This post is in response to an opinion piece in The Guardian this week, Climate scientists must not advocate particular policies that is written by a climate scientist, Tamsin Edwards. It has spawned a number of blog posts already so I probably don’t particularly need to add my own but being the opinionated person that I am, I can’t resist.
Basically Edwards is arguing that climate scientists should remain completely neutral and impartial and should not get involved with discussions of policy. She says,
I believe advocacy by climate scientists has damaged trust in the science. We risk our credibility, our reputation for objectivity, if we are not absolutely neutral. At the very least, it leaves us open to criticism.
I completely disagree with her. Climate scientists are people in our society too and they will face the impact of climate change just as much as the rest of us. They therefore have a right to express opinions about policy and to lobby government for what they think ought to be done.
It may be that Tamsin Edwards doesn’t have an opinion about appropriate policy or that she doesn’t want to express it and this is fine. I can certainly understand why a climate scientist wouldn’t wish to publicly express their views on policy as this tends to lead to malicious attacks from contrarian bloggers. But scientists should be free to advocate for what they believe in and it is my view that we should encourage them to do so.
Health professionals frequently advocate for policy that would improve public health like plain packaging on cigarettes packets or healthy school dinners for our children so why is it any different for climate scientists to push for policy that they feel would have the best outcome for our planet? We need everyone’s voice on important issues like this especially the voice of people who understand it better than everyone else. Otherwise we’re left with the opinion of our local hairdresser or worse, someone like me who is not a climate scientist and who struggles to understand what the hell the scientists are trying to say in a scientific paper which could arguably have been written in a different language. The more I think about it the more ludicrous I think it is that the very people who devote their life to studying and researching the science have to then sit back and watch while the rest of us make the tough decisions.
Here’s what some other bloggers are saying about this:
Wottsupwiththatblog has written a good post about this called Science and Policy. One of the comments by Tom Curtis says that it is morally offensive to suggest that certain members of society cannot “participate in political debate”. I agree with him.
Climate scientist James Annan also blogs about it saying, “I don’t see why climate scientists should abandon their democratic rights (one could even consider them responsibilities) just by virtue of having some slightly better understanding of some aspects of how the world works.” I agree with this too.
Sou at HotWhopper has also waded in with a post, “Okay I’ll bite…should scientists be “neutral”?”. Sou points out that the very people applauding Edwards’ article, climate science critics like Judith Curry, are themselves very vocal in discussions of policy.
I just want to say one more thing. In the quote above, Tamsin Edwards says that advocating for policy will “leave us open to criticism”. What’s wrong with that? Criticism that is constructive can contribute to the debate in a positive way. I don’t mean the malicious attacks by contrarian bloggers. These aren’t constructive criticisms at all and they succeed only in polarising the debate. Criticism that is polite and rational can add something valuable to this debate and may even help foster some creative solutions.