According to an alarming new analysis of the climate corpus, natural concept change can’t account for the dramatic saltations we’re witnessing in what scientists say the Earth’s climate means.
Climate philologists say the motion on the dial far exceeds background rates of semantic drift, and shows no sign of damping. They’re increasingly worried that—with recent disturbances in weather, consensus, acidification, pollution, skeptic, global, conspiracist, conspiratorial, trick, hide, what the peer-reviewed literature is, the scientific method, knowledge, evidence and other previously-stable concepts—verbal weirding could represent the new normal.
But Stefan Lewandowsky, Bristol University’s Professor of Cognitive Science and a regular CN contributor, doesn’t need to see the data. He’s already convinced that things are getting more frequent—because it’s happening to him. Anecdotally.
“Sometimes,” he confides, “I can’t even predict what a given term is going to mean by the time I finish a paper about it! People [who read my cli-psy research] are scared and confused.”
It’s even prompted Lewandowsky to rethink the legacy of a figure once dubbed the Chemical Ali of Climate Change for his predictions that children “won’t know what snow is.”
“We all enjoy a good laugh at the expense of David Viner, but I suspect we might find the invoice coming back to us sooner than I suspect,” argues Lewandowsky. “Do your kids know the IPCC’s current definition of snow? When’s the last time you asked them?”
For his part, he admits, “I’ve never tested my kids. Part of me is afraid of the outcome, I think.”
You can tell it bothers him. Furrowing his brow, Lewandowsky swings his famous analytical cannon around, leveling it at himself.
I look away. It’s involuntary—I’ve seen enough carnage in the cli psy wars; I know what Lewandowsky’s balls do to men downrange. Ugly, closed-casket things. Finally I hear the sonic boom.
“It’s… my brain,” he concludes. “My brain is afraid to ask.”