Climate rhetoric will not save us

Bryan Appleyard has an article in yesterday’s Sunday Times in which he provides his own rambling reaction to the so-called “ClimateGate” furore. Appleyard is on the side of the angels, and when it comes to the science he is mostly correct. The problem is that he’s right for the wrong reasons.

What we have here is science by rhetoric, not evidence and due process. One could even argue that as popular science communication the approach taken by Appleyard is morally corrupt.

Appleyard refers scathingly to “dinner-party eco warriors” and “bone-head” denialists, and the article of full of witty put-downs of the latter. This is knockabout stuff, largely devoid of substantive comment. It’s a typical example of metropolitan media punditry lite. The subject is deserving of intelligent (and even witty) comment, but this is not a particularly constructive contribution to the debate, and will most likely grate on those sceptical about the scientific climate consensus.

I’m not talking about hardcore denialists, but rather the understandably confused masses who get their science from daily papers and the odd television documentary. One of my concerns is that many of Appleyard’s readers will have a Baccalaureate or A-level understanding of science, and from their schooldays recall enough basic physics to spot the oversimplifications in the journalist’s presentation. As a result they will pick holes in the argument as a whole, and we’ve thus made little or no progress in advancing scientific understanding.

Hat tip: Gareth Williams