The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

By Keith Kloor
Jul 1, 2010 10:00 PMNov 19, 2019 8:57 PM


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That's the clever tagline to an excellent cover story on climate skeptics in the new issue of Skeptic magazine. Alas, the actual article, which aims to distinguish between "Climate Skeptics" and "Climate Deniers," is available only on newstands or by subscription. But because I've been trying to puzzle out the distinction myself of late, I'm going to highlight some choice excerpts from the piece. Here's the opener:

Among the many battlefronts in the culture wars, few have raised a specter of worry among scientists more than the great big imbroglio over Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Especially in America, positions are staked and fiercely held by parties who claim they are evidence-based while their opponents are portrayed as either conspiratorial deniers or the gullible "koolaid-drinking tools of a propaganda machine. An especially vexing aspect of this polarization is the near perfect correlation of the sides with an ancient and largely unrelated left-right political axis.

Well, I'm not sure of that perfect correlation, but I think the above overview accurately captures the popular perception. The writer, David Brin, is fair-minded in his approach. He's sympathetic to both climate scientists and true, science-minded climate skeptics. Here's the central question he's trying to answer:

What discrete characteristics distinguish a rational, pro-science "climate skeptic" who has honest questions about the AGW consensus from members of a Denier Movement that portrays all members of the scientific community as either fools or conspirators?

Towards the end of his piece, Brin assumes (wrongly, I believe) that pro-science climate skeptics are fully cognizant of the associations that are being used to tar them:

The Climate Skeptic has noticed that the Denier movement is directly correlated--with almost perfect predictability--with a particular "side" in America's calamitous, seditious and self-destructive Culture Wars. This is the same side that includes "Creation Science," the same side that oversaw the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, based on mythological asset bubbles, "magical financial instruments"...and the same side that promised us "energy independence" then sabotaged every effort in that direction, including all of the energy-related research that might have helped us get off the oil-teat. (And that research gap is a bigger smoking gun to pay attention to than carbon credits.) While the Denier sees this association of parallel anti-intellectual movements as a good thing, one than enhances the credibility of the Denier movement, the Skeptic has the mental courage to be embarrassed by it.

Actually, based on my own interactions with skeptics on this blog and over at Roger Pielke Jr.'s site, it seems that most pro-science skeptics could care less about this association, much less be embarrassed by it. I think this willful stance does them no good in the public sphere, where their credibility is clearly undermined by their loose association with the larger denier movement that Brin alludes to. Brin suggests (as I have on repeated occasion), that "sincere and enlightened climate skeptics" should put some distance between themselves and climate "deniers." If they did this, I bet their voices would be heard more clearly by both climate scientists and the public. UPDATE:

In the comment thread, David Brin elaborates on what motivated him to write his story.

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