us to look at the mundane and what we think is the truth from a new and different prospective.  It’s a nice bonus if they are also entertaining or well-crafted.

  2. Tom Fuller says:

    Where’s Tom Lehrer when we need him most?

  3. Ed Forbes says:

    I think the well know spot with The Daily Show on climategate was one of the better ones done.  Hits the main points in a very clear way.


  4. Jack Hughes says:

    Crime is a real problem that affects millions of people worldwide.
    But we can laugh at crime. Comedians crack jokes about crime. There are even TV comedy shows about fictitious criminals.
    So what’s so special and holy about “climate change” ?

  5. I read Joe Romm’s blog today. He reminds everyone that he was “raised by journalists”.

  6. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Since you brought it up Shub, would you care to comment on the substance of Romm’s post.  It’s depressingly bang-on IMO.
    The problem with climate change coverage and the MSM is not about the personal failings of any particular journalist; it’s an institutional/systemic problem…owing both to the nature of the problem and the commercial constraints of media as a for profit enterprise first and foremost.

  7. intrepid_wanders says:

    The problem with climate change coverage and the MSM is not about the personal failings of any particular journalist; it’s an institutional/systemic problem”¦owing both to the nature of the problem and the commercial constraints of media as a for profit enterprise first and foremost.

    Marlowe, you and Joe are absolutely correct.  Abbess-gate.

  8. Shub says:

    Of course, it is depressing, Marlowe. People don’t care about stuff that doesn’t happen to them. The climate changes, if ever, very slowly – so no one can really notice it. If rapid changes that kill off lots of people do occur, it is not easy to attribute it to climate. Even so, people are aware that bad things like floods and droughts do happen in the world, even before climate change was a popular pastime. And then, the most dangerous game being played by the warmist wonks and advocates – (which they seem don’t care much about, ’cause all they want to do is buy their yachts and scoot) – what if you institute a cap and trade, and the globe doesn’t cool?
    We all know this; I dont know what this reporter who Romm interviewed goes on about, at such length.
    Society sees climate scientists (and all sorts of other scientists) as just someone who should be happy to take what’s coming their way and be content – they are not taken seriously. You want proof for this? Ask Dr Curry about this. They were inadvertently seen as capitalizing on Katrina to ask for grants and they were met with anger. Folks like Tobis and Trenberth can propound their theories about slow-burn conditions such as the Russian heat wave – that will be tolerated – because it is far from ‘home’ and nothing drastic happened. Let there be a catastrophic “death by the thousands” type of event, God forbid, in the US, and then immediately run out into the streets and shout “global warming”, “let’s pass a carbon tax”, and see what happens.
    I am bringing this us, just to point out that even if catastrophes transpire, it wont be easy, or maybe even possible to ‘capitalize’ on them.

  9. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Sorry but you’re coming across as batshit-crazy.

  10. SimonH says:

    Marlowe, splain. You’re going to describe someone as batshit-crazy, I think you have at least an obligation to define in which sense, on which matters.

  11. Shub says:

    For you, if Romm or his journalist friend from the BBC explain something – it is “bang-on”. If someone like me says the same thing – it is “batshit”.

  12. David44 says:

    Batshit crazy is more like:
    The polar ice cap is going to disappear in the next decade;
    Climate refugees will be in the hundreds of millions;
    Virtually 100% of those who changed their opinion after climate gate were conservatives;
    The drying of Lake Chad, the loss of Mount Kilimanjaro’s snows and Hurricane Katrina were caused by greenhouse gases;
    There will be a 7 meter rise in sea level by the end of the century;
    Atolls in the Pacific have already been evacuated;

    The gulf stream will shut down;
    Carbon dioxide levels and temperatures over the last 650,000 years were an exact fit;
    Polar bears are drowning while searching for icy habitats melted by global warming;
    Coral bleaching is a result of AGW;
    The temperature of the interior of the Earth is several million degrees;
    Most recent climategate email was 10 years old;
    It’s OK to light up my mansion and fly around in private jets because I can afford to buy carbon credits, but the rest of you mortals must sacrifice;
    Carbon credits will rise in value.
    Any of this sound familiar?

  13. Jack Hughes says:

    Lighten up, dudes 🙂

  14. Jack Hughes says:

    This was on the TV news 2 years ago in New Zealand.
    The story was a glacier retreating in Greenland, exposing a Viking settlement with houses, a graveyard, and some fields.
    After the piece, the newscasters were doing their usual bantering…
    TV Man: (with gravitas) This shows us just how serious climate change is going to be.
    TV Blonde: Yes, that’s right. Do they know yet <b>why</b> the Vikings were farming underneath a glacier ?

