Between Scientists & Citizens

Posts Tagged ‘advocacy

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

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

Advocacy: take advantage of your opponents’ commitments

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We interrupt this program…. For a brief mention of Esquire’s profile on Marc Morano.

I spend most of my time looking at what people have said.  Every so often, though, it’s possible to get a glimpse of the “backstage” process through which the public speech was designed.  In a previous post on Morano’s techniques, and in my summary of lessons learned, I stressed that advocates need to rely on their opponents’ commitments as starting points for their own arguments.  Here’s the man himself saying the same thing to his colleagues, to a planning meeting at Copenhagen last year:

“Don’t quote the skeptics,” he begins. “Use the words of their fellow scientists.”

He pushes a key on his laptop and a slide appears on the screen behind him: COPENHAGEN CLIMATE CHANGE TALKS MUST FAIL.

“Let’s play a little game. Who said this? Was it Sarah Palin? Was it Senator Inhofe?”

A familiar voice calls out: “James Hansen, hahahahaha.

“James Hansen! James Hansen said this conference must fail! So if anyone asks you this week, How can you be against this? say, We stand shoulder to shoulder with NASA’s James Hansen!”

Morano stands at the podium grinning. The joke, of course, is that Hansen opposed the conference because it didn’t go nearly far enough to solve the problem, which is the opposite of Morano’s distorted meaning.

He triggers another slide. It’s a prominent scientist saying the Climate-gate scientists should be barred from the United Nations climate process. “This is not a skeptic,” he crows. “This is a UN scientist!”

Next is a leading British science journalist saying that most of his environmentalist friends have gone into denial about Climate-gate, hoping the crisis will go away.

“Again, you don’t have to quote a skeptic. Use their words.

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Written by jeangoodwin

March 31, 2010 at 7:05 am

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Morano Analysis #9: Lessons learned

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All right!  If there are any readers who have followed along this far, maybe it’s now time to draw some dividends from all the work of closely analysis?  Going back over all the posts on the Maslin v. Morano exchange, here are some tips & tricks, in case you end up facing off against an advocate like Marc Morano.

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Written by jeangoodwin

March 24, 2010 at 8:03 am

Morano Analysis #5: The adverse witness

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As a second way in to assessing the arguments in this debate, let’s examine how the two debaters deal with one bit of testimonial evidence they actually share.

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Written by jeangoodwin

March 13, 2010 at 10:30 am