Posted by: Barry Bickmore | July 31, 2013

Video: Climate Change and the Open Mind

Back in April I gave an invited talk entitled “Climate Change and the Open Mind” at DePauw University.  This was part of a workshop called “Cool Talk about a Hot Topic: The Ethics of Communicating about Climate Change,” put on by the Prindle Institute for Ethics.  Click here to see the video of the talk.  There are also links there to the other talks given at the symposium.

The question I asked was why things like political ideology are much better predictors of a person’s views about climate change than things like education.  I think some of the answer has to do with flaws in how we educate people about 1) what it means to be a critical thinker, and 2) what it means to do science.  My primary example to illustrate my points was Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and of course I had to bring in Christopher Monckton.  That’s just a given.




  1. 1hr 7 min range.

    Science should be described as being tentative and creative.

    I agree very much with that theme. Here are some relevant observations:

    — If you pretend a complex piece of science is little beyond a complex logical argument, then you make it easy for your argument to be shot down within the skeptical mind (more so within the lazy skeptical mind).

    The skeptic can disprove a 100 page proof with a simple point of “logic” and need not read the 100 pages to come up with a ranking of how good/ how bad is this theory (vs correct/incorrect).

    — So teaching that an “axiom” of science is that it is tentative means that you (the skeptic) can no longer dismiss virtually anything in climate science without first looking at a fair representation of the evidence and arguments.

    When I first started hearing the talk, I was thinking that you might miss an important point: that people just are not looking at any substantial representation of the evidence in any real detail (maybe copying what some website says, but hardly going further). You were attacking their logic it seemed. However, by the conclusion of you talk, it should be clear (to me the audience and to you the speaker if it wasn’t clear) that people can reason rather well frequently enough, especially to avoid diverting their life to do something they don’t want to do, to become an expert in some field or other.

    Yes, there appears to be a reason skeptics are not looking at that much evidence: they don’t feel a need to in order to justify a skepticism that they already favor (favor because of, and as noted in the talk, what their political peers might be putting their faith behind). If they can show numerous imperfections or failures of “the logic” in climate science, they have done their job *of disproving it* and can go home back to their position blissfully happy.

    — If the scientist pretends science is logic/perfect, then a “disinformation campaign” is much easier because you (the “campaigner”) have so many imperfections you can spend your time attacking. You can control the conversation and rack up numbers. It’s like a person who claims he is without sin and spends a life on earth hounded by all the adversaries nonstop pointing out his last set of failures. The minute you accept you are human, the minute that attack loses its power since we are all humans and now we are forced to have a conversation about darkness or lightness of gray rather the fact something is not white/black. Don’t make disinformation campaigns easy to be waged.

    Again, if you make it easy for your argument to be shot down, you have given the “lazy” mind we all have (by human nature and practicality) the license it needed to win and “arrive” an alternative conclusion with little work. You are making it easy to preserve a large army of skeptics. The scientists make it easy for the attackers to control the conversation. It becomes a game of finding flaws rather than of weighing probabilities.

    — The racking up of “failures” means eventually many people will see “scientists” as major liars.

    — And from personal experience, let me say that I feel my best moment of understanding in engineering took place years ago was when I realized that everything I was taught was nothing but a model. All of it is a simplification of one sort or other, but purposefully simplified because ___ (now I could go on and address the blank rather than struggle trying to prove how the equations and such would necessarily be true). This understanding also improved my understanding and acceptance of many other fields’ conclusions outside engineering.

  2. […] is always tentative, involves creativity, and so on.  For example, I argued this point in a recent talk at DePauw University, a 2010 blog post, and a couple 2009 papers published in the Journal of Geoscience Education. […]

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