Monday, August 13, 2012

Weaponized ignorance

I rarely turn my comments elsewhere into blog posts, but boy, am I sick of this particular dodge:

I asked a polite question which you have not only refused to answer (by not providing evidence) but have managed to infer I am scientifically ignorant, something you could not possibly know.
Ah, but there’s the rub. If you do not, in fact, believe that there is warming in the pipeline, you could simply state that, and say why you believe that.

If you are not scientifically ignorant, you are aware of the argument you are asking me for, aware that it is widely accepted by the scientifically literate, and that the burden of proof fails on you to cast doubt on this element of a well-established scientific theory.

Hence, your question is fundamentally insincere. You want to challenge this aspect of climate, but you do not want to be put to the trouble of formulating an argument and supporting it with evidence. So you ask me to teach you this basic science — without, I might add, offering any compensation — but not because your intention is the learn, but rather to shift the burden of proof away from your challenge to the science.

This form of “weaponized ignorance” is incredibly common. Some people will play along with you, but unless I am in a very, very generous mood, I prefer not to.

Let me lay out for you what I think is an honest way of engaging on this question, one that would get a more data-driven response from me:

Actual Skeptic: I’m aware that climate scientists think there is warming in the pipeline. Their argument, as I understand it, is “x, y, z.”
Actual Skeptic: I think that argument is dubious, because of “a, b, c.”
Actual Skeptic: If you are still convinced there is warming in the pipeline, how do you respond to “a, b, c.”

If you are not scientifically ignorant, you should be able to summarize the state of the science now and explain where and why you disagree. If you pretend to be ignorant of the science in order to avoid the burden of articulating and supporting your own ideas, I will always take you at your word and treat you as ignorant. And this goes for anyone who deploys that “I don’t know of any evidence” crap. Rob, I’m looking at you.



  2. Having encountered this type of thing many times I find this is an excellent post which I must try to remember so I can include the points in my own replies.