I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, most of them not very nice. It usually doesn’t bother me. People can call me what they will. It doesn’t affect what I am. The problem is sometimes it’s necessary to pick a “side” in a conflict. This point was brought to mind recently by Anthony Watts at Watts Up With That when he asked:
Is it time for an “official” climate skeptics organization, one that produces a policy statement, issues press releases, and provides educational guidance?
But I didn’t give it much thought. Then I discovered Richard Tol apparently rewrote a couple parts of the latest IPCC report to downplay global warming concerns and promote his own work. The responses I got to pointing that out were disheartening. I tried to shrug it off, but then I got an e-mail from a self-declared skeptic referring to it which said (in part):
It looks like you’re right but it’s better for us if you don’t talk about it.
That was my breaking point. I can accept whatever labels people want to give me, but the idea I should refrain from pointing out abuses of science because of what “side” I’m on is obscene. If that’s what it takes to be a skeptic, I don’t want to be one.
So now I’m stuck with the question, am I a skeptic?
I don’t know the answer.
I know I’m unconvinced global warming will ever cause catastrophic effects. I know I’m unconvinced we’ve seen any weather patterns which can be attributed to global warming in any significant way. I know I have a hundred simple questions about global warming I can’t find an answer to.
At the same time, I know I believe the greenhouse effect is real. I know I believe the planet’s sensitivity to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels is at least one degree Celsius. I know I believe it is likely at least a bit more. The reason I believe these things is I found answers to 95 out of a hundred questions I had about them (many on one site).
Maybe that makes me a “lukewarmer.” I gather they’re people who believe global warming is real but the planet’s sensitivity is on the lower end. I think they say it’s somewhere between 1.5 and 3 degrees Celsius. I’m not sure though. I don’t have any particular reason to dismiss the idea the planet’s sensitivity is on the higher end.
So what am I? Normally I’d say I’m a skeptic. After all, I’m skeptical of almost everything I hear. I have hundreds of questions I’ve tried to find the answer to. I have a thousand more I haven’t even attempted to answer. That sounds like a skeptic to me. It just doesn’t sound like the “skeptics” I see.
I criticized Steven Goddard for saying the “NOAA is either completely incompetent or committing fraud – or both.” The reason? Goddard had claimed the NOAA adjusts it’s current data set far more than it admits to. To make this claim, he compared raw data from an obsolete data set made over a decade earlier to the adjusted version of an updated data set. He claimed the differences showed the adjustments made to the new raw data set were greater than the documentation says. I pointed out that was baseless as the new data set had far more data so we should expect its raw data to be different from the old data set’s raw data.
Any skeptic should support pointing out such an obvious mistake. Nobody should accuse another of fraud based upon such a flimsy argument. Instead, the responses I got were more like:
That’s disturbingly similar to responses I got when I tried to call attention to Richard Tol rewriting parts of the IPCC report to favor his personal views. For example:
Brandon agree very strongly with Steve here.
Richard Toll appears to be asking for the IPCC to be brought to task.
Any minor problems are just that, minor.
I realise that there may be a lot of history here but would beg you to be charitable, magnanimous even, kind hearted and forget the past. Run with Richard’s major contribution and leave the nit picking to some future date
That’s not how a skeptic should behave. A skeptic doesn’t keep quiet because the person who is wrong does good things. A skeptic doesn’t keep quiet because keeping quiet helps a cause. Or at least, I didn’t think a skeptic did. Maybe a skeptic does.
After all, I didn’t get support when I criticized Richard Tol for examining sorted data then claiming its properties proved the order of a randomized version of that data would have certain inappropriate patterns. The one person who agreed about such an obvious point originally responded to my disbelief by saying:
“Why does anyone still think Richard Tol’s claims deserve consideration?”
Because Richard is a climate science rock star and you are not?
What kind of skeptical attitude is that? I appreciate he was open to the possibility what I said was true, but why didn’t a single skeptic begin with genuine skepticism? And why is it the only other person I’ve ever seen acknowledge my point was Tom Curtis, a person who helped get my banned from Skeptical Science and has openly accused me of lying:
This is most obvious when you purport to analyse the order of data, known to be ordered by date and alphabetically, and known to have been rated randomly, and pretend you can find out information about the order of rating….
Nobody with half a brain can take your analysis seriously after you say something like that. You ought to be a laughing stock, and it is to Brandon’s credit that he not only recognizes it, but says it.
Interestingly, Tom Curtis and I agreed on another point. When I discovered what kind of person Christopher Monckton, a popular public figure in the skeptic movement, is, I had to say:
It seems Monckton can say and do practically anything and still be accepted by many people. That’s ridiculous and embarrassing. Now that I’ve seen a number of posts he’s written for this site, I’m embarrassed to have ever submitted posts here.
Extremists like Monckton are a blight. I welcome participation from people regardless of their views, but nobody should welcome the poisonous, vile diatribes he posts. At the very least, they’re as strategically unsound as anything can be.
I stand by that. Monckton’s behavior is inexcusable. People should be embarrassed to be associated with him. Instead, he’s promoted as a popular figure within the skeptical movement.
But it’s not just him. The first paragraph of that quote fits Richard Tol perfectly. He made an obviously absurd argument to criticize Cook et al., and instead of laughing at him, people praised him. I showed Tol distorted the IPCC process to change a report in order to promote his own views and work to the exclusion of other, more recent work. That proved the IPCC process is still as flawed as skeptics said it was five years ago.
What did they do with this great talking point? Nothing. One person wrote a post acknowledging the issue had even been brought up. Practically nobody said anything remotely positive (in public). The silence of the skeptics was so deafening an ardent defender of the IPCC and all consensus science remarked:
In this case faulting Tol is more damaging to the skeptic cause than the benefit of faulting the IPCC. So no this won’t become big deal. It won’t be discussed or investigated ad nauseum over countless blogs. It will be ignored. You already see the “forces of ignore” trying to get you to ignore it too.
That stayed on my mind for a while until I found this troubling comment:
I really don’t understand people like Chad Wozniak (above, at 8:24 pm) who write off Richard Tol because of what he says about a carbon tax. Sure, I don’t think there should be such a tax either, but given Tol’s eminence and his inside knowledge of the IPCC and its processes, he is one of the anti-IPCC movement’s brightest hopes. It is people like Tol, AND ONLY people like Tol, who can act as the media-acceptable figureheads we need.
Carry on firing broadsides at everybody who disagrees with you on anything, Chad, and you’ll end up in a movement with exactly one member.
That seems to sum up the problem. Self-declared skeptics seem to feel they “need” Richard Tol. They “need” Christopher Monckton. Maybe they even “need” Steven Goddard.
But I don’t. I’ll disagree with anyone if I think they’re wrong. I’ll criticize the behavior of any person I feel acts inappropriately. That’s what a skeptic should do. It’s practically built into the name. If skeptics stop being skeptical, what are they?
And more importantly, what am I? I’m not a skeptic who’ll actively call for people to avoid criticisms of the “movement’s brightest hopes.” I’m not a skeptic who can express indifference to such criticisms. I’m not even a skeptic who can sit idly by and ignore those criticisms. If there were “an ‘official’ climate skeptics organization,” I could never be in it.
So what am I?