21 August 2008

Labelling instead of thinking

It's been interesting to see how rapidly some have labelled this blog and what labels are out there. Almost always, hence this note's title, labelling is done instead of thinking. Labels around the topic of climate include alarmist, believer, skeptic, denialist, and probably several others. Conspicuously absent is 'science-minded'. If you have to have a label for this blog, that'd be one to use. I like science and think it's a good way to answer scientific questions. Not all questions are scientific, but when they are, it's good.

So I'm puzzled that there's been reference to me being a 'believer'. What in, the source didn't say, and that's rather the problem with such labels. People using labels instead of reality often don't tell you what the label means. I do believe that science is a good way to answer scientific questions, but if that's all it takes to be a 'believer' then all scientific sources would have to be labelled so. Perhaps they are, which leaves me wondering what the utility of their classification is supposed to be. Help people avoid learning about the science?

Denialists, as I might use the term, used to be across the spectrum as to conclusions. That is, there were folks who insisted that sea level was going to rise and drown everyone (!) in the next few years (unless we all did what they wanted) and denied any and all evidence to the contrary. At the same time, there were folks who insisted that sea level couldn't possibly change except maybe to go down. And again, denied any and all evidence to the contrary. I don't see the former types much any more, but the latter have only gotten more vocal and seemingly numerous.

Skeptic ought to have been a good label for the science-minded. Instead, it's been appropriated by a very narrow viewpoint and, as usual for such swipings, one that is not skeptical at all. A true skeptic will sit down and look at all evidence regarding a point. They aren't foolish enough to think that there are only 2 sides. And they look even handedly at all evidence. They don't select only 1 'side' and make only that one defend their conclusion. They also use consistent standards of evidence. In my cherry-picking note, for instance, I mentioned some who (dishonestly) use trends from 1998 (or one or two other particular, even more recent, years) only to conclude that 'warming isn't happening'. If they were honest skeptics, they'd turn around and agree that warming is happening if 2009 were warmer than 1998 (or if, as already happened in one data set, 2005 were warmer). In practice, however, these fake 'skeptics' simply move on to some other point, never updating their conclusions in light of new information.

I'm also surprised to hear myself called 'alarmist'. Even less useful that 'believer', as folks throwing that label never do say what was alarming. Apparently they're scared to hear that there really is such a thing as the greenhouse effect. But I don't see that their being easily scared by reality should mean much to the rest of us. Again, the label has been taken by one particular group (the self-described 'skeptics', who also dishonestly took that label for themselves) to label only one viewpoint. Often, these same people turn around and make alarming statements themselves -- about how there'll be a worldwide depression if anything were done in response to climate change. That strikes me as much more alarming than a lab-tested statement about there being greenhouse gases.

In fairness, I do notice that I'm using a label myself -- 'unreliable'. On the other hand, I only use it after reading the source myself (and encouraging you to do so yourselves) and laying out exactly why I'm using it. It's a rather narrow usage, even more so since I'm only using it for sources which can be shown in error without knowing much science or math.

I'll encourage people writing here to not use the 'alarmist' 'denialist' and other such labels. If you think someone or some source (me included) is wrong about something, go ahead and say so and present the solid evidence (see my link policy) that supports your point. (Just saying you think they are, or I am, wrong is not enough and will likely be rejected regardless of who you think is wrong.)


Simon Evans said...

"I'll encourage people writing here to not use the 'alarmist' 'denialist' and other such labels."

I totally agree in the context of this blog.

In the wider context, I think we have to recognise there is a political conflict afoot. The 'arguments' are those of the lawyer rather than the scientist. There should be no presumption that there is any respect for truth, objectivity or even decency. Just as was the case with the cancer/tobacco 'debate', the CFC/ozone 'debate', the secondary smoking 'debate', there are people at work who will lie and distort with impunity.

Politically, there may be a need to take direct action. In the meantime, keep the science coming!

Robert Grumbine said...

I should have emphasized the writing here. Partly because I'm not trying to tell people what to in the rest of their life (well, aside from encouraging everyone to learn more about these very interesting areas of science).
And partly because, elsewhere, it might be a good idea to use the short labels and even inflammatory language. And it may not. I'm not sure. But these are reasons I labelled this note 'politics'.

In a different political issue, I'll strongly encourage everyone who can legally vote to register to do so and come election day, get out and cast yours. Particularly if you're in the US (along with me; I'd like to see an overwhelming turnout in deciding who our next president will be).