On "An Ecomodernist Manifesto" and Mannsplaining

A Response from Blair King, chemist

Unlike many of [Michael Mann’s] peers, more often than not his negative comments center around personalities and issues of policy rather than the underlying science of which he is an acknowledged expert. I cannot count the number of times he has used the word “denier” in a tweet and his opinions about people like Dr. Judith Curry and many of her peers are legendary. Besides the area of policy, where he might have some limited expertise, he also appears willing to expound on areas where his expertise would appear to be lacking. An example of this happened yesterday when Dr. Mann made the following tweet: 

Now there is a pretty robust literature in the fields of Conservation Ecology and Environmental Econometrics and more than a few books have been written on the topics. Areas of research include the Environmental Kuznet Curve hypothesis, the IPAT identity (and its many sister/daughter variants) and many others. While I am certainly not an expert in those fields, my original training (prior to chemistry) was in population and conservation ecology and I have experience working in the field of ecosystem restoration. In my studies I was taught about a few simple premises that underlie human and societal development:

  • as societies become more affluent, their birth rates tend to decrease
  • as societies become more affluent, populations tend to become more urban as specialization and improved  technologies allow for a reduction in need for human labour in food production and increased per hectare crop yields
  • as societies become more affluent, their willingness to devote more resources for environmental protection increases as does their desires for improved environmental health outcomes.

I will not pretend to do this topic justice but I will point out that there is a very strong consensus in the field regarding these topics. Moreover, I am pretty sure that the authors of the Manifesto, who represent a pretty reasonable group of experts in the field, are more familiar with the intricacies of the academic literature in their fields than Dr. Mann. This is where the irony blindness comes in. As I discussed earlier, in the field of climate change non-specialists in the field are continually lectured about their lack of applicable academic credentials. However, as in the case above, these same individuals do not hesitate to step outside their areas of expertise to lecture us in fields in which they would appear to lack any applicable expertise. 

In the last several years, a new term has entered the vernacular “Mansplaining.” Mansplaining has been defined as “explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman” (ref). Based on what I have observed in the field of climate change science I would like to propose a variation on this term: “Mannsplaining.” Mannsplaining can be used to describe situations where climate scientists, who brook no outside comment on their field, subsequently feel free to lecture other experts without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer about the field under discussion.

Read the full response here.