Friday, 16 August 2013

Rant for Less Science and More Marketing

I don’t know if you’ve noticed the same phenomenon, but every time I read an article online that in any way touches upon global warming, the comments section gets immediately inundated with the “climate sceptics” regurgitating their mantra, which is never limited to “I don’t believe that climate change is happening”, but inevitably includes some data and/or references to scientific “evidence”, in order to make it appear more convincing.*  The comments remind me of the scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo that you can sometimes read in alternative media telling you, for example, that sun doesn't give you cancer, sunscreen does.
It makes me wonder whether this is what comments sections of internet articles on the health effects of smoking cigarettes would have looked like in the 1970s if internet had existed at the time.  We now know that all the data that denied the harmful effects of smoking was pathetic in scientific terms and financed by the tobacco industry, but as a case study of how scientific discourse can be distorted by vested interests we seem to have learnt nothing from it.
I have not heard about the “scientific” “facts” about the non-existence of climate change only on internet noticeboards, but also in real life - and sometimes from pretty smart people. 
I will not enter into a discussion about the scientific evidence of climate change, because I’m not a climate scientist.  What do I do instead?  I take the word of the experts, i.e. the climate scientists, as I do with just about every scientific question.  Here’s the non-news-flash: They all say it’s happening.  We rarely get such consensus on a contemporary scientific phenomenon as we do on climate change, thanks to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with 195 member states, uniting THOUSANDS of experts from all around the globe.  When climate sceptics try to get me into a discussion about the science of climate change, I always ask whether they have read all the IPCC’s reports and why they disagree with the evidence and conclusions in them.  The conversation ends there, because inevitably they have not read the reports.
Despite the impressive amount of evidence, the persons screaming the loudest, getting their opinions not only heard, but accepted by a mind-bogglingly large part of the population, are these non- or pseudo-scientific climate changes sceptics – in other words the people who are not interested in the evidence itself.  How can this be?  The evidence is all there!  Why is it being ignored and dismissed in this era of easy access to information? 
The problem is clearly not one of facts, but presentation.  Science journalists, for example, are not (collectively) doing their job as they are not writing engaging and easily comprehensible articles on the scientific data and new evidence as it emerges and is analysed.  The organisations that employ the scientists themselves are doing no better.  The IPCC, the UN Environment Programme and national meteorological organisations should hire less scientists and more PR and marketing professionals.  The story is compelling, but it apparently needs to be written on glossy paper with tabloidesque headlines and colour pictures for it to be of interest.** 
If that is what it takes, then do it.  The message is too important to be lost because of shoddy and boring presentation by uncharismatic and (probably also) self-satisfied scientists.

*Those of you that read Finnish can find a good example of both: a good, readable article debunking the recent efforts of climate sceptics and the comments that follow here.
**It can already sometimes be found in fairly user-friendly format, such as on Skeptical Science, but I should not have to go look for it myself, as I currently do.

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