Behind the scenes of scientific debating



Publication Details

Martin, B. (2000). Behind the scenes of scientific debating. Social Epistemology, 14 (2/3), 201-209.


In analysing a scientic debate, there are at least two types of relevant information. One is the debate itself, experienced first hand or via a transcript. Another is what can be called backstage information, which includes the debaters ’ preparations, plans, notes, thinking and reservoir of arguments and responses. Familiarity with backstage information can provide insights for understanding the dynamics of the debate. Often, the only individuals with much backstage information are the debaters themselves, plus perhaps one or two advisers or close friends. An observer of the debate seldom has access to backstage information. The next best thing, then, is generalizations based on backstage experience with debates of a similar nature.

Before I read the transcript of the climate change debate between James E. Hansen and Patrick J. Michaels, I wrote down various generalizations based on my knowledge of the backstage dynamics involved in such debates. In this paper, I present these backstage generalizations, discuss dimensions of asymmetry present in scientific debates, analyse the AARST Science Policy Forum and conclude with observations about the potential and limitations of such debates to inform political discussion about controversies featuring a mixture of science and policy elements.

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