Monday, April 19, 2010

The Most Sceptical of Professions - Science

A terrific article in today's Guardian on how to distinguish global warming sceptics from denialists.

The first point is that scientists are the true sceptics:

...scientists operate by trying to disprove ideas put up by fellow researchers. Those ideas that survive this critical analysis are then accepted. Newtonian physics, relativity, continental drift and a thousand other theories are only believed today because they have survived such trials by academic fire.

...if the scientist is the true sceptic, then what name do we give to those individuals who dispute the validity of their work and who deny global warming is happening. The latter like to flatter themselves by claiming they are sceptics, but lack the intellectual integrity which goes with the term.

Hence the term denier, which neatly encapsulates their flat refusal to face facts. Some complain that the term has echoes of Holocaust denial. I find such emotional sensitivities hard to stomach, however, given the vitriol that so many deniers pour out in blogs and emails.

...Scientists have uncovered compelling evidence that the world is warming, but cannot say by how much. Rises of between 1C and 6C this century are put forward. This lack of specificity puzzles many people and suggests, to deniers, that scientists are unsure of their facts. Such a claim confuses caution with ignorance. Nor is it an excuse for inaction.

You may be confident that your house will not burn down this year, but you would be considered a fool by many people if you failed to take out insurance. And so it is with climate change. The detailed nature of global warming's impact on the planet is not yet agreed by scientists. It could be dreadful; it could be limited.

The "climategate" campaign waged by the denialists is on the rocks, scuttled by two careful inquiries that found the University of East Anglia scientists' work valid, not the hoax proclaimed by so many profoundly stupid people (Beck, are you listening?).

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