Do climate change sceptics give scepticism a bad name?
There is a crucial difference between scepticism and non-belief in the face of overwhelming evidence
In January a group of self-declared “sceptics” hit the headlines with an attention-grabbing publicity stunt. If you instinctively interpret that sentence as a reference to the battle-scarred topic of climate change, then it is a mark of how successfully those opposed to the scientific consensus on climate change have appropriated the term sceptic”.
In fact, the event in question is the mass homeopathy “overdose” staged by the Merseyside Skeptics. Do the Merseyside Skeptics (and hundreds of other groups like them) share much common ground with the army of Freedom of Information requesters currently swarming around climate science databases? Or could it be that climate change sceptics are giving wider scepticism a bad name?
Over the past three months climate change scepticism seems to have reached new levels. The Guardian’s investigation into the emails hacked from the University of East Anglia has shone a rather uncomfortable light into the sock-drawer of science. But it has revealed nothing that challenges the fact that the climate is changing – or that human activity is responsible. Trust has been diminished, embarrassing exchanges have been revealed, but the clunking wheels of the anti-climate change lobby have gone into overdrive, falsely claiming that the case for human-caused climate change has been discredited.
Climate change sceptics often position themselves as the antidote to the hysterical, exaggerated claims of climate scientists and environmentalists, adopting the tools and language of “rational enquiry”. But something is missing from this picture – where are the voices of the truly sceptical thinkers that the climate sceptics claim to represent?
The website of the long-running US magazine Skeptic describes scepticism as a method rather than a position, and one that is embodied in the scientific method. A search of the magazine’s online archives reveals not one article disputing the science of climate change. However, there are several debunking unsubstantiated claims that climate change sceptics have made. The not-for-profit organisation UK Skeptics is even less welcoming to climate sceptics, with a helpful note stating:
We are nothing to do with opposition, activist, or denialist groups who wrongly refer to themselves as ‘skeptics’ because they adopt a position of non-belief (eg global warming skeptics, vaccine skeptics, etc).