How Do Scientists Know That?

Guest article written by Holly Vesco.

We’ve all heard the question, and perhaps even asked it ourselves, “Just how do scientists know that?” The question is innocent enough, but all too often it’s asked with a sense of distrust and even with a touch of condescension. Honestly, with or without the skepticism, it’s a question worth asking and answering.

It’s perfectly fine to ask how science knows what it knows and to have a desire to understand how the evidence supports the conclusions scientists come to. Those kind of questions are actually a large part of what peer-review does. The type of skepticism that I take issue with (the kind this article is addressing) is different, it doesn’t allow people to follow the facts, but to distort the them to fit their previously held beliefs. This way of thinking turns the question “how can they know that?” into a declaration of “they can’t know that!” That version of skepticism is not true skepticism, but instead it’s just a fancy way of saying, “I don’t like it, so it’s not true.”

Answering A Vermont High School Student Worried About Climate Change

Guest article written by Brian Ettling.

In March 2015, a freshman high school student from Vermont named Robin wanted me to answer questions for her school science class climate change project. She asked to interview me because of my experience as a park ranger seeing climate change while working at Crater Lake National Park over the past 23 years. Even more, I spent the past four years at Crater Lake communicating about climate change during my evening campfire program and creating a park handout on the impact of climate change on Crater Lake.

Her final interview question for me was the most profound question anyone has asked me about climate change. Robin wanted to know:

Using The Tactics Of The Merchants Of Doubt To Combat Science Denial

Scientists are sceptical and questioning by their very nature. They love to poke and prod everything to see if it withstands scrutiny. So when scientists agree this is a sign that a question was investigated thoroughly and based on the evidence scientists then have an answer they can agree on.

This makes a scientific consensus the biggest threat to the denial of any scientific fact. Hence you see the “there’s no consensus” mantra on subjects like evolution, GMO safety, and of course global warming and climate change. That’s why studies like Oreskes 2004Doran 2009Anderegg 2010, Cook 2013, and Verheggen 2014 are targets for climate science deniers:

Making Sense of Climate Science Denial

That climate change is real and that we’re causing it is the conclusion scientists have come to based on the evidence. The very same evidence is what makes scientists also very concerned about what the consequences will be if we continue adding greenhouse gasses to our planet’s atmosphere.

If up to 97% of scientists agree on this why is there so much controversy and debate about climate change? Where does this gap between the public and scientists come from? Are there psychological and social drivers that explain this? How can we get around these effects to increase acceptance of well established science? What kind of role has climate science denial played in influencing public perceptions and attitudes towards climate change?

Communicating Climate Change: Sometimes It’s Not about the Science

Guest article written by Scott Mandia.

Back in January, my wife engaged a climate science doubter on Facebook. Should you consider a similar engagement, consider this: nobody doubts scientists when it comes to gravity or that the Earth revolves around the sun. These theories/laws do not pose a threat so they are widely accepted. Climate change, on the other hand, is perceived as a threat to some because they fear the solutions might result in loss of individual rights or hurt the economy. It is because of these perceived threats that they subconsciously resist the settled science.

Climate Change – The Elevator Pitch

When John Cook, Peter Sinclair and I were interviewing scientist at the AGU 2014 Fall Meeting John Cook asked them one last brilliant question:

Ok, you’re getting on an elevator with someone, and they say, ‘So you’re a climate scientist, what’s all this about climate change and global warming?’  You’ve got 10 floors. Go.

We got an interesting range of answers from some of the best scientists from around the world. Peter Sinclair got the idea to turn this into a video series and he has already released the first video. 

Anthony Watts: “When You Resort To Name Calling, You’ve Lost The Argument”

Anthony WattsIt’s not often that I fully agree with something that Anthony Watts says, but sometimes it does happen. This time it’s about how you approach those that you are critical about.

One of the things people notice about me is that I focus on the arguments that someone presents and not the person; also known as playing the ball not the man. Of course I’m not perfect but I do make an effort to stay civil in what I write and I expect the same from visitors on my website who leave a comment.

Experience has taught me that not being civil almost always derails any rational exchanges. It can easily result in polarizing both sides more, and can have real negative consequences for readers of your website accepting valid science. When communicating science language matters more than you think.

That’s why I fully agree with Watts saying “when you resort to name calling, you’ve lost the argument” (archived here):

The Perfect Example For Why I Moderate My Comment Sections

Referee by Avinash Kunnath

Referee by Avinash Kunnath

For both my website and YouTube channel I have some very strict moderation rules. For both the rules say you need to stay civil, you answer questions when asked, provide citations (or give them when asked), don’t make claims that are demonstrably wrong, don’t spam, and the comment has to be on-topic. If the comment you place doesn’t abide by those rules you will either get a warning from me or if it crosses the line too much I’ll just remove it.

Repeated violations will lead to me banning you on my YouTube channel or my website. With the intermediate step on my website that all comments from you will go into my moderation queue before they appear. These rules are quite strict compared to what is the norm on most websites, but I’ve found them to be necessary.

When I just had started writing for this website and creating my videos I was very lenient towards commenters. Everyone could say anything in whichever way they wanted. This almost always resulted in very unpleasant and unproductive exchanges. My frustration with people not engaging me in an honest and civil way was what lead to me creating the rules that I now have.

This Is Why We Need Better Science Education

Sometimes you come acros something that just makes you ask “is this for real?”

This time it was a letter sent to the Sydney Morning Herald that made me ask this question:

stick with facts, not sci-fiI do wish that the Herald editorial team would stop presenting Carl Sagan science fiction gibberish dressed up as if it were fact (‘‘The little spacecraft that could’’, September 14-15). It occurred over the weekend, when we were fed a far-fetched story about a space vehicle named Voyager and interstellar exploration.

This is the same type of pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo that exploiters of the public purse have been doing with climate change over many years. It is arrant nonsense and has to stop right here and now. The Herald does itself no favours by printing it, pretending that the sci-fi exaggerations are factual.

Bill Thomas, Cabramatta

As this letter mentions it is a response to the article “The little spacecraft that could“, which is an article telling readers that Voyager 1 has left our solar system. A very important moment in our history as it is a first for mankind.

Language Matters

For the blog WottsUpWithThat I wrote a guest blog post on why the language you use matters:

How we say things, the words we use, how we say it, and even our perceptions on the meaning of words do matter. It at the same time makes languages extremely powerful and the cause of a lot of strife.

Anyone participating in any exchanges around the environment, particularly in the context of global warming, will have noticed how heated these exchanges often are. These exchanges have a tendency to completely derail leaving both parties angry and/or frustrated with each other.

This can of course not always be prevented, but in my experience there are a few things that you can do that help. Considering I’ve participated in online dialogue on global warming, and many other environmental subjects, for about 5 years now I’ve noticed a few things; things that might help with keeping any exchange productive.

The post gives a good explanation on the words I use during exchanges on for example global warming and what I mean by them. It also makes very clear why I’m always so patient and polite in my exchanges (there’s actually a reason for this supported by research).