It’s time for climate scientists to stop agreeing to debate climate deniers, theoretical physicist Dr. Kate Marvel argues in a post last week for Scientific American. And not primarily because formal debating skills are not among the superpowers many researchers bring to their jobs.
Marvel, who holds joint appointments at Columbia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, cites two good reasons to avoid the endless debates. “First, I’m a terrible debater and would almost certainly lose,” she says. “The skills necessary to be a good scientist (coding, caring about things like ‘moist static energy’, drinking massive amounts of coffee) aren’t necessarily the same skills that will convince an audience in a debate format.”
But far more important, “once you put facts about the world up for debate, you’ve already lost,” she writes.
“Too often, we scientists find ourselves asked to ‘debate’ people who believe (simultaneously) that the Earth is cooling, that it’s warming but the warming is natural, that the warming is human-caused but beneficial, and that NASA somehow made it all up in between faking moon landings and covering up alien abductions. These things cannot all be true. Climate denial is like bad science fiction: there’s no internal logic, the characters aren’t compelling, and you can see the scary things coming from miles away.”
Marvel maintains that she’s “happy to debate fiction, if we’re honest that that’s what we’re doing.” But “it makes me sad when objective reality is treated as something up for debate. We should be arguing about energy and tax policy, not whether climate change is real. If you love coal and oil and gas, feel free to make your case. But don’t pretend that burning these things doesn’t put carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and don’t pretend that this doesn’t make the planet warmer. Or do pretend these things, but admit you’re writing fiction and throw in some sex scenes while you’re at it.”