Between Scientists & Citizens

Should climate scientists fly? 2. Argumentative bad faith

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The pro-climate-action community argues that they don’t need to answer the skeptics’ hypocrisy argument because the skeptics are arguing in bad faith. While I agree with the conclusion–don’t feed the trolls!–I think the reasoning is unwise. We should presume good faith–which still leaves plenty of elegant ways to take down hypocrisy accusations.

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Written by jeangoodwin

June 28, 2020 at 5:30 pm

Should climate scientists fly? 1. The skeptics’ hypocrisy argument

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TL;DR: Climate scientists aren’t skeptics’ main targets; the skeptics’ hypocrisy argument is sophisticated; it’s aimed primarily at undermining the existence of a climate emergency.

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Written by jeangoodwin

June 25, 2020 at 3:31 pm

Should climate scientists fly? An analysis of the arguments

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Climate skeptics have been accusing pro-climate-action advocates of hypocrisy since at least the day after the release of An Inconvenient Truth back in 2007. Flying has emerged as a particular focus in these arguments, likely because it is easy to document, ineliminably carbon intensive, and an “elite” activity. Celebrities (Leonardo DiCaprio, Emma Thompson) have also been particularly targeted, along with politicians (Bernie Sanders, Catherine McKenna, AOC). And, in minor ways, the climate scientists who are our key witnesses for the facts of climate change.

At the same time, some climate scientists and climate-concerned academics generally have been thinking about the carbon budgets of their research, and in particular about the flying that often takes up such a large portion of it. Individual scientists began to commit themselves to fly less at least as early as the mid-2000s, and networks/organizations with substantial presence on social media began to emerge a decade later.  These folks, too, have been building a case.

From the point of view of argumentation theory, this is rich material–a diverse array of arguers, a topic of the highest concern, an open consideration of scientists’ obligations in public controversies. So I recently completed a talk and paper (forthcoming in Informal Logic) analyzing the controversy. Some of what I said was pretty much “inside baseball,” plus I had to leave out many interesting digressions. So in a series of blog posts, I’m going to present parts of the analysis that I think may be of most interest to climate- and science-comm interested folks. If I don’t get derailed, I expect posts on:

  • The skeptics’ hypocrisy argument
  • Is the hypocrisy argument a fallacy, and so what?
  • Climate scientists’ (and academics’) reasons to fly less
  • I need to fly!  Self-justification, double standards, and argumentative justice
  • Should climate concerned people stop making arguments about flying less, and just talk about system change?
  • Several other topics.

Methodological note

This analysis is based on three corpora of data:

Corpus 1 consists of Twitter posts from January 2010-April 2020 containing keywords “climate” and “fly.” The 341K entries were probed by filtering for additional keywords, including scient*, hypocr*, argu* and related argument vocabulary.

Corpus 2 consists of online longform discourse–journalism, blog posts, podcasts etc. It was collected from URLs referenced in Corpus 1, by a convenience sample of material I had been collecting from interest in the topic, by an intentional search for otherwise underrepresented material from skeptics, and by a snowball sample of URLs referenced in any of the above. Total: 112 documents.

Corpus 3 consists of Twitter conversations–an original post and between 2 and several hundred replies, replies to those replies etc. These were collected by checking relevant tweets from Corpus 1, from a convenience sample of material I had been collecting, and by a snowball sample of conversations mentioned in other conversations. Total: 85 conversations.

See this methods note for more.

Written by jeangoodwin

June 25, 2020 at 11:21 am

Stop looking for specks of climate skepticism

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Since it’s Sunday, I feel called to preach. My text:

Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? (New Living Translation)

Here are some specks and logs that showed up in this week’s #scicomm stream of thought.
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Written by jeangoodwin

October 14, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Should the existence of an “anti-vax” movement change what scientists can say in publications?

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By a bare majority of its Board of Directors, the Cochrane Collaboration, a leading source of trustworthy, systematic reviews of health research, has expelled founding member and director Peter C. Gøtzsche. As always, a tangle of personal, professional and institutional factors are driving the dispute (see [1]-[3]); I’m in no position to comment on most of these. But one focus of controversy is Gøtzsche’s co-authorship of an article in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine critical of a Cochrane Review of the HPV vaccine, and this raises an important issue in science communication ethics.

