Between Scientists & Citizens

Posts Tagged ‘responsibility

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

Scientists: Don’t feed the trolls

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We all know how internet trolling works. The troll writes something outrageous, which provokes the readers to respond with outrage, which amuses the troll and his cohorts. We also know the solution: don’t feed the trolls.

Yes, this applies to science communication, too.

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Written by jeangoodwin

December 5, 2016 at 10:35 am

The cost of hidden metaphors

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The New York Times’ blog Scientists at Work is a good example of how scientists’ communication might focus on process, not results.  I’ve been enjoying the current sequence about glaciers in Bhutan;  each episode ends with a cliffhanger!

A couple of words in the most recent post jumped out at me, though.  In addition to “reconstructing the history” and “behavior” of the glacier–how it “changed in the past”–the scientist-author explained his interest in figuring out what the glacier was like when it “last maintained a robust, healthy profile.”  Healthy?

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Written by jeangoodwin

November 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Listening to what can’t be said

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Judith Curry’s characterization of last week’s PBS report “Climate of Doubt” as “predictable” pretty much captures it. It takes a pretty short memory to think that in 2007 the forces of climate good were on the verge of political victory, snatched from them only by the might of the evil Koch brothers supplemented by the covert work of a host of political operatives (who, by the way, interviewed rather well). I was sorry that the counter-narrative Matt Nisbet’s group put forward in the Climate Shift report hasn’t gotten any traction.

There was one interesting moment, though:  something that wasn’t said.

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Written by jeangoodwin

October 27, 2012 at 10:04 am

“Burden of Proof” #1: Managing our own thinking

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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.

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Written by jeangoodwin

August 29, 2011 at 12:32 am

Posted in discourse analysis

Tagged with ,

Making arguments expensive

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Back in the golden age of the climate controversy–say, about 18 months ago–there was a time when everybody was challenging everybody else to debate. I suppose you couldn’t click more than a few links before tripping over a gauntlet.

What does a formal debate offer that the ordinary disorderly flow of arguing in the blogosphere doesn’t?  To pick up on a theme from my last post:  a formal debate allows the participants to control  what they are taking responsibility for–and to force others to take responsibility, too.  Roger Pielke, Jr. is a masterful debater, and his recent challenge to critics of “climate pragmatism” shows this strategy at its finest.

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Written by jeangoodwin

August 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm