When checking some odd stuff regarding taking care of our 3 year old, I came across this web-iquette for discussing your internet search results with the doctor. Many of the same principles apply to a layperson browsing the web about climate change, which inevitably raises questions about what is true and what isn’t. The list bears some resemblance to my effort at providing hints for how to distinguish sense from nonsense in the climate change ‘debate’ (or other complex scientific issues such as health).
Now I’m a bit of an internet-doctor myself, so it’s useful mirror to look into. The list is as follows (replace “doctor” by “scientist” for more climate relevance):
1. Do bring it up. “Most doctors don’t see your research as an attempt to second-guess them.” (as long as you don’t accuse them of being a bunch of frauds, of course)
2. Keep the tone conversational, not confrontational. It sounds so sensible, yet so many people offend this very basic rule of human interaction. Me too, more often than I want to. Tell us that the science is just garbage, and we’ll stop listening to you very quickly. Or we’ll tell you to bugger off, if we’re in a bad mood and forget about this rule ourselves. Usually with a reference to a link or two.
3. When you get a diagnosis, ask the doctor to spell it.
A-n-t-h-r-o-p-o-g-e-n-i-c G-l-o-b-a-l W-a-r-m-i-n-g.
4. Check who’s behind the site. ”Falling for information from untrustworthy sources is the biggest mistake parents laypeople make. “Anyone can set up a site called the National Association for Such-and-Such,” pediatrician Alanna Levine notes. Check the “about us” section to see if the information was written or vetted by doctors scientists. Look for sites from government agencies (look for the .gov at the end of the link), universities (look for the .edu ending), or medical scientific organizations such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology IPCC or the American Academy of Pediatrics NOAA, KNMI, etc.”
5. Don’t confuse personal experience with science. Anyone can write anything on the internet. Beware, it’s a dangerous place. And, don’t confuse weather with climate. Please. It’s making us soooooo tired.
6. Don’t assume your doctor has blown it based on what you read. Proclaiming that the science is all garbage just because you know how to use google does not impress anyone. Please refrain from doing so, it just makes you look silly. And if you’re really convinced of yourself, why don’t you submit your ideas to Science or Nature?
7. Let your doctor help you evaluate what you find. “There’s something to be said for a professional (such as a scientist) who has a base of knowledge and can help you sort through your own research,” says pediatrician Joseph Kahn. A doctor scientist can help you determine if the site is trustworthy (…) and if the information you found is outdated.” Expertise matters. You wouldn’t let your accountant do the plumbing and your plumber file your taxes, right?
8. Realize no doctor can read every single study the moment it comes out. “Medicine Science is constantly evolving”. Though that doesn’t usually mean that everything we know today will be invalid tomorrow. The big picture only changes very slowly. Eat and drink in moderation and varied, and get enough exercise. More greenhouse gases in the air cause more warming. It’s been pretty stable advice/science for a while. Details may shift (is coffee good or bad for you? How important is aerosol nucleation for climate?), but the big picture less so.
9. Definitely ask about what’s confusing or troubling you. Asking, yes. Bringing up doubts, fine. Rational discussion, absolutely. Accusations of fraud, claiming that we just want to steal your SUV, nah.
Btw, it’s Blog Action Day! (with climate change as its theme.) Check out some of the links if you’re interested in more climate related blogs.