James Hoggan’s Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming neatly expresses a key assymmetry that arises in debates between those supporting and those questioning the consensus view that climate change is primarily being cause by human greenhouse gas emissions:
When it comes to staking out positions and shifting the middle ground, industry-funded strategists seem to have seized and kept the strategic initiative. Any time anyone on the science side makes even the smallest overstatement, they immediately face the full resources of a think tank echo chamber attack. And because conscientious scientists are so quick to recognize and acknowledge when something is not exactly correct, the attackers have won many apologies, corrections, or reinterpretations, which they have used to argue that all of climate science is frail and uncertain.
At the same time, the more exuberant deniers have often said things that were flat-out wrong, and then have refused to acknowledge or apologize for their misrepresentations. In response the environmental community – lacking both the resources and sense of common purpose more typical of the antiscience crowd – has been ineffective in launching countercriticism. (p. 130 paperback)
This is certainly something we have seen in discussions here. Deniers like Dan Pangburn trot out arguments that have been factually or logically rebutted over and over, while hammering at minor components of arguments being made by others. When people dutifully rebut them again, it may provide the false sense that a meaningful debate is still ongoing.
Of course, there are plenty of other circumstances in which we legitimately hold one side of a conflict to higher standards. Scientists should not stoop to the level of denying their mistakes. That said, it does seem appropriate to draw attention to this asymmetry as evidence of how one side of this debate is fighting dirty.