Update May 25th. This post has been utterly superseded. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Climate Change Debate . That’s the way to explain it. A sample:
You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll on “Which number is bigger, 5 or 15?” [Spoken as if he really wants to know.] Or: “Do owls exist?” Or “Are there hats?”
[Original post, Feb 18:]
I keep seeing this stuff. So-and-so many people “believe” in evolution. Polls in the media ask whether “You believe in global warming.” Headlines mention people don’t believe in GMO food.
Do you “believe” in carpentry? No. If someone builds a house that leans at a 45° angle, you stay out of it and the building inspector orders it torn down. You weigh the evidence and decide whether it works or not. You don’t believe in it.
Likewise with anything else based on tangible, measurable evidence, like all of science. Evolution is supported by a mountain of data with no, none, zero, conflicting evidence against it. There are people who may not understand that, but belief is irrelevant (as I’ve pointed out before ).
Global warming is also, unfortunately, supported by a mountain of data. It’s not as solid a mountain as evolution’s; there are a few bits and pieces scientists don’t yet fully understand. But when over 99% of climate scientists agree the evidence supports that humans are changing the climate, you can bet your clocked socks that’s what the evidence shows. Ninety nine percent of scientists never agree on anything unless there’s no alternative.
As an example of that, I, for instance, don’t think the evidence on the safety of GMO foods is sufficient yet. Oh, sure, you won’t become a mutant green two-headed corporate executive if you eat it. But there isn’t enough evidence that it is environmentally and agriculturally beneficial or even that its long term effect on human health is acceptable. That’s not disbelieving GMO food. That’s arguing that the evidence is deficient. For instance, there are nowhere near enough independent, long term studies with large enough sample sizes to justify the soothing noises the industry makes about GMO effect on health.
So let’s get this straight. The right headlines would be: “Many Americans don’t understand evolution” “Politicians funded by Big Oil refuse to see global warming” “Lone biologist wants huge, expensive study of GMO foods.”
See? It’s not hard. Let’s do it.
Update May 14, 2014: Warning signs keep trickling in. Here, a BBC report about the “collateral damage”  from higher glyphosate and pesticide use. There are all the obligatory sentences about tested and safe and that the evidence (so far) to the contrary has poor methodology. The dearth of independent studies of glyphosate toxicity that last longer than six months and include all humans, also the pregnant, old, or frail, is a bit of a methodological deficiency itself.