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Why climate activist scientist won’t debate the science

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Color thermometer icon vector graphics From climate scientist Kate Marvel at Scientific American:

Once you put established facts about the world up for argument, you’ve already lost

In fact, as a general rule, I refuse to debate basic science in public. There are two reasons for this: first, I’m a terrible debater and would almost certainly lose. The skills necessary to be a good scientist (coding, caring about things like “moist static energy”, drinking massive amounts of coffee) aren’t necessarily the same skills that will convince an audience in a debate format. It is very fortunate that things like the atomic model of matter do not rest on my ability to be charming or persuasive.

But second, and maybe more importantly: once you put facts about the world up for debate, you’ve already lost. Science isn’t a popularity contest; if it were, I’d definitely vote to eliminate quantum mechanics, set π to 1, and put radium back in toothpaste. I really, really don’t want sea levels to rise, rainfall patterns to shift, and heat waves to intensify. Climate change is definitely not my first choice. But physics and chemistry don’t care what I, or anyone else, wants. More.

Marvel seems to think that

– the apocalypse that she finds persuasive needs no introduction to those who don’t find it persuasive

– there is no conflict among or between bodies of evidence on the subject

– (from her other remarks that one can read at the source) there is no distinction worth making between thoughtful analysts who disagree and people who think that “ NASA somehow made it all up in between faking moon landings and covering up alien abductions.”

Two preliminary conclusions:

a) She is wise to avoid public debate


b) The fact that “Trust me, I’m a scientist” does not play as well in the public square as it used to is not due to a failure of public intelligence.

We run into this a lot with Darwinians too, and it plays about as well there as it does here.

See also: Physicist complains that climate scientists are giving science a bad name

“Burning” climate change dissenters

Can Climate Scientists Do Climate Science? (PaV)

From Chemistry World: Forensic science is “in crisis”

Study of causes of science skepticism sails right by the most obvious cause

9 Replies to “Why climate activist scientist won’t debate the science

  1. 1
    asauber says:

    once you put facts about the world up for debate, you’ve already lost

    Once you start obfuscating, withholding, misrepresenting, and deceiving, you’re not a scientist anymore.


  2. 2
    bb says:

    Science isn’t a popularity contest

    With all the appeals to consensus, from both the evolution, and climate science crowds, I thought it was.

    once you put facts about the world up for debate, you’ve already lost

    If your position crumbles that easily, it probably isn’t a fact. If you comment publicly, but won’t allow challenges, you’re a propagandist, not a scientist, to echo Andrew’s point.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    Public debates are an entertainment sport. If the debate is about a scientific or technical matter and held before a lay audience, the winner will almost certainly be the one who is the more eloquent and personable. Since the technical details of the science will most likely bore the audience, even assuming they can understand them, the issue will be decided by who is the more appealing public speaker, not by a carefully-considered assessment of the science. In those circumstances, what incentive is there for a scientist to engage in such a debate?

  4. 4
    aarceng says:

    She might be wise to avoid public debating but “facts” do need to be open to debate otherwise we won’t know if they really are facts. We’ve been told too often that something is a fact only to have it overturned a few years (or days) later.

  5. 5
    DATCG says:

    #4 aarceng,

    well said, considering many predictions and models were wrong

    “Thirty years of data have been collected since Mr. Hansen outlined his scenarios—enough to determine which was closest to reality. And the winner is Scenario C. Global surface temperature has not increased significantly since 2000, discounting the larger-than-usual El Niño of 2015-16. Assessed by Mr. Hansen’s model, surface temperatures are behaving as if we had capped 18 years ago the carbon-dioxide emissions responsible for the enhanced greenhouse effect. But we didn’t. And it isn’t just Mr. Hansen who got it wrong. Models devised by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have, on average, predicted about twice as much warming as has been observed since global satellite temperature monitoring began 40 years ago…”

    “Several more of Mr. Hansen’s predictions can now be judged by history. Have hurricanes gotten stronger, as Mr. Hansen predicted in a 2016 study? No. Satellite data from 1970 onward shows no evidence of this in relation to global surface temperature. Have storms caused increasing amounts of damage in the U.S.? Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show no such increase in damage, measured as a percentage of gross domestic product. How about stronger tornadoes? The opposite may be true, as NOAA data offers some evidence of a decline. The list of what didn’t happen is long and tedious.”

    The problem with outrageous predictions and making it political like Al Gore did with his polar bear performance is it can be verified. Polar Bears are doing well and the Arctic still has snow.

    “On the 30th anniversary of Mr. Hansen’s galvanizing testimony, it’s time to acknowledge that the rapid warming he predicted isn’t happening.”

    A video review of Hanson’s failed predictions and actual manipulation of the room’s temperature by Senator Wirth. How disgusting is it that a US Senator would do this? But check out the temperature today compared to the day Hanson gave his testimony of Global Warming 30 years ago…

    Just one of the predictions by Hansen in the video covers his 2008 prediction of no ice in the Arctic…

    June 24 2008
    Hansen, echoing work by other scientist, said that in five to 10 years, the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer.

    The real reason they do not desire to debate? Their wild speculation was wrong.

  6. 6
    asauber says:

    Since the technical details of the science will most likely bore the audience

    Sure, Sev. Just assume your way to a conclusion.

    Works every time, right?


  7. 7
    asauber says:

    the winner will almost certainly be the one who is the more eloquent and personable

    So they should get you to do the debate? 😉


  8. 8
    ET says:

    She already has her mind made up. Nothing will ever change it. Strange that scientists have said that the cleaner air has had as much or more to do with any warming than the additional CO2 has had.

    Do weather forecasters have to know the CO2 content before making their forecast? No. Why? Because CO2 does NOT cause an increase in temps. It just causes the heat to stay around a little longer. That alone is enough to skew the average daily temps making it appear warmer.

  9. 9
    ET says:

    And then there is the fact of 30 years of failed climate alarmists predictions:

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