Matthew Nisbet, in Slate today, gives thoughtful voice to my growing frustration with the way my friends in the science community have been approaching the climate politics and policy discussion of late:
The problems begin when scientists overestimate the influence of climate skeptics and their corporate backers. When legislation and international treaties fail, and polls show a decrease in public concern about the environment, the “climate deniers” take the blame. Yet the efforts of James Inhofe, Glenn Beck, et al. represent just a few of several factors shaping public doubt and policy inaction. More important, perhaps, are the poor state of the economy, competition for political attention from the heath care debate, and confusion over colder weather. We’re also faced with a widespread distrust of government that makes explaining complex cap-and-trade proposals that much more difficult. And it doesn’t help that long-standing rules in Congress allow individual members to block substantive legislation.
Given these factors, it’s not surprising that communication researchers, including me, have their doubts about the relative impact of Climategate on public opinion.
My frustration is that some of the smartest and most talented people in this discussion seem obsessed with the warfare right now, with smacking down every thing said on the Internet that they view as wrong, as if a) they could somehow succeed in ending bunk, and b) if all bunk ended, then their preferred political/policy solutions would follow.
I think both “a” and “b” are wrong. Bunk is Darwinian, and will always be there as long as the potential solutions to a given problem conflict with the values and interests of some part of the body politic. And even if bunk was somehow banished, the underlying values that spawn its existence (see “the Darwinian nature of bunk“) would still play a central role in the pursuit of political/policy solutions.