Sunday, February 11, 2007

You mean we don't play well together?.......

Tamino has an interesting post up about the uncivil war surrounding climate change issues. He makes an important distinction between denialists and skeptics.

I’ve done it myself. I’ve often pointed out the dishonest tactics of denialists. Well, it’s true. But there’s a limit to how useful it can be harping on this point. More important, it’s neither true nor fair to paint skeptics with the same brush one applies to denialists.
and clearly it is important to distinguish between the two. Eli's experience is that the separation is between those who have filled the trough of denial and those who, wandering by have supped from it. He would distinguish between the denialists and their victims, or if you wish, the ill-informers and the ill-informed, although the later contribute to the problem by infinite regression. The struggle is for the latter, not the former who, for economic, political or social reasons are badly threatened by the necessary actions to deal with climate change.

Still, as Tamino does, one must recognize that the ill-informed find it comfortable to be so because the denialists make adopting mal-information comfortable, and there is no getting around it, dealing with climate change will require major effort. Of course, a great deal of the effort and expense can be attributed to the denialists who have imposed a huge procrastination penalty on the world.

The first question is how to identify the pushers and the victims and then how to deal with each. The first two verses of Anonymuse's hit pretty much lay out the problem
When the window shades are falling,
cuz it's hotter'n hell outside,
the think tank wank comes calling,
to take you for a ride.

In the local paper you will find him,
and on blogs and websites too,
it's the AGW denier
getting rich while your grandkids get screwed.
Tamino clearly understands the problem
I’m coming to the opinion that most people who throw insults at global warming activists aren’t being dishonest, they’re ill-informed, or they’ve been swayed by a clever (but false) argument. They don’t hate the environment, they’re afraid of economic ruin and decline in the quality of life. Most people who throw insults at disbelievers aren’t being dishonest either, there really is a campaign of disinformation funded by the fossil fuel industry. They don’t hate free enterprise or economic progress, they’re afraid of the ruin of the natural world, which after all is the ultimate source of economic prosperity.
and he concludes that when speaking to the ill-informed, even someone spouting nasty drivel, one should turn the argument into a discussion, use facts and go forward together. Having extended the hand of let us sit and reason together, Tamino's new friend, Grit, bites it off
Remember that Hitler had scientists on call to explain why Jews weren’t really human and needed to be removed from the gene pool. The whole Global Warming thing reeks of war, religious fervor, and burning bodies which, I suspect, will be much worse that anything Nature can do. Thus, when the Green Shirts come and drag me out of my home and pin a D, for Denier, on my shirt prior to taking me to the slave labor camps, I’ll be thinking of you and AlGore.
Tamino finds a nice answer:
Ironically, when I said that it’s neither true nor fair to paint skeptics with the same brush one applies to denialists, you are one of those I had in mind. So far, I have regarded you as a misguided skeptic rather than a denialist; I hope I’m right about that.......
If the “green shirts” show up to drag you to a slave labor camp, I hope I’m there — to stop them. I’ll bet that Al Gore would stand with me, shoulder to shoulder, to oppose the mob.
The first paragraph says, so far and no farther, the second that the offer of discussion remains open and establishes Tamino and Al on the moral plane that Grit tried to attack. One of the first to effectively use this response on the internet was Coby Beck, first at sci.environment, then at illconsidered and recently migrated to Gristmill, but even Coby has his limits.

Climate is not the only issue about which the balance of civility enters in the struggle for lurkers. The same obtains in the general political context. The Republican war on science, has to be seen as a small part of the Republican war on everyone except the idle rich and CEOs. There is a similar discussion going on about two bloggers who the Edwards campaign hired, who, in their posts were half as nasty to right wingers as the Gingrichs, Coulters and Limbaughs of the world have been to progressives and liberals in the past 20 years

To quote from a comment about this dust up that Eli read on Joe Klein's blog
"Mr. Klein's point that "obnoxious doesn't win you many friends or elections" would be 100% legitimate if we could assume that some sort of rational communication ethics dominates political communication.

But when so many people are more impressed by displays of alpha-male dominance and aggression than they are by level-headedness, civility, and a respectful willingness to engage in dialogue, those virtues can easily come off as weakness."
I would agree with Tamino about the need for civility in laying out the science of climate change, and the economics. On the other hand, something else is needed in the wider world where people pay minimal attention to policy issues and latch onto what floats by on TV, conversation and print. What that something else is varies.

Here Eli differentiates between scientists, the denialists, media and the public. Each requires a different response. Of course there is no strict differentiation between the four, people can easily fit into two or more categories. Media is simplest. One should provide or guide them to good information. Desmogblog and Real Climate do perhaps the best job of this, and so does Andrew Dessler. It is encouraging that the people involved with these blogs (esp. the Real Climate group) are increasingly cited in media accounts. Their association with public relations companies may have a lot to do with that, as it also drove Pat Michaels into being the most quoted person on climate change. Someone has to put your name out there.

The second part is to be brutally critical of purposeful (or even accidental) mis-statements that appear in the media and which the public feeds off of. The denialists have built a mighty Wurlitzer to attack anything they disagree with. Their theatre organ emphasizes minutia, they have nothing else. Those who understand threat of climate change must emphasize the big picture, and point out the sophistry, nit picking and irrelevance of the denialists. Media and individual newsfolk respond to complaints, at first defensively, but then they internalize it and modify their behavior, especially editors (sorry John, them's the facts). Every time Fred Singer, or Tim Ball publish an op-ed there needs to be a strong negative response and people like Gavin Schmidt have to start publishing more in op-ed columns, not just in Physics Today.

For the denialists, scorn softened by a bit of humor with relentless fact checking and sourcing are the keys. By always RTFR you can show the emptiness of the denialists strategy.

For those who raise scientific questions about climate change, we have the peer reviewed literature and as long as the question stays there, peer review coupled with papers that challenge the challengers and critical reviews are a slow but sufficient way of advancing the science. However, when the scientific skeptics start whining, start associating with dumb tanks like the Marshall Institute, CEI, etc. they cross the line to denialism and the response should also change. One should always watch what people do, and not pay attention to what they say they do.

For the public, I think Tamino has it pretty well right, start softly, always offer facts and links to good information, explain it patiently, but in as few words as possible, and don't caveat. Be direct. I also need to add that the denialists, since they oppose any action, are well served by a food fight. This is a very thin and difficult line to walk.

PS...If you have comments on this, please post them on Tamino, where the discussion is already underway. I put this post here, only because it is much too long for a comment.

UPDATE: Brian Schmidt puts in a good word


Anonymous said...

Anonymuse's verse is testament to the fact that the best way to deal with the denialists is simply to make fun of them.

Most of them are natural clowns -- complete with their own enterprising two-ring circus -- so it's not hard.

The more we make fun of them, the more funnier their responding rhetoric gets, so it's also a form of cheap entertainment.

Anonymous said...

..and of course, the denialists named John -- I mean Bozo -- are the biggest clowns of all.