Despite the best science, and good arguments, sometimes people don't listen. In the climate change debate this has annoyed many people so they seek examples for inspiration. One is the fight against tobacco, where sound health advice seems to have won against the industry (and addicted smokers). Behaviour change is possible, and powerful vested interests can be fought back through campaigns, or so the message goes.
No matter what we make of this, there are other examples where the opposition is more obstinate, creationism for example. Despite the best scientific efforts, fans of creationism show no signs of relenting. Here on Klimazwiebel commentators have alluded to this example, and have advised to apply the lessons to climate scepticism. "Do not give them a platform, exclude them from public discourse, do not give them space in school curricula", is the lesson we should have learned. This will not work. It will not work because it assumes that there are clear rules of engagement and that the better argument will win.
The philosopher Kelly Smith has written an interesting piece (DOI 10.1007/s11229-009-9545-5), urging the academic communities to engage. I think it would be worth thinking of lessons for climate scepticism.
"I have heard many a biologist say something like this: “I deal with facts in this class. Evolution is a fact and creationism is just wrong—end of story.” Except it’s not the end of the story, since the problem is not going to go away just because we ignore it."He uses an episode from the film Monthy Python: The Black Knight, in order to explain what he thinks is going on in the quarrel between creationists and scientists. He thinks his colleagues, in their fight against creationists, would happily indulge in the funny side of this film, pointing to obtuseness of their adversary (the Black Knight, alias creationist). He warns against such compacency:
If things were this easy, then we would have no problem with creationism. Yet not only do we have just such a problem, it seems to be growing. Therefore, things can’t be this simple. So, we should think of the creationist contest as one where the interlocutors are using blunted or padded weapons. Since it rules out such convenient indications of martial superiority as the actual removal of limbs, this restriction forces us to devise some indirect means of judging a winner. ... If we want to make the analogy accurate, therefore, we will have to allow the contest to be judged not by knights expert in real combat, but by the crowd watching the contest.
But in altering the episode from the Black Knight, we have to realize that
like it or not, the public ultimately makes the calls about what should be taught and what should be funded. If enough of them become creationists, the good guys lose. It’s small consolation to know that, despite our loss, we were “in the right”, just as it’s small consolation to those who purchased Betamax video recorders in the 70s to know that theirs was truly the superior technology.
You might think he is dangerously close to creationism. He is not. He thinks "we" are in a "war" against "them" which "we" need to win. But there are no signs of success given the current approach of looking down on them and ignoring them.
Smith identifies a fallacy on behalf of his colleagues in philosophy and biology departments which he calls rational pathology. They think that such debates are decided by facts and arguments. Once one side gains the upper hand, the other side will admit defeat. Wrong, says Smith. They behave like the Black Knight in the film. And, contrary to the film, they have an audience which wants to see a fight where the rules of engagement have little to do with scientific conventions. Smith concludes that the fight against creationism is a fight for the hearts and minds of the bystanders, not for the better argument. If the audience can be swayed, the outcome might be in your favour and the fight will stop.
So for the arguments sake, lets assume the climate sceptics do not have single valid argument, and that the IPCC consensus is always right. Lets make most of the suggestion that climate scepticism is the twin sister of creationism. What if the sceptics will never accept defeat? Smith outlines three possible responses, run away, give up, or bash harder. It is the last option which seems to be most attractive to many of his colleagues, he tells us:
To the extent that they try to correct public misperceptions, they do so using the tools with which they are most comfortable and familiar. Biologists tend to gather together imposing mountains of facts, complete with technical jargon. Philosophers construct ever more complex arguments designed to show some subtle inconsistency in the creationist’s approach using their own technical jargon. Then when they present the fruits of their efforts to the lay public, they tend to delight in the complex details and linger lovingly over each and every one, making for a presentation which impresses their colleagues but confuses everyone else.So what should be done to engage the other side in a more productive way?
And he continues,
It’s not that there is anything wrong with constructing complex arguments per se— indeed, I find them perfectly decisive myself. But then I am a scientist and philosopher and don’t represent the kinds of people who find creationism compelling in the first place. Your average creationist, however, neither understands nor cares to understand such minutia. From his perspective, you are just trying to beat him down with technical jargon. So if we want to turn things around, we have to find away to talk to such people in terms they find persuasive, rather than according to the professional rules we love so much.
The key element in the equation is the audience, in this case the general public, since they are ultimately the ones who judge who is winning and who is losing. ... The problem we face with the creationism case is that we already have excellent arguments for evolution—indeed, knock-down, drag-out good arguments. The problem is not that there is real debate among objective experts about whether our arguments are good. In short, the problem is not with the quality of the arguments, but with the public perception of the quality of the arguments, which is a very different thing.
in 2005, 54% of Americans did not believe humans evolved from earlier species, up from 46% in 1994.