Plain English climate science - now live at Skeptical Science

If there's one piece of advice I would give to those engaging in social media, it would be to "brace yourself". Skeptical Science started as a small website listing rebuttals to skeptic arguments. It has since grown to include a blog, iPhone app, Twitter page, Android app, translations into 15 languages, Nokia app and so on. I'd like to say these were my ideas but they were all suggested by others. And just to prove I'm a glutton for punishment, I recently put a call out for authors to help convert all the existing rebuttals into plain English. Today, the first of the "plain English" rebuttals has just gone live.

Less than a fortnight ago, immediately after I asked for help, a number of people generously volunteered to help write the plain English rebuttals. To get the ball rolling, I programmed up a private forum where the authors could collaborate and discuss how best to communicate the science. Immediately, the forum exploded with activity as everyone posted their ideas and commented on everyone else's content. An instant community of focused climate communicators had been created. Now I must admit, when the idea of offering multi-level information was first suggested, the deterrent of all the extra work was balanced by the importance of reaching the general public with easy to understand science. But also intriguing was the possibility of creating an environment where climate writers could work together and see where that might lead. Social media is like the butterfly effect - you give it a gentle push in one direction and it can expand in all manner of wonderful, unexpected ways. Put together a group of clever people passionate about climate and the possibilities are endless. In just under two weeks, the results have already exceeded my expectations.

Within a few days, all the authors were posting suggested plain English rebuttals and commenting on each others' work. Figuring I should get my feet wet too, I started a thread on "It hasn't warmed since 1998" using my debunk of the week for Irregular Climate. However, John Russell posted an alternative wording which was much easier to read and frankly, superior to my rendition. So for this first plain English rebuttal, we're going with John Russell's version. Graham Wayne has already written a fantastic summary of the positives and negatives of global warming which will be coming tomorrow.

How this works is we'll offer three different levels - Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. To visually reinforce the different "skill levels", I've used the ski-run icons of a green circle, blue square and black diamond, as suggested at Real Climate (h/t to Gavin Schmidt). All the existing rebuttals have been designated "Intermediate" level. As we gradually add more Basic rebuttals to the database, you'll see more and more tabs at the top of the "What the science says" boxes (note to DarkSkywise, this image is not clickable :-) but you can click on the tabs here):

When you visit a rebuttal page, the easiest level displays by default. Of course, for 118 of the 119 rebuttals, all you can see currently is the Intermediate version. But we'll be steadily adding new Basic rebuttals over the following weeks and months (hopefully not years, it better not take that long). I'm keen to add Advanced rebuttals too but that will depend on whether people step forward to help write them, or other climate bloggers grant permission to republish their existing content.

But as far as I'm concerned, the Basic rebuttals are the priority - this website is about explaining climate science to the general public. As each new Basic rebuttal is completed, it'll also be published as a blog post (a blog post of John Russell's 1998 rebuttal was published earlier today). Feel free to post your feedback, critiques and suggestions at these blog posts - I'm sure the authors will be pleased to take on board your feedback and tweak their content if it can be improved.

Lastly, we're still keen to have more people join our group of climate writers. If you find yourself reading the new Basic rebuttals and improvements or other ways to explain the science, you might be able to contribute to our Authors forum. If you're interested in being involved, contact me or put your hand up in a comment here and I'll get in contact with you. Lastly, let me express my heartfelt thanks to all the current authors - their passion and enthusiasm is amazing and I hope their efforts go a long way in making our climate more understandable to the general public.

Posted by John Cook on Monday, 16 August, 2010

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