The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Worried About the Intellectual Climate

Under the slogan "I'm more worried about the intellectual climate", a typical confusionist group called Demand Debate has sprung up to treat CO2 as an accused defendant entitled to the best lawyers it can afford.

Well, as it happens, I'm more worried about the intellectual climate, too. Solving climate change alone is not enough. We will have to be very smart and take the best of everyone's thoughts and everyone's abilities and everyone's actions to resolve our problems to avoid severe setbacks in the next couple of centuries. We really need to know how to think more effectively, collectively.

So how well is "Demand Debate" living up to its declared intent to worry about the intellectual climate? This well:

DemandDebate.com is surveying climate experts about climate change.
It would be terrific if you could take a few moments to
participate. Please reply to this e-mail by answering the questions
below. Simply place an "X" in the box that best represents your view.
Responses will remain confidential. If you have any questions, please
e-mail steve@demanddebate.com


Question #1. Which best describes the reason(s) for climate change?

[ ] Human activity is the principal driver of climate change.
[ ] Human activity drives climate change, but natural variability
is also important.
[ ] Natural variability drives climate change, but human activity
is also important.
[ ] Natural variability is the principal driver of climate change.
[ ] No opinion.

Apolitical expert: On what time scale would that be? Of course natural variability has been dominant over billions of years. It's a vague question, but 'natural variability' is probably best.

Non-expert reader: See, experts don't believe that "global warming" is man-made.

Question #2. Which best describes the role of manmade CO2 emissions
in climate change?

[ ] Manmade CO2 emissions are the principal driver of climate change.
[ ] Manmade CO2 emissions drive climate change, but other natural
and human-related factors are also important.
[ ] Other natural and/or human-related factors drive climate
change, but manmade CO2 emissions are important.
[ ] Other natural and/or human-related factors are the principal
drivers of climate change.
[ ] No opinion.

Apolitical expert: Easy one. the second choice.

Non-expert reader: They have so many theories, they don't know anything!

Question #3. Which best describes the impact on global climate of
controlling manmade CO2 emissions?

[ ] Limiting manmade CO2 emissions would have a strong impact.
[ ] Limiting manmade CO2 emissions would have some impact.
[ ] Limiting manmade CO2 emissions would have no impact.
[ ] It would be impossible to discern the impact.
[ ] No opinion.

Apolitical expert: On what time scale? It may be difficult to discern the impact of a responsible policy for a considerable time.

Non-expert reader: Hah! The experts think any policy change is futile!


Question #4. Current mean global temperature is:

[ ] Unprecedentedly warm and getting warmer.
[ ] Within natural variability but moving to unprecedentedly warmer
levels.
[ ] Within natural variability and stable.
[ ] Not a useful metric.
[ ] No opinion.

Apolitical expert: On what time scale? Certainly it was much warmer in the Eocene. Hopefully we'll be able to put the brakes on before THAT happens! Actually I can't agree with any of these choices.

Non-expert reader: See! It's all cycles.


Question #5. The climatic impacts of a mean global global temperature
that is 1-degree Celsius warmer than today are:

[ ] Undesirable.
[ ] Desirable.
[ ] Desirable for some and undesirable for others.
[ ] Too difficult to assess.
[ ] No opinion.

Apolitical expert: Oh that's a small change. It would be mixed.

Non-expert reader: So warming doesn't even matter!


Question #6. The ideal global climate is...

[ ] Warmer than the present.
[ ] Cooler than the present.
[ ] Occurring today.
[ ] There is no such thing as an "ideal" global climate.
[ ] No opinion.

Apolitical expert: Oh, come one. Ideal for what purpose?

Non-expert reader: So lots of experts don't think change is bad at all!


Thank you for your response. Please return this e-mail to

Steven Milloy
Executive Director, DemandDebate.com

Aha, that explains it...

These questions are carefully chosen to have different meaning in formal and informal discourse. They are slimy tricks.

I suppose we will need to watch for this "survey", but everyone should notice these are tricks with language intended to subvert serious conversation. One can easily and consistently choose all of the positions that Milloy wants one to choose while still favoring vigorous reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases.

With thanks to Dr. A. for the forward.

Update: Inel has an excellent article about the nine 'errors' that also addresses tricks with language and casual impression.

4 comments:

Eddie said...

Talk about timing. The UK court case over Al Gore's film was also about teaching climate change in the classroom, and here in New Zealand, I heard an interview on our public radio in which a former science teacher and ACT Party (a libertarian-styled party) MP talked about 'keeping politics out of the classroom'.

It's code, of course, for either keeping climate change activism out of classrooms or 'balancing' it with "The Great Global Warming Swindle" (which she mentioned by name).

Is this the way denialism is heading? The textbook wars? Cue The Panda's Thumb and Japanese history textbooks.

For me, this makes good communication of science all the more vital.

AK said...

I made a suggestion at Framing Science that might help.

inel said...

Dear Michael,

The results of the survey were released today, announced by a press release through PR Newswire which feeds through to Forbes here.

inel said...

P.S. and now FOXNews's gracious printing of Milloy's article quoting scientists' anonymous responses verbatim will attempt to ensure these results get attention.