2012-02-02 15:02:05Manufactured Scientific Controversy: Science, Rhetoric, and Public Debate
John Cook


I've gotten hold of a pre-press PDF of a paper "Manufactured Scientific Controversy: Science, Rhetoric, and Public Debate" that looks at the rhetorics of climate denial, and identifying similarities it to AIDS and evolution denial. The author also recommends how to respond to denial and one part was pertinent to TCP:

The second way in which mainstream scientists who follow their impulse to dismiss the manufactured scientific controversy are hurting themselves is by unwittingly confirming the very charge leveled against them: that they are a closed-minded orthodoxy conspiring to silence the opposition. Supporters of the scientific consensus can take measures to avoid being entrapped in this unwinnable argumentative sequence. For example, they can acknowledge that debate is important to science, while pointing out that debate on this particular subject has already taken place in scientific forums and been decided against the dissenters. Dissenters can be characterized as a small group who are given a hearing, but who have not yet offered a persuasive case.

One of the online letters to the editor in response to the “‘Global Warming’ is Alarmism” essay offers a model of this kind of response. Atmospheric scientist R. A. Brown begins by explaining that he has been a part of the debate for 20 years. He recalls “a heavily attended evening debate . . . circa 1985,” then claims to “have heard hundreds of debates around the world since then.” He goes on to note that “there are hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject. They support anthropomorphic induced global warming by about 99 to 1. Among global warming scientists,” he says, “man-caused global warming has been established and proven by the scientific method.” Notice how Brown describes the scientific method not as a process of data collection by a few heroic individuals that leads immediately and inexorably to the full consensus of all reasonable experts.

Instead, science is described as an open debate—a debate that on this matter at least, has been settled through a lengthy deliberative process among experts, not to the complete agreement of all involved, but to the assent of a vast majority. Th is allows him to avoid the charge that debate has been unfairly stifled, and places the force of intersubjective agreement (99 to 1) behind the conclusion reached. In this response, the scientific orthodoxy becomes the defender of democratic values, rather than the voice of censorship, and global warming skeptics become sore losers who unfairly dispute the outcome of a deliberative contest.

I've highlighted the important points that we should consider when framing TCP. If anyone wants the full PDF, let me know.