Flip-flops, u-turns and how not to welcome converts

I was pleased to see the news this morning that Bjorn Lomborg’s views on climate change have shifted, particularly as his scepticism has often been rather thoughtful. In particularly, he opened up an important debating by pointing out that money spent on stopping global warming needs to be judged against not only global warming’s likelihood and likely impact but also against the benefits that could be got from spending the money in other ways, such as improving basic health services across the developing world.

Reading the coverage today closely, it does seem as if the extent to which he has changed his views has been rather over-stated. His views do seem to have clearly changed, but more as a case of a few steps one way rather than a huge leap. Whether The Guardian’s front page splash and banner headline were driven by their desire to make the story as big as possible or Lomborg’s desire to get publicity for his forthcoming new book I don’t know, though I suspect there may have been a bit of both at work in talking up the extent of his change of view.

Regardless of the details of this mix, the basic principle of someone saying ‘the evidence on which I previously based my views has changed, so now I’ve changed my views’ is a very welcome one.

And that’s why the language of “flip-flops” and “u-turns” (such as over on Left Foot Forward) leaves me cold. The negative connotations of those terms are misplaced because we should be welcoming people who say they have looked again at evidence or seen how the evidence has changed. Perhaps especially on a blog that talks about being evidence-based… It also strikes me as tactically naive, because what better way to put people off re-evaluating evidence than to respond with such negative terms if they come to a different conclusion?