Flip-flops, u-turns and how not to welcome converts

I was pleased to see the news this morning that Bjorn Lomborg’s views on climate change have shifted, particularly as his scepticism has often been rather thoughtful. In particularly, he opened up an important debating by pointing out that money spent on stopping global warming needs to be judged against not only global warming’s likelihood and likely impact but also against the benefits that could be got from spending the money in other ways, such as improving basic health services across the developing world.

Reading the coverage today closely, it does seem as if the extent to which he has changed his views has been rather over-stated. His views do seem to have clearly changed, but more as a case of a few steps one way rather than a huge leap. Whether the Guardian’s front page splash and banner headline were driven by their desire to make the story as big as possible or Lomborg’s desire to get publicity for his forthcoming new book I don’t know, though I suspect there may have been a bit of both at work in talking up the extent of his change of view.

Regardless of the details of this mix, the basic principle of someone saying ‘the evidence on which I previously based my views has changed, so now I’ve changed my views’ is a very welcome one.

And that’s why the language of “flip-flops” and “u-turns” (such as over on Left Foot Forward) leaves me cold. The negative connotations of those terms are misplaced because we should be welcoming people who say they have looked again at evidence or seen how the evidence has changed. Perhaps especially on a blog that talks about being evidence-based 🙂 It also strikes me as tactically naive, because what better way to put people off re-evaluating evidence than to respond with such negative terms if they come to a different conclusion?

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6 Comments

  • I think their choice of language is a form of triumphalist “nyer nyer we told you so” rather a complaint about his changing his mind per se.

    Still childish and counter-productive though.

  • I think this is a Good Thing. The trouble with climate science is that it’s not just about getting everyone into the Yes camp, it’s about getting the predictive modelling right and identifying the most efficient way to mitigate the effects of human activity. We do equally have to worry about whether steps taken are disproportionately damaging to the economy, for little environmental benefit. And we do need to check that companies touting green credentials are actually making a difference and not just using ‘greenwash’ as an advertising tactic. We do need skeptics to be part of the debate to keep standards up: the email hacks didn’t lead to the whole of climate science unravelling, but they did force the scientists to explain their findings more rigorously and re-examine their sub-standard data policies.

    If all the ‘thoughtful’ people end up in agreement then will that leave the debate in the media to the thoughtless fundamentalists from both sides of the argument?

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