Blog The NonSequitor has a post on the use and misuse of anecdotes in discussions of climate change.  It is an interesting, well-reasoned piece that I largely agree with.  However, I think the post sort of misses the point of the politics of climate change – to get anything done on this issue requires thinking very carefully about how to communicate findings and ideas with the public.  While I agree, in principle, that arguing against climate change or climate change science by picking at an imperfect anecdote (i.e. Al Gore making it seem like 20 meters of sea level rise is impending) does not really address the underlying science, or the soundness of the underlying argument, the assumption that John Casey is making in this post is that science and truth are driving political decision-making.  They do not.

The simple difference between politics and science: in science, there are problems and solutions (or at least means of coming to a solution).  In politics, there are issues and interests that require debate, consideration and compromise.  Science and data are just fodder for that process – they always have been.  Scientists fundamentally fail to recognize this when they engage the political process, and tend to become frustrated when what seems self-evident to them ends up debated, and when obvious solutions get watered down or buried.  Folks, we are not doing science when we engage in policy – we are doing politics.  And that means accepting that people will, in fact, “weak man” your arguments by finding one imperfect anecdote and using it against the whole argument.  Yes, it’s intellectually dishonest.  It is also reality.

Politics does not deal in truth, it deals in tactics.  And that means we have to be tactically aware of what we are doing when we lay out examples and anecdotes.  It also means that we have to be aggressive in addressing efforts to “weak man” the evidence for climate change, instead of dismissing such efforts as not requiring attention (see the IPCC’s botched handling of the misrepresented melt rate of the Himalayan Glaciers).  It is good to know the fallacious arguments being used against the science – but only if we are willing to address those arguments.