Dr Stephan Harrison, from the University of Exeter, was interviewed as part of an Australian documentary about Patagonia. Anthony Watts and Bishop-Hill (aka Andrew Montford) are mightily upset that he responds to a question about “sceptics” by saying
People often say why don’t I debate with sceptics …. it’s a bit like mud wrestling with a pig. Firstly you get covered in mud and secondly, the pig loves it.
Andrew Montford seems to interpret this as some kind of activism, and actually goes on to say
Is it possible to formulate some guidelines that would at least make this kind of thing more difficult? Or is the answer just to cut funding to the universities?
This seems a little ironic as I’d always assumed that Andrew Montford was someone who – typically – opposed regulation.
However, from what I’ve experienced, Stephan Harrison is entirely correct. Apart from some notable exceptions, it is largely pointless trying to debate with outright “sceptics” (pseudo-sceptics might be a more appropriate term). I’m not talking about those who are genuinely skeptical, but those who largely oppose mainstream climate science. Typically, they don’t seem to understand the basics and they often have such entrenched views, that the only benefit to such a debate might be if a third party gets something from reading the exchange. I wish I didn’t have this view, but I do. To be honest, I find it somewhat disappointing. However, if those who self-identify as “sceptics” don’t like it that I and others hold this view, then change how you engage in such discussions. And, to be clear, I don’t mean change your views; I mean have some willingness to think about what’s being said. For example, if someone suggests that your idea violates energy conservation, maybe check if this is the case, or not.
It might also be worth adding what Stephan Harrison said after the mud wrestling analogy. He continued with
If sceptics want to debate about the science, the only way to do it is in the scientific literature. Write the papers. They haven’t done it.
So, this isn’t some attempt to delegitimise “sceptics”; it’s an individual expressing an opinion (that I happen to share) about the value in debating science with pseudo-sceptics, and suggesting that if “sceptics” really want scientific credibility, go and do some research and publish some papers. Academics are not obliged to engage with everyone who has a view about their research, and just because you’re a member of the public doesn’t mean you’re entitled to debate science with an academic. If you want to learn about climate science, there are plenty of suitable resources – possibly more than for any other field today. If you disagree with the basic science and think you know better, do the work and publish a paper.
Anyway, I thought I’d partly write this to express some support for Stephan Harrison (although he may not care or know that he’s been highlighted on WUWT and Bishop-Hill) and partly to promote the documentary, part 2 of which I include below. It’s very interesting, and the pig wrestling segment starts at around 5:45.