Simple Sam and Why Denial Is Not Skepticism

Posted on March 7, 2011


Simple Sam says to me, “You should call me Skeptical Sam.”

But you’re a crackpot climate denier, Sam, it says so on your business card.  That makes you a believer, Sam, not a skeptic.

“I’m a climate skeptic,” says Sam, scrunching up his mouth, a little miffed, I think, “not a climate change denier.”

If deniers are skeptics, Sam, why aren’t they skeptical of each other?  I mean, here’s one who says that climate change is caused by the alignment of the planets[1].  Here’s another who says it’s the chaotic effect of clouds[2].  Here’s still another chap who says it’s all the result of the interaction of clouds and cosmic rays[3].  –And then there’s another whole bunch on the other side of the room who say nothing is happening at all.

These are not people giving out the same message, Sam.  These are differences that go beyond nuance.  So I ask you again, if climate deniers are skeptics, Sam, why aren’t they skeptical of each other?

“Maybe they agree with each other more than they disagree with the IPCC,” says Sam.

Some of these people—among the most qualified, among the ones who are actual practicing climate scientists—do agree with mainstream science, at least insofar as they admit that warming is going on.  Yet they ally themselves and drink tea politely with people who say that Arctic sea ice is growing and the climate is cooling[4], who make absurd claims of a global, universal scientific conspiracy.  –Pardon me, Sam, but I think a true skeptic would elevate an eyebrow in respect of the claims of some of their fellow skeptics.  The quality of scientific reasoning displayed by some of the climate quacks out there would offend Daffy Duck.

But we’re not really talking skepticism when we talk about climate change denial, are we?  What we’re really talking is politics, which makes—as the cliché goes—strange bedfellows.  Real science is already skeptical, Sam, meaning that it relies upon reproducible evidence, the same kind of evidence which supports the idea of human induced climate change.  The kind of evidence which has already convinced the scientific community.

“Maybe some people are just a little more skeptical.”

But genuine scientific skepticism among climate deniers would have to include skepticism of their own ideas—a skepticism which is not apparent.  Until it does become apparent.  Until one climate change denier turns to another and says, “By gosh that that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard and I don’t understand why an idiot like you was asked to speak.”  Until climate change deniers stop admitting every fool and moron to their lists as long as they are willing to deny climate change for any reason whatsoever, I am not going to be referring either to them or you as skeptics.

Skeptic is far too honourable a word to refer to such a motley mob.

“But calling me Simple is not polite.”

My goodness, Simple Sam, who said I was polite?