Economics, Energy and the Environment

What Should Climate Scientists Do?

Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth reports on an online conversation between commentators of science communication Mathew Nisbet of American University and biologist/documentary filmmaker Randy Olson. Revkin summarizes their discussion by asking: “Should Scientists Fight the Heat or Stick to Data?”

Nisbet is all about “framing” the issue so that the public won’t be so confused. Olson agrees that there’s a “communications problem,” but thinks the “scientific community” (read: orthodox climate change catastrophists) needs to defend itself.

Olson and Nisbet agree that the catastrophists have been sticking with the data. They disagree on whether “scientists” should start to fight their critics and engage in public advocacy. As Revkin says: “Some leading lights in environmental science have been pushing their colleagues, and institutions like the National Academies, to come out swinging against the ongoing barrage of assaults from organized opponents of restrictions on greenhouse gases and climate.”

Huh? Who are these guys reading? Are they talking to anybody outside the cloistered circle of journalists and scientists who already agree with them? If they are, it’s not obvious.

Their unwavering conviction that the party line has it right on climate change—that “science” speaks with one unanimous voice—is preventing them from assessing the situation objectively. In reality, the public perception, reinforced every day by new “data,” is that far too many scientists, official science organizations, and science journalists, are either distorting or going way beyond the actual data related to climate for the sake of political ends. Moreover, rather than debating their scientific critics and addressing their arguments, the party-liners have dismissed, attacked, and tried to destroy them. They have been fighting; they just haven’t been fighting fairly.

For climate science to restore its credibility, we don’t need more fighting and one-sided public advocacy by the scientists in positions of power. We don’t need to reframe the issue. We need to see some evidence of humility and contrition. Unfortunately, we’re not seeing any of this. Instead, we’re getting obtuse chats about communications strategy.

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