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Brandis confuses right to be heard with right to be taken seriously

Posted on 5 May 2014 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from The Conversation by Peter Ellerton

In a recent interview, federal attorney-general George Brandis laments that deniers of climate science are being “excluded” from the debate. On the surface this seems a justifiable complaint, but the point hangs on what he means by “excluded”. Brandis said he was:

…really shocked by the sheer authoritarianism of those who would have excluded from the debate the point of view of people who were climate change deniers.

The literal sense of “excluded” implies that no commentary is permitted that does not resonate with accepted scientific wisdom on climate change. This is clearly not the case. Australia boasts one of the world’s best examples of mainstream climate science denial, evident in both expressed political opinion and in the provision of media platforms for those wishing to express such views.

A more figurative sense of “exclusion” might be that those who do not accept the scientific findings are under social or political pressure to keep silent. This is where it gets interesting.

Echoes of vaccination and evolution ‘debates’

Debates over disparate areas such as vaccination and creationism survive because of a call to see both sides of the coin. The truth, at least for these issues, is that there is no coin. To pretend otherwise is to perpetuate an irrational approach.

Climate change is not as well understood as vaccination or evolution, and I would not put deniers of climate science in the same camp as anti-vaccination and anti-evolution movements, but there is an increasing trend among them all to adopt similar methods.

The most obvious of these is appealing to the right to be heard, to see both sides of the coin. Brandis hopes that our natural repulsion at excluding a particular view from the public arena will be aroused in support of climate science denial. This, however, ignores a vital characteristic of public debate: when ideas suffer body blows of sustained scientific refutation any attempt to maintain their status by appeal to an equal right of hearing is also an attempt to exempt them from evidential requirements and argumentative rigour.

George Brandis ought to accept that the less credible a point of view, the less prominence it gets. Daniel Munoz/AAP

The rules of rational engagement demand evidence and argument, not repetitive appeals for a fair hearing. If the evidence in support of a view is not forthcoming, or if the arguments in its favour are weak, its public profile should diminish.

The very nature of a fair hearing is that evidence is weighed and arguments heard, and the ultimate fate of an idea should be a function of this process. This is not to say that it can never be resurrected, or that investigation cannot continue, but simply that it must lose epistemic credibility in proportion to its failings. Anything else is dogma, and this is what much of climate science denial has become.

Brandis has confused the right to speak an idea with the non-existent right that the idea be given credibility. He says in the interview that the scientific community and its supporters simply attempt to delegitimise “the views of those who disagree, rather than engaging with them intellectually and showing them why they are wrong”. This is demonstrably false, as many attempts are regularly made to do just that.

Continually arguing for the right to engage and then refusing engagement is what earns the moniker “denier”. The explanation by “sceptics” of climate science, vaccination and evolution given to cover lack of engagement centres on conspiracy theories. Conspiracies of scientists, political movements and business interests supposedly explain the absence of argument.

Demanding a false balance of beliefs

The fact is that deniers of climate science are as free as anyone else to make their case. That the case is not being made is not a function of suppression, it is result of lack of evidence.

Other similarities with vaccination and evolution include contemptuous use of the word “believe” (also seen in the Spiked interview), which assumes an equality of cognition between belief in climate science and belief in, say, alien abduction. It ignores that belief can be the result of blind acceptance or the weight of evidence. It also portraits belief as a weakness and scepticism as a strength, but belief is not weakness if it based on evidence and argument, and scepticism is not strength if there is no engagement.

It’s bad enough that the right to be heard is misunderstood or misrepresented as the right to be taken seriously, but this is happening in the domain of public policy.

There is a difference between public expression of an idea and urging public support for that idea. The former is a statement of opinion; the latter is a call for government action (or inaction). Brandis seems to want climate science denial front and centre in debates of public policy, in the same manner that a false balance has been delivered through media representation of the issue.

It’s one thing for media organisations or community groups to attempt to represent scientific consensus as they will, but it is qualitatively different and far more dangerous for governments to do the same. Australians have the right to expect their government to act on evidence, not to promote false balance.

Deniers of climate science are not being excluded, they are being asked to step up. That they are failing to do so is nobody’s fault but their own.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Comments 51 to 60 out of 60:

  1. "Is your avoidance of the word alarming a cop out?"

    no, as I said earlier that future climate change is likely to be problematic and adaption expensive is sufficient to warrant efforts at mitigation.  By nature I am generally rather calm, rational person, so I may well not be alarmed by something that someone else would find alarming.  So I find it better to stick to the science than itroduce emotive terms such as alarming or CAGW etc.

    The warming that we have observed is not all we have to go on though, we also have the laws of physics, which you appear to ignore.  I consider that a fairly unreasonable attitude.

    BTW the meaning of "we know about the future" and "that does not mean we know nothing about the future" are not equivalent.  The former implies a much greater degree of certainty than the latter, and hence substantially misrepresented what I actually wrote.

