Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 10, 2010


We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.

Scientific conclusions derive from an understanding of basic laws supported by laboratory experiments, observations of nature, and mathematical and computer modeling. Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. This process is inherently adversarial—scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation. That’s what Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einstein did. But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeply tested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of “well-established theories” and are often spoken of as “facts.”

For instance, there is compelling scientific evidence that our planet is about 4.5 billion years old (the theory of the origin of Earth), that our universe was born from a single event about 14 billion years ago (the Big Bang theory), and that today’s organisms evolved from ones living in the past (the theory of evolution). Even as these are overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong. Climate change now falls into this category: There is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.



Do climate change sceptics give scepticism a bad name?

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 22, 2010


There is a crucial difference between scepticism and non-belief in the face of overwhelming evidence

Consulting a dictionary
What’s in a name ? Scepticism has been described as a method rather than a position

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).