“As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do…. But…”

An extremely problematic statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Step #1: Wrap yourself in the credibility of science. Step #2: Mis-apply a debunked data point to imply that there is a clear scientific consensus about climate policy.  Step #3: Use thinly-veiled propaganda to urge people to do as their told.

First, they trot out the trope that “97% of climate scientists” believe in man-made climate change.  This simple statement has been debunked before.  But — even if this were true on its face — the statement is clearly meant to imply that scientists are in agreement, and — if only we listened to the scientists! — we’d have the right public policy in place.   That’s not true.

Then: “The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost.” This sounds obvious.  But it’s not obvious at all.  Why are the risks lower if we act now?  There are lots of cases in which waiting for more information leads to a dramatic reduction in risk (e.g., not submitting to chemotherapy before the results of the biopsy are in).

Finally: “And there is much we can do.”  This is very thinly-veiled propaganda.  Of course there is much we can do.  But that doesn’t tell us what we should do.  In fact, science is incapable of telling us what to do.   Even at its best, science can only tell us what is… not what should be.  And often it even gets the “is” wrong.

The folks at AAAS know this.  That’s why the sentence is empty of content.  It’s meant to imply that we should do as they tell us.  They end with this caveat which can serve as a guide to How to Tell People What to Do Without Telling Them What to Do:

“As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do or must believe about the rising threat of climate change. But we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”

HT Judith Curry.




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