Saturday, December 26, 2009

Scepticism, blogging and science

One of the features of the blogosphere at the moment is the sound and fury being devoted to the topic of climate change. Much of it is uninformed by even a vague smattering of scientific knowledge. A lack of expertise is seldom a barrier to a fervently-held opinion, but this excellent post by Daniel Loxton gives a good guide to what can be reliably tackled by a non-specialist and, specifically, by a sceptic about climate change denial.

Loxton outlines four different scenarios and the contributions a lay person can make in discussing science.
1) Where both scientific domain expertise and expert consensus exist, skeptics are (at best) straight science journalists. We can report the consensus, communicate findings in their proper context — and that’s it ...

2) Where scientific domain expertise exists, but not consensus, we can report that a controversy exists — but we cannot resolve it.

3) Where scientific domain expertise and consensus exist, but also a denier movement or pseudoscientific fringe, skeptics can finally roll up their sleeves and get to work. ... But note that there are two distinct components to critiquing fringe movements: knowledge of pseudoscience (our own area of domain expertise); and knowledge of the contrasting body of actual scientific literature — a literature on which we are not typically expert.

4) Where a paranormal or pseudoscientific topic has enthusiasts but no legitimate experts, skeptics may perform original research, advance new theories, and publish in the skeptical press.
Though the focus is on scepticism, as a general guide to talking sense from a number of perspectives this is admirable and it is worth reading his arguments in full.

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