  15. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Actually all of those are the usual denialist canards that get trotted out to try and show that climate science is useless…
    But let’s go through a couple.
    1. polar ice caps will dissapear in the next decade.  No. But summertime arctic sea ice probably will.
    2.Climate refugees will be in the hundreds of millions. Ill-defined.  Not likely in the next decade, but it’s not implausible in the next 50-100 years when things really heat up in areas that are the least equipped to adapt.
    3.Virtually 100% of those who changed their opinion after climate gate were conservatives.  No idea.  But since many conservatives in the U.S. see climate change as a litmus test, it doesn’t seem plausible that anything like 100% of ‘converts’ could be conservatives.  Who said that btw?
    4.The drying of Lake Chad, the loss of Mount Kilimanjaro’s snows and Hurricane Katrina were caused by greenhouse gases. AIT erred on the first two, but the third is ill-posed.
    5. Coral bleaching is a result of AGW.  Again ill-posed.  Bleaching accelerates with warmer temperatures as do diseases that cause bleaching.
    see a pattern here?
    @ #14
    Good one 🙂

  16. charles says:

    I think Steve McIntyre said that the Daily Show’s version of the climategate story was more accurate than the version told by the inquiries. 🙂

  17. willard says:

    More like #14, no more like #9, pretty please with sugar on it.

  18. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Guilty as charged Willard.  Beer + blogging = bad behaviour.  Will do my best not to emulate TCO…

  19. Barry Woods says:

    Romms written another article aboutthe BBC, seems like they have taken exception now to Rogare Harrabin’s and roger Black comments…

    And my comments in Richard BBC blog, seems like the BBC should ‘moderate’ them better (what does that mean?)



  20. David44 says:

    “denialist”?  There you go labeling people again.  More beer-ishness?
    If there weren’t grossly exaggerated and made-up claims by climate activists, the “denalist” canards wouldn’t be needed.
    Climate science isn’t useless, just corrupted by a cabal of influential climate scientists who are advocates first and scientists second.
    Re your #3, Mr. Gore said this in an interview with Andrea Mitchell:
    MITCHELL: There’s been — according to the Pew research — a 20 percent drop in the number of people in the last year — since 2008, 71 percent believe that humans contributed to global warming. Now it’s only 51 percent. Do you attribute that to the economic hard times and people focusing inward?
    GORE: Well, I think that result dovetails with the first one that you cited, because when you look inside that study, virtually 100 percent of those who changed their opinion were conservative Republicans. …
    Gore and/or his propaganda movie said all of these things.  I don’t know when he first made his claim about arctic ice, but it was in the movie which was 2006 so he’s got six years to go.  With ice extent having increased since then, it may be a tough go. We’ll see.

  21. Marlowe Johnson says:

    ” With ice extent having increased since then, it may be a tough go.”
    You sure about that?  Want to talk about volume or extent of multi-year ice?
    And sorry, I don’t have a problem using the term denialist to label sites like climaterealists.com (where I suspect you cut and paste your list from).  But hey maybe you prefer tinfoil hat salesmen 🙂 .
    If you can put together a coherent argument explaining why climate sensitivity is less than 1.5-4.5 degrees C, I’m all ears. Or better yet how a ‘cabal’ of influential advocates have ‘corrupted’ climate science …frankly I never thought Svensmaark or Willie Soon were that influential but what do I know?
    And no I haven’t had any beer today :).
    Btw sorry Shub for #9.

  22. David44 says:

    Yep; nope; my own list; all a neutral observer with training in science has to do is read the climategate emails to see the intellectual corruption, no tin hats needed; Svensmaark I find to be a scrupulously honest physical scientist, unbeholden to special interests, and one of the few climate theorists who has experimental data to back up his theory.

  23. thingsbreak says:

    RE: sea ice free summer Arctic
    It’s probably not accurate to claim that this is a consensus prediction- by 2040 might be, and certainly individuals have predicted it to come much sooner.
    RE: Lake Chad
    An Inconvenient Truth said that the lake was drying up “due to declining rainfall and ever-intensifying human use”, which was a perfectly reasonable summary of the available evidence, e.g.:
    Coe, M. T., and J. A. Foley (2001), Human and natural impacts on the water resources of the Lake Chad basin, J. Geophys. Res., 106, 3349″“3356, doi:10.1029/2000JD900587.

