President Barack Obama recently warned the country about climate change, referencing the recently released National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress and published every four years as a guide to policymakers. In doing so, he called out skeptics: “Unfortunately, inside of Washington, we’ve still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they’re wasting everybody’s time on a settled debate. … Climate change is a fact. … Rising sea levels, drought, more wildfires, more severe storms — those are bad for the economy. … Climate change is not some far-off problem in the future. It’s happening now.”
Global warming and its dire consequences may very well come to pass. But with due respect to the president, his experts and everyone complaining about wasted time: The rigid tone, blind appeal to authority and constant use of the terms “denier” and “settled debate” do not reflect true scientific thought or serve the public well.
Science is about explaining nature. The scientist’s role is not to tell the public what to believe. It is to clarify ideas, as efficiently as possible, so the public can understand the questions at hand.
The climate debate isn’t settled; it has hardly begun.