I thought I would briefly advertise an article that a group of us have written called Climate change is real, and important. Most of the credit should probably go to Sou, who put a lot of it together. It’s primarily a response to an article by someone who is – I think – primarily a web designer, and who has concluded that climate science isn’t really much of an issue. This appears to be after spending something like 400 hours researching this topic. I imagine all the actual climate scientists must be pretty ticked off that after 8-10 years of studying, and many more years undertaking painstaking research, that some polymath has come along and thrown all their work out after only a few months work.
Okay, for clarity, he’s done no such thing. He’s really just shown that 400 hours work is way too little to draw the kind of conclusions that he has. The reason I find this kind of thing frustrating is that it is clearly someone with little actual expertise, or understanding, who is simply spouting various climate denial talking points and claiming to be trying to be skeptical. I completely understand that appeals to authority are weak; just because someone has some kind of authority, doesn’t mean that they’re always right. However, this doesn’t suddenly mean that someone who has no authority, is in some kind of position to challenge those that do. If you don’t trust a particular expert, find another one. If you don’t trust that one, go to someone else. An individual should probably avoid appealing to their own authority, but an entire discipline can. In a sense, that’s why consensus studies can be useful; they provide an indication of the currently accepted scientific position. It doesn’t make it right, but it is an indication.
I should probably clarify something, though. Citizen science can be a very powerful tool and science is inherently democratic. Anyone is free to get involved and to try and contribute. However, if someone wants to get involved in a scientific topic, the typical way to do so is to try and develop some understanding and to then try to address something quite specific. In fact, there are numerous examples of people who’ve done this and have made positive contributions. It is, however, extremely unlikely that a layperson is going to overthrow decades of research after scouring the internet for 400 hours or so. Anyone who thinks that they’ve done so is almost certainly kidding themselves and misleading anyone else who thinks that they have. In fact, it constantly amazes me that people actually take this kind of stuff seriously; do they not realise how much time professional scientists spend trying to get to grips with the complexities of a topic like climate science, and that 400 hours is clearly not enough? I suspect that most people do, but that sometimes it’s easier to simply accept this kind of nonsense than recognise what climate science is really telling us.