A whole bunch of interesting stuff to react to this week. The conversation, which advances in fits and starts, has done some advancing.
Regarding the limited interest of the press, a veteran science communicator was overheard to say
I didn’t expect it to get a ton of pickup initially. It’s good educational material for discrediting Monckton’s arguments, but because his testimony was from a few months ago, I think a lot of reporters didn’t see enough immediate news-value to write on it. Unfortunately, good, credible scientific analyses always take longer to put together than a powerpoint deck full of misinformation, so the contrarians typically enjoy a “deadline” advantage.
which bears some thinking about. Of course, by “contrarian”, he meant ??ist, the point of view which must not be named.
On that note we have Lubos Motl staking out
point of view with an appeal to a one-dimensional model of intelligence, at which, as a (presumed brilliant because he can think in eleven dimensions) string physics guy, he clearly claims an outstanding position. The trouble with his position is that it rules out democracy altogether. It’s essentially not just a plea for continued cowardice in journalism, but also a plea for the most unworkable imaginable aristocracy; a world run by the idiots-savant. So no thanks on those grounds. Otherwise it’s unworkable: Lubos’ argument essentially allows no mechanism for governance to be informed by science at all.
On the other hand, in what looks like a breakthrough (but possibly won’t be, old habits die hard), there is some real progress in the difficult journalistic art of letting science speak for itself at Dot Earth. Revkin’s Laughlin piece leads to a follow-up article
, and a similarly structured piece
a couple of days later, that looks like what a serious science journalist with a good network of contacts ought to come up with.
But in my opinion, among all this fascinating stuff, the best thing written in the past few weeks was Bob Grumbine’s
. Bob has captured the essence of the science/sustainability problem perfectly.
I think a crucial part of that error is a failure to understand how science works. While you and I (and others) look at it and see masses of scientists from different areas and reach a conclusion, others don’t. The extra piece of knowledge we have is that science has to hang together as a coherent picture. If climate people were seriously wrong about the radiative properties of CO2, then CO2 lasers would not work. And so on through a very, very long list. Conversely, if climate types were seriously wrong about CO2’s radiative properties, laser specialists would look at the climate work and point to the errors and that’d be the end of the wrong climate CO2 work.
Instead, they take the view that science is story-telling. Laser physicists go along with the climate people because the climate folks are telling a story that the laser folks like, not because there’s any particular evidence in favor of it. The “It’s a liberal conspiracy”, or “They only say this because they want to impose one world government” responses are part of this. The he said — she said journalistic line is exactly this, as the science is presented as two stories the reader is chosing between. They think the scientists are doing the same thing. (How would they know differently?)
Aye, there’s the rub.
That’s the problem. In America at least, science teachers do not understand science, and in particular, they do not understand this key constraint that makes science work. The idea is absent not only among the general public, but even among educated and prominent people. I have been calling it “coherence”.
Even many engineers fail to understand how coherence works in science, even though it’s equally a core tool in engineering. Everyday plumbers and auto mechanics (the better ones being by no means unintelligent) experience the constraints of coherence every day, but in a relatively small and clear-cut domain. The fact that coherence works at large to distinguish science from non-science, and that for all its flaws, the scientific culture is sufficiently robust to manage this distinction reliably, is really not understood. I don’t know if we can get anywhere without getting this point across.
Though Bob usually has a much more down-to-earth close-to-the-evidence style than I do, he has described the key quandary better that I have ever managed. Dang.
Update: Note also that Bob points us to this interesting discussion.