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August 22, 2019

9/23/2017 7:29:00 AM
When is a debate not a debate?

To the Editor:

When is a debate not a debate? This apparent paradox is particularly relevant to discussions of climate change. E.P.A. Administrator Scott Pruitt, for instance, is planning a "debate" about the science of global warming.

But it will not be a real debate. You can't have a debate when the two parties do not accept the same process of establishing truth and do not recognize the same authorities for confirming what is true. If that is the case, you simply have a fruitless exchange of divergent views.

You also don't have a real debate when the purpose is not to establish truth but rather, for ideological purposes, to artificially cast doubt on a well-established truth.

Here's an analogy. What if some politician, who is close friends with the tobacco industry, proposed a "scientific debate" on the issue of whether there is a link between smoking and cancer? If you accept the scientific method and the peer review process, and if you accept the authority of medical science academies, you would know this would be a fake debate. The purpose would be politically motivated to question the well-established scientific truth of a link between smoking and cancer.

Similarly, the reality and danger of human-caused climate change has been established over decades through the most trustworthy process we have: peer-reviewed scientific research. And it is confirmed by our most trustworthy scientific authorities: virtually every relevant scientific academy, nearly 200 around the world.

Scott Pruitt, on the basis of his extreme ideology and for political purposes, does not like what science has demonstrated to be true about climate change. His "debate" will simply be a political stunt to undermine what that process has already established.

For several decades we endured an intentionally deceptive campaign to cast doubt on the medical science about tobacco and cancer, which was given the veneer of respectability by a handful of compliant scientists. Now the "merchants of doubt" are producing a steady stream of pseudo-science about global warming that pundits refer to in order to appear to be scientifically based. I'm sure there will be responses to this letter that will provide fine examples.

There are many things that can and should be debated about climate change, particularly what policies are most effective in minimizing the increasing destructiveness that we are already seeing. But we need to base that discussion on science, not ideology, disinformation, and phony debates.

David Barnhill


Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Article comment by: David Groh

The period of time of ice on Northern lakes is getting shorter. Walleye populations are declining, although this can be blamed on a number of things I believe that the Walleye's spawning success is a major problem and I believe that spawning success is linked to water temps which are getting warmer. Cardinal are returning to Northern Wisconsin. Who knows if we will get to use our snowmobiles next winter, ten years from now?
I believe the scientist that says carbon in the atmosphere is increasing. I believe the scientist that says that carbon is responsible for warming the planet. I also believe that the carbon and the warming has increased with the industrial revolution.
I just do not understand what there is to not believe. The planet is warming. The years ago predictions of temperature and weather extremes are coming true.

Posted: Monday, September 25, 2017
Article comment by: Patricia DiMartino

Your differentiation between an actual debate and that which Pruitt is proposing is crystal clear, yet people who go the easy route of relying on sound bites and anecdotal "evidence" can't or don't make the distinction.

Keep at it, though. There are very few people who still think the Earth is flat.

Patricia DiMartino

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