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Science gets polarised when people only read their friends’ caricatures of their enemies’ views

As own goals go, this was a stunning shot.












Science magazine published a letter from 255 scientists (few of them
climatologists) complaining in remarkably strong tones about

the recent escalation of political
assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in

asserting, amazingly, that there is

nothing remotely identified [sic] in the
recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about
climate change

and lecturing us ex cathedra that

Many recent assaults on climate science
and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate
change deniers are typically driven by special interests
or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an
alternative theory that credibly satisfies the

before calling for

an end to McCarthy-like threats of
criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on
innuendo and guilt by association

(Would that include this?

James Hansen, one of the world’s leading
climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives
large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial
for high crimes against humanity and nature

Science chose to illustrate this letter with a cover photo of a
polar bear that was a photoshopped fake. They have now printed

Due to an editorial error, the original
image associated with this Letter was not a photograph but a
collage. The image was selected by the editors, and it was a
mistake to have used it

Steve McIntyre acutely observes the irony:

One of the apt ironies of this incident
is that the notorious “trick” email describes a procedure that is
essentially a “photoshopping” of the data – deleting adverse proxy
data and merging with instrumental data – to give a false
rhetorical impression in the diagram.

Yet, undeterred by the embarassment, the senior author of the
letter now attacks climate moderates over the issue:

Of course scientist must try to get the
facts as right as possible, and be willing to acknowledge and admit
mistakes. And of course the photoshopped photo is a metaphor for
the problem. But you (and many in the denial community — a
perfectly proper term, despite their complaining about it) are
conflating my dismissal of the selection of bad ART, with my
dismissal of those who would rather talk about ART as metaphor than
science as fact.

and the editor of Scientific American somehow managed to argue that the episode reflects badly on

The incident has become a perfect cameo
of the larger climate-change issue: scientists speak out on the
state of the research with facts and substantive arguments,
opponents jump on any small defects in what’s
to argue, honestly or otherwise, that the climate
science is wrong, corrupt or both.

Tip: this is not a good way to win over lukewarming

I was at a brilliant lecture by Bjorn Lomborg at the Royal
Society of Arts last week and was amazed at the incoherent rage his
mild and sensible lecture evoked in certain members of the

I have seen science this polarised and politicised before, over
the issue of nature and nurture, especially during the IQ,
sociobiology and twin studies debates of 1970-1990.  What
struck me when I went back and studied those debates for my
book Nature via Nurture was the following simple

Everybody reads the people they agree with; nobody reads their
opponents’ papers or books.

So the only thing they know about their enemies’  views is
what their friends say about them.

Admit it: you do this. I know I do, though I nowadays try hard
not to.

This is how scientific arguments get polarised.

Ludicrous things continue to be said about twin studies to this
day, for example, by people who are astonishingly unaware of the
facts because they have never read the original studies, only
critiques of them.

Hence the extraordinary spectacle of John Rennie saying with a
straight pen that the hockey stick graph has been vindicated. He’s presumably not read Montford.

Please will both sides of the climate debate read each other’s
best work?


By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist