Member Company Lunch & Learn with Grant Foster

Recent Buzz: Member Company Lunch & Learn Series

Grant Foster, Understory Weather
Defense Against the Dark Arts: Global Climate Change Edition

Grant Foster delivered a compelling lecture and led a subsequent discussion about climate change science and trends, how those data have been framed by various stakeholders, and what that means for scientifically literate people trying to make sense of a global-scale problem.  Our most highly-attended Lunch & Learn to date, this topics seemed to resonate with our members, who had a lot of comments and insights to offer.


Using the tobacco industry as a ready example, Grant illustrated how at first, scientists study and report on observations related to a certain behavior, in this case, smoking cigarettes. Their conclusions then circulate through related fields and occupations, until gradually this knowledge grabs the attention of the people in general and then politicians in particular, who may or may not take action through policy. When government advises policy that objectively targets a specific industry, that industry will respond with backlash in myriad ways.  And a lot of that backlash relied on manufacturing doubt by disguising solid science with strategies such as cherry-picking, selective time periods of data, direct comparisons in lieu of demonstrating long-term trends, and attacking the personal and professional integrity of scientists publishing studies concluding that man-made climate change has been and is continuing to increase. 

When portions of data are chosen for presentation that shows only a portion of a linear regression, the overall trend is compromised.

When two specific years are compared in terms of how many wildfires have occurred, a long-term trend is hidden by a misleading single comparison.

Grant’s lecture culminated with the thesis: there are those in whose interest it is to disguise the reality behind climate science and climate change, and who deliberately misuse data and graphs to resonate with the scientifically literate community and create real doubt in their minds. In order to avoid the consequences of such antics, we must defend ourselves with independent analyses of the data.

While the topic was slightly dark (Defense Against the Dark Arts), the atmosphere (pun intended) was cheerful. More Greentown Labs members attended this Lunch & Learn than any other previously, and were receptive to the humorous style in which Grant presented his thoughts. A lively discussion resulted, with members discussing how best to combat denialist arguments and several Devil’s Advocates in the audience testing others’ convictions.