Mark Maslin has an interested article in the Conversation called why I’ll talk politics with climate change deniers, but not science. His basic point is that many scientists operate in the so-called deficit model; people do not accept the science because there is not enough evidence; therefore more needs to be gathered. It’s clear now, though, that much of the rejection of climate science is associated with someone’s political beliefs and ideology, not because they’re incapable of understanding the evidence that is available.
Essentially, there is no point in discussing science with climate change deniers, since there is little (maybe nothing) that can be said that will convince them of the strength of the evidence. If you are going to discuss this topic with such people, you’re better off talking politics than science. Sadly, from what I’ve experience in the last year or so, this is exactly right. I don’t think I’ve encountered anyone who would typically be regarded as a climate change denier with whom a discussion about science was constructive or worthwhile. Additionally, many end up saying things that make it very clear that what is driving their “skepticism” is their concern about the political implications of climate change, and not a genuine skepticism about the actual evidence.
This does create something of a dilemma for someone like myself, since I very definitely came at this from the deficit-model perspective. I really did think that simply pointing out some of the basic scientific errors that many “skeptics” were making would be all I would need to do. I learned the hard way that this view was both naive and simplistic. Given that I’ve been commenting on Bishop-Hill today, I also still haven’t learned my lesson. Of course, there are many things that I know are bad for me, but that doesn’t always stop me from doing them.
So, I largely agree with Mark Maslin’s article; there’s certainly no point in discussing science with climate change deniers. If you are going to talk with them, you might as well simply talk politics. This does create another interesting dilemma, as there are some who think scientific experts shouldn’t express policy views. This gives me an opportunity to link to Brigitte Nerlich’s recent post on Scientific Citizenship. Instead of discussing this in detail again, I’ll simply post a merger of the comments I made on Brigitte’s post
It’s my view that the idea that scientists should avoid expressing policy views is disturbingly wrong. Of course, if they’re contractually obliged not to, they shouldn’t. If not, they should be as free to express their views as any other citizen of our democracies. Arguing otherwise simply appears to be an attempt to disenfranchise people because of their expertise.
Additionally if you think that you can trust scientists more if they don’t express their views, then that seems woefully naive. If someone thinks that science might be influenced by scientists’ policy views, then them not expressing these views, doesn’t mean they don’t hold them. I’d rather people spoke openly and honestly, than they learned how to appear not to hold opinions when they do.
….. Having said that, I’m not suggesting that they get some kind of special platform, simply that they should have exactly the same rights to speak as anyone else, and should not be held to some kind of higher standard than others. We should all be aspiring to be honest.
On a similar note, there’s a recent Global Warming Policy Foundation report on Ethics and Climate Change Policy. I’m not linking to this because I think it’s any good, but more because it’s written by someone who is an actual academic, but is so full of standard “skeptic” talking points, you’d never have guessed that by simply reading it. I keep thinking that most of these views are really only present in the blogosphere, so it’s always a bit of a surprise to discover that someone who is presumably aiming to be a serious academic holds them too. Of course, I know that being surprised by this is probably naive, but that’s what I am 🙂
Anyway, I think it is true that discussing science with climate change deniers is pointless, and so if one is to discuss this topic with them, then politics is probably a better option than science. Of course, I find that quite tricky as I don’t particularly enjoy discussing politics online, especially not with those who probably have very different views to mine, and who probably hold these views very strongly. The alternative is to simply ignore such people, but then how does one address the misinformation that they spread and which doesn’t simply remain in the blogosphere (as illustrated by the GWPF report on Research Ethics). My one view is that if more and more scientists were willing to speak out about this topic, maybe we could marginalise the more extreme views held by climate change deniers. That’s why I’m pleased that someone like Mark Maslin is speaking out about this, even if – as he says himself – he will have to put up with the abuse [he] will receive because of this article.
Addendum : Just to be clear, the term climate change denier refers to those who deny the anthropogenic influence on our climate, and does not refer to anything else. If this isn’t you, there’s no need to be offended by the term. If it is you; own it, or stop doing it!