I wasn’t sure whether or not to write about the recent meeting between some British climate scientists and a group of “skeptics”, that took place during Anthony Watts’s recent trip to the UK, but since there are some reports about it, I thought I might make some comments. I believe that Tamsin Edwards is writing a post, but the most recent available is an article in the Guardian by Sophie Yeo. This quotes David Whitehouse (an Academic Advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation) as saying
Both sides are really fed up with the outrageous alarmists who are not representing science properly. Both don’t like those who shout about it and call people names and take a polarised point of view
Now, I don’t know if this was really the view of all present at the meeting, but this irritates me for a number of reasons. An obvious one being someone using the term alarmist while complaining about name calling (irony is something many seem to not understand). Another is that the term alarmist is often aimed at those who are simply alarmed by the possible risks associated with climate change. Being alarmed about some possibility is not the same as being an alarmist. Additionally, even if there are some genuine alarmists (and there are some) who exaggerate the risks associated with climate change, there are very definitely a good number of people who do their utmost to minimise the risks. Some of the most vocal of those people were at this very meeting and for them to complain about another group “misrepresenting the science” is ironic beyond belief.
If there is any symmetry in this situation (and I’m not convinced there is) it is between those who exaggerate the risks and those who minimise the risks (with most people sitting somewhere in the middle). I really hope this wasn’t a meeting between two “groups” who spent some of their time complaining about a third group who weren’t even present.
Sophie Yeo’s article goes on the say
For the sceptics, the motivation for the meeting centered on shifting the perception of them as “denialists” to proficient scientists who can contribute to the debate.
Really? If so, this is quite remarkable. Of the “skeptics” present, only Nic Lewis has any kind of scientific credibility (I know Anthony Watts has published a paper, but that doesn’t really make him a proficient scientist). I realise that I’ve been putting inverted commas around the word skeptic (because I really think many of those present are really pseudo-skeptics), but this isn’t really fair for Nic Lewis. He is doing exactly what people like myself encourage “skeptics” to do. He’s doing research and publishing papers. I may disagree with some of what he says, but I think he’s making a positive contribution and I certainly don’t perceive him as a pseudo-skeptic. Based on what I know of some of the others, though, they appear to have very little – if any – scientific ability or credibility.
If the “skeptics” in the room want people to perceive them as proficient scientists, then maybe they should actually do some research, publish some papers, go to conferences, and spend some time talking to actual climate scientists. Running a blog where you allow people to denigrate climate scientists is unlikely to do it. Writing newspaper articles where you focus only on the views of the tiny minority who disagree with the mainstream position is unlikely to do it. Associating with an organisation (the GWPF) that does both is also unlikely to do it. You can’t change people’s perception by asking them to change it; you change it by behaving in a way that convinces them to change it.
As you can probably tell, I’m rather cynical about the value of this meeting. On the other hand, it is probably worth a try and I certainly don’t criticise those who took part (well, unless they really did spend their time complaining about alarmists). Maybe it will help. Maybe the dialogue will improve (although based on some of Anthony Watts’s more recent posts, I’m dubious). Maybe the “skeptics” will start thinking a little more deeply about what mainstream scientists are saying. On the other hand, if it requires pandering to people who are almost certainly wrong about the science, then I think it will be a dismal failure and a complete waste of time. Here’s my challenge though : prove me wrong!