Pearce, Grundmann, Hulme et al have replied (14 Nov 2017) to replies by Cook (28 Sep 2017) and Oreskes (28 Sep 2017) to a previous article by Pearce, Grundmann, Hulme et al (23 Jul 2017). It’s been discussed at WattsUpWithThat, but as usual there, any sensible comments get lost in the hubbub. That’s why here at cliscep we only publish once every few days. It’s not that we’re lazy, but we like to give you time to digest and reflect.
The central point of Pearce et al’s paper is that “deliberating and mobilizing policy responses to climate change requires thinking beyond public belief in a scientific consensus.”
And Cook in his reply effectively agrees, stating that: “Establishing expert consensus on human-caused global warming is a stepping stone leading to discussion of mitigation and adaptation policies.” Oreskes in her reply points out that Pearce et al agree with her paper which they cite. Finally, Pearce et al point out that both Cook and Oreskes agree with their central point. “However,” they continue, “they both continue to defend consensus messaging, either because of ‘the dangers of neglecting to communicate the scientific consensus‘ or because ‘”no consensus” … remains … a contrarian talking point‘.”
Which explains why Pearce, Grundmann Hulme et al think it so important to counter the criticisms of Cook and Oreskes by providing a detailed reply pointing out that they agree with everything they say, but will defend to the death the advisability of them shutting up about it. Because their research into the consensus is bollocks, and Pearce et al (and particularly Hulme) are scared that one day it will become evident to everyone that it’s bollocks, and Oreskes, Cook et al are risking ruining the party.
I’m with Oreskes and Cook on this. Of course persuading people that all the experts agree is an excellent propaganda ploy (or “gateway belief” to use the term preferred by experts in propaganda ploys.) First you get the sensible rational people who believe the experts to line up behind the science and spread the consensus message throughout the media, which naturally encourages the suspicious, the ignorant and the grumpy who don’t trust experts to line up against. Then the media can conduct a marvellous multi-decadal evidence-free bash between the clever and the stupid, and the scientists’ and the politicians’ hands are clean.
Pearce et al propose a number of specious arguments to try and shut them up, for example casting doubt on their scientific credentials because they cite market research data, when they only cite it when it’s already been canonised by being cited in a peer reviewed paper (or a book by Chris Mooney, which is even better.)
But Pearce et al’s real objection to Oreskes and Cook is revealed in this paragraph:
Cook interprets our argument as playing into the hands of climate disinformers. Far from it. It is the insistent demand that publics will only engage in relevant policy debates once they have adopted a “gateway belief” that is playing into the hands of those who wish to slow-down climate policy design and implementation.
Because that’s what it’s all about. Not playing into the hands of people who disagree with you by using an argument that they can knock down. Nowhere do Pearce et al point out that Cook, Oreskes and all the others have measured nothing, and established nothing about the beliefs of scientists. Their whole point is that the consensus is not persuasive, when the actions of most of the world’s politicians and “respectable” press, plus the opinion polls which they cite themselves, suggests that “The Science says…” – like “O’Grady says…” or “Simon says…” – is a gateway a great way of making people do what they’re told. At least the people who count.
Oreskes, Cook et al have established, as clearly as anything is ever established in the social sciences, that lying propaganda works. You can see why honest social scientists and thoughtful climate scientists might want to shoot that idea down. But they need to do it honestly.