There’s been a rather lengthy debate on Twitter about Skeptical Science’s Climate Misinformers page. The discussion involved, amongst others, Richard Betts, Peter Jacobs, Steven Mosher, Gavin Cawley, and – briefly – myself. Before I start, I should acknowledge an association with Skeptical Science and should mention that I have published some papers with people associated with Skeptical Science. I also think it’s mostly an excellent resource and that it is quite remarkable what has been achieved, without any funding, by a group of, mostly, amateurs.
I do, however, have some sympathy with the criticism. The list does appear to label the individual, rather than labelling the behaviour. Some of the entries don’t have much in the way of evidence. Some of those included (Richard Muller, for example) have ultimately changed their views and have since made a positive contribution (Berkeley Earth). The list also only includes people whose misinformation aids arguments against climate action; it doesn’t include any who exaggerate in order to promote stronger climate action. It also has the potential to make the site appear political, which can make it – in some circumstances – difficult to use as a resource.
However, few of the criticisms involve arguing that some of those included do not deserve to be on the list (in the sense that there is no reasonable argument one could make for inclusion). In my experience, those included either do it intentionally, don’t do it intentionally but should know better, or regularly say things that are then highlighted by those who oppose climate action. This is essentially why I find it hard to get too bothered about Skeptical Science having a Climate Misinformers page; all of those included seem deserving of such a characterisation. Would it be better if Skeptical Science had focussed on the science and left this kind of thing to deSmogBlog? Maybe, but that ship has essentially sailed.
They could simply delete their Climate Misinformers page, but many who use this to criticise Skeptical Science, would probably then simply find something else to criticise. I also think there is some value in knowing about those who are associated with promoting misinformation. We should applaud any who recognise their errors and change their views, but I don’t think we should necessarily forget their less positive contributions.
What about it being political? I suspect those associated with Skeptical Science do have a bias. Like me, they probably think we should be doing more about climate change, rather than less. Being aware of this can itself be useful. One should also bear in mind that trying to remain politically neutral can also be criticised. This is a very complex communication environment and, in my experience, it is extremely difficult to engage in a way that satisifies everyone and that can’t be criticised by some.
Whatever one thinks of their Climate Misinformer page, Skeptical Science provides some extremely useful resources on their site and they’ve done a remarkably good job of carefully representing our scientific understanding. Given that it’s an almost entirely volunteer effort, I find this quite impressive. Others are welcome to disagree.