The climate debate is dominated by appeals to scientific consensus, much to the chagrin of public discourse.
Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT who co-wrote a recent op-ed in the Washington Post directed at EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, begins his "short guide to climate science and climate risks for the educated non-specialist" with this: "Considerably more than 90% percent of climate scientists attribute the bulk of the increase in global mean temperature over the past three to four decades to the anthropogenic increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases that commenced with the Industrial Revolution."
Leading with the 90 percent figure gives Emanuel a psychological and rhetorical advantage, because questioning 90 percent of experts in any given field is believed unconscionable.
This is basically how the climate debate has been propagated. The public learned that nearly all climate scientists are in agreement and subsequently tuned out competing arguments.
But shouldn't the public at least hear from other meager 10 percent of climate scientists who dissent? Shouldn't we at least hear what they have to say?
Scott Pruitt thinks so. He recently hinted at the potential for a televised debate on climate change, so that people can hear directly from scientists themselves.
This is a great idea.
The notion that issues with serious political implications are better understood when openly debated is fundamental to all nonauthoritarian forms of government, like our own. Unfortunately, not many in the scientific mainstream support having that notion when it comes to climate change.
Emanuel and his co-authors responded to propositions of debate or Pruitt's plan of team-based investigations: "Such calls for special teams of investigators are not about honest scientific debate. They are dangerous attempts to elevate the status of minority opinions, and to undercut the legitimacy, objectivity, and transparency of existing climate science."
Rather than blacklisting those who have come to different conclusions, the scientists should maybe, just maybe, accept that some of their viewpoints could benefit from wider scrutiny.
Even though the percentage of dissenting scientists is apparently negligible, the public still ought to, at the very least, be familiar with their arguments, considering the implications of climate change and proposed mitigation policies.