I saw someone today claim they were not a climate change denier but rather a climate skeptic. I understand why they might say such a thing. Being a skeptic seems like a healthy rational thing to do. Being in denial is generally associated with having some mental disorder or perhaps an addiction. In this case, I suppose, to oil.
I admire skeptics – people who refuse to accept something as true simply because someone in authority says it is true. Many – though not all – skeptics are particularly skeptical of religion. Others demands that ‘extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.’ However, there is a point where skepticism is not skepticism at all; it is full out refusal to accept that any proof does or even can exist to shift their point of view. This is an admirable position I suppose when it comes to belief in God; after all, religion is supposed to be a matter of faith and anyone who would demand proof of God’s existence might be dismissed as ‘one of little faith.’
However, science is another matter. When the preponderance of evidence – all the evidence – points in a certain direction, the only value of skepticism is to continue to run the data – all the data – to see if there is a flaw or if there is an alternative theory. However, picking and choosing data or claiming that all the data that doesn’t agree with your particular idea is false, or better, yet, part of a great conspiracy… well, I did refer to mental illness.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that climate change deniers are only a bunch of quacks. Some have legitimate questions and are determined to make sure of the facts before buying into the consensus. Interestingly, when they do their work, a lot of these people come to accept that maybe there really is something to this stuff. Others hold on no matter what. Some people are a lot like the Fonz. They have a hard time saying they were wrong.
There is nothing new to any of this. Back in the sixties, you could find medical researchers who claimed that the link between smoking and cancer was a false one – bad science or some kind of conspiracy to take away people’s pleasure. A few of these people were legitimate scientists who had questions; the rest were mostly in the pay of cigarette companies. Law suits since those days have proven that they knew full well they were in denial – well, they were outright lying – in order to protect their bosses’ income. Recently, a court in Quebec ordered the largest payment ever from tobacco companies to their victims, I mean, customers, proving that you can run but you can’t hide. Sort of like the people in Florida who are running from ever rising sea levels.
I could go on – the psychology of people who embrace conspiracy theories is fascinating – but I’ll refer you instead to an interesting book called Voodoo Histories that explores that in depth. As for those who engage in denying evidence for monetary purposes – they’re not very interesting; they’re just evil.
But that’s ten minutes.