Truth be known, I don’t know if John Cook is a real skeptic or not – or rather, to what degree and in what situations he is a skeptic. I follow his blog on Google Reader, but my schedule has allowed me very little time for reading since I subscribed to him. So, I don’t know much about him. Yet, he advertises himself as “Skeptical Scientist”. Redundant as that may be, I suspect it is the case, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now. The post I link does not portray any particular failing in the skepticism department.
The reason I say he is a “real” climate change skeptic is because I think that the term “skeptic” should be reserved for people who apply a skeptical view methodically and with the purpose of increasing knowledge. I think that this its greatest value. Most people who are suspicious of climate change are not suspicious for reasons of rigorous skepticism.
Some, and I think this includes my dear Buck… and maybe RW… are skeptical in the sense of “I don’t know what to think. Too many claims and counterclaims, and I just can’t keep track of them.” This is commendable, and a good example of folk skepticism. The truth is that the world is too big & complex for each person to establish for him or her self, with reasonable certainty, the truth of a lot of issues – including a lot of important ones. This type of skepticism is a hedge against wrong belief, and it makes sense for people who find it important to avoid poorly justified beliefs. In other words, it often seems more valuable to have a few true and well justified beliefs along with very few wrong beliefs than to have many true but poorly justified beliefs along with very many wrong ones.
I am a folk skeptic myself, but feel I have been able to navigate the claims and counterclaims of climate science and and have justified for myself a belief in the general conclusions of the vast majority of scientists who study climate.
I don’t think that folk skepticism should designate one a “skeptic” where it concerns climate change. This skepticism is a passive one, a choice for agnosticism on one issue in favor of spending the energy of unraveling questions for another group of tasks. It is not the active skepticism that does take the time to truly analyze the claims and require justification of them. I would rather style this type of folk skeptic who does not accept climate change science “agnostic.”
Some people who are suspicious of climate change (and I think this includes many political operatives) are suspicious because they are incapable of thinking of any issue except in terms of partisan advantage and gamesmanship – or at least in terms of partisan trust. This is not skepticism in any positive sense of the word. So, I don’t think the term should be applied to the bloggers, media personalities and political think-tanks that try to undermine popular understanding of climate science. I have a similar view toward those who are active in the climate science debate in order to preserve an economic interest in a polluting industry.
There are a few are old-guard climate researchers who are just tough to budge when it comes to a new result, especially one they didn’t see coming. Perhaps these individuals include real, rigorous, scientific skeptics. The modern-day classic example of a skeptic of this sort – from another field – is that of Alan Feduccia. While folks like Dr. Feduccia deserve respect for their contributions to science, and deserve to have their view heard in the academic debate, they are extremely few in number where it comes to birds and dinosaurs (for instance) or climate science. So, while I count them among climate change “skeptics”, I count them as a trifling minority thereof.
I think that most people who are suspicious of climate change are victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect, perhaps combined with a political or religious bias. This is based on observation. In my younger days, I trolled the halls of internet Creationism, and I there observed two things in great quantity – 1) large numbers of internet Creationists are victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect (almost always in tandem with religious bias), and 2) self-styled climate change skeptics on the internet today exist in large numbers and exhibit behavior very similar to that of internet Creationists (and not a few of them are Creationists). And, by the way – that link is the one that goes to the “real climate change skeptic”.
Skepticism is a key element in science. This is so much the case that I don’t believe science would be possible without it. So the real champions of scientific skepticism are the scientists themselves. It is climate scientists: both the large majority who accept AGW and the vanishingly small minority who reject it or hedge their acceptance dramatically, who have truly earned the term “climate change skeptic”.
I also think there is room for us folk skeptics in the mix. Folk skeptics, relying largely on the efforts of scientists, who go to an effort of critical justification for their views on climate science, might also deserve a junior badge of “climate change skeptic”.
I say all of this, and deny the term “skeptic” to the majority of disbelievers of climate change – to preserve the integrity of the word “skeptic”. The rest should be designated as worthy agnostics or as pestilent contrarians, depending on their respective beliefs and activities.