So, it’s seem that the way to increase my readership – for a short while at least – is to write a provocative post about dealing with climate-change deniers. It’s also received more comments than any other post I’ve ever written. I should clarify, that I really was referring to those who adamantly deny that man is influencing the Earth’s climate, rather than those who are genuinely skeptical.
When I write my posts I do consider whether or not they will generate any interest but, typically, they aren’t read by many and so I don’t really worry about that and just write for my own benefit. I wasn’t really expecting any comments, but if I had considered what type of comments I might have got, I would probably have expected them to be reasonably vitriolic. I was, however, quite impressed by many of the comments. There were some that were reasonably unpleasant (or at least that I interpreted as unpleasant) but I had some really healthy exchanges with some. I haven’t changed my views particularly, but I did learn quite a lot and feel more informed.
Having given this all some more thought, I did wonder if one of the issues is that most are not reading the actual literature. What we’re exposed to are news articles, articles in science magazines, opinion pieces, and other general media outputs. The literature itself is probably less definite. Scientific papers will discuss trends, likelihoods, errors, probabilities, rather than making absolute statements. However, when this information is presented to the public it will be done so in a less scientific manner. It may seem more definite than the scientific papers actually are. They should be reasonably consistent, but won’t be identical (otherwise we’d all just read peer-reviewed journal papers) and we should be careful about generically attacking climate scientists over material written by a journalist.
I also came across a comment on another article that may also indicate an issue related to how some interpret the scientific method. I’ll paraphrase as I don’t want to plagiarise what someone else has said, but it was essentially
As far as climate models are concerned, it’s up to scientists to prove their hypothesis, rather than for us to disprove it.
I think this completely mis-represents the scientific method. In an area like climate science there will be models and observations. The model data and measurements will have to be analysed (which is not as simple as it may seem) and the results will have to be interpreted. These will be subjected to peer-review (which is not perfect, but probably the best we have) and, if approved, will be published in scientific journals. If the results indicate, as they are, that human action is influencing our climate, this should presented to the public and to policy makers. We, however, get to decide the importance of this evidence.
We are not obliged to act just because scientists present their results to us, but our decisions should be informed by this information. The scientists are also not obliged to prove their hypothesis. In fact, I would argue that in the case of climate science, it’s not a hypothesis. It is what the science is indicating. We (our policy makers) get to decide if we should expand funding in this area so as to understand this in more detail, or not. The scientists are not trying to get particular results, or at least there is no evidence to suggest that they are. They are simply “doing science”. They’re developing models, making and analysing measurements and interpreting and presenting their results.
It’s not us against them, it’s just us and we get to choose whether or not to act on the evidence presented by the scientists who are funded (primarily) by us. We don’t have to act, but our decision should be based on an informed analysis of what it is presented to us by our climate scientists. It shouldn’t be based on the opinions of those who shout the loudest and appear not to understand the basics of the scientific method.