When first approached publicly via Twitter, Dr Karl suggested a private chat instead. But Roberts was insistent. Dr Karl then shifted to thinking about how such a thing could work: “Public debate? Mmm. Most debates are about scoring points, not accuracy. Can we do it in a way that allows verifiable facts to predominate?”
And there, right there [insert shouty voice] is the problem.
By debating Roberts, Dr Karl is giving his conspiracy-theorist lunacy oxygen. I’m not blaming Dr Karl or anyone (Brian Cox) else put in the position, but we are all stuck with a serious issue when someone like Roberts gets a platform like the Senate. There’s simply no way that Roberts is going to be persuaded – he’s seen the facts and rejects reality as the rest of us know it. His position sits solidly behind the joint bastions of his own belief and the irrefutable idea that everyone else has been taken in by an all-consuming conspiracy. Facts just wash off this facade.
So if he’s not going to be persuaded all that’s left is to publicly challenge him and highlight where he is wrong. Doing that has a lot to be said for it; and is, in my view, the role of responsible journalism. But doing that in the context of a debate puts both sides of the debate on an equal footing – it gives his ideas equal standing with the climate change he’s trying to refute.
At some point we all, and those in public positions in particular, need to call out ill-founded, simplistic thinking for exactly what it is and refuse to give it the oxygen that engagement with it provides. That’s not always going to be easy to do – especially as most people try very hard to be fair, polite and even-handed. But history tells us that being even-handed with obstinate zealots simply leads to them taking more and more ground and never ceding an inch.
Sadly Malcolm Roberts position as a Senator means he cannot be ignored and he has a significant megaphone with which to propound his beliefs. We all need to call out his errors and to point to the reality that science shows us. We do not need to debate him until he shows some signs of being able to actually listen and take facts on board.