Skeptical Inquirer and CSI (formerly CSICOP) have been at the forefront of promoting critical thinking and debunking paranormal claims and pseudoscience since 1977; their list of fellows (past and present) include Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, Paul Kurtz, Stephen Jay Gould, Douglas Hofstadter, James Randi, Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you aren’t aware of the work of CSI, I’d recommend taking a look.
Times have changed. The paranormal claims of the 70’s and 80’s no longer infest the zeitgeist as much as they once did; UFOs mysteriously vanished from the news with the increasing ubiquity of personal video cameras and the end of the X-Files, Uri Geller has long since been discredited, and televangelists no longer hold such sway on late night television. Pseudosciences like homeopathy, antivaccination hysteria and intelligent design have come to the fore, making the task of distinguishing between science and pseudoscience critical work.
I’d come to be involved with skepticism after an entirely unsatisfying undergraduate course on the philosophy of science. That was no fault of the professor teaching the course, as he was an excellent instructor; rather, it was unsatisfying because it was just too short. That one hour a week for six weeks sparked a lifelong desire to understand how and why we know what we know, and skepticism provided a hands on way to answer those questions. Working in plant sciences had given me a tangential interaction with the topic of global warming, but it was from a practical, scientific perspective: the effect of shifting climate zones on crop production, for example, and the effect of increasing CO2 on plant growth. The science wasn’t in question among my peers; we accepted the data that was out there and just got on with things. My introduction to climate science denial was through involvement with the skepticism / critical thinking movement.
Skeptics rely on the scientific method and the findings of science to resolve the demarcation problem, in particular between what is science and what is pseudoscience. Homeopathy, for example, is scientific-like. Proponents really can draw upon peer reviewed literature that appears to support its use. Yet homeopathy fails on replication, it fails to be supported by high quality trials, and it is entirely implausible, requiring the suspension of well established principles of chemistry and is founded in sympathetic magic. It is pseudoscience, not science, and on that there is a clear consensus in the skeptical – and scientific – community. On global warming, however, consensus in the skeptical community is much more elusive. A lot of skeptics – able to clearly identify pseudoscience in so many other topics, and otherwise accepting of scientific consensus in any other field – have become convinced that the science of global warming is suspect. It is a testament to the effectiveness of decades of disinformation, and susceptibility to the cognitive biases that affect all of us, that organised skepticism on the whole does not hold a clear position on the science of global warming – although there are a few exceptions, both among individuals and organisations, such as CSI. James Randi, a leading light in skepticism, is rather confused on the topic, while Michael Shermer only recently came to terms with the reality of global warming. It is a puzzle that skeptics will push back against anti-vaccination pseudoscience, homeopathy and chiropractic, and are in fact some of the loudest voices on these topics, yet hold little opinion on the science of global warming, despite this branch of scientific endeavour clearly being under sustained attack. That global warming comprises such a vast blind spot for skepticism was a great surprise to me, and I still find it extraordinary that skeptics can be among the most fervent climate science deniers.
So I’m delighted to see Skeptical Inquirer, the magazine for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), pushing back against climate “skeptics”. They have taken a stand on their Facebook blog, with the Credibility Project, and with numerous articles on the subject in Skeptical Inquirer. Predictably, there’s been blow-back, as outraged readers have cancelled their subscriptions to the magazine. How refreshing then to read this robust defence, from Kendrick Fraser, the editor of Skeptical Inquirer:
This is the third SI reader who has cancelled his (it’s always a male) subscription over our climate change pieces in the current SI (not to mention the at least six who did so after our first round of articles several years ago). Boy, they don’t want to hear anything they disagree with, do they.
It is clear the anti-GW science crowd have their minds made up, and nothing anyone is going to say, no appeal to scientific evidence, no attempt to place things into an accurate context, no attempt to point out that many media and blog portrayals are not always fully accurate, no facts, no explanations, no attempts to show they themselves are being manipulated, nothing is ever going to change their minds. Very much like the evolution/creationist controversy, except that these are some of our longtime readers.
They do not want to engage forthrightly with factual, science-based statements or arguments. They only want their own views reinforced. There is no attempt at open-minded discussion or even fair argument. Just a determination to maintain their ideological purity and not have it be contaminated with any scientific information and perspective that doesn’t support their presuppositions. They want to draw a don’t-tell-me-anything-I-don’t-want-to-hear cocoon around themselves. Unfortunately, that cocoon is growing ever larger. And they know they are punishing us, because, even more than most publications, which have advertising, we depend mostly on subscription revenue.
Guess we should just go along with the crowd, the lynch mob. Hop on the bandwagon. Slam those damned ignorant climatologists coming up with all that nonsense about changing climate and a warming planet. Who needs science anyway?
Editor, Skeptical Inquirer: The Magazine for Science and Reason
So thank you, Mr. Frazier, for taking on the important task of defending climate science and illuminating the vacuity of climate science denial. Would that more skeptics would do the same.
And you know, that reminds me: it’s past time I subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer myself.