Posted by Dee Norris
One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.
from Greek Skeptikos, from skeptesthai, to examine.
I have been reading a lot of the debates that inevitably follow any MSM story on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). In this story at the NewScientist, one of the comments stood out as a vivid example of the polarization that has developed between the those of us who are skeptical of AGW and those of us who believe in AGW.
Fri Sep 12 19:15:22 BST 2008
The difference in response between skeptics and scientists is easily explained as the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. Skeptics look for evidence to prove their conclusion and ignore any that does not fit what they believe. This makes it possible for them to believe in revealed religion and ignore anything that disputes it. I guess inductive reasoning can best be classified as deliberate ignorance. My condolences to practitioners of inductive thinking for your lack of logical ability. You don’t know what a pleasure it is to be able to think things through.
I was trained as a scientist from childhood. My parents recognized that I had a proclivity for the sciences from early childhood and encouraged me to explore the natural world. From this early start, I eventually went on to study Atmospheric Science back when global cooling was considered the big threat (actually the PDO had entered the warm phase several years earlier, but the scientific consensus had not caught up yet). One thing I learned along the way is that a good scientist is a skeptic. Good scientists examines things, they observe the world, then they try to explain why things behave as they do. Sometimes they get it right, somethings they don’t. Sometimes they get it as close as they can using the best available technologies.
I have been examining the drive to paint skeptics of AGW as non-scientists, as conservatives, as creationists and therefore as ignorant of the real science supporting AGW – ad hominem argument (against the man, rather than against his opinion or idea). Honestly, I have to admit that some skeptics are conservative, some do believe in creation and some lack the skills to fully appreciate the science behind AGW, then again I know agnostic liberals with a couple of college degrees who fully accept the theory of evolution and because they understand the science are skeptics of AGW. On the other hand, I have met a lot of AGW adherents who fully accept evolution, but have never read On The Origin of Species. Many of the outspoken believers in AGW are also dedicated foes of genetically modified organisms such as Golden Rice (which could prevent thousands of deaths due to Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries), yet they are unable to explain the significance of Gregor Mendel and the hybridization of the pea plant,
In his comment, Luke (the name has been changed to protect the innocent) attributes inductive reasoning to skeptics and deductive to scientists. Unfortunately, he has used inductive reasoning to draw general conclusions about skeptics based on his knowledge of a few individuals (or perhaps even none at all).
Skeptics are a necessary part of scientific discovery. We challenge the scientific consensus to create change. We examine the beliefs held by the consensus and express our doubts and questions. Skepticism prevents science from becoming morbid and frozen. Here are just a few of the more recent advances in science which initially challenged the consensus:
- The theory of continental drift was soundly rejected by most geologists until indisputable evidence and an acceptable mechanism was presented after 50 years of rejection.
- The theory of symbiogenesis was initially rejected by biologists but now generally accepted.
- the theory of punctuated equilibria is still debated but becoming more accepted in evolutionary theory.
- The theory of prions – the proteinaceous particles causing transmissible spongiform encephalopathy diseases such as Mad Cow Disease – was rejected because pathogenicity was believed to depend on nucleic acids now widely accepted due to accumulating evidence.
- The theory of Helicobacter pylori as the cause of stomach ulcers and was widely rejected by the medical community believing that no bacterium could survive for long in the acidic environment of the stomach.
As of today, the Global Warming Petition Project has collected over 31,000 signatures on paper from individuals with science-related college or advanced degrees who are skeptical of AGW. Someone needs to tell the AGW world that’s thirty-one thousand science-trained individuals who thought things through and became skeptics.
It was Cassandra who foretold the fall of mighty Troy using a gift of prophecy bestowed upon her by Apollo, Greek god of the Sun. So it would seem fitting that I assume her demeanor for just one brief moment –
- The theory of anthropogenic carbon dioxide as the cause of the latter 20th century warm period was widely accepted by the scientific consensus until it was falsified by protracted global cooling due to reductions in total solar irradiance and the solar magnetic field.
I am a skeptic and I am damn proud of it.
[The opinions expressed in this post are that of the author, Dee Norris, and not necessarily those of the owner of Watts Up With That?, Anthony Watts, who graciously allows me to pontificate here.]