Professor Grant Guilford, Dean of Science at Auckland University, has a very worthwhile article about journalism, law and science, showing how our expectations of each area muddle the debate about global warming.
It is more difficult to answer why, in the face of broad scientific consensus about global warming, the public remains confused.
This disconnection between scientific knowledge and public opinion is not restricted to global warming. There is broad scientific consensus on a number of issues where public opinion is far more divided. Scientists generally agree, for example, that genetically modified food does not pose a food-safety risk; the application of 1080 poison helps protect native flora and fauna; and that vaccinations are important for the health of our children.
…another explanation is that journalists, in their quest for objectivity, strive to report “both sides of the story”. Unfortunately, this admirable ethos results in a systematic over-reporting of dissenting views. It can be very difficult for the media to determine whether a dissenting opinion is specious and should be ignored or is a legitimate challenge to orthodoxy that should be reported.
…consensus is not the same as unanimity.
In contrast to the courtroom, new evidence continually arrives during the conduct of scientific debates. Where science and law do agree, however, is that when a verdict is “beyond reasonable doubt”, such as with global warming, it is time to act.
It’s time to act. That’s what the science tells us to do. Act now to mitigate the risk inherent in our current behaviour.
It sucks being asked to change our behaviour. All sorts of rationalisations and temper tantrums erupt. Even for a rational frog like me. Too bad. Either we adapt our behaviour or we risk joining the fossils.
Despite the title, it is clear from his post that Professor Guilford thinks that the scientists do agree – it’s the public that struggles to seperate the wheat from the chaffe in the global warming debate.