Keith Kloor's blogged description of my "Climate Skeptics and Deniers" article (in SKEPTIC Magazine) drew hundreds of comments. (My original article is posted on my website.)
Mr. Kloor himself seemed to understand the core point that I was making -- that skepticism in science is all very good and helps drive the process. But for science to be useful in informing and guiding public policy, we all have to develop a sliding scale of BURDEN OF PROOF.
Given the firestorm that even re-quotations of my article seem to have stirred - (I love doing that!) - I sent in the following comment to Mr. Kloor's community. You may find it useful, too.
The denier movement pretends to be about asking honest questions about a scientific matter that is both complex and *possibly* fraught with systematic errors. I believe that honest skeptics can play an important role there. But denialism is ALSO about preventing the community consensus in atmospheric science from affecting public policy. They insist on a burden of proof that 99%+ of skilled experts in a field are insufficient - and yet a slim majority of science-illiterate politicians (during the Bush Era) and now a 40% *minority* of science-clueless politicians - should have absolute power to ignore the best scientific advice of the era.
This legerdemain and sleight of hand over burden of proof is dismal, ignorant, dishonest and purely a product of left-right fixated ideology. By any standard of logic -
1) the burden of proof falls upon those dissenting from the current standard model, especially when the percentage of experts hewing to the SM is in the high 90s and when that field has a recent track record of being very very very very smart. (e.g. atmospheric studies of far planets, correlating perfectly with weather models that have improved reliability from three hours to four days(!) in just a generation.)
2) When the precautionary principal shows us a genuine (if as-yet unproved) chance of catastrophic risk, prudent measures are called for before the risk is "proved." Yes, there can be arguments over other tradeoffs like economic impact. But when the denier side was responsible for (a) catastrophically bad economic management and an economic theory (supply side) that always and universally failed, and (b) deliberate obstruction of ANY climate palliation measures, even basic research...
...then that side merits very little credibility under our present conditions.
(An aside: I have yet to see anyone, on either side of the debate, consider the Tobacco Precedent... that those who have used very similar tactics to obstruct and delay action on climate change may be gambling their bankrolls. If HGCC does prove to be calamitous, an angry world may seek tort redress from those who blocked palliation efforts. Think about it.)
This was the reason for my article in SKEPTIC Magazine (subscribe!;-) Those who are genuine, nit-picking and scientifically informed skeptics ought to be able to say - aloud - all of the statements that I list. Statements that clearly distinguish such people from members of a flagrantly loony Denier Cult.
Anyone who can say those very reasonable (!) statements aloud can proudly step aside from that pack of lemmings. Such a person thus merits the word "Skeptic" and deserves respect - indeed, more respect than the harried and distracted scientists are giving to sincere question-askers, right now! (I also wrote the piece to help my scientist friends to parse these two kinds of questioners apart, and to be more fair to the sincere skeptics.)
If curiosity is your motivation, you SHOULD be part of this ongoing debate... WHILE our civilization also makes strong public policy moves to act upon expert advice and enact sensible TWODA measures, while funding research, even by dissenters so that we'll know more next year than we do, today.
But if curiosity is your motive, you will distance yourself as far as you can from Rupert's Cult.