Can science ever win the argument?

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Garden, 1 OctoberThe UK is enjoying a very unseasonal heatwave at the moment and, supposedly, today is set to be the warmest ever October day. I am writing this in the garden (see photograph) and the heat is high and the humidity higher – and it will be warmer yet.

All the global warming deniers who crowed over the statistics that showed Summer 2011 was the coldest in twenty or more years all suddenly seem to have gone quiet – an opportunity to give them a good (intellectual) kicking?

No, not really: tempting though it is.

Apart from a tiny handful of genuine scientific sceptics, the deniers are, to a man, driven by ideology and not any sort of scientific concern. In that sense they are more like those who denied Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler than anything else. Then the claim was the scientists must be wrong because they sought to defile the perfection of God’s creation, today it is because the scientists dare to print results that show that markets are dysfunctional.

The scientists should stick to science – and that means a focus on climate and not weather. Climate change means that the UK could actually get very much colder in the future, at least in winter, if changes disrupt wind and current patterns in the North Atlantic.

Scientists need to win on the science. But they should not enter into the debate as innocents abroad either. When publishers or broadcasters highlight this or that change in the weather and ask for scientific comment then scientists should engage – but primarily to explain that the media have got it wrong and are playing the deniers’ game.

And that should also be the case when some of the more apocalyptic predictions are being made too – the claim that half the UK would be under water as a result of melting ice caps caused a sensation back in 1989, but in the long term it has only damaged efforts to get policy makers to take the science seriously.