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Democracy of science

Remember when I wrote a post a while back bemoaning the state of the popular debate about climate change? Yeah, this is what I mean.

If you’re curious about the debate, SciAm has a post about it here. Again, we have a debate about science, but instead of reasoned arguments, there are gotchas. We all know that debate is a skill of it’s own. I, for example, can hold my own in written debates over my opinions. In person? I’m inarticulate and slow to come up with responses. Part of that is preparation, most of it isn’t. Regardless of how knowledgeable I was about a subject or whether I was right or not, I’d get creamed by anyone with modest debating talent. Most people can recognize the problem here.

That isn’t to undersell the idea of debate, but to say that public oral debates are decided more on debating skill than the content of an argument, especially on a subject as complex as climate change. We’ve all seen creationists beat evolutionists in debates and they’re pretty obviously wrong. Pseudo-scientific movements are good at nothing if not coming up with simple and apparently solid arguments that work well in forums where concision and simplicity rule the day.

I’ll repeat my point from the previous post again: remember what you’re discussing. This is a complex scientific topic. If you think you have startling new evidence that proves the consensus wrong, question yourself. Climate scientists aren’t stupid and this isn’t a new subject. Your “new” evidence has probably already been discussed. Do a little research and have a lot of humility.

Categories: Environment
  1. October 12, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Excellent post.

    I suffer from the ‘wish I woulda said’ syndrome. My best lines always come to me after a debate. My initial reaction is always to be nice and non-confrontational, and I too get creamed.

  2. October 15, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    I’m sorry I didn’t see your post earlier. I don’t know why I bother to “debate” some topics like global climate change. It makes me feel intellectually dirty, like getting caught up in the “debate” over evolution or other crazy theories such as, you know, gravity. I’d like to think I have some skill and personality to carry my end of a good debate (real or otherwise, in this particular case), but I’m probably sadly mistaken. Maybe it’s an ingrained desire on my part to tilt at windmills.

  3. October 15, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Jeff, well said.

    After I saw Rebecca’s comment there and Scoops response to it, I paced around the room for several minutes, thinking of the pro’s and con’s of entering the debate. In the end, the only thing that I could add was that these were complex issues and a 10 paragraph post didn’y even begin broaching the wealth of knowledge on the subject. Then it came to me. I don’t think that ‘contrarians’ understand or cares about the truth of global warming one way or the other. That is not what the debate is about, it is about the idea that they are somehow being told what to do and see it as another tool of the ‘nanny state’ to regulate their lives.

    To reinforce my recent revelation that it is a lost topic, it is laughable that the problem of global warming would be solved one way or another in a flame war between a few people that understand virtually nothing on the topic.

    Shane Out.

  4. October 16, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Shane, I just replied to Scoop. Call me a glutton for punishment.

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