Alert readers will have noticed the fewer-than-normal postings over the last couple of weeks. This is related mostly to pressures associated with real work (remember that we do have day jobs). In my case, it is because of the preparations for the next IPCC assessment and the need for our group to have a functioning and reasonably realistic climate model with which to start the new round of simulations. These all need to be up and running very quickly if we are going to make the early 2010 deadlines.
But, to be frank, there has been another reason. When we started this blog, there was a lot of ground to cover – how climate models worked, the difference between short term noise and long term signal, how the carbon cycle worked, connections between climate change and air quality, aerosol effects, the relevance of paleo-climate, the nature of rapid climate change etc. These things were/are fun to talk about and it was/is easy for us to share our enthusiasm for the science and, more importantly, the scientific process.
However, recently there has been more of a sense that the issues being discussed (in the media or online) have a bit of a groundhog day quality to them. The same nonsense, the same logical fallacies, the same confusions – all seem to be endlessly repeated. The same strawmen are being constructed and demolished as if they were part of a make-work scheme for the building industry attached to the stimulus proposal. Indeed, the enthusiastic recycling of talking points long thought to have been dead and buried has been given a huge boost by the publication of a new book by Ian Plimer who seems to have been collecting them for years. Given the number of simply made–up ‘facts’ in that tome, one soon realises that the concept of an objective reality against which one should measure claims and judge arguments is not something that is universally shared. This is troubling – and although there is certainly a role for some to point out the incoherence of such arguments (which in that case Tim Lambert and Ian Enting are doing very well), it isn’t something that requires much in the way of physical understanding or scientific background. (As an aside this is a good video description of the now-classic Dunning and Kruger papers on how the people who are most wrong are the least able to perceive it).
The Onion had a great piece last week that encapsulates the trajectory of these discussions very well. This will of course be familiar to anyone who has followed a comment thread too far into the weeds, and is one of the main reasons why people with actual, constructive things to add to a discourse get discouraged from wading into wikipedia, blogs or the media. One has to hope that there is the possibility of progress before one engages.
This same sort of exhaustion occurs when dealing with most sorts of deniers. Reason and reality are usually not part of their world so it eventually just becomes useless to engage, They really do not want to learn about the world or to see what new data have to tell us about reality. To them, data are bad.
To scientists, data are what makes life so much fun. Being able to wrestle understanding away from the complex world around us is one of the most ego-boosting and satisfying things I know.
But to deniers, actual understanding is never as important as their arguments for denying data. It explains why so many of them are lawyers. The argument is more important than the truth. Understanding is completely secondary.
They do not weigh you down with facts. They tire you out with redundant arguments. They say A. You destroy that argument. They say B. You destroy that argument. They say C. You destroy that argument. They say A. You say “Again?”
It gets pretty tiring doing this again and again. But we now realize that if you do not engage with these deniers, they think they have won and try to do something really stupid.
So we have to pick ourselves up and re-engage. But, the Web being what it is . We can respond faster and with more force. Beside, like the old joke, most times all we have to do is respond “#43” or see the answer at Skeptical Science. We do not have to do it all ourselves. We have help.
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