It all began with a tweet from the president regarding his new climate initiative:
We owe it to our kids to do something about climate change. Share this video and join me Tuesday: http://t.co/ifWvlB6qCL -bo
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 22, 2013
And then came my reply:
— Charles Flemming (@ChasFlemming) June 22, 2013
And then came the trolls.
Trolls, by their nature, aren’t interested in understanding the real views and motivations of those they wish to defeat. So they come into any adversarial dialogue with some pretty severe handicaps.
In a spirit of good sportsmanship, I’d like to offer them some pro tips. That is, if they wish to persuade, rather than vanquish. Or, bottom line for a great many of them, simply not limp away embarrassed.
Pro Tip 1: Avoid anthropomorphism when talking about science (unless you want to sound like you’re defending a religion).
If you think someone’s not alarmed enough about global warming, saying “Read the science” is not the most effective way to persuade them. You guys do know, don’t you, that science doesn’t say stuff. It doesn’t have a voice. It doesn’t reason. It doesn’t write books or scientific articles. At least not on its own. Scientists talk about the state of the science a lot. Even as a layman I can understand what that means: What has the research and testing taught us so far?
But even non-scientists who read anything on the history of science or technology, or civilization itself, know that “the science” on any complex issue is seldom settled, and never permanently.
Even so settled a concept as evolution is likely on the verge of massive revisions based on genome study (vs. traditional observation of structures).
Pro Tip 2: Embrace the power of conflict.
Science does, however, have rules. One of the most important ones is that hypotheses must be tested before they’re embraced. If the data doesn’t confirm the hypothesis, the scientist must adjust the hypothesis—or toss it.
So science is rife with arguments. Even quarrels. Human beings desperately trying to prove each other wrong.
In fact, as a layman who reads occasionally about the history of some of these disputes, it appears that “the science” is improved far more effectively when disputes are sought and resolved than when any group of scientists sets out to prove its own members right.
At least from the outsider’s perspective, science gains its authority largely from being an adversarial system. Not from conformity or compelled consensus.
Pro Tip 3: Recognize who the real scientists aren’t.
- Real scientists don’t enlarge scientific bodies and appoint their friends to become arbiters of “science.” That’s something politicians do.
- Real scientists don’t make peer review a closed system, with only their friends and people who agree with them deciding what is published.
- Real scientists don’t hide their data, away from the prying eyes of critics. They make their data available to scoffers and allies alike.
- Real scientists don’t make stuff up. They don’t hide discrepancies. And they don’t slander their critics.
- Real scientists aren’t for sale. Not to big business. Not to academia. Not to the government. Not to peers they’re anxious to impress.
Pro Tip 4: Don’t use scientific consensus as a bludgeon.
Appeal to “science” is an illegitimate appeal to authority. A way to shut down dissent. Real scientists don’t appeal to authority. They appeal to data.
In the case of laymen, such as myself, there’s a necessary appeal to authority. We simply don’t have understanding of or even access to raw data. We trust this or that scientist, often based on non-scientific criteria. Like how they present their case. How they argue with critics. Their logic. How they treat their peers. How they respond to dissenters.
Ad hominem, argumentum ad populum, No True Scotsman, red herrings, straw men, stacking committees, destroying evidence, demanding and denying credentials based on a priori assumptions—these are all tells that scream, “This is not a person to be believed!”
So when you appeal to science, make sure you’re sending people to the real thing. Not a political movement in search of cover.
Pro Tip 5: Lose the hidden agendas.
It’s sad whenever I question global warming orthodoxy, someone reads my profile—and then dismisses me because I’m “pro God & anti-science.”
Is this person’s agenda the pursuit of truth and persuasion? Or is it something else?
(Last night I even had a troll question my authority to argue based on my use of the word “data” as a singular.)
Look at my profile. I’m not a scientist. And I don’t claim to be. I have neither the training, the talent nor the tools.
However… too many folks who DO have the training, the talent, and the tools aren’t scientists either. Not real ones.
They have traded in their lab coats, objectivity, and devotion to the scientific method for the attainment of purely political ends.
As quickly as they can, they proclaim that Science has spoken. And their dogma hardens into Received Truth.
They fail to heed Eisenhower’s warning:
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Sadly, I don’t think all of these people are insincere. I think they’re deluded. The most dangerous hidden agenda is the one hiding from the very person who possesses it. Because—in reality—it possesses him. He can no longer think on his own. Or engage with his critics—or with objective truth.
Pro Tip 6: Face the truth.
IF your goal is to persuade…
You’re going to have to change the way you talk to people who disagree with you.
The real reason I initially came to be a global warming skeptic wasn’t because of my knowledge of “the science.” Obviously.
It came because of the way you, and others like you—both trained scientists and intelligent lay people—set about to make your case.
It comes down to a simple fact:
- Scientists who can make their case based on science, do so.
- Scientists who can’t, try to make their case through science by other means.
The most vocal proponents of anthropogenic global warming hypothesis portray themselves as Galileo standing tall against the full array of the reactionary culture of their time.
If you are one of these people, it is past time to tell you the truth:
Whether you realize it or not, you have it exactly wrong.
We live in an age where the roles of Galileo and the Church have changed. “Science” is now the Church and Galileo is nowhere to be found.