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That’s ‘skeptics’ in the true sense of the word.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI), affiliated with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), took a look at the ‘United States Senate Minority Report on Global Warming’. This Senate report came out in January 2009 with the tagline “More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims”.

CFI’s Office of Public Policy examined the report in what they called the Credibility Project. The results:

    • Slightly fewer than 10 percent could be identified as climate scientists.
    • Approximately 15 percent published in the recognizable refereed literature on subjects related to climate science.
    • Approximately 80 percent clearly had no refereed publication record on climate science at all.
    • Approximately 4 percent appeared to favor the current IPCC-2007 consensus and should not have been on the list.

…After painstakingly taking the time to vet many of the scientists now serving as “consensus busters” Jordan says that it is difficult for him and his colleagues not to conclude that “this is one more effort of a contrarian community to block corrective action to address a major—in this case global—problem fraught with harmful consequences for human welfare and the environment.”

It isn’t enough to simply don the mantle of “skeptic”, as so many of the climate science deniers have done. One should also try to adhere to the principles of skepticism, and it wouldn’t hurt to have at least a passing familiarity with the epistemic virtues.

So what happens when the skeptics at CFI apply scientific skepticism to climate science? They find that it is, in fact, good science.

Dr. Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Center for Inquiry, stressed that “It is essential that the government base its policies on the best scientific information we have and it is a preponderance of scientific judgment that global warming poses a dire threat to the future of humanity on the planet.”

And what happens when CFI applies skepticism to the claims of the climate skeptics in the Senate report? They find what I would call pseudoskepticism.

After painstakingly taking the time to vet many of the scientists now serving as “consensus busters” Jordan says that it is difficult for him and his colleagues not to conclude that “this is one more effort of a contrarian community to block corrective action to address a major—in this case global—problem fraught with harmful consequences for human welfare and the environment.”

CFI’s efforts here speak to a particular difficulty that many people have, including in the skeptical community, with identifying credible expertise and sources of information (for some of the best writing on the web on this I recommend readers visit climatesight.org, and peruse the credibility spectrum). What looked like a credible and important list – no less than 700 scientists dissenting on global warming claims – was nothing of the sort. Now if it were 700 peer reviewed papers that together presented evidence of a coherent and credible alternative to global warming theories, that would be something else, but these lists of names serve only to obfuscate. And it works. Even James Randi, a leading light in the skeptical movement, fell for one such list, writing: “…some 32,000 scientists, 9,000 of them PhDs, have signed The Petition Project statement proclaiming that Man is not necessarily the chief cause of warming, that the phenomenon may not exist at all, and that, in any case, warming would not be disastrous,” later adding, “I strongly suspect that The Petition Project may be valid.”

The Petition Project is of course irrelevant to the science. Anyone can sign a petition, and having a PhD does not confer upon one any expertise in climate change; especially if that PhD is in an entirely unrelated discipline to climate change, as was true for the vast majority of the signatories. The scientific research is what matters. Yet the petition appeared more credible to James Randi than the science.

It is gratifying, therefore, to see CFI taking strides in reclaiming the mantle of skepticism from climate science deniers. Scientific skepticism has proven to be a valuable tool for identifying pseudoscience, through its demand that fringe ideas meet exacting standards of proof. Still, the skeptical community needs to do a better job at identifying pseudoskepticism and the tactics of denial, and CFI’s Credibility Project is a very good step in that direction.

18 Responses to “Skeptics tackle global warming denial”

  1. commenter says:

    And how did they interpret “qualified” climate scientist?.. There’s something to be said about following the money. There’s a lot of money at stake in cap and trade, and an enormous amount of power to be grabbed in the name of “climate change”. The senate or house included a provision that gives the president martial power if the carbs go past a certain percent that realistically would happen in a year. So I will not buy into anything the media says if it results in a powerplay by the federal government.

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