  24. Marlowe’s beer-reviewed comments 🙂

  25. It is ok, MJ, no need for apologies. You warmist, me denier 😉 We are supposed to be at each others’ necks.

    BTW, I was only repeated what Mr Brayne said, in his ‘extended comment’.

    Isn’t that the central issue with climate change? “How do you get people to accept what they don’t percieve” – sort of a thing? What exactly is Brayne’s addition to this issue? I don’t know. Maybe I should re-read his contribution.

  26. kdk33 says:

    So, if the artic ice disappears in the summer:

    This is bad why, exactly?

    This proves what, exactly, vis-a-vis CO2?

    You want how much of my income?

  27. thingsbreak says:

    <i>This is bad why, exactly?</i>
    We exchange one of the best reflectors of incoming solar radiation (sea ice) for one of the worst (open ocean), which exacerbates the problem.
    This proves what, exactly, vis-a-vis CO2?
    That the Arctic is warming more rapidly than the rest of the planet, further confirming polar amplification, the positive nature of the ice-albedo feedback, etc.
    You want how much of my income?
    I don’t want any of your income. You’re listening to econo- alarmists and doomsayers who subscribe to the utterly unjustified belief of CECAGWA (Catastrophic Economic Costs of Anthropogenic Global Warming Amelioration).
    I would like self-proclaimed supporters of market-based economics to allow the market to function properly by internalizing the costs of GHG-driven climatic change rather than foisting them off to the global commons. Beyond that, I have faith that the appropriate solution can be arrived at without the government mandating winners and losers. This of course sets me apart from the Lomborgs and Breakthrough groupies (though they’d protest otherwise).

  28. kdk33 says:

    “I don’t want any of your income. ”

    Excellent!  Then we have no disagreement, and there will be no need for legislation; we can leave the energy markets alone.  Right?

    “I would like …market-based economics to …internalizing the costs of GHG-driven climatic change ”

    Ok, now we’re back to my first question, which you answered with a non-answer.  (I said what’s the problem, you said it makes the problem worse ?!!) What exactly is the problem?

  29. Barry Woods says:

    Well my income is being messed with, or more accurately my outgoing..

    Energy Bills, because of the AGW burden…

    Take a ook at what the energy companies have to do in the UK, of course all the extra green/renewable cost is just past onto the consumer..

    Biggest off shore windfarm in the UK, is the story of the moment..
    The costs involved make one wince, and life time costs..

    Enough power to provide 200,000 (assuming max capacity, instead of the more usaul 25-35% if lucky) homes is the strapline (if the wind is blowing) From an engineering and maintenance perspective, the costs of keepin that white elephant going for 30 years are goingto be ridiculous (offshore se side,(gear boxes how many metre of sea level , etc)  Thje Danish experience does not bode well….

  30. JohnB says:

    Thingsbreak, I must take issue with your second answer;
    That the Arctic is warming more rapidly than the rest of the planet, further confirming polar amplification, the positive nature of the ice-albedo feedback, etc.

    None of those things are any form of proof viv a vis CO2, they are true regardless of the cause of the warming.

    One major problem that I’ve had with this debate is that the “pro” side is often framed as “The world is warming and CO2 is the cause.”  This often leads proof of the first part to be considered proof of the second as well. However proof that the world has warmed is not proof that CO2 caused the warming.

    Note especially how the reverse crops up in debate, usually in a form like this;
    A: I don’t think CO2 causes Global Warming.
    B: You don’t believe in global warming? How can you be so stupid, the proof of warming is all around.

    Proof of effect does not equal proof of cause.

    I do think that this is an area where the two sides need to listen to each other better.

  31. Marlowe Johnson says:

    what other cause of warming could cause polar amplification?
    and, sorry, but the spatial characteristics of the observed warming plus basic physiscs pretty much exclude other explanations…

  32. Marlowe Johnson says:

    sorry to be clear polar amplification is evidence of positive feedbacks in the climate system and you’re right not a ’cause’ of AGW (although TB never suggested it was so it’s a bit of a strawman).
    The point about positive feedbacks is that they suggest that low values for climate sensitivity are less likely.

  33. JohnB says:

    Sorry Marlowe, but TB used the quoted comment in direct reponse to the question;  “This proves what, exactly, vis-a-vis CO2?”
    So strawman it was not. The point I was trying to make is that proof of warming and proof of feedbacks is not proof of original cause. Polar amplification is expected regardless of the cause of the warming and is therefore not proof of AGW. 

    Thanks for pointing to that section of the AR4, I have read it and hope others do too. It shows very clearly the extremely limited viewpoint taken in that report re internal variation and natural fluctuations.

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