by Judith Curry
Many climate scientists have stopped engaging with skeptics, because they think it is either pointless or they don’t want to lend legitimacy to the skepticism. Those who think it is pointless seem mostly interested in protecting their time. Those who view this as lending legitimacy to skeptics would seem to be acting in accord with IPCC/UNFCCC ideology.
An interesting new development in engaging with skeptics is the initiative led by John Abraham, where a group of scientists are prepared to go toe-to-toe with critics. Well, I am all in favor of scientists who disagree having a debate about it. But it seems like something else is going on here. “This group feels strongly that science and politics can’t be divorced and that we need to take bold measures to not only communicate science but also to aggressively engage the denialists and politicians who attack climate science and its scientists. . . People who’ve already dug their heels in, we’re not going to change their opinions. We’re trying to reach people who may not have an opinion or opinion based on limited information.” said Scott Mandia. Sounds like the IPCC/UNFCCC ideology again; actually the changing minds part qualifies them for consideration as an ideologue.
So, if you take the ideology out of all this, why would a scientist engage with skeptics? Nullius in Verba provides an eloquent rationale:
“As I tried to make clear, if I met a flat-Earther I would still consider them to be incorrect, and I would not have any high expectation of being persuaded otherwise. And if I was not inclined at the time to engage in a long diversion into eccentricity I might well ignore them or put them off. But I wouldn’t call them a ‘denier’ or ‘irrational’ or ‘anti-science’ or a ‘crank’ or ‘McFraudit’ or any other epithets until at the least I had determined why they thought as they did, and whether there was any justification for it.
And if I am going to categorise someone that way, I do it on the basis of the fallacies they rely on, not the conclusions they draw.
As I said, if a person does not know, or has not been told what the real reasoning and evidence is even for something like whether the world is flat, then I would find scepticism-out-of-principle to be a perfectly acceptable stance, not at all deserving of being named “denier”. If some thought had been put into it, I might even consider it slightly superior to that of a person who insisted forcefully that the world was round, but didn’t have a clue why – although so long as they don’t claim their belief to be on scientific grounds I would have no objection to that either. On many other topics I am just as ignorant – I am in no position to throw stones.
It is perhaps a case of taking the scientific philosophy to extremes. I consider sceptics to be a valuable resource to science, to be nurtured and encouraged. We need such people, even to ask the stupid questions, and definitely to ask the more intelligent ones. If somebody turns up on your doorstep, motivated to study your work and check the details, for free no less, then you make sure they’re taught what they need to know and you set them to work. Whatever they’re capable of and willing to do.
Regarding scepticism in and of itself, even of long-standing and strongly confirmed theories, as somehow undesirable in science seems to me to get it backwards. It’s not the scientific conclusions that are most important, it’s the scientificmethod. So it depends on their reasons for disagreement.”
How did the scientists become adherents of the UNFCCC/IPCC ideology?
There seems to be another vicious positive feedback loop at work here, where attacking either the science, scientists, or the policy reinforces the ideology. A starting point for getting invested in the ideology may be any one or combination of these:
- political ideology that is congruent with Green ideology or environmentalism
- being personally attacked by someone that you are told is part of the denial machine
- concern about the “war on science”
- a path for acceptance by a certain group of peers
To the extent that I was caught up in all this for a few years, it was definitely the “war on science” issue that got me invested in this. The existence of this ideology, and the positive feedback loop associated with the institutions that support science, etc., reinforces the ideology. Which reinforces the opposition to the ideology. Which further reinforces the ideology. And so on.
Can we reverse the direction of this feedback loop? In my previous essay on no dogma, I laid terms for an armistice with skeptics. The most important starting point is with the institutions that support science.
Press release from the AGU
Many of the professional societies have not behaved very well in all this, in my opinion, notably the APS. But the AGU, under its current leadership, is among the best in this regard, IMO. Here is their press release on the reporter’s mistake in the Abraham article:
American Geophysical Union
8 November 2010
AGU Release No. 10-37
For Immediate Release
Inaccurate news reports misrepresent a climate-science initiative of the American Geophysical Union
Peter Weiss: 202-777-7507, email@example.com
WASHINGTON— An article appearing in the Los Angeles Times, and then picked up by media outlets far and wide, misrepresents the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and a climate science project the AGU is about to relaunch. The project, called Climate Q&A Service, aims simply to provide accurate scientific answers to questions from journalists about climate science.
“In contrast to what has been reported in the LA Times and elsewhere, there is no campaign by AGU against climate skeptics or congressional conservatives,” says Christine McEntee, Executive Director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union. “AGU will continue to provide accurate scientific information on Earth and space topics to inform the general public and to support sound public policy development.”
AGU is the world’s largest, not-for-profit, professional society of Earth and space scientists, with more than 58,000 members in over 135 countries.
“AGU is a scientific society, not an advocacy organization,” says climate scientist and AGU President Michael J. McPhaden. “The organization is committed to promoting scientific discovery and to disseminating to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public, peer-reviewed scientific findings across a broad range of Earth and space sciences.”
AGU initiated a climate science Q&A service for the first time in 2009 to provide accurate scientific information for journalists covering the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. AGU has been working over the past year on how to provide this service once again in association with the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico.
AGU’s Climate Q&A Service addresses scientific questions only. It does not involve any commentary on policy. Journalists are able to submit questions via email, and AGU member-volunteers with Ph.D.s in climate science-related fields provide answers via email.
The relaunch of the Climate Q&A Service is pending. When AGU is ready to announce the service, we will notify journalists on our distribution list via a media advisory that the service is once again available for their use.
For additional information about the Q&A service please see a 2 March 2010 article about the 2009 Q&A service that was published in AGU’s weekly newspaper Eos at www.agu.org/pubs/pdf/About_AGU_ClimateScientists.pdf, and a blog post about the service on AGU’s science communication blog The Plainspoken Scientist (http://blogs.agu.org/sciencecommunication/2010/06/17/matching-scientists-and-journalists/).
The American Geophysical Union was established in 1919, and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. AGU advances the Earth and space sciences through its scholarly publications, meetings and conferences, and outreach programs. For more information, please visit http://www.agu.org