Say hello, wave goodbye.
One of the intriguing aspects of the climate wars is that you very frequently see people dropping comments on blogs that they started off as unthinking believers in catastrophic global warming but when they actually stopped and looked into it for themselves, became skeptics. I’ve yet to see a comment from someone who’s moved from a skeptic viewpoint to an alarmist one, and unlike perhaps a lot of skeptics, I do spend a fair amount of time reading the alarmist output.
There must of course be the odd exception but the general conclusion to be drawn is that the road to a climate Damascus appears to be one-way.
That’s an interesting phenomenon in and of itself but especially germane if you write a blog, since for a blog like this on a contentious subject like global warming, there are only three pertinent demographics. Those who agree it’s a load of rubbish – nice to meet you by the way so lets exchange some tips and ideas. Those who can never be persuaded – there’s a beautiful little quagmire over here I’d like to introduce you to, and finally those of you who are unaligned but are capable of being swayed to the skeptic viewpoint – you’re the ones this blog is aimed at, so hello my little Chickadee and let’s become the best of friends …
Seriously though, it’s an absolutely vital demographic to identify – those who can genuinely change their mind.
A recent survey of over 5000 skeptics regularly contributing to the big climate skeptic sites came up with some interesting statistics about those who responded. Four out of five of them had degrees, with nearly a half of those with an additional post-graduate qualification of some sort. Just to stroke our own egos a bit more, most of the qualifications were in fields like physics, chemistry, maths, engineering and computing.
Jeez, chess club on a Saturday night must have been a bloody riot with that lot around.
Anyway, apparently we’re chock-a-block with all those hard degrees which make our brightest become unemployable in these wonderful days of post-industrial service economies, where everyone is frantically selling each other intangibles like financial services which nobody actually needs and at the same time nobody actually manufactures a damn thing. They might as well have done media studies, which I’m led to believe comes with a rather swish social life.
I can’t help but feel a bit intimidated being numbered in such brainy company, but it’s quite a nice feeling though, innit? I suppose the comfort is that most ordinary folk saw through the illusion of global warming a lot quicker than the Brainiacs. Time to bask in smug mode …
A superficial examination of those demographics suggests an obvious answer to why all the climate conversions are in our favour; we’re simply more qualified and smarter than your average alarmist, as Yogi said to Boo-boo. Once what evidence there is as a basis for believing in a man-made global warming disaster is looked at critically by the scientifically educated, it simply fails to stand up to close scrutiny.
It’s a temptingly easy answer and a flattering notion but given a moment’s thought, it’s obviously wrong.
If all it took was a sciency degree to become seduced to the dark side of the force, then how do you explain away what can only be called the advocate scientists who, though armed to the teeth with qualifications, still think we’re heading for a global thermogeddon? Yes, I know they’re none of them first class intellects and indeed mostly fall into that borderline B double minus and C double plus category of academics – good at the committee work and superb at the bureaucratic infighting but they wouldn’t recognise a truly original idea if it sauntered up and idly gnawed on their arse for five minutes just to get their attention.
Thinking that some sort of science qualification makes a person open to persuasion to our admittedly unfashionable viewpoint is a case of the tail wagging the dog. It’s because they actually are persuadable personalities that they do have a tendency to get involved in disciplines like science. Moving over to the skeptic viewpoint is more about people’s innate personality rather than whatever qualifications they may happen to have, if any. Third raters go into science because they’re looking for a hiding place, second raters go in there because they’re under the illusion it represents some sort of definable settled certainty, but the best go in there because they know in their heart of hearts it’s the fascinating open badlands of the mind which can never be finally domesticated.
I’ve previously expressed my misgivings about polls in general and quite frankly, I can’t help but get the feeling that the poll in question had a subconscious bias towards rooting out and establishing some sort of academic respectability for being a skeptic rather than getting a genuine feel for the skeptic as a demographic. Thank you but I don’t feel the need to be clutching a degree in climate science before raising an objection to being legged over politically. It didn’t seem to take into account there were whole other spheres of activity like commerce or that can’t drop the ball career of raising a family. Strangely, a lot of skeptics with a brain are involved in a whole range of other activities, but you’d never know it from the set of questions posed.
Anyway, we’re still driven to ask that deeper question; what makes a personality persuadable?
The answer to that I think is quite basic – they are people who know they can be mistaken. In point of fact, they’re used to making mistakes and correcting their course. That’s how they learn and that’s how they get good at whatever it is they do.
You made an algebraic transformation that was in error, you correct it and move on. You thought the problem was with the carburetor, but it wasn’t so you look at the fuel pump. You wrote a program and it crashed, you debug it and move on. You screwed up the household budget, you fix the numbers and move on. After you’d set that crop, you realised you could have done it better, that won’t happen next season. Somebody shows you a better way to split a brick, you start using it. You made a bad business decision, you correct it and move on.
If they notice an error or anomaly, they can’t ignore it, even if that leads them off the consensus reservation. As JM Keynes said, when the facts change, I change my mind. Those guys and gals do change their minds and one way or another they tend to be the leadership types that others look to. They’re the quality end of the recruitment pool. Take a hard look around the skeptic blogosphere – nearly every one of the prominenti in it started off as an unconscious believer in the global warming threat.
Persuadable people need explanations that work, that hang together, reasons that make sense rather than being told to have faith, not sunshine being blown up their ass. Nothing else works with that particular breed and to my mind I consider them to be the influential people we need to get on side at both a micro and hopefully macro level.
That’s why I don’t do a you gorra believe me type of blog. I honestly line up my ideas and how they were arrived at; they have a provenance, a rationale and a stated raison d’être. They’re there to be kicked around, knocked down by the average reader or just thought about. I conjecture, propose, guess but never have the arrogance to dictate. My experience is that insulting the intelligence of a persuadable personality blows all credibility you’ll ever have with them, so I never do it. Yes, I like to have fun expressing those ideas but any eloquence is never at the expense of fidelity to them.
You only get one shot with them and that’s all I ask. If our ideas have any merit, that’s all we should ever need. The result I always want is one volunteer and as they say, one volunteer is worth ten conscripts. What they decide to do from there on out is a matter I leave to them and their own thoughts.
This is a little island in the blogosphere. Ships pass by, I wave at them and perhaps someone who happens to be on deck at the time waves back and takes away some thoughts. It’s by such and such, we progress.
Update. A follow up article to this one can be found here.
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