I like Skeptic magazine; indeed, I have written an article for eSkepticabout religion in Harry Potter. Healthy skepticism is about thinking for yourself, declining to accept “established wisdom” without good evidence, and rejecting pseudo-science and appeals to non-natural explanations about the world.
Unfortunately, the latest article by geologist Donald Prothero for eSkepticpromotes group-think and smearing the opposition. Prothero accuses “climate change-deniers” of ad hominem attacks, even though the very label contains two smears.
First, Prothero clearly means to attribute guilt by association with the term “denier,” linking his opponents with other unassociated groups. Prothero explicitly likens his opponents to “evolution-deniers,” and never mind that many critical thinkers accept evolution but question climate alarmism. Ah, but some “climate change-deniers” are also “evolution-deniers,” and that’s good enough for Prothero. The argument seems to be, “Some of my opponents are idiots; therefore, all of my opponents are wrong.” But that’s not good enough, not if you claim the mantle of science.
Second, Prothero’s claim that his opponents “deny climate change” is simply a ridiculous lie. Nobody denies that the climate changes. Indeed, it is precisely the fact that the climate always changes and has been continually changing since the formation of the Earth that provides goodprima facie reason to think that modern climate change is dominated by nature rather than humans. In all the climate-change literature, the single page that most impressed me was the page from Al Gore’s first major book on the subject showing the pre-human cycles of climate change.
Only a fool would argue that modern climate change is due exclusively to human industry. (On the other hand, it is a tautology that, before humans evolved, nature was exclusively responsible for climate change.) However, nobody could sustain the view that human-caused CO2 emissions have zero impact on today’s climate. Therefore, the real debate is between the views of “human-dominated climate change” and “nature-dominated climate change.”
Given that nature obviously dominated climate change for nearly all of the Earth’s history, the idea that nature continues to dominate climate change remains a highly plausible starting point.
As to Prothero’s claims about the “scientific consensus” (which, incidentally, has been wrong before), there are a couple of good reasons to think that ideology drives much of the science. First, large sums of federal cash are awarded to scientists who promote the “consensus” view. Second, most advocates of “human-dominated climate change” advocate massive federal controls on the economy as a response, even though that political conclusion extends well beyond the scientific claims.
True skeptics will not be bowled over by the smear tactics and intimidation of the modern environmentalist movement.