John Oliver shows how it’s done. It’s a televised debate between a couple of deniers and 97 scientists.
I also learn that any time you see Nye engaged against someone on a talk show, the other guy is an idiot.
I also have an idea how to deal with those frequent debate requests on evolution that I get: I’ll agree, as long as I get to bring 40 or 50 friends to share the stage against the one loon.
The scientists response to the “climate change skeptic”, rather than noise and confussion over so many things to say, should have been a very clear chorus of people going “you are wrong, now fuck off”. Other than that i’m liking John Oliver’s new program.
I seem to recall it was The Daily Show which pitted an evolutionary scientist against a creationist and invited a crystal-reading psychic as an equal participant…
Sunday Afternoon says
@azhael: I thought we were going to get a pantomime-style (John Oliver is British after all) chorus of “Oh yes it is!” That would have been much clearer…
Reports on climate change don’t have to feature even the slightest acknowledgment of phony controversy. The NYT doesn’t ritually invoke creationists in its stories on geology, paleontology, or cosmology. No reason this should be any different — and there is in fact more public doubt on evolution and the Big Bang (a misnomer which should be called the Initial Singularity) than there is on climate change.
But many other papers do. In fact, our local paper is likely to give the biggest voice to them, although I imagine few if any at our local paper are creationists. They simply think it’s appropriate since most of the people in our town are. It isn’t about the science; it’s about the “majority” – those who pay for papers, anyway.
David Chapman says
If this were just an academic issue, the denialists would have a good argument with their position that a consensus does not guarantee the truth, in science or elsewhere.
But of course this is the polar opposite of an academic issue: this is a massively important Real World issue involving the future of the human race. According to the judgement of the scientific community, we’re deeply, deeply in the shit and given the gravity of the situation if they are right, the only sane thing to do is to accept such a massive scientific consensus. It’s really that simple, and this simple point should be employed to blow the arguments of everyone who wants to piss about with the epistemological niceties of the matter, out of the water. Before it’s too late.
The basic problem is that journalists don’t know how to write about science. A story has to follow a narrative, and there are only so many narratives a journalist learns in school. These include:
2)The maverick scientist triumphing over the hidebound establishment
3)The controversy–the two tribes of academics butting heads
4)Everything you know is wrong
5)The mad scientist
6)The Utopian tomorrow thanks to science
Climate change doesn’t fit any of these. What is more, it is a very difficult problem–it may not even have a solution that allows us to avoid pretty severe consequences. Frankly, I think most people simply don’t have the courage to stare into the maw of the beast. They look away.
Scientific consensus is not the same as political consensus. It cannot be measured by a simple vote–and certainly the vote of each scientist does not count equally. Ultimately, there are leaders in the field. These are the most productive, the ones who can take what is obscure and make it clear. In the end, the consensus reflects whatever theories, techniques, and ideas that scientists have to adopt if they are going to keep up with the field. Those who don’t adopt them may still be in the field–they just won’t publish. Publications and citations give a much better idea of consensus than does headcount.
Kevin Kehres says
I really don’t know why the parallels between climate change denialism and tobacco-harm denialism isn’t pointed out.
The only climate change “scientists” who are in the 3.9% camp are those bought and paid for by the black energy industry. Just as the only scientists who did not agree with the scientific consensus on the health effects of tobacco were bought and paid for by the cancer (aka, cigarette) manufacturers. We’re re-living the 1960s and 70s; except the stakes are much-much higher.
And I think it’s just disingenuous as shit to put a scientist on one side of the issue and a non-scientist (aka, right wing “pundit”) on the other.
The consensus that really matters in science is that of the data. And in the climate change field, that appears to be pretty solid.
That isn’t quite true. Roy Spencer has taken money from Heartland, but that isn’t his motivation for denial of climate change (THAT may have something to do with the fact that he is a YEC). Dick Lindzen is probably motivated by his own contrary nature than by the money he takes from the Koch suckers. And certainly, Freeman Dyson is not in anyone’s pocket–he just wants to be a “visionary” and climate change is a particularly ugly fly in his utopian ointment.
Most of the laymen who deny climate change are motivated by politics. Many off the old tobacco lobbyist scientists (e.g. Fred Singer) have been recycled by the climate denial industry. However, it’s hard to paint all scientists in denial with the same brush.
twas brillig (stevem) says
Right! Scientific “consensus” is when many independent papers come to similar conclusions based on actual data, etc. It is not a “vote” from many scientists about a single question on a ballot. I think Oliver pointed it out last night that the 98% consensus was not a cadre of similar opinions, but rational conclusions from hard data.
