PunchfaceMarch 14, 2010
Here is the way scientists think science works: Ideas and theories are proposed to explain the scientific principles we understand, the evidence we see all around us, and the mathematical models we use to test theories. Alternative theories compete. The ones that best explain reality are accepted, and any new idea must do a better job than the current one. And in this world, no alternative explanation for climate change has ever come close to doing a better job than the science produced by the climate community and represented by the IPCC and thousands of other reports. Indeed, the evidence that man-made climate change is already happening is compelling and overwhelming. And our water resources are especially vulnerable (see, for just one example, this previous blog post).
But the world of policy often doesn’t give a hoot for the world of science. That, of course, permits climate deniers to simply say “no, no, no” without having to come up with an idea that actually works better to explain what we see and know. That’s not science. It’s ideology.
This is a relatively common explanation of the conflict, and there are parts of it that I agree with — like the part about how scientists think science works, and also the part about policy not entirely giving a hoot about the world of science — but there are other parts that I think need a little more care. Namely, it’s not clear that climate denial is strictly speaking ideologically driven.
Oh, sure, some of it may be ideologically driven. Morano’s version of climate denial, for instance, seems pretty steeped in ideology. But some of it can’t be explained away by appeals to ideology.
Seems to me that a good bit of the denial comes in the form of competing ontological and epistemological claims, as well as competing views about what counts as good or reliable science.
It’s too easy to discount these views as ideological; but I’m afraid that doing so doesn’t do much to persuade those who are otherwise unpersuaded. By my lights, if the sticking point is actually over the robustness of the science, then the climate policy, the climate science , and the contrarian community that gets stuck on these points could use a good bit of reading in the philosophy of science.