Between Scientists & Citizens

Morano Analysis #3: What’s the issue?

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Democracy thrives on debate, but even a committed debateologist like myself might think that our democracy doesn’t need another go-round over whether humans have or will cause significant changes in the climate (AGW). Maslin agrees;  he protests against plodding through yet again a debate he’s “been having … for the last twenty years.”  How did he, and we, get stuck on that issue?  By his choice.

Case:  Morano v. Maslin

copenhagen, is it worth it?

It didn’t have to be that way. The moderator and the visual on the screen both pose the issue as “Copenhagen, is it worth it?”  Even more specifically, the moderator breaks the normal turn-taking routine to prod Maslin to say something more specific on “your big issue. . . developing countries.”  After Maslin states the expected claim (the developing world ought to limit emissions, and the developed world should support their development), the moderator then prompts Morano with a brief but fairly accurate statement of the view that the developing world should not give up on developing.  Apparently we’re here to listen to a debate on the responsibilities of developed/ing nations.

Morano starts his turn by characterizing Maslin’s view as “neocolonial,” with “the wealthy, white, Western world” (nice alliteration, that) “controlling the development of the predominantly people of color.” Then, right at the end, he offers the red herring:  “as the scientific case for man-made global warming collapses in data and in peer-reviewed studies.”

At this point, Maslin refuses to pick the stinky fish up;  he asserts that “the science is, uh, very strong,” and comments that “throwing out that as a last bit of your argument seems to be a bit weak.”  He proceeds to agree with Morano, re-iterating his point that action on climate change and development aren’t irreconcilable, and adding that the developing world (e.g. Bangladesh) has a strong interest in preventing climate change.  So far, so good.

Perhaps because the “neocolonialism” charge didn’t get Maslin riled, Morano returns to the question of AGW.  He closes his turn by identifying two “appeals” he says Maslin is making.  First, an “appeal to authority,” now purportedly being undermined by the climategate revelations;  second, an appeal to fear (“scares”), based on allegedly speculative and poorly supported forecasts.

It’s at this point that Maslin takes the hook, and the rest of the debate revolves around climate science.

Roads not taken

Did Maslin have to bite?  No.  Consider his other possibilities. The riposte intimate:

Marc, I know why you’re smiling when you say that.  You know that unsupported claim you’re throwing in about climate science being on the run is a complete red herring–an argument even you can’t make without a chuckle!  So let’s return to the real issue…

The retort logical:

I wasn’t under the impression that I was making any appeals–I was describing what’s happening there in Copenhagen.  To get back to that subject…

Rising to the Defense of the Developing World:

As Mr. Morano knows, I’m not here to defend the climate science–which doesn’t need any more defense in any case.  Is Mr. Morano saying that citizens of the small island nations can’t assess the science for themselves, and have been somehow bamboozled by a conspiracy of university professors halfway across the globe?  That sounds like REAL “neocolonialism” to me!  What we need to do…

Of course, it’s easy for me to think of such replies, sitting here on my couch!  Still, Morano had been using the “neocolonialism” line for months on his blog, and it shouldn’t have been that hard for Maslin to be prepped to steal it.

In conclusion

What is “the issue”?  It’s not given from the outside, like (say) the camera coverage in this case.  Making an issue is an accomplishment of the debaters themselves. (Not all debaters achieve it–we’ve all been involved in debates that turn out to have no point.)  In this debate, it looks like Morano tried to make an issue of AGW, but the issue was joined only when Maslin eventually went along. Was it worth it?

One guess is that Maslin couldn’t let the attack on the authority of science go by.  At least, he appears to ignore Morano’s “appeal to fear” characterization, while instead replying at length to the claim that climategate had weakened the science.  So I want to look more closely at this “authority” problem.  First, however, I’m going to take an aside to look at the debaters’ use of evidence.

For more, see bibliography:  issues: formation & management.

Written by jeangoodwin

March 10, 2010 at 9:33 pm

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