Science, entertainment or misinformation?

A friend suggested a few days ago that I ‘may be interested in this (forthcoming) ABC TV show Climate Change – Can I Change your Mind?

It is indeed the sort of programme I watch so I thanked him and looked further. I didn’t have to look much further, actually, since a pre-review was also on the ABC’s excellent website: I can change your mind about science on the ABC. In it, Stephan Lewandowsky is scathing about the lack of scientific comment and, in fact, scientific balance in the programme. The Sydney Morning Herald coverage (dare I say even the SMH coverage?) shares some of those concerns. I see no reason to disbelieve Lewandowsky, an acknowledged expert in how people arrive at their opinions, especially since his criticisms match the concerns which the programme information raised in my own mind.

While it is refreshing that the ABC willingly publishes such a negative opinion piece about one of its own programmes, that programme seems to have been disappointingly, frustratingly, ill-conceived in the first place. An ill-balanced pair of debaters, male authority-figure vs young female, in which the authority figure is mis-educated and plain wrong, is a poor start; and ‘equal time’ to pro and anti is an outright injustice in the face of the well-understood science of the subject.* Are they going to give ‘equal time’ to a flat-earther next week? On this basis, they might as well.

So … I will turn the TV on tomorrow evening but I will make sure, for the sake of the screen, that there are no heavy objects within reach.


* The way conservative media misrepresented ‘equal time’ as ‘fairness’ is something Oreskes covered at length in Merchants of Doubt. A fair balance is one which leaves the viewer/reader/listener with an accurate idea of the relative strengths of the two sides. Graham Readfearn has a detailed critique of the defects of the process on his blog.

5 thoughts on “Science, entertainment or misinformation?”

  1. Well said.
    Pity this stuff is seen as a debate, which is often about winning an argument, maybe a bit of showing off, loudest voice wins, etc — when it should be whatever word there is for a robust discussion that encourages evidence-based viewpoints with the aim of understanding an issue and the consequences of various actions. Climate change is just one issue in what could be a debate or, better, a discussion about what we want for the future of our species and our planet (opinions may vary), are those aims compatible and how can they best be achieved. Instead of always putting climate change scientists on the defensive and at the mercy of point-scoring nitpickers who do no one any good.

  2. As you say, “Climate change is just one issue in what could be a debate or, better, a discussion about what we want for the future of our species and our planet.”
    We shouldn’t be arguing any longer about where we are, since the science of climate change is as solid as the science behind the links between CFCs and ozone, or smoking and cancer. We ought to be moving on to a conversation about where we want to go and how best to get there.

  3. Well … I watched it, and the Q&A which followed it. The programme was far better than it might have been, mostly because Anna Rose was so good: articulate, well-informed, confident – and always pleasant in spite of considerable provocation.
    I didn’t throw anything at the TV and only hit the mute button for one segment, the loathsome Washington blogger.
    We were warned about cherry-picked science, and rightly so. The best example of it came in Q&A, when Minchin trotted out the tired old no-warming-since-1998 claim. My conclusion is that he is genuinely ignorant about the science, which is worrying but more forgiveable than deliberate dishonesty.
    Overall I will give the ABC an A- grade for execution of a C grade idea. It still adds up to a mediocre effort – better than yet another cooking show, but not by much.

  4. Some other responses:
    Crikey forthrightly condemns the programme.

    RE New Economy didn’t like it either but (slightly tongue-in-cheek) reckons there are five things we can learn from it.

    Michael Ashley at The Conversation analyses the programme just about the way I would, but does it better.

    Another writer (I’ve forgotten who – sorry!) drew my attention to a clip in which Anna’s expert, Naomi Oreskes, deconstructs Minchin’s aversion to the scientific truth in such style that all Nick can do is pray for deliverance. I guess he got it, in that the segment wasn’t aired on the programme itself, but the fact that it was cut further diminishes my respect for the makers.

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