I was recently sent a link to “The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest science scandal ever“. I invite you to take a pause and reflect on your emotions as you read the title. Now I’d like you to click through and read the article.
If you don’t want to take the time to read it, at least scan it.
So what did you think? My guess is that on reading the title you had a strong rush of emotion – maybe positive, maybe negative – and that while the emotions subsided, the conviction behind them was reinforced upon reading the article. My guess is this article did nothing to change your views, and served rather to reinforce them. This is likely the case with articles about other topics that have become politicized and around which strong, intransigent positions have evolved. This is true whichever side of the divide is promoted by the article.
For myself: The Telegraph was never my favorite British paper, but I always found it a serious and interesting, and while I might not agree with everything it says, I must at least take what it publishes very seriously. I must do so for two reasons: first, it is one of the small number of thoughtful and deep mainstream British newspapers, and its views are generally well researched and well-informed; and secondly its views are shared by a large number of smart and well-educated people. Surely it is the height of hubris to think that I know more than a large number of people who are smarter and know more about the particular topic in hand than I do? I’ve previously written about climate change in “The ‘Science’ in ‘Climate Science’” and believe the topic far more complicated and open than we really understand.
I think our polarization around climate change we have lost track of the root cause and concern.
People want to do the right thing. People especially want to do the right thing for their kids, for the next generation. We are afraid of doing things to jeopardize their future. On one extreme it’s easy to see how, in a world of ever more powerful technology, there are people who believe we are developing the ability to damage our environment in ways that will negatively affect future generations. And on the other, there is fear that by taking unnecessary and incredibly expensive actions, we are compromising the future.
I recently watched the first episode in the new “Cosmos” by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I have heard good things about the show and was intrigued. But it was a great disappointment – and not for the reason you might think. DeGrasse Tyson, while a passionate and entertaining presenter, for my taste veered too easily and frequently into casual asides that disparaged religion, and most particularly Christianity. At one point he picked up on the story of Giorgano Bruno, a Seventeenth Century Dominican friar burned at the stake. In his lengthy editorial caricature he presented Bruno as a brilliant scientist burned by arrogant and blind Christian authorities who were stylized as buffoons. In doing this DeGrasse Tyson set up for the series the tone of a war between science and faith.
The caricature of Bruno and the tone of the show is particularly troubling for two reasons:
- For an earlier post Children of Science or Children of God, I did a little looking around to see if I could find an obvious martyr for science analogous to the early martyrs to Christ. I conducted some research on Bruno and concluded that he was not such a martyr; rather, while his views of the structure of the universe appeared properly represented by DeGrasse Tyson, conveniently omitted was much about Bruno’s religious views, including pantheism, and his contempt for and outspoken opposition to the beliefs and practices of the church. Bruno appears to me to have been intentionally antagonizing the Christian authorities about the underpinnings of society;
- The second reason is I think DeGrasse Tyson has alienated the only audience that really matters for his show. Anyone with curiosity about the topics can find this material easily and in a million places; it is to those whose minds are closed that this show should and could have most value. But DeGrasse seems unable to hold in check his contempt for religion, and he takes too many of his opinions as truths. As such I find him a very poor advocate for a scientific worldview. And I find this a great shame.
I’m going to ask you to go back to the Telegraph article and take a deep breath.
It’s great for people to hold different views. What is not great is when they become polarized in judgmental castles and unable to engage in conversation, unable to learn, unable even to see those with different opinions as human beings. To break out of our castles we need to open our ears to others who don’t think like us and listen not just to the words, but to what lies between the words: the fears, the hopes, the underlying issues. We need to see people as human.
So go back to the article. If you “believe” in climate change, then try to find a nugget in it that might be useful, maybe the possibility that at least some of the scientific data has been manipulated, or the sense that there may be “climate change advocates” who are ignoring facts. Try to understand that most of those who disagree with you are not aliens lacking compassion. Try to understand that you might be missing not just something, but actually a lot in this argument.
If, on the other hand, if you oppose these ideas and viscerally support the article, try to feel some compassion for those who don’t. Try to open up a little to why they oppose what you see as true. In the vast majority of cases it’s not because they are stupid or willful or want to cause harm. Quite the opposite: we all have only limited information on which to act, and we selectively shape it to our world views. Try to open up to the possibility that actually they are ordinary people who mostly care about the same things that you do.
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