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Talking to “science deniers”? How about a bit of self-reflection first?

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Commenting on a new book, How to Talk to A Science Denier, by Harvard philosopher Lee McIntyre — one of our moral and intellectual superiors — Unherd’s science editor Tom Chivers comments,

How to Talk to a Science Denier

Even with climate change scepticism, sure, there are people who literally don’t believe that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are warming the planet. But those people are relatively rare. People who believe that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are warming the planet, but that the emissions are going to be hard to stop because of economic growth in the developing world and it would make more sense to concentrate on adaptation rather than mitigation, are much more common. Are they “deniers”? Certainly they’re often called deniers. But McIntyre himself acknowledges that China is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and that the IPCC says the sweeping global changes required to cut emissions sufficiently to avoid a 1.5°C warming are unprecedented.

McIntyre constantly wants to make a clean distinction between “science deniers” and non-deniers. So, for instance, he says that there are five “common reasoning errors made by all science deniers” [my emphasis]. They are: cherrypicking, a belief in conspiracy theories, a reliance on fake experts, illogical reasoning and an insistence that science must be perfect. If you don’t make all five of those errors, you’re not an official McIntyre-accredited science denier.

Hang on, though. A “belief in conspiracy theories”? McIntyre spends a lot of time talking about the tobacco firms who manufactured doubt in the smoking/lung cancer link, and the oil firms who did the same with the fossil fuel/climate change link. He says that the spread of Covid denialism through the US government was driven by Republican desire to keep the economy open and win the election. Aren’t these conspiracy theories? …

It’s mainly a book designed to tell readers that people they already think are dumb are, in fact, dumb. It is, really, How to Talk to A Contemptible Idiot Who Is Kind of Evil.

Tom Chivers, “How not to talk to a science denier” at Unherd

Thus, the book will doubtless have just the reception we might expect. If people want to spread a message, contempt for listeners and failure to listen oneself is not exactly a recipe for success.

5 Replies to “Talking to “science deniers”? How about a bit of self-reflection first?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Once a year or so the tyrants pretend to care about the “persuasiveness” of their message. Nothing changes. They simply continue torturing and killing all heretics.

  2. 2
    Borne says:

    The irony of the real science deniers, calling the adherents of science, “science deniers”, is stunning. No one denies science as much as atheists and Darwinian fundamentalists. Alinsky again? Accuse the opposition of what you yourself are guilty of? hmm…

  3. 3
    ET says:

    Defy reason? It defies reason to look at the Graph of Atmospheric IR Transmission and say that CO2 is the cause of anything besides the greening of the planet.

  4. 4
    JVL says:

    ET: It defies reason to look at the Graph of Atmospheric IR Transmission and say that CO2 is the cause of anything besides the greening of the planet.

    Umm . . . what do you think the graph shows?

  5. 5
    Fasteddious says:

    When one group points to one set of data and adds their own interpretation, while another group touts a somewhat different set of data and gives a different interpretation, that is not “denial”, that is (or should be) the normal scientific process at work. To go from, “the earth is warming slowly, probably partly due to humans”, to, “the planet will die if we don’t change everything tomorrow”, is hardly a logical or science based inference.

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