I don’t like comedy based on people being stupid as an approach to education at the best of times (see previous pieces for the Guardian Science Blog and Times Higher). In this case, I also worry that their particular focus on what celebrities say and how scientists might respond obscures other problems and other solutions. It puts too much of a focus on figures of authority instead of building relationships and facilitating well-informed public debate about science policy issues. I also think the report plays into the same kind of lazy journalism it seeks to admonish. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it’s how I feel.
This year, reading the report in the context of their full archive, I was also struck by their coverage of environmental issues, or rather the holes in this. The report tends to focus on biomedicine. I can understand why, especially at a time of year when there are a lot of “quick fix” health cures for sale. Still, environmental science is a key issue in the public discussion of science and I expect a report like this to cover it too. For me, it was striking that there wasn’t much reference to climate change, except to debunk psychic Derek Acorah’s prediction that there will be some extreme weather and “cataclysmic changes” next year, to which Liz Morris makes the very sensible point that his certainty gives him away there (he can’t know this). Yes, arguably it’s important to stress that science doesn’t work with certainties. Still, considering quite how political weather forecasting is, and how very sensitive any discussion of uncertainty regarding a changing climate is, it seemed, to me, an odd choice.
I’m not sure extreme weather change is the best topic to make a point about uncertainty with. Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe, precisely because of the political context of climate science, it’s exactly the right topic. I’d be interested to know what other people think.
In her response, Sile Lane from Sense About Science points out that their biggest current project is a collaboration with research institutes involved in climate science on the environment and uncertainty. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.