Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chris Mooney -Are Scientists Ignorant About Ignorance...When It Comes to Understanding How Climate Denial Works?

Many have probably heard of Chris Mooney, the columnist, blogger and author of several books including "The Republican War on Science" and "Unscientific America" (co-authored with scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum).  He has in the past said that scientists need to get out and talk to the public more.  But today in his column in the blog called Desmogblog Mooney suggests that scientists have to have a better understanding of how climate denial, and science denial in general, works.  It isn't so much about ignorance.  He notes:
As anyone who reads DeSmogBlog knows very well, the top climate skeptics are, you know, scientists. They are not ignorant of the scientific method. They may cleverly twist and abuse its findings, perhaps, but they all learned it, and were awarded advanced degrees for doing so. These are not “poorly educated people” we're dealing with. Not remotely.

I think he may be giving too much credit to "skeptics" as opposed to "denialists," but he makes the case that there are actually skeptics who are scientists and they are most certainly not ignorant of how science works. Mooney goes on to say:
And as for the nonscientist citizens who encounter the climate debate, and don’t know what to think? They may be confused, but it doesn’t make them ignorant about the scientific method. They also may be deflated, uncertain about what’s true—because the media is not doing its job of adjudicating.
Mooney makes a good point, but may also be conflating separate issues here.  As he suggests, there are non-scientists out there who do have enough of an understanding of the scientific method to be able to intellectually understand the scientific principles.  That, however, doesn't mean there aren't also people who have no clue about science, method or otherwise.  Still, one must assume that those who are capable of understanding must intentionally have chosen not to understand the science.  Or perhaps more likely, to simply have chosen to deny the science.

Which presents scientists with the problem facing many scientists, i.e., "frustrated not only by the persistence, but by the powerful resurgence of climate denial, many scientists are outraged."  Outrage in itself rarely succeeds in winning over the public.  And yet scientists must ensure that the science isn't misrepresented by those in denial either, as this carries over to honest, hard working, yet non-scientific members of society who want to do what is right but truly can't separate the wheat from the chaff.

Hopefully Mooney in future columns will explore this issue further.  It will definitely be a topic of this blog in the future.

Read Chris Mooney's full Desmogblog article here.

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