Exciting news! The first pilot debate using Theory Mapping is going to be carried out in conjunction with Austhink and the Open University. The subject is the causes of climate change, and the pilot should be finished by the end of April 2009. Since it will be a pilot test, the results will only be released if the debating parties agree. However, it is the start of a process that will resolve the controversial debate over the causes of climate change by demonstrating which theory can really provide the most coherent explanation of the facts - is it due to human activity as the establishment claims, or is it more complicated than that, as the climate sceptics argue? If you feel strongly about climate change one way or the other, then why not join one of the debating teams? Please contact me for more information.
The details of the debate are as follows:
Topic: 'What is the cause of climate change since 1950?'.
Objectives: the main objectives of the debate are:
- Agreement on the facts: a table of facts about climate change will be drawn up that both sides agree to. This will not only pave the way for the public Theory Mapping debate (see below), but can be used by anyone as a genuinely neutral account of how the world's climate is changing and what is already known for sure about what is behind it.
- Develop the first Theory Maps of each side: each Map will provide the clearest and most comprehensive account of each sides argument, and will feed into a public Theory Mapping debate (see below) that will identify which theory can provide the most coherent explanation of the facts. A very early draft of a Theory Map of the anthropogenic case (with some possible Agreed Facts) is here. This is based on a quick reading of the IPCC AR4 report. Objections in red flag up areas that need more work.
- Evaluation of the Theory Mapping method: an independent evaluation will be carried out by Anna De Liddo from the Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) of the UK's Open University. For some of the key issues that will be evaluated, see this draft evaluation framework.
Participants: this would be between a proponent of the view that human activities are the main cause (anthropogenic theory) and a sceptic, possibly with teams providing them with support.
Facilitator: Strahan Spencer, from whatbeliefs.com.
Public access: given that the debate is a pilot, the maps and relative scores will only be publicly released if both parties agree.
Sponsorship: this debate is being sponsored by Austhink, creators of bCisive, currently the best commercial-grade argument mapping software in the world.
Timing: the debate will run during March and April 2009.
I think that climate change is a good topic to pilot test Theory Mapping for the following reasons:
1. ESSENCE initiative:
The global internet dialogue and debate experiment ESSENCE (E-Science/Sensemaking/Climate Change) is testing different computerised methods for facilitating debate about climate change. This can provide a good framework for identifying the value of Theory Mapping.
2. Problems with the debate:
From an official perspective the debate about to what extent global warming is occurring and is caused by human activities is now over, and the focus should be on deciding on an appropriate international policy response. However, there would still seem to be significant pockets of climate scepticism. For instance, the Climate Sceptics political party was etablished in Australia in February 2009, strongly denying that global warming is caused by human activities. Some of the reasons for this continued difference of opinion include:
- Lack of an objective method for selecting theories: Theory Mapping is based on the view that in areas where controlled experiment is not possible (and so theories cannot be falsified using the scientific method), society currently lacks a method for selecting the best theories. This applies to climate change since, as the IPCC AR4 2007 report points out, a controlled experiment cannot be done on the world's climate! (AR4 Chap 9, p668). Theory Mapping provides such a method, in which the public Theory Mapping debate will result in a clear ranking of which theories provide the most coherent explanation of the facts about climate change. This is therefore an opportunity for the anthropogenic theory to conclusively demonstrate that it is the best, and hence bring closure to the issue. But it is also an opportunity for the sceptics to show that their preferred explanation for global warming is equally if not more coherent, and so greatly increase their credibility.
- Different views over levels of scientific proof: it is argued by some sceptics that the degree of certainty is not high enough to warrant action. A key benefit of Theory Mapping is to uncover different underlying assumptions and require that they be coherently justified, so a Theory Mapping Debate may be able to resolve this issue.
- Disagreement over the 'facts': each side quote facts to support their view that the other side disagrees on e.g. sceptics often challenge conventional scientific estimates of how important carbon dioxide is compared to other greenhouse gases. Theory Mapping requires that for a fact to be given as evidence for a theory, it must be first agreed between both sides. If they cannot reach agreement, they then unpack the 'fact' into its different sources until they hit the 'raw' facts that are publicly verifiable and so cannot be disagreed over e.g. that scientific study A using method S concluded levels of carbon dioxide at Y, while study B using method T concluded levels of X. Each side then needs to come up with a coherent interpretation of those studies that fits their overall case e.g. if the sceptic disagrees with the conclusion of study B, he/she must mount a coherent attack on the method T that they used.
- Different interests: it may be that both sides of the debate have different vested interests, which makes agreement harder. In scoring theories in a completely objective way, Theory Mapping can rise above this.
3. High-profile: as a high profile issue it will be easier to find people interested in participating, and easier to get funding for the public debate (see below).
4. Academic: much of the debate over climate change is between qualified scientists, and so this is a good test of how well Theory Mapping can be used to improve the efficiency of academic debates.
When can the debate be made public?
If the first pilot is successful, I would seek funding for a full public Theory Mapping Debate with high profile scientists on both sides, ideally before the United Nations Climate Change conference in Dec 2009. This would later be opened up for public participation as a Theory Mapping Competition to find the most coherent explanation of the facts (for the difference between a Theory Mapping Debate and Competition, see the post Modes of Application). As a result of this process, it will be possible to resolve the debate over the causes of climate change so that all attention can be focused on the policy implications.