On Wanting to Debate

This has to be one of the lamest things I have seen in a while.

Fred Singer offered to debate Richard Somerville and Naomi Oreskes in January in San Diego. Both declined. Oreskes said she didn't want to debate someone "with a known record of promoting public misrepresentation of science."

This is used as an excuse to avoid debate by climate alarmists all the time.  But it makes no sense.  If someone is either a) using really bad arguments or b) spreading misrepresentations, I would definitely want to debate them.

Last week my speech at Arizona State on privatizing the operation of state parks was turned into a debate between myself and the most vocal opposition to the approach, the head of the Arizona Sierra Club.  When asked if I would be willing to debate rather than speak, my answer was "hell yes."

You see, I am actually confident in my arguments.  I was longing to have a face to face debate on this topic.  In fact, I was incredibly frustrated that opponents of using private companies to help manage public recreation were constantly arguing against a straw man that doesn't actually exist in reality.  You can see that in spades in the debate below (I am the second speaker, the Sierra Club person is the third).   Note how, despite nearly a year in Arizona of public discourse on this topic (pushed mainly by yours truly), opponents are still criticising the model based on hypothesized implementations, rather than observation of actual examples within an hour's drive of where we were speaking. 

I start at 19:45, which I am sure everyone wants to watch ;=)  And yes I talk too fast, to make it a debate they cut my 45 minutes down to 10.


  1. rsm:

    Science doesn't do well in debates in general. Let's use the classic example of debating creationists, certifiable purveyors of nonsense:

    You can be perfectly right and still lose because the other guy has set up 5 strawmen, given ten examples of piss-poor science that has already been discredited and thrown out 25 flat out lies. Classic Gish gallop.

    By the time you've properly shot down the first strawman and refuted a single point you're already 5 minutes into your allotted 10 minutes and the the public perception is that you are losing. The only way to win is not to play, because it costs the other guy nothing at all to lie or distort the truth.

    You may very well be right, but generally a debate is not the place to settle science. That being said it's a great way to promote an underrepresented point of view and a good way to air public policy issues, if not exactly the ideal way to settle them.

  2. srh:

    To quote Richard Dawkins, after he declined to debate a creationist:
    "That would look mighty good on your c.v., not so good on mine."

    The point being, of course, that when you wrestle with a pig you get muddy and the pig just has a good time.

    Now I'm not comparing climate-change skepticism to creationism, but in the minds of many, the two *are* similar. And if one holds the position that the skeptics won't listen to reason, then a debate is useless. Further, even if you do "win" the debate (hah!) there are countless others out there who will insist you debate *them* too.

  3. time:

    Sounded cool. I don't suppose there's a transcript? Or that they'd be willing to do a blog style debate? I love to read, less fond of listening.

  4. time:

    Sounded cool. I don't suppose there's a transcript? Or that they'd be willing to do a blog style debate? I love to read, less fond of listening.

  5. caseyboy:

    RSM or SRH, I'm a little confused. To whom does the word apply when debating creationism versus evolution? It seems to me that one either has faith in as yet unexplained, random events (matter from nothingness, life from inert matter and humans from amoeba type creatures)? Or one has faith in an intelligent designer? Have faith in main stream science, which has shown it will distort data to preserve its position on global warming? But accept main stream science when it comes to evolution? Hmmmm. Tomorrow I will not be giving thanks to the "Big Bang" or to luck or to chance. I'm going to give thanks to my Creator. Am I the skeptic?

  6. MJ:


    Dawkins attributed that quote to the Australian scientist Robert May.

  7. Bryan:

    The quality of the imbedded video is no good. The sound is passable, but the visual is scrambled and unwatchable.