Monday, January 07, 2008

scientific thought as a casualty of global warming fears

I asked a few friends over to watch Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, with a discussion afterwards

I was surprised to the extent to which the movie presented Al Gore himself, weaving his personal life into the global warming dialogue - his son's car accident, his sisters death from cancer, his failed Presidential campaign, his struggle to get the data on Arctic ice thickness levels released - how these personal and public events strengthened his resolve to bring the truth to the public. In my experience those who are genuine about promoting the truth normally put their own personal issues into the background.

The movie has already generated a lot of discussion with claims and counter claims

A court case has been held in Britain in opposition to government plans to show the film in secondary schools. The judge ruled that the film contained nine fallacies that ought to be part of any educational material. This generated more discussion at blogs devoted to climate change issues.

Transcript of the movie (with pics)

Gore's climate film has scientific errors - judge

Convenient untruths

The lag between temperature and CO2. (Gore’s got it right.)

Two of the above links point to more sophisticated discussion of the fit between global temperature and CO2 levels over the past , since often CO2 rise lags behind temperature rise.

Most agree that the Gore movie simplifies the truth but some some argue that he's got the big picture correct and its in the nature of the movie media to simplify things, that complex scientific argument would have less mass appeal. According to this viewpoint Gore's movie is an important wakeup call which represents a good starting point for further discussion. eg. not getting it

This is really an argument that since many other things in society are controlled by slick, manipulative advertising (propaganda) then it's OK for major questions of social policy to be conducted in that way too.

Professor Stephen Schneider:
... getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have
- Bright Future, p. 85-6
This argument is elitist. A number of scientists are saying we get it, the situation is very urgent and then its OK to promote an oversimplified view in schools and to the public. One problem here is that the so-called consensus view could turn out to be wrong. Another problem is that teaching the public to think scientifically is seen as too hard.

There is another way. Organise debates of experts who are pro and anti and publicise them to the max. It's a worry that some scientists have become so alarmed that they support the replacement of the public promotion of scientific thinking with propaganda.

1 comment:

Leigh Blackall said...

We have been discussing this same problem but around the film, The Story of Stuff.

You could chose to look at this film in isolation and worry that people will not look further. But I like to look at these films as stimulation for inquiry learning. You organising friends over for a viewing, blogging a quick review, linking to others, receiving comments, all inquiry learning stemming from such stimulus right?

I agree that it is a concern if policy developed by public opinion based on lack of inquiry is a concern. But it always has been. All we can do at the moment is use this web2 to add to the record, and try to balance the polished messages with nodes of inquiry. People will find it. What else do they do when they come home from watching such a film? Well, I reckon a lot will jump online and look for more leads. Some will find you and yours.