George Monbiot has published an excellent article on deniers of man-made climate-change, “The Unpersuadables“.
I myself like to occasionally spend some time in my local newspaper forums to convince people that climate change is both real and—at least partly—man-made. Maybe this exercise is futile; someone will always be wrong on the internet. But in the process I learned a lot about climate science myself and my scientific communication skills are almost certainly improving.
It is certainly true that one can arrange factual evidence in piles as high as a mountain and people will still not be swayed in their opinions, dismissing the “so-called scientific evidence” with further, unrelated and equally flawed arguments.
I do not think, however, that open access, for example to scientific journals dedicated to climate research, will change that at all. People want simple facts and often tell me that “there is no single piece of evidence which proves that climate change is man-made”. If you point them to climate blogs, such as the excellent www.climateprogress.org, which is written by a physicist who often reviews new scientific results and excerpts them in a way understandable to the public, they will reject it as being part of the big climate conspiracy. If you point them directly to the underlying scientific literature, they will say they cannot be expected to dig through pages of pages of this gobbledegook (I can’t blame them, in fact. Even scientists from related fields will find it hard to follow a 4-page paper on global climate modeling). And anyway, why are they pointed to 100 different papers, when all they want is a single piece of evidence.
So what’s the solution then? First of all, I don’t think scientists are required to convince anyone of their results. We are not the public’s nanny. People, in the end, can be expected to take some responsibility on their own. Second, even if we tried, scientists will, on average, never be big communicators; rumor has it that the percentage of physicists with Asperger syndrome is far above the population’s mean level. It is therefore the job of politicians, who are usually not scientists but can be expected to understand the results of climate science, to convey the scientific message and to rein in media who are way too eager to present scientists and mis-informers on an equal footing.
My strategy from here on will be to answer well-meaning doubters and help them sieve through misinformation. The Unpersuadables, which are easy to identify, will from now on be confronted with the following question: In 50 years, when our heirs will be dealing with the dire consequences of today’s action or inaction, which group will you have belonged to: Group 1, those who faced the scientific facts, took responsibility for their actions and tried their best to limit global warming to a level we can deal with? Or group 2, those who donned tin-foil hats and with froth around their mouths fantasized about a global conspiracy of scientists and governments who, with a mountain of carefully falsified data, tried to put up a wind turbine in their garden?