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:

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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.

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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. 

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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):

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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.

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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).

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Scientists And Public Discourse

As I’m a software developer I follow several big names of the trade, one of them being Robert Martin.

Yesterday one of his tweets caught my attention:

@badastronomer @absolutspacegrl @rationalists Snide political innuendo is unworthy of scientists. Honor your profession by speaking plainly

Which was a response to the following tweet by Phil Plait:

Via @absolutspacegrl: MT @rationalists: Santorum won 11 states. Remember that when you wonder why America ranks 27th in math and science.

Essentially a slap down of Santorum, his supporters, and the social/political environment it creates. I have no problem with a scientist commenting on politicians and issues that impact what they do. Which I tweeted to Robert Martin:

.@unclebobmartin Strange how scientists aren’t allowed a shot at a science denier. But Santorum is allowed to smear their professions/work.

This led to a small exchange of ideas on the subject between Martin and me. He even wrote an article which gives a good insight in his position and why he has a problem with scientists responding in such a way.

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Communicating Climate Change To The Masses

The VlogBrothers is one of the channels I’ve been subbed to for a long time now, finding them not long after I became active on YouTube. John writes books teenagers and Hank maintains the website EcoGeek and writes very interesting songs:

Strange Charm: A Song about Quarks

This celebration of silly nerdiness is what makes me enjoy their videos so much. And often they manage to put some interesting factoids in their videos.

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