Fundamentally, I agree with the basic premise: serious dialogue generally requires that you avoid labeling those with whom you wish to have a discussion. Labeling has a tendency to destroy dialogue and so if we wish the dialogue to improve, then labeling will have to be discouraged. However, there are a number things that I think those who are promoting this anti-labeling idea are failing to acknowledge, and I thought I would lay out some thoughts here.
- The level of scientific agreement: Whether people like it or not, there is a great deal of agreement within the scientific community about the basics of climate science. I think it’s important to acknowledge and recognise this. It doesn’t mean that it’s right and that people shouldn’t question the current understanding, but suggesting that it doesn’t exist – or ignoring its existence – would seem to be ignoring reality. I also don’t really see the point in promoting improved dialogue if that doesn’t also include an acknowledgement of this general level of scientific agreement.
- Science, policy or both: Many of these attempts to improve dialogue never seem to quite clarify if they mean with respect to the science, with respect to policy, or both. I think this is an important distinction to make. What we as a society might choose to do, given some scientific evidence, is something that we should be deciding democratically. What our climate might do in the presence of increasing anthropogenic forcings is not. The scientific evidence is not going to change, just because the implications are inconvenient. If people want improved dialogue about the science, then I think they should at least recognise that the scientific dissenters (or whatever word you want to use) are small in number. If people want improved dialogue about the policy implications, then it would seem to be worth recognising that people shouldn’t simply choose their preferred evidence.
- Who benefits? I’m trying to think of how best to put this. If we’re talking about climate science specifically (rather than climate policy) then climate scientists are the experts; they won’t specifically benefit from dialogue, especially if it is with someone who is likely to end up calling them a fraud or a liar. They’re also unlikely to learn anything from those who claim AGW is some kind of massive scam or conspiracy. They can simply go back to their offices and laboratories and keep doing their core job: research. We – the public – would certainly benefit from more climate scientists being involved, but I think we have to be willing to defend those who come under attack from others who find the scientific evidence inconvenient.
- Balance: A lot of the discussions about labeling has focused on the use of “denier” and, sometimes, “alarmist”. In my opinion, this ignores that some of the most offensive and insulting rhetoric is coming from one “side” more than the other (okay, I am biased). I found it particularly galling to see Andrew Montford say
Prof David Henderson suggested that “upholders” of the climate consensus and “dissenters” from it, were better, more neutral terms. I think I am the only participant in the climate debate who uses them much though.
Yes, it seems clear that Andrew is probably one of the only ones who uses these terms. The commenters on his blog prefer terms like liar, fraud, warmist, warmunist, alarmist…..
Okay, I’ve probably said enough. At the end of the day, I’m all in favour of improved dialogue. If I’m rather cynical about this whole idea it’s because I don’t think it’s all that difficult to achieve, if people actually wanted to do so. We’re all adults. We’ve all probably had contentious discussions with others that haven’t degenerated into name calling. Most of us probably stopped doing this when we entered adulthood. My personal view is that much of the dialogue would improve if people simply grew up and started behaving like adults.