Saturday, April 30, 2011

Climate science exchange with TPP's Mark Meckler, and Qs for y'all

Minor edit, May 5 (added "analogy" quote)
Tea Party Patriot co-founder Mark Meckler shared the stage with Tom McClintock at Wednesday's TPP Town Hall Meeting, and afterward he spoke with me for a few minutes about climate science and credibility. (Caveat: there could be minor inaccuracies.)

(As the importance of protecting our children's future is a recurrent theme in his speeches, a listener might think preserving the conditions conducive to human civilization - by fighting climate change - would be among his concerns. So far, though, it ain't so.)

Meckler, who's an attorney, is gifted with a silver tongue, unlike your humble correspondent; IMO he'd have no trouble convincing a jury that climate science is bunk.

He informed me, with unshakable confidence, that "the hockey stick's been debunked" (actually not so, there's now a multitude), "...ClimateGate..." (actually, multiple inquiries found no "fudging the science"), and "More than 900 papers support climate skepticism" (actually, the previous such "large-number" lists/petitions have been exposed as bogus, and a 3-part analysis of this one found 9 of the list's 10 top authors had ties to ExxonMobil, and found other features that likewise made it suspect.)

When, stumbling, I stepped back to "but there's a consensus", he did a shorter-Thomas-Kuhn, explaining to me that scientists aren't prone to changing their minds; I said "but essentially all the major scientific organizations say climate change is real/human-caused/needs action", he said groups are prone to groupthink and it's the lone scientists who can see most clearly ( they're not too close to it, & aren't assessing their own work); when I said but-but-but that's the complete opposite of the credibility spectrum (which runs from nonexperts, to experts, to groups of experts) he replied "I guess we'll have to agree to disagree".

So essentially, he's aligned with the wrong "network of trust", but doesn't see this, and isn't open to handwaving arguments on why it's wrong; and yes it presumably comes from motivated reasoning, and yes it's consistent with the Argumentative Theory of Reason ("to use an analogy... We may think we're being scientists, but we're actually being lawyers"), but IMO - at least logically - the place you'd start correcting such a belief structure is with the credibility spectrum.

So, o climate communicators, how do you explain, in an elevator-speech kind of way, why "Kate's credibility spectrum" is the right frame here, and "Groupthink, scientific self-interest (of the top dogs), & myopia" the wrong one?
And moving beyond the elevator speech, how can you actually show it, e.g. using a past scientific/PR controversy as a model?

Alternatively (or in parallel), probably the best approach is asking Craven's question "Could you be wrong?", with a followup "how could you know it?", to help someone reach a more reflective frame of mind.

Which, with a politician in public, is impossible.

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