What is truth?
It is easy in these post truth days to become confused by the conflicting messages portrayed in the media, many of which are centred on climate change and sustainability.
Michael Gove during the run up to the UK EU referendum said that we “have had enough with experts.” In the interests of balance the media must be seen to be representing both sides equally and so experts for both sides of an argument are found, despite there perhaps being a strong consensus (and evidence) on one particular side of an argument – so what is an expert and how should we value their opinion? One would think that the prefix of Professor would make you an expert, and indeed it does, but an expert of what? Climate change denying scientists, prominent in the US, gain traction because they are scientists but almost exclusively they are not climate scientists. Let’s be very clear on this: 97% of climate scientists say global warming is happening and it is caused by humans, the jury is not out, even slightly.
To check out expertise one really must look at published papers in reputable journals. A journal’s reputation is measured by what are called impact factors. Nature has a high impact factor of 38 whereas e.g. The Turkish Journal of Biology has an impact factor of 1.8. Where an expert publishes their research is an important measure of how credible and experienced an expert they are.
This is a tricky area because by far the majority of scientists maintain their integrity and do not allow their source of funding to skew their research to find favourable results for their funder. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, the funder will define the scope of a piece of research and this might mean only looking at one half of the evidence for example, it does happen. Fossil fuel companies have allegedly paid scientists in the US to muddy the waters with conflicting information, the funding is not usually for research though. Sources of funding can be anonymised via organisations such as Donors Trust. In any reputable research paper funders will be clearly identified, it is always prudent to check this.
Another argument we often hear is that scientists are all following the same global agenda so that governments are able to extract green taxes out of us. All I can say is that if this is a global conspiracy, it’s genius as it has not only encompassed almost every scientist, but also resulted in measurable impacts on plants, animals, ocean circulation, glaciers and ice sheets in the world.
If you think about it, the sure fire way to secure funding would be to do research that shows incontrovertibly that climate change is not happening, this would have money thrown at it from a host of vested interests. The reason this doesn’t happen is because the science is not there, because climate change is happening.
Galileo was a maverick scientist who no one believed and was proved to be right. Absolutely, but this does not mean that all maverick scientists are Galileo!
There is an argument that scientists with research that does not match the consensus are excluded from publication and presenting at conferences. This too has been researched and has not been found to be the case. The whole point of research is to investigate all the possibilities. Unusual results will always be double checked and try to be replicated. Over time as more research is done the truth starts to emerge as the research examines the credibility of the findings. This has been the case with climate change.
One final thing
Just to state the blinding obvious, a journalist is not an expert, an opinion is not a fact, a sound-bite can often be a half truth (or no truth at all!), unfortunately in a time constrained world and with the ebb and flow of social media trends, rolling news channels and Have your Say blogs -these elements are often confused.
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