Between Scientists & Citizens

Posts Tagged ‘ethos

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

Three little words so hard to say

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Our science communication team here at Iowa State is having fun interviewing scientists about their communication challenges, as part of our NSF funded work to develop cases for teaching responsible communication of science.

Here’s one situation that’s come up a couple of times in our talks.  A scientist is making a presentation to a public (non-specialist) audience.  She’s asked a question relevant in a general way to her topic, but outside of her immediate research area.  She remembers reading something about it, but isn’t quite sure of the answer.  What should she say?

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Written by jeangoodwin

November 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Posted in cases

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How to insult

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Judith Curry has recently brought up both the Bard and insults–a thought-provoking intersection.

Once upon Shakespeare’s time, the art of disagreement was pursued with elegance.  Degrees of challenge were measured out by the book, as one of his characters explains:

as thus, sir. I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the mind it was: this is called the Retort Courteous.  If I sent him word again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would send me word, he cut it to please himself: this is called the Quip Modest.  If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he disabled my judgment: this is called the Reply Churlish.  If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would answer, I spake not true: this is called the Reproof Valiant.  If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would say I lied: this is called the Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.

As You Like It V.4

Alas, we’ve mostly lost that art, especially in the blogosphere.  Disagreements proceed pretty quickly to the Lie Direct.  That’s dull!  Let’s review the wisdom of Touchstone the Fool to recover more sophisticated practices.

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Written by jeangoodwin

August 14, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Who is “Jean Goodwin”?

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Pathos (emotion), logos (reasoning), and ethos (character)–for persuasion, these three;  but the greatest of these (according to Aristotle at least) is ethos.  Work across the sprawling contemporary discipline of communication agrees;  “source factors” like knowledgeability, credibility and likeability play a key role in getting a message across.

This raises the hope that some of our bitter public disputes over science might be resolved, if only we could find the right messenger;  a scientist whose conspicuous dignity, integrity and authority would make him (or her) trusted by all sides in the dispute.

Alas, even if we could locate such a scientist-saint, this communication strategy would be unlikely to work.  Read on to see how my own recent blogospheric experiences suggest why.

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Written by jeangoodwin

July 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Posted in discourse analysis

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