I learnt last night that that beloved liberal media darling, NPR, staged a debate that convinced a number of people that Global Warming Is Not a Crisis! So we can all go home now.
This was part of a new series of Oxford Style Debates NPR is bringing home to its audience in its new program Intelligence Squared U. S., available for download as a podcast at the website. I caught a few minutes at the end of the above debate broadcast on KVPR last night on my way home from our class (did anyone else in class hear this also?) – just a couple of the closing statements, including one by Michael Crichton, and the remarkable result of the concluding poll of the audience which found that the number of people in support of the proposition (that Global Warming is not a crisis) went up from 30% to 46% with a corresponding decline in opponents.
Now such a public debate (even if it is tagged with the name of Oxford) is no way to settle any question in science, of course, but it is likely to have some impact on public perception of the scientific debate (if there even is any). And since winning these debates relies more on rhetorical skills than on more mundane things like, oh, you know, doing some actual science (collecting data, conducting experiments, testing hypotheses, and similar tedious activities), they tend to be popular with deniers of science, e.g., Intelligent Design advocates (remember the great Fresno Oxford Debate about Darwin last year?), and, of course, climate change deniers. I’ll withhold my judgment on the new NPR show for now, and you can listen to this one (and others, including one about whether America is too damn religious) to make up your own minds.
What got my skepticism meter buzzing about this particular debate was the composition of the debate panels – in particular the inclusion of the pulp writer Michael Crichton, clearly the least qualified to talk about this subject on either side. But hey, didn’t he write a big fat sci-fi novel, with plenty of footnotes (which makes it more science-ey, don’t it?), about how global warming is a conspiracy by environmentalists? And didn’t he have an MD in a past life? So that must make him equivalent to any practicing scientist then, from any field! I wonder how much his presence alone swayed all those in the audience who turned around to start favoring the proposition – but he did display considerable rhetorical skill, sowing plenty of doubt about global warming, even while posturing as a rational skeptic who was “kind of stranded here” because scientists had not demonstrated to his satisfaction “that CO2 is the contemporary driver for the warming we are seeing”.
So that settles that, doesn’t it? And we can stop worrying about “the planet having a fever”, right?