Scientists vs shock jocks: who do you believe?


You know things are serious when scientists, traditionally non-excitable folk, begin speaking up in the media about respect. But it’s happening. And all thanks to a national debate on the science of climate change that has turned more toxic than some of the pollutants apparently in the atmosphere.

A group of 200 scientists will be in Canberra today for the annual ‘Science Meets Parliament’ event – hoping to grab the ear of the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

They want assurances that the public debate is not being hijacked by pseudo science … an assurance that may not be forthcoming today.

The Herald Sun reports:

“They will ask MPs and senators to make sure the climate change debate does not harm the vital contribution research is making to the nation’s future.

“The valuable and credible work of all scientists is under attack as a result of a noisy misinformation campaign by climate denialists,” CEO Anna Maria Arabia said.

The momentum is growing on a day when Tony Abbott will be making a real push for a plebiscite in Parliament which could force the Prime Minister to hold a $69 million referendum on whether we should move forward with a carbon tax.

He says Ms Gillard never gained a mandate at the election and is relying on severe public sentiment against the carbon tax to defeat a key Government policy.

But there are two debates here when, scientists say, there should only be one.

Focus on how to deal with climate change, sure, but not whether it is actually happening. A new campaign called ‘Respect the Science’ will be launched to – hopefully – give people a better understanding of how science reaches conclusions like human induced climate change.

And in some cases the battle lines are drawn: the meek and mild scientists on one side and shock jocks on the other, leading their respective ideological armies into battle.

Elizabeth Farrelly captured this division viscerally when she called radio shock jocks the ‘cane toads of the air’.

“They are the cane toads of contemporary culture: ugly, ubiquitous, toxic to most other life forms and adept at using their peculiar behaviour to force change in ours.

Take Alan Jones. Though it pains me to say it, he is forcing me to change my mind. Not on climate change, or cycling, or the right to public protest, all of which he opposes, but on censorship.

Broadcaster and ‘shock jock’ Alan Jones

These climate-change rants deliberately ignore everything about eco-balance, homeostasis, the greenhouse effect and tipping points we’ve all been taught since primary school and instead raucously promote a red herring.

Yet it’s neither stupidity nor ignorance on Jones’s part. Quite likely he’s read Robert Thouless’s list of dishonest tricks in argument, including caricature, anecdote and non sequitur. Or even Schopenhauer’s list. Bombast, hyperbole, personal insult; certainly he employs most of them.

The rest of Farrelly’s piece is a razor-sharp disembowelling of the faux-debate and well worth the read.

This feels like one of those moments in epic blockbuster movies where everyone has to choose a side.

What side will you choose? Who do you believe? And what do you think about Tony Abbott’s proposed plan for a $70million plebiscite (like a referendum but without changing the constitution permanently) where we all have to vote? Good way to spend taxpayer dollars? And that doesn’t even start to count the cost of the ad campaigns that would be launched by all sides.

Do you listen to scientists? Shock jocks?