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Written by jeangoodwin

October 5, 2018 at 11:23 am

Morano v. Bauman

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Is it possible to debate Marc Morano? Yes–especially if you’re not a climate scientist. Here’s a quick analysis of this recent debate between Morano and Yoram Bauman, Stand-Up Economist, sponsored by conservative student organizations at University of Minnesota. Bauman reviews the debate here.

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Written by jeangoodwin

September 24, 2018 at 8:20 pm

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Why do people (scientists) think there is a “war on science”?–Bibliography

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Point 4 in my project “unilateral disarmament” considers why the story about beleaguered science is so prevalent. I will collect here scholarship potentially relevant to the issue, focusing on studies of science/environmental communication.

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Written by jeangoodwin

May 19, 2018 at 1:22 pm

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Post & Ramirez (2018): Scientists’ (mis)perceptions of press bias induce advocacy in response

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In my overarching project Unilateral Disarmament in the “War on Science” I claim that (4) cognitive biases lead scientists to faulty perceptions of attacks on science, and that (3) in response, scientists adopt communication strategies which, far from alleviating, tend to exacerbate the “war.”

This study by Post & Ramirez of German climate scientists provides some intriguing evidence for these two claims.

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Written by jeangoodwin

April 28, 2018 at 9:34 am

Responsibility for polar bear arguments

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Harvey et al., “Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy” (2017) identifies an argumentative strategy used by those who question the links between climate change, arctic sea ice, and declining polar bear populations (TWQ):

the main strategy of denier blogs is therefore to focus on topics that are showy and in which it is therefore easy to generate public interest. These topics are used as “proxies” for AGW in general; in other words, they represent keystone dominoes that are strategically placed in front of many hundreds of others, each representing a separate line of evidence for AGW. By appearing to knock over the keystone domino, audiences targeted by the communication may assume all other dominoes are toppled in a form of “dismissal by association.”

Stripping this of its mixed metaphors, the claim is:  TWQ claim that by refuting the arguments about polar bears put forward by those on the side of the authors (or angels, TOTSOTA), they are refuting the existence and significance of AGW.

I think this is an accurate statement of one TWQ argumentative strategy which (unlike Harvey et al.) I will document below. However, Harvey et al. are mistaken in taking this strategy to be illegitimate. Quite the contrary: the TWQ strategy is a well-justified and strategic response to the case made by TOTSOTA. To throw in another metaphor:  TWQ polar bear arguments are TOTSOTA chickens coming home to roost.

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Written by jeangoodwin

April 21, 2018 at 2:27 pm

Unilateral Disarmament in the “War on Science”

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Here is the thesis that I’m nailing to the cathedral door.

Some scientists perceive themselves as an embattled minority, fending off attacks from a public whose declining trust in science has been manufactured by self-interested adversaries aided by an easily-duped press. This perception is largely unfounded. When scientists communicate to the public from this point of view, they don’t contribute usefully to public deliberations. In fact, they add more toxins to the already polluted science communication environment. There has to be a better way.

This is a story that the public is anti-science–I want to promote an anti-“anti-science” story. Or put dramatically, I want to promote unilateral disarmament in the so-called war against science.

To make a case for this thesis, I aim to advance discussion of the following questions:

1. What does the anti-science story look like, in detail? How frequent is it, who is telling it, for what purposes?

2. Which aspects of the anti-science story are largely true, which speculative, and which false? For example, a small number of scientists have been targeted for harassment–that is true, and reprehensible. But is there evidence for a decline in trust, a significant role for “denialists,” or misbehavior by the press?

3. How does the anti-science story influence scientists’ public communication? How does it influence the reception and impact of scientists’ public communication?

4. Why do scientists find the “anti-science” story so attractive?–especially the speculative/false bits? Are there psychological biases in play, e.g., the false polarization effect?

5. What are approaches to communicating in the face of deep disagreement and even hostility that aren’t based on the anti-science story?

6. How can scientists be engaged in reflection on and discussion of this topic?

Written by jeangoodwin

August 30, 2017 at 10:00 am