Which is more likely to end up in the wrong end of a debate: a rebuttal or a counterargument?
When it comes to debates on science and science policy, the most effective strategy for conservatives is to make sure that no one is left with a winning argument, according to a new paper from the American Enterprise Institute.
The paper, “How To Counter Arguments With Science and Science Policy,” was written by Steven J. Lett, a former Reagan administration science adviser, and his former colleague Richard B. Epstein, who worked on the George W. Bush administration’s “Citizens United” Supreme Court victory.
The authors concluded that in the 21st century, the best way to counter any one-sided rebuttal is by making sure that the rebuttal focuses on the issue and doesn’t go overboard in terms of the arguments being made.
For example, if you counter a claim that the climate is warming because of human activity with a statement that the oceans are becoming more acidic because of CO2, that argument would likely have a lot more resonance than if you countered it with a claim about climate change caused by humans.
The argument that the Earth is not the center of the universe or that our solar system is a “failed experiment” is a much more compelling argument, the authors said.
And so, they suggest, conservatives should make sure to address counterarguments on a level playing field by emphasizing the facts and highlighting the importance of the evidence in their arguments.
“When the debate turns on whether the Earth’s temperature has risen since pre-industrial times or whether human activity has contributed to it, the debate becomes one of factual claims, and the debate about science becomes one about politics,” Lett said.
“The argument that climate change is a hoax is going to have less resonance than the argument that it is a political ploy.”
The authors also noted that this strategy is especially effective when dealing with the issue of climate change because it gives people the opportunity to respond to one side of the debate while keeping the debate open to the other.
“If you’re defending a claim of a hoax, then people will look at you with skepticism because they’re going to be looking at you as an apologist for a lie,” Litt said.
The problem with this strategy, the researchers said, is that the people you want to respond with skepticism aren’t necessarily those who are most willing to defend the claims you’re making.
Litt and Epstein suggested that conservatives should use a counter-argument strategy to make it more challenging for people to respond favorably to one position while giving them a chance to respond negatively.
For instance, if the scientists who study climate change were to respond that they don’t think humans are the cause of the warming that is occurring, they could give the claim an even stronger chance of being countered by people who think that it’s a political issue.
This counter-arguments strategy might seem counterintuitive, given that conservatives often accuse Democrats of wanting to make the climate change debate partisan, but it could be more effective in the long run, the paper said.
For one thing, it would give conservatives a chance for counter-debates by giving them an opportunity to argue that the scientists they’re attacking aren’t actually science-based.
It would also give them a way to make a case that climate scientists aren’t telling the truth and that their data isn’t being used to justify a political agenda.
For another, it could give conservatives an opportunity for counterargues by making it easier for people who don’t like one side to counter-attack the other side.
And, of course, counter-factual rebuttals tend to be less effective than factual ones, because they don�t give people a chance at an argument against the other argument.
As Lett put it, “We’re trying to get people to make their own choices about the science and the evidence and not just get them to listen to somebody who is just making stuff up.”