A frequent commenter on many of my "How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic" articles has just taken me to task for what he sees as revealing inconsistencies.
‘paul’, who is generally respectful but still very antagonistic to the whole AGW concept, quotes me from various places saying at one time "The translation of what the science is
saying into the language of the public is this: Global warming is
definitely happening and it is definitely because of human activities and
it will definitely continue as long as CO2 keeps rising in the atmosphere." and in other places saying or agreeing with the phrases "still theory" and "no proof that it is correct" as descriptors of the whole proposition.
He concludes "such verbal gymnastics are only required when one
has to avoid having to state the plain truth."
While I think the argument is specifically addressed right in the article he quotes me from, I will expand on that a bit and see if I can satisfy paul’s concerns.
At face value, the quoted material does seem to be at odds. "Still theory" and "no proof" hardly makes one feel definitive about anything. The key is in the context, because words rarely have meanings that are defined strictly enough so that context does not matter. Science is all about theories. Nuclear physics is just a bunch of theories, but I would "definately" not stand on top of a Hydrogen bomb about to be detonated. Orbital mechanics is a bunch of theory, and with known problems too, but we still predict the motions of our probes with astounding accuracy (view that wonder in high resolution JPG here).
Clearly the vernacular and the scientific usages of the word "theory" simply do not have the same connotations of confidence. A similar comparison can be made for the vernacular understanding of "definate". We all use that word to express a high degree of confidence and it is not necessary to think there is absolutely zero chance of being wrong before saying "definately".
It is revealing to think about why we are even talking in so much detail about the meanings of specific words in specific contexts. Why is there any need for "verbal gymnastics", as paul calls it. The answer, of course, is that the "debate" over anthropogenic global warming is far from a sincere effort to determine the truth about anything, and in such an environment words and phrases are constantly and intentionally twisted and taken out of context. If you know people will be examining everything you say with a fine toothed comb you tend to be careful and sometimes that comes across as (or even becomes) pedantic, evasive or opaque.