AusSMC blog: Where is the science in the ABC’s ‘I can change your mind about…climate’?

Tue Apr 24, 2012

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By guest blogger Stephan Lewandowsky

On Thursday the ABC will be airing the documentary I can change your mind about … climate (26 April, 8:30pm AEST) which tells the story of two diametrically opposed protagonists: A conservative politician, former Senator Nick Minchin, who is well known for his opposition to climate science and also for opposing the notion that second-hand tobacco smoke is detrimental to your health, and a young climate activist, the founder and chair of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition Anna Rose, who heads a grassroots organization of 57,000 members.

The narrative of this documentary is that Anna seeks to change Nick’s mind about climate change, whereas Nick is trying to change hers. They travel around the world together, meeting up with supporters of their respective positions, discussing the scientific evidence and challenging each other’s positions.

The documentary will be followed by a “Q&A” panel, consisting of the two main protagonists (antagonists?) Nick and Rose, and no—not climate scientists, but mining magnate Clive Palmer, and social researcher and writer Rebecca Huntley, and the Chief executive of the CSIRO Dr Megan Clark. This ought to make for some lively coverage, given that Clive Palmer has recently alleged that the CIA funded Greenpeace to harm Australian industrial interests.

So where is the science in all that entertainment?

This question is difficult to answer ahead of the airing of the documentary, although it is perhaps unsurprising that Nick Minchin’s supporters primarily comprise political operatives and bloggers without any formal scientific training, let alone peer-reviewed publications.  What is more concerning is that the world’s foremost historian of the organized manufacture of doubt that currently masquerades as “skepticism”, Professor  Naomi Oreskes, did not make it into the documentary despite being on Anna Rose’s list of experts. (Although her footage is online here).

One can cite other concerns about the documentary, for example that the ads refer to camps of “believers” and “skeptics”, which ignores the fact that science is skepticism and that scientific knowledge is a matter of evidence rather than belief. It is also concerning that Anna and Nick were each given the same number of experts to choose from when in fact 97 out of 100 climate scientists know that the Earth is warming because of human greenhouse gas emissions. A “balanced” documentary would therefore invite 97 experts for Anna compared to 3 for Nick Minchin.

Nonetheless, this documentary might be a good opportunity for the public to recognize the so-called “skeptics” for who they are—and to facilitate that recognition, Australian climate experts will run a twitter feed and a live expert blog during the broadcast of the documentary and the subsequent Q&A panel.

So, viewers who want some science with their entertainment can tune into the Twitter feed by #qandascientists and can follow a live blog here.

Stephan Lewandowsky is an Australian Professorial Fellow and Winthrop Professor at the University of Western Australia. He is a cognitive scientist who has published more than 120 papers, chapters, and scholarly books on how people remember and think, with a particular emphasis on the role of skepticism in the updating of memories and acquisition of knowledge.

Previous posts

16 April 2012 - The trouble with conflicts of interest

2 April 2012 – The paper is mightier than the press release