It was quite interesting to observe some of the defenses of yesterday’s Sun article by a wannabee journalist. One was that it somehow compensated for alarmism in the media. Well, that you think someone else’s article is wrong, doesn’t make this one less wrong. Another was criticising climate scientists for attacking this article, but not calling out alarmism in other articles. This is a fairly typical argument; climate scientists can’t be trusted because they don’t call out alarmism, or they’re not being consistent because they criticise one “side”, but not the other.
Such claims are, firstly, not really true, but there is also something that people who make such claims should think about a little (assuming they’re interested in actually giving this any thought at all, that is). Whether we should be alarmed, or not, about the consequences of climate change is a judgement. It’s a complicated situation and there are many valid ways in which to consider this. As a scientist, my interest is in what evidence people present in support of their position, not in what judgement they’ve chosen to make given that evidence. Scientists may disagree with the judgement someone has made, but scientists don’t have some kind of right to only allow people to use the evidence to make judgements with which they’d agree. The important thing scientifically, in my view, is whether or not they’ve presented a reasonable representation of the available scientific evidence, not what judgement they’ve drawn, given that scientific evidence.
For example, consider an article that has a rather alarmist tone and that suggests that we could see substantial sea level rise in the next century, a substantial increase in global surface temperature, increases in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events, changes to the hydrological cycle, a significant increase in ocean acidification. I – and other scientists – may disagree with the tone of the article, but if the article has presented a reasonable representation of what is possible (with suitable caveats), what is there – scientifically – to criticise? Scientists aren’t here to tone troll the media. In some sense, they’re not even here to correct the media, but if they are to do so, their expertise might suggest that they should be critising the interpretation of the scientific evidence, not the judgement that the author has chosen to make, given that evidence.
So, maybe the reason climate scientists appear to criticise one “side” more than the other, is that one “side” (as illustrated by yesterday’s Sun article) typically publishes articles that are full of scientific errors, and the other does not. There might be some articles that are alarmist and scientifically wrong, and others that show little concern and represent a reasonable interpretation of the evidence, but I’d be surprised if you could find many examples of such articles. Of course, feel free to prove me wrong through the comments.
On that note, I thought I might advertise Doug McNeall’s second installment of his series on how to win at Twitter (which I suspect was partly motivated by yesterday’s Twitter storm over the rather silly Sun article).