I wasn’t sure whether to write about this as I’m unsure of what to make of it and there may be subtleties that I’ve missed. Bearing that in mind, I will go ahead anyway. The University of Nottingham has a blog called Making Science Public. It seems to be run by Brigitte Nerlich and Warren Pearce. I’ve had some very pleasant Twitter exchanges with Brigitte Nerlich and a few slightly frustrating but not unpleasant exchanges with Warren Pearce, so what I’m about to say shouldn’t be seen as a criticism of them in particular.
So, I’m finding what Making Science Public appears to be doing a little confusing. There was a recent article by Ben Pile about the interview between Andrew Neil and Ed Davey. Ben Pile seemed to think this was a good interview. From a scientific perspective, I thought it was very poor and the science that was presented was mis-represented by Andrew Neil. Warren Pearce recently posted a copy of his Guardian article that seems to be arguing that we should give more credence to the scientific views of self-confessed sceptics. He’s also just published a post essentially criticising the Atomic bomb – global warming analogy.
The impression I’m getting is that the Making Science Public blog is promoting the idea that the public debate about global warming and climate change should include more of the scientific views that are being expressed. That we should be considering the views of those who are openly sceptical (pseudo-sceptics I would call them). The fundamental problem I have with this is that much of the science presented on openly sceptical blogs is demonstrably incorrect. Not just a little bit wrong, but almost completely wrong. The whole reason I started my blog was because I was tired of reading posts on Watts Up With That (WUWT) that were simply scientifically incorrect. The other issue is that, in most cases, if you try to point out the error it is not accepted and the reasons get more and more absurd the harder you try to convince them of the error. This either means they have insufficient scientific training to realise their error or they’re simply unwilling to acknowledge any errors. Science isn’t really about debating opinions, it’s about presenting evidence and having your evidence scrutinised. Simply having an opinion does not mean that it should be taken seriously.
So, in my opinion, trying to bring pseudo-sceptics into the debate is not a sensible suggestion. I should be careful because I’m not talking about true sceptics. I’m not talking about those who would like to know more, who are uncertain about certain aspects of the science, those who are not sure about what we we’re confident about and what we’re less confident about. Discussions with such people are constructive and valuable. I’m talking about people who are largely untrained and who are presenting their scientific ideas but are, typically, getting it wrong. Why would we want to encourage those people to be included in the scientific discussions? Just because someone claims to be doing science, doesn’t mean that they are. Why is it that in almost any other sphere of life, suggesting that lay-people be included in complicated scientific discussions would be laughed at, but in climate science some people seem to be encouraging it.
So, in my opinion, if Making Science Public was serious about doing so, it should be encouraging the public to pay more credence to what is being said by climate scientists. Climate scientists should be willing to engage with the public and policy makers and be willing to answer difficult questions and to explain things as clearly and honestly as possible. Bringing pseudo-sceptics into the scientific discourse just doesn’t make any sense to me. As I said above, much of their science is demonstrably incorrect and their willingness to accept this appears largely non-existent. A higher profile for such people will, in my opinion, do nothing to improve the public’s understanding of climate science.
So, as I said at the beginning, maybe there are subtleties to this that I’m not getting. I believe Warren Pearce is doing research into climate scepticism, so maybe this is all intentional and is just part of his research strategy. There’s also a lot more to the Making Science Public site than what I’ve discussed above, so maybe this is not really all that significant. Also, maybe I’ve simply misinterpreted what they’ve been trying to do. However, I still feel that seriously suggesting that we include more of the pseudo-sceptics in discussions about climate science is not the right way to make science public.