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What is “good science”? IEDRO volunteers discuss.

By Carmen Lee and Gary Reidister

Carmen Lee, a PhD in library and information studies from the University of London:

I find the question “What is good science?” to be very interesting, but not because it sounds like an intelligent question inquisitive minds would ask. It is interesting to me because it is exactly the kind of question asked by climate skeptics and doubters to deflect attention from serious discussions on the topic of climate change/global warming itself. This question has acquired a subtext, with a tinge of cynicism mixed with challenge. It is almost a “trap.” If we fall into it, we waste a lot of time and energy arguing about “Is global warming ‘good’ science?”—which of course it is—rather than on positive measures to combat global warming. Our target should be climate change and its effects on the planet, not spurious arguments and straw men that savvy climate change opponents keep trotting out.

Imagine someone who denies that smoking tobacco products causes cancer no matter how much evidence and how many studies are shown to him. If he persists in saying “The issue of harm to our health caused by smoking tobacco is bogus because it is bad science, because it is not proven beyond any doubt,” people will simply ignore him.

People don’t put on hold health and smoke cessation campaigns just because a tiny minority whips out a “good/bad science” ploy. People don’t spend time arguing whether the research is 100% or 90% conclusive. Why not?  Because the crux of the matter lies not in whether smoking leads to cancer is “good” or “bad” science. The issue of climate change is no different.

At the end of the day, for the vast majority of us, it is not all that important to have a perfect understanding of what is good science. What IS hugely important is understanding and finding good SOURCES OF INFORMATION WE CAN TRUST, sources for government policies, science, health and medicine, economic development, social issues, etc. We can’t read all the scientific, economic, political documents ourselves. We can’t be learned in all fields of knowledge. But we CAN stay informed and we CAN be concerned and caring citizens through thoughtful, judicious engagement with sources we come to trust and respect. (And according to all the sources that I find trustworthy, climate change is real and studies on the subject are “good science.”)

There are all sorts of other reasons for the public’s “trust deficit” when it comes to environment science. For example, poor science literacy in the general population, is coupled with the lack of leadership in the science community that will speak with one forceful, authoritative voice when it comes to climate science.

Gary Reidister’s Response:

Carmen’s response on the good science question is very interesting. Here’s how I see it.

A poll released 1/27/10 by George Mason University and Yale University: Only 50 percent of Americans now say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” about global warming, a 13-point decrease. [50% are not concerned!]

The percentage of Americans who think global warming is occurring has declined 14 points, to 57 percent. [43% think global warming is not occurring!]

The Rasmussen poll:

52 percent of Americans said there continues to be significant disagreement within the scientific community over global warming.

59 percent also said it is at least somewhat likely that some scientists have falsified research data to support their own theories and beliefs about global warming.

43 percent say we should wait a few years to see if global warming is real before making major changes.

Global warming is a political issue. People are looking for reasons to dismiss the notion to reassure themselves. Pinheads get their propaganda out through the media to call global warming science into question. Consequently, climate scientists must explain why their research is good science.

Regarding Lee’s argument about tobacco the cancer/smoking link was denied in the 1940s and 50s. The tobacco industry through their propaganda arm the Tobacco Industry Research Committee denied the smoking/lung cancer link in ads in major newspapers across the country: “[T]he products we make are not injurious to health…. At one time or another during [the 300 years of tobacco use] critics have held it responsible for practically every disease of the human body. One by one these charges have been abandoned for lack of evidence.” “Tobacco Industry Research Committee formed to Study Smoking’s Link to Cancer,” Associated Press, Jan. 5, 1954.

Regarding the public’s “trust deficit” when it comes to environment science, such as poor science literacy, because the average person lacks science literacy he needs to know what good science is as it relates to global warming. Seems to me climate scientists and concerned citizens are waging a campaign, similar to a campaign for political office—for action on global warming and so, as in a campaign, they have to refute the deniers’ propaganda that global warming is based on bad science. Scientists saying ‘global warming is good science because we say so’ would not refute the bad science charge and so would give it credence.

Opinion by Penny Paugh

I’ve done a lot of internet surfing on the subject of global warming. Of those who refute global warming, I only found one that even discussed any research; and, in that instance, the research that was refuted was not actually cited so the reader could not go look at the reference. Ninety-nine percent of rebuttals to global warming are just opinions. If anything, the camp that refutes global warming does so without any science at all.

What I find alarming, in general, that if politicians deny something enough, the public comes to believe them and they just ignore actual facts or if the facts conflict with their opinions, they deny the authenticity of them. The gullibility of the American public alarms me.

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