I’ve noticed a bit more discussion recently about how to improve the quality of the climate debate; in the blogosphere at least. It’s certainly my view that it would benefit from being more civil and less adversarial. Having said that, I’m not claiming some kind of moral high ground. There are certainly things I’ve said that I’ve later regretted, and occasions when I’ve let my frustration show more easily than I should have. Although I have no idea how to improve the dialogue, or if it’s even worth trying, here are some thoughts that you can take with as big, or as small, a pinch of salt as you would like.
A big issue that I encounter are those who completely mix up science and policy. I find it incredibly frustrating to be involved in what I think is a discussion about science, that suddenly veers into a discussion about policy. Clearly science can inform policy, but policy really shouldn’t inform science. If you think it’s perfectly fine to use your objection to certain policy options to argue against some scientific views, then you’re doing it wrong. It would really help if people would make it clearer as to whether they’re discussing policy or science and try and stick to one or the other.
There also seem to be some who see scientific discussions as something that you try to win. If so, then you’re showing a real lack of understanding of how most scientists would undertake such discussions. You don’t try to win or challenge your “opponent” to defeat your argument. The goal is to learn and – possibly – inform. In a scientific discussion, it’s your job to clarify the caveats and uncertainties in your theory/model. You don’t hide them and declare victory if your “opponent” doesn’t work them out. If you think a scientific discussion is something to be won or lost, then you’re doing it wrong. Recognising that scientific discussions are more than simply debates, would help the dialogue greatly.
Those are some of aspects of this debate that I’ve noticed. There are also a few other thoughts that I’ve had about this issue. If you’re genuinely interested in better dialogue, but typically find yourself accusing others of lying or similarly unacceptable behaviour, maybe you should stop doing this. You may believe it to be true, but doing so is certainly not going to help. Similarly, if you’re interested in better dialogue and find yourself on a metaphorical pedestal criticising the behaviour/biases of others, then you should probably stop doing this. None of us are free of biases, and pretending that you’re purer than everyone else is unlikely to be helpful. Alternatively, if you do these things and your goal is to prevent better dialogue, then carry on; it’s working beautifully.
To be clear, these are just some thoughts and I’m certainly not suggesting that I’m some kind of exemplar. I’m also not particularly confident that there is much chance (in the immediate future at least) of better dialogue. What I would say, though, is that if you’re interested in better dialogue, then why not just try to behave appropriately yourself. Even if noone else follows along, you’ll probably feel better for it, and – you never know – maybe you’ll start a trend. I’m certainly going to try. I don’t promise that I’ll succeed or manage it at all times, though 🙂