Data and Dogma

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A friend of mine, who’s been putting out a terrific email list to his friends and associates, recently wrote the following:

…it does not take a peer reviewed scientific study to realize that the earth’s climate is experiencing a change. All you have to do is open your eyes and see what is happening in the environment around us. Or read the news…What amazes me is that a ninety year old man with a high school education can figure it out while so many others are still trying to rationalize the changes we are experiencing (“The data in inconclusive” blah blah blah). We can debate the magnitude of the changes and what is causing them but the fact is the climate is changing.

Here is my response:

Dear Friend,

Regarding global warming, I agree with you and believe that the data is rarely conclusive, but I also believe that the data is important to gaining lasting consensus about complicated and challenging topics.

In the end, advocacy is vital to solving problems like global warming, but advocacy without data is just dogma. The lack of conclusive data doesn’t mean we don’t need data; it just means we need the data AND we need advocacy; it means the problem on table is complicated and challenging. Charter schools, budget deficits, crime, lack of health care, obesity….easy answers are no where to be found, but there are still plenty of intelligent people on various sides of each of those issues…and the advocates on every side of each of these issues continue to require data.

More amazing to me, of late, are the holocaust deniers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust_denial). This is not a complicated problem and yet some people are making a claim that is patently false. How can you respond to them? I say you respond strongly with the data. From a 2005 bbc article:

…the eminent British historian Sir Martin Gilbert believes the tireless gathering of facts about the Holocaust will ultimately consign the deniers to history…More recently, Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah [Holocaust] Visual History Foundation (VHF) has recorded more than 50,000 videotaped interviews with Holocaust survivors and witnesses. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4436275.stm

Gathering the facts is what makes those without the facts unable to carry their position.

I know many intelligent people who believe that global warming is happening, but they don’t believe that man is causing the change and they also don’t think the temperature change is a problem. To convince these people or to convince society as a whole, we have to respond with data and with advocacy.

Best regards,

Tom

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