Street epistemology and global warming deniers

‘Tis the season.

The season when the temperature plummets and the global warming deniers begin tripping over themselves to point to cold weather as evidence that global warming can’t be happening. As my copious letters to the editor will most assuredly attest, I wage this intellectual battle each and every winter.

In fact, I’ve beat my head against so many global warming denialist rocks by trying to educate them and point them to good scientific resources, that I’m now pretty much convinced that education may never work…by itself that is. Let’s be honest here for a moment. Anyone with Google can learn as much about the science as they can possible stand, so it’s not about access to the evidence at all.

With that sad realization, I’m now using a technique called street epistemology almost exclusively when I encounter global warming deniers. I’ve talked quite a bit about street epistemology in other posts, but it’s essentially a way of asking questions such that the person answering them might begin to understand they are on shaky ground when it comes to what they believe is true.

What do I mean by street epistemology in the context of global warming denial? Simply this: my goal is to get these science deniers to examine what is at the root of their eagerness to ignore the evidence.

Rather than point to NASA or NOAA or any legitimate public research institution or organization on the planet, my first question is now often,

“What evidence would change your mind?”

Because it has to go back to how people are determining what’s credible. For example, if someone asserted that global warming is a conspiracy perpetuated by the media, I would have to ask them how they could determine if they were actually wrong in that assertion? What sources or evidence would convince them to change their minds? Why are some sources more valuable or reliable to them, than others? Forget talking about the science. Let’s talk about how they got here in the first place.

Building on those questions, I might even be able to use an analogy to cause the person to doubt the criteria they are using when choosing what to value as a credible source regarding climate science. I might say something like,

“I have a friend who insists that the claim that cigarettes cause cancer, is a vast media conspiracy. In fact, this friend refuses to look at any scientific data. Do you think he is using a reasonable approach?”

Just recently I encountered on Twitter, a rather belligerent fellow who claimed that anyone with “common sense” can see that global warming is a hoax. He went on to say as you can see in the tweet below, that he uses common sense to make determinations about the truthfulness of scientific claims. Rather than get baited in to a fact fest or a defense of liberalism or even Al Gore, I asked this question:

“Can you think of an example where scientific data showed common sense to be incorrect?

He never responded. I’d like to believe that he was able to think of an example, for there are many, and decided it best not to further embarrass himself on a public platform. Maybe he’s re-evaluating “common sense” as a reliable method for validating scientific facts.

As the temperature hovers around freezing, I’m sure I’ll have ample opportunity to try these questions again. Stay warm!

2 thoughts on “Street epistemology and global warming deniers

  1. Thanks for showing how easy and effective a Socratic can be in bringing people to facing the truth. I have notice this approach in several of your posts, and am glad to know that I am not alone.

    I have found it far less confrontational, and have even made a few friends along the way. So far most have agreed to politely disagree, but at least that is a good start towards an honest discussion of the facts, and a major reduction in the emotional venom so common among science deniers .

    • That’s fantastic to hear Michael. These kinds of thoughtful, polite interactions help erode many of the labels that often get plastered on to skeptics. Thanks for reading!

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