Why "Denier!"-Obsessed AGW Believers Are At Risk Of Ruining Science

I have always been amazed at how easy it is to find AGW believers ready to casually toss the accusation of “denier!” to everbody and anybody not following their “party line” of impending human-cause planetary doom to be avoided via some unprecedented social and economic revolution (“denier” meaning of course all sorts of nasty insults).

The more the term is spread around, the less meaningful it becomes. Still, what are the effects of such a silly behavior?

The most obvious consequence is that they are killing any hope of a serious climate debate, and therefore any hope of seeing it seriously tackled. It makes one wonder what would push people worried about something to act in a way that makes inaction a certainty (one of many) , and the worry increase even more.

An even bigger risk we are running concerns the possibility that science itself will get damaged by professions of AGW belief. In fact, what exactly is a “denier”? According to many AGW activists, “denier” is somebody that “attacks” science, by refusing to acknowledge as Truth whatever the AGW consensus says at the moment. And of course, science must be defended from those “attacking” it…

In the real world instead, one could naively think a “denier” is somebody that “denies” something, but that’s definitely not the case in matters of climate. In my still-fresh Facebook quiz, I have reported the long, curious and illogical list of questions somebody has asked Roger Pielke, Jr. in order to establish the latter’s “denialism” or otherwise.

With the image firmly in mind of Cultural Revolution-style re-education labor camps for those providing the “wrong” answers, it is actually easy to spot the underlying misunderstanding: “denier!”-obsessed AGWers are completely missing the point of science.

Science is a process, not a collection of facts. There are innumerable web sites of different repute repeating that simple concept (many are .edu). One finds it in the US-National Science Education Standards of 1996. Even the US Supreme Court has accepted it:

‘Science is not an encyclopedic body of knowledge about the universe. Instead, it represents a process for proposing and refining theoretical explanations about the world that are subject to further testing and refinement’

(To be precise, science is also a collection of facts. But those “facts” can and will be easily changed with new “facts” as soon the process of science will show it as necessary. What remains truly unchanged, and what one should always refer to, is the process of science)

If the above were not enough, there are even more indications that what is important in science is the process, not the product. In his $1M Paranormal Challenge, James Randi goes at great lengths in order to focus the tests around a specific process, rather than simply dismissing everybody believing they can “provide objective proof of the paranormal“. And what about a video explanation by the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait himself (especially from 2m36s onwards)?

And finally: imagine having two people, one reaching the “consensus” conclusions through luck or guessing, the other one reaching conclusions different from the  “consensus” but by using the process of science. Which of the two is the scientist, and which the naive, or denier?

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A “denier” of science has therefore to be somebody that goes against, or wrongly manipulates, or misuses the process of science: and not just anybody that considers as most plausible a different collection of facts than the current consensus.

Otherwise, if a “denier” were somebody that doesn’t agree with the “scientific consensus”, here’s a glaring “denier” then: Albert Einstein refusing the consensus on quantum physics (and more). Here’s two more: Dr. Barry Marshall and Dr. Robin Warren, refusing the consensus on the absence of bacteria in the human stomach on their way towards winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Another “denier”? Martin Glaessner of Ediacaran fauna fame, refusing the consensus about pre-Cambrian complex lifeforms (or lack thereof).

This is so incredibly absurd…Einstein, Marshall, Warren, Glaessner and countless others have simply tried to push science forward using the process of science. Sometimes, they have been shown right: in other occasions (notably, Einstein’s) they haven’t. Still, nobody becomes a “denier” simply by getting the “incorrect” or “anti-consensus” answer. <sarcasm>Why, does anybody want to read about the “Dark Matter deniers“??</sarcasm>

And yet, most if not all calling against “climate deniers!” I have ever read, they focus on the “facts” of climate rather than analyze how do people reach their sometimes conflicting conclusions. They go down onto incredible minutiae, such as accusing of “denial” when one finds the IPCC predictions a little exaggerated, or admits being “slightly less” worried about methane in the permafrost than them.

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Do “climate deniers” exist, in the definition of “denier” just provided? Of course they do (here’s an interesting even if a little over-the-top attempt at dealing with the details about climate skepticism and denialism, by what I would define a not-so-closet climate skeptic fed up with American global warming politics). The number of “deniers” is extremely small especially among the scientifically educated. They have as much a chance at damaging the process of science as a Kansas school board has to convince to Norwegian education minister to introduce the teaching creationism.

The real danger to science comes from the believer side instead, as it spreads around a completely incorrect idea of what science is about. The last thing we’d need at the moment, is an army of young researchers trained with the asinine idea that, in climate science and/or in any other science, the only way to be good scientists rather than “deniers” is to follow the consensus.

Nullius in verba, indeed. Let’s defend science from the Defenders of science