An interesting debate was touched on in this thread, so I thought I’d elevate it so we can discuss it directly. Atreyger says this:

Imagine people who don’t understand the [climate] science at all … what happens is that you have a lot of hand-waving from both sides, with polarization of the pro- and con- groups who don’t know what’s going on and are just listening to others …

I guess my point is that if all of us would have a better education in science and math, then this problem would be reduced.

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This is a common sentiment, and there’s certainly an element of truth in it: If the citizenry were better educated in basic scientific method, statistics, and logic, climate contrarianism would have a rougher time of it.

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But, as Kaela put it:

… every adult in this country could go out and get a PhD in climate science and it would not stop the debate. The debate is currently not fueled by scientific understanding or a lack thereof …. Organizations like CEI are paid by oil companies to foment dissent, pick apart facts, to make it appear that the science is not, or cannot, be understood.

I’d put it this way: the notion that individual citizens should educate themselves to the point that the can adjudicate between competing claims on the subject of climate science is, to me, a form of privatization. The delivery of accurate information to the citizenry should be an obligation of public institutions. We have become so inured to the corruption of our public dialogue that we simply accept this now as inevitable: "I guess I’ll have to go educate myself on climate science to figure out what’s bullshit and what’s not."

But we should see this as unacceptable, and we should fight it. Two main reasons:

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  • It’s simply not possible for everyone to educate themselves on every subject of public import. Perhaps I could bone up on climate science, but what about diseases like bird flu? Health care? Economic policy? There’s simply too much out there, too much that is complex and specialized, for me to hope to be able to assess it all. I have no choice but to rely on public institutions — the media, academia, NGOs, and the government — to give me accurate information.
  • Getting an education is expensive. If we accept that public water systems will suck and buy bottled water, we give up on trying to improve public water systems. Who gets screwed? Those who can’t afford bottled water. Similarly, accurate information should not be something available only to the wealthy.

We’re so beat down about this that what I’m saying might seem idealistic. But I disagree. I’m not ready to abandon the public sphere to the greedy bastards and charlatans that are assaulting it.