The challenge of campaigning scientists

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about the kinds of accusations “deniers” throw at those engaged in climate scientists. Hoping to write a fuller piece on their tactics, but one particular issue has come to mind reading reports on the recent Association for the Study of Peak Oil/Gas conference.

It currently lives up to its title and provides information on Peak Oil and its likely consequences, but doesn’t particularly advocate action. (As a body – many of its members do as individuals.) This is considered a good thing by at least some who seem unsympathetic to appropriate action, in my mind at least. See this comment on an investment side. The author is most put out that someone from the green sustainability movement was even asked to speak. Compare Erik Curren, a major voice in Transition USA, who feels that they need to campaign, or at least partner with those who do. If the world experts on this subject don’t speak out, then how does the issue gain credibility?

But that way lies danger too. The IPCC, which does urge action, is frequently accused of comprising only those who are biased that way, and hence compromising scientific neutrality. Or employing only those scientists in the first place who think we should take action. And to be fair, there’s a point here: you do expect people who are willing to put the effort into studying something to be more likely to have a concern about it in the first place – otherwise why bother?

On the other hand, some argue, as did a commenter in the Guardian’s CiF today, that the climate scientists obvious weren’t taking it seriously enough. If they all came out and marched down the street, then this person at least would change their mind on climate change. Or was that just rhetoric?

The questions seem to be: is it possible for a scientist to remain neutral on what they are studying, if they come to the conclusion that urgent action is needed? Should organisations stick to just research, or just campaigning, or try and do both? And how do we respond to accusations of bias?

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