A quick word and some questions on a SkepticalScience post that discusses yet another warming analysis that comes up with the same answer than other studies have. The post itself is good if you want a paper summary. Where I think it needs attention is the “so what” part. I’ll start with the concluding paragraph because it is what triggered a desire to actually write something about the post instead of walking away from it.
How much more evidence do we need? The accuracy of the instrumental global surface temperature record is essentially settled science at this point. The Earth is warming, it’s warming very fast, and continuing to deny this fact is a waste of time.
Many researchers and activists won’t like my answer: we don’t need much more scientific evidence. Indeed, I would argue that the science largely weighed in years ago and additional information has only provided small-scale refocusing on parts of the issue. Scientists haven’t discovered anything truly transformative in many years. Are fields advancing as a result of new observations, methodologies, and expertise. Yes, but that doesn’t answer Dana’s question. What climate field advancement will be the one that magically triggers a switch in skeptics’ minds? What new data set or analysis technique will do the trick? I argue that no such advancement will ever occur. Do we really believe that nobody has yet been smart enough to develop the one advancement that unlocks universal understanding of a complex topic? That’s clearly an absurd assumption, but it seems to permeate this and other similar posts. The spectrum of people who care about this topic have made up their minds (whether through tribalism or critical thought). I will not convince any large number of skeptics to accept my argument any more than Hansen, Gore, or McKibben. And here is where things get raw: strategies that those activists and most others have employed will not convince those people who don’t care about this topic. As voices get more shrill and combative, more people tune the arguers out.
So if the evidence isn’t the problem, what is? I believe the problem is the use of climate science as a proxy for a values fight. Most people are unwilling to identify and fight about their values; it is much easier to throw climate science in the middle of the ring to fight for them. Skeptics challenge the “facts” because of their beliefs and value system. Advocates challenge the skeptics because of their beliefs and value system, not because of the “facts”. Both groups try to bludgeon each other with “facts” and in so doing talk past each other, not to each other. What concerns do skeptics have regarding climate change; how can advocates listen and address those concerns and vice versa. Bypassing others’ concerns is the thing that wastes time. So why do advocates and skeptics do it so much?