I’ve encountered a couple of recent blog posts where people discuss why they (or others) became “skeptical” of mainstream climate science. The reasons appear to mostly be related to the politicisation of the scientific process, the behaviour of some scientists, what some have been willing to say publicly, or because of what was found in some stolen emails. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who understands the scientific process should be embarrassed to present these as reasons for being skeptical.
Skepticism is a fundamental part of the scientific process. Everyone should be skeptical. It really just means that you don’t simply accept something because someone tells you to. It means that you don’t simply accept something because the person presenting it is trustworthy or a high-profile scientist. It means that you check and consider what someone presents. You, or others, collect more data, do more calculations, or run more models to try and understand something in more detail and to check and confirm (or not) what others have presented before.
What skepticism isn’t is being dubious or suspicious. Just because you don’t trust someone doesn’t mean that you’re being skeptical. If you don’t trust someone, you check what they’ve presented; either by doing it again yourself, or by finding other sources that either confirm or contradict what they’ve presented. Real skepticism takes effort and investigation. Of course, you can use your distrust of someone to prompt some skeptical inquiry, but ultimately your conclusions about the topic should be based on the scientific evidence that you encounter, not on whether or not some group of scientists behaved in ways that you don’t like, or said things to make you think that they couldn’t be trusted.
Let me clarify something, though. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t care about the behaviour of scientists, or whether or not they can be trusted. Of course I think it would be much better if everyone behaved impeccably and could be trusted. My point is that it doesn’t really matter; I’m not going to trust a scientific result more if scientists learn to behave in a more trusting way. There’s a scientific method which requires that before we accept a result we check it and confirm it again and again. We probe and investigate in as much detail as possible. It’s only accepted when it becomes clear that the evidence is largely overwhelming. It’s the evidence itself that matters, not the behaviour of the scientists involved.
So, while those who are “skeptical” of mainstream climate scientists continue to claim that their skepticism was based on a lack of trust of scientists, and not on an actual investigation of the evidence, I’m going to assume that they’re simply suspicious, and not actually skeptical.
Addendum : Maybe I shouldn’t have written this post since it is likely to lead to one of those conspiracy-laden comment threads. I’m not really that interested in such discussions, so please try to avoid making conspiracy ideation-type comments. I’ll happily moderate or delete any that won’t lead to a constructive discussion.