As I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud* *and those who were too afraid to do so. Reading this book has managed to make me feel really down on the whole climate change debate in general, and on important science in particular. The issue is that finding truth is so damn difficult; every time I think an idea looks conclusive either way I find a new exception or new expert that has some very good reasons why it isn't. It seems less like a problem with climate science and more like a problem with morality being involved in scientific debate.
The issue is this: If you are utterly convinced that a particular scientific result is extremely important it is reasonable to think that it is more important to promote that result than promote the truth. Should someone who firmly believes that human civilization is headed for catastrophe spend as much time explaining the weaknesses of climate change models as they do the disastrous consequences if they are right? Surely the answer is that correct action can be more important than impartiality or truth so people can be justified in all kinds of deceptive or biased behaviour when action is necessary. The problem of course is that when many people feel this way about a topic on both sides a neutral bystander who simply wants unbiased information will find it nearly impossible to find.
A good example of this is statements issued by the IPCC in their various reports on climate change. There are many scientists who absolutely agree with the general consensus that AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) is real and a valid concern, and yet find that the reports issued by the IPCC contain information that is not scientifically valid. It does not invalidate all the science that has been done or change the fact of AGW, but it does mean that misinformation is being published under an extremely powerful, prestigious flag and people will end up badly misinformed. Note that I am not at all ignorant of the shenanigans on the other side of the fence - industry supported science (perhaps 'science'?) isn't better, and is probably much worse.
Of course the IPCCs bending of the facts is modest compared to real pundits like Al Gore or Martin Durkin. It is clear that people decided that climate change was a serious problem and decided to make the film An Inconvenient Truth that used junk science, ridiculous fearmongering and real distortions of the actual dangers from climate change to get press. Those people almost certainly felt like they were doing the right thing because they were educating the public about a real threat even though they obviously weren't trying to give anything resembling a reasonable picture to the audience since the real picture isn't actually that scary. Right on its heels followed The Great Global Warming Swindle which employed junk science, even greater distortions of the truth and intriguing political stories to discredit the climate change theory.
People on both sides of the debate feel like the issue is so important that it is morally justified to use nearly any tactic to get people on board with their interpretation of the facts. *Both* sides purport to be saving future generations, one from a climate holocaust, the other from poverty. There are people who really do simply want to get the truth out but the lines of communication are clogged with information from people who honestly believe that the debate is settled and the only thing left is winning the public relations war.