I was thinking a little more about the various GWPF pronouncements, in particular some of the more more recent ones. The problem is that those making the pronouncements are quite well-qualified, have been involved in this topic for quite some time, are clearly not stupid, and yet seem to be promoting what is obvious nonsense. How does one address this?
Given the above, any kind of constructive engagement is pointless; they either know that what they’re promoting is nonsense or – given how long they’ve been involved – are incapable of realising that it’s nonsense. Additionally, anything constructive will probably just appear to be a simple disagreement to those who are insufficiently expert to judge the credibility of the various claims. One could accuse them of being dishonest (as this does appear to be the obvious conclusion) but then you get accused of either making unfounded accussations or not being willing to engage constructively (which – as I’ve already said – seems clearly not possible). You also can’t actually rule out that they do believe what they’re promoting (despite how obviously nonsensical it is). The next best thing is to simply mock them, which is my preferred option, but even this doesn’t really achieve much. It probably only appeals to those who agree that it’s nonsense anyway, and then lead to accusations that [non-“skeptical”] bloggers are almost universally wearily condescending.
Essentially, it someone has the ability to promote an agenda at all costs, irrespective if what they say is credible or not, it’s very hard to do anything to address what they’ve chosen to say. Anything constructive can be ignored by those making the claims, and will appear to simply be a disagreement amongst experts to those on the outside. Anything more destructive can be labelled as mean-spirited and unprofessional by those being attacked. It almost feels like an unchallengeable strategy. It’s probably why I think consensus messaging has value, despite what people like Dan Kahan, and others, might suggest. As Eli points out, it can move the Overton window to the point where it becomes very difficult to hold a contrary position without seeming like a clueless buffoon.
Okay, what was intended to be a quick post, has ended up longer than intended, but I thought I’d end by highlighting this article about Joanna Haigh, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College. It’s a very nice article, but I just wanted to comment on one section which starts with
What makes her angry? …… Then there are the deniers: “God, I get angry with some of them.”
Well, yes, me too and it’s good to see that others also get frustrated and angry.
She is not worried about the handful of sceptical climate researchers — “that’s great, it’s how science should work”.
I actually think this an important point and one that isn’t highlighted enough. Clearly we should base our understanding of a scientific topic on the available evidence, but it is still very useful to have some who challenge the standard position. Partly because they may indeed present a credible challenge, but partly because the strength of their challenge can tell us something of the strength of the current scientific position. If the best they can do is extremely weak, then it tells us that presenting credible challenges to the current position is difficult.
Instead, she reserves her ire for ignorant people in positions of power. “If they’re making government policy, they should understand the scientific issues.”
Agreed. Ultimately those in power should be aiming to either understand the scientific issues, or get advice from those who do. In a sense, this is why I find claims that the deficit model has failed irritating. It may be true that trying to reduce someone’s knowledge deficit doesn’t necessarily influence their policy preference, but this does not seem like a good argument for not doing so. Partly, there is intrinsic value in improving people’s understanding of a complex scientific topic, and partly it can move the Overton window to the point where those holding highly contrary positions are no longer regarded as credible.
Anyway, this is now much longer than I intended, so I’ll stop here.