Wednesday, February 07, 2007

If you're not a "skeptic" you're not a scientist

The hijacking of the word "Skeptic" by the environmental community to mean someone who doesn't believe the scientists was unthoughtful and will backfire. Scientific skepticism is an extremely important concept and cannot be discredited ad hoc like it is. If an experiment gives reproducible results then it is considered science. Essentially, skepticism is an important distinction between science and religion. Any Climate scientist labelling others "climate skeptics" are showing their hand that they are "believers" in the way one believes in God - ie. without further need for "experiment". The Earth is running the experiment for us, so arguing the toss is less important than patiently analysing which predictions become reality and which ones don't. Importantly, some classes of prediction like whether an El Nino will form, are being more accurately predicted outside of the mainstream climate science bodies. This leads me to believe that most climate scientists are putting "faith" in models which accurately predict the past and glossing over discrepancies, and concentrating on subliminal pushing of their ideologies. I will combat this label hijacking by referring to any "scientist" using the label "Skeptic" in vain as "Believers" or "preachers" or some such religious label fitting the dogma.

4 comments:

Dr. Clam said...

I think there is probably an elaborate heresiology. It would be an interesting project to examine the different ways 'skeptic' and 'contrarian' and other terms of abuse are used on ReaClimate. ('Conformist' is obviously the logical counterpart of 'contrarian'...)

It is also very 'religious' the way 'believers' are expected to skip many levels of argument: Once you accept anthropogenic global warming is real, you are expected to consider it unequivocally bad and sign on uncritically to any and all bogus cures and publicity stunts endorsed by the high priestood: if you don't, you are a 'skeptic'.

Film Forensics said...

As I understand it, it's the climate skeptics who called themselves skeptics. The climatologists are using their terminology, with a little ironic distance. I don't think there are any scientists who would use skeptic as an insult without a certain degree of deliberate irony.
Chris, I think your characterisation is unfair and overly broad. Of course there are idiots; you can find idiots everywhere, on all sides, all pressing their opponents' big red buttons, and all getting their big red buttons pressed in return.
Also, because there's so much raw emotion going around, it seems to bring out the worst in people.

Marco said...

The way I see it, Bjorn Lomborg's book (The Skeptical Environmentalist) brought the term (skeptic) associated with Climate, into popular use. His outlook has been demonised by the Environmental establishment. No environmental scientist who wants to have their paper reviewed by their peers would refer to themselves as skeptic without elaborate definition and bounding (realclimate has one such elaborate explanation of the relationship of skepticism and science - it has subliminal straw man character to it). Basically I believe Bjorn Lomborg to be skeptical in a good way, but whenever it is mentioned by any environmentalist, they always mean it in a bad way. I am also "contrarian" in a good way, not in the way the environmental establishment throws it about. I actually have to check my archives in light of this. I seem to recall calling myself a contrarian and justifying it in a general sense. This was before it became a term of abuse.

Dr. Clam said...

First of all, I definitely didn't mean to reopen an old debate or press any buttons, I just thought I'd agree with Marco to keep his blog alive.

Consider my characterisation limited to the people who write the posts on RealClimate.org, Al Gore, members of the Labor party who open their mouth in Federal Parliament, and people who post on your blog saying they can't stand Bjorn Lomberg. I think it is a perfectly fair characterisation of that narrow subset.

You ought also to realise (though the context of my first comment does make this kind of an untenable statement for me to defend) that if I say something has 'religious' overtones it does not have the same pejorative meaning it might have if it was said by an irreligious person. I am happy to welcome Environmental Purists to our rich tapestry of religious diversity and look forward to many stimulating ecumenical discussions...