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  2. Warren wrote "No more sacrosanct predictions of the future"

    again you are trolling, nobody is claiming that the IPCC projections are in any way sacrosanct.  Please give the hyperbole and rhetoric a break, it really is not helping you in any way.  The model projections tell us the consequences of our actions under our best understanding of the laws of physics.  To ignore them is to ignore what we know about the physics of the climate, which is an unreasonable and irrational position.

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  3. Warren, you state:

    we know "about 0.75c per century" is not [alarming].

    To paraphrase Dikran, whether some phenomenon is alarming or not is a question of the observer's attitude towards the phenomenon. After all, melting ice, changing weather patterns, and rapid ocean acidification don't have emotions.

    You can be as alarmed or not, as you wish. What you can't do, if you want to be taken seriously (at least around here), is argue your case on the basis of misleading evidence (e.g. the material from Joanne Nova and Craig Idso), cherry picking (e.g. "ice-free Arctic in 2013" when the correct estimate is 2016 ± 3 years), and outright false claims (e.g. your comments about the "Hockey Stick", which others have noted has been substantiated over and over in the literature). If you persist in doing so you aren't likely to get any more polite reception than you are now.

    Personally speaking, if you don't find an unprecedented temperature change, in geological terms, alarming (or at least potentially alarming), that's your lookout. Frankly it seems that you don't have the slightest grasp just how rapid and significant a 0.7-0.8°C change in global mean temperature over a single century is.

    Regarding your (again, apparently reflexive) dismissal of 9+ metre sea level rise: the simple fact of the matter is that 9+ metre sea level rise would become inevitable, given sufficient unabated warming. It would take a few centuries to happen (even worst case scenarios for 2100 call for no more than 2 metres of sea level rise IIRC), but it would be inevitable (because, surprise surprise, ice tends to melt as temperatures rise, and there is a lot of ice locked up in the Greenland & Antarctic land ice sheets).

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  4. Speaking personally again, I do find the current and projected impacts of global warming alarming. But you don't have to find them alarming or be alarmed to support mitigation via emissions reductions - you only have to conclude, based on the available evidence, that the human and socioeconomic costs and penalties for failing to mitigate warming exceeed the costs and penalties of mitigation. And, as others have noted, you can't exclude the worst case scenarions just because you think they're "alarmist", as long as they have a non-trivial likelihood of occurring.

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  5. O.K. Warren it is clear that you are just trolling, sorry, I have better things to do than indulge that sort of behaviour any further.  It has not escaped me that you have ignored the substantive points in my post (that you can't simply ignore physics) and have instead focussed on yet more word play. 

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  6. I need to note that Warren continues to mispell our names, despite he's been warned by a mod@10 where he rather wildly mispelled Dikran's name (it was not a typo IMO). Warren Hindmarsh@38 miselled the name of Composer99 as "composor99" (sic!).

    I also need to note that frequent mispelling of other names is his typicla modus operandi: e.g. he made plenty of mispells in the thread recently cut by mods (so the cuts did him a favour by removing embarassing evidence).

    Based on the above, and on top of the facts that Warren does not make grammar nor ordinary word spelling errors (far fewer than I do for example), I conclude that Warren's mistakes are an indication of his carelessness & lack of respect for people he discusses with. IMO, such lack of respect is another characteristic of deniers and/or ignorants. Those who take the debate seriously, do pay attention to the respect aspect, especially when warned about it.

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  7. Can I suggest that we DNFTT and leave the moderators to deal with Warren's childish attempt to bait Glenn. He has made it abundently clear that he is not here for rational discussion, so he doesn't warrant any further attention.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] I have deleted a number of Warren' s recent. concern troll, mini-posts. They were indeed childish. We have also asked our lead Moderator, Daniel Baily, to relieve Warren of the privilege  of posting comments on SkS. 

  8. It was curious that somebody who professed to have been “a strong supporter of alarming warming during the 90's” and who stated they still consider CO2 emissions cuts and renewable energy are “great outcomes,”  would have managed to effect some major upheaval in his understanding of things climatological caused by such a banal reason of somebody claiming it will soon never again snow in London (shock-horror), or some ridiculous claim that seas will rise by 9 metres by 2100.

    That this same person also considered a 6ºC global temperature increase in the same light (which I believe is an upper value projected by IPCC AR5 under BAU), had problems accepting the millennial NH temperature reconstruction of Mann et al 1999 (an presumably every other such reconstruction produced since 1999) while picking out the Daily Mail-esque nonsense-claim of an ice-free Arctic by 2013 as yet another profound gripe – how can this have been a serious student of climatology? Surely such claims were far too puerile to be legitimate.

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  9. Eventually, everyone will become convinced of "the problem".  If there is a "god", it's name  is called "Reality",  and "it" cares not about the machinations, denials, beliefs, ideologies, or opinions of any person whatsoever. 

    "We", who argue about the finer details of "this", and "that", with those whose beliefs are otherwise..  need only "wait a while", to see who is right, and who isn't. 

    Meanwhile "The Times, They are a Changin".  huh: seems damned obvious to me..



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  10. So now we wait to see where "warren" surfaces to claim he was censored.  Such a tedious business.  I have a feeling...can't explain it, that "Warren"  was a troll with muliple sock puppets recently banned from SLATE. 

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