How anti-science the debate truly is

Anybody who follows my blog more likely than not also follows Skeptical Science.

That said, I realise that this post is not really needed, but I wish to further highlight what John has already done and comment on an excellent post created by Matthew Glover at Renegade Conservatory Guy.

Click the image to obtain a .pdf version.

This graphic by Matthew clearly demonstrates the amazing contrast between the scientific consensus, media coverage and ultimately the confusion carried over into the public. It shows one of the sources of my frustration (the main reason why I began this blog to begin with) and the recent posts that I’ve targeted at horrible inaccuracies by hack journalists and is also without a doubt some of Mike’s fuel at Watching the Deniers (before I had his blog on my reader, I hadn’t even heard of Jo Nova and Andrew Bolt, but that is the result of my selected ignorance of pop-media).

A few months ago, a scientifically ignorant economist haunted this space for a week or so and in that time, I commented on his own space. As I tend to subscribe to the comment streams that I add to, I’ve noticed that very recently similar comments to those that flood Watt’s up with that (especially the few Monckton posts of late) or typical to Andrew Bolt’s blog and are no doubt those shared by another denialist, Pete, who pops up from time to time to let me know just what the novels have explain to him to be the “real story” behind this climate scare. With all of these characters, the point is that they are unperturbed to learn that there is a very strong consensus among the related experts. It seems to do little but bury them ever more firmly against the evidence.

As the economist and later Pete made obvious to me, they will selectively choose grey literature (the former choosing swindle economy rags and the latter, novels that reinforce the climate conspiracy) regardless of how much research is offered for them to digest. In both cases, they have developed a Strawman argument that roughly goes; paleo-climate is wrong (generally, the hockey stick is flawed) therefore all climate concern is baseless. You can offer papers on physical chemistry, to cover our understanding of greenhouse gases. You can provide papers that show atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases has changed and that the signature of temperature change shows an amplified greenhouse effect. You can more on beyond this to my main area of interest and show the observed bio-physical responses to climate change…

Soon you realise that you’re merely talking to a brick wall that has a guise of being informed and certainly open to learn, but in reality ignores all the available information that is contrary to their already held views.

These hardcore fanatics are obviously in the minority, however, it is clear that, like them, the vast amount of public perception is the result of media opinion and other grey literature. It doesn’t help when this includes the scientifically illiterate “Bolt’s” of the world who continually write the most appalling anti-science pieces while the public has little reason to question them.

Media is, like politics, opinion/ideologically based and therefore has no reason to be ethical, transparent and rigorous in the search for understanding and truth, unlike good science, yet many of the loudest throwbacks in media and politics enjoy prestige. Breaking down this mock of a debate, as Matthew has done, further illustrates just how ludicrous Gillard’s civilian consensus truly is.

In a time of change, when there is a wonderful driving force for innovation and development, what is needed is strong leadership and brave reporting. Yet, what we’re stuck with is do-nothing pollies and anti-science writers. How long do we think we can keep up this façade?

6 thoughts on “How anti-science the debate truly is

  1. I’m depressed reading this.

    Do you think the numbers would be different if the polls were taken in, say, China or Japan?

    In the English-speaking world we have to cope with well-funded groups of influential mad people. This may not be the case in Asia.


    1. It makes me frustrated – especially the amount of denial noise in the face of reasonable scientific investigation. I suppose we just keep talking about it.
      To be honest, I don’t know a lot about other areas. Japan would be an interesting one – climate change, ocean acidification and over fishing will have a massive effect on such a small island country.
      China seems to be focused on growth and why not? Their economy is finally catching up with the west. I wouldn’t want the developed countries telling me not to use fossil fuels. Vaclav in my links writes a bit about China – one piece looked into China’s hydropower which was interesting.
      I’d say almost all resistance to climate science is economically based, which goes beyond language and culture.


  2. I am afraid the only thing the “infographic” demonstrates is that there’s been no scientific analysis of what the situation actually is among scientists, the media AND the public.

    There is no clear definition of the labels branded about, figures are mixed up between the USA and the UK, there is no control on the BBC/Populus poll, there is no verification on the validity of separating each group into two categories, and I am sure plenty of journalists whose coverage ever included “a skeptic viewpoint” would harshly object against being classified as “not reporting the consensus”. Etc etc.

    Infographics like that are only good as infographics, not as general purveyors of scientific knowledge. The situation is actually paradoxical, like watching somebody extol the virtues of soap while sporting visibly dirty hands.

    Say, the goal is to communicate the difference between science and media/public perception. The first and most important thing to do should then be to base that communication on science.

    Otherwise it becomes yet another game of media/public perception, thereby undermining the whole point. One can’t seriously protest against the mischaracterization of the science (of climate) by…mischaracterizing the science (of what scientists, the media and the public actually think about climate change).


    1. It just allows for an interesting discussion. I also have, in the past, demonstrated shoddy reporting of a few loud sceptical journalists, as have others.
      The point is more so that the information is available, the scientific “consensus” and evidence is weighty enough and yet, still, this is not illustrated in balance of reporting or in the views held by the public at large. More needs to be done to correct this.
      Your argument is largely that, seeing as this is more a social science demonstration, we can’t make any assumptions based on it. No, we can’t develop a core-science conclusion, of course, however it does offer insight into a “greyer” area of life.


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