Michael Larkin has done an excellent job of synthesis and analysis of the some of the more cogent points made on the previous threads. The text of Michael’s comments are provided below:
The dichotomy between “indoctrination” and “education” is easy to view as stark. But, having read the previous thread and thought a little, I’m gradually coming to a more nuanced view.
Consider things like:
1. What a person needs to understand
2. What a person wants to understand
3. What a person would like their understanding to show
4. What a person’s capacity to understand is
5. How much time a person has to devote to coming to understand
6. If one is in the business of educating, how to help people understand
There’s a distinction in education between “pedagogy”, which, strictly speaking, concerns the education of children; and “andragogy”, which concerns the education of adults. The key thing about andragogy is that adults learn best what they *want* to learn, because it is of direct relevance for them in their life and work.
Few adult non-scientists would worry much about climate science had it not been linked with the issue of global warming. They wouldn’t have wanted to learn about it; but as the issue became more and more prevalent and had more and more impact on people’s lives, a lot of adults wanted to learn more.
What is it adults want to learn? This varies. Some want to learn only that there are others who share their particular view, and especially, others who are deemed experts and/or authority figures. They themselves may not have the inclination, time, or capacity to understand, but psychologically, may identify with experts who act as proxy holders for the understanding they themselves don’t possess. I make no distinction between people on either side of the debate: I think this dynamic is ubiquitous in any contentious area that impinges on people’s everyday lives.
Utterances by preferred experts/authority figures can be put across at different levels of understanding. This doesn’t cast a priori aspersions on those experts/authority figures. They may be speaking as truthfully as they can to their understandings.
Those who start with a preferred internal narrative (and I think we all do to some extent or other), and who are principally concerned with confirmation of that narrative, may be content to learn by rote what are effectively simplified mantras, though there may be an appearance of logic and depth to those.
A lot of debate in the blogosphere is conducted at this level, and because at bottom people are proselytising or defending narratives that are essential to their image of self and society, such debate is passionate, rowdy, and full of invective. At this level, it isn’t a debate about science, but about the kind of reality one needs for there to be. Yes, I think it is a *need*. Take away the foundations of what human beings need for reality to be, and you take away their very essence; and that’s very frightening for anyone – for me, for you, simply anyone.
Now: we need to separate this kind of thing from scientific understanding – or, at least an idealised view of scientific understanding. In that idealised view, investigators are completely objective, completely able to divorce their investigations from the need to prop up internal narratives. It’s a tall order, and I’d be willing to bet that few if any scientific investigators ever completely and at all times manage to separate the two. I think they’re most successful when whatever they investigate doesn’t in any way link to their own raison d’etre.
I’ve talked about “scientific understanding” here, but the essence of that doesn’t just apply to scientists. People in all sorts of disciplines can strive for the same kind of objectivity. Moreover, some who aren’t highly trained in any discipline, but in fact are just ordinary folk going about their ordinary lives, strive for it too. Some of them may actually strive for it, and achieve success in doing so (limited by their capacity to understand), to a greater extent than experts do.
Okay: so I think we have a spectrum. At one end, there are those for whom internal narratives, not based on objective evidence (even, conceivably, where that evidence actually exists), usually take precedence over the objective search for truth. At the other end, there are those who most often place the latter above the former. We’re all on this spectrum somewhere, perhaps each of us in a number of different places depending on how a particular area of investigation relates to our need for reality to be a certain way.
So, at least as adults, we aren’t empty vessels into which information or understandings or skills or trainings can be poured. Something that comes at us may be consciously and carefully prepared indoctrination designed to make us believe certain things and act in certain ways, but it could nonetheless be welcome if it plays into existing internal narratives – in which case, we become complicit in the deceit.
If we detect the attempt to indoctrinate, and seek to resist it, we might well go out and search for something else more conducive to our own narratives, with which we can indoctrinate ourselves. Then again, there may not be a concerted effort to indoctrinate; it may be that the way something is taught precludes the development of critical thinking skills. And of course, no one is denying that there are such things as genuine and successful attempts to teach and learn that actually do develop critical thinking skills.
That which we are indoctrinated with may be intentionally designed as such, or it may not; it may have some substance in reality or not. No matter; the key thing is, our motive for seeking it out, or for actively promulgating it; that is what will determine our behaviour and method of approaching it.
Going back to the blogosphere, there are also those who are principally focussed on finding out the truth. Whatever side they are on, they can make intelligent and thought-provoking contributions, and can seek to learn or teach in a principled way. Some of them are actual climate scientists, others not, and so there are those within the full range of knowledge and understanding and capacities to improve who can interact in educative ways. It’s quite delightful when that happens, and it happens more often here than pretty much anywhere else I can think of. This isn’t to say such people are totally invulnerable to unsupported internal narratives. But they’re doing their best to strive for objectivity, and at the very least can maintain civilised behaviour.
But let’s not kid ourselves. I think a majority of people in the general population are invested in the support of internal narratives. The message that has been put out there, designedly or otherwise, has mostly managed to polarise through external or internal indoctrination. In a few cases, some have managed to rise above it and reject this indoctrination and become truth-seekers, regardless of what the truth may turn out to be.
Also, an increasing number of those who simply accepted the pro-AGW message, which has recently been exposed to unfavourable publicity, may now be relying on internal narratives that are telling them this has never been about the science; it is about politics, and in that, Joe Bloggs is as expert or more expert than many scientists. As always, there may be some truth behind this narrative, but it’s irrelevant how much for many people: the narrative IS reality.
In my view, the responsibility for this lies with those who chose a certain way of constructing and disseminating the message; and, those who knew better, but either didn’t grasp what was going on, or did, and chose to ignore it because the results were favourable to them.
The result is that the situation is now FUBAR. Frankly, on reflection, I don’t think it can be mended with specific reference to the disseminating of educational materials about the nuts and bolts of the actual science. Too many people have bought into too many narratives.
So is it all hopeless? Is there no way to educate everyone – experts and non-experts alike – so that we can move forward? If there is, I think it might lie in open investigation of the dynamics of the AGW saga, which is, in my own small way, something I have been attempting to do here. I have avoided demonising either side, not because I want to appear disinterested and use that as a rhetorical device, but because I actually believe no demonisation is necessary. People have just been behaving as people do, as they have always done. Presenting an analysis of the situation without favouring sides allows listeners to avoid plugging into narratives that tell them: “this is a disguised attempt to blame me for the mess.”
Once people understand the dynamics, and if they can resist the temptation to use that understanding merely to shape some other method of continuing to do the same thing (but this time hopefully more successfully), then we have a chance of deciding what needs to be done and how to achieve that