Posts Tagged ‘issues’
In the discussion over at Climate Etc. a couple of weeks ago, there was a particularly clear instance of a move I see a lot–in the blogosphere, and in regular arguments:
I think most people who like science and are interested in climate science would welcome more “skeptic” arguments that meet the above criteria. It is a relief, even when disagreeing, to have some sort of a common language and set of expectations. Without that, argument is pointless, or to put it another way: The first thing you need to prove to me is that your ignorance is something that concerns me.
That’s exactly what I decline to do. The hockey stick needs no defense. Rather, you need to find some cogent explanation of why your ignorance of paleoclimate concerns me.
The writer here asserts that his position “needs no defense”; it’s up to his opponents to produce reasons–or in other words, they have the burden of proof.
Of course, both sides can make this move. Another writer comes back later in the discussion to assert that it’s the “hockey stick” [graph] that needs the defense:
There is no basis for discussion about AGW that starts with “the Hockey Stick is correct and unassailable”.
The true statment is “the Hockey Stick is part of a very large con game and until the AGW side acknowledges that and apologizes, nothing they say should be believed.” [Later:] AGW is discredited until it confesses its fraud.
And this argumentative move–“MY position stands until YOU meet your burden of proof”–isn’t just confined to the climate debate. Should genetically modified crops be presumed to be safe, until there is definitive evidence that they are harmful? Or by the precautionary principle should this kind of new technology be considered dangerous, until it is shown to be safe?
To straighten out what’s happening in these moves, I want to distinguish between (a) the way people are using “burden of proof” to manage their own, personal thinking, and (b) the way they are using it to manage the debate they are having with other people. For more on (a), proceed below; (b) will follow in the next post.
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.