I was recently asked (by a skeptic) whether I believed in global warming. It struck me that the very question is wrong-headed. Global warming isn’t a matter for belief. It’s not a religion. The real question is whether you understand the available evidence, and whether that evidence supports the theory. When we start talking about what we believe, we’re not doing science any more – we’re into┬áideology and pseudo-science.

Here’s the difference. Scientists proceed by analyzing all the available data, weighing it up, investigating its validity, and evaluating which theory best explains the evidence. It is a community endeavour, with checks and balances such as the peer review process. It is imperfect (because even scientists can make mistakes) but it is also self-correcting (although sometimes it takes a long time to discover mistakes).

Ideology starts with a belief, and then selects just that evidence that reinforces the belief. So if a blog post (or newspaper column) provides a few isolated data points to construct an entire argument about climate change, the chances are it’s ideology rather than science. Ideologists cherry-pick bits of evidence to reinforce an argument, rather than weighing up all the evidence. George Will’s recent column in the Washington Post is a classic example. When you look at all the data, his arguments just don’t stand up.

The deniers don’t do science. There is not one peer-reviewed publication in the field of climate science that sheds any doubt whatsoever on the theory of anthropogenic global warming. If the deniers were doing good science, they would be able to publish it. They don’t. They send it to the media. They are most definitely not scientists.

The key distinction between science and ideology is how you engage with the data.

1 Comment

  1. There is not one peer-reviewed publication in the field of climate science that sheds any doubt whatsoever on the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

    Shouldn’t this be of some concern — can’t such high degree of consensus be indicative even of ideological bias or at least normative pressures.

    [Not for a well established theory. You won’t find doubt in the peer-reviewed literature about say, gravity or evolution. That’s not ideological bias, it’s the sign of a mature science. The theory of anthropogenic global warming has been established for over a hundred years, and no-one has yet discovered any robust evidence against it. But not for want of trying! – Steve]

  2. Pingback: Social epistemology and climate denialism | Serendipity

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