That’s what struck me as the most glaring flaw in the “lamestream media” reportage of the faux-debate of Nye vs whatshername. They focused on the asking of Nye, “What do you think is the most serious crisis facing us in the next 50 years?” To which he replied, forcefully, “Climate Change! IS the most serious crisis…” My objection being: that, even though I strongly agree with Nye, the reportage focused on Nye’s Opinion (no matter how strongly supported, they only presented the opinion, as opinion). I think the rest of the “debate” was just an argument of “opinions” with only a few facts through in [I assume… did not watch the faux debate myself] If they’re going to debate Science, at least use the Scientific Method, and explain the scientific way of evaluating the data presented. ;-(
David Chapman says
I don’t really see how that account affects the argument I was making, however.
Rob Grigjanis says
I wonder how many practitioners in the field would agree. I’m guessing very few.
The issue I take with your #6 is that scientific consensus is a valid measure of scientific truth whether we’re talking about climate change or the standard model of particle physics. Scientific consensus is based on evidence and predictive power, not headcount.
PZM: “I also learn that any time you see Nye engaged against someone on a talk show, the other guy is an idiot.”
I can see three possible reasons for this, in order of most-to-least likely: 1) the other guy is an idiot for trying to engage Bill Nye in a debate to begin with. 2) Bill Nye makes the guy look idiotic out of pure skill. 3) Bill Nye only engages in debates with idiots.
Generally, if you can convince a scientist, you’ve got some damn good evidence and predictive power.
the original Sandi, now unafraid says
cycleninja @ 16: mostly reason 4: Nye is just way cool.
Lynna, OM says
That’s Paul Rosenberg writing for Salon in April. Apologies for the Salon link, but this is fairly good discussion of the interdependence of conspiracy mindsets and rejection of scientific consensus.
David Chapman says
Well, I certainly never attempted to describe what constituted scientific consensus here, and certainly never took it to be the same thing as a headcount.
I’m afraid your language is a bit vague, but you seem to be saying that:
Scientific consensus is a valid measure of scientific truth. Not like if it were simply a headcount.
If this is what you are saying, I vehemently disagree.
But look, whereas what can be ascertained from the fact of a scientific consensus is for sure a very important issue, I said in my post @6 that it’s a dangerous distraction from the matter we have on hand here. Which is one of the most important of all time. We have to act on the presumption that the scientists are right, and in this very special case, to hell with the concept of the minority report. There’s too much at stake here.
Similarly, therefore, I won’t debate this related question with you here, since again, it’s an epistemological distraction. Your view seems to be the reverse of the climate deniers one, but I don’t want to get into it here purely because it’s besides the issue where my argument @6 is concerned. You might like to raise the issue if we run into each other in a Thunderdome somewhere. Cheers.
Thanks to Oliver for this.
– Given the current popularity of debates and the idea that they have nothing to do with “truth” (by which I mean the strict debate format itself, and the importance of the “win” is based on rhetorical skill, like-ability, appearance of authority, oratorial style… etc, while popular views on the win tend to be based on preexisting views), I have been DYING to see more popular, entertaining presentations on the uselessness of the whole show as relates to meaning, or truth, or anything of value (apart from whatever previously unknown meaningful factoids come out -which is rare – or possibly a view into how the opposition’s thought processes – which is also rare, because anything that impedes the win is jettisoned in prep).
– We’ve most recently seen the effect of debate infection in the “medic0506” threads. It is horrible. Always.
– I really do hope we see this kind of send up reach critical mass in the near future.
Jim Phynn says
So am I reading that correctly? There appears to be an inverse correlation between Bill Nye’s level of engagement in a debate on a talk show, and his opponent’s intelligence level. So now we need to analyze this data to see if there’s a causal relationship as well.
I don’t know if that’s the best way to settle this kind of debate. I’ve always been fond of the Bender method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FopyRHHlt3M
The overwhelming consensus of scientists is that it is happening. Given that this is global climate change, meaning it effects civilization and in the long run possibly civilization itself, it is an imperative that we act on this information now. It is simply a matter of risk aversion. Given the facts we know we risk certain levels of temperature rise and certain long term effects with business as usual behaviors which may be less than we anticipate or greater than we anticipate. In either case if we actually do something we lessen the risks of greater catastrophic effects. It’s no different in principle of how high of a levy should you build in New Orleans given the probability of an expected flood. The more we do, the more we reduce these risks. If we started to take drastic needed action and it was determined that (a) climate change is caused by other factors or (b) due to other feedbacks it will naturally be curtailed, we could then adjust our actions based on this new information. Giving the weight of evidence we have now, waiting for a Galileo to overturn the science is irrational in the extreme, not a serious argument anymore. If gadflies even seriously credentialed ones want to stand aside and make their crazy arguments who gives a shit. It’s not like there aren’t tons of evolutionists with absolutely batshit crazy ideas now, it doesn’t effect the overall consensus view of neo-Darwinism. We just ignore them. If they eventually garner evidence to demonstrate their heretical ideas are valid I am confident in the long run the rest of the scientific community would eventually come around. The rational way to act is based on the information we know now, especially since this effect everyone, not on how well the science may be confirmed or disconfirmed in the future. Another myth is that curtailing climate change is cost prohibitive. Yes it will be costly and will require behavior changes, but the cost of doing something about it far exceed the cost of ignoring it, which again says the rational thing to do is act. So the whole consensus thing is a non sequitur. If a new consensus comes up with something different, it will change the calculus of how we should respond.
