Monday, March 01, 2010

O'Keeffe to Climate Scientists

I was at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum this morning, trying to clear my head of the contention over climate change. It's occurred to me that the hacked e-mails give a picture of science being done. I won't say "how science is done," because that is too broad; what the e-mails show is some of the back and forth that takes place, not always phrased elegantly, and it also shows some less savory maneuvering. I don't think that any of it undermines the credibility of the case for anthropogenic global warming, but I do think that the scientists' responses have been, er, unfortunate. And the opponents are now politicizing every move.

So I've wanted to write some more about what the scientists are doing badly in communicating their case to the public. That can be very boring and marginally irrelevant, like the elementary advice given here. There's nothing wrong with anything in that post, just that it doesn't go far enough. It's not just words and acronyms that are the problem; the scientists need to move away from their everyday work and see it with new eyes.

The O'Keeffe Museum has quotes on the wall, some of them very good. Georgia O'Keeffe never intended them to apply to climate change, of course, but as indicators of a state of mind, they could be useful to the scientists.

*Nothing is less real than realism....Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.

*I know I cannot paint a flower. I cannot paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.

*When the sun is just gone the color is so fine--and I like the feel of wind against me when I get up high. My world here is a world almost untouched by man....It is so bare--with a sort of ages old feeling of death on it--still it is warm and soft and I love it with my skin.

*If I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at - not copy it.

[Ram's Head, White Hollyhock, and Little Hills, 1935, taken from here.]

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