What can we do with this information?

There’s an interesting Opinion piece in Nature this week called “Defeating the merchants of doubt” about the agenda behind climate change “scepticism” and what scientists can do about it.

The second half is quite useful with tips for scientists who want to communicate more widely like don’t argue for the sake of it, don’t frontload findings with caveats and that outreach should be rewarded in the academic system (I’m not going to hold my breath on that last one).

But what are we supposed to do with the information on the agenda and funding behind “sceptic” community?

It’s not only this Nature piece I’m thinking of but articles by George Monbiot, specifically this one, and this big report by John Mashey.

This kind of information is really interesting (and depressing) but what can we do with it?  Does it help at all in the scientific argument or should scientists leave this stuff alone and let journalists report it?

My own instinct is that is sounds enough like a conspiracy theory (I’m not saying it is, it just sounds like one) an ad hominem argument that I don’t want to go too near it.

I’d be really interested in more views…

4 Responses to “What can we do with this information?”

  1. astrondrew Says:

    Scientists very much need to speak out where science is being belittled. You simply cannot rely on journalists, as most of us know all too well.

    If the science is beyond reasonable doubt or near enough that point then let’s make that abundantly clear. The only way to do that is to demonstrate the science and demonstrate why and how we know what we know and what it is we know. Scientists, uniquely, can do that.

    • andyrussell Says:

      I completely agree that scientists need to engage. My question was whether scientists should try and confront “sceptics” on anything other than the science.

  2. Kav Says:

    I understand the bit about not leading with the caveats but I worry that in the long run it just gives the ‘skeptic’s ammunition. Climate skeptics will happily say we are hiding something (“look even they are not sure but they didn’t tell you did they? Conspiracy!”). I think that the scientists job is more difficult than the climate skeptics (even if we have ‘facts’ on our side); I suspect that most people have an inclination to not want to believe that climate change is happening. Its the easiest path and so the most attractive. We need to persuade them it is happening based on our data. Climate skeptics only have to sow enough doubt for people to be happy in their default state.

    The big problem is that too much of the public do not understand how science works. They don’t understand the need for error estimates or caveats and much of the time science journalists do not convey this to them (makes stories less exciting). That’s why many people scoff at new scientific results that come out; think about cancer, if you read the Daily Mail you would know that scientists say that EVERYTHING gives you cancer and so you stop believing what scientists ‘say’ because it appears ludicrous.

    So I think that ignoring caveats will only fuel the fires. First of all we need to convey to the public the need for caveats in any scientific work and we need to convince science journalists that there is a responsibility to accurately report science (as many do) with all the whistles and bells, not just the attention grabbing headline.

  3. SmallCasserole Says:

    At the very least the background to the “skeptical” movement is useful knowledge to bear in mind, personally I’d go further than that. If you’re facing someone who is purporting to make a scientific argument, when they’re not, then I don’t see it as an ad hominem argument to point this out. The fact that the people leading the FOI requests to CRU said they had no intention of doing the temperature reconstructions to which the data related seems to me a highly relevant but completely unscientific item of information.

    Think about Creationism/Intelligent design – is just making the scientific against these ideas sufficient? It may be part of the process, but the fact that they’ve been making the same claims for 100 years and counting has to play a part in the process.

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