Humans, because we are easily confused, often willfully ignorant, sometimes perversely contrary, or mentally ill there is never going to be consensus. There are still people who claim to believe the earth is flat. Why is it surprising that people are going to disagree with a scientific fact that has only been well supported and widely accepted as true by the scientific community for, what, thirty years?
The Origin of Species was published in 1859 and yet, 150 years later, even as evolution has been accepted by scientist as a centrally uniting of multiple fields and the main points no longer debated, people stubbornly refuse to have any of it.
People are strange. Often perversely differing over points for no apparent reason. Add in a little motivated bias and it is a wonder anyone agrees on anything. The point is that people disagreeing is not, should not, be seen a newsworthy unless the disagreement is new or previously unknown. Even then the story is not the debate of the issue but that some people don’t agree.
There’s also another narrative that marries scientific and technological issues with economics and political decision-making. Just look at how politics and economics resisted, failed, and eventually came to the right decisions about things like
the necessity of sewage systems in cities,
clean water supplies to prevent disease (All hail Dr John Snow!),
the Montreal Protocol on the ozone layer,
removing lead from petrol and paint,
reducing emissions that cause smog and its associated death toll as a local issue
and, the related one that is quite close to climate change as a global issue, reducing emissions that cause acid rain in regions far away from the place where the emissions originate.
There are also the examples of JFK setting the target of landing people on the moon and the Brits putting their shoulders to the wheel and tolerating extreme rationing during WW2 and, more recently, the computer industry realising they’d set themselves and the rest of us up for a hard problem, Y2K, and they just worked all the hours, all the years, needed to avert a crisis before it hit – hard problems but ones that nations and groups of nations can succeed at if they just work hard enough and put up with the demands and the impositions of the goal. Eventually.
We can’t “solve” climate change and its effects in the 10 years it took to land on the moon. But we can do lots of things that obviously work towards eventual success if we just set our minds and our governments to the task.
I see no good reason why journalists can’t use these kinds of parallels or narratives as the framework for climate change science and politics.
For the economic comparison between sewerage systems for cities and climate change, Richard Alley give a brief presentation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7bmg65SS20
@Rob Grigjanis, cervantes
This is OT, but you are right, Rob, Big Bang might not be such a great name, but replacing it by initial singularity is inaccurate and misses the point.
First of all, the initial singularity very probably is just a mathematical artifact of classical gravity. On top of that, if anything like inflation is realized in nature, such a singularity isn’t even there in our current maths: We don’t have to follow the classical radiation-dominated FLRW solution back to scalefactor zero, but only to the reheating point after inflation. During inflation, we would have something like roughly exponential expansion which does not yield a singularity, and what comes before inflation of our particular piece of universe is not clear, and may not be describable by a simple classical homogeneous ansatz with a scale factor at all.
Second of all, when we say Big Bang we usually mean an entire interval in time of expansion and cooling. Big Bang nucleosynthesis for example refers to a process taking place during the first seconds and minutes after the apparent initial singularity.
I agree that my list is not exhaustive. However, the topics you have listed and the ways you’ve suggested covering them would require actual work–so you are not about to see the average journalist tackle them. Anymore, unless a topic lends itself to a title like, “Ten Crazy Things…,” The Crazy Trick…”, etc., it won’t get treated at all.
Climate news is depressing. It doesn’t lend itself to neat categories that journalists are comfortable with, so it’s not going to get adequate coverage. Basically, journalists are lazy, and their readers are lazier.
Indeed, journalists are simply not trying hard enough! Why not do stealth climate change education via clickbait listicles?
The ten most deadly consequences of climate change
Ten climate facts the deniers don’t want you to know
Which ten dream holiday spots go under first (with topless beach pics)?
It’s not rocket science, people!