Ben Pile: How Not To “Crush and Bury” Climate Sceptics

  • Date: 07/09/14
  • Ben Pile, Climate Resistance

Paradoxically, it is the climate change ‘establishment’ that is afraid of science.

The Guardian has quoted Royal Society President, Paul Nurse’s outburst:

He urged researchers to forge relationships with politicians, lobbyists, religious figures and leaders of organisations in the hope that they might feel ashamed to misuse scientific evidence.

But if that approach failed, Nurse urged researchers to call offenders out in the media and challenge them in the strongest way possible. “When they are serial offenders they should be crushed and buried,” Nurse said.

A lot has been written about Paul Nurse and his predecessors on these pages. And there’s even a video. Like many of his fellows in what we could call the ‘climate change establishment’ (also called the ‘Mediocracy’here), there is a peculiar problem with his rhetoric.

For all his talk of the importance of science and scientific evidence, Paul Nurse never actually takes issue with those he now demands should be ‘crushed and buried’. The problem isn’t as simple as this [biologist] not knowing anything about climate science; Paul Nurse is a moral coward as much as he is an ignoramus.

Strong words, perhaps. But look at his injunction to scientists again:

Nurse urged researchers to call offenders out in the media and challenge them in the strongest way possible.

It is an instruction that he cannot follow himself. He does not ‘call out offenders’, to ‘challenge them’. He merely shouts about them, where he ought to be bringing the putative weight of scientific evidence down on them. Like the chair of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, John Selwyn Gummer, AKA ‘Lord Deben’, Nurse does not:

1. Identify the sceptics/deniers/dismissers/delayers
2. Identify the problems with the arguments made by sceptics/deniers/dismissers/delayers
3. Provide a better argument to counter the arguments made by sceptics/deniers/dismissers/delayers

(Tim Worstall notes that Nurse injunction doesn’t seem to apply to members of the RS.)

Instead, the likes of Nurse (and Gummer) hide behind the ‘scientific consensus’, rather than use the substance of scientific consensus to shed light on debates about the climate.

Regular readers here will know that this is a symptom of what I call a ‘consensus without an object’. It doesn’t matter what your criticism of climate science or climate policy is, to take issue with any claim made in pursuit of climate policy, or about climate science is to ‘deny the consensus’. So Nurse does not have to understand, or to share his understanding of climate science, he just has to shout about ‘denial’, and to attack the character of his counterparts. The consensus without an object allows its bearer to use the authority of science, rather than its explanatory power.

So. Much. For. Science. Then.

Equally confused about what science is, yet seemingly standing for its virtues, Professor Brian Cox this week took a break from producing wide-eyed cosmic-stupor documentary films, to pronounce on climate sceptics. The Guardian — again — reports,

He said scientists could say with total confidence that climate science was uncontroversial and the current predictions for warming were the best advice available.

What does it mean to say ‘climate science is uncontroversial’? A science that had no controversy would be a strange science indeed. Even physics has controversies. Science is not, as the Guardian article seems to have it, a process of gradually assembling a picture of the truth, but proceeds often messily, producing conflicting accounts of phenomena. Without different perspectives to reconcile, science would make no progress; it would either be unnecessary or beyond our abilities.

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