Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hurray for Denialists!

The labeling of people who are skeptical about the reality of anthropogenic climate change as denialists is an interesting phenomenon. "Denialist" has strong moral overtones, and reminds me of "Holocaust denialists" or "evolution denialists." The connotation is that the denialists are refusing to recognize something that is overwhelmingly obviously true.

Its almost understandable that people in general would be of this opinion, given the current state of the public debate on the climate change issue. Taking a glance at the Wikipedia pages for "climate change" and "global warming" (which appear high in Google's search results) would leave one with little room for doubt. They cite lots of studies, and appeal to the authority of the people who have endorsed them.

But as someone pointed out (I think it was Eric Baum), science isn't about consensus; its about being right. When there's not enough information to be able to definitively prove what is right, then consensus is the proxy that people use to estimate who might be right. This is the state of the science on global warming. This article makes the case explicitly. If you're compelled to appeal to authority, look at the author's credentials.

The point is: calling people who practice skeptical empiricism "denialists" is dishonest. It is plainly not scientific to assume the veracity of an idea until all testable hypotheses that would disprove it are tested and shown to be insufficient to do so. It takes a person of strong character and integrity to espouse the principle of skeptical empiricism in the face of an empassioned and firmly convinced consensus. So hurray for denialists!