Why insist on balance when discussing climate change but completely ignore the other side on other issues. Societies depend on frames in order to understand and conduct conversations. The Western democracies have a common frame called balance. It is the belief that all sides are entitled to an equal voice. And that solutions can be found by considering their needs and demands. This notion assumes that all sides have a fairly symmetrical right to be heard. It has a lot of merit.
The introduction of GST in Australia was a landmark moment in Australian politics. After much parliamentary laughter, including the inserting of thermometers into chicken chooks by the parliamentarians, a compromise was reached. Foods were exempted from the GST and this allowed for the balance between. The original plan of omnibus taxes and the need to control basic living costs.
Sometimes, it is a good thing to resist such balance. However, balance is just one of many conversational terms in society. Sometimes, the notion of a symmetric entitlement to opinions is absurd. In these cases, an alternative frame is used which gives strong preference for one side over another and it is good. For example, few would suggest that law enforcement’s needs and opinions should be balance with those of organize crime.
Police And Judiciary Balance
The police and judiciary are legally entitle to tax revenues. There is no balance in public spending for crime lords and Godfathers. When invoking the law to protect rackets and bribery, no one would be call extremist. Tragedies can occur when society misunderstands the applicability of these two frames. Imagine the impact on a country if the head of the national broadcaster accuses the courts and police of groupthink and suggests that the judiciary should give more weight to the Consigliere’s paralegal writings.
Imagine a country where the leader of one major party calls the law crap but meets with one of Godfathers for a private conversation. These aren’t just frightening thoughts. These are frightening realities that have engulfed Australia. Several segments of society and media have lost control over which conversational frame is appropriate for the most important scientific and ethical problem humanity has ever encountered: climate change.
Climate science can only be view as a balance if it is base on evidence and not opinions or personal interests. Just as the verdicts of courts should prevail over the protestations made by organised crime, so must peer-reviewed literature prevail over internet cacophony and the opinions of think tank members. Unfortunately, science has become balanced by noise that can be disprove in just a few mouse clicks.
Cardinal Pell was recently confront by this ill-consider balance when he taught Dr. Ayers (Head of the Bureau of Meteorology) a lesson in science. Thumping an especially egregious piece fiction written by someone with no relevant peer reviewed publications, but multiple directorships of mining companies, the Cardinal called Dr. Ayers’s testimony before the Senate unscientific.
It is not scientific because Dr. Ayers used peer-reviewed literature to arrive at his conclusion that the Earth is warming due to human CO2 emission. This incident demonstrates that cardinals in modern Catholicism have the freedom to ignore the Holy See’s opinions. However, it places Australia in an uncomfortable proximity to the Land of Topsy-Turvy which is one of Enid Bluyton’s children’s universes.
It will be remember that Topsy Turvy land was all about down and up. It was great fun. It’s not fun. But it is a tragedy when certain parts of society lose the distinction between evidence, noise, peer-review, internet memes, and science. It is a terrible thing when parties rely more on science than public labelling.
UQ research has shown that Australian politicians more likely to be influence by scientists than any other source (e.g. cat palmistry). This ranges from 44% up to 98%. The Liberal party is the party that rejects science in the majority, while the Greens are the party that almost exclusively relies upon peer-reviewed science qq online.
However, the Greens are easily label extremist and the Liberals are consider mainstream. It is a scandal that scientists who publish real science are call fundamentalist, warmist or evangelist and are ridicule for exposing the serious danger humanity faces. This is the moral equivalent to attacking lifeguards for pointing out the presence of sharks because it causes inconvenience and costs to a beach excursion.
This situation raises several important questions. How can we get on from this situation? There are many good reasons to think that this false balance and attack on science should be abandon. The vast majority of Australians believe that climate change is real and that humans are responsible. We should not ignore the science assault and move on to renewable energy in light of peak oil. There are two reasons to oppose this option.
Global Climate Change
Research shows that people are more likely to understand the causes of global climate change than they are to act accordingly. Public misrepresentations of science can have serious consequences. This is because confusion about science can be a barrier to climate change action. Although the second consideration might sound a bit jarring in Australia today, its importance is still clear.
It’s a moral question whether society will tolerate or acquiesce in the attack on our geophysical lifeguards. Which do you prefer, reality or mindless spectacles? So how do we move on? Cognitive science has a lot to offer in this area. We know a lot about the barriers to understanding and actions, from reframing to research on social norming and reasoning and ideology to researching on them.
However, science cannot be balance without evidence. This recognition should be restore to public discourse. Shaping Tomorrow’s World offers a longer version with references and the opportunity to have further discussion.