Reader “Deltaeus” expressed his frustration about many aspects of the “debate” about climate change, including the fact that there are shallow arguments all over the place. I’d like to respond to some of his comments.
First let me say that I admire the motive to learn for yourself, and to do so in some depth. Few can be expected to acquire genuine expertise, but we all want to know as many of the details as we can handle, and we all rebel against bullshit while admiring deep and/or penetrating thought.
He mentions that “Non-denier sites can also present facile arguments.” This is true, and frankly, when they do it makes me cringe. But I contend that they do so far less often than climate denier sites, and when I say “far less” I mean so much so that the difference isn’t a fluke, a random fluctuation. The dominance of facile arguments by climate deniers indicates that they are much more strongly influenced by motivated reasoning, or in some cases, by genuine dishonesty — using an argument which they know full well is wrong or irrelevant, but which will be persuasive.
The second aspect (using arguments which they themselves know to be misleading) is argument in bad faith; they’re not trying to get at, or communicate, the truth, they’re trying to increase the level of uncertainty and doubt. I’m not saying that most do, but I find that while facile arguments are more common in climate denial sites, bad-faith arguments are vastly more common in climate denial sites.
I’ve also noted that facile arguments, claims which betray naiveté rather than expertise, are astoundingly rare from climate scientists. They’re not unheard-of, but most of the naive claims from climate activist sites come from those with insufficient knowledge to speak authoritatively, those with an activist agenda, and from members of the media. The media is especially culpable in this regard, because while it’s not their job to become experts in science, it is their job to consult experts — and not just the ones who might agree with their particular political/social leanings (Fox News).
I will also mention that sometimes it is appropriate to simplify things for general understanding.
To Deltaeus, I recommend that you seek out sites that will give high-quality information with little or no oversimplification, and absolutely no claims or arguments made in bad faith. In my opinion, the best source by far is the website RealClimate. Their banner says “Climate science from climate scientists,” and it’s true. I don’t know of a single case in which they have ever made any bad-faith arguments, or even simplified explanations for any reason other than making them accessible to a wider audience. That website is a treasure.
I also recommend staying away from bad-faith and horrible-quality websites. That of Tony Heller/Steve Goddard is one of the worst, but perhaps worst of all is “Watts Up With That” because it’s a firehose spewing forth the largest possible volume of misiniformation, some of it in bad faith, much of it facile. I have, on very rare occasions, seen good quality posts there — but wading through a gigaton of crap to reach a mustard seed of thoughtful critique isn’t worthwhile, it’s actually counterproductive.
Another resource for those wanting to learn more is online courses. Yes, the subject is science so it behooves those who want to learn in depth to learn some science. Just as an example, one can find an online course in the basics from Penn State University. I haven’t done anything like an exhaustive search of such resources, perhaps other readers can recommend further resources along those lines.
I also wish to address Deltaeus’ comment that “I’m sure we’ve all read an article that basically boiled down to “97% of scientists say it is so“.” I suggest that this is not a facile argument, it’s one of the most important. There really is such a thing as expertise, and for most questions about atmospheric physics and meteorology I don’t have that expertise. I’m pretty well educated in physics, but not in the specifics applicable to climate science. I will sometimes speculate, and I consider my speculations educated but I suspect that I don’t often enough clarify when my speculations aren’t genuine expertise. My expertise is statistics, which is why I’m often able to see through some of the bullshit arguments from deniers (and why my peer-reviewed publications in climate science are limited to the analysis of data rather than physical theory).
In any case, expertise is something real, not just a “talking point” and not a facile argument. If you had cancer, you could find a great many websites which would offer alternative treatments, you could even find those which would dispute the cancer diagnosis. You could even find medical doctors who would dispute the diagnosis and/or recommended treatment. But if 97% of M.D.s, heck if 97% of oncologists, confirmed a diagnosis and reached a consensus on the best recommended treatment … don’t you think their opinion is much more reliable — much — than that of the host of alternatives?
In closing, I’ll say to Deltaeus that when I first started this blog (over 10 years ago) you were my target audience. My goal was to provide information for those who were educted, intelligent, curious, and willing to invest the effort to move beyond the 5-second soundbite, as well as to refute much of the crap I saw on the internet. But my goal now is different. In the last decade I’ve seen temperatures rise, ice melt, sea level rise, USA wildfire explode, coastal cities flood with no storm or wind, heatwaves kill by the thousands, drought and flooding expand, all the while American politics has recently taken the worst possible turn.
At the start I was concerned, but even more I was curious. Now I am genuinely worried, not just about the broad future, but about the near future. As much as I enjoy helping folks acquire a more sophisticated knowledge of the science and especially statistics, these days I’m mainly interested in helping the teenagers who are marching for climate action secure a better life. One of the adjectives climate deniers most often apply to people like me is “alarmist.” I am, truly, alarmed.
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